Some years ago, when my parents were downsizing from a three-bedroom house to an assisted-living apartment the size of a box stall, it was my job to dispose of my father’s vast wardrobe. He kept a nominal suit, handful of ties and a couple of dress shirts, and I had to get rid of everything else, which included all sorts of interesting treasures like Bally loafers and Irish wool trousers the thickness of a wetsuit. This was at the very dawn of eBay, so please spare me the “you could have made a FORTUNE” comments. Believe me, I know.
There were a lot of ties. Many, many ties, most of them first-quality. (My dad had friends in the rag trade, and he was a loyal customer.) I offered some to the men in my office, who were already into the casual-Fridayization of the newspaper business, so I didn’t get rid of many there. (In my time in newsrooms, I watched the default men’s turnout go from jacket and tie to shirt and tie to collared shirt with no tie to polo shirt to plain T-shirt to Mustard Plug T-shirt — worn with Teva sandals, the better to show off your grimy toenails.)
But there was one that I held onto. It was green with very small blue shamrocks, perfect for St. Patrick’s Day in a corner office. Silk, classy, nothing about Erin-go-braless or kiss-me-I’m-Irish. I gave it to the most Irish American I know, Dr. Frank Byrne. His mother was Italian, but all her genes were recessive — he has the mop of prematurely gray hair and the ruddy complexion, a sister on the New York City police force and a degree from Notre Dame. They don’t come any more Irish than Frank. He accepted the tie with far more gratitude than the small gesture was worth, and every year at the time it’s like 5,4,3,2,1 and my e-mail beeps, and whaddaya know, here it is. Subject line: Got your Dad’s tie out & ready to go for St Patrick’s Day! Text: Thanks again.
No problem. My dad’s been dead since 2003, but his ghost still walks every year on March 17. And he was no more Irish than Tony Soprano.
People tell me that after you live here for a while, you get used to stories like this, but I haven’t, yet: A Detroit city councilman — one of the good ones, one of the sane ones — has defaulted on his mortgage. Detroit is a city where everyone lives pretty close to one sort of edge or another, but it was this detail that dropped my jaw:
Kenyatta and his wife walked away from a monthly tax, insurance and mortgage payment of $2,600, one year before the interest would jump to 11.625 percent from 6.625 percent and the payment would hit $3,600. Kenyatta said that even though his monthly payment has remained the same for years, he felt it made no sense to remain in a house whose value had plummeted to $100,000.
The $100K figure is less than half the 2004 purchase price, but that wasn’t the jaw-dropper for me: The guy makes $81K as a councilman, a post he could, presumably, hold for life. But the bank wouldn’t let him renegotiate his ARM. Frankly, I don’t blame him. Now that bank owns a house that will likely stand empty for months or years, losing value with every passing day, because they wouldn’t give the guy a break on a 11.6 percent mortgage. Screw. Them.
This is a popular attitude today, of course: Contempt for our financial institutions. Elsewhere in the DetNews, a business columnist reminds us of a lesson about the sanctity of contracts:
Contracts? Sacred? Unbreakable? Tell that to autoworkers whose union cut a deal with Detroit’s automakers only to see the Bush administration, Team Obama and ranting members of Congress from both parties demand those contracts be torn up in exchange for a $17.4 billion federal lifeline.
Tell that to bondholders of General Motors Corp. under relentless pressure to swap two-thirds of their debt for shares in the automaker and risk bankruptcy. Tell that to CEOs at GM and Chrysler LLC now working for $1 a year and flying commercial. Or to employees whose bonuses are gone. Or to suppliers whose “contracts” aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.
Contracts matter in Bailout Nation or they don’t. And either the lenders of last resort — you and me, Congress and the Obama White House — can demand shared sacrifice from those who managed their firms into the ground or they can’t.
But, but…the UAW has good health insurance! How much can the American taxpayers be expected to endure?!
Eh, what do I know? It’s garbage day, everything’s at the curb, and I just saw the third scrapper cruise the block, looking for a little metal to scrounge. Because we live so high on the hog here in southeast Michigan.
Elsewhere? When Richard Cohen went wrong, he went wrong in a big way. Today: Sympathy for Jim Cramer. Because how could a man who tells everyone he knows everything be expected to know anything?
A little disjointed today, I know. Sorry. I’m off to the gym, to take up the burden I dropped last week.