So many interesting things in the meeee-dya — every so often I like to say it like the pests who brayed it in my ear all these years — this weekend. I hardly know where to start. As many of you know, Detroit is having a moment in the national spotlight; Time magazine bought a house in town to be home base for its yearlong look at the city. Their first cover story is either this week or last, but I haven’t read it yet (although I bookmarked the blog). I’m catching up with everything else this weekend:
The New York Times covers Mayor Dave Bing, the ol’ crepehanger.
Best of all was this WSJ feature, looking at the decline through the lens of a single house, which was once in the swankiest neighborhood in town and today is vacant and recently sold for a four-figure price. This was the part that caught my eye:
In 2005, (a previous owner, the Andrews) found a buyer, Kimberly Carpenter, willing to pay their $189,000 asking price. They were too relieved to question why Ms. Carpenter’s closing documents recorded the sales price as $250,000.
County records show Ms. Carpenter took out simultaneous loans of $200,000 and $50,000 from First NLC Financial Services, a unit of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, an Arlington, Va., investment bank. First NLC specialized in subprime mortgages — loans for borrowers with damaged credit.
At the time, Detroit was swept up in the subprime-lending frenzy that hit much of the country and eventually sparked the financial crisis and deep recession. Lenders became quick to loan to high-risk borrowers.
Ms. Carpenter, 37, says she was buying the house on behalf of her father, Lewis Maxwell, whose own credit record was too blemished. “My father handled all of that,” she says of the financial details. Her father, who worked on the Chrysler assembly line, died of cancer in 2007.
David and Ruth Andrews say Ms. Carpenter paid them $189,000. They say they don’t know what happened to the other $61,000 entered into sales records.
“I have no idea about any of that,” says Ms. Carpenter. “It’s over. It’s out of my head.”
OK, so clearly Carpenter is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor does she come from a long line of sharp knives. When I hear the Tea Party people complain that they’re being asked to bail out people who got in over their heads, foolishly signed papers they shouldn’t have signed, I’m sympathetic. But Carpenter at least lost the house and is in a world of financial hurt. Why are the NLC bankers not in jail? That’s what I want to know:
Ms. Carpenter quickly fell behind on her payments. In August, 2006, First NLC Financial bundled Ms. Carpenter’s first loan with a pool of other troubled mortgages and sold them to American Residential Equities, or ARE, a Miami company that specialized in buying bad loans.
First NLC Financial went into liquidation last January, dragged down by mortgage losses. Its parent company, FBR Group, became Arlington Asset Investment Corp. A spokesman for Arlington said the company can’t locate the original files on the Carpenter loans or comment on the lending decision.
By November 2006, ARE’s collection agents were after Ms. Carpenter for $218,348.53 on the $200,000 mortgage, according to county documents.
Good luck with that, ARE. I wonder where the folks are who pimped a quarter-million dollars to a woman who can’t even say, today, what happened to her. There’s enough blame in this disaster to slice it up like a big fat mortgage tranche. But I’ll be saying this until the end: When you open a store giving away free crack if you sign here and here and initial there, and if anyone expresses reservations you say, “Don’t worry, this is the special non-addictive crack we’re giving away” — when that happens, you really can’t complain that the neighborhood is suddenly full of crackheads.
Oh, well. Onward to the more uplifting things:
I’m not an opera fan by a long shot, but I enjoyed this piece about Peter Gelb, the new director of New York’s Metropolitan Opera. It was worth reading just to pluck this marvelous bit of jargon from the word-sluice: “park and bark,” used to describe singers who can’t act. In usage:
…He has commissioned new productions, some of works seldom seen in New York; signed up new singers, who don’t just “park and bark,” as he puts it, but actually act; and recruited directors from Broadway…
There was also a great piece, by an opera aficionado, looking at Barbra Streisand and her miraculous voice, which was bestowed upon a woman who only saw singing as a way to get to what she really wanted to do — acting. She doesn’t warm up, she doesn’t read music, she processes everything from her gut and ear:
“I hear these melodies,” she said. “I hear horn lines and string lines. That’s what’s fun about recording with an orchestra.” She can sing things, and composer-arrangers like Bill Ross or Jeremy Lubbock have the skill to write them down, she said.
She talked about recording with Marvin Hamlisch. “I can go, ‘That’s not the right chord, no, it has to be an 11th or a 9th or something,’ ” she said. “I just know that the chord has to be in contrast, it can’t just be this.” She sang a sustained husky pitch. “I’ll say: ‘It has to rub. I want that slight rub there.’ ”
It’s funny how, when Streisand was given the chance to just act and not sing, the results were pretty uniformly crapola — “Nuts,” “The Prince of Tides,” and so on — but all agree that what makes her singing special is how very emotional it is, i.e. how much acting she does while singing.
Finally, in the On Language column, a piece on “phantonyms” — words that sound like they should mean something, but don’t. They don’t discuss my personal pet peeve (infamous does not mean “really famous”), but it scratched a very specific itch.
On Language, of course, was William Safire’ column. Who is no longer with us.
Monday, Monday. Can’t trust that day. (If I may be excused a little John Phillips lyric.) Have a good one.