My wife was a lawyer and I was a traffic engineer, but we, tired of our Republican bosses, quit our jobs and bought a building—a former three-story auto repair shop—and planned to turn it into live/work loft spaces for artists. It seemed like a great idea. The floors and walls were so thick and soundproof that a full orchestra could have lived and played on the third floor. We dreamed of being thanked in the liner notes by a folksinger or in the back-page acknowledgements by a novelist or in the Oscar acceptance speech by a screenwriter.
"We want to be liberal landlords," we told the loan manager.
Given our middling credit rating, we were surprised to get the money. We didn't know that bankers can make more money from their customers' defaulted loans than they can from timely payments.
So, yes, a million dollars in debt, we moved into the ground floor, slept on an Ikea mattress, cooked in a microwave, only enjoyed hot water at the 24 Hour Fitness down the block, and began the renovation.
Three days in, we cracked open a bathroom wall and discovered the mold.
"Stachybotrys chartarum," the inspector said. "Better known as black mold. Toxic. Stuff can kill you."
At first we thought the bathroom, obviously flooded sometime in the past, was the only afflicted area. But tests soon revealed that the entire building had been invaded.
"I could lie to you," the inspector said. "I could pretend that we can clean up this place. I could take your money knowing it's a lost cause. But I'm not that kind of person. Your only option is to tear this building down and start over."
We were suddenly costars in a horror movie with multiple monsters: indestructible mold, a bank that wouldn't loan us more money to save us from the original loan we couldn't pay, and our own progressive ambitions.
Our marriage survived the bankruptcy. And so did that building. Unofficially condemned, it will only be destroyed and replaced if the neighborhood is gentrified.
We now live in a studio apartment in a different city. We returned to law and engineering but make much less money. I find it difficult to sleep inside a smaller life, so I sometimes walk the night and play my electric guitar, making more noise than music. I don't want to disturb my neighbors, so I plug headphones into my battered Gibson. If you're also awake, and live near me, all you will hear is a stupid man's clumsy fingers scratching steel strings. I'm no louder than a bat flapping against a streetlight and I'm less important than a car alarm echoing from 12 blocks away.