My Coffee Date with Death: Part One

by Jonathan Ferrini

It was Sunday evening and I returned home from a sailing trip joining a group of avid sailors from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where we fished for Marlin. It was my first time fishing for these magnificent fish, and I was fortunate to “hook” a large Marlin. It put up a valiant struggle, and with the help of the deck hands, we managed to pull the strikingly beautiful, blue marlin, onto the deck, only to watch the deck hands beat it about the head until dead, hanging it, and then photographing me alongside my “catch”. It was 12’ in length, and 300 pounds.

Watching the deck hands behead the marlin, throwing the head overboard, and tossing it’s torso into the below deck cooler, sickened me. I imagined what the Marlin was thinking as it struggled to free itself from the hook, being dragged out of the water, struggling to breathe, then beaten to death. I decided to catch the next flight home. Returning home to my oceanfront condo, in beautiful San Diego, wasn’t like leaving paradise; it was returning to paradise.

Upon arrival home at the airport, I noticed surgical masks being worn by airline personnel and travelers. Once I unpacked, I turned on the news, and heard the reports of the covid-19 pandemic. It didn’t startle me because I lived through other virus outbreaks, but judging from the urgency of the news reports, this virus was severe. I was wealthy, healthy, happy, and had no concerns in the world. The next two months changed my life forever.

I owned and rented out restaurant business properties I accumulated over my career as a commercial real estate broker. I lived modestly, investing my large commissions in restaurant real estate with the goal of an early retirement. I grew up in the restaurant business, and felt comfortable owning restaurant property. I owned three successful “dive bars” popular with young people; owned a food court with a dozen immigrant restaurateurs thriving, and I owned two drive-thru restaurants leased by independent burger, and fried chicken operators. By the age of fifty, I was retired, and collecting large monthly rent checks which provided me with a very comfortable lifestyle; a spacious ocean view condo, a new Mercedes Benz GT-Class Coupe, and a fashionable wardrobe consisting of expensive Italian labels. I managed my properties from home while staring at the ocean waves, worked out with a personal trainer, adhered to my diet monitored by my nutritionist, and enjoyed visiting the bank monthly to deposit the rent checks. Life was good to me. I was single and never failed to find a beautiful date.

Within days, counties throughout Southern California closed down the bars, and prohibited sit down seating in restaurants. My tenants began calling, pleading for rent abatement. They were “mom and pop” operators, decent, hard working immigrants, and I knew they couldn’t survive a prolonged pandemic, eventually having to close their restaurants. It broke my heart to see them lose their life savings. The cash flow from their rents was necessary to pay my mortgages, and was quickly drying up. I couldn’t help my tenants as I had my own financial struggles.

I carried highly leveraged mortgages on my beachfront condo, and rental properties. Although I had strong banking relationships, I requested forbearance on the mortgages, but the banks were demanding their mortgage payments, and threatening foreclosure. Unless the bar and restaurant restrictions were immediately lifted, and my cash flow from the rental properties resumed, I would lose everything I had worked for my entire life.

I wasn’t a heavy drinker or prescription medication taker, but over the next two weeks, I was growing anxious, couldn’t sleep, and decided to take some of my prescription “Valium” to sleep. The “Valium” was originally prescribed to alleviate my fear of flying. Taking the “Valium” to fall asleep worked. I awoke refreshed, but the nagging anxiety of losing my net worth returned quickly. I began taking “Valium” to get me through the morning, afternoon, and evening. I was taking larger dosages than prescribed, and the “Valium” was losing its effect on calming my nerves.

I continually pondered,

“How would I avoid financial ruin?”

I was too old to get a job, and start over. I could wipe out my creditors and stall the foreclosures by filing for bankruptcy protection, but once the bankruptcy was concluded, my properties would be foreclosed upon, with only my remaining cash to survive upon. It wouldn’t be long before I found myself living “on the street”. I fell into a deep depression.

On occasion, I’d indulge in a premium, single malt, scotch whiskey. Without thinking about the dangers of mixing booze and “Valium”, I began to wash the “Valium” down with a shot of whiskey which helped lessen the anxiety. I felt safe using “Valium”, but my increasing anxiety was compelling me to become careless with the mixing of the drug and alcohol.

I came across some “shady” characters during my career. “Morty” was once such individual. He was a pharmacist whose pharmacist license was revoked by playing “fast and loose” with DEA regulations regarding the prescription of “controlled narcotics”. He became a drug dealer to the “stars.” I sold Morty a retail building when California permitted the opening of cannabis stores. He asked me to invest in his first cannabis store, but I declined, to my later regret. Over the years, he expanded his number of cannabis stores, and became a millionaire. Morty had a talent for retailing. His stores were beautiful, and the layouts were ingeniously designed to encourage sales just like the large retailers selling clothes or appliances. He only hired beautiful, young, female employees which helped sales. He would call me from time to time, complaining about the hoards of cash he was compelled to place in safe deposit boxes, because the federally chartered banks wouldn’t take deposits from cannabis stores as cannabis was illegal with the federal government. He could have deposited the cash into his personal accounts, although deposits of $10,000 or more were reported to the Treasury Department, triggering DEA scrutiny. Morty could make laborious, daily, $9,999 deposits into banks throughout the city, but he surmised this would also create DEA scrutiny. Morty didn’t trust foreign banks, and wouldn’t risk sending his cash fortune overseas.

To be continued . . .

“A chance meeting with a mysterious stranger, and a classic Roman text, provide a pathway to salvation for a desperate man who has lost his way during a pandemic."

Jonathan Ferrini is a published writer who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in motion picture and television production from UCLA