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The New 60

The New 60


Last week I was turned down by a New York City co-op board.

The reactions of my real estate agent, my lawyer, the mortgage loan officer at the bank, and my very best friends could be summed up by a shocked, What the fuck?

I was not shocked. I was surprised. However, what surprised me most was that I was merely disappointed rather than deeply upset.

I had placed every detail of my financial life (along with references and endorsements regarding my integrity, value to the community, and all-around charm) in the hands of a group of strangers, that they might judge. Me. On their terms ...

I committed myself to getting this loft. My first offer was turned down. I was upset then. They chose another buyer "with better financials" who, ironically, couldn't get financing in the end, so they came back to me. I decided to go for it. There were obstacles: Two mortgage brokers said I wouldn't qualify for a loan in this new marketplace. I kept at it anyway.

I am self-employed. My business expenses cancel out a significant portion of my income, and on paper, I don't fit into co-op board formulas.

Fitting in is not usually my number 1 goal. After a childhood and adolescence of trying to pass as "normal" (i.e., straight), by my 20s I had gone for a more noticeable style. I wore only white for many years and still tend to dress in light colors and wear a lot of cashmere scarves. I have often had long hair. I am one of only 12 who ride a Segway in Manhattan, which makes me an outlaw.

My work as a therapist came out of activism in the alternative healing community. We were the "lunatic fringe" in 1986: We were talking about living with HIV and quality of life. Today, I am doing the same work with HIV and other conditions, and it is "mainstream."

I have been employed in traditional jobs for a few months here and there, but the bulk of my work has been freelance: as a performer in New York, Italy, and Venezuela and on-screen; as the producer of theater and concerts and events; as a New York City taxi driver (I lasted six months), a waiter in Caracas, a sound engineer in Montreal. Life has been more an adventure than a fiscal road map. Retirement plans and mortgages and co-op boards were not high priorities.

Going for something is easy. Not getting attached to the outcome is not so easy.

One of the principles I use in my practice of living is a four-word affirmation given to me by a buddy, Steve Evans, before his death from AIDS in 1989: "totally committed/completely unattached."

I always hope I can hold on to this principle.

I got into playing at real estate as I turned 40. The buying and selling and redesigning of properties has been how I have made whatever capital I have accumulated. I have owned homes in Santa Fe and on Long Island. I have owned land in Brazil and the Dominican Republic, and two apartments in New York City. After September 2008, I knew I would have a challenge finding a mortgage. even though all three of my credit ratings are in the 800s and I have successfully paid off three mortgages, never once late for a payment. Luckily, my bank came through for me. There are still banks that honor their relationships with their clients, I am happy to report.

This board didn't get me. As much as I might have seen this as a defeat, I am glad I went whole hog plus the postage for it. Commitment is my antidote to regret.

And I have no regrets. How can I? I have learned a lot from the experience. I understand my financial stats better. I realize the value of my credit rating. I am grateful for my assets.

I am writing this column in Rio, on a trip I planned before I heard of the space. I am participating in the opening of my ex's company's Brazilian tour. My dog and I will spend the last days of August on the North Fork of Long Island. Big deal, I won't be moving this month to a loft on 27th Street.

I am almost 60. I almost died 16 years ago. Someone in my life died suddenly just 10 days ago. Real estate is a luxury problem, not something to be attached to.

Playing outside the box means that some folks just don't get my game. Fitting in to please them would be too high a price to pay. Another loft awaits me ... a condo, I imagine. One with an outdoor space, OK? Striving to be totally committed/completely unattached, I begin anew.
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Robert Levithan