The Mortgage Cage-Match!
by Jerry DeNuccio
Having recently gone through the process of securing a mortgage to purchase a new home, I can say, with full conviction, that I’d sooner grab a hungry shark’s dorsal fin and hitch a ride than undergo that experience again anytime soon.
Imagine a mad scramble through a labyrinth, at the end of which awaits a gauntlet lined by ruffians itching to deliver brass-knuckled cuffs and clouts. Imagine a plunge into exasperating, waiting, throat-tightening anxiety, head-scratching Godian-knotted bewilderment. Imagine being laid out nakedly on a table, enduring the searching intensity of what amounts to a financial autopsy. Imagine an encounter so harrowing that its lingering effects would remain long immune to even the most enlightened post-mortgage therapy.
If you aspire to being a pilgrim road-wearied by the “wreckful siege of battering days,” if you fancy ropeless rockface climbing, if you are unfazed by the first syllable in the word “mortgage” coming from the Old French word for “dead,” then, for you, the mortgage loan process is a canter through buttercupped meadows.
For me, it was bridle and spur: requests for information from mortgage banker or processor or underwriter; followed by my furious scouring of files, folders, drawers, and shoeboxes to find and deliver it to the local branch bank for copying, scanning and emailing; followed by my anticipation of ease, confident that I had provided everything needful for a decision; followed by a request for more information, followed by my furious scouring . . . etc. Had a Bat Signal been available, I would surely have sent it blazing across the night sky.
I grew angry, and that anger mounted. Now, I understand that, due to the buccaneering mortgage loan practices partially fueling the 2008 economic recession, lending institutions are bound by a host of new protocols. Still, I chafed at not being recognized as I recognized myself; resented my particularity, my individuality, being erased; fumed that the process ground relentlessly on, held me at arm’s length, put me under suspicion, viewed me skeptically as potentially untrustworthy, all the while ignoring an unsullied credit record and a credit score that the mortgage banker ranked as “elite.” Finally, though, I came to understand that the very unforgivingness of the process, and approving my entrance into it, was expressly designed to see me as I saw myself. In effect, the bank mistrusted me to trust me. Trust, but with verification.
I also understood that my anger was secondary reaction to a fear stemming from my being forced to confront an embarrassing deficiency: my inability, despite being a professor of English, to understand financial language. I’d no doubt have an easier time comprehending a monograph on celestial mechanics. Despite my training in language and long practice of close reading, I find the discourse of financial documents kryptonite to me; I can find no Bodhi Tree under which to sit and obtain enlightenment. It is impervious to my most vigorous meaning-making efforts. It simply does not register, like one of those old 60-second Polaroid photographs that will not resolve into anything other than a blur.
The problem is partly attributable to the distraction of unfamiliar vocabulary–escrow, trade line update, area multipliers, security instrument, fee simple–but that’s easily enough corrected with online dictionaries. Mostly, though, the problem arises when the words are put together. I see each word, understand it, recognize it as the means to the end of meaning, but when the words are syntactically mated into linguistic components, the means of meaning become meaningless. It becomes undecipherable, a cognitive fog machine, a Babylonish jargon of phrases, an unlanguageable language of sentences. The words don’t flow; they collide, creating a traffic jam of incomprehensibility.
I suspect fathoming it would require me to be other than who I am. Financial language simply does not fit the way my brain operates; whatever mental module powers the legibility of such discourse lies dormant, if it was ever there to begin with. So, instead a linguistically intrepid Indiana Jones, exploring and discovering sense and sensibility of language, I feel duncified, a blinkered illiterate, walking about, as George Eliot says, “well padded with stupidity.” And that makes me angry.
Now, wanting neither to be quick to anger nor to feel stupid, well-padded or otherwise, I have finally settled on a theological explanation of my experience with the mortgage loan process. It demands suffering as a necessary qualification for approval. The reward of the loan entails a history of personal affliction. Redemption is not possible without prior agony, without gritted-teeth persistence through anguish and scourges and torments and the racking throes of woes. The toll that our pilgrimage requires, and its token of authenticity, is that the graveled road upon which we fall must tear our hands and feet. Then grace comes, as it did with me when, finally, the bank granted me its benediction and approved my loan.
Nietzsche says that “the only thing that can prove today whether one is worth anything or not” is “that one endures.” I guess I endured. I guess I can find a courage and nobility of sorts in that. I guess I have been validated as a person of worth, if only of financial worth, if only to the bank. And I’d guess that Nietzsche went through the mortgage loan process a time or two, before, of course, he descended into madness and found a new home at an asylum in Basel, Switzerland.