"I NEED you to call me," the E-mail from Jennifer said. Jennifer never needed me for anything before, so my curiosity was aroused. Jennifer is the type of woman who would rather eat bugs than admit she needed me. I think the feminist movement calls it being "independent." To me one of the sexiest things about women is their vulnerability, but I'm also attracted to independent women. In some ways that is a contradiction. Fortunately for me the hard-core feminists hide their vulnerabilities as if they were bad scars, so I have never had an attraction to a feminist that wasn't cured by a few minutes of conversation.
I am attracted to Jennifer. She doesn't hide her vulnerability very well and she is good at being independent. She is also 31 years younger than I am, which some would argue makes her automatically a target for my affections. I will admit to being more interested in her group than the ones 31 years older than me, but I'm not out there seeking them out. I met Jennifer on an Internet equestrian bulletin board five years ago and didn't have any idea how old she was until after I became interested.
Jennifer is not interested in me. To her I am just a good friend and we share common interests in many things, although she is allergic to butterscotch - which happens to be my favorite flavor. She also is not particularly fond of ice cream and chocolate. To me this is incomprehensible. We are both horse people and love animals. If quantity means anything, her love for animals far exceeds mine. I have one dog and two horses. Jennifer has six dogs, six horses, two cats, a goat, twenty chickens, two ducks and two geese. What this boils down to is that most of the hair on Jennifer's arms and legs is not hers.
Jennifer recently moved from Kansas to Southern Illinois and had to leave her horses and goat behind until she could find a place for them. The small house she is renting is barely large enough for her, her cats and six dogs. Actually only four of the dogs are hers, but possession is nine tenths of the law. In the process of searching for a place to board her horses and goat, she found Bob. Bob is pushing 70 and has been in the horse business for years. He has a 38-acre horse boarding/breeding operation that has been idle for three years and wants to sell it to Jennifer. This is where I become needed.
I called Jennifer and she explained in great detail the opportunity "we" would have in becoming partners in this operation. Like the true independent woman she is, she used the term "silent partner" as a suggested role for me. In all fairness to Jennifer, I will admit that the ideal partnership is one where there are two partners and one of them is silent. The problem arises when deciding which partner should be silent. Jennifer is far from silent, and I say only enough to get myself in trouble. (I'm probably in trouble just by writing this.) I also live 1000 miles away from Jennifer, so she would be the managing partner.
"Don't do anything until I get there," I told her. The price was too good to be true and so was Jennifer. By the end of the day I had committed an initial $450 toward this opportunity in the form of airline tickets and rental car reservations. During the next two weeks I committed additional money and time in the form of phone calls, books, and other information on incorporating, limited liability companies, Illinois equine laws, etc. It seemed like a long two weeks at the time, but in retrospect, it appears to have been only two days. Time crawls when I am looking forward to some event, but once that event is over I am often left thinking "How did I get myself into this situation so quickly?"
My Saturday flight from Philadelphia to St. Louis was uneventful - which is how I like my flights. I rented a sporty little red Pontiac Sunbird and headed down along the Mississippi River, taking the scenic route to Jennifer's. It was the third week of October and the hardwood forests were in their full fall colors. I crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and continued along the river where 300-foot high bluffs overlook the Mississippi River bottomland. I drove through much of the Shawnee National Forest, which is rich in its scenic diversity and Native American history. The famous Cherokee Trail of Tears runs through this country, and I wondered why it wasn't called the Cherokee National Forest.
Due to my sightseeing I was an hour and a half late arriving at Jennifer's house, which wasn't the best way to begin a potential partnership. I'd met Jennifer twice, but only for relatively brief, polite encounters, so I was somewhat anxious about spending five days at her house. When I arrived Jennifer and her brother Chris were outside drinking beer. Chris was almost twice my size. Six dogs also greeted me and made sure I didn't look too nice and clean.
Jennifer and I immediately got down to business and went to see the horse property. The house that Jennifer had said was a log home with a finished basement turned out to be a vinyl-sided house with a crawl space - and wasn't part of the deal. The 20-stall barn she had mentioned was a 14-stall barn, but other than that the property was very nice and worth every bit of the asking price. Three years sitting idle had made the pastures and grounds a haven for weeds, but with a healthy amount of work in cleaning up the place it certainly had possibilities. Most of the possibilities I was seeing involved additional investment on my part and lots of work on Jennifer's part.
Roof repairs, fence repairs, window repairs, stall repairs, wall repairs, and arena and stall surface renovations were all things that had to be done. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I wasn't going to be around to do these things. Jennifer didn't even own a hammer, and to get this operation going we needed tools, supplies and materials, wheelbarrows, shovels, pitch forks, tractor, manure spreader, bush hog, harrow, and other things like that, not to mention the people to do it. Humbled by the work to be done I suggested dinner. Later that night I slept with a cat.
Sunday we revisited the property and met with Bob. Bob was hard of hearing and required more shouting than I am accustom to doing in a stranger's house. Hollering things like "Nice place you have here," made me somewhat uncomfortable. Bob wanted to draw up his own contract for deed and finance the property himself. I didn't know a contract for deed from a quark but pretended I did so as not to show my ignorance. Bob wanted a fast decision on our part and I said we'd call him Monday or Tuesday. Actually I said that Jennifer would call him, but I forgot to tell her that. Besides, Bob, like most men (myself included) would rather do business with an attractive young woman.
That evening we went to see Jennifer's new mare that she bought the previous week at an auction. I thought five horses were more than enough for a young woman just out of graduate school with debts, but I admired her for pursuing her interests. I admired her for other reasons as well. The horse was very nice and I took a brief ride on her. It was the closest I got to a female that trip - except for the cat.
Sunday night I lay awake much of the night pondering the whole situation. Lawyers fees, accountants, insurance, zoning, taxes, title insurance, title search, incorporating the business, and Jennifer's and my own financial situation all weighted heavily on me. I would rather have had Jennifer weighing heavily on me. I couldn't deny that I was becoming more and more interested in her - a fact that ran contrary to what I teach as a business professor. Was I there in the pursuit of business or Jennifer? Yikes!
Jennifer went to work early Monday morning and I was left sitting with six dogs and a cat, trying to sort out my situation. I decided to take the coward's way out. I left Jennifer a long note explaining all the reasons why I had to back out of the deal, and that my fondness for her was convoluting the situation. Then I packed up and left. Whew! Jennifer would be pissed, but compared to the alternatives I felt like I had escaped with my simplistic life intact. A false sense of security is better than no security.
Once in my car I headed towards Evansville, Indiana where my good friends Ron and Rita live. I called Rita from my cell phone and made arrangements to mooch off of them until Wednesday when I would fly home. Two hours later I was checking my e-mail at Ron and Rita's and reading a rather vituperative one from Jennifer. Not wanting to leave it at that, I poured out my heart and soul in an apologetic reply. I have a tendency to say way too much when I write, and far to little when I talk. I wish it were the other way around, because saying too much in writing leaves a permanent record of what you said.
That evening I recounted my last two days to Ron and Rita, and Rita said, "You should e-mail Jennifer and confess to being the scum that you are." (It's nice to have friends like that.) Since I had already made that confession, I relaxed in much the same way that a devout Catholic must relax after going to confession. It lasted about 12 hours because in the morning I had another e-mail from Jennifer that basically seduced me into canceling my visit with Ron and Rita and returning to Illinois. I don't think she intended to seduce me into returning, but we men are easily led astray.
The ending to this story is not a "they lived happily ever after" ending. I wish it were. The ending is more of a beginning. Jennifer and I are now partners in the early stages of establishing a business. Our business arrangements have yet to be finalized, but if the deal goes through, Jennifer will be running the business and working her ass off, and I'll be the silent investing partner. We both have a lot to lose if this doesn't work out. I'll lose some of my retirement investment, and she will lose her lifetime dream. I suppose we will still have each other, but as of now that isn't part of the deal.
I went back to Illinois a month later (fall 2000) and Jennifer and I closed the deal the day before Thanksgiving. Jennifer operated (sort of) the ranch for four years and everything was fine. At least I thought so, although she never really "worked her ass off." Then in April of 2004 she stopped paying the mortgage and taxes. I had to put lots of money into it to keep from losing it. She never did pay anything again, and has been living there for free. In October of 2004 I had to purchase the contract for deed from the farmer (i.e. pay him for the property) to keep from losing my investment.
A heavy snow storm just before Christmas collapsed the roof of the indoor arena. The insurance policy had a fine print clause that excluded "snow weight damage." Jennifer still wasn't paying anything to live in the apartment that was attached to the barn and refused to sign a lease or pay reduced rent. After pressure from my attorney and her attorney, she signed a Quit Claim Deed surrendering all of her rights and claims to the property to me, which officially ended our partnership. After 11 months of no money from Jennifer, I had used up all my good will and generous nature.
The real estate agent, my attorney, and others all advised me to have the barn demolished and removed since it was detracting from the property value. Then the county health department condemned the building as a health hazard. I guess it was hazardous to your health if you were underneath of it. I lined up a contractor, but Jennifer was still living there and not moving so the contractor couldn't do anything. My attorney had Jennifer served with eviction papers and a court summons -- which she ignored.
The buildings have been removed, along with Jennifer. She didn't leave until the demolition crew started bulldozing the building. My attorney and his family just returned from a skiing trip to Vail, Colorado -- thanks to all the money I paid him. I terminated my contract with the realtor because of lack of activity, probably because, according to my realtor, "someone" kept removing the for sale signs and not letting people have access.
The property is now listed with Century 21 House of Realty, Inc.12097 Lake of Egypt Road, Marion, IL 62959. Call Nancy Cranston at: Office: 618-964-1447 or Cell: 618-889-1699
Good news - sort of. A real estate broker is purchasing the property. I'll get back all (or most) of my investment in this fiasco, but won't be making any profit on it. Spent too much on attorneys and other expenses to make money on the sale. What happened to Jennifer, you ask? She had a baby while living on the property with a boyfriend who moved out. They had a custody fight over their daughter and she lost.
Property sold! Yay!!!!
Jennifer had another baby with someone else, and her horses were confiscated by state agencies because they were allegedly abused, injured, malnourished and severely neglected.
Jennifer has been running Black Pond Outfitters for a couple of years selling mostly mail-order items for horse, dog and other pet owners. She has nine customer complaints against her at www.ripoffreport.com for failure to deliver goods that people had bought and paid for but never received. Her animal abuse charges are being litigated.
Jennifer was cleared of all charges of animal abuse.