Down at the end of my street, in front of the little mall that holds TD Banknorth and Burger King and the oil change place, Jay Preston stood sweltering in a gorilla suit by his homemade signs that read "Homeless Soon" and "Why TD Bank?" He told a sad and complex tale of a house addition, an equity loan, an appraisal, a loan default, of credit cards maxed and charge accounts closed and a daughter fearful. The bank, he said, has made him feel "like nothing." People honked, thumbs up, as he spoke.
"I'm not a failure," he said, tearful. "I did everything I was supposed to do. It's just not fair."
It started with Preston deciding to put an addition on the house he shares with his 11-year-old daughter. A 39-year-old carpenter and contractor from Grantham, N.H., he stresses more than once that he's worked full-time since he was 16, that he was successful but always a small, hands-on guy with just two employees: "I work – that's important."
He says he approached the bank with "a very solid qualifying package and business plan" and two possible plans: a smaller addition he would pay for out-of-pocket, and a two-story addition he might need to fund with an equity loan. The bank assured him, verbally, a loan would be "no problem" during construction.
He started building. Almost five months in, with no income coming in, bills at the lumber yard and interest on credit cards piling up, he went in for the loan. The bank said there was no way while the house was under construction. He was sheetrocking and almost done, but out of money.
From there, things went rapidly downhill. He has accumulated $70,000 in debt; had his local, longstanding, good-faith charge accounts at lumber yards and hardware stores closed down; lost all his credit, fell behind on his mortgage payments, and had his truck repossessed. He has had five re-appraisals of his house, attended endless meetings with bank officials who all told him something different, made 16 painstakingly documented trips to 16 other TD Banks, 12 of which told him the same lie he says they first told him – a loan on a house under construction? no problem – assembled 12 pages of notarized affadavits trying to make his case, sought out lawyers who stopped listening when he said he couldn't pay them, and went to the hospital after suffering an anxiety attack: "Panic and fear set in."
His daughter is traumatized, his power is about to be shut off, food is problematic, foreclosure looms, and "everything" is for sale.
The gorilla suit protest, he says, is "my way of going postal." The police, when bank officials called them, have been supportive and helpful, advising him where to stand, where to put his signs, how to stay legal.
"It's not right what they did to me," he says. "The banks, they don't care. There's a disregard for what they do to people. It's bailouts and bonuses for the banks, helpless and homeless for the working man."
And why all the American flags strewn amidst the signs? He paused, not having thought about it before.
"I don't know," he finally said. "'Cause I'm an American boy trying to live the American dream."