Tuesday, November 9, 2010

All things atrocious and shameless


Some of you may be under the impression that Golden Manor sits in the middle of Nowheresville.  You've developed that impression by reading this pack of lies and subterfuges, of course, but I'm not interested in blame at the moment.  Especially when blame rests with me.

Middle of Nowhere or not, we can travel to Rome by car.

There are no Spanish Steps or Fountain of Trevi, no Pantheon or Colosseum. There is, however, a Forum. The Bankruptcy Court of Northwest Georgia convenes in The Forum.  Sadly, it's not the formal affair you'd expect.  There's no robed judge (oh, how I would love a dour faced, robed judge with one of these barrister wigs!). There's no jury box full of disgruntled creditors gnashing their staplers or waving manila folders menacingly. There's no witness stand, no bible to swear upon, no bailiff.

There's just the friendly, but harried looking Trustee, a woman taking notes, your attorney, some cheap breakroom style tables and four or five short rows of hotel chairs upon which the people seeking debt relief sit fidgeting, worried and a little bit defeated.

People don't make much eye contact in that setting, if you know what I mean.

I didn't even bother to change out of my blue jeans this time.  When we went through this life-affirming event two years ago, I dressed professionally.  This time I didn't bother.  If dress slacks and a blouse seemed appropriate for a Chapter 13 hearing then a pair of jeans and a decent sweater would work for a Chapter 7.

It's probably an indication of where my head is.

MathMan and I were the first on the docket for 2pm, but because we're equally compulsive about never being late, we arrived at 1:10 to the great relief of our attorney.  He ushered us into the room, made sure we had our drivers' licenses and Social Security cards and told us to take a seat.  We'd be up at two.  In the meantime, we would watch the proceedings beginning at 1:30.

First up were a couple who seemed a bit younger than MathMan and me.  He worked two jobs and she was self-employed. Their house had lost about $30,000 in value since they'd purchased it so they were underwater. They'd gone through a nightmare of a refinance to get out of an Adjustable Rate Mortgage.  Nevertheless, they were going to try to hold on to the house, even with the upside down mortgage. They were also going to try to keep both their vehicles.

They nervously answered the Trustee's questions, looking at each other to decide who would answer each query.  The room was quiet, but we all became more still as the couple answered questions about the value of her wedding ring.  Was it insured? the Trustee had to ask.  Yes.

Insurance doesn't buy the peace of mind each of us sitting in that room crave.

A creditor showed up to seek the repossession of some items - an Xbox console and a lawn mower.  Were they still in good working order?  The creditor wanted to know.  Yes. My heart sank as the couple exchanged a look conveying anger and shame.  I know that look.

One of the questions the Trustee asks each petitioner is how they got into financial trouble.  For this couple the answer was that the man's work hours with a large freight shipping company had been cut. The woman's home-based business - a personal service - was suffering, too.  People with reduced disposable income and insecurity about the future stop spending money on things like haircuts, manicures and massages.

I chewed the inside of my cheek, a nasty nervous habit, and wondered why that freight shipping company is advertising for holiday help while cutting hours for its long-time employees.  I just applied for a job with them to help sort boxes and make deliveries.  No, they haven't called.

Next on the docket was a man who didn't speak much English.  The Trustee called a translation service that performs the service via speaker phone.  It was really quite interesting.  Mr. Rodriguez had already had his car and house trailer repossessed.  I wondered where he was living.  He was lean, compact. The time he'd spent in the sun had etched a map across his face.  He sat hunched over the table, his jacket seemed to swallow him up.

What had been the cause of his financial difficulty, the Trustee wanted to know.

No hay trabajo.

My background in French made that easy for me to understand.  Il n'y a pas de travail.

There is no work.

The Trustee called the names of other petitioners - the no shows, the unexplained.  I tried to imagine just not showing up, but I couldn't do it.

Finally, it was our turn.  We raised our right hands and swore to tell the truth and all that.  We answered the questions like the others who'd sat perspiring and trying to keep their nervous legs from jiggling before us.  Since we were moving from a Chapter 13 to a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, our questions weren't so extensive.  We'd already surrendered our house and a car two years ago.  Our assets are nothing, as ordered by the court in 2008.

And what had caused us to no longer be able to pay back our debt per the Chapter 13 agreement? the Trustee wanted to know.

No hay trabajo.
Il n'y a pas de travail.
There is no work.

34 comments:

  1. That ending echoes around the world.
    Well said.

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  2. Wage earner bankruptcy without wages is the modern era's Catch 22 (in my opinion the greatest American novel). You still can't liquidate blood from a stone.

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  3. We were there a couple of years ago, too. Drew used to work for a property development company that used to own a private jet and a helicopter, and twice rented out the Joint at the Hard Rock for the company Christmas party. When the bubble burst, Drew was on the chopping block. It took him seven months to get the job he has now, and we lost our house in the process.

    The upside is that Obama was campaigning at the time, and we got fifteen minutes with him, all to ourselves. He listened to our tale of woe and had his staffer call me the next day with information on how to get medical coverage for Everett.

    His charisma was no surprise, but it was that phone call the next day that really got me.

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  4. i hope you're working this into a memoir.

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  5. A sad, poignant and troubling post for these sad days that have been brought to us by greedy corporations and the politicians who love them.

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  6. well said, Lisa. I hope this is the end of that stress for you and things move forward.

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  7. *hugs to you, Lisa*

    We are hanging on by the skin of our teeth, but I so often wonder how long we can keep scraping by. Hubby has always had work challenges (mental health issues will do that) but it is such a bad economic climate all around.

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  8. I'm sorry for the troubles you are going through but at least you know that as the big bankers start raking in their billion dollar salaries again the trickle down is sure to bring affluence to all.
    Maybe some day the ordinary voters in North America will start to vote for their own interests instead of the elites.
    Good luck as you go ahead and don't let the bastards get you down.

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  9. Sorry to hear about this...

    Onward.

    Thank you for sharing it.

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  10. And then I read the tweets of the twits and blogs of the unaffected who say - "Oh, what's on your holiday wish list? Shouldn't I put these ridiculously expensive boots on MY wish list." and I want to scream at them.

    I even tweeted back to my favorite pampered offender that I wanted Peace on Earth, On Capital Hill and in the Financial Sector. I am sure it left her scratching her bleached tresses.

    My husband and I decided we are no longer getting each other anything. For any holiday. It seems so excessive and wrong...and not the reason for anything. We would rather give what we can away - help anyone we can. And pay our bills.

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  11. This made me cry( which says a lot about your power as a writer). This should be in a memoir.

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  12. Imagine living in Minnesota:
    http://www.startribune.com/local/95692619.html

    How soon until the revolution?

    Oh, and 'susan' said it right in re "Catch 22".

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  13. Brutal bright lights show a reality filled with tension and broken glass.

    The 1930s were probably the last time of large scale migration of people without income and homes. Today, its an impersonal bureaucratic process. Unfortunately, there's very few mythical places, such as 1930s California, beckoning people to migrate.

    I don't know, if it was me, I would be fighting disillusionment concerning our government, our lack of social connective-ness, our open callousness regarding poverity and our inability as a society to, "leave no one behind."

    And, one of the falling dominos I cannot make sense of is the confused and failed state of education. Amazingly, education - the very thing we all believed to be the key to success, the hard earned process we instill in our young - isn't saving the day.

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  14. Lisa, I applaud your bravery in telling this painful story. I think I worry about money most every day, and yet, we are not struggling like you. And most of us are not to blame. We haven't lived extravagantly. Circumstances have just turned. We were told that each succeeding generation would do better than the last. Until us...then it stopped. And I truly don't know if we shall ever recover. My thoughts are with you. Thank you for pointing us all to what really matters.

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  15. Um, yes, I am guilty of thinking you live in the middle of Nowheresville.

    I'm so sorry you're still living this nightmare. What more can you do, really? If there's no work, there's no work.

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  16. I am so sorry you and your family are going through this Lisa. You are smart to pursue the bankruptcy. There's no point in giving creditors the cash you need to survive.

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  17. Catch 22 is right. And WHEN will people begin to vote their economic self interest rather than that of the wealthy? That is a good question.

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  18. Wow. I'm sorry, Lisa. A friend of mine came within days of being thrown out on the street with her kids. A stay of execution arrived from the bank at the last moment. So she goes out and buys a $48k car -loan taken under a relative's name since she no longer has credit. Oh, to have that kind of care-less attitude....

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  19. It's such a sad state that our country is in when there are so many of us trying desperately to find a job and there aren't any. I pray that you find your dream job soon and that you become a rich and famous writer! You deserve it! :)

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  20. Lisa, I'm sorry you had to go through that.

    My husband and I have had good times and lately we've had some pretty hard times and I have to say that when we scrape bottom I think, more than any other time, about how much I love him and have a partnership with him, in good times and bad.

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  21. Lisa, the way I felt after reading this post attests to your skill as a writer. And you're bravery and willingness to share a moment like this. Very powerful.

    These days, I actually consider myself lucky to have nothing. They can't take nothing. But my kids, who are both graduating from college this year are both practically despondent.The choices and the hope that I was lucky enough to have at their age, seem to no longer exist. There is no work. And I have no answers for them.

    My best to you both Lisa.

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  22. Of course there's work. Change your name to Manjoola and head on over to New Dehli or to Carlita and find the local veggie fields. Sure, in either place you'll get paid 80 cents/hour for 15 hours of work a day and you'll be the one The Man eventually busts, not his pal the increasingly wealthy white collar boss who's in DC's ear, but hey, I'm sure at some point one of the two parties will do something about our long-rigged system.

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  23. You are an amazing person. Life just hasn't figured that out yet.

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  24. I'm with Que. You are an amazing person, Life just hasn't figured that out yet, but your loved ones and all your friends know it.

    Lisa, I'm with you. I've been there. Underneath the shame that tars you, you may find a surprising sense of relief ... I declared bankruptcy, underscored by a collapse in health and the fact that i was using my credit card to buy food, nearly six years ago. Was discharged nearly three years ago ... am still living on the precipice. How we all get through these things I'll never know, but I do know that the huge love in your heart, your sass and intelligence and persistence in staying present will get you through. We're all in this together xoxoxoxo

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  25. A beautiful yet stomach-turning post, Lisa. I'm faring better than some, and only hope my luck holds out. My heart goes out to you and everyone struggling to cope in this prolonged mess.

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  26. Lisa, your story is like Gone With the Wind or The Grapes of Wrath. So sorry you have had to go through this. xx

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  27. :(
    You should bill me for this reality check.
    Any hope of what is called, I believe, "seasonal work?"

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  28. I was looking @ the classified ads today.
    Only takes but a few minutes... hardly nothing- they want CNA's, or truck drivers, neither of which I am. Oh there was one part time crappy job working weekends. Pays a shit wage w no benefits.

    While we are in this stew, I will say that corporate Wall Street got their bailout, but for the people, no.
    One silver lining here is the Bank of America now has a class action lawsuit against them for burning people while abusing the Mortgage modification program, set up to help people avoid foreclosure.
    As soon as I pay off my B of A credit card, I close the account & never do business w them again.

    These are signs of the times. I'm sorry you folks are going through it. We all skirt the edge of the thin ice here, whether we realize it or not.

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  29. In a just world, most of Wall Street would be in jail and you would be completely unaware of the workings of the court system. If something doesn't change, the rich leave few options for the 99% of us. I hope the in the end, you win.

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  30. I'm so sorry, Lisa. I'm just sorry. Financial difficulties just plain suck.

    Sending positive, hopeful vibes your way...

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  31. 1. Thank you for sharing. That you are putting it out there, putting faces to the anonymity - that's huge. And brave. And appreciated by me.

    2. This is self-centered of me, but I have been an ungrateful asshat. B*tching on my blog about not getting a card from someone. Thank you for reminding me to use some empathy, for pete's sake. Ugh.

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  32. Thank you for sharing. I am so lucky that we didn't end up there. <3

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  33. Ugh. I am so amazed at your bravery, insight and humour during such a sucky time. My husband and I were in a similar situation less than 5 years ago. It's amazing how things can swing from one end to the other. It helps put what's really important in perspective, if nothing else. Keep writing, lady. You are really, really good at it.

    LD

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