A Writer’s Diary Entries From Early November, 1990

Thursday, November 1, 1990

4 PM. I’m a little shaken after seeing the bankruptcy lawyer an hour ago in his office in Fort Lauderdale.

He and his partner do one-fourth of the bankruptcies in South Florida and have good relationships with the trustees, so they’re “90% sure” they can get my case discharged, but neither of them had ever seen anything like it.

The closest was a no-asset case where a man owed $90,000. In that case, there was a “Rule 2004” hearing at which creditors challenged the filing left and right.

“This is the kind of case the newspapers would love to get a hold of,” he said.

Because the case is so difficult, they’ll have to charge me twice the usual fee: $1500.

Of course, I didn’t tell him that I’d lied on the credit card applications. I’m afraid that would come out in a hearing, and I’d lose the case anyway.

What if I don’t file? I asked. He said I’d be hounded by creditors for the rest of my life; that there would be judgments against me; that if I ever got my hands on any money, they’d take it; that they’d garnish my wages and make my life miserable.

Of course, the attorney wants my fee, so I’m sure he was exaggerating to make me want to file. I took his card and told him I’d think about it.

He painted a picture so grim, it made me sick to my stomach. I felt like I should just kill myself now and get it over with.

But I realize that’s how I was taught to behave. I just look at Dad and how he reacts to problems.

The lawyer’s remark about the media being interested in the case intrigues me.

I love publicity, of course, and perhaps wrongly, I believe lots of publicity, even negative, is better than no publicity.

And despite my lies on credit card applications, I do believe in the truth and that sunshine is the best disinfectant. If my story is so extraordinary, what if I go public with it?

I’d start with someone in the media I could trust: a business reporter or even someone from American Banker. I can definitely see myself on Donahue or Oprah because of this.

When I mentioned this to Dad just now, he went ballistic, of course. But maybe I could help people – both individuals who are credit junkies and the banks and credit card companies, who would be forced to look at their policies.

And it would be a kind of fable or archetypical story of 1980s greed and maybe explain why the financial system is closer to collapse now than it has been since the 1930s.

Once I’d “come out,” made a clean breast of it, I’d feel better, and if the companies wanted to pursue it, they’d be exposing their own mistakes.

Right now this seems like a great idea, but I couldn’t do it until the term ended at BCC because it wouldn’t be fair to my students for me to be swept up in national publicity.

I have to weigh whether I’d be hurting my parents, too, and probably there are other situations I have to consider.

For the next seven weeks I’ll keep talking to my creditors when they call and handling them as best I can. The important thing is not to avoid the situation.

The attorney thought I was very well-organized with my spreadsheet of creditors and amounts owed. He said he could file in a week because the case didn’t require much paperwork, and Dad wants to lend me the $1500.

If any time is good for filing, it’s now, the lawyer said, because the bankruptcy courts are so clogged. (But the recession has barely begun, and I think they’re bound to get more clogged as the months go on.)

Saturday, November 3, 1990

2 PM. My first week as a full-time BCC instructor is over, and I’m exhausted. But I feel a sense of accomplishment and think I made today’s English 102 at South and yesterday’s English 101s at Central meaningful.

Thursday night I didn’t sleep too well, as my mind was occupied with my financial disaster.

Right now I’ve decided not to decide, that there are times when the best course of action is to do nothing.

If I hadn’t torn up and returned my cards, I might been able to keep the credit chassis going with only a minor interruption. But back in the summer, I didn’t know I’d get a pre-approved Platinum Card from AmEx or the full-time job at BCC.

Still, I have no regrets.

I’m getting used to living without credit cards and those constant cash advances and bill payments.

I get only one or two calls a day from creditors, and they haven’t turned nasty yet. That will happen as the accounts get more delinquent and are turned over to collection agencies.

What I regret is the problems this will cause for my parents and Jonathan because the calls come on their phone.

If I were in my own house, I’d have the machine screen all calls or I’d get call blocking or something.

Well, I’ll play it by ear. As for going to the media, probably the place to start is an anonymous letter to an American Banker reporter, to see if he’d be interested in my story.

I’d talk on condition of anonymity (“Gary Richardson”) and then, if an article appeared, I could parlay that into national media publicity.

Last night’s “Bad Times” segment on the CBS Evening News was about the record number of bankruptcies due to credit card debt, and as the gloomy economic statistics keep coming out, it appears likely even more people – perhaps one million – will file for bankruptcy next year.

Emotionally, I haven’t accepted the possibility of fraud indictment and even imprisonment. But I accept it intellectually, and I’d even go to the U.S. Attorney or some official and confess.

While I doubt they’d spend the money to press charges, they certainly have a right to, because in telling banks I made $100,000 a year as Director of Training of Computer Learning Systems, Inc., I was committing fraud.

But I’m sure, whatever the consequences, I can deal with them – even if that means prison.

Reading Emerson’s “Compensation” the other night, I realized again how adversity can spur growth.

Oddly, when I face the possibility of “ruining my life” – to use Mom’s term – I feel more and more serene. Perhaps that’s the way people who know their death is imminent feel. Once you’ve faced up to the worst, you no longer have to fear anything else.

I’ve got a lot of grading to do this weekend, and it seems I’m always marking students’ papers, from the early morning to the afternoon to just before bedtime.

There’s going to be much-needed legislation next year proposing a limit on the number of students and classes of Gordon Rule classes a teacher can be assigned.

BCC wouldn’t be a bad place to teach full-time in some other department – art, for example, or chemistry or history.

The LSDAS sent my updated Law School Report now that they’ve got all my transcripts; basically they’ve just calculated my undergraduate GPA, but they’ll also send my other transcripts to schools. In a few weeks I’ll get my LSAT score and figure out where I can apply.

FIU wants a law school, says a Herald story, which mentioned that state schools at FSU and UF turn down over 80% of applicants.

I believe I could get into one of them, and right now they’re the only law schools I have the possibility of affording. I obviously can’t get any more loans, and most schools are so expensive that grants and scholarships only cover a part of the cost.

Is it a fantasy that some little law school will see my good grades, and hopefully, decent LSAT score, on the Student Locater Service and offer me a good deal?

Probably it is a fantasy.

As for Ph.D. programs, there’s a lot of money, but it doesn’t go to first-year students.

God, I haven’t been in touch with my New York friends in weeks, mostly because I’m so busy and because I get into bed at 9 PM.

This is an odd time in my life, but in a way – the same way I liked being in Rockaway in May and in September – I enjoy the chaos.

Like in Emerson’s essay, he says if you’re lucky your life will be in constant upheaval and you’ll handle it as the most natural circumstance. (It actually is, but we like to pretend otherwise.)

After two weeks of being clean-shaven, I’ve gotten used to my face, but I’ll probably start growing my beard again because I feel sexier with it.

However, I know I can live without a beard, too.

Hey, constant change.

Have I gotten too thin? Gordon, a BCC teacher who didn’t know me before, offhandedly mentioned “guys who are built like Richard – you know, very skinny” in a conversation at school.

And the lawyer said, “Well, I know you didn’t use all your money for eating, since you’re so skinny.”

But I continue to eat about 1700-1750 calories a day.

Tuesday, November 6, 1990

3 PM. Yesterday I graded the papers for today’s 8 AM class, but I just couldn’t get to the 9:30 AM papers because I was so disgusted.

Pat Menhart taught the students to organize a five-paragraph essay, but their ideas are so banal and they express themselves as if they’d learned English only a few months ago.

It’s painful and discouraging to see middle-class kids, presumably educated in “average” suburban schools, so unfamiliar with language, ideas and logic.

It’s not that they’re dumb, either: this is the norm for American high school graduates in 1990, I’m sure.

Alice phoned, and it was great to hear from her. She enjoyed the press tour of Sweden and Norway and has written three articles about it already.

The agents are sending around Alice’s diet book as well as Alice’s and Peter’s Apartners.

Peter’s play (And the Winner Is…) will probably be produced in Sarasota and possibly right here in Broward, which would be terrific.

Alice and Peter are also co-writing a play, Press Trip. God, I admire their energy.

Alice asked me if I “passed” the LSAT and if I think I’ll enjoy law school and “practicing law.” She doesn’t understand why I’m doing this.

Do I?

I’ve got to make certain law school doesn’t turn into a disaster like my Ph.D. program at the University of Miami. I went into that without thinking it through. I didn’t plan my finances or explore my feelings about being treated like a lowly grad student.

In the end, it was the chairman’s insistence that I do his legwork and xeroxing that made me quit.

If I went into a Ph.D. program in English now, I’d be no better off. My publications and teaching experience don’t count in a world where “scholarship” is the coin of the realm.

But law school is different. I’d be starting out as a “lowly” first-year student; however, since I’ve never studied law, it’s a role that won’t discomfit me.

I haven’t felt like it was beneath me to take education courses or even undergrad classes in another field. To me, this would be just another step forward in my education and growth.

I should really throw all that stuff from English grad programs in the garbage pail.

Up a 5 AM, I exercised and read the Herald.

Meir Kahane was killed in New York last night by an Arab assassin. Kahane was a hateful man who promoted violence.

Twenty years ago I watched him start a riot at Brooklyn College. His death will raise already high Jewish-Palestinian tensions.

My classes went okay today, though it’s weird having to do all these different lessons in a class that’s the same course because they had different previous teachers.

Pat Menhart was like a high school teacher, but most of Central’s English teachers share the same mindset.

Of course, the BCC students just out of high school are little kids in many ways; however, treating them like that just prolongs their adolescence.

Myself, I’m finding it a difficult transition from dealing with the adults I taught in Teacher Education Center workshops.

Today’s Election Day. I already voted by absentee ballot, but ordinarily, as a political junkie, I’d be staying up all night.

Since my usual bedtime is about 9:30PM these days, and CBS starts its coverage at 9 PM (the other networks start an hour later, so for earlier results, I’ll watch CNN), I don’t know how much I should be able to stay awake for.

Although I doubt there’ll be much change, there are always interesting races in off-year elections. In 1986, it was really exciting to see the Democrats recapture the Senate.

My predictions: the Democrats will pick up one Senate seat and maybe seven House seats, Chiles will squeak by here in Florida (wishful thinking?), but the GOP will do okay in other gubernatorial races, including California, the big one.

Friday, November 9, 1990

6 PM. While American Express is calling me nearly every day about my late Optima payments, they sent me a notice that I’ve qualified for a credit line of $7500 that will access checks.

Now, if I took that and the $10,000 Platinum Card they offered me, I could pay off the Optima bills in full. Certainly I could at least have kept the credit chassis going.

In effect, I was more responsible than they were because I ended the chassis when I tore up and sent back my credit cards. As it turned out, I could have managed longer on my credit-go-around – but I’m not sorry I ended it.

At 10 AM today, I called Hoffman & Larin and left a message for Martin Hoffman that I’d like him to handle my bankruptcy case.

If it’s somehow rejected or if the media gets a hold of it, then I can reap the benefits (along with the drawbacks) of public attention.

Meanwhile, the economy continues to sink, and even the Bush administration declares we’re in a “lull”; when it’s a depression, they’ll finally use the word “recession.”

Talk of layoffs and bad retail sales and bankruptcies dominate the financial news. Meanwhile, Bush is sending 150,000 “offensive” troops to the Gulf to join the 230,000 already there.

War isn’t imminent, but we’re either getting ready for it or trying to convince Saddam Hussein we’re going to war so he’ll back down.

Surely there’s some kind of diplomatic solution possible. We can’t just blunder into war, can we? Haven’t we learned from World War I, from Vietnam and Korea?

Then again, is the U.S government repeating the mistakes they made in the Great Depression, when Hoover tried to balance the budget by raising taxes and cutting spending and the Fed shrunk the money supply?

Now we have a budget-cutting agreement. And if the Fed lowers rates, it’s too little, too late: “pushing on a string.”

In a deflationary world – yes, I know, the inflation numbers still look bad, but wait till next spring – lowering rates even half a percent doesn’t mean much.

I slept well, was up at 5 AM, exercised, ate my cereal and downed my supplements, got the newspapers and gas and stamps, and was at school by 7:20 AM.

In all three English 101 classes today, I went over comparison/contrast, feeling energetic and dynamic even if I wasn’t.

I do like the kids in my classes: they’re basically sweet-natured.

My opinion of one fellow teacher changed, however. David no longer seems sexy, not after I’ve listened to him talk and watched him grade a short-answer test on Oedipus Rex for English 102. How high-school-ish.

But David fits in well with the people at BCC. Although some of them are bright, and most are extremely nice, they are limited – and they also don’t seem to ever question the way they do things.

I’ve managed to grade – very lightly – one set of papers for tomorrow, and the others I’ll get to tonight or early in the morning or, at worst, while they’re doing in-class writing tomorrow.

Next week I’m giving in-class essays to the four classes that didn’t get them this week – so I’ll have plenty of grading to do.

But I’m going to attempt a modified workshop and see if I can make it go. At worst, I can do as much good as their previous teachers. Besides, my job is a salvage operation.

And even if all their other BCC English instructors remind them of high school teachers, they’ll have met someone who really knows what writing is all about – and despite that, I don’t have all the answers, and I’m not sure of my methods.

It was cloudy and even rained a bit today, which was a nice change.

After tomorrow’s class, I’ll have two days in a row off (with only about three and a half sets of papers to grade).

Maybe I can get some law school applications sent off. I got the one from Florida State in today’s mail.

The University of Florida seems like the better school – though Tallahassee is probably more of a city than Gainesville.

I also have to figure out what private law schools, if any, I should apply to. But even if I can get into George Washington University, for example, how could I ever afford it?

Tuesday, November 13, 1990

6 PM. I’m really stressed out right now. I feel as if I’m moving in overdrive and am about to explode at the next touch. I need to relax and rest.

Yesterday afternoon I drove over to The Fountains, a strip center where I could walk around and relax. I spent about an hour there, mostly at the bookstore.

Back home, I graded the papers from my MWF classes but decided to leave the CLAST essays till today.

At 8 PM, Cinemax had on Michael Moore’s lovely little Roger and Me, about the closing of GM plants that decimated his hometown of Flint, Michigan.

Moore has been criticized for attacking GM too broadly and making everyone look ridiculous, but despite his somewhat smug attitude, I thought he did a good job.

I got to BCC at 7:15 AM today and headed straight for the computer, where I  printed out my spreadsheet of creditors’ names, addresses, the amount I owe each one, and my account numbers; the list of notes I made for the meeting with the lawyer; the pages of “Caracas Traffic” I was missing for this year’s NEA application; a silly press release based on a brainstorm I got while walking around the shopping center yesterday; and my personal statement for the law school applications.

As my 8 AM class wrote, I tried to get through the CLAST essays but could only manage to mark half of them.

For some reason – probably because Pat Menhart’s assignment was due – half the 9:30 AM class was missing. I returned papers, had some conferences, and did a workshop using a student’s essay.

Dr. Grasso turned my temporary office upside down for half an hour, looking for a packet of stuff Pat Menhart had. It was nowhere to be found, and when Dr. Grasso finally called Pat, she learned it was at Pat’s home all the time.

Skipping out of the Prentice-Hall luncheon (they’re selling their handbook and other texts), I came home for lunch. Mom told me that my creditors had been ringing the phone off the hook since 8 AM.

But when I picked it up, it was Cynthia calling to ask if I could take over Betty’s Open Collage creative writing class tomorrow night.

Betty took a bad fell in Bailey Hall last Friday night. She had to go to the hospital, where she got seven stitches in her head; her face is a mess.

So of course I couldn’t refuse taking over tomorrow night’s class. Betty has been a good friend to me, and I’d do just about anything for her.

However, this makes tomorrow is a very long day.  Starting at 8 AM, I’ll ease my burden by having all my classes write. At 1 PM, I’ve got to get from Central Campus to the attorney’s office in North Miami Beach  and then back to South Campus at 6:30 PM.

I don’t know if I’ll have time to come home for lunch or even dinner. And not getting  back until after 10 PM is bad because I have to teach at 8 AM the next day.

I deposited the five $100 bills Dad gave me in my Broward Schools Credit Union account so I can pay the lawyer. While at the credit union, I had my Florida residency affidavit notarized for the FSU application.

And though I still need to ask people for letters of recommendation, I went to the post office and mailed off my FSU and UF law school applications.

Knowing I won’t have time to exercise tomorrow, I worked out for an hour this afternoon.

I’d hoped today’s mail would bring my LSAT score, but all I got were things that complicated my life: AmEx asked for my Corporate Card back. I got the GRE ticket for that advanced test in Political Science on December 8. (Whatever possessed me to register for it is totally beyond me.) New York summoned me to jury duty in Manhattan. And I got a dozen letters from banks, all threatening in various degrees.

At least I when Discover and Chemical Bank called me this afternoon, I could tell them that I’d retained a bankruptcy attorney.

Once I do file, I know I can’t be harassed anymore. But because I have about 45 different creditors, it’s going to take a while before they’re all notified.

If I tomorrow’s paycheck is over $1000,  I’ll deposit it in the credit union; then I can give the lawyer his entire $1500 fee so he can get started. That’s worth the extra trip to the BSCU branch in  Hollywood.

I had time only to skim the Times and USA Today, and I rushed through dinner. I fear I won’t be able to sleep tonight because I feel all this pressure and stress.

But at least I’m dealing with my debt problem. The sooner I start, the sooner I finish – with both bankruptcy and my law school applications.

Remember just a few weeks ago, when I had so much time on my hands that I had to think of stuff to do to keep from getting bored?

Well, this hectic time, too, shall pass.