Come on, you had to know I was going to write about this: Her no longer royal highness Sarah Ferguson is blaming booze (and her debt) for her lapse in judgment in seeking money in exchange for access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew. I’m still not entirely clear what “access” really meant… that alone could be another blog, on another website.
Oddly, this reminded me of among the many colorful jobs I had when I was going through school was that of a bartender. In the movie “Cocktail”, Tom Cruise made bartending look sort of cool. And to an extent it is… but for the smells of dirty bar rags that still sometimes haunt me in my dreams. It also helps to have the physical stamina of a 20-something and be able to be cheerful and attentive past midnight. Or 4am.
Then there’s another aspect of being a bartender that isn’t so fun: having to shut someone off. That’s when a bartender has to make the call that a patron has had a wee-too-much and can be served no more alcohol. Any bartender will tell you – this aspect of the job stinks. But I see this emerging attitude about lenders and their reckless credit underwriting standards that resembles the same often righteous indignation I see when I would tell people they were on their last drink of the night.
I recall one person who I shut off while working at a Cape Cod resort. Thus guy got so ticked off that he went to get the general manager of the hotel. He was slurring and whining that I was not continuing his drinks…which were straight-gin with olives in a rocks glass (which I believe holds 4 ounces…and as I was there for tips. Thus, much to my boss’ chagrin I often poured with a heavy hand). He drank them like water.
Recently, I’ve heard a growing number of people say (both to me and in the media) that the banks never should have had such reckless lending standards. “They never should have given me that loan!” While I can understand that frustration – believe me – there really is another side to this that cannot be ignored. And someone has to say it.
So Why Not Me. A Bankruptcy Attorney.
Like a bar patron sitting on the stool ready to make themselves feel better many people borrowed with the reckless abandon of a high school quarterback on prom night: with gentle whispers in the breeze singing ‘may tomorrow never come.’ How’s that for poetic! How can I be so seemingly callous? Because I know that there are others – including me – who have made somewhat similar decisions and we see it for what it is.
Let’s be fair: some of us didn’t fall for the baloney that “real estate values never go down.” Why? Because some of us remember what happened in 1987. Some of us actually decided not to buy a home because we did not want to get stuck. Some simply said “no.”
In 1999 I recall speaking to two homeowners in my neighborhood who were so happy to be able to finally sell their condo that they bought 10 years earlier. They finally were able to sell it for the same price they bought it for. They essentially rented their home for 10 years, except they had condo fees and assessments. All of that was enough to send shivers down my spine and send me gleefully skipping back to my rented apartment.
The Difference Between Judgment and Observation
As a bankruptcy lawyer, I’ve been pretty observant of those things that bring people into the office to see me. Some have lost their job, others have had health problems that make me wonder where I would get the strength to persevere like they did. Others, families fall apart – marriages fail, debt piles up. What I often refer to as shit, happens. But there are others who present something different.
Like a bitter drinking groomsmen and bridesmaids at a wedding with an open bar, many people have lived beyond their means and have used their homes like ATM machines. Don’t get me wrong, even those who now regret their decisions are entitled to the redemption and relief that bankruptcy offers, regardless of whether some whiny Wall Street fat-cat whines to the contrary. Our laws believe in second chances. Our society is built on the premise that everyone is deserving of another shot. It’s why we don’t have debtor’s prisons. It’s why we have parole and probation. It’s why we have a bankruptcy system.
Nothing gets us away from this reality: the bar over served far too many. Last call has long since passed: the tap is dry and the bar is closed. Despite all the hoopla about wanting to keep people in their homes, Congress still refuses to let people modify their home mortgages in chapter 13. HAMP doesn’t let you keep your home, it just lets you live there: for now. HAFA… all I can say is this: why bother? So it’s my opinion that hope is slowly fading. There is no after hours party and this party is over.
We have not begun to clean up all the damage that this free flowing credit and greed filled drunken debauchery has caused. Our country can never really move on until we do.
Yesterday I received a call from an old client who lost their home last year in foreclosure, had gotten the needed relief only bankruptcy can offer, and was now renting. They had gone though a bloody awful experience with a parasitic mortgage broker who skipped town after duping scores of people. They expressed to me their frustration that they could not get a credit card. In a way, I felt like a bartender again. I had to remind them that they had been shut off, and they had to sober up. I had to tell them that if they wanted something, they had to save up.
The conversation wasn’t as ugly as the gin drinking dude at the Sea Crest who wore a white cable knit fisherman’s sweater and had a crusty mustache. See, it’s still haunts me today. But when people realize that the credit spigot is shut off, it can be difficult to grapple with. Telling people that fact is part of my job that I still dislike. But like any good bartender, you do what you have to do… and I know that in the end, I help make most of my clients happy again.
- Bankruptcy and the Credit Report
- Rumor Control: Credit Reports and What’s Dischargeable in Chapter 7
- Can Declaring Bankruptcy Improve Your Credit Score?
- The Secret History of Credit Cards
- Bankruptcy Credit Counseling: Is it a joke?