Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

Just Your Average Joe Blogging Away His Debt—In One Year or Less

Pussyfootin’ Around

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Total Black: $625.15
Total Red: $230,649.18

In Never Been Further Apart I referenced the anxiety I feel when the telephone rings.  Since no one calls me on my home telephone number, it’s bound to be one of the debtors trying to get hold of me.  This morning both my cellphone and home phone rang at the exact same moment: 8:20 a.m.  The home phone was a credit card company; the cellphone was my mother calling to tell me that SallieMae was now calling her.  She’s a co-signor on one of my student loans.  And wonderful mother that she is, she made a payment on my student loans last month and asked SallieMae to send her the bills until I get back on my feet.  Only downside is that SallieMae will only apply her payments towards that loan she’s tied to.  Without the contract attorney position I’d continue to fall behind on those payments despite my mother’s help.

Caller ID shows that debtors called eight times today.  Yesterday they called thirteen times.  And now American Express is trying me on my cellphone.  AT&T has only called me on my cell.  And both called today while I was at the temp job.  I explained to the woman sitting next to me about this project, the blog, my personal financial circumstances and so on.  She’s shared her concern as well about her own finances and debt.  She refuses to total her debt though and own that number.  But she’s understands where I’m coming from, so when I saw my cellphone vibrating, and recognized the Arizona telephone number, I joked that American Express was calling again.  That was at 10:26 a.m.  At 11:48 a.m., AT&T telephoned.  I poked fun again.  She was a bit taken aback and amazed at my deadpan reaction and asked how I could be so calm.  Later in the day she was again taken aback by my aggressive reaction to a second-year associate who refused to believe that the temp attorneys couldn’t use the document review software in the same way he could.  I told him twice in succession that we did not have the functionality he was describing.  It required a different security setting that the temps hadn’t been granted.  Finally the temp attorney sitting next to him showed him on her computer that we didn’t have that feature but he still didn’t believe it.  Instead he called someone else over to ask him and when the other person repeated what I had said, I, in a loud and atypically assertive voice, said, “That’s what I told you three times!”  Once people got past the shockwaves of a temp “talking back” to an associate, I explained to the woman sitting next to me that I have limits beyond which I won’t tolerate certain behavior.  Clearly the situation with the associate didn’t warrant any concern, but after nearly sixty hours in the same space with these people, I got a bit perturbed.  But the point I wanted to emphasize to her regarded something I had said a few days earlier: that I wouldn’t have ever allowed a law firm partner to yell at me.

Some law firm partners are known as yellers or screamers.  I never saw or heard of that happening at the law firm where I worked as an associate.  But if it had happened, I feel confident that I would have yelled right back.  It’s childlike, unprofessional, disrespectful, and uncalled for.  Yelling,  out of frustration or anger is one thing.  Yelling at someone is another.  But, of course, when I mentioned my intolerance to my temp colleagues and this second-year associate, no one believed me and instead everyone insisted that I, presumably like everyone else, would have merely grinned and bore it, bowing and saying, “Yes Massur” the whole time, just too happy to be employed.  Well, when I spoke up today, it allowed me to segue into saying that I have certain boundaries that I won’t allow crossed.

That’s when the Woman Who Sits Next To Me saw the disconnect with my earlier behavior:  that I let credit card companies harass me with nonstop telephone calls, that I haven’t bothered to reach out to the colleague whom I spent nearly all of August working for about my fee.  I had mentioned to her that I agreed to help him with some legal consulting work for a flat fee of $1,500 and he still hasn’t paid me.  Even though over a month ago in Slow Going I said I would, I still haven’t asked for it.  So, in essence, she wanted to know how I could “speak up” about such a minor point and yet pussyfoot around about people owing me money or others bothering me about money I owe them.  It’s a good point too.

It seems a fairly straight-forward thing to do: answer the telephone.  But when your debtors are calling, it’s anything but.  When you’re in debt, the credit card companies and other debtors treat you like a child.  It’s as if you stayed out past your curfew and have to own up to it and promise to be good and do chores around the house to make up for it.  Having spoken with credit card companies in the past about my delinquencies I can say that all they want is a date.  They just want a number to plug into their computers so they can move on to the next telephone call and then go home.  See, “They,” of course, are human beings.  Even if they sometimes don’t play the part very well.  Sure, they’ll listen to your story, they’ll tell you how sorry they are, and how badly they feel about your situation.  I’ve even found that the foreign-based call centers tend to be the most sympathetic.  Perhaps because, living in the developing world, they understand tough times?  Just a thought.  But the reason that I haven’t been answering their calls lately is because I don’t have a date to give them.  And I’ve been in that situation in the past and it was nearly impossible to end the call.  Oftentimes I just supplied a fake date to get off the telephone.  And giving them a date won’t stop them from reporting your delinquency to the credit agencies.  So really, what would come of answering their calls?  I’d be forced to air my private struggles to a stranger for nothing.  What can they do?  They’re not about to forgive my debt.  And I wouldn’t accept that either because that would mean the obliteration of my credit.  And, I’d then have to report my debt as income and pay taxes on it.  So, I couldn’t in good conscience answer their calls these past five weeks.  Since work with the temp agency began and unemployment benefits ended, I’ve been trying to settle my quaking earth.  Aftershocks are now subsiding.

Once I explained that point to the Woman Who Sits Next To Me, she understood.  I wasn’t able to explain, however, why I am unwilling to go after others for what’s owed me.  She forecasted quite correctly that, if there were a delay in payment, I’d probably wait months before asking the Recession Art Sale about the money owed me.  I sold one piece of art and helped close a sale on a second yesterday, so I’ll be getting something in commission.  This is the last week so we hope to make even more sales.  Yet despite thinking further about all this, I’m still unable to address the disconnect she pointed out.  I do pussyfoot around when it comes to money owed me.  I’m going to have to think a bit more on all this but I know at the outset that my inaction is connected to my undervaluation of my worth.  And that sort of thinking isn’t sitting well with me any longer.

One Response

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  1. Congrats on the sales. Sure I’ve said this before but I can’t believe the pressure you live under. I don’t know if I’d get out of bed.

    Larry E

    October 4, 2009 at 10:29

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