Confessions of a Laid-off Lawyer

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

Times of Tragedy

with 14 comments

Total Black: $66.95
Total Red: $229,387.70

Everywhere I’ve gone these past few days Haiti and the recent earthquake there have prevailed. is encouraging organizers to use their meetup groups as vehicles for donation.  Facebook friends post copious comments about relief efforts.  Of course, Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta are single-handedly rescuing thousands by the hour.  The tragedy has even brought former political opponents together.  Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have teamed up, part of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, to help raise money and aid for Haiti relief efforts.  Once I get paid, I’ll donate something to their efforts.  Personally, I approve wholeheartedly of former presidents staying involved in politics.  John Quincy Adams and William Howard Taft would be two I can think of who remained active after their presidencies: Adams as a Congressman from his home state and Taft as the Chief Justice of the United States.  The tragedy in Haiti even got a guy from the theatre gig to donate 20% of the profits from a production of Much Ado About Nothing he’s putting on at New World Stages.  I’m surprised that I haven’t been hit up yet by some of the dating sites I’m on: hump your way to helping Haiti.

Forgive my flippancy.  It’s not aimed at the horrible tragedy the Haitians have suffered.  Instead, I’m just a bit puzzled why it takes tragic times to bring people together.  Even in our personal lives that holds true.  I’m sure many of us have, or have at least heard of others who have, experienced some family rift that gets healed only because of some tragedy that befalls the family.  It happened too often in mine.  It’s almost as if the awesome reminder of our mortality shocks people out of complacency.  Why?  Every talking head on television cites Haiti as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.  That means we have done little, on a massive scale, to make their lives better.  In fact, since Haitians revolted over two hundred years ago and formed the second free nation in the Western hemisphere, the United States has really done much to thwart their efforts at independence and success.  If Haitians are caught on our shores, they are deported whereas Cubans get to remain if they touch United States soil.  Two peoples, same circumstances, different results.

Some may cite the 2004 tsunami disaster as a counter-example.  That’s not on-point, however, because the tsunami devastated many countries and was so unexpected that it really struck people with awe at the power the Earth can have over us.  Here the tragedy is localized and we’re a bit more aware of localized natural disasters.  In that sense Hurricane Katrina is a bit more analogous.  And in that instance too people all of a sudden woke up to what was under their noses all along, the poverty of Louisiana (and perhaps the corruption) and decided to get involved and make a difference.  Here too I’m sure we’ll hear from Anderson Cooper a year from to keep them honest about how far Haiti has progressed.  CNN will ride this tragedy out for another few years.  As they should, perhaps.  But what I’m interested in here, however, is why it takes a tragedy for human beings to wake up and do something to help their neighbors.

Back in Only Way Out Is Through I wondered whether readers have helped anyone out with their financial woes, whether you’ve helped bail-out a friend facing foreclosure or rallied to the aid of someone drowning in medical bills.  And as I noted there, I am not writing this as a plea for your cash.  Instead, I’m writing it as a plea for your thoughts and for your time.  Time to reexamine why it is that it takes times of tragedy before we throw off stubbornness or complacency and rally to someone else’s aid or move beyond our egos and reunite with family members.  I received a comment from another attorney yesterday, stating that he or she is facing eviction and will be out on the streets soon.  I can’t fathom that.  Because I assume family members or friends can help prevent it.  Because I figure someone can help her or him out with rent.  Or at least put the person up for a while if eviction does occur.  As I referenced back in Never Been Further Apart, I dub it the George Bailey approach to fundraising.  If people rally to your aid, giving whatever they can, it’s bound to pay off and make somewhat of a difference.  It certainly does during times of natural disasters.  So, why can’t we apply that approach to the national debt or to our neighbor’s financial struggles?  I don’t mean systemic problems like those of the homeless or the poor.  They require more complex solutions.  But if your aunt is facing foreclosure or your cousin is about to be evicted, couldn’t you spare twenty dollars to help her or him out?

How do we transfer America’s generosity on a national scale—think emaciated children or animals on television commercials or church groups relief efforts—to a more personal and direct approach?  According to People magazine, Brad and Angelina have donated one million dollars to Haiti relief efforts.  That means, of course, that they had one million dollars to spare.  So . . . couldn’t they have donated that same money, theoretically speaking, a month ago, let’s say, to a bail out Americans fund.  I suspect that once again the American mindset of blame and shame is at work.  The Haiti earthquake is truly a tragedy because no one caused it and no one could prevent it.  But in donating money to each other, we look for blame and shame as the determining factor: did you do something to put yourself in that situation?  If so, you don’t get my money.  I admit I’ve thought the same way about the homeless.  I just wonder whether it’s time for a change.

14 Responses

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  1. Dude, stop trying to get people to bail you out. You made each decision that put you in this hole, so you get to make each decision that gets you out. It has nothing to do with blame and shame and everything to do with the consequences of your own damn decisions. Grow up.


    January 17, 2010 at 14:00

  2. Hmm…sounds like someone’s got guilt about something. Old mother wasting away in a home somewhere?

    I didn’t ask for your money. Obviously you didn’t read closely enough.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 17, 2010 at 14:25

  3. Anon is right. You’re a grown man, time to start acting like a man and tackle your own problems like the rest of us. We aren’t bailing you out. Americans are sick and tired of having to bail out banks, people who can’t afford their houses and people who foolishly chose to go to expensive law schools in a country that is saturated with lawyers.


    January 17, 2010 at 14:33

  4. Which post accounts for how you got into this mess? I understand, of course, the loan balance came from undergrad and law school. The furniture balance is of particular interest. Have you tried/thought about selling all of your furniture except for the essentials? Just curious, and trying to be constructive.


    January 17, 2010 at 14:41

  5. No one’s asking for your money. I’m asking why we are so stingy except with strangers. Do any of you donate to anyone? Do you give to any causes? Or just horde your money?

    Good people can make honest mistakes. Who are any of you to determine whether a house is too big or too expensive? Many people were doing fine until they lost jobs or spouses did. Or both.

    I wish you all never experience anything like serious joblessness or crippling medical bills or other financial difficulties. And if you do, may people have mercy on you all. Glad you’re not leading this country. Seems like we’re truly headed to a war between compassionate folks and bootstrappers like you.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 17, 2010 at 15:50

  6. Furniture is a bed, a desk, a couch, bookshelves, a dresser, nightstand, entertainment center, and a chair. There’s not much to sell. Well . . . I suppose most of the commenters here would have me sell it all and sleep on my air mattress. Blog from the floor. Wash my clothes in the tub. Kick the cats to the curb because they cost money and may puncture that air mattress.

    But in all seriousness, the furniture bill must be one of the first to go because it’s held by Wells Fargo and they are ruthlessly pursuing it and increasing it. When I lived in Brooklyn I used the furniture of the guy I subletted from. I only had a bed and a desk. So I needed furniture when I moved but I got laid-off when I moved too. It was a mistake to buy the furniture, but I didn’t expect to still be laid-off over a year afterward.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 17, 2010 at 17:54

  7. Nope, both parents are alive and well and going to start adopting needy children (and by needy, I mean the truly needy kind — orphans — not needy like you) since all of their kids are self-supporting adults. Grandparents alive and well too, living in their Florida winter home they saved up for. You like to think of your “naysayers” as horrible people taking out their problems or insecurities on you, but we’re actually just trying to give you the slap upside the head you need to accept reality and go about bringing down your debt the realistic way. Face it — you’re not going to get yourself out of debt in a few months ushering at a theater. With your debt the level it is, you need to pour every spare minute into finding a well-paying full-time job. Will it make for exciting posts? Maybe not, but the goal here is getting out of debt, no?


    January 17, 2010 at 19:20

  8. A lot of people find used furniture for free or practically free on craigslist.


    January 17, 2010 at 19:21

  9. I think a lot of us probably donate to pet causes. I do every year without fail (in addition to donating to emergency causes like Haiti), but those pet causes don’t include bailing out stupid individuals from their own poor decisions. (And I exclude the homeless from that — I routinely give money to homeless people because while some poor individual decisions may have contributed to their current station, there are much larger societal forces at work contributing.) You have multiple degrees and the energy of youth, so it’s near impossible to feel sorry for you. You have been your own worst enemy, and now you want to blame everyone else for it.

    And if more financially smart people were in charge, we might not have all these messes.


    January 17, 2010 at 19:29

  10. Finally, I find it hilariously ironic that you have trouble donating to homeless people while maintaining “donate to me” links on your blog.


    January 17, 2010 at 19:32

  11. And once again, I repeat. I did not and am not asking for anyone’s money. Instead what I’m highlighting here is the mentality that we can sit in judgment of each other, freely deriding one another because of prior decisions. Risk-taking on Wall Street is rewarded. Mortgage-backed securities were all the rage. Everyone wanted those high-risk mortgages signed because it meant more mortgages to bundle and sell. Yet now
    that Wall Street’s debacle brought the nation to it’s economic knees, the
    villians are the “risk-taking” Average Joes who dreamed of having their own homes and maybe thought they’d be able to swing their mortgage payments over time. That sort of risk-taking is now vilified while Wall Street mavericks are rewarded. It’s sick. And it’s unfair and unAmerican, frankly.

    I haven’t asked for anyone’s sympathy. In fact, if
    you don’t like what I have to say, just stop reading my blog. But don’t come at people with debt with some holier-than-thou attitude as if you truly can be the first one to cast a stone. If I don’t get out of debt in a year, it’s not skin off your nose. Or mine. So why deride me for trying? Unless you just happen to be a naysayer in general. Someone who routinely cites “just being real” as an excuse to rain on other’s parades and kill others dreams.

    That said, I welcome your comments. I just think of people like you and work even harder.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 17, 2010 at 20:08

  12. Don’t let anyone bug you. The general point of your blog comes through clearly to me. You never intended upon being in this situation. You are entitled to make a mistake. It’s just a mistake you can’t get away from when it’s a student loan. You should write you congressman to make your student loan dischargeable in bankruptcy and then go bankrupt. Start all over. That’s what needs to be done.
    I lost my job too, but I have been working for a while–so I managed to save some money. But I never intended on using the money for this. I totally get it.

    Angel the Lawyer

    January 17, 2010 at 22:28

  13. You’re right about mistakes. I wouldn’t lump student loans into that column, but other misjudgments yes. Despite current circumstances, I love the law. I’m a law nerd even. I love jurisprudence; I want to use the law for positive social betterment. So the student loan debt I wouldn’t count in the mistake column. But financial missteps or miscalculations, like frivolous consumer purchases, yes. But it was just a lesson learned. Glad to have learned this now at an early age and not like many Americans with children, a spouse, and a mortgage, however.

    You certainly picked the right name, Angel. It was like cool water being poured down a parched throat when I read your comment. Thank you.

    Laid-off Lawyer

    January 19, 2010 at 08:11

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