Dispatches From a Hangdog Bankrupt
What follows are diverting and cautionary reports on the Chapter 7 death and decay of an Austin rare-book dealership, written for the benefit of the chary startups among you by Bill Cotter, its former owner and sole employee. Cotter’s first novel, Fever Chart, will be published by McSweeney’s in August. The bankruptcy trustees will get half of his advance.
An Aside About Collections Experience.
BY BILL COTTER
The gnarliness of the presently-unfolding Chapter-7 bankruptcy of my rare-book and restoration business, Milou Rare Books, puts me in mind of a period when I was not a miserable debtor, as now, but a haughty debt collector.
In the ‘90s I worked for a year as a collections specialist for Hibernia National Bank in New Orleans. My job was to urge people who were modestly tardy on their vehicle notes − from a week to several months − to throw a little change the bank’s way.
I would sit in front of a primitive computer and wait for it to automatically telephone whichever delinquent lessee was next in the queue. I hated that job. It made me sleepy. My headset microphone always smelled of my predecessor’s most recent meal. I was incompetent. I was easily moved by tales of financial morbidity. I always ended my calls with “Well, do your best” or some such. I collected very little. I was terribly pleasant, though. I grew not a callused hide but a soft soothing skin of sympathy.
There were only four types of vehicles in my collecting purview. Ninety-eight percent were cars. The remainders were motorcycles, boats and the very occasional jet ski. Each type of vehicle had a three-letter code that would pop up on the screen while I listened to the phone ring at the debtor’s business or residence.
One day a code that I’d never seen before came up.
“Hello, I’m Bill from Hibernia and I’m just calling about the late payments on your … uh … 1992 … uh … Sunrise Quickie. That old Quickie of yours, that’s right. When do you think you might be mailing those payments in? On your Quickie?”
“Sorry, sir, but I’m broke. Lost my job.” “Hmm, I see, Ma’am, but it looks like your … Quickie is a candidate for repossession.”
“Please don’t take it away. I need it. Please. God.”
So started the standard debtor/collector catechism.
I couldn’t plumb a single clue from the woman as to the nature of her vehicle. A plane? No, different Hibernia department. A rocket ship? No. With a name like that, it occurred to me that maybe the thing was not a vehicle but rather some kind of private-need-filling machine manufactured for ladies. One of my female colleagues oughta be talking to this woman, not me.
Finally we said our goodbyes. No payment collected. Moreover, feelings had been hurt. I gave the file to a repo guy. I asked him what the hell a Sunrise Quickie was.
He was the kind of guy who’d usually say something like, That’s what me and your momma share at dawn but instead he just stared at me.
“Motorized wheelchair,” he said finally.
I took the file back, updated the Quickie as Paid Off, and quit.
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