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.
Tonight! Guilt v. Indignancy! And On the Undercard: Prison v. Freedom!.
BY BILL COTTER
If you are a Person − meaning here the subject of a Personal Bankruptcy − you’ll have noticed that the process has magnified your neuroses, given you stress-related oral thrush, and generally dwindled your whole being. You’ll have noticed that it sucks wholesale. You’ll have noticed places in your house that’ll support your hanging, swinging weight.
Possibly the worst part of a looming bankruptcy is the piling guilt at being unable to repay your creditors − companies that loaned you wagons of money in good faith − even if you and your business have − also in good faith − collapsed.
To soften the guilt you welcome calamity and don the cilice. Wreck your car? Well, I deserved it by God. Accidentally drop an X-Acto knife into your foot meat? Deserved that too. Two hundred threatening telephone calls a day? Serves me right. Forget your nerve pills one morning and later faint in the yard? Good. It’s all part of a properly executed Chapter 7 Personal Bankruptcy.
Then one day all your neighbors start leaving notes on your door saying they’d just gotten a call from someone trying to find me, that it was an emergency, call this 800 number immediately. Hm. That’s a little below the belt, isn’t it? And then an armed county constable comes out to your place with a meaningless, unnecessary ‘citation?’ that Citibank spent $65 on? Ow, dammit!
Then, you get a voicemail, dialed from the spooky telephone number 00000000000, consisting of nothing but the entire Madonna song “Open Your Heart,” among whose lyrics is this provocative strophe:
“I follow you around but you can’t see
You’re too wrapped up in yourself to notice
So you choose to look the other way
Well, I’ve got something to say
Don’t try to run I can keep up with you
Nothing can stop me from trying…”
Did I deserve that? Hmm. Not feeling as guilty now.
Granted, the creditors aren’t sending eely felons to break in and handcuff me to the commode like they do to bail jumpers; they’re not whoring out bloody-knuckled loan sharks to blowtorch me; they’re not, like they do in Spain, sending out a guy dressed in a silly costume to follow you around while you’re at work and sit next to you on the bus and noisily shadow you while you’re at the grocery store, needling, chiding, provoking, announcing to the trudging populace your status as a cunning pinchpenny lying debtor.
And, granted, creditors can’t spirit you to the Old Bailey like they used to do, back in the olden days.
Illuminated thus, my position as a 21st century American bankrupt is enviable; I’m as thankful for it as I am for modern anesthesia.
But still, siccing the neighbors on me? Musical, malevolent voicemails? I don’t know, but that makes me indignant. It makes me want them to not get what’s coming to them, which is any and all cash or other transferables, most of my remaining business inventory and tools, and many of my not-very-valuable movables. It makes me want to keep some. To hide some.
I mention this to Mr. H, the bankruptcy lawyer I retained (for $2500, cash only; N.B. the bare minimum any of you nascent bankrupts can hope to pay when your time comes), and he points out that if I get caught, I will be sent to live in a federal penitentiary.
I change my mind about hiding assets.
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