Sunday, September 30, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

I hadn't seen my buddy L in some time despite the fact that she lives about a 3 wood away.  Then again, she stays pretty busy lawyering.  And well, I do not.  So when she texted me out of the blue offering to come over to share a bottle of wine she had gotten for her birthday, I said, "Come on down!"

When she arrived I warmed up some soup.  She asked me what was new with me.  I told her that there wasn't much new with me worth telling.  I opened the wine.  I cut up some bread.

"What's new with you?" I asked.

"Well, still busy at work.  Elton and I are still seeing each other."


"And oh!  I converted to Judaism."

"You did what?"


We went into the living room to eat.

"OK," I said.  "I'm sorry but I need to hear all about conversion thing.  I don't think I've ever known a convert."

" Well," she said. "It has been a long process for me.  But the older I got the less I became convinced that God would create a human, much less his own Son, with the full knowledge that his Son would be executed in such a cruel fashion as crucifixion in order to gain salvation for the race He created in the first place.  Why would God require a blood sacrifice?  The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed from a literal perspective."

"The concept of blood atonement has been the cause of much human suffering, even to this day," I said. " There's no doubt about that.  And I have have often wondered why the Scriptures didn't just have God say ' OK.  I forgive you.'  What kind of God would require the blood sacrifice of his only Son?  What kind of human would require such a horrible thing for that matter?"

" I have thought of that as well.  Either way, the concept strikes me as literally ridiculous." 

"So why believe in God?"

She grew pensive.  She took a sip of her wine.

" I believe in God," she said softly.  " I am a moral person.  I believe in acting justly.  I believe in a higher purpose and in caring for others.  Judaism and the Torah speaks to me in a way that fulfills my needs without depending on....oh I don't know...."

"Reliance on the supernatural?" I asked.

"Yes.  I suppose that's right.  At least not overly so.  Judaism is rooted in the here and now.  I liked that."

She took another sip.  She arched her eyebrows mischievously.  I knew what was coming.

"So," she said.  "You sound a lot like me.  Why do you go back?  You've never struck me as the sort of guy that believes in myths."

"I don't strike girls," I said.

"You're being evasive," she replied.  "You do that you know. You're a funny man.  You use humor to deflect.  I know this about you.  I want you to answer my question."


"I don't believe in myths so much as I have faith in them." I said. " Does that make sense? Not to go all Joseph Campbell on you but there's damn near more truth in Biblical myths than there is too Biblical 'facts.'  Besides, I enjoy spreading my doubts among the Methodists, the Episcopalians and the Baptists nowadays.  The discourse comforts me on occasion."

"I believe you actually told me the truth," she said. 

I shrugged my shoulders.

"An FBI agent friend of mine refers to it as 'leakage.'  You interrogate somebody long enough and eventually some truth leaks out."

I've never been to the Temple before.  Well, I sang in a wedding over there once.  But I was in a room off to the side.  That doesn't count.  I would like to go with my Jewish friend L some time.

But for right now, I will go to church today.  I will hear the Liturgy, observe the symbols and ponder the sermon. 

You never know.  Maybe this will be the day that some truth leaks out. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

"We got in over our heads with land and then the bubble burst and all this land value dropped and we couldn't sustain it."

                 University Of Arkansas Head Football Coach John L. Smith quoted by the AP last July.

I spent a good bit of time last week with the girls in the Economics classes at Mount Saint Mary Academy just up the street from me.  Now, what I know about classical Econ would fill a shot glass.  But the teacher over there told me that the kids were interested in my talking about bankruptcy which she and I both found interesting.  It made us wonder what was going on in some of their homes.  But bankruptcy I know about, having practiced in that area of the law for the length of my career.  I had a blast.  It was great fun to be in a room full of bright young people.  It was fun to be with girls since we have precious few in my family. 

I knew that Arkansas's John L. Smith had filed a Chapter 7 up there in the Fayetteville Division.  And I knew that he had taken a haircut over millions of dollars in real estate investments in Kentucky during the time that he was the Head Coach at Louisville.  But I wish that I had the benefit of the Schedules that John L. filed in his case when I was with the Econ girls.  Because his financial situation today is a metaphor for what damn near put the country in a depression around 2008. 

John L. has unsecured debt in the amount of over 25 million dollars.  I'm guessing that at least a good portion of that indebtedness was secured by something at one time.  Or most likely they represent the outstanding balance on personal guarantees John L. made on certain loans to other entities he had partnered up with. 

He has assets; namely about $1.2,000,000 in retirement accounts that he is trying to claim are exempt from seizure under the Federal exemptions or Homesteads.  I don't know much about that area of the law.  None of the Debtors I ever fooled with had much in retirement savings.  It wasn't an issue for me. 

But what is the most amazing thing to me is that the Head Coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks only has 800 bucks in cash on hand.  He is claiming to run a negative balance each month which explains the 10 grand owed and the monthly payments to America Express.  He's living on his Amex card.

After all these years in the coaching profession, after all that money he made in sports talk radio in Louisville, all the cash the man has to his name is 800 bucks.  He would have to be upwardly mobile to be a turnip.

God, that's depressing.

Because John L. has a reputation for being a good guy.  And contrary to what the scholars and journalists on the Internet boards would have you believe, John L. has a proven track record as a football coach. 

But boy, just about everything that could go wrong, apart from NCAA sanctions and/or a coach molesting young boys in the shower in the locker room, has happened to the Razorback football program, generously ranked as high as 8th in the country pre-season. 

And for this, I place the lions share of the blame, if not the entire fetid mess, at the feet of Bobby Petrino.  If Petrino had kept little Bobby in his pants and his girlfriend off the payroll, he would still be the Head Coach.  The aforementioned scholars and journalists who are clamoring for Bobby's return and/or excoriating Athletic Director Jeff Long for having terminated him forget that Petrino exposed the University of Arkansas to massive liability when he put Jessica Dorrell ahead of other more experienced if not more qualified people when he hired her.  That was the reason Bobby Petrino was fired.  And he had it comin'.

And on paper, the decision to bring John L. back as interim coach made sense.  The proven track record as a Head Coach.  His familiarity with the program and the system.  The fact that he was well liked by the players and the community.  It made sense.  Except for one thing.

Both Long and John L have both stated that Smith disclosed his financial condition prior to his being hired.  Long has said that John L. got caught up in some bad real estate investments.  He was good with it.  After all John L is not the only one in that boat.  As I told the girls at St. Mary's, stuff happens.  Good people file bankruptcies.

But boy, football feeds the bulldog at most Division I schools.  It pays all the bills.  Long was on notice that John L had financial problems.  Why not do a Dun and Bradstreet before turning over the keys to a guy who is completely insolvent?  Carrying that much debt has to weigh on a person.  Having your financial misdeeds examined from ESPN to Deadspin has to be the height of humiliation.  At the minimum the bankruptcy filing will require John L to visit with his lawyer, attend a first meeting of creditors and who knows what else?  If he's lucky, all will go smoothly and he will get his Discharge in a month or so and he can move on.  But Lady Luck has not been kind to the Razorback program since last February or so.  Shouldn't that have been checked out?  How many more distractions do they need up there?

You sure couldn't have predicted such chaos after the Sugar Bowl last year.  I just wish that I had those Schedules with me when I was visiting the Econ girls at the Mount last week.

Talk about a teachable moment.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

My Sunday Feeling

"You got a minute?" James asked. 

"Sure," I said as I pulled a chair over beside me. "Sit down.  What's going on?"

He sat.  The boy looked like Hell's gate.  He looked up at the ceiling.  He then leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.  I did so likewise.  I looked up into his face.

"Talk to me," I said.

"A process server came to my house last night.  I got served at work (he whispered the latter) last week.  Can you tell me the difference between Chapter 13 and Chapter 7? I've got an appointment with a lawyer this afternoon but I want to get an idea from you first.  I'm kinda nervous."

"Of course I can.  You buying or renting?"

"Renting.  All we own are our cars."

Driving and wearing their assets as the saying goes.

" My wife, she had a tough pregnancy and the baby was premature.  We didn't have insurance.  The one that served me last night was the anesthesiologist."

" Does your wife work?"

" No.  She's gone back to get her Masters.  That means we have to pay for day care on top of every thing else."


I asked him how much they owed.  I have heard worse in my day.  No credit card debt to speak of. Virtually all the unsecured debt was high two figures in medical bills.  But still this was more than a single income family could pay. 

He put his head in his hands.

"James," I said. "It sounds like you need to be in a 7.  That's a straight throw in the towel liquidation."

"What will happen?"

"The Automatic Stay goes out.  The lawsuits stop.  The phone quits ringing."

"We don't answer the phone anymore anyway," he said with a rueful smile.

" Well, once you file you can start.  Anyway, you will set out your debts in what's called the schedules and then you will get a discharge of your debts about a month later.  That means that the debts are no longer enforceable against you personally."

"I hate this," he said. "I've always paid my bills."

"You can't pay this," I said. "Medical bills and divorce are the typical reasons that people have to file.  It's not like you ran up a bunch of credit cards going out to eat and buying stuff.  You need to give yourself some peace.  Who are you seeing this afternoon?"

He told me.  Guy named Larry.

"Larry is a good lawyer and a good guy.  We go back a long way. If I were going to file I would go to Larry."

James relaxed for the first time during the conversation.  He smiled.

"Really?" he said. "That makes me feel better."

"Really.  Now you listen to me.  You need to find you some health insurance.  Like, tomorrow."

"I can't afford it."

I'm generally pretty poker faced.  But I suppose my demeanor changed as James' face grew noticeably ashen. 

"I can't believe this shit," I stage whispered. " You can't afford it? Your lack of health insurance is what put you in bankruptcy.  You are about to get a discharge of your debts and a fresh start only to keep playing with fire?  That's just stupid."

"You're right."

"You're goddamn skippy I'm right," I said.  "Here's the deal.  Before you can get your discharge you and your wife will have to pass an online personal finance course.  I want you to get some quotes on a premium and factor that into the budget they will make you put together.  Put it right up there with the rent as a monthly expense.  Then have it taken out of your check as if it never existed in the first place.  I don't want you to get in this fix again. Because you can't file another bankruptcy for 7 years."

"OK," he said. "I will."

"You better is all I'm saying."

He sat for a minute.  Finally he spoke.

"I can't believe this," he said. "I'm not a deadbeat."

"I know you're not," I replied. "And you are not the only one in your boat.  It is a national crisis. You can't pay this.  You need to get on with your life."

He thanked me for my time and left for his appointment with his lawyer.

When I practiced law I used to look at the Schedules filed by Debtors in the millions of bankruptcies that I handled.  Sure, you had your deadbeats.  Your credit card millionaires.  But a high number of them were caused by medical bills.  And even some of the credit card debtors were not as imprudent as it looked at first blush.

Let's say you live somewhere out in the sticks and you have an infant that needs open heart surgery.  The doctor tells you that the baby will be in the hospital for 6 weeks.  Well, you can't leave the baby here in Little Rock.  And if you don't know anybody here you have to stay in a hotel.  And you use a credit card.  Because you don't have enough money to stay in a hotel and you can't leave the baby.  Poor folks have poor ways as the saying goes.  Caring for a critically ill baby is not an extravagance.  But some folks are working without a net. 

It is a scene played out every single day across the country.  Medical emergency with no insurance creates a crushing debt load.  The completely leveraged patient has to file bankruptcy to keep the providers from garnisheeing his pay check but he ruins his credit score in the process.  He gets the Discharge which means the providers write off the bills as uncollectable debt.  And hospitals across the country hemorrhage red ink.

So somebody tell me again why universal health coverage is such a bad idea.  Somebody remind me why this is the way to run the railroad. 

I ran into James yesterday.  Larry pretty much agreed with my take on it.  James and his wife will start gathering the information so that the lawyer can't get something filed here in a week or so.  He's not thrilled by all of this but at least he can see a way out. 

But really, somebody tell me why everybody having health insurance is such a bad idea.