Thursday, October 1, 2015

Bad Debt Good

My first credit card was backed by the endorsement of Mrs. Carolina in 1995.

"An American Express for emergencies." She loved the way I kissed and visited me once a month in New York. Ms. Carolina told her husband that I was gay. His believing her mapped a faultline in my masculinity. Ms. Caroline was blonde and beautiful. In bed there was never a need for words.

When I moved to LA to help Scottie Taylor open the Beverly Hills' Milk Bar, I used this card to purchase pastrami sandwiches from Jerry's Deli and groceries from Trader Joe's. Three months of this ran the bill up to $1000. The week before the opening of the Milk Bar, Mrs. Carolina flew out for a road trip to Death Valley.

"I don't think I can pay that debt right now," I told her at a steak house in Lone Pine.

"Don't worry about it. You can pay me once you sell a book." Ms. Carolina liked my writing. No one in Hollywood felt the same way.

Ms. Carolina might not have cared about my insolvency and seemingly neither did the credit card companies, who issued me a playing deck of plastic from Visa and MasterCard. I was credit rich with no standing debt.

I thought I was smart juggling various new offers of 0% interest between competing companies. My limit rose with my payments. I soon was given a ceiling on $70,000 despite no visible source of income or assets other than an elephant foot in my East Village apartment. By 2001 my debt was a mere $3000.

Manageable minimal monthly payments while I traveled back and forth to the Orient.

9/11 changed all that routine. I had no work for several months and lived on the cards, transferring debts back and forth like an off-shore banker, until I resumed employ at the diamond exchange.

My debt had grown to $15000.

The winter of 2002 I sold a Burma sapphire for big money and informed Richie Boy that I was heading for Thailand. I had a book to write. I was only 48. The future was still in my favor and Sam Royalle had promised to set me up with an internet website selling F-1 copy merchandise. Leaving America seemed like a good idea, especially since my Thai girlfriend and I were expecting a baby and GW Bush was in the White House.

The credit cards paid for the birth of Angie.

MY debt rose to $25000.

I faithfully paid the increasing monthlies with the money from my sublet of East 10th Street. Apartment 3E, while my business was generating enough income to support a family of three. The problem arose when I lost my ATM card with which I withdrew funds from

The other other option was to take cash advances from the cards, although I didn't notice the small print of the contract stating that this move would bump my interest rate to 29%. And my debt started to balloon, so that by 2008 when the Thai police shut down my website for copyright infringement, I owed something like $70,000.

More money than I could pay back and I did the numbers. I had already covered the original debt, but was now servicing the interest. I called the credit card companies to ask for an abatement in the interest levels even though I had no income. They refused my request. I told them without this help that I would be forced into bankruptcy.

"New laws have been written to prevent that."

"Laws?" I was living in Thailand beyond the reach of America. "Could I speak with your manager?"

"He won't change a thing."

"Then I guess this is the last time we speak." I had no credit line. "Good-bye."

And like that I was free from their debts. Different creditors phone from time to time. They have purchased my note at probably 5%. Maybe less. I'm not scared of speaking to these faceless voices from the Midwest. I ask them if they are willing to reduce my principal. They refuse and demand the full balance plus interest. I explained that I'm not in a position to pay them this sum. It is 100% the truth.

I have written off this debt in my mind on my own personal write-off day.

And I have survived without a credit card thanks to throwing out my TV. No strangers tell me what to buy. My purchases are generated by necessity; food and Shelter and transportation. A few beers too. I like the buzz of being an anti-consumer of any offering of globalization.

Broke, but free.

It was a good feeling and still is.

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