Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Perfect Storm

"You've got your social security card, right?" I asked Doc. It was around nine o'clock on Monday, the night before our Bankruptcy hearing. We were required to bring our drivers license, our social security cards, and to be on time. I was a bit worried about my social security card; it still lists my maiden name. But I wasn't worried about Doc's. He's the kind of guy who knows where his social security card is.

"It should be in my old wallet," he said.

His old wallet used to be on the shelves next to his side of the bed at our old house. We could have dashed in there and got it, no sweat, had we not changed sides of the bed (my side was closer to the bathroom and easier for him to get in and out of after he broke his femur), packed up those shelves and moved to a new house.

We spent the next couple of unhappy hours going through the remaining unpacked boxes, looking for that old wallet. What we found was all the other flotsam that surrounded his social security card in the past, like a miniature laminated copy of his high school diploma, a tattered list of old phone numbers, and some defunct credit cards, but no social security card. I did find his old wallet, but it was emptier than a banker's heart.

It was at this point that things might have gotten ugly. We've known for weeks that we've need our drivers licenses and social security cards for this hearing, that was scheduled back in January. I could have harrangued him about why he didn't start looking for this months ago. I was kicking myself for not bringing it up two weeks ago when it crossed my mind. He could have yelled at me for not being a careful packer or reacted to my harranguing by throwing some past misdeed in my face.

Resigned to the fact that we may have to forfeit our hearing and refile for bankruptcy, all for want of a tiny blue slip of paper, we made our way to the computer to find out what we might be able to do before 10:30 a.m. the next day. I found the toll free number for SSA and called it. Of course no one was there to monitor the phones at 12:00 a.m., but they promised to be there at 7 a.m. the next day.

We formed a plan. I'll call SSA and see what we can do. If we can work something out, fine. If we can't, I'd call the lawyer and see what our options were. We went to bed and spent our time tossing and turning in wave after wave of anxiety.

The next morning, the alarm went off at 7 a.m. I grabbed my phone and redialed the SSA. After dragging myself through a morass of phone tree options, I finally spoke to a person who told me that we could go to the SSA office and apply for a new card. Then they could give us a receipt that should do for the courts. I also discovered that the SSA office and the courthouse were in very close proximity. Things were looking up.

We got dressed in our finest clothes and dropped the kids off at school. We made our way downtown to find the SSA office and Courthouse, which proved to be tricky since they were located off on McKinley Avenue Southwest and not McKinley Avenue Northwest. But after a call to my Mom, we found our way there and were delighted to find the courhouse and the SSA office in the same building.

We parked the jeep and headed in. The snow was gone but the wind cut through us as we hiked to the new courthouse. We entered into a glassed in grayscale atrium. We had almost an hour until we had to meet the lawyer. Should be plenty of time, we thought. We entered the SSA office and found ourselves in a packed house. It was new and clean, but everything was gray.

We weren't sure what to do and looked around. I found a little touchscreen kiosk whose screen read: Touch here to sign in. So I did. It took a moment but I found the reason we were there and hit it. The little machine spit out a receipt with a number on it. Now this wasn't any ordinary number. It was in fact A116. At the front of the room there was a flat screen TV that was displaying the "Now Serving" numbers across the bottom. We saw such numbers as A113, H56, I23, K321 and L23. So, we could be three people away from Now Served or we could be 3.14 x 10 to the third power away from next served. Who knew.

Above the Now Serving display, they were playing endless ads for how easy SSA stuff is to do online. These ads featured an older Patty Duke portraying both Patty and Cathy from the Patty Duke show. Also, the guy who played Richard (her boyfriend) and her Dad showed up. The sound was turned down and the closed captioning was on. All we could hear was the space-age musak and read {Patty Duke Show Theme Song Plays} on the closed-captioning.

Doc and I took a seat in the front row and watched the Now Serving numbers not move. I sat and watched the digital clock readout on the flatscreen TV and willed it to slow down. Each time the next number was going to be called, the current number glowed red for a moment. We noticed the A113 glow and change...and then SKIP TO A117. It blew right past us. Horrified, we got up and approached the security guard.

"Yeah," he said sympathetically, "That happens sometimes. People get more than one number, then they get called up and the clerk has to clear out both numbers. It makes the numbers jump ahead."

We groaned.

"I really hate that board," he said, "It causes more problems..."

We sat back down, discouraged, but slightly comforted. And then the numbers righted themselves and we were set to staring down A113 again.

As it approached 10:10, I began to feel the crush of inevitibility. We had blown it. I just couldn't believe it. We had worked so hard and waited so long for this day, for this new door to a fresh start. And now we'd probably have to refile and pay the lawyer more money. I wanted to just weep. But I didn't.

I breathed in and went back to the numbers. I thought to myself, I'll have to leave in 10 minutes to meet the lawyer and face the music. But, God, if you're there, you've got me. I'm here on my knees, helpless. I need help and there is nothing I can do to save myself. It's in your hands.

I waited until 10:22 and left Doc in the office. He needed to stay there no matter what. I went back to the lobby and then through security to enter the courthouse. We were supposed to meet the lawyer in the meeting rooms, which were just inside the entrance. I went into a waiting area with chairs in rows and a desk to the side. There were two meeting rooms off of the waiting room, which were occupied. I sat down and fretted.

Five minutes later, I saw our lawyer approach. He made his way in and walked into one of the meeting rooms. He came out shortly thereafter and looked around, saying our names.

I stood up and he came over to me.

"Is he here?" he asked.

"He's in the SSA office," I started. Then told him the whole story in 25 words or less.

"Relax," he said, "All he needs is verification of his social security number; it takes 2 minutes, tops."

I did relax a bit. I asked him if I could go over and tell Doc what he needed and he said that was fine and he'd arrange things with our trustee.

I made the quick walk back to Doc, who was still waiting for A116, which was "next." I explained what we needed and headed back.

Our lawyer was sitting at the desk like he owned the place and was flipping through our files. He assured me that everything was fine and we'll get through this with no problem. A few minutes later, Doc strode in with a piece of paper in his hand, verifying that his social security number was indeed his.

We were then called into the trustee's meeting room and enjoyed some brief, joyless chit chat about how the people who come to the social security office have no idea that they should use the SSA parking only spots and there's never any place to park when you come to the courthouse. Our trustee lady said to hell with it, she just started parking in the SSA spots since they were all in hers.

Then she started the tape player up, swore us in, and ran us through 800 questions in seven minutes. And we were done. I was a bit wobbly but stood up and Doc and I left with our lawyer. We made our way out into the Atrium and he assured us everything was in order and that in four to six weeks we should be done.

Doc and I thanked him and shook his hand. We left the building, all buttoned up and walked back to the Jeep. We climbed in and I called my Mom, who fussed over us as we made plans to join her for lunch...after I let Doc drive me to Statcare. Oh, did I mention this? All of this happened while I was in the throws of a serious sore throat and swollen glands episode.

We spent a less painful two hours at Statcare, got my perscriptions and met up with Mom at Samantha's Sunny Corner for a little Fat Tuesday comfort food.

Later in the evening, Doc and I reflected over the events of the day. We vowed to make good use of the big teacher's desk we couldn't fit in our old house. We're going to get our papers in order and store them properly. We were grateful for the wiggle room, slight though it was, that we were granted so that our trip out of the whole wasn't lengthened by one tiny piece of paper.

We also took a moment to appreciate our ability to work together and not freak out. We would have come undone completely, had one or both of us succombed to blame or name-calling. We also were very grateful for such a smooth lawyer. Say what you want about them, but I felt like I had a big brother who was going to let me face the music, but was going to stand behind me and make sure it all went down fair and square.

As far as bankruptcy goes, it's not as bad as it's cracked up to be. But it's also not an easy process. I'm thankful that I was allowed to go through it, but I really don't care to repeat it again. Ever.

While Doc and I seem to have a good chance to successfully wind this up, we have to be very careful for the future. We both had to take a 2 hour course on budgeting and financing. I'm actually taking it now as I write this. Most of the pages only take 45 seconds to read, but you're required to sit and wait at least 120 seconds before you can move along, guaranteeing that you spend 2 hours of your life learning about money.

The course has given us some new ideas, but it's not easy. It's not fast. But I'll be damned if I ever lock myself up in a prison of debt ever again.

Lesson learned. The hard usual.


  1. I'm still stuck at the "After dragging myself through a morass of phone tree options, I finally spoke to a person" line... I'm having trouble comprehending that you actually SPOKE to someone at the office... that's never happened to me before... E-V-E-R.

    Besides, I think it's part of the way God has set up the Karass we're all in that things simply HAVE to be done @ the last minute in a white-heat of semi-panic and ruthless efficiency. It's been that way since our C.S.U. days, so why should we begin to buck the system NOW?

  2. We spent the next couple of unhappy hours going through the remaining unpacked boxes...

    I don't know if this sounds crazy but this reminded me that I have not seen my National Guard retirement papers in several years. At work now but sometime this weekend I have to find those bad boys.

    Best wishes to you and Doc.

  3. Best wishes to you and Doc, and I hope your load lightens!

  4. You had me at "emptier than a banker's heart". And now my heart is full!

  5. I second Dale with the "banker's heart" line - that was good.

    I am very happy and impressed that you held it together about the lost SSN card. It reminds me of the morning that PG and I were leaving for a trip abroad. About 30 minutes before we were to go to the airport, PG announced that he didn't know where his passport was. (This trip had been planned for almost a year.) I resisted the strong urge to start in on the "I can't believe you didn't notice this earlier" spiel, but like you in this example, I realized that was going to do absolutely no good in any way. And then 5 minutes later he found the passport. I think the universe was rewarding me for not being a bitch.

    Good luck to you two!

  6. Capn: I'd like to think that I could circumvent the last minute stuff with planning. But there's always something, isn't there.

    Thanks, BB, and good luck finding your papers!

    SD: Thank you, friend.

    Dale: I felt like I was living out an opera that day. I'm just really glad no one had to get stabbed.

    CP: Thank you! And, oh, the urge to start a spiel was strong. But if you think about it, there's probably nothing I could say that wasn't already going through Doc's head.

  7. Good get a load off your shoulders on that though. lesson leanred the hard way, but still lesson learned. :)

  8. I'm technically a banker. :( Yeah, the ones with power are just as heartless to their peons as they are to the public.

    Strangly enough, the hearing is the easy part. What's difficult about bankruptcy is that over the next ten years, any credit card offer you get will be crappy. When I went through my bankruptcy in 2000, my attorney told me to close all of my credit accounts. Two of my creditors offered me deals. Against my attorneys advice, I took them. Thank God I did, because one offered to cut limit from $5000.00 to $200.00 and keep the same interest and the other offered to cut down my credit limit from $10,000.00 to $700.00 and also keep my interest rate which was about 14% and neither card had a yearly fee. You would think that's bad, but after the bankruptcy, the only credit cards I qualified for were at 26-29.99% interest and yearly fees between $50.00 and $75.00. In order to rebuild credit, you have to have credit. Had I not kept the cards I made deals with, the only option to rebuild would have been to take up with one of these cruel deals. It's a good thing to trust your attorney, it's also a good thing to trust your own insticts.

    Eleven years later, I have "fair" credit. You'll rebuild, too. It just takes time.