A Hidden Story

27 May 2013

A few weeks ago, my buddy, Dale, and I did a Storage Auction.  We bid the highest offer on a storage shed full of . . .  Well, we only saw a couple of things so we weren’t really sure.  A pair of ATVs were visible, plus a file cabinet and a lot of flip-top bins.

Now part of buying an abandoned storage locker is the legal obligation set aside the poor bastard’s legal papers and family memorabilia.  Whenever we came to a paper of any sort, we had to read it and if it were of a legal nature, put it in a separate box.

It turned out this locker belonged to an electrical contractor and there was lots and lots of stuff.  We should make some serious wampum off of it (serious wampum, by my standards anyway).  We were going to pick these bones clean.

As we dug in, we began to see some sad things: Those legal papers I mentioned including, of all things, his childrens’  birth certificates!  These papers gave a history of the poor devil’s life from the late 1990’s to 2007, when he shut the storage locker’s door for the final time.  He must have planned to resurrect himself because he continued paying the rent until Thanksgiving of 1012.  The storage company gave him a 90 day cure period but he didn’t come through and so, in April of 2013, Dale and I bought it.

Anyway, here’s a summary of his life:

In 1997, the fellow was a contractor for commercial electrical work.  He did both regular electric power, plus what we in the biz call “low voltage”, i.e., telephone wiring.  He made more from the electric power work to be sure, but the low voltage stuff was important to the bottom line — his business couldn’t get along without it. The fly in the ointment, though he didn’t realize it at the time, was his failure to get into data wiring, i.e., the coaxial and fiber-optic cables connecting an office’s computers, printers and so on.

2000.  About this time, the LAN-based telephone systems came on the market.  These put the voice telephone traffic on the company’s data network.  With voice now running on the data network, need for the traditional office telephone system was obviated.  As sales of these old, conventional, telephone systems went in the toilet, the low voltage business went with it — and so did his profit.  With at least 33% of his business falling away, he was in deep doodoo.

Many (if not most) business people, when faced with something untoward coming out of left field, regroup and redeploy.  Not this guy.  He simply went on as if nothing were amiss.  He dug a hole and climbed in. He bought more and more goodies for the family as he went whistling by the graveyard.

By 2003, he could no longer pretend all was well.  We saw increasing numbers of dun notices in his files.  Then angry notes from customers and bilious threats from the credit card companies and mortgage bank.  By the end of the year, his lines of credit were shut off.

Without that low voltage business he was no longer making the nut.  Still, he soldiered on.

Around 2004, we began to see sweet little notes from his youngsters, hand-written, swearing their undying love and support.  He bought them more toys and trips to the beaches and the mountains, paying for them with the plastic.  Never say die, huh?

From the paperwork we saw he was was having trouble putting food on the table.

People under severe stress feel trapped — cornered — and in their desperation, grasp at straws, even stupid ones.  One of them was hitting the sauce.  Sometime in the middle of 2004, he got a DUI.  Needing money now more then ever before, and with his business gasping its last, he then faked an on-the-job injury and applied for L&I insurance (In Washington State, the Labor and Industries department provides aid to cover a person’s lost income.)  We even saw the X-rays of his back taken as part of his malingering scam.  He collected thousands.

Ah, but L&I is a suspicious group and every so often, they’ll sic a state cop on a recipient to see if there is any monkey business going on.  Well sure enough, the cop caught pictures of the guy scrambling around on his deck, lifting all manner of heavy things.  The next thing the poor dude knew, he had a criminal action filed against him by L&L.

We discovered his lawyer’s communications with L&I department and the court.  And then dun notices from the lawyer as our boy stiffed him too. Of course our fellow was blowing off the DUI.  Though his driver’s license was suspended, he still hopped in the car and, one day, got stopped for something or other.  Well, they hauled him off and once out on bail, the state hit him with more criminal charges.

This brings us to 2005 and the denouement.  With the business now in Chapter 11 and heading for Chapter 7, facing jail time, with his family on food stamps and the house in foreclosure, his wife felt she just couldn’t take it any more and left, taking the kids with her.

That did it: He hauled all his business and personal stuff — which by then was totally trashed, abused, and neglected — to the storage shed where it was unceremoniously dumped, closing the door behind him and driving away to Montana, never to return.  He’d finally thrown in the towel.  He shook Puget Sound’s dust off his heels and headed for greener pastures.

The Monday Morning Quarterback in me says the guy was foolish and unobservant.  But who am I to throw stones?  Not everyone has the perspicacity to spot negative trends before it’s too late.  Not everyone is sufficiently cynical to cashier his business and stiff the creditors as soon bad smells come his way. In my book, Trucker, I observed — and I’ll observe again — that no matter how carefully you plan your life, no matter how many contingencies you’ve covered, no matter how much prudence you’ve applied to your affairs, at sometime, somewhere, something will come crawling out of the swamp and bite you in the ass.  It will rip out much meat and cause a great effusion of blood.

It can be, as it was for our boy, an unforeseeable development in your industry.  Or maybe an adulterous spouse.  Perhaps the death of your child.  Disease.  False imprisonment.  The list is endless.  And because you don’t know what it will be, and can’t see it coming, you can never prepare.  The hammer blow will strike and there you will stand, looking like a stunned ox.

Now Dale and I have all this man’s stuff and are selling it to the highest bidder.  It means nothing to us but a quick buck.

I hope this poor man has been able to find some peace and hope.

-Merlin-