16 March 2014
When Rose Lemberg and I ran Vera Nazarian’s fundraiser, we each had our own reasons for helping.
I’ll link to Rose’s below, but here are mine.
In 2003, I befriended another person on a forum where we knew each other anonymously (this forum required pseudonyms). Let’s call him Cas. He lived in the Portland, Oregon area. I can’t remember exactly when we first met face to face, but I believe it was 2005. Cas was in town for business (he was a mid-level manager in electronics), and he, Rick, and I had dinner.
In 2006, I took a traditional chairmaking workshop in Portland for a week. Cas and I went out for dinner to his favorite Chinese restaurant, which was a very informal place, but very tasty. In 2007, Cas was once again in my area for business, and he, Rick, and I went out for dinner again.
At that time, Cas was at the very end of what would turn out to be his last job.
Look, I’m going to say it, because I think the truth needs to be said when I’m talking this stuff (which is part of why I’m giving you a nick and not his real name): he was not the most ethical person. I don’t know the whole story, and I don’t care, but he’d done something wrong (and by “wrong,” I mean big ticket wrong) in the past where wound up with an IRS bill of over a hundred grand that was not dischargeable in Chapter 7, only Chapter 13. I believe the rules have subsequently changed, but those were the rules in place at the time.
However, in between when he’d incurred that debt and when I met him, he’d straightened up a lot. Not completely, but a lot. (For me, growth is a more important trait than perfection.)
And he’d had a Chapter 7 years and years before, but this IRS bill was weighing around his neck. In 2005, he filed Chapter 13. Even after he’d lost his job, he’d kept paying on the Chapter 13. His wife had to file Chapter 13 also just so they could keep the house (because they could defer other bills and reduce their household expenses). She had chronic illness, so that was yet another complicating factor.
If he’d gotten a job again, it would have been bearable, but he never did. Months turned into a year, and everything started to fall apart. His creditors asked for relief from the bankruptcy stay beginning in March 2008, right as I got my job at Apple.
Cas never told me.
I was so high on having gotten the job I wanted, I wasn’t really aware that he was deflecting, something he hadn’t done with me before. Only much later, when I looked back, was I able to see that our conversations started shifting at about that point in time.
In August, his bankruptcy was dismissed. He still never told me. Then he started to really withdraw, but I was so busy at work, I honestly barely noticed.
The morning they came to foreclose upon his house late October 2008, he shot and killed himself.
His family called, and I spoke to his brother.
I felt horribly guilty. No, it wasn’t my fault, but I feel guilty that I wasn’t present enough to call him on his withdrawal. I felt guilty that he’d previously trusted me with stuff, and, for whatever reason, maybe I’d lost his trust at a time when he needed someone most to vent to. I regretted not being there.
Even more horribly, I got why he did it. The house was solely in his name, and, in his own weird way, he was trying to protect his wife in a non-community property state. Undeniably, he was sending a big old “fuck you” to the bank foreclosing on the house, knowing they couldn’t sell it as is. That would be a very Cas-like approach. Part of me respects that.
The IRS debt was also solely his and from before marrying his wife, so the innocent spouse rule applied. If he died, she was free from it.
You know what? I miss my friend.
So, when only a few weeks later, someone else I knew sent out a bat signal that they were going to lose their home to foreclosure?
Of course I helped Vera. I felt like I’d failed Cas, but I didn’t want to make the same mistake twice. I didn’t do it for Vera anywhere near as much as I did it for Cas.
I’d seen Cas grow over the years I’d known him.
What I haven’t seen is Vera’s growth, and I’ve known her longer.
Cas never asked to borrow money from me (or manipulated money out of me), even when he desperately needed it.
Vera, on the other hand, is all about other people giving her money by whatever means. I’m not actually sure what verb applies to what Vera did, so I’m not going to go there, especially not when strict liability for libel may apply.
It’s not a happy verb, though.
I will say, however, one of the things Teresa Nielsen Hayden said once that has really stuck with me: “the long con is a narrative form.”