My experiment with perpetual unemployment is nearing its logical conclusion, as the wolves pace around our compound and the vultures circle overhead. It speaks to the greatness of the land of opportunity that I was permitted to lay idle for so long before the shit hit the fan; going on two years since the last regular paycheck. My empire is now officially a smoldering ruin.

America is the only place on Earth where a lazy blue-collar slug like myself could engage in deficit spending for so long but I'm afraid the jig is finally up. In the words of the great minstrel Springsteen, I've amassed debts that no honest man could pay. Barring an immediate lottery win or the windfall of an unsolicited MacArthur grant, the party's nearly over.

Some time between now and the end of the year, my long-suffering wife and I will have to face the steely gaze of our myriad creditors and wave the white flag of surrender. Why in Heaven's name I was allowed to accumulate such a burden is a mystery to me and I'm thankful for the moneylender's misguided optimism but those cats badly misjudged my ability to make good.

Even if my aching skeletal system and beleaguered psyche could summon the chutzpah to tend another bar it would be too little, too late. We are into the man to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars and expatriation or bankruptcy are fast becoming our only two options.

When we are at last confronted with total insolvency I will hold my chin up and look those vicious bastards directly in the eye. I'll not be humbled or ashamed and the usurers will not have the satisfaction of my contrition. I will shrug and summon the last bit of charm in my arsenal, an attempt at levity to soften the sting of foreclosure.

"Hey, you f**ked up. You trusted me."

_______________________


I remember the day that Mary and I sat in the escrow office and signed in blood for the claim on our little shack and the tiny rectangle of dirt near downtown Minneapolis. The humorless sobriety of the bankers irked me at what I considered a joyous occasion so I endeavored to lighten the mood with small talk.

"You know that 'mortgage' is a funny word and I don't mean funny ha ha."

The two mortgage bankers and the mortgage escrow officer paused abruptly in their paper shuffling and cast a suspicious glance at me. To these cats mortgage was an every day word, a part of their job description that meant little more to them than a tidy commission from my pound of flesh. Bankers don't laugh at the same things as normal people and in their estimation there was nothing funny about the serious affair at hand or about the title on their business cards and letterhead. All three of the uptight monkeys listened with rapt attention, to scrutinize my next utterance for signs of a deal breaker. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Mary's sly smile so I ignored their twitchy apprehension and continued my little linguistics lesson.

"Yeah, it's kind of a hybrid between Vulgar Latin, Germanic and Old French and smart people still argue about the precise etymology and meaning."

My dry reference to dead languages apparently set them at their ease and they went back to the serious business of the rote recitation of intimidating legal language about title searches and liens and closing costs.

"The literal translation is 'the pledge of death'...scary, huh?"

Man, it got so quiet in that loveless little room that you could have heard the click of the ball point retracting in the banker's Mont Blanc pen. The three of them shifted nervously in their padded faux leather chairs, scowling at me and at each other, all scrunched up ferret faces and darting beady little eyeballs. A funereal pall fell over the scene as they waited for me to continue my spiel and give them righteous cause to terminate the loan procedure.

"Most etymologists agree that the death part refers to the loan itself, that the deal would be dead if the borrower didn't make good and that the obligation would die if he did."

The usurers lightened up a bit when they sensed that my digression was scholarly and resumed their paper shuffling with mechanical disinterest as I continued my subtle assault on their sense of propriety. I wanted to get a little rise out of them for all of the bartender bucks I was dumping so I ratcheted up my efforts to offend their sensitivities and heap scorn on their lugubrious nature.

"Now, I'm no linguistics expert but the word mortgage has been around since the bad old days, at least the 1300's or so and I see a much more sinister meaning. The way I see it y'all are gonna slide that paperwork in my direction and when I make my 'X' on the bottom it means that I've gotta pay you back or die trying."

Mary was biting her lip by this time, fighting off the goofy smile that she feared would further antagonize the bankers and leave us homeless. To my way of thinking, people who took themselves so seriously were begging for a little poke in the ribs.

"I admire you people for maintaining your joie de vivre in the face of all this morbid brinksmanship, I sure as Hell couldn't do it. Damned if the reaper's not standing right there behind you every time you go to work in the morning."

_______________________


They actually speeded up the paper shuffling in an effort to get us the Hell out of their office and even though we had to seem like dubious debtors, I'll bet we broke the land speed record for closing on a house. At some point in the process, Mary realized that we had survived my shenanigans and gave up lip biting in favor of a full-faced shit-eating grin. Once the papers were signed in blood she felt free to accompany me in taunting the joyless trio.

"Thank God we've gotten this over with. You've all been so nice...Just a quick question, how long can you actually stay on the property if you can’t make the payments? Jon's boss hates his guts and he's hanging by a thread at work so I really don't think we're gonna be able to cut it for more than a couple of months."

A pair of lepers would have received a more enthusiastic handshake at the close of business.

_______________________


We're not going to take this thing lying down and whimpering, no siree. I wouldn't give those heartless pukes the satisfaction. Our dwindling resources are now focused on a fallback scenario and confidence is high. We've taken an aggressive position on the various lotteries offered to Minnesotans and it's only a matter of time before we’re swimming in filthy lucre. Socrates called the lottery a tax on idiots and Lord knows we can't risk adding tax evasion to our growing list of concerns.

My sister Lizzy says that we can live in her crawl space if things get ugly but I'm afraid that it would be mighty crowded in there with three dogs, two cats and an increasingly owly spousal unit. On my darker days I tell Mary that I'm afraid we're going to end up living in a van down by the river and her perverse optimism is oddly comforting.

"Oh sweetie, don't be silly. We could never afford a van."


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