Friday, July 5, 2013

Bet Hedging

God, in the idiosyncratic way I define God, is not hovering over me making sure the karma's balanced. Sometimes it just feels that way. After two months of complicated real estate deals blown to smithereens and research about underground storage tanks and soil contamination, a geophysical survey crew arrives at the office. Estimates for the removal of an abandoned storage tank range from $30,000 to $100,000 and this is just to remove the tank. Costs can radically escalate if there is any evidence of contamination. There are city, state and federal programs to help with these expenses but eligibility is not guaranteed and the process is complicated and likely to drag on for years. A device like a miniature steam roller is pushed over the lot and in about a half an hour I am informed that there is no evidence of a buried tank. Seldom have I waited for a result in such a state of agitated anticipation. The sale is still not a done deal. The perspective buyer can still pull out if he can't get financing or in the unlikely event that further environmental tests reveal traces of contamination from the gas station that occupied the site nearly 100 years ago. Nevertheless, there are a couple back up buyers in the wings. Things have looked very promising a couple of times before but seem perhaps but a bit more promising now. I am more sanguine than sanguinary.

When another deal seems like a sure thing we actually look at mountain cabins and I start research on cars. My Volvo has nearly 200,000 miles and even my mechanic says not to put another dime into it. When the deal falls through, despite the lip service I give to rationality, part of me suspects I've jinxed it by counting unhatched chickens. Even though there are good signs now I am superstitious and do my best to keep to an austerity budget and not daydream about cars or cabins.

We have moved thousands of films to a climate controlled storage space and now have to sort through what we need to take to our new smaller office and what we need to get rid of. There are huge binders filled with my dad's typed, and then later when he lacked the dexterity, handwritten notes. We have transcribed some and hope to have all of these notes in a database shortly. Dad also made photocopies of all his work, just in case. I clean out a file cabinet filled with his painstaking shot-by-shot descriptions of thousands of films. I fill ten shopping bags for recyling with his notes. I give myself credit for re-purposing the old film library as a stock footage archive. I've built a lot of good professional relationships and have managed to get our license agreement vetted by all of the studios and networks. I'm a good negotiator and have good radar for customers who will likely waste my time. I fill up bags of Dad's notes and despite all I have made of the business, I am struck that I have never worked as hard as he did.

I am so beaten down by months of all real estate all the time that while the results confirming the absence of a tank is a relief, it doesn't provide the rush of euphoria that I'd anticipated. Business is summer slow. We are paying rent on our new space and salaries for kids hired to assist with the move. A good customer requests a substantial refund on some materials that are cut from a project. Another client is slow to pay on a large invoice. There is a government warrant that's lost in the mail and will take a couple of months to replace. I've been juggling money for as long as I can remember. Probably, financial stress has been the most significant detriment to the quality of my life. When colleagues and competitors ask how we're doing I always say, "The lights are still on," but the confluence of this week's circumstances creates a potential calamity that keeps me up all night. I wander downstairs at 3 a.m. and the kids are watching a documentary about homeless Romanian kids huffing paint. This puts my own circumstances in perspective but nevertheless, I am uncertain how I will cover payroll and a number of overdue bills, including ironically the DWP which could actually result in the lights being turned off. I feel a physical shakiness and find myself babbling to no one. After my employees toil in a heatwave loading and unloading thousands of films the thought of not covering payroll is unbearable.

I can see no alternative but to borrow from a relative in order to stay afloat until the overdue checks arrive. The reception to the humiliating beseeching is easy, compassionate and affirmative. I'll be able to issue paychecks but the discomfiture of having to ask for a loan doesn't let me feel pure relief at being able to cover payroll and other critical expenses. I do not foresee my current emergency as having any repercussions regarding the relationship. Even though the deficit is due to circumstances beyond my control I feel low and failed. The boxes of my father's notes and hard work torment me. I haven't worked hard enough. I've slipped up on my resolution not to make any financial plans until after the real estate sale is a done deal by poking around on the net looking at cars. Albeit, used hybrids, but maybe my sophisticated perception of God is completely off. Perhaps there is a punishing God who knows that I've never worked as hard as my old man or that I'm researching cars before the money's even in the bank.

I take the kids to see the Bling Ring. They report that it as accurate a portrayal of teen vapidness as they've ever seen. It's also a pretty scathing indictment of parenting of the hands off variety. I think of how hard my dad worked but also remember that I my childhood contact with him was limited to spending Saturday morning with him at the office, eating lunch and then engaging in a recreational activity of three hours or fewer. I might not have worked as hard as my old man did at the office but I've been present for the kids. Both of them are people I would genuinely like if they weren't mine. I know, nature vs. nurture, but I like to think that there's some nurture in the mix there. I have people who love and trust me enough to transfer money into my bank account in the blink of an eye. And, there is no friggin' gas tank. My sense of my own fortune, good and bad, really is all about the spin I put on it. I know that there isn't a white bearded deity looking down on me from heaven. Still, I promise not to look at cars again until the building is sold and every debt is paid. Just in case. 


FionnchĂș said...

As one who grew up worried about money and who carries with me that "Depression Era" mentality into the Great Recession, you know I sympathize. Maybe our mountain cabin will transpire one day. This coming from your favorite optimist. xxx me P.S. Surely Eric Gill might approve; I note the well-chosen lithograph.

My own Damn Blog said...

Imagine, now, if you will, 22 years of living on the edge. The constant begging for loans only given with a long shame inducing judgemental lecture from the lender. Endless calls and legal notices from collection agencies. Working as hard as it's humanely possible, barely seeing the kid. Always, always, always never enough. And then, making a trade with God. Because you always gotta have some skin in the game. I breathe much easier now, but do regret all the time wasted balancing on the precipice. Honey I can relate.