Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The morning after

Good morning from smokey Pasadena. The fires are still burning out of control and blanketing Pasadena in an unrelenting, mesquite-smelling smoke.

We woke up to ash dusting our rental car. They're saying that some of the areas burning haven't burned for up to 100 years. It's incredible and sad and so scary for the people whose job it is to force these flames into submission. An exhausting and dangerous one to say the least.

It's one thing to watch this happen on the news and another to be here and get the enormity of these fires. The smell, the haze, the sore throats, the headaches. The people... fighting to save their homes. From fire.

Seeing the blaze of orange on the hillside each night is such a vivid reminder to be grateful. So grateful.

Yesterday was our Chapter 7 hearing. There's not really that much to say about it, actually. Our attorney met us with a handshake and assured us that it would be easy and there was no reason to be nervous. He was right.

We sat in this room on the first floor of the Ernst & Young Plaza at 7th & Figueroa in Downtown Los Angeles while we waited for the judge to call us. They were running a bit behind. The Judge sat at a table in front of the room that was filled with chairs. He was dressed in a suit. I don't know why I was expecting robes. No robes. No formality.

In fact, by the way we were dressed we resembled attorneys more than those declaring Bankruptcy. At least I did in my black pants, jacket, bright blue collared shirt and heels. Bob wore khakis and a nice dress shirt. That I insisted on. He wanted to wear a short sleeved collared shirt that was nice but much more casual and I said no. Too casual. We need to look professional. And, well, had he worn the shirt he wanted he STILL would have been more dressed-up than the majority of the people there. He gave me the I told you so look and I accepted it. Yes, he was right. But still, better to look professional than not, right? Jeans, flip flops, t-shirts... okay for hanging out. But for Bankruptcy court?

Anyway, there we were. Dressed like lawyers. In the Ernst & Young building.

(This is a very nice building. Expensive rent. Lots of irony. We couldn't get over that statue. The business man with his head in the wall. I have no idea what it's supposed to convey. But to us, there for Bankruptcy Court, well, it conveyed failure. And seemed so strange it was comical.)

So there we were, as I was saying, sitting and waiting to be called as others went up and answered a series of questions. Is this your signature on your documents? Have you sold anything in the last 4 years? Have you ever declared bankruptcy before? One woman was there for the third time. 1988, 2001 and yesterday. Lots of small business owners were there. Men, women, young, old... it ran the gamut. One man was there as a result of a devastating divorce. Another was an independent real estate investor. And then us.

I wasn't nervous. We answered the judges questions. When he asked if there were any creditors there to contest or who would like to interview us, I held my breath. I didn't look. It was only a second or two. Then the Judge said, well, since then that concludes this meeting. No creditors. Phew. Breathe.

I asked our attorney, what next? He said, "Nothing. You're done." I asked if we'd get something in the mail or something. It seemed so anti-climactic. Is it really over? Do we really have a blank slate? Or at least a partially blank slate? The answer, I suppose, is yes.

Weird. It's the morning after and it hasn't quite sunk in.

Bankruptcy done.

Next? IRS.

Our attorney recommended we file an amended return that would reflect the loss we took on our house. It could perhaps lower the amount we owe. So that's next.

Now? Today? Well, we fly out at 6. We both have some work to do this morning. Then we're going to "inventory" our belongings here. The stuff we didn't sell. And we only have a few hours to do this. We need to figure out what we want to bring immediately to the island and how to get the rest there. We've had a friend offer to drive it up for us. Amazing. Incredible offer. He said it would be a favor to him. A nice excuse to get out of L.A. for a bit. So... well, we have options.

And are so clear that we are exceedingly wealthy in friends. You are all so lovely and amazing. Thank you!

A few more questions to answer:

-No, we didn't drive by the house.
-No, I wasn't tempted.
-Yes, we've enjoyed our time here.
-No, it didn't make me sad. It made me happy. To see our friends. To feel so at home.

Any more? Questions? Ask away.

I have one for you: What the heck does that statue mean to you? And WHY would it be at the entrance to the Ernst & Young Building? What am I missing here?

-Fire grows to more than 122,000 acres - Los Angeles Times


Jo in NZ said...

Was thinking of you guys yesterday, on the hour. Glad it went well for you.

Since I'm in NZ, I'm unsure of what bankruptcy means, practically speaking, for Americans. Could you outline some of the main restrictions on your day-to-day life now?

Here, for example, your name is published in the local newspaper, and you aren't allowed to travel overseas without permission.

Thanks for being so frank.

Joy said...

You've both been on my mind these last few days. It sounds like you survived the whole ordeal. How nice that your friend offered to take some of your stuff up here for you. A dear friend of ours drove one of our trucks up and we flew her back.
"A clean slate". I liked the sound of that. Yes, your slate will be clean in so many ways.
We had about 10 raindrops today but the sun eventually came out. The whales have been around over here on the westside in droves. Superpod! (that's when all 3 pods gather)

Kim Hooper said...

I'm so glad it went well! I'm sure it's a relief to have that behind you. Sorry I didn't get to see you when you were here. My sister got married this past weekend!
As for the statue, I didn't even realize it was a statue at first. Ha. To me, it represents the drone of the corporate working life. There are many days (before I worked from home) when I wanted to bang my head against the side of a building.

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