“What the… ”
Just before opening my car door to drive to work, I noticed writing scrawled on my window. It was gibberish, but the paper notice stuck under my windshield wiper cleared away my confusion:
The police noted my expired tags, and gave me 48 hours to get them updated, or move my car from my condo complex’s parking lot. And they were nice enough to write on my window with some kind of gunky chalk. I called the number on the ticket to plead my case, explaining that I needed more than two days. They responded I’d have extra time… because of the Thanksgiving holiday. So maybe three days.
I sat in my driver’s seat, considering my options
Unfortunately, it wasn’t so simple as getting new tags. Cars in Colorado have to pass an emissions test first. Because of my busted catalytic converter, I would fail. Getting a new one would cost several hundred dollars. Which is why I had been spending many months driving around with expired plates, always watchful for police cruisers. Little did I know I had to worry about parking at home too!
As I drove to work, I reminded myself that this was perfect, and to stay calm about it. I’d figure something out. And when I pulled into the strip mall where I’d be sign-spinning that day, I saw a welcome sight:
Ken, my friend and co-worker, installing a new headlight on his car.
I greeted him and, after asking about the work he was doing on his car, gave him the bad news about mine.
He had a solution
“I know a mechanic who does jobs on the side really cheap. I can get you in touch with him. And in the meantime, there’s a grocery store open 24/7 a couple blocks from where you live. You could park your car there and nobody would notice! They’ll just think you’re an employee.”
Gotta love how the Universe works. I was grateful for the help, and wasn’t at all surprised. Since the first day Ken started – a few months after me – we enjoyed working together. And it wasn’t long before we realized we both studied and practiced Taoist meditation. He was a few years younger than me and, in many ways, the polar opposite. Ken was incredibly athletic, and turned sign-spinning into a literal art. He practically defied gravity with the way he combined sign spinning, flipping, and acrobatics.
He was also tough to pin down, and although he promised to get me the mechanic’s phone number, this lead to many missed connections.
But in the meantime, I began parking my car at the grocery store two blocks away. And these were no city blocks. In Aurora, a “block” means row after row of cookie-cutter housing and a strip mall or two. So my new morning and evening commute on foot was half a mile each way. In December. In Colorado.
Day after day, I’d put on my three pairs of pants, shirt and three jackets, grab my backpack… and trudge half a mile in below-freezing temperatures, wondering if that’d be the day I’d reach the parking lot and find my car gone
Then, always relieved to see my Nissan Altima faithfully waiting, I’d get in. (It didn’t help that my door-locks malfunctioned in such a way that necessitated keeping at least one door open so I could enter. Every time I approached my car, I’d pretend to unlock the doors with my key fob. Then I’d open the rear passenger door – the one that I kept unlocked all the time – and casually reach around to unlock my front door from the inside. I did this for a couple years.)
After a tense moment of cranking the engine and hoping it’d start… I’d drive to work, where I stood outside virtually all day, constantly moving. Then in the evening I’d drive back to the parking lot, and walk half a mile home in the dark.
(Sometimes I’d even do a special backwards-walking meditation… and freaked out at least one fellow pedestrian.)
This temporary solution, while trying to get the mechanic’s phone number from Ken, stretched into almost two months.
But, much like my years as a sign-spinner, it was oddly peaceful
I used my daily walks to meditate and calm my mind.
I wasn’t able to get the mechanic’s contact info out of Ken until the company’s Christmas party.
However, a much bigger breakthrough would occur that same night of celebration.
At the party, I approached the owner of the entire business, and planted the seed in his mind that I could do much more for the company than just wave around a sign…
“You, uh, about to head in soon?” the man in his mid-50s asked me.
It was past 5PM on a warm day, and I hadn’t realized how the time had flown by while I waved my sign on the sidewalk.
“Yeah, just about.”
“We’ve, uh, talked a lot so could I ask you a personal question?”
He was shifting about, looking this way and that.
“Uh, well we’ve only spoken once before, but sure go for it.”
He held up his hands to emphasize his question:
“…What do you think of sex?”
“Could you be more specific?”
“What do you think of homosexuality?”
“Um… I mean, I’m not gay, I don’t really think about it one way or the other.”
“Okay, okay. See, I’m exploring my own… possible homosexuality… and I don’t know what to do!”
“Have you tried online?”
“Yeah I tried some $2.99-per-minute thing, that didn’t work.”
After a little more back-and-forth, the man shuffled up the street. I watched as he stopped to talk to a couple of kids hanging out by the sidewalk, presumably to run through the same dialogue. Later as I told the story to a couple co-workers, I remarked at how he was going about his exploration in a very odd, inefficient way.
That was one of the more unusual encounters I had while sign-spinning outside. Although, not so unusual that it was surprising. Not anymore.
I’d dealt with many people who were friendly… curious… bored… drunk… crack addicts… mentally ill… or some interesting combination of the above
Like the time two women walked down the sidewalk and one of them shrieked, “HEY!” before she lunged at me like a praying mantis. Shouting “What’s this?!” she whipped her arm right near my crotch, clawing at me and grabbing. I stumbled back, letting out a disgusted grunt that sounded something like, “Ewwwuugh” as she walked on, cackling.
It would have been nice to think she eagerly wanted to grab my genitals, but I’m pretty sure she was just reacting to the bulge of my phone and wallet in my front pocket.
Afterwards I vividly imagined myself standing in cleansing rainfall, and playfully focused on how everything was cool.
Then there was the time I turned around to see a car idling in the middle of the road. Sensing something amiss, I focused on the front seats to see two shirtless men punching each other over and over. Then, the driver dove out of the car and sprinted to the side of the road. The passenger jumped into the driver’s seat, pulled the door shut, and sped off.
For the first time in my life, I dialed 911 and told the operator what happened
She barely asked me for any detail.
The remaining man walked up the sidewalk towards me. As he got closer, I saw the splattering of blood on his chest. He said “How’s it going?” as he passed by.
“What’s up,” I replied.
He kept walking for another couple blocks before the police arrived. Apparently, he called them too because they ended up giving him a lift.
Most encounters were far more mundane than this, but I realized I was given a unique window to the behavior of men and women living on the bottom rung of society. I wanted the exact opposite for myself. So I observed their behavior in contrast to those I knew who made plenty of money.
The lower income folks on the street talked and talked and talked
I don’t recall a single one who genuinely listened to a word I said.
They spent time and energy complaining about whatever ensnared their mind, instead of actively working out or implementing a solution.
I’m sure they were caught in a spiral of “learned helplessness.” Life actually trained them to behave hopeless and in need.
All their traits floated in a cloud of irrationality. That’s why I like Peter’s emphasis on developing your rational thinking. I wonder if people think that conflicts with meditation, spirituality, manifestation, and luck. I don’t think so at all.
The destitute people I put up with on the sidewalk willfully refused to face their challenges with razor-sharp, pinpoint rationality, which (I believe) would generate the vibration of knowingness and deservingness they required to finally launch them out of the pit they were in.
But they were too busy whining, sulking, or praying for divine intervention that would never come
They were either making very little money, broke, or living off the government… yet they were experts at scrounging together cash for booze, drugs, or mindless entertainment. I can count with one hand the number of times I was sincerely asked about getting a job as a sign-spinner… and every single time, I gave them the info they needed.
It affirmed something I’ve always pondered and am still attempting to put into words: Embrace rationality as much as you give in to a force greater than yourself which guides you. Because there is no dichotomy. If you think or feel there is, you’re either misjudging rationality or mistaking the pinball machine of your emotional barriers for a spiritual path. That’s the way I see it… for now…
Like I said before, these were folks on the bottom rung. None of them is around to hear my lecture. But whenever I think like this, I always turn things around and ask myself how I’m doing a version of what I’m decrying. Because I learned we’re all facing the same inner challenges – we’re all the same in that regard – just with differing extremes and subtleties.
So whenever something needles me, I treat it as a signal
As a result, I’ve nearly wiped complaints from my verbal communication. And I’m almost done doing so from my thoughts. There’s just one remaining category that I’m working on, and it’ll evaporate soon. I suspect there are many subconscious complaints looping like crazy – I’ll deal with them as well. During my time as a sign-spinner, I eliminated all unnecessary spending. But what defines unnecessary? I could have taken it further, like living out of my car, but didn’t.
I worked on my listening skills.
Before, during, and after my bankruptcy, I never stopped my entrepreneurial efforts. If anything, I sped them up. Heck, I even took steps to build my business credit while my personal credit was getting the ole heave-ho, which I found pretty funny. I also made attempts to upgrade my day job.
In fact, within months of moving to a new apartment, my career took a surprising turn
I’ll write about that soon.
My interactions outside, however, were minor compared to the relationships I’d develop with my co-workers. It was a shocking learning experience for me, to see how behavior and beliefs molded reality. Never before in my life did I possess so much awareness to see patterns of cause and effect. More so, never before in my life did I also have such an open heart, that the people around me would touch it in ways I’ll cherish forever…
“It’s called The Awesome Science of Luck. I highly recommend it.”
Roughly a year before I got a job as a sign-spinner, I sat at a restaurant in the Colorado mountains with my friend Jim, stuffing my face with brownies and ice cream as he watched in delight.
During our conversations, Jim recommended a book by a man named Peter Ragnar. I liked the title – harnessing the power of luck resonated with me. For years I’d taken action, attempting to achieve the things I wanted, and was seeing the wisdom in the saying from China:
“Better to be born lucky than smart”
Well, if I could have my cake and eat it too…
Within a couple days, I bought the book and began reading. Soon, I was reading it over and over again. It felt… right somehow, to do so. I mused that doing so made me luckier. Of course, I also practiced most of the techniques revealed in the book.
Shortly after I got my sign-spinning job, I bought the audio version of the book, so I could listen to Peter’s stories over and over again as I worked. Later, even though it was a stretch financially (actually it was pretty insane) I bought recordings of a seminar he’d done. I listened to the audios as I worked, and played the videos as I relaxed at home on my days off.
I did this for months, and added a couple more products to my collection. Every single day, I listened to one interview about money, during my first shift at work. In fact, I used it to time when to take my first break. I still viscerally remember walking outside with my sign in one hand, balancing a cup of black coffee in the other… and setting the latter down so I could fire up my MP3 player to the interview… taking my first few sips… and starting the day with Peter’s words resonating inside me.
I did this perhaps one hundred times
I mused how this job gave me the opportunity to spend literally hours per day absorbing the information and, perhaps, a beneficial vibration. At the very least, it felt right to do so. So I did.
On a practical level, the idea of taking a more relaxed and emotionally and mentally centered approach to business and building wealth made sense. I’d already experienced the haphazard results of compulsive action. And I’d also seen the other extreme, where men and women curled themselves in a safe blanket of “I’ll just visualize abundance,” not seeing how they were suffocating themselves from actual wealth.
I’d also experienced how Taoist meditation improved my disposition more than anything else I’d ever experienced. So I wanted more.
Because I understood the value of an ongoing, exponentially-increasing energy transmission, I jumped at the chance to sign up for Peter’s monthly coaching calls. My first was October 2012, and I made sure to ask a question right off the bat.
From there, I took action on what I asked and learned
One of the marvelous things about the monthly calls, was I added the recordings to my MP3 player line-up. I listened to them over and over.
Time seemed to slow down and even crawl to a virtual standstill. My days consisted of nothing but interacting with one person, and then standing outside alone, listening to call recordings. In the evenings, I’d focus on meditation, eating, working on my business, and resting my body.
I feel slightly frustrated writing this because I know there were so many bizarre experiences and insights I had, on a daily basis… and I’d like to communicate the most impactful ones. It makes me feel better to know that you can almost certainly relate to this experience (the insights and breakthroughs). We’re all going through a spiritual journey and the mind-boggling synchronicities we’re experiencing… well, they happen so much that, at least in my case, their boggling effect ceases… and simply become the norm.
Like when I was listening to a teleseminar recording while standing outside, and listened as the host spoke about the man who visualized white dogs eating his cancer. I imagined white dogs eating the negative energy in me… and within seconds a truck drove by with a white dog in the back, who barked at me.
“Whoa,” I thought. “Sure, I get dogs barking every couple of days… but a white dog within moments? Amazing.”
But not as amazing as having it happen four more times in just as many hours
Not all the dogs were white, but I’d never experienced anything like that before. Coincidence?
Or perhaps how, whenever I’d start dwelling on negative thoughts, a honking horn would rattle me to my senses. But, cars honk all the time, especially when you’re on the street corner. But honking almost every time you get stuck in negative thoughts? And happening so much that you get used to the friendly reminder, and say “thank you?”
I remember how feeling a universal love for everyone became more than something I’d just read about… but an experience. I’d see a beautiful woman in a car driving by, and I’d feel love for her. Then I’d turn my gaze to her pissed off-looking boyfriend in the driver’s seat, and I’d feel equal love for him.
That’s how I knew it was truly universal!
This experiential understanding flowed to many Taoist teachings. Like your eyes crossing and locking during meditation… experiencing the sensation of your microcosmic orbit… marveling at your body relaxing and aligning at a level deeper than you could consciously control or even imagine, and understanding why years of practice is required just to get started, and why the dedicated practitioners measure their practice in hours per day rather than minutes…
I also observed how the people I met were so significant and beautiful. For the next year or so of living in a cocoon, I’d bond with them like I never had with any human being before in this lifetime. I’ll write about them next…
“So I called up one of the landlords… she didn’t even speak English!” I said.
“Oh man… that’s not good,” replied the buyer.
I had just finished my lunchbreak at work, where I called four different apartment listings in the Denver area. I was scraping the bottom of the real estate barrel, trying to keep the monthly rent under $500 per month. It wasn’t yielding good results.
I got a cold, sick feeling in my stomach as I admitted to some of the landlords that I had terrible credit
It was closing a lot of doors. But I found a couple leads. Something had to work out. I’d already given notice at my current place, so I had to move somewhere.
I drove to one complex located next to a giant Uhaul storage facility. It was actually tough to tell the difference between the storage units and the apartments next door. These were month-to-month cubes. When I asked about bed bugs, the leasing agent replied, “Yeah, we spray whenever there’s a problem.”
I plunked down $25 for the leasing application. A day later they called to say I was rejected, based on credit.
As I tried to negotiate some sort of an upfront payment, they hung up on me
Back onto Craigslist. I figured I found the perfect job there, so the perfect home would show up too. I stalked the listings, scanning them every single day. I knew that a decent place with a low price would go fast. But how could I jump on one while working full time?
Then I had a day off. And that morning, after meditating, I found a listing describing itself like a one-bedroom “ski condo” complete with parking, a vaulted ceiling with skylight, balcony, and even a fireplace! For $525 a month. I called the owner and as we talked, I explained that my credit was bad but my rental history was perfect. “So don’t give me a credit card, but I can definitely pay the rent.”
“I totally understand,” he said. We made an appointment for 3:30 that afternoon. I scheduled another place to look at right before.
That one felt… and smelled… immediately wrong
I politely left and raced to the “ski condo” place.
It was on the eastern edge of Aurora, Colorado, a place my friend once jokingly called “Saudi Aurora.” For someone used to living near downtown Denver, the Kansas-esq rolling plains felt like falling off the edge of the earth.
Upon arriving and meeting the owner, he struck me as a high-strung sweetheart of a guy. He began showing me around, and there was indeed a vaulted ceiling with skylight, fireplace, and balcony. Within two minutes there was a knock on the door. A couple had just arrived to look at the place. He politely asked them to wait.
The place had an interesting history… and future. The owner evicted the previous tenant for drug use. Turns out the man and his girlfriend were doing fine when they moved in. Then he started doing drugs, lost his job, and crashed his BMW.
The owner said he “wasn’t happy at all” about being evicted
But the home’s future sounded much nicer. Years earlier, the owner had brought on board a mentally-challenged man as a temporary assistant, who eventually became a loved family member. This home was to be his, years in the future when he became ready.
My whole life, I’ve made snap decisions. This would be no exception.
I confessed to being in the middle of a bankruptcy and the owner had an admission of his own: He’d been through one too. I asked if I could put down a deposit right then and there and he affirmed it would put me “first in line” for the place. I cut the check.
Later that afternoon and the next day, he texted saying my rental history checked out and… so did my credit?! Odd, but I didn’t question it.
All that was required of me was another signature and the place was mine
The agreement was for a six-month lease, at $525 per month. My new landlord admitted that whenever he’d done a year-long or multi-year lease, something always went wrong and the relationship didn’t work out. But when he’d done short-term leases, the tenant usually stayed longer. That sounded like a universal law in action to me.
The move-in date was about a month later. It felt good knowing I had a home lined up. I marveled at my luck and that, for the first time in years, I’d have a steady income greater than my expenses. Actually it’d be for the first time in my adult life.
However, that became little solace as I packed my things and moved out of the apartment I once declared as my home, and claimed I’d stay in no matter what.
Before finally leaving, I stood in every room, saying my goodbyes…
And then cried as I finally shut the door
(Years later I would, in a way, return – a story for another day.)
After quickly settling into my new digs, I settled into a life that felt more and more on pause. It consisted of little more than working outside alone, meditation, testing business ideas, and recovering to start the day all over again. Mental stress was minimal.
I’d eventually stay in the place for almost two years. Most of that time felt oddly peaceful.
The final four months were painful chaos.
“Hey another quarter! And a dime! I’m so lucky…”
As I walked across downtown Denver to my 341 meeting, I found a total of sixty cents on the street.
A good omen, I figured.
Then I arrived at the building, took the elevator to the 14th floor, and found the classroom-sized office for my meeting. A couple dozen men and women sat in rows of chairs, facing the front of the room where, like a teacher, the trustee sat.
I checked in and took a seat. Near the front of the room, I realized, was my lawyer. Sitting next to him was someone else going through the bankruptcy process. In full view of everyone else waiting their turn.
We could listen to every word, as if it were a presentation
I couldn’t believe it!
The trustee flipped through a folder of documents, questioning the person about his most intimate financial details. After a few minutes, he’d finish and lead the person through an oath swearing, similar to what you see in courtroom dramas when someone swears to “Tell the whole truth…” In this case, you were swearing every detail you shared was accurate. Then your time was over.
So I waited to be called. Out of the more than couple dozen people in the room, it looked like only my lawyer and one other represented just about everyone. Doing some quick math in my head, I saw how lucrative their businesses were, depending on the expenses.
The trustee was just what you’d imagine:
An older, bald, white man with a regal, weary, subdued manner
As he flipped through some pages of a woman’s financial history, he questioned her: “So you and your husband divorced in 2010, is that correct?”
“And then in 2011 you co-signed a lease on a car?”
“…Wait. So you co-signed the lease after your divorce?”
He shot her a quizzical glance with hint of disapproval… and… with a sigh… flipped another page in the binder and kept going, never to address the car again. I contemplated just how many bizarre and irrational financial situations and decisions he looked at every day, week after week, month after month, year after year…
At no point did I observe any creditors show up for questioning, which confirmed what I’d read in my research: It’s a rarity.
After listening to a couple more swearings under penalty of perjury, my name was called
I sat down at the large desk next to my lawyer. The trustee began flipping through pages, reading.
“I see here you owe…” he ticked off amounts from three of my tax years.
“Yes,” I said.
“You don’t like paying your taxes?”
The room erupted in laughter.
“What the fuck?” I thought to myself. “Why are you all laughing, you’re all bankrupt too!”
Out loud, I merely said, “It’s not like that.”
“Well, why didn’t you pay?”
“Those years, after paying all my living expenses, food and rent, I didn’t have any money left over.”
My lawyer nodded with approval
Before, I’d gotten some coaching to say as little as possible. Often, people have a tendency to try to justify themselves, get nervous, and ramble, which can lead to trouble.
The trustee confirmed that I knew I couldn’t discharge my three most recent tax years. So even if my bankruptcy were granted, I’d still owe money to the IRS. Then he said, “Rifkin. You wouldn’t happen to be related to such-and-such Rifkin here in Denver, would you?”
“No, I’m the only one in my family here. I’ve never heard of them.”
“Too bad. They’ve got a lot of money.”
This sparked some banter between my lawyer in the trustee. Apparently, at one point my attorney represented them for something.
I couldn’t believe it!
It was like the two of them were actors suddenly breaking character in the middle of a play to chat about their personal lives. And I realized, that was essentially what was happening. In a flash, I realized that, unlike clients who come and go within minutes, the lawyer and the trustee hung out together for hours on end. Eerie.
But the trustee didn’t ask much more of consequence. He told me to raise my hand, lead me through the oath, and said I was done. As I pushed back my chair and stood up, my lawyer leaned over and whispered, “Good job. Hey, call me about those taxes. We could do a Chapter 13.”
I kept that in mind. Although I’d never see him again about the bankruptcy I was going through, it wouldn’t be the last time we would meet.
I walked home
It was over, and even though I’d have to wait about a month for the official notice, it was pretty clear I’d get my discharge.
In the meantime, it was time to shift my life from hemorrhaging wealth to building it. Step one was to move out of the apartment I loved. Little did I realize that would be more difficult than I thought…
We can help, the lawyer wrote to me on a Sunday afternoon.
For weeks, I had been obsessively researching bankruptcy, online. It fascinated me.
Although there’s room for abuse (and I suppose my opinion is understandably biased), I love the concept of bankruptcy. It encourages entrepreneurial risk, because as a business owner, you know you’re not facing debtor’s prison, should you fail. You can start virtually clean… although not entirely. At the time of this writing, student loans are not dischargeable, which I think is criminal. Taxes are, but only somewhat.
But you are able to discharge all credit card debt, all debt you owe through private arrangements, medical bills, etc.
Keep in mind, I’m not up to date on the rules and I’m not going to be a stickler for accuracy here.
It’s also amazing what you can keep.
It’s possible, even probable, that you’ll be able to retain your car, home, possessions, and savings
Although if you have a mortgage or car payments, that’s considered a loan from a “secured creditor” and you’ll still have to make an arrangement to pay somehow.
Some people even choose what state they live in, for strategic bankruptcy reasons. For instance, in Florida you’re always allowed to keep your primary residence. Even if it’s a $100,000,000 mansion, you can keep it. In Texas, you can keep all the land you own. Even if it’s 200 acres.
These are extreme examples, but all states are more lenient or strict in certain ways
Just like tax rates, school districts, weather, and crime, it’s a good idea to look into these things when choosing where to live.
It’s not all fun and games, though. If you go through a bankruptcy, your credit takes a major hit… although if you’re considering filing, it’s probably already lousy. A decade must go by, before it disappears from your credit report.
To be considered eligible for chapter 7 bankruptcy (there are others, like Chapter 11 which is more of a long-term repayment schedule on easier terms, and a Chapter 13 which is similar and has tax bill-reduction advantages, earning the moniker “Tax 13”) you first undergo a “means test.” It’s pretty casual, and is based on your income. I just looked up my zip code in Colorado and if your household consists of three people and you make under $76,458, Chapter 7 might be doable for you.
Surprised at how high the figure is?
So was I.
For a single-person household, the figure is $52,389. I recall it being lower in 2012, but I still passed with flying colors.
If you’re confident you’ll be granted a discharge, your next step is to file for bankruptcy and prepare to stand before an official called a trustee. He will look over your assets and decide how to distribute them amongst creditors. This in-person meeting is called the “meeting of the creditors” or a “341 hearing” because of its designated U.S. Code number. There, your creditors have the opportunity to show up and question you.
Most people opt to hire a lawyer to assist in this whole deal, because a mistake in the paperwork can understandably suck.
You could be denied a discharge and would have to start over
I searched around online and found an attorney with the last name Jude, who named his law firm Jude Law. That alone was enough for me to like him (and, yes, later when I showed up in the waiting area, there was a signed photo of the actor Jude Law framed and hanging on the wall. Awesome).
I filled out the online form on the website one Sunday and within 30 minutes I got an email response from an employee there, and even the attorney himself, saying they could help. “Now here’s a business that’s on the ball,” I thought.
I showed up at their offices. They outlined their services, fees, and I decided to retain them. They gave me a list of needed documents, like tax returns, credit card bills, debt collector information, and I showed up a second time to organize the official filing.
We listed every single creditor I had and every dollar I owed, as well as all my assets
There weren’t much of the latter.
I asked about a thousand bucks or so I had in a mutual fund. A lady there replied, “Hookers. And blow,” while ticking off two fingers. Then she clarified: “Spend it. Just keep the receipts.”
Then, they mentioned something to me, almost offhandedly, that I didn’t read about online:
“There’s a chance that, even if you get a discharge, you’ll still have a quarter of your savings taken from you, to pay your creditors.”
“Do you know what the odds are that’ll happen to me?”
She shrugged, “Depends on the trustee.”
When it came time to sign the papers, I asked the lady there to snap a few photos of me with my camera phone, and she obliged. I was wearing one of my favorite t-shirts which had the phrase “Future Millionaire” embossed on it, with some little dollar signs.
The shirt was created as a joke, but I wasn’t fooling around
They said they’d file in a few days, and they gave me a phone number to give all my creditors when they hit me up for payment. Reason being, as soon as you or your lawyer files for bankruptcy, you’re granted an “Automatic Stay” which means nobody can get their greedy paws on your money until your hearing, whether or not you’re actually discharged from your debt.
As I left, the lady repeated: “Hookers and blow.”
Thinking about how a fourth of my bank account savings could be taken away, I made a trip to Walmart. An expensive one. I took note of all the things I usually bought, and grabbed a whole cart-full. Pasta, socks, sauce, maple syrup, cheese, flour, shirts. Even some stuff I’d been meaning to purchase, like a can opener.
Looking back, I question the morality of my action (and, honestly, I could Monday-morning-quarterback all of this) and I don’t have an easy answer about whether or not I did the right thing.
As the debt collection companies called me one by one, I cheerfully answered and informed them of my filing
I took special pleasure in contacting the company acting on behalf of the State of Colorado, which was automatically drafting money from my bank account.
Funny thing: When you file, a date is set for your court appearance. Around the same time, I happened to get a notice for jury duty. So I asked the assistant at the law firm what would happen if both appointments fell on the same day (more and more, I was practicing “inspect what you expect”). She got the attorney on the conference line to ask, and he walked in.
Imagine a guy shrugging his shoulders and saying with a Texas accent, “Don’t even go! It’s not like they’re going to throw you in jail or anything.” Yeah… this was the guy I just retained to legally represent me.
Heh, the appointments never ended up conflicting. In fact, the court case I was summoned for, ended up not requiring a jury at all.
So I went to the movies that day instead
My Meeting of the Creditors, however, was still on. So a couple weeks later, I walked across downtown to my hearing. It would be… very different… than I expected.
Definitely much more strange.
“Your skin is BURNED. You face looks like a lobster! The ladies love that I’m sure…”
“…yeah…” I muttered.
I was walking back from the convenience store, fetching some snacks for the buyer in between rounds of sign-holding outside. It was dead in the middle of summer, and I had to admit what the kid on the bike shouted at me… was correct. My fair skin wasn’t taking kindly to 7 daily hours of Colorado sun exposure, especially considering my eschewing of toxic sunscreens.
Up until this point, things were going well with my job. I derived some perverse enjoyment out of standing outside all day, listening to audios, drinking coffee, letting my mind wander, thinking about business… it was tranquil…
Until this kid on a bike began zipping by
Because I almost always had my headphones on, it was difficult for me to hear, but I noticed him saying things and looking at me.
Something about it rattled me. It didn’t help that he looked eerily similar to my childhood best friend.
For an inexplicable reason, I dwelled on the encounters. Sure, people constantly gave me the finger or shouted as they drove by. But this felt different.
A couple days later, he mocked my burned skin while I was leaving the convenience store… like he was following me around or something! Great, just the thing to ruin my workday.
I hated feeling like a sitting duck out there, rooted to one corner, while this kid biked around all day, bored, harassing me
Some days, he’d zoom up the sidewalk from behind. One time, he just barely avoided hitting me, skidding on his bike then turning around to mouth, “Fuck you.” Other days he’d slowly go past and wave like we were friends. What was going on?
I thought about the situation while doing a meditation. My mind ran through many different scenarios of us fighting, and things continuing to be miserable… and then all of a sudden I imagined talking with him like we were friends, and asking if he played football. I smiled. That one felt the most real. For some reason.
Days went by. At first I felt silly telling anyone about it. Sure, he was a big kid, but I doubted I was in any physical danger. He was just a jerk. And maybe the company I worked for wouldn’t appreciate the drama and putting time and energy towards my situation.
But finally I called my boss and explained
He was surprisingly supportive, at one point saying, “Heck when people flip you off…flip ‘em off right back, I say!” It felt wonderful for someone to have my back. But still, that didn’t exactly resolve things. I knew something had to change.
Then the day came.
The morning began with a 45-minute standing meditation. At one point, I vividly… yet vaguely… imagined the kid biking straight towards me. I focused on relaxing and maintaining my form and smiling into the image. Which was tough to do. When it was over, I had this odd feeling that I wasn’t done with the meditation.
Later, as I drove to work, I mused with the idea that the confrontation between us had already taken place and was resolved.
But would he even show up that day? For a couple hours, I didn’t know the answer.
Then I turned… and saw him… biking straight towards me
“Good,” I thought. “Game on, let’s do this.”
He biked closer and closer, waved to me (huh?!)… and then veered into the parking lot, to pull up just outside the entrance to the store. He walked in. What was going on? Was he going to complain about me? Well, there were two sides to this story! I left the street to walk in, and watched as he went to the counter… and handed the buyer his necklace.
Jeez, he was looking to sell something. This was so weird.
I came inside, walked right up to him, and said, “Can we talk? After you’re done?”
Looking a little dazed, he said, “Yeah.”
I went over to the set of couches on the other side of the room, sat, and waited
As the buyer looked at his necklace, the kid stole a few quick glances at me.
I wondered how I should handle this. Then, the moment he shuffled over to the couches, I realized what was going on. His vibe gave him away. He was just a kid who got caught misbehaving, and he felt bad for getting in trouble.
“Should I sit down?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied, “sit down here.”
I paused, and regally began, “The harassment… has to stop.”
Barely before I could finish my last word, he nodded and said, “Yeah, I know, I know.”
I realized the “bad cop” treatment wasn’t needed anymore, so I shifted gears, “Look, there are some crazy people out there – I don’t know what to expect while I’m standing outside there, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah, it’s just these kids on bikes, they hate you because you won’t move out of the way for them, so they made me do it.”
Now I understood the full picture
Maybe once, weeks ago, I was a little slow in stepping aside as a group of kids biked by… as if that were my responsibility, heh. But when you’ve got a group of teenage boys with nothing to do in the summer, it doesn’t take much to get them to cause trouble. This kid, though pretty darn big, was at the bottom of the social totem pole. So he did the dirty work of harassing me, for their amusement. Some friends. It also explained why his behavior switched so much. On the days he was nice and waved to me, his “friends” weren’t around to see it.
I just wanted my workday to be tranquil. And I wondered if him going back to his friends and saying I put my foot down, would cause more trouble. So I told him, “Hey – tell your friends that I’m sorry, okay? Sometimes I don’t see people in time when I’m out there, and that’s why I don’t move. But I’ll try to do so, if I see them.”
I imagined the kid going back to his friends victoriously, telling them how I apologized.
The whole exchange was so strange to me
At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it… but then realized: I was the adult. For just about all of my life, I had been the kid. Now I was the adult in the room. Crazy.
We stood up and shook hands. Before he left, I asked him one last question: “You’re a big guy, you play football?”
“You must be a lineman or something. Offense or defense?”
I opened the door to see a deputy waiting for me.
“Are you Nathaniel Rifkin?”
“This is for you,” he said, handing me an envelope. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing bad.”
I thanked him, closed the door, and immediately opened the letter.
A lawsuit had been filed against me
By the state of Colorado.
“This IS bad,” I thought to myself.
Their reason for suing? Failure to pay taxes, amounting to over $7,000. They made my options quite simple: I could fight… or I could call a number and pay or set up a payment plan. I chose the latter. It also involved signing a document of which I don’t remember the specifics, but I’m sure it involved signing away any shred of innocence.
Just another event in my saga of dealing with debt collectors. In this case, the state of Colorado had contracted with a private company that took the reins of cases involving deadbeats. At that point in my life, when it came to credit cards and taxes, I fell into that category.
Over the years, I’d gotten plenty of letters, thick with breakdowns of bills and return envelopes to send in payments. Mostly from credit card companies.
They’d grow in piles on my floor, usually unopened
Later, I began receiving letters from private debt collection companies. Here’s how that worked:
Let’s say I had a credit card with a limit of $3,000 and I maxed it out. In fact, did exactly this (it was from Wachovia, if you care to know). Wachovia would then send me regular bills… then overdue bills… and if enough time went by for them to cry uncle and decide I was a lost cause, they’d sell my account to a debt collection company. Probably for a few hundred bucks. The company would then “own” my debt and could legally attempt to collect on it.
As you can see, Wachovia loses money in this transaction. But they’ve figured out selling a debtor’s account for pennies on the dollar is better than collecting $0. I remember one credit card company sent me an overnight envelope via UPS. Inside was a simple letter, saying something to the effect of, “Why have we spend the money to send you a letter like this? Because we want your attention and we want to help you. Call us…” It was a fantastic strategy, and I’m sure worked well for them… but I didn’t call.
But the thing about debt collectors… is they’ll call you. I stopped answering my cell if I didn’t recognize the number (and, with certain companies that called often enough, I didn’t answer because I, in fact, did recognize their number).
Their game was simple
If they could just squeeze a couple payments out of me, they’d profit. And I’m sure both the credit card and collection companies have some precise and sophisticated algorithms to determine whether or not a deadbeat is too dead to pursue.
So how could I let myself spiral into a hole like this? It wasn’t because of some sudden disaster, or an insurmountable financial obligation. It was a dis-eased mindset. Actually, several of them:
What’s interesting about the first three reasons, is they’re all warped versions of genuinely healthy financial outlooks. The fact is, many businesses require borrowing in order to afford ignition and growth. Which literally requires taking on debt. And diverting cashflow away from a business does technically hinder its growth, if more cashflow is required. And we’ve all heard stories of business “hail marys” where the founder lobbed his last dollar into the fray, trying to make it work…and succeeding.
Today, I understand I distorted these mindsets with desperation, the stench of need, and lack of conscious awareness.
There’s a big difference between strategic debt… and convincing yourself you can simply make it up later
Plus, having the discipline to save rarely chokes off the growth of a business.
There was also my financial illiteracy, which is epidemic in this country (and the world). I remember the shock of doing my taxes after my first year in business. Every penny had been either reinvested, or spent on food and rent. Yet my tax bill was for several thousands of dollars.
“WTF?!” I thought. “How could I owe this when I’m broke now, and am barely making enough to get by?”
(Later I’d realize; business owners don’t have the luxurious illusion of automatic withholding.)
Another cause was, I believe, a serious screw-up in the root “wheel” of my energy body.* Most of my childhood was marred by fear because of financial instability and lack. Back then, I vowed to become rich so I wouldn’t suffer as an adult, but my drive was not supported by a knowingness of abundance. A good visual would be: I had the impetus and ability to leap forward towards riches, but my vibration was like black ice on a road.
I was stuck in place no matter how I writhed and wrenched my body
At worst, I slipped and slammed my knees against the hard, cold ground.
Getting a high four-figure tax bill I couldn’t pay was the first slam. There would be many more.
For years, I managed to make enough money to pay off the worst debt. More than once, I had to call my cable company, credit card in hand to finally pay, when my TV and internet switched off. Cards declining at the grocery store, post office, and restaurants were regular occurrences. So much so, that sometimes I’d duck out of sight to call the credit card company just to make sure I had enough available to pay. To this day, I occasionally feel some anxiety when my card’s being swiped.
In early 2012, things changed. Although I had a full-time job, my business income had dried up. And while I was paying $50 a month to a debt collector here, and $100 there, as well as the minimums on a couple cards that hadn’t given up on me… the mathematics guaranteed something had to give.
For a long time, I’d thought about bankruptcy.
I assumed my life would be ripped apart by the courts and my creditors
However, as I began to research, I realized there could be some strategic value in going through with it.
It’s been almost four years, and I still shake my head when I think of what a strange experience it was (actually, I shake my head when remembering just about anything involving that period of my life). Coming soon, I’ll give you the insider’s look of what actually happens when you go through a bankruptcy.
(*In some spiritual traditions, it is believed the human body has several energetic “wheels” located in specific parts of the body, all of which are associated with certain aspects of life. And, if you’re screwed up in one, that’ll lead to dysfunction. One wheel located in the perineum area – imagine sitting on a bicycle seat and that’d be it – has to do with financial security.)
“Hey Doberman Dan! I’m talking to you right now from the street corner! Can you hear me alright?” I asked, pressing my cell phone close to my ear to overcome the traffic noise.
“I sure can!” he replied.
“Awesome! I’m outside, waving my sign right now.”
Months earlier, had I signed up for a monthly newsletter and teleseminar by an experienced marketer and business owner. His name was Doberman Dan (because he loved the breed and the moniker stuck). As a bonus, he’d occasionally host open call-in days for one-on-one consultations. The rules were simple: For a period of two hours, he’d sit by the phone. If you called and the line was open, he’d answer and consult with you for 10 minutes. If the line was busy because someone else got through first, you kept dialing.
These call-in days always fell on workdays for me. I didn’t care. I called anyway. While I was outside.
Sometimes trying dozens and dozens of times to get through
Cell phone in one hand, sign in the other. If Doberman Dan answered, I’d take a break for the talk. Otherwise, I’d keep trying…
Except this particular day, when I’d already taken all my allotted breaks. So when he finally picked up (10 minutes before the call-in time period was over – I probably dialed about a hundred times that day) I simply stayed on the street corner as we spoke.
The topic of conversation was my latest marketing campaign. And rather than just give me 10 minutes of his time, Dan and I talked for closer to 20. I was grateful… but not surprised. We’d grown relatively close over the months. Let me back up and explain.
When I first signed up for his newsletter, I was happy to get some helpful, nitty-gritty information on marketing. And as I listened to recordings of the teleseminars he gave, I was startled by a conversation he had with a guest: They began talking about a certain kind of health product and how it’d probably be a good idea to own one.
I happened to sell such a product
I grew excited as I realized how I could stand out from the crowd and get on this man’s radar. I decided to send him one of my products as a gift, with a letter explaining why it was exactly what he was looking for. Keep in mind this was a product with substantial wholesale costs for me. Much more than a book or something like that. So he’d understand I didn’t make this gesture this lightly.
Before work, I stopped by UPS and mailed the package, giddy to find out what would happen. In my enclosed letter, I included an introduction to myself and a way to contact me.
Four days later, we were on the phone
From then on, I did everything I could to maximize the amount of help he could give me. Every time he’d do a group teleseminar or had an open call-in day, I made sure to be ready with results and questions. The key part being the results. I didn’t just come up with a bunch of quandaries based on what I was thinking or planning. I didn’t emotionally vomit all over him with whining or moaning. Instead, all questions were based on what I’d tested out in the real-world, and the measurable results I’d achieved. Only from there did I ask for guidance on what to do next.
Action first. Then questions.
If I didn’t have time to gather any new data that particular month, there was a good chance I didn’t ask any questions.
And if I did, I took note of his answers, and took more action.
Usually, this involved me scrounging together a few hundred dollars to spend on another marketing campaign
At the time, I was making $10.50 an hour (but very soon got a 25-cent raise, that was pretty sweet) and paid $525 in rent. My food bill was roughly $30 per week. Then car insurance, gas, putting away 10%, giving away 10% to charity… yet I was able to stay a little bit ahead every single month.
Not having kids or medical problems helped. So did the discipline of literally not spending a single cent on anything other than rent, food, transportation… and business.
I learned from our dynamic. And I realized that my orientation for action was the perfect way to show him that I genuinely respected his help, rather than simply telling him so. That, combined with putting in some extra oomph to get on his radar, led to some interesting breakthroughs:
It was all the more amazing considering that, as this man’s publishing and consulting business grew, he put in place barriers to entry so nobody could directly communicate with him, so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed.
On the other hand…
I always got the VIP pass
Never once did I have the urge to shove this experience into the ego realm. He was simply a guy who valued his time and space, and could provide me with some excellent help. My success was still my responsibility, and having a closer relationship to him was a humbling privilege, not a bragging right.
Much like my gratitude for my humble job, this mindset was new to me. What ignited the change? A life event most would regard as a tragedy.
In the years previous, I scrambled to make my businesses succeed because I needed the money. Badly. My life was a constant sprint to bring in some cash to pay off the most alarming credit card debt, and push forward to maybe… finally… seriously… get an income stream big enough for prosperity.
I starved for support from coaches that I should have cultivated for myself. Looking back, it’s clear I was trying to erect a rickety foundation for a skyscraper upon a dissolving sandbar. Because I “didn’t have the time” to take a walk back to find some solid rock. Plus, I didn’t think I needed to.
Until I gave up
In mid-2012, it became public record that I was too financially crushed to pay my bills, and that I had to start over. A few months into my career as a sign spinner, I declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Next, I’ll write about that utterly bizarre experience.
Another interesting event:
While watching an educational video he made about writing advertising, I noticed how he made a subtle challenge to his audience. If they wrote an ad for him (without payment) for his own newsletter, and it performed better than the one Doberman Dan wrote… then he would pay that person a nice royalty income for all the new customers it generated.
After exhausting myself physically during my workday, I’d crawl home (metaphorically) and work on writing an ad for him. I don’t have any proof, but I believe I was the only student who ever took him up on the challenge.
Here’s something even more interesting:
It’s been over three years and he still hasn’t tested that ad! We plan to soon. I’d chide him about it, but the guy’s transformed my life in so many other ways that I don’t mind. Plus, from the beginning, I cared about the ad… but not too much.
Crack – click – snap.
Every single morning and evening, for at least a couple years, I’d done a standing meditation. And several months before I got my sign-spinning job, I noticed something interesting:
My spine would creak and crack as if I were getting a chiropractic adjustment.
And the cracks would occur around my pelvis, right at the root of my spine.
Things became more interesting as I began my job and noticed the movements I made while outside also cracked my spine. A lot. Sometimes hundreds of times per day.
Then, as the weeks went by, I noticed something else:
Over time… the cracks began to inch their way up my spinal cord.
To be clear, I mean that the cracks, at any given moment, were isolated to one level of my spine. However, from week to week and month to month, the level experiencing the cracks would crawl higher and higher up my spine.
Almost as if things were loosening and aligning, ever so slowly, as I meditated and developed myself. Kinks being worked out.
One morning before driving to my new job, I wondered while meditating:
“What’s going to happen when the cracking gets to the top of my spine?”
An answer popped into my head: My financial situation would completely transform for the better.
That sounded pretty good. Of course, I had no way of knowing if that were true, or some fanciful idea concocted to satisfy my desire for more money, and for my meditating to have significance. But I was determined to find out.
So throughout my day, as I stood outside, I’d gently move in ways to turn my spine, frequently inspiring a creak here and a snap there. I’d pump my arms as if trying to elbow someone behind me. Sometimes, just moving around my sign was enough. In fact, the workout I got from waving that sign alone (it probably weighed a little over five pounds) transformed my body.
I had a feeling this would enhance the flow of subtle energy through my body, especially my microcosmic orbit. And this, in turn, would enhance my ability to manifest what I wanted.
I certainly hoped this would work.
For over a decade I’d been stymied by something, which had intensified into an all-consuming obsession:
Why is it that I could take massive action, do all the “right” things… and still not get the results I wanted?
It seemed every self-help book I’d ever read or guru I’d learned from, had an endless supply of tips, tricks, and strategies designed to motivate, organize, focus, clarify, and inspire people.
…Ummm…so what if I’ve already got all that in spades and my life still sucks because none of it actually helps me get what I want?
This barely-contained desperation lead me to study the mind, visualization, and then eventually Taoist meditation. The idea being, the meditations could put the necessary “juice” behind everything else I was doing on a conscious level. Or, unfuck me at a level that my conscious efforts couldn’t heal alone. Or both.
This spine-cracking seemed like a physical and very literal, linear, example of that healing process.
The exciting results I achieved in the advertising realm occurred when the cracks were still quite low on my spine. At this point, I don’t believe I had concocted my theory about the loosening and aligning of my spine, but that didn’t stop life from validating it.
I spent more money on the same advertising source, always making sure to test out two different campaigns to see which one would perform better. I’d keep the winner and “fire” the loser. Almost every single time, I was able to create a better ad.
There was just one problem:
My overall results kept sinking.
This wasn’t too surprising. If you keep fishing in the same small pond, you run the risk of overfishing. I realized I had to expand my scope.
So I tested advertising on other websites. This is where the heartbreaking cycle began. And I used that word deliberately when describing my results: Good results come when your ad makes enough profit. Bad results come when it completely fails and you have to completely revamp things. “Heartbreaking” results come when you’re so close to a winner you can taste it… but you can’t quite reach it.
When it came to business, that was the story of my adult life.
There were scorching summer days when I’d be outside all day waving my sign, my MP3 player cranked up to songs like U2’s Red Hill Mining Town, trying to distract myself from the $1400 (more than a month’s pay) ad campaign launching that day…
…only to come home and watch as I brought in some money, but not enough to declare it a winner, like the first breakthrough I had.
During this time, I subscribed to a marketing newsletter written by a man who’d been through financial and personal challenges far greater than mine.
He’d been homeless, almost murdered on many occasions, bankrupt, and went on to become a millionaire
And unlike so many fake-gurus hustling their wares, this guy had actually “been there and done that.”
As I read his back issues and listened to recordings of teleseminars he’d done, I realized a way I could introduce myself to him personally.
Next, I’ll describe the unusual way I got this man’s attention and went from anonymous reader to student to colleague and friend. In fact, this man would eventually deliver me a career breakthrough that I didn’t see coming in a million years.
But before I go, I want to add something even though it’s a bit of a spoiler. It has to do with what happened when my spine-cracking reached just under my occiput:
I went through a rough transition to a new career, completely transforming my financial life for the better. So it would appear my theory held water. Or at least my belief that it did, made it true. Or maybe it’s a coincidence.
The shifting of my spine hasn’t stopped
Now it’s back to my hips again. For many months now, I’ve felt how my hips and shoulders are out of alignment and are sort of drawn inward, and are now finally unwinding and expanding.
I’m wondering if, at the end of this process, my life will transform in a more profound way. Perhaps a new direction in my business. Or meeting the woman of my dreams. So, much like my financial life transformed once my spine relaxed and aligned in a certain way, some other part of my life will – once my hips and shoulders relax and align as well.
And you can bet I’m doing plenty of stances, stretches, and meditations to assist the process.