In 2008, I flew to Los Angeles and took a shuttle to some hotel, with drugs in my bag and anxiety about my finances stewing in my brain.
Writing this almost a decade later, I don’t remember the name of the hotel or which month it was. Heck, I’m fuzzy on the year. Just a bit ago, I spent way too much time trying to figure out that pointless trivia (well, not entirely pointless – specificity of time and place increases engagement when beginning a story).
Anyway… it was late as I stood in line to check in. I wanted to crawl into my room and hide, before the Guru MasterMind marketing event began the next morning.
Finally, I got to the head of the line and gave them all my info.
“Mr. Rifkin, your card isn’t working?”
Huh? I specifically paid that one off, so it wouldn’t decline. At that time, I was swamped by so much debt, it felt like I spent every moment trying to sweep it away with a push-broom, only to watch it slosh right back towards me.
I told them it must be a mistake. After a few more attempts, the lady at the desk called up my credit card company. I think it was Capital One. And waited. And waited.
The line grew behind me.
After some back-and-forth, she handed the receiver to me and helped the next person in line.
Amidst the background noise, I struggled to hear what the problem was. The person on the other end kept saying the hotel charge was over my limit. I affirmed I’d paid off enough of my balance. Then I figured out what was going on.
Capital One looked at my shitty payment history, and my nosediving credit, and decided to lower my card’s purchasing limit
Just like that. Overnight, without me knowing. So even though I’d paid off perhaps a thousand dollars, it didn’t matter because my lower limit evaporated that available credit.
I asked how much I had available. It was something like less than $100.
I asked the hotel to charge exactly that much, and then I scrounged together most of my cash to pay the rest.
For one night.
My flight back home wasn’t until three days later. If I didn’t fix this, I’d be homeless in L.A.
After tossing my bags into my room, I hustled across the street, to nearby hotels
Nobody took checks.
Then I got back on the phone with Capital One and explained that I was travelling with no cash, and needed my limit temporarily raised to where it was. I probably also mentioned that it wasn’t fair to lower my limit without warning, when I’d been paying off the balance.
They said they’d see what they could do, but the department that handled that sort of thing was closed. It opened at 7AM Eastern Standard Time.
I said I’d call back then. 4AM my time.
It was close to midnight. In just a few hours, I’d find out if I were homeless or not.
In the meantime, I took some Vicodin, popped on the TV, and began watching The Sopranos
By sheer luck, I watched a couple episodes with one of the more revered storylines.
The titular character, Tony Soprano, was in a coma. Most of the episode focused on his quasi dream/hallucination, where he was a completely different person.
Instead of a tough mob boss, he was a meek salesman on a convention trip. Through some mix-up, he lost his wallet but acquired someone else’s. Without any funds or ID, he used the stranger’s wallet to check into a hotel.
About the Vicodin I took…
A couple weeks earlier, a car hit me as I crossed the street. I felt fine when I got up… but had to drag myself to the emergency room that night because of my ankle pain. After some X-rays, they gave me 10 days of Vicodin and a prescription for a month’s worth.
The morning after the emergency room visit, I felt fine. So, I threw out the prescription. But kept taking the 10 days’ worth. For fun.
Almost a decade later, a co-worker would describe Vicodin as “God massaging your temples”
I can’t think of a better way to say it. So I enjoyed tossing back one or two pills… and regretting throwing out the prescription for more.
My evening in the hotel was surreal. I worried about being homeless… but felt blissed out from the opioids. I watched Tony Soprano sit in his own hotel room, stare at the phone, then gaze outside to see a strange beacon of light, as Moby’s When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die plays in the background. Before the credits roll.
The alarm clock woke me up a little before 4AM. I dialed up Capital One. Within a few minutes, a cheerful woman in India informed me that I could rest easy and enjoy my travels, because they raised my credit limit back up. I thanked her profusely.
They gave me the fix I needed. An opioid-like wave of bliss washed through me.
I attended the marketing seminar, barely learned or met anyone, and then flew home.
My financial situation spiraled even further out of control, until I filed for bankruptcy three years later. But, despite some efforts to try otherwise, I never took Vicodin again.