Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Nuts and Bolts of How I Ruined My Life, Part Three.

Third, in a Continuing Series:

By now, you've figured it out. As you'll recall, I blew my budget for living expenses not less than three times during my law school career. But that fact alone need not have precluded me from remaining in school -- theoretically I could have hung in there and kept borrowing from family and friends and girlfriends and whomever else was unlucky enough to be in my path. But I didn't do that.

My withdrawal from law school was directly precipitated by the clinical depression that accompanied my compulsive gambling. I couldn't get out of bed to go to class, much less do any work. My self-esteem wasn't helped by the fact that I realized that I had no business being so unhappy. I'd remind myself constantly that these problems were entirely of my own making. Sometimes I'd view this as a positive -- "It's not so bad, I can wiggle my way out of this, that homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk, he'd give his arm to have my problems" -- and other times, as a self-loathing negative -- "What business did I have blowing thousands of dollars? I'm not even from a wealthy family, but I'm acting like a spoiled rich kid." These opposing perspectives would do battle, and the resolution of those internal battles would inevitably lead me to deciding that winning some money and recouping my losses would fix things up and undo the damage. No such luck.

Anyway, I figured that a semester off would do me some good. I'd get my priorities in order. I'd get back in shape. I'd return to law school with a renewed sense of purpose. It was a temporary thing.

Well, in the three months that I sat on the law school sidelines, I racked up even more debt from gambling. Which presented a problem, in that I began to worry about my borrowing power. (You see, the government loans don't cover the entirety of one's tuition at a big time, "top tier" law school. Either you or your family makes up the difference, or you borrow from private lenders. I had to borrow from private lenders to make up the difference.) Because I was concerned that my bad credit had seriously compromised my ability to even obtain the private financing necessary to re-enroll, I did what any sensible person would do. I took out cash advances on my credit cards and flew to Las Vegas. At the airport on the way out there, I withdrew some more money, the rest of what I had, just to feel flush. The blue light of the ATM called to me. Chase, it implored.

Anyway, the ticket there was from my then-girlfriend, who lives on the west coast and wanted me to go visit her. So mailing me a ticket to Vegas was her only way of enticing me to the Pacific time zone.

I'll describe the particulars of that trip in another post, but suffice to say it did not go as well as I'd hoped.

I returned from Las Vegas with fond memories of the Wynn buffet and little else to my name. I did have five maxed-out credit cards in my wallet, though. A FICO score in the 400-500 range. And several voicemails from ominous-sounding bank departments. Portfolio Risk Management. Fraud Prevention. I recall in particular an automated one I received from one of the credit card company's fraud operation division: "Activity on your account is strongly suggestive of fraudulent use by a third-party."

They weren't that far off the mark. Fact is, the only reason I wasn't already handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser was that my only victim to date had been myself.


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