Thursday, July 05, 2012

Curmudgeon shows restraint; refrains from accosting the mail carrier

It was not always thus.

Just before the turn of the century (don't you also find it difficult to believe that we can use phrases like this now in personal recollections?), my Undisclosed Location was on the South Side of Chicago, near my ancestral homeland (most of the Curmudgeon forebears, though not my parents, are buried along 111th Street, the necropolis that inspired the name "Seven Holy Tombs" in the works of John R. Powers).

To be specific, my office was on the second floor of a converted house overlooking a train station. I could tell you the stop, but then residents of that neighborhood would know the building without question.

In those days, I had only one reliable income-producing file. Actually, I'm quite proud of the case -- it grew to 10 consolidated suits at one point -- and involved some extraordinarily high-powered legal talent arrayed in opposition against me.

If the case had been 10 separate cases my cash flow might have been assured; I might even have had the pleasure of learning to exploit the labors of others. But it was one case. And the primary insurer on the file went into runoff before it was all over (meaning it stopped writing new business -- which meant also that there'd be no new business for me from that quarter). But that one file kept the phones and lights on for me for seven years before all was said and done.

When I would bill the file, as I would every 60 to 90 days, there would be an interval. One can't really expect a bill to be paid by return mail. But 30 days or so after the bill was sent, I'd begin to think we were 'in the zone' to be paid -- and no one could put a toe on the front porch of that building without my hearing it and bounding down the stairs in anticipation of maybe, possibly, hopefully getting that check.

That case wound up with an adjuster who made 'slow pay' into an art form. Part of it was that he was quite busy. His company insured a lot of businesses that had offices in the Twin Towers in Manhattan; you know what happened there. And, as his company sank into runoff, the various staff layoffs reduced the persons available to handle the existing business -- and process my fee bills.

But, when I was on the South Side, this was still early in the history of that file. And turnarounds were not then nearly as slow as they would become.

Still... that 'zone'... those days when every footfall on the front steps brought me to full Red Alert... would always last a week or more. The guys I shared the office space with thought I'd bowl the mailman over someday.

But I never did.

I am reminded of those times today because -- talk about your repeating plot elements! -- cash flow here is incredibly tight right now. I have a two-figure balance in my personal checkbook. I took home no money from my practice last month. But Saturday afternoon I received an email from a colleague with whom I share some business. She'd gotten two long overdue fee checks; she was mailing me my portion.

Tuesday, therefore... I was 'in the zone' again. But I wound up disappointed.

Today I almost couldn't get out of bed. I was a sleepwalker all morning, alive but not very alive, waiting for the mail to come. If it came, I'd revive -- but, if the mail failed again, I'd be lucky to drag myself home. All I could do this morning was wait.

My current Undisclosed Location, though small, is configured in such a way that I can't always hear the front door opening.

I couldn't tell when the mail carrier came by today so I couldn't meet him at the door before he could turn the handle. In that sense, I --arguably -- showed restraint.

But you know, now, just how I was feeling -- no more restrained or patient than I was sitting overlooking the train tracks on the South Side.

And, oh, yes, the checks came today.

It's not enough to get me out my hole. It's not even close. But it will stave off disaster for at least a little while longer.

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