This article is addressed to all of you who have experienced, and survived, really bad economic adversity.  You will know of what I  speak, when I say it is humbling, at best, and emotionally cripplingat  its worst.  In her song, “God Bless The Child,” the incomparable Billie Holliday sang:

             “Money, you’ve got lots of friends,
               Crowding round the door;
               When you’re gone, spending ends,
               They don’t come round no more.”

Throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, I had been very successful, scoring one home run after another.  Without boring you with the details, let’s just say I had it all.  Although I spent like a sailor on leave, I was always very conservative, never spending more than half of my net income.  Unlike my finances, my marriage did not fare well.  No pinning the blame on anyone, things just didn’t work out.  We tried to save it, but whatever was once there was gone, so we filed for divorce. We agreed to keep things rational, and not spend a lot of money and emotion on a lawyer driven horror show. I’m sure there are divorce attorneys out there who are both competent and of high moral character, although I have yet to meet one.  Let’s face it, quick and reasonable settlements do not adequately line their pockets, and they revel in the client who tells them, “I don’t care what it costs, I want to nail him/her!”   Instead, we hired a trusted mediator, arriving at a settlement while spending peanuts on legal fees.
Still, there was a lot of money involved.  We both wanted a clean break, with a cash settlement, avoiding the alimony route.  I didn’t have that kind of money on hand, so I mortgaged a number of my properties- most previously unencumbered- to raise it.  After all, I had loads of income, way more than enough to comfortably service that debt.  In 1988, I expanded my lumber business, opening a new location, while at the same time purchasing another lumber company.  Everything was proceeding nicely; that is, until the economy tanked.  Then began a series of events which exemplified Murphy’s Law: “Anything than can go wrong, will.”  And it did. Never having been in this position before, I made one error after another in attempting to deal with it.
My income crashed, and with it went my ability to pay the mortgages I had incurred.  Worse, the three banks which had financed my various properties all failed, and were taken over by the federal government; either the FDIC, or Resolution Trust, which had been formed specifically to deal with the huge number of failed banks and foreclosed properties.  It was impossible to deal with them. I was convinced that I could save the lumber business, so I began using my own money, even selling properties to raise the cash to keep it afloat.  Eventually, I was forced to put the company into bankruptcy.
I owned a beautiful home in Milton, MA for 15 years, which was then foreclosed. I can tell you that there are few things in this life more humbling, actually degrading, than standing in front of the home you loved, and watching it being auctioned.   In 1993, Shelton Noyes sold my beachfront parcel on Mooselookmeguntic, which I regret to this day.  My properties in Nova Scotia, my boat, and just about everything else was gone, including my fair weather friends, as Billie Holiday predicted.  I moved in with my girlfriend, who I knew was no golddigger-  her mother had to co-sign a car loan for me. I had hit rock bottom.  Had I been saddled with suicidal tendencies, that would have been the appropriate time for it.
At the same time, my problems with the government agencies continued.  I could have made it all go away, but I was bound and determined not to resort to filing personal bankruptcy.  In addition to the IRS, both the Maine and Massachusetts departments of revenue were after me.  Their claims were questionable, but they wielded the power.  I hired a somewhat prominent, but mostly incompetent blowhard of a Maine lawyer, to represent me. Being politically connected, of course he said he “could take care of the matter,” grabbed my retainer, and accomplished nothing.  At this point, I was shattered, and felt as if I walked around with a bullseye on my back.  Finally, things started to turn around. With the counsel of a brilliant young bankruptcy attorney, we formulated plans to buy back the loans- at drastically reduced prices- that the federal agencies controlled. I even flew to Washington, where my congressman, Barney Frank, had agreed to meet with me.  He had heard countless stories like mine from his constituents, and he explained to me how to go about dealing with Resolution Trust and the FDIC.  “Be patient,” he said.  “You will eventually be able to buy back the loans for pennies on the dollar. They don’t want to foreclose and wind up in the real estate business!”  He was right.
True friends gave me short term mortgages with which to buy back the government loans.  I negotiated favorable settlements with the tax agencies, finally settling the last of them ten years later. I had managed to hold onto the properties, refinancing them with banks to pay off the loans with which my friends  had saved me.   Yes, I had lost a lot of valuable property, and about 75% of my prior net worth,  but I really was a better person for it.   Instead of constantly “wanting more,”  I learned to appreciate what I had.   I believe that the universe had slapped me down; offended, perhaps, by my complaining over inconsequential matters and never being satisfied.  I learned the concept of being grateful for all the good I had in my life.  At a great expense of time and aggravation, I had avoided personal bankruptcy, and managed to salvage a significant portion of my former assets.  I also saw the worst and best in people, from slimeball lawyers, feeding on the corpse of the bankrupt lumber company, to friends and bankers willing to take a chance on me.    As Coleridge put it, in The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, “A sadder and a wiser man, he rose the morrow morn.”
My girlfriend, who stood by me through all the worst of it,  would become my wife.  After an unpleasant, yet profitable, experience in buying property on Great Diamond Island in Casco Bay, I brought Cindy up to Rangeley for the first time in the mid 1990’s.  She enjoyed the region, but was put off by the distance and time from home. Eventually, as noted in this column, she grew to appreciate the fact that Rangeley’s distance from Boston was in large part responsible for protecting its uniqueness. We began a long period of renting lakefront properties, which continues to this day!
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