When Ray told me that he had gotten laid off from work, I didn’t think much of it. Not because it wasn’t a serious issue that he had to deal with, but because I had confidence in Ray. He was one of my closest friends of over 10 years, and I couldn’t think of a more intelligent and charismatic dude.
This was the height of the recession and people were losing jobs like crazy but this is Ray we’re talking about, a guy who can talk to you about 18th century Italian art or what happened in the latest issue of the Amazing Spider-man comic book. I have witnessed this guy go car shopping, and as another shopper mistakenly identified Ray as a salesman, watch Ray sell a car. He went through all the car’s features, talked about upgrading to leather and/or a GPS system, moon roof, the whole nine yards. And when the guy was ready to buy, he went to grab a real salesman to close the deal. That’s Ray.
I first met Ray when we were in college. He bumped into me at one of those frat rush parties. The ones where they made you wear a name tag in order to recruit morons, I mean candidates to abuse for four months or whatever.
“Dude my bad,” said this shaggy looking guy trying to regain his physical and brim filled cup balance. He squinted his eyes excruciatingly tight trying to read my name tag.
“Rosado?” he asked.
“What?” I replied, “no man, my name is Beisan.”
How he read my name was beyond me, but the guy was really funny. We hit it off in a strictly bromantic fashion. After graduating we remained close friends. He went on to work for a variety of investment companies. He looked the part too with his slick business attire and monkstrap shoes. A complete smooth operator, I could tell he was doing well. So like I said, when he told me he lost his job, I didn’t worry.
As the days turned into weeks turned into months, and Ray was still looking for a job, I became concerned. I could tell that he was concerned too. His voice had become defeated, and his spirit was completely deflated. And whenever we got together, I could see his demeanor was way off. He was flat out depressed.
“Maybe you’re shooting too high,” I told him. Grab whatever you can for the time being until something else comes along was my advice. That wasn’t an option he’d say. And little by little, Ray started to give me a clearer picture of what he was up against. Friends, no matter how, rarely get into personal finance conversations, and it was Ray who truly taught me why. Over time I found out that Ray was broke. And not only was he flat broke, he was in tremendous debt. I’m talking credit card debt in the 60 grand range, two car notes totaling 800 a month, college loans adding to roughly 90 grand, and add a 700 dollar mortgage payment into the mix besides all his utility bills. A take what you can get job wasn’t going to cover it. My man Ray was in trouble.
“What the hell happened Ray?”
“I overextended myself man,” he said.
He would go on to explain how easy it was for him to get into this mess. Yeah, he had a good job, but in reality, that good job just covered his expenses. He never really saved. Financing a 250 thousand dollar house was cake. Took him a total of a day and a half to apply, get approved, and sign the documents. Credit cards, they practically gave them away. The zero percent intro rates that popped to 29 percent in a few months didn’t help his situation at all. And now that he wasn’t working, he was using whatever credit that remained to pay his bills and keep a roof over his head. All of this floored me. I offered him to help him out where I could. But what I could offer was trivial compared to what he needed and he declined.
I truly felt for Ray because I could see how much he was stressing. I also felt disturbed a little. Here is a guy I know for over ten years, and I think I know him, I mean I’m confident that I know all there is I need to know. But here he was in this mess. And it was a serious mess. One afternoon I met Ray at a neighborhood bar and we drank a few beers. He was far from his usual self. He had this rigid demeanor that would only loosen up when I cracked a joke or pointed out how drunk some other dudes were at the bar. As it was getting close to last call Ray instructed me to look toward the bartender with a nudge of his head. I did.
“What?” I asked.
He took a swig from his beer and asked, “Do you think she closes the bar by herself?”
I looked over to her kind of dumbfounded. I said I didn’t know and asked him who cares.
“Because there’s no other staff here, and if she’s alone, that means she’s closing the bar by herself,” he said.
I put my beer down and looked at him.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
He leaned over real close and in a hushed but serious voice asked, “ever thought about robbing somebody?”
Whatever Heineken feel good moment I had quickly vanished. But I could not tell if Ray was buzz talking or not. “No,” I replied. And then he continued, and I mean really continued.
“I have man. I have. You have no idea how easy it would be. Seems like everywhere I go, they’re just asking for it. Take this place, one bartender closing up. The place is busy man. You gotta’ figure there’s at least two grand in the reg. Man the other day I walk into the gas station, there’s this rinky dink security guy loading up the ATM with money. He’s got at least 20 grand laying on the floor besides him. Shit man. Cake walk. Put a snickers bar to the back of his head man, he’ll shit his pants. And banks, don’t get me started, a note, dump the funny money with the dye pack, and I know what a dye pack looks like, jump on my motorcycle and duuude I’m outta there.”
This line of thought was blowing my mind. Here’s one of my main dudes, with a slew of heists on his mind. Desperation got him thinking crazy. I laughed off his commentary. And told him, “dude your fuckin crazy.”
But my heart was broken a little. There’s always a little truth in drunk talk.
After that night I actively helped Ray look for a job. I figured maybe he had taken his foot off the pedal, now that he was casing banks and gas stations. And I stayed close to him, so that I’d make sure no capers went down on my watch. And after a few more weeks, he settled into a new job. It wasn’t his dream job or anything like that, but it was a decent start. And after some credit counseling he started back on the right path. It was a scary time for Ray.
Even scarier though, was that I never saw the signs. If Ray had a drug or alcohol problem, I’d know. But a problem like this, is practically undetectable. The things that got him into this mess usually indicate prosperity. The cars, the house, and all the material objects made it seem like the guy was doing great, but in reality these were so detrimental to him because he could barely afford it. I couldn’t help thinking of other friends in the same predicament, maybe family members, and even society at large. I realized how we place too much value on these material items that convey success, but aren’t really doing much to secure a solid foundation for our future. I thought of myself, guilty of the same lifestyle that tripped up my buddy. I had to make a few adjustments in my own life as well, so that I would never have to put a snickers bar to the back of rinky dink security guys head.