Saturday, December 31, 2005

Missing Fortunes
You ever opened a fortune cookie and thought, "what the hell is this supposed to mean"? I know I have had my share of them. A week or so ago my wife and I were free from the kids for the afternoon so we crashed our favortite chinese buffet. I must have stuffed my after-meal fortune into my pocket and forgotten about it. Just yesterday, I pulled that fortune back out of my pocket as I was trying to find a sugar packet that I had stowed away for a cup of tea. Here is what it said.

"Your courage will bring you honor"

I chuckled, and put it back into my pocket thinking "I hope that I won't find meaning in this fortune today, but what could go wrong?". I have had a very easy couple of weeks. That is, I have had a lot of time off from teaching. The holidays are pretty bleak for the training business that I am in. It seems that nobody wants to come to classes in December. Most folks are blowing vacation days that they have been stowing away. Others are busy with festivities, and have a hard time keeping up with work as it is. So as we suspected, the phone went dead and e-mails stopped pouring in. But, it was expected. I planned for this. I have a couple of checks coming from work in early December, and we are starting to book classes for January. Nothing to be concerned about.

With nothing on my chest, I have been able to really enjoy the holidays. Going out to lunch with my wife is always nice. Playing video games with my kids still serves as pretty enjoyable for me. And I had plenty of time to work on Christmas projects such as the "photo album/scrapbook" for my wife, and some refurbished iMacs for my kids.

So yesterday I was sitting in a SharePoint class (as a student). I had decided it would be good to see the other side to SharePoint that I don't teach (and probably never will). This was a development class, and after the first day of this two day class it was pretty obvious that I didn't belong there at all. I was anxious to pick up a check for some work I had done at this training center, and I had yet to been able to contact the accounting controller who generally lets me pick up my check. So around lunch time I was able to get her on the phone. "Hey, do you have a check for me?". "Uh, no. Your next check is coming on the 13th". That was bad news. I NEEDed that money. Really badly. I have a very large electric bill. The gas bill would come a day later (it was pretty bad). And I just got done re-working my mortgage. The mortgage re-work meant that I wouldn't have to make a house payment until March ... but they expected some fees to be paid up front.

It seems that the training center had simply lost my invoice. There was come confusion where they think it may have been placed under my company name, and not my given name. This was somehow enough to throw off the accounts payable person ... who in turn didn't pay me. But they found the invoice, they admit some err. It can be fixed right? "I will research this and call you", she says. "Can you call my cell phone when you find something?". I gave her the number. Then went back to class. For the next couple of hours I was watching my phone .. and waiting. When it got to be after 3:00PM I began trying to call her again. She didn't answer, and it didn't surprise me. Maybe she was blowing me off.

My class ended, and I stayed behind. Before long, all the students, instructors, and most of the staff had left. A couple of guys showed up to clean the carpets. And the intern showed up to watch the front desk until they locked the building. She said hello to me, and I indicated that I was waiting for the accountant. She said "you must need paid". I replied, "you have NO idea". I waited.

After half an hour or so, the intern returned. "Are you still waiting for her?". I nodded. "If you need to wait for me to leave, before you leave, I can get out of here". "Oh no", she said, "I will be leaving at five regardless". And with that, she went back to the desk. At about ten minutes to five, she returned. "I called her .. she said she didn't forget about you, and she will call you or come down in a few minutes". A few minutes later, she was on the phone for me at the front desk.

"Hello!", I said, "I hope you don't think I am stalking you. I just need an answer about this before I leave today"
"I understand", she says. "We found the invoice, and we are going to pay this on the 9th".
"*gulp* ... any chance of getting this paid sooner?"
"No, I have closed everything up for the month. I will be paying expenses on the 9th, and I can slip your check into that"
"Hrm ... okay"
"Do you need the money sooner?"
"Yes ... oh yes. I'm going to be in some trouble here"
"I'm sorry ... I may be able to get it to you this coming Friday ... maybe even Thursday"

And so I left, defeated, and not holding onto a check which I desperately needed. I suppose this is the risk of the business I am in. Working for yourself has it's rewards. Like the fact that I haven't taught a class in a couple of weeks, and yet I still grossed about what I was making a year ago working full time. Yet, getting paid on time has been a real challenge. And now I had a lot of phone calls to make. I thought my first move should probably be the bank.

As I was driving home sitting in Friday rush hour traffic I thought I might just have enough time to call the bank once i got home and plead with them, but I would be cutting it close. But hell, I would be driving past the bank to get home. So perhaps I should just stop. I rolled into the parking lot and flew straight to the teller. I must have said something like this.

"I'm in trouble ... rather, me and my account are in trouble"
She gave me a blank stare, and continued to do whatever she was doing. Stamping things, and moving paper around.
"I'm sure my account is in the negative, and by morning it will be doing summersaults".
"What's your account number?"

She looks up my account information, hits the spacebar a couple of times, and says "yeah, you are overdrawn, and you have two checks getting returned".

"My problem you see ... is that I should be here to deposit a paycheck ... and I didn't get paid. I was supposed to get paid, and they say they lost my invoice. And I won't be getting paid until the 9th ... is there anything we can do to stop the damage to my account? Can we freeze it, or put a hold on it or something?".
"No", she says rather quickly, "Do you have some money to put in the account?".
"No, that's my problem"
"Well ... there's not much we can do about that"
"Okay ... well .. any advice?"
"Yeah ... don't write checks when you don't have money in your account"

Now at this point you would think, Ray ... you MUST have gone over the counter. Right? Oh no. I have dealt with snottier people in my time. Hell, I have dealt with snottier people this month. I certainly wasn't in the mood. And I am quite sure I am not yet done explaining to various parties why I don't have "their money". But here was someone who has obvisouly always been paid on time (hell, she works for a bank). She may never know the insecurity of not really knowing if you will be paid at all. Likely, she will retire and never miss a paycheck. So, I don't expect her to understand what it would be like if someone had just mis-placed her only source of income, and left her to deal with it.

The Dalai Lama is a smart cat. Here is what he says about people who are short with you. In fact, he would make the same statement about those people who you might consider a total enemy. He says, "respect your enemies, for they are the only ones who allow you to practice patience". With that in mind ... I suppose this bank teller giving me a hard time, was definitely giving me some practice. But she wasn't helping me ... at all. And so I got back on track to get home.

So now what? I had about five dollars to my name. And truth be told, I had a lot less. By tomorrow checks would be bouncing like a truckload of high-bouncer balls. By next week, I will be in assloads of debt (with everyone) and it will take weeks to recover. Do you see the irony in my fortune cookie yet? Something told me when I pulled that damned thing out of my pocket just hours earlier, that I would later "get it". I was getting it now. There's really nothing to do in a situation like this, but deal with it. Here is what the Dalai Lama would say on the topic of a problem like this. He says, "if something is broke .. fix it. If it's broken, and it can't be fixed, there is no sense in worrying yourself about it".

And so, a plan began to come into place. I could probably hold off a few bills. People like the utility companies aren't too tough to deal with. If they don't make deals to keep your electricity running, or your gas flowing you can always go file a complaint against them. Your complaints are generally overturned, and tossed out. But by the time all that paper has been pushed, you have that money to pay them back and all is forgotten. But, I would need a couple of dollars for food and such. We probably had a few dollars laying around somewhere.

There was a jar of change on the fridge that consists of mostly pennies, but a lot of them. So I threw all that into a plastic bag and ran it through that green "change machine" at the grocery store. I was seven dollars richer from that process. Not bad! I had gotten a $10 Walgreen's card for X-Mas in a gift exchange ... I think. It's one of those gifts that you shrug off and stuff into the back of your wallet. But that was gold! Walgreens is a bit overpriced on everything. But it doesn't really matter. It's a free ten bucks!

So we had a good couple of bucks for groceries, and that got us some of the vital things we needed to survive the next week. Like dairy products, and the dreadful "Ramen noodles". I also had a poor man's goldmine growing in my garage. I have been collecting cans for weeks ... actually months. That had to be worth a few bucks right? Just this morning we drove those cans to the recycling center and came out $12 richer. Not bad for trash, although I was a bit jealous of these guys hauling in 30 to 50 pounds of scrap metal and walking out with a lot more cash than me. If I run across a construction dumpster in the next week, I may just have to dig through it!

In half an hour, it will be 2006. After a successful first year in business, it will seem strange to celebrate it being miles in debt, with "money on the way". Most businesses will fail in their first year in business. But not this one. In March, we will have made that first year. Of those businesses that survive, very few will make it for another four years. Yet, I have a feeling that most of them would throw in the towel when they found themselves chowing down on Ramen noodles and pumping gas on a credit card ... that was paid by an electronic check ... that will bounce in a few hours.

Happy new year! My new years resolution? To stay on the path, and have another good year in business!

Historic Comments
Glad to here from you again. Sorry to hear about the money troubles but it sounds like you are keeping your spirits up. Hope your business keeps improving.
Dennis | Homepage | 01.04.06 - 11:33 am | #