Saturday
Aug162014

Going Poor - Chapter 1

It was a bitter pill to swallow, especially for a dreamer like him. Lane Tipton was old and tired---a survivor of extended unemployment, homeless shelters, and hobo jungles. 

From all appearances he was going nowhere fast. Yet his ultimate destination was there for everyone to see. Lane, like so many of his peers, was Going Poor.

There were opportunities for something better, some of them tempting. But any future worth living would depend on his own dreams and determination. Would he find those on the road to Going Poor?

 

 

  CHAPTER 1

 

“Man. I can’t believe you’re even thinking about doing that. You, of all people.” Digger Ryan pushed the empty popcorn bowl toward the bar girl, nodding for a refill. With another long drink of his beer he returned to his critique.

“Don’t you remember how you got all over Tyler? You called him every name in the book. Hell, he damn neared cried when you told him that was something no honorable man would ever do. Do you remember that?”

“Come on, Digger. This is different.”

“Of course it is. This time it’s about you. That’s what’s different.”

Draining his glass, Lane Tipton pushed it aside. He did recall his scolding rebuke of Tyler Warren. He remembered telling his friend that he was settling for the “easy way out.” Though he preferred not to be reminded of his accusing tirade, that alone was not enough to change his very personal truth.

“I hear what you’re saying,” he admitted. “But there’s nothing else I can do. The unemployment benefits ran out weeks ago. They repossessed my pick-up. There’s not a job anywhere in sight. And there’s no way in hell I’ll ever make a dent in the past-due alimony.

“I thought maybe I could pull it off, until yesterday. I tried to use my credit card at the bank to get some cash. They looked it up on their computer and turned me down flat. Said I’d gone over the limit. If I’d pay them five hundred dollars, and sign some kind of loan thing, they’d give me the card back---with a three hundred dollar limit. Otherwise it would be ‘decommissioned.’ So that’s what they did. How the hell can a guy get by when his credit card has been ‘decommissioned’? 

“Baddendorf, the lawyer guy, says he’ll file the bankruptcy papers for two hundred bucks. He called it a ‘short form.’ That means there’s nothing for the creditors to divide up. At least not after I pay him my last two hundred bucks. I had to pawn the rifle my dad left me to raise that. Anyway, he tells me that in a month or two I’ll be out from under everything. I’ll be broke as hell---but free and clear.”

Recollections of that sad drama, played out months before at a dingy Medford tavern, were still fresh in Lane Tipton’s mind. Thinking back, he was inclined to view those few minutes with Digger Ryan as the culmination of his first lifetime. Those first sixty-one years had seen their share of well-remembered high points. But too often the good times had been overwhelmed by reoccurring low points. By then Lane understood that any dreams of something better must be assigned to the future, to what he hopefully referred to as his “new life.”

 

~~~

 

His circuitous, sometimes-bumpy trek to that solitary Medford barstool had begun forty-two years earlier when, as a Tanner Southside High School graduate---class of 1969---he was off to Oregon State College to pursue a degree in a subject yet to be determined. In those less demanding times a college diploma was still considered something of an “elective” achievement---a necessity for some, a luxury for others, and a “bother” for those like Lane, who were eager to get on with life.

After a year of college---a year of good times and bad studies---he had stopped pretending. Jobs were a dime a dozen, or so it seemed. Good-paying jobs, the kind that would fund a continuation of his upbeat lifestyle, were waiting for him. Well before his twenty-first birthday young Mr. Tipton had learned there was always a demand for energetic, smooth talking young salesmen. In those days, before they called it Marketing, a proven sales record was a passport to opportunity.

It was one of those opportunities that had produced his job in Medford, selling building products across a sprawling sales territory that would in time come to include southern Oregon and northern California. His success would lead to a liberal expense-account lifestyle, complete with business lunches and company- paid bar bills. As long as he met his sales quotas the “cost-of-doing-business” was seldom questioned.

Lane was twenty-four when a long weekend that began in Redding, after Marie’s Friday night bartending shift, ended in a Reno marriage chapel. By the time he sobered up enough to realize what had happened he was a married man. Back in Medford, the couple settled into his apartment and within a year celebrated the arrival of daughter Kathy. 

He had tried to convince himself that he was a happily married man. To the casual observer it might have appeared that a new Lane Tipton had emerged---a traveling salesman with a family and reasons to be home more often.

There was, however, a fundamental flaw in that logic---a mathematical reality that could not be denied. For years Marie Tipton had earned her way in life serving an unruly, often-demanding tavern clientele. Night after night she had faced the male of species in his most unfettered behavior. But in her new incarnation as a wife and mother she was ready to put all that behind her. She would be a stay-at-home mother. Her husband certainly made enough to allow for that.

Perhaps so. But in time, as son Eric joined the family and Marie’s spending habits grew increasingly extravagant, it became harder for his paycheck to cover everything. As the credit card balances mounted, Lane found himself spending more time on the road, trying to squeeze more commissions from his most profitable accounts---the ones in Red Bluff, Redding, all the way to Sacramento. There were more nights on the road, less time at home with his family. He resented that. Marie resented that. Finally they came to resent each other.

Just over seven years after their impulsive Reno weekend, Lane moved out. By then both he and Marie were grateful for a break in the hostilities. With the divorce finalized he had traded Marie’s spending sprees for a monthly alimony and child support obligation. Since Marie had vowed never to remarry or return to work it seemed he would be living with those payments forever. 

Yet he still remembered the welcome return of his freedom, the chance to be on his own again---at least until a new reality set in. Single life, the second time around, would be a distinctly-different experience, one that began with the tedious need to play financial catch-up. 

There was a mountain of credit-card debt to pay off, alimony and child support payments to make, and the awkward alternating Sunday afternoons spent with Kathy and Eric. More often than not the freedom he hoped to enjoy was superseded by work and travel. To deal with those burdensome realities he took on additional responsibilities as Regional Sales Manager, while still maintaining contact with his own established customers. Life in the single lane had taken on a new look. Rather than exhilarating freedom, he found it hectic, harried, and very lonely.

Four years of “hectic and harried” proved doable. By then, however, Lane had reached his “lonely” limit. Enter Suzanne. She was a few years younger than him, with a thirteen year old daughter. The lady was everything he wanted---nice to look at, caring, and affectionate. The wedding that time was a Lake Tahoe affair---a long weekend filled with the knowing he had found the right one, the settled relationship he longed for.

Sadly, by the time the newlyweds returned to Medford Lane was learning something else about his new bride. How had he managed to overlook the pathological jealousy that obsessed her? Not only did she suspect every female who looked at “her” man, she harbored serious doubts about his willingness to fend off what she saw as their bold advances.

It was a recipe for disaster. A husband who spent two or three nights a week on the road to earn his handsome paycheck, and a hyper-possessive wife who suspected the worst when a super market check-out girl looked his way. It could not last, and it did not.

At least one thing, however, had not changed. The county judge who weighed Lane’s substantial income against the perceived cost to Suzanne of supporting herself and her daughter, awarded her a liberal monthly stipend. Just six months after their Lake Tahoe weekend, Lane had inherited a second round of alimony and child support payments---and a permanently soured view of matrimony. He was thirty-seven years old, supporting two ex-wives and three children. His dreams of financial success had been replaced by hopes of simply staying afloat.

It would take nearly ten years of hard work and spartan living for Lane to right his ship. The imposing mountain of credit-card debt was finally worked off. Although the alimony obligations remained, in time the child support requirements ended. Sadly, by then he had effectively lost all contact with Kathy and Eric. Then.  just when the Tipton savings account was beginning to grow again, an ill-fated investment in a friend’s Mexican restaurant went sour as fast as the business itself. In a matter of six months his savings account was again a thing of the past.

He was approaching fifty and still in the soup. There was nothing to do but start over. But it would be harder that time. The company had been bought out. Lane’s Regional Manager role had been handed off to a gray-suit MBA, a Marketing expert who set about downsizing sales territories in the interest of cutting travel costs. The northern California accounts Lane had cultivated for so long were handed over to an eager young newcomer, fresh out of college.

It was during those years that Digger Ryan had told Lane, “Times are changing, friend. The gravy train just pulled out of the station, and near as I can tell, it left us behind.”

There was some truth in that. Sales were getting harder to come by. The prime territories were being given to younger recruits, ones with fancy degrees and attitudes to match. It was a new world. Ethereal statistics and power-point presentations were supplanting after-hours schmoozing with old-line purchasing managers. The sales game was changing, turning away from Lane Tipton, leaving him behind.

To a person, Lane’s friends knew him to be hard working and dedicated. A few of them were aware that he had spent most of his adult life digging himself out of one financial hole after another. Some of those holes he had dug himself. Others had arrived with the choices he had made. Still, those who knew him best admired his ability to see beyond his immediate troubles to the hopeful possibilities that were bound to lay ahead. In spite of his trials, they knew him to be a dreamer, the kind who believed in hard work and happy endings.

But his hard work was not enough to deter the dreaded letter--- formal and notarized---announcing something less than a happy ending. It was the week before his fifty-eighth birthday. Citing what it called “the harsh business environment,” headquarters had decided the remaining elements of the already gutted Building Products Division would be “phased out.” Lane Tipton’s services were no longer required. 

Lane remembered setting the brief, businesslike notice aside, trying to absorb its meaning. No matter what spin he tried to give it, the same sad truth emerged. He was on his own, buoyed by nothing more than an anemic savings account, two weeks severance pay, and what in the end would be ninety weeks of unemployment benefits. Beyond that, there was hopefully someone out there who needed a salesman, the kind who could sell anything to anyone.

For most of the next year and a half he looked for that sales job, though in time he was willing to accept anything that offered a day’s pay. There had been moments of hope, as befitted a dreamer. But in those harsh economic times it seemed that no one was willing to throw a lifeline to an old and tired peddler. 

So it was that two weeks after the last unemployment check had been deposited in his account Digger Ryan listened as Lane spelled out his bankruptcy plans. He had scarcely finished his explanation when Digger was taking exception.

“Man. I still can’t believe you’re talking like that. I never though I’d hear that from you.”

“Come on, Digger. This is different. There’s no other way out. If I don’t do the bankruptcy thing I’ll be buried alive by all that stuff. It’s the only way.”

Digger too would remember that moment, when for the first time that he could remember Lane Tipton had run out of dreams. There was no silver lining to the terrible circumstances that entrapped him. From all appearances Lane had lost his “dreamer” spark.