Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Every Tuesday night at nine o’clock central time, ten for anyone on the coasts, my cell phone gets turned off, Emmy and her barking dog get banned from the living room, and the TV remote clicks on channel 59, that’s Bravo here in Madison. It’s time for Nine on Design. All winter long I was seduced by the TV teasers for this newest offering in the reality genre by the talented people at Bravo. With Bravo’s history for disaster reality shows I so wanted to see this over-the-top design family fall apart over a series of explosive business relationships, unmanageable dislikeable children and an arrogance blown way beyond Donald Trump’s. I was really looking forward to being a witness to the total collapse of a snooty New York family trying to have it all, How could a pair of untrained design want-a-bees with seven kids be anything but a train wreck in the making? I was anticipating getting out the popcorn and sinking into a comfy chair to see a group of nine fame crazed kids and adults stumble and fizzle before imploding into a heap of ashes. I really wanted validation that this kind of life was unattainable and if it was a brass ring I wanted to see it came with dire consequences. It started out exactly where I expected it to begin, a chaotic dash to finish an impossible task. Bob and Cortney were in the process of building another home for their brood of six and soon to be seven kids all under the age of twelve. They were moving into yet another Manhattan mansion after having flipped their current home to another billionaire acquaintance who having seem their home just had to have it and had to have it now. It seemed that as soon as they nailed up the last Ann Carrrington artwork a buyer would miraculously show up, cash in hand and demand immediate possession of their current home sweet home. No worry, no time to fret even if the next house wasn’t quite finished, they’d find a rental for the next two months big enough to accommodate their tribe and all their business ventures. I’ve still to see where they do their work. There’s never been an office in sight. The only nod to a work area is the amebic shaped desk dominating their current bedroom, a desk that seems more of an art object or a prop for kinky sex than a place for putting pencil to paper and generating any real design ideas. This part made me shutter as I searched for a design process or a work ethic. They were making it all seem so intuitive and effortless. Cortney walks through a friend’s (all of their clients seem to be friends) Hamptons' beach house without anything more concrete than a feeling, telling an assistant to tear down wall after wall while only asking, “This isn’t load bearing is it?” It seems every paint sample, door pull, and window treatment lives in her brain yet somehow through the miracle of editing materializes into a finished project thirty-eight minutes later in the episode, complete to the last countersunk, spackled and painted screw. I was so ready to start throwing spit wads at the HDTV, but then something happened. I started to like them.
It started with Cortney. Her calm in the center of a storm wasn’t what I expected. With screaming big busted, table flipping New Jersey housewives dominating the reality air waves I was surprised with her ability to shrug her shoulders and face life with a “shit happens” attitude in light of a host of demands. Then I noticed the kids weren’t the spoiled brats I had come to know and loath from the other reality fare I’d seen. As much as they were present and vital to the story they didn’t seem exploited. They may have been a little precocious but not spoiled. They worked together as a unit picking up responsibility and sibling helpfulness when needed.
I still envied their success but the truth of the situation was they have real talent and they dealt with their talent in a way I was never able to do. Saying, “no” to a huge celebrity and paycheck takes more chutzpa then I possessed. Knowing your worth is a gift. They know theirs and there in lies a huge amount of their success. Who can’t admire an aesthetic ingenious enough to put a chartreuse range in a beach house kitchen or shelves filled with 1950’s bobble heads in a gymnasium lounge? Then there’s their compassion and charity. This isn’t to say the housewives of “pick-a-city” aren’t involved in giving but for some reason the Novogratz’s giving seemed genuine as opposed to gratuitous.
When I watched them at their christening party for their newest addition, it pulled me back to Emmy’ s first birthday party. In both cases we raised a glass to family, sharing our fortune and love with the people we cared the most about. A lesson worth reviewing no matter where you currently stand in life. 

Envy is a deadly sins. Appreciation and sharing are far more rewarding.

Sunday, May 16, 2010



I didn’t grow up in an age of play dates or in a zip code where themed birthday parties were the norm. We got together for cake and milk and ran around creating havoc for some neighbor kid or relative’s birthday. It was Wisconsin. The rules were different. It was unusual for a classmate to invite friends to a birthday party but when you did get an invitation it was a big deal. So I was pretty surprised when I got an invitation to my classmate, Billy’s birthday party since I wasn’t at the top of many kid’s list as someone they would want to invite. I was the kid who was on the outside of most school room circles. I got the feeling this invitation was a result of some cock-eyed rule Billy’s mom heard and thought she’d instigate before she fully thought it through. She'd probably made Billy invite everyone or otherwise there wasn’t going to be any party at all. Billy would have to invite me regardless of how he really felt about me. I think his mother might have felt the same way but like I said she hadn’t thought through the consequences of inviting everyone and she wasn’t quite mean enough to exclude me after she had realized the error of her ways. The party was typical cake and milk but since it was during the school term it meant it was winter in Wisconsin so the party had to be held inside. This meant the hostess had to come up with some organized games or run the risk of having her home totaled by twenty seven-year-olds. The games were all the typical games of chance: pin the tail on the donkey, guess the number of beans in a jar, musical chairs, turn any basement gadget into a gun and shoot to kill. It wasn’t until the very end of the party, after the gifts had been opened and everyone was waiting for their parents to come and pick them up they decided to play one last game, “Can you guess how long a minute is”.  I think they felt this might be a way to end the mayhem that had been going on for the last three hours. They made all of us bundle up in our winter coats. This immediately constricted our movement. Then they sat all of us down on the basement floor, all bundled up we could barely roll over on our own much less get up and run around. The hostess and her helper were going to hold the stopwatch to time us. I think both of them were pretty much at the end of their rope and very ready for the parents to show up and get these kids out of their hair.
            “All right children, we’re going to play a game called “how long is a minute”. We have one prize left for the winner. Now you all sit very still and when I say go you wait until you think a minute has gone by then you raise your hand. The winner will be the one closest to a minute.”
            At the mention of another prize we all became a bit more focused imprisoned in our winter coats and barely able to get up off the floor. Billy’s mother was anxious to get this game under way before the crowd of kids got distracted and managed to get and start the rampaging again. Whether it was fear of losing control or exhausted anger I witnessed in her eyes, the look she gave us meant business. She punched the stopwatch with a jab of her hand as she said, “Begin”. There were kids who had no idea of what was going on. A few hands shot up after the first five seconds. I thought everyone knew the counting method so I began to count to myself, “One-thousand one, one-thousand two, one-thousand three…” I was surprised that the hostess didn’t get her side-kick to try to engage us in conversation to prevent any of us using the counting method but both of them were focused on that damn watch oblivious to my internal counting. Many of the other kids had dropped out at around thirty seconds but I sat there counting away. The hostess and her helper began to notice most of the other kids were now out of the running. Miraculously Billy hadn't raised his hand yet, although I could see he was getting fidgety. Billy’s mom seemed to be giving him some sort of furtive glance every so often with a hint of secret signals delivered with downcast eye movements every time he looked as if he was going to bolt. As the contest boiled down to Billy and myself our hostess’ eye movements became a tennis match between the two of us. Maybe it was what I had worn to the party (we all dressed for these parties back then) and I displayed more style than most seven year old boys should have, maybe it was the fact her son didn’t really want to invite me in the first place, or maybe she just didn’t like me but I was too focused on counting to have noticed her icy disdain to see losing, at this point, might have been preferable to winning.
            “One-thousand fifty-eight, one-thousand fifty-nine, one-thousand sixty”. My hand shot up and I looked around. I was the only kid with his hand in the air and I had hit the minute right on the head. There was no applause. No one said congratulations. There was just this horrible scowl on the hostess’ face as she leaned over and told her helper to check my wrists for a hidden watch. They hauled my up to the front of the remaining group and made me take off my coat and empty my pockets to make sure I hadn’t cheated. The birthday boy giggled at my humiliation and the others soon joined in. Parents began to filter in picking up their children. I never got a prize. I never told my parents, but I went home knowing I was at least smarter than Billy’s mom.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


When you’re financially poor the guilt factor can register mighty high at times like birthdays and special occasions. The last thirty dollars on my debit card paired with a 30% coupon from Borders was just enough to buy Rick a book on decorating with color for his birthday. Emmy and I wrapped it and she made a card with markers and some yellow craft paper. I had made dinner reservations weeks in advance at L’Etoile, a beautiful French restaurant on the square looking out over the capitol grounds. My sister, Ebby, had given us a gift certificate to the restaurant and we were saving it for a special occasion. Rick’s birthday became that special occasion. We were going to go on Saturday evening, the day before his actual birthday, which this year happened to fall on another one of our favorite holidays, Mother’s Day. When Saturday morning peeked over the horizon Rick rolled over and I could tell his colitis had been staging a fight with his stomach during the night. We were both nervous about spending any additional money on us and if he wasn’t feeling well we weren’t going to want to waste a potentially memorable meal on an iffy stomach. By the time we were supposed to be putting on our dinner clothes it was clear L’Etoile was out and takeout was in. We left the decision up to
Rick and he decided on barbeque. Why? I’m not sure. If Rick’s stomach was a little queasy, barbeque wouldn’t be my first choice, but the decision was his. We had heard about Smoky Jon’s from my sister Ebby. Ebby’s a wealth of information. She had gone to high school with Jon, the one thumbed owner and chef of Smoky Jon’s. He was the kind of kid who had to take all kinds of shit from the other kids.
“Hey Jonnie, thumbs up man!” Well Jon ended up with the last laugh and his thumbs way up in the air:
2005 – 1st place, National BBQ Festival (Douglas, GA)
2006 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Knoxville, TN)
2007 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Raleigh, NC)
2008 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Austin, TX)
2009 – 1st place, National BBQ Convention (Austin, TX)
His ribs are damn good, finger-lickin’ good. Our challenge was to get there before the takeout window closed. I thought I’d call the order in; two full racks with creamy cole slaw, spicy butter corn, garlic mashed potatoes and skin on French fries. I must have dialed Smoky Jon’s a half dozen times before I decided they didn’t take phone orders. At this point time was really running short. I could see disappointment settling in on Rick’s face. I grabbed the keys, his debit card (he was going to have to pay for his own birthday dinner) and dashed for the car. Less than six minutes later I was pulling into Smoky Jon’s parking lot. SJ’s was on a corner in the same building as a printing company that then connected to a local bar. The parking for all three of these establishments totaled no more than eight spaces. Where the patrons for these businesses parked their cars I have no idea. Once inside the front door the log cabin-like entry had an additional two doors; one clearly marked enter and the other saying this is the exit. The six table dining area was full of locals licking their fingers and wiping sauce from the collective corners of their mouths. A log railing defined the take out queue I stood in waiting to place my order. When it was my turn my first question was why they didn’t take phone orders.
“Oh we do, but last night someone came in and cut all our phone lines. Our phones haven’t worked all day long”. I was feeling a little less stupid. I placed my order and dug out Rick’s debit card.
“Oh no, no, no. No phones, no can take credit cards, you’re going to have to go to the bar next door and try their ATM.”
“I’ll be right back”. I circled the tables to the exit door and off I ran to the bar. I could hear the din of Vince Gilley’s country twang well before I opened the tavern door. Smoke circled like little tornados over the heads of a clientele well on their way to having their car keys revoked. T-shirts saying, “John Deere” or “Viagra is for pussies!” flopped over the bar on guys with grizzly beards and fading tattoos. I inched my way past the amber lit pool table and around the square shaped bar into the back room with all the video games and a single ATM. As I fished Rick’s debit card out of my wallet ready to swipe it and get back to Jon’s I noticed the screen on the ATM said, “Out of Service”. Back to the bar and the mercy of the bartender. The only place I could find to wedge myself in was between a guy with little wisps of white hair and a sleeveless t-shirt who kept laughing at anything anyone said and a fortyish guy in a short-sleeve flannel shirt who kept screaming at the laughing man, “Hey Joe, you fuckin dickwad”. Stuck between a drunk and a dickwad I finally got the bartenders attention  and asked him if he could pull some cash off my debit card since their ATM wasn’t working. He was fine with it. I asked him for fifty and handed him my card. Unfortunately I had handed him my card, not Rick’s. He came back saying the card had been declined. The three hundred pound crew-cut owner came over adjusting his waistband wanting to know what was up. I giggled and apologized for giving him an old card. That was my story and I was going to stick to it. I handed him Rick’s card hoping he wasn’t going to beat the shit out of me. (Because this part of the story takes place in a bar, swearing is acceptable). Rick’s card worked, the bartender handed me the money: two twenties and a ten, and I took off, the owners eyes trailing me all the way, a scowl carved into his forehead. The minute out the front door I went to recount the money. WHAT THE FUCK! I still had the two twenties but the ten was gone. I was almost willing to let the ten go but forty bucks wasn’t enough to cover the rib order. With my eyes pointed upward I spun around and grabbed the door back into the bar. WHAT? I can only swear so much. The door wouldn’t open. Was this some sort of scam? The restaurant says no phones – no cards, the bar’s ATM doesn’t work, the bartender slips you a retractable ten then they scare the bejesus out of you and lock the door behind you once you’re outside. That old guy at the bar knew the joke all the time. That’s why he couldn’t stop laughing. I walked around the side of the building where the three hundred pound owner was now playing a game of sheepshead for money with group of three other guys. I knocked on the window and pantomimed the locked door. With an “oh geez” look on his face he swung off his stool and duck walked over to the door. He fiddled with the lock, pushed the door open, Kellie Pickler blaring in the back, he bent down and scooped up my ten off the floor, knocking his butt into the gum for the blind candy machine, then straightened up and handed me my ten.
The ribs were waiting for me when I got back to Smoky Jon’s. I brought them home, we ate them like wild dogs on a dead buffalo and I never told Rick or Emmy a thing about it. Happy Birthday Rick. 

Sunday, May 9, 2010



It had been fifteen years since I first spotted him in a crowded New York disco. We weave relationships with threads from fabrics made from so many different sources. I didn’t think our relationship was so unusual, after sixteen years we were like many other couples trying to tie together a series of old rips and broken threads.  Many of the flawed fissures of our relationship were damaged threads I had brought with me. Some we wove together. Rick had his own issues. As is the case in most relationship we all arrive with our own bits of damage and it is up to us to then try to repair what we can and form a new patchwork that holds together and makes a new tapestry out of tattered goods.
Being gay and growing up in the fifties and sixties has not been an easy road to travel. For many of us it was a destiny ending in a life lived in a world of denial and anger and self-hatred.  Growing up in the age of Eisenhower there were so many hurdles we still had to jump before we could even think about weaving ourselves into the accepted fabric of our culture. It was out of necessity I chose a life of over achievement. It was the way I saw life. In order to pull myself along life’s highway I thought it was necessary to try to appear as perfect as I could, flawless and above it all. I can only now begin to imagine how hard this had to be for the ones I loved. You know when someone gets that arrogant look on his face that says, “I can’t believe you would do something so stupid.” It’s just the slightest arch of an eyebrow or the raising of the corner of your mouth that can inflict more pain than a million harsh words. It was my way of beating them to the punch. Always having to let the world know I thought myself better than them when in truth I was just this scared little boy trying to hide the shame he continually carried in the bucket of his life. In my youth I could do this and not even know I was doing it. Denial is so prevalent in my background, denial and the manly quality of dealing with any kind of conflict with silence rather than words. This characteristic of silence in the face of conflict, a characteristic so many of us possess, can be the most harmful and destructive of all the weapons we use in trying to deal with relationships. I can remember this fear of communication residing inside me most of my life. Maybe it comes from never seeing my parents argue. I had no real teachers to show me the skills of constructive verbal battle. Maybe it came from the Germanness of my background where you were supposed to be strong and emotionless. Any signs of opening yourself up and exposing your feelings were looked at as signs of weakness. Or maybe it was just another gay thing that coupled itself with the sense of being different and not worthy. When conflict raised its threatening head a sheet of ice would form around my body. A snowstorm would begin to blow in my brain and the tips of my fingers would begin to tingle and burn. Everything inside me would freeze, everything. There’s a great blankness that happens with this kind of frigidity. Memory flies away and the ability to comprehend speech is as difficult as doing a crossword puzzle in a foreign language you have never used before. You can recognize bits and pieces of words but there is no true connect. I can remember trying desperately to follow Rick through a verbal tête-à-tête by focusing on his mouth and watching it move to form sounds that I wasn’t really sure I knew. His history was different from mine. Like snowflakes none of us develop identical personalities. Each of us is different. So when he brought up adoption I had to read his lips to make sure I had heard what he had said.
“I just think I’m too old for this now” was the best I could come up with.
The adoption dialogue had begun again. Earlier in our relationship I had hinted at how I wanted to have a child, It was a risky request for a gay man to present to his lover in the early 1990’s. Men where not supposed to be the nurturers in our Reagan/Bush society. Women raised the kids and feathered the nest. Attitudes were opening up but the world of male parenting was still a frontier that hadn’t been probed by many men, especially gay men. The prevalent image of a gay man was one of a guy who couldn’t be monogamous, a guy who was interested in sex and sex alone and was definitely not parenting material. AIDS had reached epidemic proportions. Gay men were dropping like flies and whole communities were being wiped out. With that looming over my head how could I think I could consider myself to be a good or viable candidate for making a baby or raising a child?
“I want you to really think about this. I think it’s something I really want to do now”
I guess its human nature to want to pigeonhole everyone into a stereotypical mold. It just makes living that much easier.  If you’re blond you’re dumb, if you have a well paying job you’re happy, if you’re gay you’re not fit for parenting. Why should this be the image someone else was going to pin on us? I think I thought if we could present ourselves, as the perfect couple people wouldn’t notice we were gay. In order to protect ourselves and a potential child we would have to show ourselves as not just good at parenting but better at it than any straight couple. There wasn’t going to be anyway anyone could speak an evil word about us. Patenting would just put more pressure on us to appear perfect. There’d be no chance for fingers to be pointed in our direction, and there in lay the rub.

Seven years ago David Strah approached us to be a chapter in his book, Gay Dads. 

Thursday, May 6, 2010


There are all sorts of organizations out there protecting the unprotected. Animals and plant life of all shapes and species have a guardian angel group to look after their welfare. There’s the Wildlife fund, The ASPCA, PETA, the Society of Kind Understanding and Not Killing Skunks (S.K.U.N.K.S.). It seems every form of animal life, every endangered species, every tree, flower and rock has a group of people out there willing to raise funds to make sure they’re protected. Who hasn’t melted at the sight of those sad puppy eyes on the matted mutt peering our from behind a wire cage on an animal rescue commercial? For just five dollars a month you can make sure that little mongrel will be well fed and taken care of well into his dotage. Every cause seems to have its group of advocates. I’m not cold hearted enough not to have fallen for one of these causes. It’s a cause I’ll admit I’ve been secretly involved in for most of my life. I rescue abandoned furniture. I have yet to find an official support group but I am looking. I can’t walk away from a curbside find or a trash yard chair left waiting to be reduced to kindling. Like those sad puppy eyes a rickety table left out in the rain makes my heart melt. I can develop an emotional attachment to an inanimate object. It becomes an anthropomorphic process where I see the pain of a gouge on a Queen Anne leg, or the rust on an enamel top table. Their wounds make them all the more endearing and desirable. It’s like rooting for the underdog. I was never attracted to complete perfection, if such a thing existed. My empathy always ran to the reject, the neglected, the cheaper second a manufacturer wouldn’t put out on the sale floor but wouldl sell at a discounted price on a back shelf in the rough room.
At one point the shelves of our daughter’s bedroom were lined with one-eyed Eyores, hand-sewn sock monkeys with dirty feet and rows of Teddy bears with ripped arms bandaged with gauze tourniquets. We’ve let Emmy keep all of her stuffed animals because throughout the years our dog, Buddy, has chewed off all of their plastic noses giving each of them a scar of adorability.
Last week, two days before junk day I had taken a short cut to Hyvee, the local supermarket. You can cut across on Jana Lane and shave about ninety seconds off the trip, but today my shortcut added a good five minute to my trip. That’s because I had to circle back around the block three times to look at this vintage cushionless sofa sitting out next to the recycling trashcans. It was love at first site. The arched back, the beautiful side tufting, the fringed bottom all tugged at my emotions. I fell in love with its possibilities. It was a piece with tremendous potential. I saw it transformed with vintage linen and abalone buttons, a pleated box skirt running around the bottom, its unfinished legs peaking out at the corners. I tried to tell myself to snap out of it and leave the couch where it was. It wouldn’t fit in the Ford Escort anyway. I finally pulled myself away from the curb but as I drove on to Hyvee the image of that sofa wouldn’t evaporate from my mind. It lingered in my memory seducing me. Later that evening I made Rick and Emmy ride down the street to see if they saw what I saw in that sofa. My heart skipped a beat when we turned the corner and I couldn’t see the sofa. Then my endorphins took a huge leap when I saw that chartreuse brocade peak from behind a parked car. Rick thought it was nice but he had no idea of how we could get the piece back. Emmy was just embarrassed I might stop and actually try to take something someone else had labeled as trash. It got left on the curb one more time but it refused to leave my psyche. It waltzed through my dreams that entire night.
When I woke up the next morning Charlie Shortino was broadcasting the local weather forecast between segments on traffic accidents and how to make the perfect pancake. The forecast for the day was partly sunning followed by thunderstorms in the late afternoon. It was the word thunderstorms that tied knots in my stomach. I panicked about that poor sofa soaked and shivering, a target for a bolt of lightening. All day I fought the urge to go and cover the sofa with a plastic tarp until providence set in. My sister, Bonnie, had the day off. The day before she asked me to come over to pull up some rhubarb and cut down some lilacs. My sister, Bonnie, also had a truck. The minute I got there I started pestering her about the sofa until she insisted, I mean INSISTED, we go get the sofa. I felt guilty about making her go down Jana Lane to help me kidnap the chartreuse sofa. When we got there the sofa was still sitting there waiting to be rescued as the storm clouds were beginning to form. The clock was ticking. We parked the truck. Bonnie got at one end of the sofa and I got at the other. Then on the count of three we tried to lift the sofa onto the back of the truck. The sofa proved to be a true vintage piece, solid wood, metal springs and horsehair stuffing. That sofa weighted a ton. But now I was not about to be deterred. We tugged and inched and pleaded and sweated that sofa into the truck bed and then on to the top of the cab. We tied it into place with some hemp rope and drove that sofa over to my mom’s. That beautiful piece of furniture just made it into mom’s garage minutes before that first raindrop splattered against the truck’s windshield. I could smile at the brewing storm knowing my sofa had been rescued. It was safely sleeping in the neatly kept garage. Fate had stepped in, the sofa would get another chance at life, and all was right with the world. 

Saturday, May 1, 2010


At least four times since our financial bottom fell out we’ve met with lawyers to discuss the possibility of bankruptcy. The first time was with a lawyer in Oneonta, New York when we still had the house in Andes. The lawyer we had used in Andes for the sale of our store had recommended the Oneonta lawyer as the best bankruptcy lawyer in the area. We set up a meeting with him assuming he would be less expensive than any bankruptcy lawyer in the city. The first consultation was free, this is the hook most bankruptcy lawyers use. His solution was to file three separate bankruptcies: one for Rick, one for me, and a separate bankruptcy for the business. The individual bankruptcies we could file upstate but the he wanted to file the business bankruptcy back in New York City. The initial costs on this: $10,000 ($3,000 for each individual bankruptcy and $4,000 for the business). This really made us feel as if we were chasing our tail. We thought we couldn’t afford bankruptcy, so bankruptcy went on to a back burner while the calls from creditors and collection agencies became a way of life. Every time the phone rang my heart would race a little faster and my stomach would fill with another cup of acid.
As the financial hole we were falling into became deeper and deeper I became more paranoid, not opening mail and avoiding calls from numbers I didn’t recognize. This is never a good idea but for me it was an impossible cycle to break. As much as I wished things to go away the more the situation worsened and more desperate things became. I did take my head out of the sand long enough to get another recommendation from a friend about a bankruptcy lawyer in the city. The results were similar to our upstate lawyer’s recommendations but the price tag was still out of reach. We were just too poor to be able to file. This is the point where the handwriting on the wall had become clear. “Stop the insanity, face the music and try to start over.” This was our tipping point. We packed our bags and moved to Wisconsin.
Now we started looking at what we could do from Wisconsin. The research began in earnest. If you are considering bankruptcy you need to figure out if you want to file for a chapter 7 or a chapter 13. In a chapter 7 you give up everything you have in exchange for eliminating all of your current debt with no leans being placed on any future income you might make. In a chapter 13 an arrangement is made where you can keep your home and things like your car but you then have to make payments out of income you make post bankruptcy. Since we owned nothing of value: no house, no car, no Picasso, the choice should we decide to “B” would be to cast our fate to lucky number seven.
Now there are four roads you can take to filing for “B-ville”.  Here’s what I found out:
1.    You can get the forms and file them yourself. Apparently the files are available free by going to the appropriate government online sites or local agencies. There are additional sites that will allow you to download the forms for a nominal fee. The upside to this is the cost – there are no huge lawyer fees. You still have to pay filing fees but these are not very significant. The downside is the forms run to sixty pages and the success rate for self-filing is about 10%. We knew we wouldn’t have a chance if we went down this road. What with the way we left the city we are still carrying around our receipts in the proverbial shoebox.
2.    The next step up in the DIY method is to purchase software that will take you through the filing process. This is not much of a step up, the obvious questions I could answer without the assistance of any software program, it’s the ones that demand knowledge of the actuary world that would have me stumped. Here’s where I would start punching the keys on my computer and pulling out what little hair I have left, and the success rate with this form of applying is about the same as method one.
3.    In option number three you can up the ante and the cost by purchasing equivatent software to method number two but it also comes with a phone number to a real person who will supposedly assist you in your filing for the big “B”. You’re still plugging in the information but at least you have someone who can answer whether to put the list of Rolex watches in column A or B.
4.    The final option is to hire a bankruptcy lawyer to do the work for you. This is the best route to success but by far the most expensive. So far this one has remained out of our current financial reach.
The should we or shouldn't we file cloud has been hanging over our heads for over two years. Churning our stomachs with fear and angst. We’d paid into the system for decades and then with one major illness our financial security was wiped out. It turned our world upside down. I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder for the next debt seeker to knock on my door, call my cell when I'm sitting with a perspective client, or scream at me over the phone about my irresponsibility. As the calls became more insistent and threatening my hopes of recovery diminished proportionately. And then slowly the calls began to tapper off.  It seems that most of our creditors have either given up on collecting or they found a soul and another less disgusting job.
Here in Wisconsin we’ve met with two new bankruptcy lawyer: one who has encouraged the bankruptcy but looked at it in realistic financial terms and the other who introduced us to” stale debt”. Stale debt is where the lender drops all rights to collecting the debt after a certain time has expired. This usually happens six years after your last payment or interaction with the lender. As I understand it, the bank or creditor will then claim the debt unrecoverable, call it "stale debt", and then wipe their slate and then yours. The wait time for the debt to disappear is roughly six years. Six years of which some of our debt has already had two years of going stale time. A bankruptcy remains on your record for ten years and the stigma of bankruptcy can hang around forever. Waiting out the creditors is sounding more and more tempting. For now we’ll continue to get our house in order and screen our phone calls for unrecognized number while we continue to research the ways and hows of to "B" or not to "B".