When You Dance With The Devil…..

The first time I ever set foot in Europe there wasn’t even one single penny in my pocket. Walking down the jetway at Charles De Gaulle airport towards the luggage carousel there were no Francs, Liras, Pounds, Marks, or even a goddamn Kroner in my pocket.

“What….???  There is no way you can do that,” my mother warned me a week prior.

“You have to get at least some money or travelers checks or something,” she yelled as hot embers of parental frustration shot out of her ears.

But I didn’t say anything.  I just stayed cool. Ryan Gosling cool.  I had the abs back then so the analogy works.

“Oh Mom,” I said in a way that only a cocky twenty-five year old could, “I love you.”  And with that I kissed her on the head on my way out the door.

And instead of listening to my mom’s sage advice, I traveled halfway across the globe, my only financial resource being a thin, embossed piece of plastic with a magnetic strip on the back.  My bank’s ATM card.

If you squint, you'd think this was me.
If you squint, you’d think this was me.

I wasn’t worried though because I had an agreement in place with my bank.  One I had talked about with them in advance and understood very well. You see I had agreed to allow them to hold on to my money, and in exchange they agreed to pay me interest and make my money available to me at tens of thousand of locations all over the planet.

Sometimes they charged me a fee for that convenience, and though I would have rather not paid it, I understood it, and had agreed to it.

As happens in all relationships, we had our squabbles and we didn’t agree on everything, but at the end of the day I knew that there was nobody holding a gun to my head and I could “break-up” with them any time I wanted and go my separate way.

As it turned out, I was able to get whatever money I needed, whenever I needed it, in any country I went to with just that little plastic card.  I also bought my mom a nice box of chocolates, but some jerk in customs confiscated them because they had nuts in them.  Whatever!

Americans have a schizophrenic relationship with banks.  We can’t seem to decide how we feel about them.  At times we view them as evil behemoths, wrenching obscene profits off the backs of the consumer and embodying all the worst aspects of the capitalist system.  But at other times, when they are on the brink of collapse, we rush in and prop them up…..only to later sue them when they return to the practices that made them profitable in the first place.

We treat them like the societal version of one of those clown “bop bags” you begged your parents for at Christmas.  As long as they are “up” we want to knock them down. They keep on coming back, and we keep throwing punches, knowing somewhere deep down inside that not only can we never actually knock them out, but that we really don’t want to.

They are our financial crack dealers and we love them.  We go to them willingly and with open arms.  We can’t get enough of them, no matter what their “product” does to our lives. And that’s fine.  But for the love of everything in life that is wholly, can we please stop playing the victim card?

Bozo the evil clown banker.
Bozo the evil clown banker.

John and Jane Doe (not their real names) are good friends with my family and during the recent real estate boom they bought a house. A five bedroom, 2,500 sq. ft. house for no money down.  Zero.  Nada.  Bupkis.

Their house almost immediately increased in value as the real estate market went parabolic, and as their equity increased they ATM’d every penny out of it along the way.  And when they got to the point where they could no longer afford their mortgage payments, they just stopped paying them.

To make matters worse, they cut off communication with their lenders when “past due” notices started to show up.  Then they ignored the calls from their realtor who could have worked with them to get a short sale done.  And they didn’t participate in the loan modification programs because they thought they were “rigged.”

Instead they sat in their house for two and a half years and didn’t pay a dime of their mortgage. And when it looked like they were about to be foreclosed on, they did the only honorable thing they could and hired a lawyer to try to sue their lender for “unfair foreclosure.”

As news of the mortgage lenders settlement came out yesterday, along with it came the shrieks and bellows of “housing advocates” claiming it is unfair.  My measured and considered response to that is “shut the fuck up!”

Yeah, we all buy the “crack” but let’s at least talk honestly like grown men and women about what’s really going on here shall we?

We are not talking about the banks coming in and trying to foreclose on some poor widower who has diligently paid her mortgage for twenty years, because her payment was a day late.

We are talking about financially irresponsible idiots who thought they were getting a free ride on the gravy train of the housing boom, getting kicked out of the houses that they never had any business buying in the first place, because they did not hold up their end of the bargain.

Plain and simple.

Banks and lending institutions are businesses, not charity institutions.  They are here to make money.  They serve themselves, not some greater “Kumbaya” good.  Yet you can use them to your benefit, but you gotta follow the rules.

You can’t willingly go to them and borrow money to buy a house you have no business owning, borrow more money from them to underwrite your new RV, boat, four-runner and five-star vacations, stop paying your mortgage and live rent free in your house for months on end, and then sue them to stay in your house because they “rubber stamped” the foreclosure process.

You just can’t do that.

If you don’t want to play by the rules, don’t get in the game.  Don’t get a mortgage. Don’t use a credit card.  Don’t borrow money.  But if you do, remember, when you dance with the Devil doesn’t change, the Devil changes you.  And you can’t sue him for doing it.

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