I owe money. Tons of it. And I owe it to everyone I know. I owe my ex-wife, most of the women I’ve dated, and every member of my immediate and extended family. I owe my friends, my co-workers, my neighbors, my landlord, my bookie, my drug dealer, the guy who brings me my water, every doctor who ever examined me, and half the hookers on Santa Monica Boulevard. I owe the local video store, the cable company, the electric company, the gas company, American Express, MasterCard, Visa, Discover, AAA, the DMV, and the IRS. I owe the university I attended, which still, to this day, refuses to give me my diploma until I reimburse them for some library books I borrowed and never returned. But even if I did compensate them for the books, I still couldn’t graduate because technically I never graduated from high school. Why did I not graduate from high school? Because I owe my high school money. I owe money to the City of Los Angeles over parking tickets on a car I don’t own because I still owe money on the payments. I owe the mechanic across the street (who fixes the car I don’t own), the bagel baker around the corner, and the ten-year-old girl who sells lemonade from a stand down the block. She cries every time I walk by, and her mother gives me a dirty look when she sees me at the market.
There are those who might shudder at the prospect of carrying a debt as ponderous as the one I carry, who might feel guilty, irresponsible, or emasculated by such a burden. I’ve even heard of some who contemplate suicide or, worse, feel inclined to sell off their assets in order to lighten the load. Lucky for me, this has never been as issue. Instead I see debting (or defaulting as some call it) as a revolutionary action against a usurious corporate oligarchy that strives to enslave us with its decadent consumer values. In a faux democracy where the vote has become meaningless and where free expression is drowned out by the babble of a bought-and-paid-for media, owing money has become the only means of rebellion that still holds any promise for affecting change. When violence does nothing more than shepherd the bleating populace into the arms of fascism, how else but by cutting off the cash flow, by striking the beast at its transactional core – how else can we hope to save ourselves from this monolith of avarice we call “the global economy?”
But such sedition isn’t for everyone. It would be amiss if I didn’t mention some of the hazards one needs to be aware of before embarking on a career as a professional debtor. For example, I do often have trouble sleeping, especially when some former best friend is slamming on my door at three in the morning, screaming, “I know you’re in there!” And it is difficult for me to borrow money from a recognized financial institution, to obtain a mortgage for a home, or to pay off a purchase in installments. Credit cards are no longer an option (at least not in my name), and bank accounts are susceptible to liens. But once you get used to living without these unnecessary conveniences, there’s a great deal of fun to be had. Such as when collection agencies send harassing letters, and I send back used toilet paper; or when they email me, and I reply with links to kiddy porn sites then inform the local authorities that such-and-such company is in possession of perverse material on its hard drive; or when some creditor dares to call me at my home, and I turn the collection agent into a participant in my most diseased and deranged sexual fantasy.
There was one time, however, when circumstances led me to ponder whether I would have been better off balancing my accounts and ledgers, abiding by the law of the land, and participating as an ordinary Joe in the global marketplace. This particularly spirited campaign against me is worth describing if, for no other reason than, it may serve as a warning to others that owing money is neither for the dilettante nor for the faint of heart. And if not for my years of debting experience, my erstwhile determination, and my sociopathic commitment to dishonesty, the devil only knows what suffering may have ensued from this fateful affair. The incident I refer to began, harmlessly enough, with a call from Bangalore — a young woman named Indira, who informed me that I carried a balance of $10,000 on my American Express card, now three years past due. I responded by asking her what she was wearing.
“Mister, I do not see what it is important is what I am wearing,” she replied in an accent thicker than a bowl of mulligatawny soup. “Tell me please what you are going to do about your account today.”
“Are you wearing panties?” I asked.
“Are you aware, sir, that if you do not pay this balance, we can sue you and take you to court?”
I was more than aware – I was aroused. “Two grand if you take off those soaking wet panties.”
There was a pause at the other end. She was, after all, paid on commission. “Mr. Fischman, what you are asking is not appropriate.”
“Good golly Ganesh, you drive a hard bargain. 2500 and that’s my final offer.”
To be fair, collection agents have a difficult job. They deal with all kinds of abuse in the course of their days: people hanging up on them, cursing them, blowing whistles into the phone. Still, I hoped I was providing a level of degradation beyond the norm.
“Take ’em off, you filthy untouchable!”
“Three thousand,” she said.
This was unexpected. In all my years of talking dirty to these people (collections agents, not Indians), never once had I come across someone willing to play ball. A more experienced debtor, a true master of the craft, would have recognized this as a red flag, but unfortunately for me, my ego had subdued the better of my judgment.
“You give me an electronic check right now,” she said, “and then I… I do what you say.”
“I ain’t falling for that,” I replied, calling her bluff. “You take off those sweatshop-manufactured panties first, and then I give you the check!”
She was a bright girl. Hell, she’d have to be to have this job, coming from where she came from. My guess is she was making $8,000 a year on the phone while most of her friends were busy carrying water from the village well to the village sewer.
“How do I know,” Indira asked, “that you will not hang up the phone after I remove my garment?”
“You got me all wrong,” I said in my sweetest, softest, serial-killer voice. “I’m not the kind of lover who thinks only of himself. I want to bring an orgasm tsunami to your beautiful brown body.”
“Mr. Fischman,” she laughed. “I believe you are very sick man.”
“You don’t know the half. Now take off those fucking panties!”
Anyone else would have hung up the phone or handed me off to her supervisor, but Indira was different. She was game.
“Okay,” she said. “I am doing it.”
I heard movement from her end, but who knows if she was really stripping down or just going through the motions. Either way, it convinced the little yogi in my pants to stand in warrior one.
“My garment is off,” she said. “Now give me the check number.”
“Touch yourself,” I replied.
“Mr. Fischman, you made promise.”
“Moan for me, whore!”
“Mr. Fischman, I have had enough! You must pay me now!”
I gave her a check number and three grand from an account I knew had no money in it.
“Now where were we?” I asked, but by then, she had hung up.
Not to worry. A week later, Indira called again.
“Mr. Julius Fischman, I am calling about your American Express account.”
“Back for more, ey?”
“It seems the check that you have issued did not clear.”
“I love it when you talk dirty.”
“I will not have another incident like the one we had when last we spoke.”
“We’re going all the way this time.”
“I need you to issue another check.”
“I’m gonna practice my kama sutra on you.”
“Mr. Fischman, you are quite a character.”
“We should get to know each other in a more intimate way,” I recommended, and something in the way she blew into the phone suggested my flattery was working.
“And what would you want,” she asked, “with a poor Indian girl like me when you live in Hollywood, California 90048?”
“I want to make you my love slave.”
“I am not that kind of woman!” She was pissed. Apparently, third-worlders hate to be called slaves.
“I’ve been bad,” I said.
“Very bad,” she agreed.
“I need to be spanked by your many arms and hands.”
“Mr. Fischman,” she sighed, tiring of my antics, “I will not allow you to talk this way to me. I am an honorable woman who is saving herself for husband.”
“Marriage,” I whispered, “would be a small price to pay for a jewel like you.”
It’s rare that collection agents hear compliments. I could feel her appreciation.
“Are you proposing to me, Mr. Fischman?”
“Depends on your caste.”
“I assure you I would make a worthy bride.”
Indira must have been way below her quota for the month, because not only did I get her panties off, I actually convinced her to describe her vagina to me in glorious detail. In recognition of an outstanding performance, I issued a check for $4,000. Two days later, after it bounced, her supervisor called me at home.
“Hello, Mr. Fischman,” he said. “My name is Hitesh Patel and I am calling about your American Express account.”
“What happened to Indira?”
“You have insulted my employee for the last time. I demand that you pay your account in full this moment.”
“Are you hairy?” I asked. “I like my Indians hairy.”
“Are you aware, sir, that we have all of these conversations recorded?” Like I gave a shit. “We have your proposal on tape.”
“Are you a top or a bottom?”
“You think that you are getting away with these shenanigans, but I assure you, we will have the last laugh.”
“‘Till some Chinaman gets your job.”
“Good day, Mr. Fischman,” and then my opponent hung up.
Two weeks later, there was a knock on my door. It was an Indian woman, plump but attractive, in western dress with a red dot on her forehead. She was carrying a suitcase.
“It is so nice to finally meet you in person, Mr. Fischman. I am looking forward to our lives together.” She walked into my apartment before I could respond. “I have to say, this is a much more modest living space than I imagined, but insofar as you will be my husband, we will make it work.” There was no mistaking the voice. It was Indira. “I noticed that there is a market across the street where I can get the ingredients to make you a proper Indian dinner. Please give me some money so that I may get started right away.”
I gave her thirty bucks and watched her go. This was a tactic I’d never seen before, and no doubt it caught me off-guard. I called American Express, but in half an hour of shuffling from one touch tone menu to another, I never did find the option, “If you’d like to get the Indian woman out of your house, please press the pound key now.” When I finally did get through to an operator, I was told that my debt had been sold to a company in India called Karmic Systems. After locating their number on the internet, I called and was immediately transferred to my adversary back in Bangalore.
“I’m sorry,” said Hitesh Patel, “but I will do nothing to help you until you have paid off your debt.”
I could almost see him there smiling. Twenty-five years old. Mustache. Button-down short-sleeve shirt. A big man in India. An aspiring entrepreneur. A Punjabi player. And then some cowboy American comes along and challenges his virility, ridiculing India’s massive investment in an education infrastructure and forward thinking capitalism. But India would not go down easy, as it had in the past, virtually every time it had been challenged by anything resembling an empire, or even a half-witted clan of horse-fucking marauders. No sir! Not on Hitesh Patel’s watch. He was going to teach this wise-cracking Westerner a lesson. He was going to show the world that India didn’t have to take shit from no imperialist pervert.
“The game is on, Patel.”
“Bring it, bitch.”
I hung up the phone and washed my face. To beat Patel I’d need a plan. I thought of my great-uncle, a brilliant debtor, who owed so much money at the turn of the century, he had to flee New York in order to escape a vendetta from the Five Points Gang. He traveled west to California where he settled amongst the Santa Ynez Chumash after teaching the tribe how to shoot craps. They named him “Insufficient Funds,” and after marrying the chief’s daughter, he begot a son named “Owing Money Fischman.” No one knows exactly what went wrong in Owing Money’s relations with the Chumash, but some time around 1920, his scalp was sent to Brooklyn in a cigar box. My father kept it as a reminder that a debtor must always stay on his toes. How often Dad would regale me with stories of our cousin “Three Finger” Charlie or “Left Foot” Benny who fell down a flight of stairs in prison. Lucky for me, I took these lessons to heart and always stayed a step ahead of the thugs, the leg-breakers, and the law. I learned how to skip town or change my name when an account got heavy. How to borrow from Peter to pay Paul, then borrow from Paul’s wife, and then from Peter’s wife while I was fucking her sister Pauline. I stayed on top of the latest developments in congress whenever they changed the bankruptcy laws or eased the restrictions on collectors. I accrued a knowledge of banking regulations and the tax codes that could have made me a senior VP at Arthur Andersen in the ’90’s. This Indira incident was a new twist in the process, and it certainly caught me unawares, but I wasn’t going down without a fight!
“I never expected my parents to wish for me to marry a man that was not someone they had selected, but when I told them that you lived in Hollywood, California 90048, they seemed very happy for me. Of course, they still want the wedding to take place in Bombay so that all of my family can be present at the ceremony. But enough of this talking. I must cook for you, and I do not like to share the kitchen.”
Having been temporarily displaced from my own apartment, I went to grab a beer at my neighborhood bar but got thrown out because I owed too much money on my tab. I settled, instead, for a forty of malt liquor from the local 7-11, where I told Parag, the fellow who worked the register, about my predicament. I asked him how to get an Indian woman out of my house.
“I have been wondering the same thing for twenty years,” he replied. “Why do you think I spend every waking hour making business with degenerates like you?”
Together, Parag and I figured out that the wedding was a ploy to get me out of the US. Once in India, I would be beaten with a switch or drawn-and-quartered by elephants until I paid off my balance. Keeping that in mind, I returned home to enjoy the meal Indira prepared. A bit too spicy but delicious nonetheless. We had samosas and fresh baked nan and saag paneer and daal and raita. And when I was done eating, I went to the bathroom to do what I always do after eating Indian food – I shit my brains out. Two hours of painful diarrhea that had me praying to Shiva for reprieve. I often wonder if the whole subcontinent suffers the same way after every meal. Perhaps that’s why they were occupied by a nation that calls its police force “the bobbies.”
Five pounds lighter, I emerged from the bathroom and asked Indira if she was ready for bed. She insisted she sleep on the couch.
“Does that mean we can’t fuck?” I asked.
“Do not use that language, Mr. Fischman. It may be acceptable to your American women friends, but it does not cut water with me.”
Cut water? What the hell was she talking about?
“You’re in America now,” I insisted. “And the custom here is we fuck before we get married.”
“It is not the custom where I am from,” she replied. “My family would disinherit me. And I’d hate to think what would happen to you.”
In the morning, I asked Indira if she wanted to go for a ride.
“Where to?” she asked. Her smile radiated excitement.
“San Francisco,” I said. “We’ll drive up the coast. It’s beautiful this time of year.”
About an hour north of Los Angeles, I ditched her in the bathroom of a Chevron station and drove home. Soon thereafter, I heard a knock on my door. The biggest, meanest truck driver I’d ever seen was looking at me through a pair of mirrored sunglasses.
“This your woman?” he asked. Indira stood weeping at his side.
“No,” I replied.
“Ain’t what she says.”
She cried all night on the couch. She asked me repeatedly why I proposed if I didn’t want to marry her. For some reason, my explanations didn’t translate. The idea that I liked to live alone and borrow money and that was the extent of my existence did nothing to shake her confidence in my worth as a husband.
Two days later, I picked up my mother from LAX.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Fischman!”
“You couldn’t have cleaned up the place?” my mother asked. Indira gave me a panicked smile. “Looks like they feed you good in India.”
After a dinner of chopped liver and brisket, it was Indira’s turn to spend two hours in the bathroom with diarrhea.
“How was I supposed to know she don’t eat meat?” my mother asked as she lit another cigarette.
The two of them slept together on the fold out couch. In the morning, Indira took me aside and asked if she could spend the next night in bed with me.
“I don’t know,” I told her. “What would your family think?”
“My family wouldn’t have to know.”
“But I feel kind of funny sleeping with you while my mother is in the next room.”
“Please,” Indira begged. “Get me away from that woman.”
“You’re gonna have to get used to it,” I said. “The way my finances are looking, we’re probably gonna have to move in with her.”
With that, I thought I’d be rid of Indira, but somehow, over the next week or so, she and my mother bonded. And why wouldn’t they? They had a common enemy in me.
After dropping my mother off at the airport, I called the cops. I told them they had to come and get some squatter out of my apartment. They asked me whose name was on the lease. I told them mine was. They asked me if I could get a letter from my landlord attesting to that. Remembering that I hadn’t paid my rent in several months, I told the police I doubted I could obtain such a letter. They wished me luck.
It was time for the nuclear option. It was time to test just how far Karmic Systems was willing to go to collect on my account. I took Indira into my arms and told her I couldn’t wait anymore. I was in love. I wanted to marry her right away.
“Very well,” she said. “I shall book a flight to Bombay.”
“I mean tonight, Indira. In Mexico!”
“Oh, Mr. Fischman, you are so impetuous. But I need my family to be with me at the ceremony.”
“Quick,” I said. “Now! Before I change my mind!”
We packed our bags and drove down to Tijuana where I rented the filthiest hotel room in the red light district. I found a church that was willing to perform the service, and much to my surprise, Indira went through with it. It was only when we got back to the room that she began to crack.
“I cannot sleep with you tonight,” she lamented.
The room was rotting, sulfurous, and infested with every kind of vermin – ideal for my purpose!
“But it is our wedding night,” I replied, gulping at a bottle of cheap tequila. “You have no choice.”
From the sound of it, there was a piece of performance art going on next door. An opera involving a crowd of drunks, a donkey, and a soprano.
“But I do not feel comfortable,” Indira cried.
I assured her that sex was nothing to be afraid of and that all women are nervous the first time. And then nauseous for awhile from the fumes.
“I do not know you as well as I would like.”
“Fucking,” I assured her, dropping my trousers to my ankles, “is a great way to get to know someone.”
I pushed Indira onto the bed so that she could gaze up at the reflection in the mirrored ceiling.
“But what if I am not able to please you?” she asked.
“Please me?” Outside, drunken federales were executing tourists for sport. How could I be more pleased?
I lifted Indira’s dress above her waist. Her resistance caved as I inhaled the animal musk of her loins, activated for the first time in her life. She was giving herself to me, bringing her knees to her chest in happy baby pose as I peeled off her panties and stared at the matted hair of her crotch, naked and vulnerable against the backdrop of iniquity to which she’d been lured. On the phone, when she described her vagina to me, Indira had understated the glory of her gonad. But before me now was a beast far more wonderful than anything I could have imagined. It was an Indus River Valley of fertility, thick like a forest and replete with game. I could see monkeys swinging from its branches and tigers frolicking in its mountain streams. I could see this vagina, not only for the organ it was, but for the organ it had been and the organ it would one day be. This was a vagina capable of birth and the excretion of urine. Primal and uncivilized, like my brother Josh, who chews with an open mouth. Along the contours of its wondrous valley, I could see the great armies of destiny preparing for battle. I could hear the conch shells blown, the generals issuing orders, and the executives from Haliburton negotiating contracts. And where her clitoris should have been, I saw Arjun, great archer of antiquity, standing between the battle lines with Krishna, his faithful charioteer. And I heard the voice of the god as he spoke and asked his brother-in-arms, “Why this cowardice? Why this yielding to impotence? A man cannot escape the force of action by abstaining from actions!”
And then it was Indira’s voice I heard, as she shouted, “Fuck me. Fuck me!” Her eyes rolling back in her head. “Fuck me you crazy white devil!”
And in that moment, it was revealed to me, the genius of using third world labor for the collection of first world debt! Until now, I had only owed money to the faceless, multinational companies that listed their worth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I had owed money only to those who could afford the loss. But here, lying before me, was a human being far more wretched than I and more impoverished than the deadbeats and delinquents she pursued on the phone. Here was a victim with a face. And a voice. And a vagina! Upon her back, owing money had been transformed from a revolutionary action into a crime of colonialism, slavery, and rape. The big fish had already eaten when they shucked off their accounts to these guppies and Guptas. They had already recouped their costs. It was India and her visa-denied, middle-class aspirants who would suffer from this global Ponzi scheme. It was India that had purchased the debts that were never, ever going to be paid. And before long, she too would sell to cut her loss. And then it would be Malaysian children who called me at home. Or North Korean prisoners crying, “Help me, Mr. Fischman! Please! If I do not make my quota, Kim Jong Il will slide glass rods into my peepee!”
“I’ll pay you!” I screamed. “I’ll give you everything I have! I renounce my debting ways! I renounce my renegade lifestyle! I submit to your vagina and all of its infinite wisdom! I submit to your gods and their dysentery-producing entrees! I will abide! I will obey! I will pay! For the first time in my life, I will pay! I tell you, I will pay!”
We settled the account for five grand right there in the hotel room. It was everything I had. And at the annulment hearing, the judge determined that I should also reimburse Indira for travel expenses. I told him to put it on my tab.
Indira was satisfied when she left. She and Hitesh could claim victory, though not for long. For after dropping her off at LAX, I returned home to find a letter informing me that Mrs. Indira Fischman had been approved for a new line of credit from American Express. And when I called the number to activate the card, I asked if they could issue one in her husband’s name as well.
“But of course, Mr. Fischman,” said the Chinaman on the other end.