Dickens, Debt, and Christmas

So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt.

~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

imageWhere would Charles Dickens have been without debt? Where would English Lit, Hollywood, and Christmas be without Dickens?

The running themes through Dickens’ long – and lucrative – career were crushing debt, workhouses, courts snarled in technicalities, poverty, sour credit, low wages, foreclosures, banks, scams, mass incarceration, sweatshops, social injustice … All very much applicable today.

If Dickens came back tomorrow, he’d be astonished by the speed of today’s communications; overwhelmed by the modern technologies used in finance; awed but probably pleased with the serialized novel on TV and Netflix, et al – I imagine him binge watching Breaking Bad and The Wire.

He’d find some things appallingly the same, others miraculous. He’d immediately recognize Pharma Bro, everyone running for President, the bankers in The Big Short. Give him a week and he’d be working on a new novel.

Dickens had an unfailing eye for all this because he lived it. He grew up in a imagemiddle class family, comfortable, good at school, apparently fairly happy. All that was destroyed when he was twelve and his father was tossed into debtor’s prison (right). Charles’ mother and younger siblings went with him – as was the custom. Charles,was forced to pawn his school books, was sent off to a workshop to help pay off his father’s debts.

An inheritance saved the family though Dickens’ mother was adamantly opposed to his leaving work and forced him to stay there for long, unhappy months before he left to resume his studies. He rewarded her for that particularly slight through dozens of novels and plays. (From Dickens to Bob Dylan and Alanis Morissette, it’s never a good idea to upset an artist with wide reach).

In his early writing career – he was pretty much a prodigy from the start – he covered the courts and, briefly, Parliament.

He saw the system from every angle and he set out to attack it in the only way he could, through his writing, within the flexibility and thin protection of the novel. He opened Victorian eyes to the seamy underbelly of British wealth, society, and empire.

imageIn 1843 he turned his wrath to Christmas. At the time, many – including his good friend Washington Irving – felt that Christmas season was ebbing away from the poor and increasingly put upon middle-class.

He didn’t like what he was seeing, feeling, and he sat down to write a scathing pamphlet about the issue. It soon occurred to him that a novel would work much better, reach more people. In six weeks he crafted his ‘ghost story’, A Christmas Carol.

He published it himself in an effort to not be ripped off by his usual publisher.A Christmas Carol in prose. - caption: 'Marley's Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost.' In today’s parlance, it went viral. Immensely popular, even his [many] critics extolled it. Thousands and thousands of copies were sold, many more – particularly in the United States were ‘bootlegged’ – and it was immediately adapted for the stage. Dickens himself did stage readings of the entire manuscript. It was everywhere.

Humanitarianism, redemption, a dead-on accurate portrayal of early-Victorian England, it hit a nerve in Great Britain and the United States. It hit, hard, the people bearing the burden of the Industrial Revolution, changed the way everyone thought of the Christmas season.

imageHow a man who, when first confronted with poverty and homelessness, says, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Finds empathy is inspiring regardless of religious belief. A Christmas Carol was a great story, a strong, bitter indictment of the times, and it worked. It changed things. It has never been out of print.

Again, no debt, no Dickens, no Dickens, no holiday season? The latter may be a stretch, but it’s not unthinkable.

So, sometime in the next few days I plan on catching the 1950 Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol – a great adaptation (out of dozens, beginning with Thomas Edison’s version in the early 1900s!).

And to all my readers, I hope it’s obvious, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

Psychology & Debt

From Got Debt, Dispatches from the Front Lines of America’s Financial Crisis

The more I work with people with debt, the more patterns I see. This has been an interesting way to observe that the psychology of having debt that can’t be repaid is almost universal no matter what the demographic.

The biggest part of having too much debt that plagues the average American, especially when someone gets to the point where they can’t repay it, is what I’ll call the “boogeyman in the closet” phenomenon.

This is the fear that something terrible will occur THE MINUTE someone can’t make a payment on their bills. The belief that missing a payment due date on a credit card is going to cause the sky to fall, it’s going to cause instant public shame, AND on top of that, the boogeyman is going to come out of the closet or out from under the bed and GET YOU.

I know that this boogeyman is real because of the questions I get and the things people tell me based on their assumptions (or on the gobbledygook they read on the internet or that they get from their brother-in-law).

The boogeyman comes in the form of:

“If I miss my credit card payment, can they take my car?”

“If I’m overdue on my credit cards will they put a lien on my house?”

“Will my boss know?”

“Will they garnish my wages?”

“Will they take all my retirement?”

And, the big one,

“Can I be arrested?”

I’m heartbroken when I hear the fear that plagues people who can no longer make credit card payments, but am hopeful and encouraged, in a weird way, by their fear response. These questions signal to me genuine concerns about personal financial stability, reputation and a moral sense of right and wrong.

It shows that the average person, the majority of people, want to pay their bills, and want to pay them on time. I find that reassuring on many levels.

The answer to all the above questions is No. Some of those things can happen after several steps occur and usually only if someone ignores those steps or does not take advantage of their right to participate in those steps.

The state of mind that comes from the fear of not being able to pay bills is like that of a child hiding under the blankets in the dark while trying to fall asleep. The hard part is getting people to understand that they have control and that the boogeyman does not exist.

One of the first steps when counseling someone about their debt is to ascertain the level to which this fear is clouding their judgment and preventing them from being able to have a conversation about the real facts about their debt.

Their fears cause them to make less educated and less desirable decisions when it comes to dealing with their debt. They usually default to doing what they think they should do to not hurt their credit score. This includes doing what they think they should do to pay everyone at least something each month. When payment becomes difficult, they start having conversations with their creditors and think that what the creditors tell them (i.e., skip a month, or just pay $10 or $20 instead of the actual minimum payment) is official and overrides the requirement under the credit card agreement to make their actual payment. They are very vulnerable in this phase and even more so if they do skip payments and an account goes to collection.

By the time an account goes unpaid for about three months, a creditor will usually assign it to another company for collection. The exception is for car payments- not paying for more than a month or two puts you at serious risk of repossession of the vehicle, even if the creditor gives you verbal permission to make a late payment or a partial payment.

The good part about when a credit card account goes to collection is that by then the average person realizes there’s no boogeyman. Their car is still in their driveway, there’s no foreclosure sign in front of their house, their name isn’t posted in front of town hall, and no one has shown up to put them in a stockade on their front lawn. But a new phase has begun.

The typical debt collector in the U.S. may not actually even be in the U.S. The collection industry has consolidated considerably in the last decade (especially since the financial crisis of 2008-09) to where large percentages of unpaid accounts are sent to just a few collection companies. These are third party companies that are assigned portfolios of accounts, and the most common tactic for attempting to squeeze a payment or two out of the consumer is with phone calls.

Although the “fear of boogeyman” phase is typically over by this point, the vulnerability and susceptibility remains. They’re out of the woods, so to speak, but a sense of “I’m a bad person” takes over which makes them susceptible to abuse and harassment from debt collectors.

Christmas and Debt … From 1843 …

So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt.

~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

imageWhere would Charles Dickens have been without debt? Where would English Lit, Hollywood, and Christmas be without Dickens?

The running themes through Dickens’ long – and lucrative – career were crushing debt, workhouses, courts snarled in technicalities, poverty, sour credit, low wages, foreclosures, banks, scams, mass incarceration, sweatshops, social injustice … All very much applicable today.

If Dickens came back tomorrow, he’d be astonished by the speed of today’s communications; overwhelmed by the modern technologies used in finance; awed but probably pleased with the serialized novel on TV and Netflix, et al – I imagine him binge watching Breaking Bad and The Wire.

He’d find some things appallingly the same, others miraculous. He’d immediately recognize Pharma Bro, everyone running for President, the bankers in The Big Short. Give him a week and he’d be working on a new novel.

Dickens had an unfailing eye for all this because he lived it. He grew up in a imagemiddle class family, comfortable, good at school, apparently fairly happy. All that was destroyed when he was twelve and his father was tossed into debtor’s prison (right). Charles’ mother and younger siblings went with him – as was the custom. Charles,was forced to pawn his school books, was sent off to a workshop to help pay off his father’s debts.

An inheritance saved the family though Dickens’ mother was adamantly opposed to his leaving work and forced him to stay there for long, unhappy months before he left to resume his studies. He rewarded her for that particularly slight through dozens of novels and plays. (From Dickens to Bob Dylan and Alanis Morissette, it’s never a good idea to upset an artist with wide reach).

In his early writing career – he was pretty much a prodigy from the start – he covered the courts and, briefly, Parliament.

He saw the system from every angle and he set out to attack it in the only way he could, through his writing, within the flexibility and thin protection of the novel. He opened Victorian eyes to the seamy underbelly of British wealth, society, and empire.

imageIn 1843 he turned his wrath to Christmas. At the time, many – including his good friend Washington Irving – felt that Christmas season was ebbing away from the poor and increasingly put upon middle-class.

He didn’t like what he was seeing, feeling, and he sat down to write a scathing pamphlet about the issue. It soon occurred to him that a novel would work much better, reach more people. In six weeks he crafted his ‘ghost story’, A Christmas Carol.

He published it himself in an effort to not be ripped off by his usual publisher.A Christmas Carol in prose. - caption: 'Marley's Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost.' In today’s parlance, it went viral. Immensely popular, even his [many] critics extolled it. Thousands and thousands of copies were sold, many more – particularly in the United States were ‘bootlegged’ – and it was immediately adapted for the stage. Dickens himself did stage readings of the entire manuscript. It was everywhere.

Humanitarianism, redemption, a dead-on accurate portrayal of early-Victorian England, it hit a nerve in Great Britain and the United States. It hit, hard, the people bearing the burden of the Industrial Revolution, changed the way everyone thought of the Christmas season.

imageHow a man who, when first confronted with poverty and homelessness, says, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Finds empathy is inspiring regardless of religious belief. A Christmas Carol was a great story, a strong, bitter indictment of the times, and it worked. It changed things. It has never been out of print.

Again, no debt, no Dickens, no Dickens, no holiday season? The latter may be a stretch, but it’s not unthinkable.

So, sometime in the next few days I plan on catching the 1950 Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol – a great adaptation (out of dozens, beginning with Thomas Edison’s version in the early 1900s!).

And to all my readers, I hope it’s obvious, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”

Things That Never Go Away

In Sunday’s New York Times, Jake Halpern revisited collection agencies. Not the boilerroommoviecollection agencies you’d normally think of, but the collections agencies that buy old debt and go after it with a vengence, They buy it for pennies on the dollar, use boiler rooms out of movies like … well, Boiler Room, to collect on it, seldom report the payments, resell the debt … as John Oliver showed a few months ago, the cycle never ends.

Halpern points out that President Elect Trump wants to roll back Dodd-Frank. A perhaps unintended consequence of this would be the almost complete unfettering of the collection industry. 

With that in mind, we thought a look back at one of our first blog posts would be in order – because some things never go away.

Last Monday a friend of mine received a phone call on his cell phone from an unidentified Rhode Island number. He went to college in Providence, has friends there, answered.

rattman_paper
Script from a ‘collection’ company a few dozen times removed from the debt.

This is what he got – “Hi, Mr. Loman, this is an attempt to collect a debt, anything – yada, yada, yada … can you confirm the last four digits of your social?”

“No.”

“Is it ‘5555’?”

“Perhaps.”

“Okay, well, I have an account here from Verizon, you owe twelve hundred dollars.”

“I’ve never had a Verizon account.”

“Well, sure, but it could also be from -”

“Could be?”

“From any one of the following companies now part of Verizon …” the guy then read off a very long list of companies, a list that pretty much summed up the telephone industry of the 21st Century.

“No,” my friend answered.

“No? Whattaya mean, no?”

“I don’t owe anything to anyone on that list.”

“Says here you do.”

“Then it’s wrong.”

“Look, Biff, I have it right here and -”

My friend has a law degree and a long history of dealing with total BS, so it finally hit him to ask, “Wait a second, what’s the date on this supposed debt?”

The guy on the phone fumbled around, Biff could hear papers being shuffled, murmurs of other voices from the boiler room, then, “Yeah, got it here, 2003.”

“You’re calling me about a twelve year old debt?”

“Well, no, see, we just received it -”

“Yeah, well, then it sucks to be you, have a nice day, don’t ever call again.”

Continue reading Things That Never Go Away

Debt Games

wargamesI asked a friend to dive into the wild and wacky world of all things financial on the web.

He’s in his 50s, has three kids, a decent credit score, couple of credit cards, student loan, leased car. Pretty run-of-the-mill-doing-okay-not-drowning-in-debt (today) Mid-America – though he calls it ‘depressingly normal.’

First thing he did was, of course, to try to make a few bucks. Football season started a few weeks ago so Draftkings and FanDuel are all in with ad saturations and sponsoring shows on ESPN and the like. (What happened to last year’s uproar over them?)

He knows sports, follow the NFL, even reads a few things from writers who aren’t in the bag for the Patriots. So, he replied to the latest of the hundred or so Draftkings messages he gets a week.

This one was a free entry to a $10,000 payout. But it wasn’t. He clicked on it, filled out a imagelineup, submitted it, was informed that he had to deposit $10 for the future games he would undoubtedly want to play after the fun of the free game. The free game a few hundred thousand people were also playing, some with advanced math degrees and a full grasp of algorithms. So much for using sports knowledge is a path to riches.

lendingSo he turned to consolidating his debt. And maybe getting an extra few bucks to plop into his business. He clicked on one of the few hundred emails from Lending Tree sitting in his spam folder. He filled out a quick form – very easy – waited less than a minute and – *WOW* – he had offers. Lots of offers.

He could consolidate his credit card debt and – assuming he only paid monthly minimums – he would *SAVE* 60% per month. If he acted now. Plus, you get a next or $1000. He could click *DO IT!* now or he could read the fine print. Because he was doing this for me, he read the fine prin:. 36 months, $350 processing fee taken off the top of the loan, an effective rate of 30% – because it all went through Utah, a state with apparently generous usury laws – if they have them at all.

He could also shave off a hundred dollars per month for his auto lease by doubling the lease term from 36 months to 72. Lending Tree assured him that this was a great deal, so great he only had 48 hours to accept it. Having passed seventh grade math, he passed.

Because he signed up with Lending Tree he now gets two to three prescreened credit card offers a week. At a minimum. Most have fees, the lowest interest rate so far is 22%.

There’s more, but it’s all the same. He drew the line, though, at opening an account with Wells Fargo.

It’s pretty clear what the lesson is here, it’s a lesson from the 1980’s and a Matthew Broderick. Wargames. Which ended with this warning:

“The only way to win is to not play the game.”

About My Schoolhouse Rock Facebook Post

IMG_0209Earlier today, I posted an old Schoolhouse Rock video on my Facebook page.  You’ll either recognize it from your childhood or from recently studying for the AP Government test (and why not, it’s that good!), it’s the famous ‘How a Bill Becomes Law.’

I posted it because I spent yesterday at the Connecticut State House for the formal signing of a new law, one that I helped work on in the spring.

ImjustabillIt was the bill signing for a bill that, among many other things, will prevent debt collectors from –literally—whiting out evidence that they present to the court when suing consumers on credit card debt.  Yep, they were routinely whiting out entire sections of information on documents that they didn’t think was relevant—you or I couldn’t get away with that!  And now debt collectors can’t either.

It’s great that this was signed into law, it’s pretty amazing that we had to get a law passed to stop debt collectors from doing something that has always been legally and morally wrong for the rest of us. But, it was really nice to see our little Bill grow up.

Rethinking and Reordering Banks

This the first in an upcoming series of articles that revolve around Neil Gabler’s piece in The Atlantic, The Secret Shame of Middle Class Americans. Gabler’s piece centered on the fact that 47% of Americans said they’d have trouble coming up with $400 in an emergency.

georgebaileyIf this is your banker, you don’t need to read any further. For the rest of us:
I have a friend who hit a financial brick wall last October. A self-employed professional, he had a ‘bunch of stuff’ happen in the worse possible order and he found himself barely scrapping by.

So, he took a second job at the seafood counter at a supermarket. He pretty much enjoyed it, the people were nice, the company seemed to care about its workers, he talked to people all day, and he could mentally calculate his pay-to-essential-living-expenses ratio on an hourly basis. As in, ‘the fourth hour today finishes up the electric bill, the fifth starts in on the gas.’

In a month, he had it and his finances down to a science. He received monthly checks from a couple of clients, he had his store pay direct deposited to his bank every week, it generally hit anytime over an eighteen-hour window mid-week.

One Friday in early December he knew he was going to cut it close – bills that had to be paid beat out earnings by a few dollars. That included a decent check from a client. He deposited the check, set up auto-pay from his accounts, and crossed his fingers. And kept them crossed over the weekend.

He wore his iPhone out checking his bank account pretty much hourly. Even while selling fish and humming a little Fatboy Slim to himself – “right about now, funk sole brother” – he took the time to follow the account as each bill was deducted and his balance shrank toward single digits.

By Monday morning, according to the bank app, he was close to being in the clear. He deposited a client check, the worst case scenario was that his biggest expense out – two hundred dollars and change – would hit, miss the deposit and end up costing him a $39 overdraft fee. Thirty -nine dollars for a couple of hundred is high interest, but not when it keeps the internet connection on.

Late afternoon, he made it. The client check showed as pending, all the small payments showed as paid, the ‘big’ check was nowhere to be found, his balance was positive. He was relieved and pretty pleased with himself for his financial nimbleness.

So, it came somewhat as a shock when he got an email from his bank at 4:38 pm, the dreaded ‘the bank’s been closed for eight minutes and you have IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR ACCOUNT’ notice.

As he signed into his account yet again, he was reconciled to the fact that he had just paid $39 to clear his $268.96 check. He was in no way prepared what he found.

The order of his transactions was startlingly different than it had been hours earlier. It now not only showed the ‘big’ check, it showed it being paid first. The five subsequent small payments all overdrew his account, one was for $5.00. The $39 fee was applied to each check for a grand total of $195 in bank fees on under $500 in transactions. The pending deposit no longer showed anywhere.

He called the bank. The first person he spoke to was pleasant and of no help whatsoever. She did see the pending deposit, said, “You’ll be fine now, too bad about the hundred and ninety-five bucks.”

He asked for a supervisor. She was not as nice, she was, in fact, weirdly confrontational – she came right at him. No ‘how can I help you?’ more like ‘we paid these, how dare you …” He mentioned watching the account all weekend and the order in which he saw everything happening.

Her answer was not what he expected, “Well, did you do screen saves?”
“No,” he said, “didn’t think I needed to.”
“Then you read it wrong, if you had checked on-line on a computer instead of using the app you would have seen that.”
“That makes no sense.”
“Of course it does,” she snapped.

It got worse from there. He got nowhere. His deposit cleared the next morning, his account was exactly where it was ‘projected’ to be early Monday, less $195. Or, 16 hours of work, before taxes. Meanwhile, the bank cleared $195 for … nothing.

To even the casual observer, it appears that the bank orchestrated this. Which, of course, it did. It’s called ‘reordering’ and it’s done every day. It’s frowned upon but it’s not illegal. Banks make over $30 billion/year on overdraft fees. They are an enormous business. Banks, by the way, are in business to make money. For themselves and their shareholders.

I bring this up here, now, because I still have people who wait to hire an attorney and act – proactively act – because they are ‘working it out with the bank.’ For some reason, a lot of people still think that the ‘nice person at the bank’ is in it together with them.
I’m sure they’re nice, I’m equally as sure that they are acting in the best interest of the bank. Because that’s their job.

Mine is representing your best interests, and the earlier I start, the better the chances of an acceptable outcome.

It’s 9 Degrees Out … So, Hey, Baseball and Consumer Debt

BallFourI have a friend who is a huge baseball friend. Not Donald Trump Ya-uuuge, but real-life huge. He’s deep into baseball history, is still mad at Hollywood for changing the ending of The Natural, and makes a pretty good case that Jim Bouton’s Ball Four is one of the top five non-fiction baseball books of all time.

He makes an even stronger case that Ball Four is one of the best business books ever.

One story he tells from the book seems particularly relevant to my practice and clients. It goes like this:

Ball Four takes place over the course of the one and only year of the 1969 Seattle Pilots – one of the most forlorn major league baseball teams of all time. 

Late in the season the Pilots trade one of their very few legitimate major leaguers, Tommy Davis, to the Houston Astros.

Davis is thrilled to leave the gloom of last place and the almost daily rain delays of the even gloomier Sick’s Stadium for The Eighth Wonder of the World (the Astrodome) and a shot at the pennant.

A few weeks into his Astros’ experience Davis is so outwardly happy one of his new teammates, the intellectual flake and third baseman Doug Rader, can’t stand it any longer and asks him why.

Tommy goes off on a litany of wonderful things that have happened since he stepped off the plane from Seattle to be met by the Houston General Manager and a limo: ‘the Astro’s set him up in a fancy hotel until he could find a home; they flew his family down from Seattle first class, took his wife out to explore neighborhoods and school systems, are paying for meals and expenses while they’re waiting to find a house, have a moving company packing up their Seattle home and bringing everything down all DavisTommyexpenses paid, and a whole lot more. The Astros have, in fact, treated Davis so well he feels so indebted to them that he tells Rader he never wants to leave.

To which Doug Rader shakes his head slowly, puts a hand on Davis’ shoulder and says,”They had to do all that, Tommy, it’s in your contract.”

Neat story, but what does it have to do with my practice? Well, a lot actually. I get a lot of clients late into the process because they feel obliged to stick with trying to work things out with the bank, or collection company, or some other institution. They feel obligated because, like Tommy Davis, they think the bank is going out of its way to help them when, in fact, they are doing exactly what is required of them – and no more – under the terms of the contract that no consumer has ever read.

It gets in the way, this false but understandable sense of ‘gratitude’ during a time of great stress. It’s fine to try to ‘work it out with the bank,’ of course, but it’s important to do so from a position of knowledge. Talk to someone who knows.

I’m one of those people and my friend tells me that as far as my practice goes, I have a very high WAR – Wins Above Replacement. Now I just need someone to explain that to me.

 

 

2015: The Year in Themes

It’s been quite a year, in court, out of court, blogging, talking, consulting. Since I started putting my thoughts down early in the year a few themes have emerged, themes I’m sure I’ll continue to follow into 2016.

Looking forward to 2016 and many more posts. Happy New Year, and thanks for being a reader.

Debt, Dickens, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

So now, as an infallible way of making little ease great ease, I began to contract a quantity of debt.

~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

imageWhere would Charles Dickens have been without debt? Where would English Lit, Hollywood, and Christmas be without Dickens?

The running themes through Dickens’ long – and lucrative – career were crushing debt, workhouses, courts snarled in technicalities, poverty, sour credit, low wages, foreclosures, banks, scams, mass incarceration, sweatshops, social injustice … All very much applicable today.

If Dickens came back tomorrow, he’d be astonished by the speed of today’s communications; overwhelmed by the modern technologies used in finance; awed but probably pleased with the serialized novel on TV and Netflix, et al – I imagine him binge watching Breaking Bad and The Wire.

He’d find some things appallingly the same, others miraculous. He’d immediately recognize Pharma Bro, everyone running for President, the characters in The Big Short. Give him a week and he’d be working on a new novel.

Dickens had an unfailing eye for all this because he lived it. He grew up in a imagemiddle class family, comfortable, good at school, apparently fairly happy. All that was destroyed when he was twelve and his father was tossed into debtor’s prison (right). Charles’ mother and younger siblings went with him – as was the custom. Charles,was forced to pawn his school books, was sent off to a workshop to help pay off his father’s debts.

An inheritance saved the family though Dickens’ mother was adamantly opposed to his leaving work and forced him to stay there for long, unhappy months before he left to resume his studies. He rewarded her for that particularly slight through dozens of novels and plays. (From Dickens to Bob Dylan and Alanis Morissette, it’s never a good idea to upset an artist with wide reach).

In his early writing career – he was pretty much a prodigy from the start – he covered the courts and, briefly, Parliament.

He saw the system from every angle and he set out to attack it in the only way he could, through his writing, within the flexibility and thin protection of the novel. He opened Victorian eyes to the seamy underbelly of British wealth, society, and empire.

imageIn 1843 he turned his wrath to Christmas. At the time, many – including his good friend Washington Irving – felt that Christmas season was ebbing away from the poor and increasingly put upon middle-class.

He didn’t like what he was seeing, feeling, and he sat down to write a scathing pamphlet about the issue. It soon occurred to him that a novel would work much better, reach more people. In six weeks he crafted his ‘ghost story’, A Christmas Carol.

He published it himself in an effort to not be ripped off by his usual publisher.A Christmas Carol in prose. - caption: 'Marley's Ghost. Ebenezer Scrooge visited by a ghost.' In today’s parlance, it went viral. Immensely popular, even his [many] critics extolled it. Thousands and thousands of copies were sold, many more – particularly in the United States were ‘bootlegged’ – and it was immediately adapted for the stage. Dickens himself did stage readings of the entire manuscript. It was everywhere.

Humanitarianism, redemption, a dead-on accurate portrayal of early-Victorian England, it hit a nerve in Great Britain and the United States. It hit, hard, the people bearing the burden of the Industrial Revolution, changed the way everyone thought of the Christmas season.

imageHow a man who, when first confronted with poverty and homelessness, says, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” Finds empathy is inspiring regardless of religious belief. A Christmas Carol was a great story, a strong, bitter indictment of the times, and it worked. It changed things. It has never been out of print.

Again, no debt, no Dickens, no Dickens, no holiday season? The latter may be a stretch, but it’s not unthinkable.

So, sometime in the next few days I plan on catching the 1950 Alastair Sim, A Christmas Carol – a great adaptation (out of dozens, beginning with Thomas Edison’s version in the early 1900s!).

And to all my readers, I hope it’s obvious, “God Bless Us, Everyone.”