Neither a borrower nor a lender be
I was idle for about a month after I got back from Vietnam in September, 1967. And then the money ran out. The money always runs out. As a young man of intelligence and promise I took a job as a “management trainee.” That means I was a collection manager for a loan company in Philadelphia. It was my job to get back the money that was loaned out each month. If I didn’t get enough of it back, I had to look for another job. It wasn’t long before I was looking for another job. But in the 18 months I endured, there were stories. Lots of stories.
I only got arrested once. Went to a house to repo an air conditioner. Summer was over and I guess she figured no reason to keep paying. She didn’t answer the door, but I knew she was there so I persisted; even went to the back door. Turns out her estranged husband was a Philly cop so when she called them they rushed to the scene. The screwdriver and pliers I had in my pocket were “burglary tools,” so I ended up locked in the back of a wagon. Fortunately, the loan company said I was working on their behalf so the cops let me go — although they made it clear the air conditioner was staying.
While I wasn’t great at getting the money back I was a hell of a “skip tracer.” That means if you move and leave no forwarding address I start looking for you when the payments stop. It was a different time. One family had kids so I went to the school the kids used to attend. Having done eight years in Catholic school myself I was able to charm the good nuns into telling me where the family had gone — they had received a transcript request from the new school in a California town. Knowing the town, I ran an ad in the newspaper personals. As I said it was a different time. Newspapers actually had a personals section in the classifieds, and you could post a public message of a personal nature. People did it all the time, and it was usually as interesting as anything in the paper. I simply placed an ad saying I had news for the family I was looking for. Within a day or two, someone dropped the dime. I got the address and transferred the account to our office in California. It was a lot of money off our books, and I was a hero; at least that day. I’d have made a better detective than a loan collector.
My best lesson about politics was learned here. If a debtor stopped responding entirely, a last ditch effort was the T-50 notice. All the mail messages we sent had codes like that. Who knows what they meant. Anyway, the T-50 was a yellow, typed onion-skin copy of a letter to our attorneys instructing them to begin legal proceedings against the person. There was never an actual letter sent to the law firm, but the debtor didn’t know that. It usually succeeded in getting them to call our office where we could negotiate away the “legal proceedings” in exchange for immediate payment. I sent a T-50 to a bad account. The next day I got a call from Jimmy Tayoun. He was a Philadelphia City Councilman, and he said he was representing the debtor and what could he do to help. Being naive I explained to him the letter was a fake — and could he just have them call us? He said sure. They never called, and not long after I realized the only thing Tayoun told them was he had taken care of the matter. Never trust a politician. Tayoun later got out of the politics game after spending nearly four years in prison for racketeering and such. That’s Philadelphia for you.
The day before Thanksgiving I was at a house in South Philly inventorying household goods to be sold at Sheriff Sale if the loan wasn’t paid. It was mostly a threatening ruse as the market for a used dining room set wouldn’t come close to paying the loan. But the debtor didn’t realize that. The grandmother I was terrorizing made a phone call. Within five minutes Murder Incorporated showed up. She had some mob connections in her family. The MI gentlemen weren’t having a punk-ass “management trainee” threatening their grandmother. They strongly suggested I would not “sleep with the fishes” if the loan was immediately forgiven. Very thankfully, I got home early for Thanksgiving eve festivities with my own family.
My toughest “training” lesson was asking a set of parents for money. We had made a $600 loan to a 21-year-old woman who wanted to open a candy store in her neighborhood. She had no credit history, but her parents were long-time good customers. They agreed to co-sign the loan for her. There may have been one payment made on the loan. It went bad fast. I went out to the neighborhood and learned she was estranged from her husband. She had moved out of their house and was living across the street with another man. Her husband wasn’t about to cough up any money to pay her loan. A week later I came to work one morning and read in the newspaper her husband had gone across the street, went into the house and blew her head off with a shotgun. So, I had to ask the parents of a murdered daughter to repay the money she owed — they had co-signed so, no choice. Collections, it’s a tough business.
There were lots of stories. Money changing always makes for stories. But I wasn’t good at it. I remember seeing a guy around my age one day driving a truck. That gave me the idea for a career change. The stories in trucking aren’t nearly as good as the stories in loan collecting, but I think you live longer.