Just because I’ve been stupid doesn’t mean you should too: responses to the school and jobs post

In response to “Employment, attitude, and educational entitlement,” a couple friends noted my own experience in higher education and asked if I was being a hypocrite by telling people to do as I say not as I do. But I would phrase it differently by saying that going to grad school was a stupid thing to do, and an important component of intellectual honesty is admitting when we do something stupid.

When I make a mistake, I admit it and encourage others not to make the same one. What do you do?*

In addition, although it’s true that I’ve been in various pouches of academia, I’ve also been working continuously as a grant writer (If not for that, I doubt I would’ve majored in English in the first place: I like to read and write but am aware of the job situation). When I began English grad school, I thought I’d be able to conventionally publish a novel by the time I was done. This has turned out not to be true. For me, that’s annoying but not a crisis. For many of my peers, however, it is a crisis.

English grad school is also somewhat less pernicious than some professional grad schools. In English, they pay you (a small amount, to be sure), instead of you paying them, which means it’s relatively easy to walk away—much easier than law, business, or medicine. It’s becoming apparent to those of us who pay attention to higher education that higher education institutions have an increasingly predatory relationship with those they are educating. Or nominally educating.

There’s also a “follow-the-money” element to the higher education problem. School can go on pretty much forever when you are paying them. Not surprisingly, if you offer someone money, they will usually be inclined to accept it. Want to get into any but the very top PhD programs? Say you’ll pay your way and you can at least start. Finding someone who wants to give you money is harder than finding someone who wants yours.

Universities have realized this.

Finally, I’ll note that, in the absence of a better job, I will do whatever jobs I can get, and, in my life, some relatively low-status jobs have been better than relatively high status jobs; working as a lifeguard, for example, is more fun than being a lawyer, and it was a great job from a writing perspective: about 10% of my conscious mind would keep an eye on the pool while the other 90% came up with ideas. I wish I’d been smarter and started lifeguarding in high school.**

It’s true that lifeguards don’t get to fuck with other people’s lives in the way some lawyers do, so it may be a worse occupation for the power hungry, but it also doesn’t require tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to be a lifeguard.

* “When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?”

** Then again most people probably wish they’d made smarter choices.

Don’t Fuck With My Money; or How I Stuck it to the Man and You Can Too!

A friend wrote this story and sent it to me, which I post both as a warning and for its own sake.

rack_city_3Police officers have a long and storied history of lying during arrests, on police reports, and even perjuring themselves under oath. They’ve lied about me, in front of me. As Americans, we’re fortunate to live in a country where the burden of proof lies upon the law enforcer instead of the lawbreaker. This is why routine traffic stops should follow strict protocols. Even ruthless murderers have gone free because of technicalities. My particular story contains more of the former (protocol violation) and none of the latter (murder), but if you follow my recommendations you may find yourself where I was this morning—at the end of a gavel hearing the words, “Case dismissed.”

Throughout my life, I’ve had piss-poor luck when it comes to getting caught by authority figures. I nearly got suspended in middle school for de-pantsing a friend in biology class. Freshman year I was suspended for dicking around in English class (and inexplicably promoted to an honors class as a result). Junior year was a whirlwind of parties, subpar oral sex, and death threats from parents of said subpar fellatio perpetrators. The cherry on top of this year was a cold, rainy weekend in November where the police caught me drinking before a football game with a freshman girl. The very next night, I had the supreme idea that I should drink a beer and get behind the wheel of a drug dealer’s car. This left me with one DUI, a narrowly avoided felony possession charge, a night in jail, and $10,000 subtracted from my parents’ bank account.

In college I had a few brush-ins with the law. A couple of fake ID charges, a minor in possession conviction, and assault charges (dropped because I was defending myself, of course). My point is this: I clearly never had a future as a cat burglar, or any other kind, and learned that I have the dubious ability to get caught every time I do something bad and/or illegal.

I live in Los Angeles now, a city which not only thrives on the fumes of automobiles but willfully ignores the need for public transportation. About 45 minutes south of LA lies the idyllic, WASP-y cove of Newport Beach, made famous by moronic reality television depicting the spoiled teenagers and the neurotic housewives who produced them. One of my best friend-girls, “Anastasia”—not her real name, but it’s equally stripper-esque—was dating one of Newport’s denizens and invited me to join her on his massive yacht for Memorial Day. She promised enough silicone to keep me afloat for days should the boat sink, and unlimited expensive booze served by nubile models and tennis instructors. Needless, to say, I agreed.

I invited “Kelly,” another of my best friend-girls along for the ride. Kelly is the rarest kind of woman in LA: an attractive blonde with a brain better served for advanced biochemical formulae than destroying douchey pseudo-actors in Hollywood, but she regularly used it for both (this will be important later).

The day passed as you might expect: I hopped onto an 80-foot yacht with thirty incredibly attractive women and five men I didn’t know, and I proceeded to drink and eat my way into perpetual bliss. Just kidding—you wouldn’t expect that unless you’ve been living in Los Angeles for long enough to meet these types. I met Anastasia’s boyfriend, “Alladin”—the owner of the boat. Curious about his opulent lifestyle, I asked him what he did for a living. He mumbled something about buying and selling “web properties.” I was in a similar industry at the time, but I elected not to press for details: I’ve learned many things in LA, and one of them is that if someone can’t explain to you what he does for work, you probably don’t want to know.

Several glasses of a champagne, a few beers, a couple Grey Goose and tonics, at least five makeout sessions with some of the MILFier attendees, and one botched threesome attempt in the captain’s cabin later, we found ourselves heading back to shore. We ordered enough Chinese food to feed a clan of Hutts and watched the sun go down over Newport Harbor. Three hours later, after Kelly and I made the expert determination that I hadn’t imbibed for several hours and thus was capable of driving, we said our goodbyes.

This was my first mistake of the day, aside from failing my attempt at a threesome. Kelly and I were busy jabbering about how awesome our day was and how we couldn’t wait for our next yachting adventure. About fifteen minutes after getting on the 405 freeway (known as the “four or five hours” to LA residents), Kelly noticed a black-and-white pacing us. I remained calm—I wasn’t speeding and, to my knowledge, I was no longer drunk.

It turns out that the opposite was true in the eyes of the law.

The cop, who will henceforth be known as Officer Dipshit, turned on his flashers and directed me to get off the freeway. Before I could let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding, he’s yelling at me over his PA system. Within five minutes he’s at my window telling me he detects the odor of alcohol and administering a preliminary eye test (without my consent) known ominously as the “Nystagmus.” He’s asking me to exit the vehicle. He’s asking me to submit to voluntary tests. Remembering my first encounter with a potential DUI in Washington State, and the video “Never Talk to the Police,” I raise my hand and emphatically state, “I REFUSE.”

Police don’t like their authority being questioned. They especially dislike it when a citizen knows his rights and chooses to exercise them. Read these words very carefully: voluntary DUI tests are designed for you to fail. You can be Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt on a midsummer’s day in 2012, sober as a rock, and still fail the tests. DUI tests were created to stack evidence against you in order to give the officer a defensible reason for arresting you. Let me repeat: if you have had anything to drink, ANYTHING AT ALL, do not submit to these tests.

Some of you are familiar with Tucker Max’s work, but most of you haven’t read his poignant piece (written with friend and business partner Nils Parker) about the different types of people who become cops. My arresting officer was certainly a “High School Napoleon”—5’4”, 220 lbs of seething, blubbery vengeance for all the wedgies and rejections from women throughout his life. I’m not stupid enough to be disrespectful to a cop. Should you find yourself in my position, do what I did: give him short, courteous answers, do not admit any guilt, and above all do not submit to his tests, no matter how much he tries to scare you.

Upon rejecting his voluntary DUI tests, Officer Dipshit threw his pad into the air and informed me of my imminent arrest. He pushed me against the car as he slammed the cuffs on my wrist, whispering that his colleagues had “Fucked up bigger guys than me,” and tightened the steel links until my hands went numb. I knew that I was in for a joyous night. The officer then proceeded to threaten Kelly, telling her that he was going to arrest her too, asking her if she would like to spend a night in jail. The only thing I was guilty of thus far was driving a red sports car with a hot blonde in the passenger seat.

I was arrested, taken to the police station, and booked for DUI. After sixteen miserable hours, I was released to my disappointed mother. Eventually they got around to testing my blood. You must submit to this test, otherwise you’ll be automatically convicted of a DUI and your license revoked for a year, but you want to have it administered at the police station. The results wouldn’t be known for weeks, but it turns out that my Blood Alcohol Content was .09, otherwise known as the equivalent of a little more than a beer per hour. In the eyes of the law, I was intoxicated. It doesn’t matter if you think you’re drunk. It only matters what your blood says (Dexter Morgan would appreciate this sentiment).

After receiving a citation for a DUI, you have a few options. You can go to your hearing, plead guilty, go to your alcohol classes, attend the M.A.A.D. panel, install the breathalyzer in your car, and deal with a suspended license for six months. Most people choose this—especially the ones that have an egregiously high BAC. All told, your first DUI will cost around $5,000 even if you choose not to hire a lawyer. This doesn’t count the peripheral costs, like explaining to your employer why your license is suspended, telling your date why you have to blow into a tube before you can start your car, or attempting to bum rides from your friends while you’re carless.

I hired a lawyer and went to war with Officer Dipshit. The truth is that most of you won’t be able to do anything about your DUI. Your case will be open and shut, the same kind of case that passes through municipal courts hundreds of thousands of times a year in the U.S. However, there are a few things that you can exploit to your advantage:

  1. If you were smart, you didn’t take the voluntary tests. Now the officer has to prove that he had a legitimate reason to pull you over in the first place.
  2. Your lawyer should subpoena the dashboard video of your arrest. Ever gotten stoned and watched an episode of COPS? It’s hilarious, right? Not so much when you’re the perp. Luckily for you, most states require police to videotape their arrests—thanks, Rodney King!
  3. The dashboard video will sometimes allow you to systematically refute most of the cop’s police report. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, police will almost always embellish or outright lie on the police report. In my case, the cop claimed that I was speeding, swerving, driving erratically, refused to pull over, stumbled upon getting out of the vehicle, displayed an aggressive demeanor, and generally acted like a drunk lunatic. None of this was true. Cops, incidentally, are trying to eliminate the ability of citizens to record them, because they dislike objective evidence that documents their actions.

My lawyer built a case against Officer Dipshit, culminating in this morning’s hearing. Officer Dipshit took the stand and said all the “facts” in his police report were accurate. The police report was inadmissible as evidence – the dashboard video, however, was admissible, and showed him contradicting himself. Officer Dipshit lied his way into a corner, and the prehistoric judge presiding over the hearing ruled that he was an idiotic, lying, power-tripping asshole, just as we suspected all along.

Total costs:

Lawyer fees: $5,000

Hours spent worrying: countless

The look on the cop and district attorney’s faces when they realize that their asses have been handed to them on a silver platter: priceless

Your life lesson: Don’t talk to cops, and learn how to fight the system.

The followup to Lawrence Mitchell’s specious law school editorial

A friend observed that more than a few people savaged the editorial I discussed in “The specious reasoning in Lawrence M. Mitchell’s ‘Law School Is Worth the Money.'” The savaging doesn’t surprise me. Sometimes there are two sides to a story, but sometimes the evidence in favor of one side or interpretation is so strong that only a fool would disbelieve it.

If you know anything at all about law schools and the structure of law schools, it’s impossible not to see Mitchell’s piece as self-serving and disingenuous at best, and cruelly mendacious at worst. The kindest thing to be said is that Mitchell might simply be experiencing the intellectual blindness all of us suffer from occasionally. Chuck Klosterman, however, is the subject of this piece and defends law school out of ignorance. I don’t mean that as a synonym for stupid, as so many people do: I mean it in the dictionary sense, “lack of knowledge or information.” That shows in his response. Sometimes outsiders can make valuable observations that insiders miss. Sometimes they’re merely ignorant about an issue or field. He’s the latter.

The Mystal piece gets this right:

Heck, when I decided to go to law school, I kind of thought that I was signing up to go to “College II: This Time It Counts.” But that kind of casual connection misses a great big point: law school is a professional school. People go there to become professionals.

This attitude is really common among the 22 – 24-year-old set. It describes a part of my attitude at that age. Unfortunately, it’s also a tremendous mistake because of the money involved. Law schools have clearly evolved into institutions that work to extract as much money as possible from their nominal students. And the feds are enabling them to do so. There are differences between the federal student loan guarantees and what the big banks did in the leadup to the housing crisis, but the similarities are profound. I think the reckoning will play out differently, but it will play out.

I should clarify that I’m not arguing law school is bad for everyone, all the time. It isn’t. If you have the kind of personality that thrives in big-firm cultures, if you get into one of the top three law schools, if you have the self-certainty and tenacity necessary to be a top lawyer, fighting with other top lawyers: law school might be for you. But that’s maybe ten to twenty percent of the current law school population. The rest are being had, and are eventually going to tire of being had by law schools and their own bad judgment.

The specious reasoning in Lawrence M. Mitchell’s “Law School Is Worth the Money”

Lawrence M. Mitchell’s “Law School Is Worth the Money” is one of the best examples of specious writing I’ve seen outside of writing produced by the federal government. It seems appropriate for me to comment Mitchell’s ideas, given how I praised Paul Campos’s book Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk. I’m going to respond to Mitchell’s major points:

The starting point is the job market. It’s bad. It’s bad in many industries. “Bad,” in law, means that most students will have trouble finding a first job, especially at law firms. But a little historical perspective will reveal that the law job market has been bad — very bad — before. To take the most recent low before this era, in 1998, 55 percent of law graduates started in law firms. In 2011, that number was 50 percent. A 9 percent decline from a previous low during the worst economic conditions in decades hardly seems catastrophic. And this statistic ignores the other jobs lawyers do.

Most other jobs don’t require the assumption of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt to get a legally-mandated piece of paper that lets them perform those jobs. That’s the real catastrophe. Law school only has one purpose: to prepare people to be lawyers. If half aren’t able to become lawyers, that’s a catastrophe for those with the debt burdens that deans like Mitchell aren’t lining up to forgive.

Looking purely at the economics, in 2011, the median starting salary for practicing lawyers was $61,500; the mean salary for all practicing lawyers was $130,490, compared with $176,550 for corporate chief executives, $189,210 for internists and $79,300 for architects. This average includes many lawyers who graduated into really bad job markets.

Notice the weasel words: “the median starting salary for practicing lawyers.” What about the 50% of graduates who can’t find law work? The same is true in the second half of the sentence: “the mean salary for all practicing lawyers was $130,490.” People who get law degrees and then can’t practice are screwed. This is a classic example of How to Lie with Statistics. Mitchell is fishing for the credulous.

Thirty years ago, getting a law degree made a lot more economic sense: the tuition was much lower, and so low that people who got law degrees but didn’t practice weren’t effectively signing up for a decade if not decades of perpetual student loan payments.

The average student at a private law school graduates with $125,000 in debt. But the average lawyer’s annual salary exceeds that number. You’d consider a home mortgage at that ratio to be pretty sweet.

Again, notice the bit about “the average lawyer’s annual salary,” which ignores how many lawyers, and especially recently graduate lawyers, are unemployed. It also ignores the misery of being an associate at a big firm, and the fact that not all or even most big-firm associates are going to make partner. Some of those average lawyers aren’t going to be lawyers for their entire careers.

The graying of baby-boom lawyers creates opportunities. As more senior lawyers retire, jobs will open, even in the unlikely case that the law business doesn’t expand with an improving economy.

People have been saying this about professors since at least the early 90s, and it’s been untrue for professors for at least that long. As Paul Campos points out, there are about twice as many J.D.s being graduated as there are jobs. That means an excess of lawyers and potential lawyers that’s only growing with time.

In the meantime, the one-sided analysis is inflicting significant damage, not only on law schools but also on a society that may well soon find itself bereft of its best and brightest lawyers.

Mitchell’s analysis could only make sense to someone arguing a legal case; it makes no sense to someone trying to assess the truth. He says, “For at least two years, the popular press, bloggers and a few sensationalist law professors have turned American law schools into the new investment banks.” That’s apt, because his essay reads like an investment banker making an idealized case for investment banking, despite the evidence all around us.

Don’t Go to Law School (Unless) — Paul Campos

Paul Campos saves what might be the best paragraph of Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk for the very end of the book, so I’m going to invert his structure and start with it:

Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know what to do with my life – so I’m going to spend three years of it going deeply and irreversibly into debt, in a quite possibly futile attempt to enter a profession that I have no actual desire to join?” I bet you haven’t, because who would ever say something that idiotic? Every year, however, thousands of people are perfectly capable of doing something that idiotic. If they weren’t, half the law schools in the country would be out of business tomorrow.

We’ve looked into the mirror and seen the enemy, and the enemy is ourselves. Sure, someone else might hand us the weapons we use to mutilate ourselves—that is, student loans—but someone who hands you a loaded gun isn’t obligating you to shoot yourself in the foot. Perhaps they shouldn’t have handed you the gun, but they did, and you can’t wholly blame that person for your mistake. It sure is more fun, however, to blame someone else for your mistakes than it is to stand up and say, “I’m an idiot and I’ve made bad life choices.”

I, however, am idiot and made a bad life choice—but I quit law school after one year, based largely on bad assumptions, fear, stupid desire, anachronistic beliefs about the legal market, and various other factors I’d rather not examine in detail. The problems with law school are slowly becoming better known: “for more than 30 years now the market for legal services has been contracting relative to the rest of the economy.” The basic problem is that law schools have been raising tuition faster than the rate of inflation for decades, and the legal market is a well-defined and studied one: there are about twice as many credentialed lawyers being minted as there are jobs for them to enter.

You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that some of those would-be lawyers are going to be left out. In the last, they would have been left with relatively little debt, which would have made arguments like “a law degree will open doors even if you don’t practice law” at least somewhat plausible and mildly tenable. Now those kinds of arguments aren’t. There are lots of common, bad reasons people go to law school: “Like a lot of other people, I went to law school I couldn’t think of anything better to do. At the time I applied I was three years removed from my undergraduate days as a somewhat aimless English major,” and, though this may sound odd, law school itself doesn’t prepare people for practicing law.

That wasn’t really a problem when tuition was cheap and proto-lawyers could work cheaply for a couple years to learn the trade. Now the stakes are high and law school’s inadequacies are a huge problem, because having more than $100,000 in law school debt that can’t be discharged through bankruptcy will hurt people for decades, especially if they can’t get the training necessary to actually practice law. As Campos says, “The two most important practical skills that any lawyer working in private practice must possess are the ability to acquire clients, and to get them to pay their bills, which happens to be two things that most legal academics have never done in their lives.”

There’s little pressure, at least right now, to change the system. There’s little pressure legal academics to learn these kinds of skills and impart them to their students. The only way I can see to create that kind of pressure is by convincing enough people not to go to law school that the schools themselves start receiving market pressure to reform. Without that pressure, they can simply continue.

Campos is a law professor and has spent the last year and a half writing about the problems in law school on the blog Inside the Law School Scam, which is like porn for academic eggheads. It’s got lots of well-researched money shots. But, also like porn, too much of it all at once is enervating, and by now the larger point—don’t go to law school—is or should be well-known. For people considering law school, the only real question can be answered with a binary: Should I go to law school? The answer is almost certainly “no.” For most people, ITLSS only needs to be read once: the problems of law schools are most pressing for law school insiders, not for the rest of us. We need to know that “most people currently attending law school would be better off not doing so.”

And it’s intellectually honest to admit as much: “I’ve become increasingly aware that my ridiculously good job is being paid for by people who are increasingly unable to get the kinds of jobs they came to law school to get.” But relatively few insiders are willing to admit that the systems they participate in and propagate aren’t good for outsiders. That’s one reason Campos’s book is so admirable. It’s also uses stories but eschews relying exclusively on them and focuses instead on money.

The more I pay attention to the world, the more I see how much money and financial constraints underlie a lot of surface phenomena. In an ideal world, money is a strong proxy for value; a company like Google or Apple is worth a lot because both provide a lot of value to people. The education world, however, has broken that link, and the breakage is getting worse with time.

I wonder how long it’s going to take until some law school decides to utterly reverse course and simply say that it’s going to have ugly buildings, a small library, huge class sizes, and very low tuition—say, $10,000 a year. Or $9,500. The professor-to-student ratio would be something like 1:100, and there’d be a dean and virtually no other administrative support or special programs. But this model would focus on being sustainable and making sure that students don’t face penury at the end of law school.

Instead of working to compete with the current model that almost all law schools employ (or deploy), Jake’s hypothetical would do the opposite, and be proud of getting people a legal education for under $30,000 in tuition, with a maximal focus on employability following graduation and a minimum focus on student loans (I’d also love to see open-source textbooks). They could advertise their alternate strategy, and maybe have a blog that explains the ways the conventional system is set up to screw students.

As far as I know, a couple of schools try the “admit everybody and charge them a lot” model, but few try the “admit many, but charge them a little model.” The notorious Thomas M. Cooley Law School does the former, and no one who knows anything about law school will go there, but they charge $54,000 per year right now. There might be institutional or ABA-imposed barriers that I’m unaware of. Still, if that kind of model is successful, it could at least challenge the hegemony of the Harvard-Yale-Stanford model of law school, which is untenable and getting worse.

See also “The specious reasoning in Lawrence M. Mitchell’s ‘Law School Is Worth the Money‘” and “Why You Should Not Go to Law School.” Do not listen to your parents, for whom law school might’ve made financial sense, or your friends’s empty congratulations, because most of your friends don’t know any better. Law school enrollments have plummeted since their 2008 high, for good reason.

Here’s an interview with a Columbia law grad who quit law for a coding bootcamp. Skipping law school would’ve made more sense, but news about how bad the legal market is relative to the tech sector has not percolated through the entire country (yet).

Don’t rent an apartment from Navid Abedian in Tucson, Arizona, or, how I learned to be wary of lawsuits

In 2008 I moved in Tucson for grad school and rented a condo that turned out to be a decent place to live, except for the landlord and a neighbor universally referred to as “Crazy Nick” (he was not crazy in a good way). When my roommate and I moved, the landlord kept about $500 of our deposit after promising that he wouldn’t and saying that he’d refund it. Stealing our security deposit violated Arizona’s Residential Landlord & Tenant Act, which regulates the usual tenant-landlord problems.

Because I’m such a smart guy and was both unhappy about his lies and interested in our money, I decided to sue him in small claims court, where I eventually won a $1,350 judgment. He paid $350 after a debtor’s hearing in January and promised to pay the rest; in June I sought another debtor’s hearing to compel him to pay at which point he threatened to come over to my apartment and kill me. For those of you keeping score, this marks the second time someone has done so in one summer, up from zero times previously in my entire life.

I filed a police report, stayed at friends’ houses for a few days, and canceled the hearing: improbable though Abedian’s threat might be, it’s not worth shooting or being shot over $1,000. He’s also a cipher to me: all I know is that he works in a carpet store, bought a condo in Tucson near the height of the ’00s real estate boom and, according to a Google search, might have his house foreclosed on. In other words, he might be desperate, and people have killed each other over far less than $1,000.

Although running away sets a bad precedent—will he just threaten to kill the next tenant who comes along? am I not doing the right thing for my fellow man—I still think capitulating wiser than continuing.

What originally seemed to mostly be entertainment (i.e. going to court and pontificating), began to suck up way too much mental energy. In the Hacker News discussion of Paul Graham’s “The Top Idea In Your Mind,” grellas wrote, “There is a lesson here about lawsuits, which will drain you of both money and peace of mind all at the same time. Sometimes you can’t turn the other cheek, much as you would like to do so, and have no choice but to fight. Having the guts to stand up for yourself (or for your company) is in itself a virtue and there are times when it is best not to walk away.”

He’s right, and a lawsuit I’d imagined as entertainment and teaching a useful lessons that might turn into dividends for the next tenants backfired. It also occupied way too much space in my mind—space that I should’ve spent writing or doing research. Instead I worried about the sanity and desperation of a guy I didn’t know and who was probably armed.

In Francine Prose’s novel Touch, the protagonist is a 14- or 15-year-old girl named Maisie, who tells her preening stepmother, Joan, a version of what happened on a bus when two or three boys touched her breasts in somewhat murky circumstances. It isn’t clear at the narrative’s start whether she consented, but the event as narrated to us is also one in which the characters act without enough culpability to call what they did anything beyond adolescent horseplay and power struggles.

Joan wants to meet a lawyer, which makes Maisie think that “I was filled with dread. Pure dread. It felt like icy water trickling down my back.” Joan says, “It would be a matter of principle.” Most people don’t lead their lives solely according to principle; pragmatics matter too. Few of us want to be martyrs for a cause, and if we do, that cause better be worth it. Most of us want to get along. Altruistic punishment is real but can be overrated. Maisie would be harming her own well-being and self-interest. I thought I was standing up for the principle of tenants’ rights and for fairness, but I chose to give up that principle when Navid threatened to kill me. Pragmatics won.

Like Maisie, I’m choosing pragmatism—which I probably should’ve learned in the first place. I’ve started Bleak House a couple of times (I’m not a Dickens fan) and understand Jardyce vs Jardyce well enough to know that lawsuits are often vehicles for mutually assured destruction more than they are about fairness or rights. When in doubt or when it’s avoidable, don’t get the law involved. And, apparently, be ready to write off your security deposit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEDIT: It’s 2014 and I’d mostly forgotten about Navid, but I just got a letter saying that he declared bankruptcy. I’m a) somehow listed as a creditor and b) the Department of Justice somehow got my current address, in order to c) invite me on some kind of creditors’ committee. I wish I couldn’t say that I don’t feel a little schadenfreude, but, alas, I’m too small a person. Apparently his wife or ex-wife, Linda Kay Abedian Stevens—or Linda Kay Stevens? the wording is unclear—was also on the lease and on the property deed.

Since leaving Tucson I have been threatened with death zero times.

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