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What It's Like To Fail

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The personal story of David Raether, a former comedy writer for the sitcom Roseanne who later became homeless.

On Christmas Day, 2001, I sat down at my Yamaha G2 grand piano, set up my metronome, and opened up a book of Shostakovich’s “Preludes.” It was late afternoon, and the warm, orange light of the fading day poured into my five-bedroom house — paid for by my $300,000 a year income as a Hollywood comedy writer — in San Marino, California, a wealthy suburb of Los Angeles. My wife, Marina, was cooking dinner for me and our eight children, and it was as happy a Christmas afternoon as I would ever have.

****

On Christmas morning, 2008, I woke up on the floor of the 1997 Chrysler minivan I lived in, parked behind the Kinko’s just two miles from my old house in San Marino. It was raining, and I was cold, even though I had slept in three layers of clothes. It was one of those blustery storms that regularly whoosh down from the Gulf of Alaska and pummel Los Angeles during the winter. I climbed out of the van and walked to a Starbucks five blocks away. Although I didn’t have any money, I had scavenged the Sunday Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle from another coffeehouse a couple days before. The baristas didn’t mind me sitting quietly for several hours every day to warm up and kill time.

I was neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic, nor was I a criminal. But I had committed one of the more basic of American sins: I had failed. In eight years, my career had vanished, then my savings, and then our home. My family broke apart. I was alone, hungry, and defeated.

http://priceonomics.com/what-its-like-to-fail/

Of course its all down to property and MEW - the key quote "We felt like criminals for spending a final few hours in the house we owned for twelve years."

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Oh, the horror.

According to the article, he was paid about $300,000 a year for writing and another $650,000 just to make up ideas for new TV shows, and... spent it all. And now he's broke.

That's such a sad story. Look at me, I'm crying here. My girlfriend's crying. Even the hamster is crying.

Edited by MarkG

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EIGHT kids!!!

Yep, sounds like they were his undoing.

I thought it was a nice article, positive and remarkably free of bitterness, blaming others etc. He comes across as a good bloke.

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>>> I thought it was a nice article, positive and remarkably free of bitterness, blaming others etc. He comes across as a good bloke.

Same here.

Rather than dismiss the guy as a loon, view his story as a cautionary tale and learn what you can from it - especially since nobody's job is safe these days. The 8 kids and $300k/year thing aside, imagine what you would have done different had you lost a good paying job. One big mistake it appears he made was trying to defend his family's lifestyle once he was no longer employed. I'll bet another was being too choosey in his early job search. Yet another seems to be waiting too long to learn new job skills. On the other hand, the fact he, as a 50 year old homeless man, was able to upgrade his skills and get back on his feet is really inspiring.

Also, I liked this quote: "I made a thousand decisions, large and small, that seemed reasonable at the time but cumulatively led to our situation". Isn't that how it is for many folks. The way to avoid that problem, at least when it comes to a job loss, is to hope for the best but immediately prepare for the worst.

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Yes, I, David Raether, the smart and funny guy who graduated with honors from college and read thousands of books and played the piano and went to church and won television awards, was homeless.

If only he'd read a couple of books on family planning and basic economics.

8 kids!?! why???

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What's it like to fail?

What's it like for smart employed people in their 20s and 30s to have a chance of opportunity.. to have chance of a life even a 10th of what he's know for spending and happy times, with basic house prices as they are, is more of a question UK.

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A lot of people are going to be in a similar position one day here.

There are lots of high earners who just use it to leverage themselves up for more mortgage debt.

They have been lucky so far, but a less benign economy, house price falls and one lost job and a lot of people are going to get caught out.

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Because children are the greatest joy in life, and he could, he thought, afford them, perhaps.

Agreed. Why 8 though? Too much of anything in life is rarely a good idea. I like Whisky but I have an occasional dram not a couple of litres.

Tbh I find it reckless and irresponsible for anyone in a developed country to have more than 2 children. Our western style consumption means we have a disproportionate impact on resources. It's not like the 19th century when we lived simpler lives and infant mortality was still a factor.

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If only he'd read a couple of books on family planning and basic economics.

If only he'd went into banking - take whatever insane risks with other people's money that you like in order to make big bucks for yourself and if it all goes wrong get unlimited bailouts from the state and come out of it richer than you went in whilst everyone else gets poorer to pay for it.

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Not really enough detail to tell, but I'm curious about the logic of MEW to fund general living costs - surely it's a guaranteed disaster in the medium to long term. Your payments are going to go up and the money is going to run out, leaving you worse off than when you started.

Much as we deride MEWing to buy holidays and 4*4s, at least it doesn't have an inbuilt self-destruct.

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Not really enough detail to tell, but I'm curious about the logic of MEW to fund general living costs - surely it's a guaranteed disaster in the medium to long term. Your payments are going to go up and the money is going to run out, leaving you worse off than when you started.

Much as we deride MEWing to buy holidays and 4*4s, at least it doesn't have an inbuilt self-destruct.

It's all based on either neverending HPI, or the assumption of strongly rising wages. Both of which look shaky.

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It's all based on either neverending HPI, or the assumption of strongly rising wages. Both of which look shaky.

Ah, of course - I should have thought of that. I thought maybe unicorns or something might be involved, but it's just hubris.

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Rather than dismiss the guy as a loon, view his story as a cautionary tale and learn what you can from it - especially since nobody's job is safe these days. The 8 kids and $300k/year thing aside, imagine what you would have done different had you lost a good paying job.

It's totally basic. Don't need to learn from it. Anyone who needs to learn from it shouldn't be allowed to have a mortgage or own a house.

What done different? Not spend as much, including on tutors and clubs. Downsized to a smaller house or cheaper area instead of MEW. Not getting to stage where deputies of the police at the door to ensure will leave house they bought cheap in 1995? With all that annual income through the years....

Anyway when prices turn in UK again, sure we'll see more lobbying on behalf of the 'victims' with ridiculous excuses, wanting them rescued because of their "learned helplessness" towards debt/spending which has proven to be an asset in modern times. Just like in 2009, leading to years more reflation to 2013 (thanks a lot). The 'cause of the victims', conveniently keeping asset prices high for the majority of equity-heavy VIs, and at the expense of billions of individuals / future generations, who come into a system where it's all VI'd against them from the beginning with a lot less opportunity to prosper, offered HTB2 as a consolation, because debt-victims need to be protected.

Finally, in 2006, unable to refinance any further, we lost our home to foreclosure. Actually, you don’t lose the house. The house loses you. The house isn’t going anywhere. You and your family are the ones who get lost. In our case, an investor bought the house with the intention of renovating it and flipping it. I hope she made money on it.

Clicking the pic of his old house, it gives what presumably is the address. Other sites suggest it's seen double-digit recovery HPI since 2009, thanks to QE and whatnot. Projected HPI 10%+ too. ' Zillow predicts 91108 home values will rise 10.7% next year, compared to a 12.2% rise for San Marino as a … ' http://www.zillow.com/homedetails/1742-Warwick-Rd-San-Marino-CA-91108/20704989_zpid/

1742 Warwick Rd San Marino, CA 91108

Last Sold Price: $2,200,000

Built: 1935

Lot Size: 0.28 Acres

Sold On: May 30, 2008

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Comes over as selfish to me....worked all hours God sends then is surprised the marriage falls apart..? He was doing what he thought validated himself and polished his ego, but forgot or never realised that relationships take input and time for each other. He says that his home was more like a drop in, inbetween work. So basically he couldn`t afford the lifestyle and something had to go.

And forgot ! We refinanced and refinanced and refinanced again, taking out money for living expenses each time. This was considered a smart move by many in those years.

:blink: idiot

Edited by GinAndPlatonic

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Comes over as selfish to me....worked all hours God sends then is surprised the marriage falls apart..?

It's the US. Even teachers need a second job to make ends meet if Breaking Bad is anything to go by (I'm thinking of the car wash in the first episode, rather than dealing meth). So, even those just trying to earn a basic living can find that they work all hours.

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It's the US. Even teachers need a second job to make ends meet if Breaking Bad is anything to go by (I'm thinking of the car wash in the first episode, rather than dealing meth). So, even those just trying to earn a basic living can find that they work all hours.

That`s fiction.

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That`s fiction.

A lot of fiction and comedy is based (maybe somewhat loosly) on reality, the US employment numbers are a work of fiction (at least in the way they are presented), worker participation rate is poor so quite possibly those jobs are being shared amongst those already in work.

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I never realised that. Thanks.

In other news, over 62% of US teachers have a second job. That's reality.

Ah.. good facts.

Interesting, but then I was talking about the guy in the OP`s article and it seems to me he squandered the relationship he had with his wife and possibly his children. Modern day life encourages an unhealthy obsession with things like houses and amassing either money and assets over and above what is needed to live a comfortable life While disregarding stuff that is more important like relationships.

Houses are largely status symbols nowadays, rather than places to live which give individuals & family security. This is what gives borrowing and debt such appeal as it allows almost instant gratification by creating an illusion of wealth and strokes our egos. It`s all ok until it isn`t. this is what happened to the guy in the blog. He didn`t quite think things through and just thought life was easy peasy. Sure it is for some but I don`t have sympathy for people where the risk taking doesn`t work out.

This is an educated guy who MEW`d until it all went bad, had children until he couldn`t afford to feed them and worked flat out almost to the point of exhaustion,until he didn`t have any more work offers and couldn`t maintain the illusion he created for himself and his family.

Edited by GinAndPlatonic

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Maybe he and his wife are staunch Catholics?

Perhaps, as he does say he was a churchgoer. However, his wife wasn't Catholic enough to forego shacking up with another man once the marriage ended. It's possible he was RC and she wasn't, and he somehow made her have 8 kids to fit in with his views, but it seems unlikely.

Whatever the reason, it's obvious that the main problem was having too many children and expecting too wealthy a lifestyle to go with them. He spunked his money - literally. I disliked the way the article implied that children were somehow some sort of miracle that meant he wasn't responsible for his financial situation, when there's absolutely no reason why anyone in a developed country needs to have that many children. If you want them, that's fine, but accept the consequences.

A lot of these articles tug on the heartstrings in the 'it could happen to any of us' manner but when you dig deeper you usually find the situation is more complicated.

There are other things that don't add up about this article, eg:

Who was paying for the keep of his children that he farmed out to 'friends'?

Why couldn't said friends put him up as well?

If the family were all so close and loving how come they all split into different directions?

Why didn't he have any friends or relations who could help him out?

How did he pay for his food, fuel, laundry etc when he was homeless?

At one point he says he didn't know where he would sleep that night and whether the spot would be wet, then elsewhere he said he slept in his minivan. Which was it?

I suspect he was never actually 'homeless' but probably just lived on the road for a few days at a time between casual addresses. Not exactly 'Down and Out in Paris and London.'

The one good thing the article shows is that casual labour has been reinvented via the internet and that a resourceful person doesn't need to go through the rigmarole of getting a 'proper' job to survive.

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