Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Countdown to Qatar: Reflections on My Past

Happy in the 
Present Moment

"Sometimes, in order to be happy in the present moment, you have to be willing to give up all hope for a better past."  Robert Holden

I found this quote recently and pinned a copy of it on my office bulletin board for the colleague who will be moving into my office.

However, as I spent the last two days shredding financial documents and tax records as part of the process of letting go, I was shocked at how those documents raised strong emotions tied to the events reflected in the pages of those files.  I've found:

  • My first tax return, filed in 1974, when I worked as a gas station attendant during the Arab Oil Embargo. That expereince sparked a life long interest in energy law.  Also, I had my first apartment --  a walk up in an old building in downtown Grinnell, Iowa.   The Sinclair station, where I worked, is now a restaurant. I earned $2,596.99 that year.

  • My first tax return after I gave up on Grinnell and moved back to St. Louis in 1975: I worked as a bartender and waitress at Blueberry Hill in the Delmar Loop. Later, I worked as a cocktail waitress at Michael's and the Time Machine (during the heyday of disco), then at the Windjammer Lounge of the Marriott Hotel (where a wore a white polyester sailor suit, with hot pants that had an anchor on the back pocket  -- Anchors Away?), and at The Tower Club, a dinner club run by the prior operator of the Playboy Bunny Club in St. Louis (where I wore a lovely Quiana wrap-dress).

  • My first tax return filed as a newly admitted lawyer showing a salary of $35,000 in 1982, the equivalent of $85,500 today. I lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma and worked for the largest law firm in the state doing natural gas regulatory work.  My boyfriend followed me there and then couldn't find a job despite his Wash U--MBA credentials.  The economy was in a gas production slump. 
  • A letter to someone at May Centers, my employer during law school, about my new job in the energy industry.  The description in it is particularly meaningful to me given the course I'm teaching this summer on Practice Before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  It reads:
"I am the newest associate with a 73 lawyer firm located in Tulsa. I am one of two attorneys involved in natural gas regulation -- a very chaotic and controversial area of the law right now.  The issue is the political bandwagon of the season. I get to D.C. for Congressional and administrative hearings about once a month.  The work is exciting and gets me out of this cow town regularly."  
  • My tax return following my move from the cow town (sorry Tulsans) to D.C. in 1984 to start a job in Big Law at a salary of $66,550, equivalent to $153,000 today!  So, today, those Big Law salaries of $160,000 are mostly keeping up with inflation.
  • My tax return for 1987 after my move back to St. Louis.  It reflects a dramatic drop in salary from $109,000 (in 1987 dollars) to $42,000. Yikes!  I guess I really needed to be back in St. Louis. 
  • My 1991 tax return reflecting employment at a firm that provided a decade of interesting work in the field of insurance insolvency.  I saw many references in my expense reports to the delicious food I ate in Santa Monica and other LA restaurants during my representation of  what was then the largest P&C insurance insolvency in U.S. history. That culinary experience made me the home cook I am today.
  • My tax return for 2001, the year I attended Missouri School of Law to earn my LL.M. degree in Dispute Resolution. One of the best year's of my life. I also found the expenses associated with finishing that degree after I had moved to Grundy in 2002.  That was one of the worst, most manic years of my life. I was commuting every week-end back to Columbia, Missouri to finish the last course I needed for the degree.  I was also learning how to teach and taught two skills courses that required a lot of class prep.  I lived in four rooms of my house with the remaining rooms still filled with unpacked belongings.  I lived like that -- without unpacking -- for another three years! (That experience makes me know I can live in a 1-bedroom apartment in Doha.)
  • My expense reports reflecting the move to Grundy with 13,000 pounds of belongings, most of which I am now abandoning. The move cost about $6,500.  
  • My first contract to teach at ASL, a summer gig for our PASO program that paid $4,000, money I very much needed after living off my savings for over a year. 
  • All the medical expenses incurred for six surgeries designed to stabilize my leg after I broke it in three places in December 2005.  Despite having good insurance, that recovery cost me about $20,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.  

  • Bills from the contractor who built what I like to call my "Ritz Carlton bathroom."  I designed the bathroom and served as general contractor.  Later, the whole town of Grundy knew I'd paid $1,000 for the high-end toilet.  What they didn't know is, that for six months, I used a port-a-potty, placed in my carport (out of the sun), while I waited for the contractors to show up and complete the work.  Contractors did a fabulous job. 

Overall, I've had a happy life, although I would have been happy to have avoided some of these experiences. 

I'll have more on this story after I tackle some more tax files. 

In the mean time, I want to close with a quote I discovered this afternoon among a set of documents I'm reviewing.  It reads:

"Today, I will be happier than a bird with a French fry." Chirp, chirp.

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