Going To Zero

by Kevin Depew

On July 11, 2011, I stopped paying my bills. I remember it was very hot outside and the air was still that day. I was in the office as usual sitting at my desk. Shortly after the market opened I pulled out my checkbook and a stack of bills. I made out check #1472 to “Northeast Properties, LLC” for $2,325. In the memo line I wrote, “Rent, 07/15/2011–08/14/2011.” I had just put it in an envelope and sealed it when I noticed Stuart walking toward me.

I think I said something like, “What’s up, man?”

But he walked right past me like I was a ghost. He climbed up onto the shelf just below the 10-foot window immediately to the right of my desk and reached down and opened it, knocking my phone and a couple of family photos onto the floor as he pulled the window up to its maximum open point. Hot, stagnant, July morning air made an indifferent attempt to displace air conditioned office building air before quickly falling back. Standing on the window seal, Stuart looked down at me and said, “We’re going to zero.” Then he jumped.

Below is a list of the bills I stopped paying that day:

Capital One Credit Card ending in 4773
HSBC Credit Card ending in 8137
American Express Card ending in 51113
Best Buy Credit Card ending in 1831
Barneys Credit Card
Bill Me Later account ending in 7442
Con Edison account ending in 3442
T-Mobile account ending in 4001

I also technically stopped paying my IRS direct debit for the $8,000 or so I owed in back taxes, but only because I stopped going to work the day after Stuart jumped and therefore no longer received any directly deposited paychecks so there was nothing in my bank account for the IRS to directly debit. The last time I checked my bank account it was negative $284.12. For some reason I remember my absence of money to the penny. By mid-August T-Mobile had disconnected my phone so I no longer had to deal with any collection calls.

Of course, because of 2012, the collection calls had been few and far between anyway. At first, debt collectors were overwhelmed. Then, they no longer cared. For I had not been alone in my delinquent ways. Oh no. I was actually among the tail end of the third wave of defaulters. By May it was estimated that around 100 million people formerly classified as delinquents, defaulters and deadbeats had taken up 2012 as a rationale for walking away from their debts. They called themselves The 12 Repudiators. That’s 12 as in 2012, The End of Days. After all, The 12 Repudiators sounded much better than The 12 Deadbeats.

Lawmakers initially passed what they thought might be incentives for people to avoid joining The 12 Repudiators, incentives which, after they were ignored, were revised to punishments, punishments which, after they became unenforceable, were revised to pleas, pleas which, after they were ignored, became silence.

Only the IRS bothered to call me, on August 6, one day after they attempted to debit my checking account with the negative $284.12 balance. That was my final phone conversation. Afterwards, at least for the few days or weeks or whatever it was that that my phone still worked, I stopped answering it, even calls from family and friends. Everything, the conversations, the questions, they became too much. So, instead of answering the phone, I did nothing.

Until now, doing nothing has been the extent of my preparations for 2012, The End. Until now, I would wake up each day and do absolutely nothing. I didn’t read. I didn’t get drunk. I didn’t go to the meetings where everyone prays, or the meetings where everyone fucks. I didn’t do anything. I would sometimes wander the city, but without purpose, so even that was nothing.

Sure, I would sometimes notice hunger or thirst and would spend some time trying to make them go away, but those needs occurred at such an involuntary micro-personal level that I can’t really consider satisfying them doing anything more than blinking my eyes or breathing.

Until now, I did nothing. And now this. This. This thing that you’re reading. This is the only thing I’ve done, maybe in my whole entire life. And just look at it. If there really was a god, he or she would right now strike you dead where you are sitting or standing for handling or even associating with something as pitiful as this. Until now, I did nothing. Now, I write. And it’s not enough. It’s still, properly speaking, doing nothing, and the vanity with which I hold on to every word here is so gross and pitiable that were we standing here face-to-face I couldn’t bear to look you in the eye.


In the end, of course, Stuart was right. We did go to zero. I stopped paying attention to the market when I stopped going to work, but one day I overheard a couple of holdouts talking about it.

– No bid.
 — What?
 — Nothing. It’s over.
 — Fucking idiots. What if they’re wrong?
 — Doesn’t matter.
 — There’s gotta be something.
 — I can’t believe this is happening.
 — What if they’re wrong?
 — Now there is no wrong.
 — What are you going to do?
 — Nothing.

After that, I started writing.

Initially there was a sense of urgency to my writing, what with what everyone said was The End approaching. Perhaps you would have noted that in the first few paragraphs before I revised it out.

“Hurry,” I told myself. “The End is coming!”

But, after a period, this sense of urgency fell flat. It felt manufactured, fake.

“Urgency for what?,” I asked. “For a reader? And for the reader to then do what? To criticize? Or worse, to praise?”

“Maybe,” I later answered myself, which followed yet another revision, “the sense of urgency resides in simply finishing.”

A long pause followed. I returned to doing nothing.

“No. There is no finishing,” I told myself after a long time. “There’s only The End.”

And so what you read here, which at first, to a generous editor, may have seemed at least capable of being worked into a pacing with a sense of urgency, was revised to be flatter, more matter-of-fact, more chronicled, and then, later, revised to what you are reading now, which is none of those things.


Time comes hard now. But it comes. There is no countdown clock, no final record-keeping, no balance of life accounting for The End of Days. There are no tallies and few consequences that can stand against the final one they say is coming but which nobody quite knows for sure. Every slate is simultaneously cleansed and fouled. Days slide by without being marked as such, just one period falling into the next.

Despite it all, some people persevere. With all reference points having vanished, I don’t know if they are heroes or fools, but it doesn’t matter. I see barter in Union Square. I see makeshift publishers of news and events. I see good works done for nothing.

But some people crumble. I also see bad deeds done for nothing. Literally, nothing, as no goods or property were exchanged in the violence. I see familial horrors committed in fits of pious rage and delusional anger against those whose only guilt lay in being among the last ones chosen in a random, genetic time lottery.

In the end, maybe that was why I left my own family. I couldn’t be trusted to do anything, so better to leave than to simply stay and do nothing, or worse.

It must be getting close. Everyone says they feel it. Today a mocking savagery permeates everything — it mocks us because there is no longer anything to which to affix our usual desperate illusions of permanence, and left to our own devices we’ve created a maze of unexpected atrocities interspersed with meaningless generosities that somehow, occasionally, when one least expects it, take on a vague hint of poignancy.

In other words, it’s a year like any other year.

Kevin Depew is a writer and editor living in New York City with his wife and two-year-old daughter. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Minyanville.com, a financial Web site. He is available in all the usual locations, and sometimes writes a comment here at The Awl or posts something on Tumblr under the alias Screen Name.

Photo by Jelle Vermeiren, from Flickr.