Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good as Gold

I bet you don't know about the Provident Loan Society in New York City; not many people do. It sits obscurely at the corner of 25th Street and Central Park South in a very small very old-time bank-like building, in a part of Manhattan that has little or no identity. And I think Provident likes it that way -- to be as anonymous as possible.

Provident is a non-profit lender that makes small loans based on collateral of gold and jewelry - mostly gold. The loans are six months in length and if you cannot pay them off at that time, you get by with just paying interest. You go into a small, neutral-colored room with four bank teller windows covered with bullet proof glass and four chairs to sit in, and wait for an associate to help you fill out the almost negligible forms. Family legend has it that my father, who died 20 years ago, would take his more worthless gold coins and fragments there and get money to feed his gambling habit. My brother tells stories of having to wait in the car at rush hour in Manhattan while my father waited in line to get dough for his gold. It made him (my father) gleeful that he could trade what he saw as junk for greenbacks. And it made for many hours over the blackjack tables in Atlantic City.

I took my first Provident loan out sometime in the late 90s. I do not remember much, except it was for 4-500 dollars and I paid it back almost immediately. Over the years, I have been known to take out small loans here and there. But with this latest downturn, I suddenly owed Provident 2,100 dollars that I just didn't have. I had the due date circled in red on my calendar.

I called up the office and got a guy with a sense of humor; I told him my problem. "Why are you sweating it," he asked, "just let us put the material at auction, your loan will be paid, and you might even get some extra money from it which we would pay to you. Gold IS at an all time high." He asked if there was anything in my collateral of sentimental value; I said no, but hoped the gold nugget dug from my grandfather's short-lived gold mine in Fresno, California in 1928 was not in the group (it wasn't). I pursed my lips; I shivered. I hated not being able to pay something off. No matter that it could work out better for everyone; my nails were bitten, by the time of the auction, almost to the quick. And then I forgot about it.

So here we are at the end of April, a month after my gold has gone the way of all goods at a New York auction gallery. I go to my mailbox and there is a note from Provident. The envelope was very thin and I felt like I did when I had been rejected from Sarah Lawrence College. So I very slowly opened it. "Your valuables," it informed me, "have been sold as required by law and there is an overage." Good, I thought, maybe couple of hundred dollars, and then I thought I was reading it wrong. "The overage," it stated, "is 2,775 dollars and you need to come in and file paperwork so we can give you a check."

I was there the next day; the money is now in my bank account. Rocco, my Yorkie, can have his rabies shot and yearly health scan; I can pay my accountant for my 2006 returns (I am catching up). I can even pay the attorney working on my possible eviction. And now I am looking everywhere for gold and I've found more brooches, a chain or two, all of which mean nothing to me unless they generate some greenbacks. And how does all this strike me? I have only one thing to say: it's divinely Providential.

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