work


OY, you guys, the week I had last week.  Just, oy.  The SHORTEST day I worked all week was 15 hours, if that gives you any idea.  And I was working off-site, so I had to drive, and there was much gnashing of teeth as I sat in traffic every morning and evening.  Plus, as an extra-special treat, my car broke down on Wednesday as I was driving home from work at 10pm.  I dragged myself to the shop at 5am on Thursday to get it fixed in time to drive to work, and then on Thursday afternoon, less than 12 hours later,  a kid smashed into it as it sat helplessly in the parking lot of the school where I was working, so now it needs to go get fixed again. It got to the point, honestly, that when the very-essential-to-our-project printer ran out of toner as we were wrapping up at 8pm on Friday night, all I could think to say was “where is my plague of locusts?  I’m ready! Bring it!”

This weekend was spent largely doing things for which there was no time during the week, such as doing laundry so I can have a clean pair of underpants, and shopping for unspoiled milk.

Saturday night we did manage to roust ourselves from the deep divots our asses had formed on the couch to get all dolled up for a charity gig my mom is involved in.  They have an annual gala, and my sister and I usually get invited to help round out a table.  Its fun, and it gives John a rare chance to wear his tux.

True to form, at 3pm on Saturday I found myself wandering in and out of department stores downtown, caught in a futile search for a dress that (a) was not heinous and (b) did not cost $400.  I called my sister to complain about my plight and it turned out she was half a block away, stuck in the same retail hell.  We met up in the hosiery section of Macy’s (she needed some shapewear, a category which would probably help me immensely but of which I am inexplicably afraid) and both decided that we’d just give up the hunt and wear something we already had.  In my case, that meant a very blah, but totally acceptable, black knee-length dress.

I showed up at the event, got a cocktail, and went to say hi to my mom.
“Oh, you girls are so adorable!” she said.
“Huh?” I said.
“You and your sister! Are dressed alike!”

(pause)

“Not on purpose!”

Sure enough, when my sister walked over a few minutes later, we were wearing the same damned dress.  People kept commenting on it, assuming that we’d planned it.  One woman remarked how much she loves it when siblings dress alike.  I like it, too – when they’re FOUR.  Not so much when they’re 28 and 30.  Then it’s just weird.

So that is how I got to spend my Saturday evening sitting at a table at a gala with my sister, dressed as some cocktail attire version of the Doublement twins.

Those of you who don’t work in the legal field may not be familiar with AboveTheLaw, a law gossip website. (I know! Dorkitude at its finest! I also read a Supreme Court watch blog!  I am too cool for words!)

Anyway, ATL used to be largely a place where lawyer-on-lawyer weddings were reported, and where law firm sex scandals first broke, or where you could hear the best stories about summer associates getting wasted and doing stupid things.   These days, though, ATL is widely-read by people looking for news of the latest round of lawyer layoffs. While there are doubtless many people who take some pleasure in watching pompous BigLaw associates tumble, I derive no joy from this news.  These are my friends (some of them), and losing your job sucks no matter what your industry.

But it’s not just layoffs.  Many firms are delaying start dates for their incoming class of associates, and this has led to some interesting new developments.  As this story and others explain, many firms are offering their incoming associates substantial sums of money – $5000 a month from some firms, others $75,000 a year – to go work for a non-profit. It’s not quite the $160,000 they’d have made as first year BigLaw associates, but it’s nothing to scoff at.

On the one hand, I think this is great.  Non-profit legal agencies are chronically underfunded, and in times like these the need for their services is even greater.  Programs like this essentially give these agencies much-needed help for free.  Win-win.

On the other hand, and I don’t want to be a total grouch about this, I feel a little miffed.  Getting a non-profit legal job out of law school in ordinary times is hard, often way harder than getting a firm job.  In tough economic times its even harder.  I worked my ass off to get my job, and I know several excellent public service-minded lawyers who struggled even harder than I did in the job market.  It’s hard not to feel a little grumpy that these BigLaw associates, some of whom initially turned up their noses at doing poverty work, are now getting paid (literally) twice as much as I am to do it while they wait for their firm position to open up.

But that’s not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to provide a very few quick tips for any laid-off or deferred law firm associate types who may suddenly find themselves on the public interest job market.  I’ve seen a couple of these resumes already, I will doubtless see more, and I can already identify some mistakes that I’ve seen multiple people make.

Pseudo’s hot tips for lawyers who suddenly find themselves on the non-profit job market:

1. You should probably be able to say why you want to work here beyond “my firm is paying me if I can find some non-profit work.”  We like free labor, we do, but we’d like to see some indication that you are actually at least kinda sorta interested in the work we do.  You don’t need to have lots of experience in public interest (though that’s a huge plus), but you do need to show that you’re interested in learning and doing a good job with the kind of work we do.  If you aren’t, it’s not really worth it for us to bring you on board, free or not.

2. Don’t tell us the name of the fancypants designer who made your suit.  And probably leave the Tiffany cufflinks at home.

3.   Actually, there is no 3.

Really, that’s it!  Seriously!  Not many tips, but you’d be amazed how many people blow it on #1. Please think about the story you want to tell us before you send us your stuff!  Find a way to explain how the corporate for-profit work you’ve done has given you skills that will help us and our clients.  Please don’t just assume that we’ll be grateful to have such a stellar former BigLaw candidate as yourself offering to help out.  Non-profits are often small, people skills matter, and we want to believe you’re not going to be a total pain in the ass to work with.

Good luck out there.

This week is off to an auspicious start after a truly hellacious morning commute.

It was not hellacious in the usual way, however, which involves ill-timed trains and long-stalled red line rides.  No, today’s commute was unpleasant because of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, drag queen.

(That’s not what you were expecting, was it?  Me neither!)

For me, the first rule of morning commute is: you do not talk during  morning commute.  Most people respect this.  It is early, many of us are pre-coffee, and it’s just not nice to subject your fellow office drones to your cell phone calls or other chatter before 9am.  On the evening commute I’m a little more forgiving, but mornings are for silence and ipods.  Maybe magazines.

So the first bad sign was when I got on the train and there was a huge amount of noise- commotion, laughter, shouting, etc.- coming from the middle of the car.  I put on my ipod and hoped it would die down.

It didn’t.   I stole a glance in that direction and saw a huge, wild-eyed, still dressed up from Saturday night drag queen, sitting with a similarly-shouty friend.  They seemed to be enjoying the spectacle they were causing- the uncomfortable glances from the business-casual-clad crowd, the nervous shifting in seats from the people sitting around them.  “Whatever,” I thought.  “Annoying, but whatever.” I turned my ipod up a little.

Then, the noise got even louder, and when I glanced over again, things had taken a turn: drag queen was now standing up and leaning over to shout in the face of another passenger.  She was making fun of this poor woman’s hair, her makup, her professional dress.  She kept yelling and mocking and laughing, her face about an inch from the other passenger’s, as everyone sitting nearby looked around nervously.  It got worse and worse, the queen cursing and leaning in ever closer, making fun of this woman, baiting her, trying to get her to fight back.

And I was sitting way across the train car, but I briefly thought about intervening, yelling out “hey, knock it off” or something, ANYTHING, to divert the queen’s attention away from this poor woman.  But I didn’t.

It got me thinking, as these situations always do.  I know, there are lots of reasons not to intervene when presented with these sorts of circumstances: unpredictable people do unpredictable things, and you don’t want them turning their unpredictability toward you.  I get that.  But I also think that most of the time, people engaging in this sort of behavior are getting a cheap thrill out of lording power over some innocent bystander, but are really cowards underneath.  Many times, it seems, having someone call them out and tell them to stop is enough to get them to, you know, stop.

But no one did, and I got off the train before I saw the situation improve any, and now my morning is a little bit soured and I’m left wondering if I should have said something.

I have, in the past, inserted myself into situations like this, particularly when it’s kids/teenagers misbehaving.  (It must be the former teacher in me.  I should note: my friends and family do not love it when I do this, but sometimes it seems I cannot help myself.)  Other times, though, I keep my mouth shut.   I know that, realistically, I was sitting too far away to really do anything this morning, but I could have moved in their direction…  But maybe woman getting the haranguing, who was doing an admirable job of just ignoring it, wouldn’t even have wanted anyone to say anything, for fear it might have escalated things?

Sigh.  There are no good answers in situations like this, are there?  What about you?  Do you get involved when you see stuff like this?  Look studiously the other way?  Does it depend on the situation?

When one is wearing a long-sleeved dress shirt, tucked into pants or a skirt, how does one prevent it from puffing out all weird and creating the impression of a serious beer gut when one sits down?  And how does one avoid having to constantly having to readjust/shove it back down into one’s waistband?  Because I think the whole stand up shove shove shove adjust adjust adjust routine I’ve got going on over here is compromising my efforts to appear professional in meetings.

(No, seriously, how? I need tips! I feel like I have failed some sort of “Professional Attire 101″ course over here.)

You know the worst thing about having to work on President’s Day? It’s that no one else has to work, and thus treats Sunday evening like it’s Saturday, even going so far as to throw a karaoke party. A KARAOKE PARTY. Awesome! Thanks, neighbors! I mean, after all, who doesn’t love tossing and turning, trying fall asleep to the dulcet sounds of “You know it’s truuuuuue, everything I dooooo, I do it for yoooooou” coming through the ceiling from the apartment above us for HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS?

Seriously, it’s in my head still. I have a Bryan Adams earworm. Someone please send help.

While I keep reading of other offices that are easing gently towards Thanksgiving, and people who are already on planes to go visit far-flung family, my work has decided to schedule a huge! very important! requiring a tremendous amount of preparation! meeting for….tomorrow.  Wednesday.  The day before Thanksgiving.  Swell.

So people in my office are running around like crazy, everyone scrambling to finish projects, (or at least finish them enough that they can report at the meeting without looking like a total doofus).

I am no exception, since I have no fewer than FOUR things about which I am expected to present tomorrow.  (Upside of being a staff attorney: you get to work on lots of different projects with lots of different people.  Downside of being a staff attorney: you get to work on lots of different projects with lots of different people and are expected to be the one to write up all the summarizing documents and present out at big meetings.)

So it’s a leeeetle hectic around here right now,  and that’s unfortunately distracting me from my favorite thing to do in the week before Thanksgiving: plan menus.

See, my family are amazing, lovely, wonderful people, but we have some dietary restrictions.  Sister can’t eat gluten.  Father can’t really eat much salt or fat.  Mother (god love her) appears to not like flavor, and prefers all foods to tend towards the bland.

Since my parents live close by, tradition dictates that we eat at their place, which means my bland mom has control over the menu.  For her Thanksgiving, I try to plan at least two things that I can bring that I will love to eat but will be consumed by people other than me.  (Seems kinda rude to bring something that only you can/will eat.)  This year I’ll be doing roast asparagus and an apple-cranberry crumble with gluten-free topping.  Not bad.

But I dream about hosting my own Thanksgiving, where I am in charge of the menu, and can make whatever wackadoodle version of Thanksgiving classics I want.  This year, the menu would be:

Appetizers:

  • Spinach artichoke dip with homemade pita chips
  • Pomegranate salsa and tortilla chips (if you are looking for a delicious, different winter appetizer for Thanksgiving or holiday parties, email me.  Seriously.  This salsa is AMAZING.)
  • Crostini with brie, honey, and pears
  • Champagne Cocktails

Main:

  • Adobo Turkey with Red Chili Gravy
  • Stuffing made with actual onions and actual butter (this is the saddest one for me about our Thanksgiving- stuffing without onions and butter is a travesty.)

Sides:

  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce with pear and fresh ginger
  • Brussels Sprouts Gratin
  • Popovers and homemade crusty wheat rolls (I like contrast.)

Desserts:

What about you all?  What are your favorites?  Any dishes you’re dying to try when you finally get control of Thanksgiving?  (Or is that just me?)

When I first started working here, the IT guy, who takes his job EXTRAORDINARILY seriously, set up my voicemail for me.

“Pick a secret four-digit code that will be difficult for people to guess,” he said. “Memorize it. Don’t write it down anywhere. This is your voice mail passcode, and it should be known only to you.”

Dude, it is VOICE MAIL. This hardly seems like the kind of thing that merits this level of seriousness. I do not work for an agency that is in possession of nuclear secrets. Most of my voice mails are from (a) my boss, asking me if I’m done with that memo yet, (b) my other boss, asking me if I’m done with that other memo yet, or (c) my mother, asking if I’m ever going to call her back and what if she had fallen and were lying on the floor incapacitated and ended up having to have her leg amputated because I had failed to call her back? What then?

But fine, the guy takes his job seriously, so I played along. I made up a four digit number that was difficult to guess, memorized it, and used it as my voicemail password. Things continued happily for approximately six weeks, until one day I tried to check my voicemail and was told that “for security reasons,” it was time to reset my password to something new. And it should be hard to guess. And I should not write it down.

So I picked a new number, slightly less obscure than previous number, went about my day.

Six weeks later: same deal. This time I picked date and month of my birthday as new password because frankly, my capacity for coming up with and then remembering random four-digit passcodes is pretty limited.

Six weeks later: new password. Used bank ATM Pin.

Six weeks later: year of birth.

Etc etc etc.

Which brings us today, when my mother-loving phone demanded AGAIN that I change my password for security reasons. OH MY GOD MY VOICE MAIL IS NOT THIS SENSITIVE.

IT guy, your overzealous commitment to password security has officially backfired. If you’d let me keep my original passcode, I would still have something comparatively hard to guess. Instead, this morning I picked the only new code I could come up with at 8:54 am when I needed to check my voice mail before I went to a 9 o’clock meeting.

My password is now 1111.

There, terrorists. You now have my voice mail password. Happy snooping. If you wouldn’t mind calling my mother back and telling her that no, I haven’t forgotten about her, I’m just busy, that would be swell.

Once, when I was about 15, my mother told me I could not leave the house like that because I looked like a tramp.

Yes, she actually said tramp.  And my face immediately crumpled and I could tell that she felt bad, that it was an unfortunate word choice that conveyed a malice she didn’t feel, but I was 15 and angry and wounded and man, I made her feel that regret for DAYS afterwards, such was my fury.

The cause of this dramatic mother-daughter fallout was a jumper.  Yes, a jumper.  As in, the kind of dress you wear over a turtleneck.  I believe this particular jumper even featured an argyle print.  (I know! Trampy!)  Specifically, the jumper was short- miniskirt short- and my mother thought that it was far too short to wear out of the house.  (Dear Mom:  I’ve seen pictures of you in the 60s.  You are fooling NO ONE with your sudden fondness for demure hemlines.)

This is one of the annoying things about being a tall girl- clothes are always too effing short.  (I know, grass is always greener, who am I to complain etc etc, but I say this: short people, you can always have your clothes altered to make them shorter.  Taking them to the tailor to make them longer? Not so much.)  Pants always hover two inches off the ground, prompting flood jokes.  Coat sleeves are too short.  Blouse sleeves are too short.  Skirts are a constant problem, and forget about finding a floor length dress that actually reaches the floor.  It is so, so much better than it used to be- thank you Gap and Jcrew for catching on to tall sizing and saving me from buying all my pants in the mens section like I did in high school- but there has not been the same kind of industry adoption of tall lengths for skirts.  At most stores, there is one length of skirt, and if you are a tall girl, it just means more leg is showing.  Sometimes, this problem is truly ridiculous- I tried on the cutest little dress at Old Navy the other day, then realized that if I even leaned over to scratch my knee the whole world would be able to see my underpants, so back on the rack it went.

After the Dramatic Jumper Incident of 1993, I have always been a little skittish about hemlines.  Yeah, I know, Ally McBeal made the miniskirt suit look normal, but I am very conscious of not wanting to show too much (very very pasty white) leg at the office.  I especially fear rear slits in skirts, since they often seem to toe the line between “nice design element” and “inadvertent peephole into a very private region”.

So help me, internet.  Today was day one million of what I’m calling the “neverending negotiations that will never end ever oh my god” deal at my work, and I have worn all the suits I own at least twice, so today I pulled a black dress out of the closet, threw a gray jacket over it, and called it a suit.  Trouble was, when I got to work, this is what I noticed:

Uh, so that’s, um,  kind of a lot of knee I’m showing there.

I swear, when I stand up, this dress hits just above the kneecap.  I do not know what is going on when I sit down.  (I am choosing not to believe that it has anything to do with the size of my ass when sitting and the resultant displacement of fabric.  I’m not good at physics.)

So I’d ask my mom what she thinks, but (a) I don’t live with her anymore, so she’s not available, and (b) I’m not sure my psyche could take another “tramp” comment, so I ask you, oh wise and wonderful internet:  is this dress, worn with a very conservative jacket, which comes to the knee when standing, too short for the office?

I once had a very interesting conversation with a high-powered female executive who was sharing what she called “tricks of the trade.”  She had a bunch of tips for us (I was with a group of young women professionals) about how to assert our authority and manage situations without seeming too “harsh” or “bossy” or “mean.”

Setting aside for the moment the (huge! looming! conversation-worthy, except I don’t have the time this morning to get into it!) question about the extent to which women feel the need to “soften” their approach in professional settings where men can be big bumbling rude jerkfaces and people will respect them for their “toughness,” there was one tip that I found particularly funny.  She said that she often takes off her watch and slips it into her bag before she goes into a room to run an important meeting.

“That way,” she said, “when I know that the conversation is going on too long and we have to move things along quicky, I can say ‘I’m sorry, I forgot my watch today, can someone tell me the time?’ And then when someone tells me, I can say ‘Oh goodness, it’s later than I thought, we’d really better move this along.'”

It never occured to me that the mere act of noting the time and trying to keep a meeting moving could be perceived as being “pushy,” but this woman SWORE by this trick.  “I could never do that, even if I thought it was useful,” I remember thinking at the time, “because I start to twitch and look reflexively at my wrist every 30 seconds when I’m not wearing a watch.”

Well today, like it or not, I get to test that trick.  Big meeting starting shortly, and my watch is hanging out contentedly on my dresser at home, where I forgot to put it back on after my shower this morning.  I’ll let you know how it works.

Am I the only one who gets nervous and twitchy when I forget my watch?  Please tell me I’m not the only one…

My commute is giving me old lady posture.  This is a problem.

Every day, I trek about 4 blocks to the el stop, get on the el (where I invariably have to stand for the entire 40 minute ride), and then walk another two blocks to my office.

Accompanying me on this daily journey is my trusty messenger bag.  Some lawyers might carry fancy leather briefcases, but those are lawyers who have enough discretionary income to spend some of it on something as unfun as a leather briefcase.  I have to save my limited discretionary income for gin, so I carry the same bag that I have carried since 1997:

Those Timbuk2 people dont lie when they say their bags last forever.

The problem.

(Those Timbuk2 people do not lie when they say their products last forever.  This thing has lasted for 10+ years of heavy daily use, first carrying huge college textbooks, then heavy teacher’s manuals and student work,  then a laptop and huge law casebooks.  And no, I cannot for the life of me figure out why my 18-year-old self decided to purchase a bag in Packers colors.  The Bears fan in me keeps hoping the thing will wear out so I have an excuse to buy a better color scheme.  It’s not cooperating.)

Now it does not hold textbooks, or teacher’s manuals, or casebooks.  Most days it does not even hold a laptop.  But it is still bothering the heck out of my neck.

A peek inside

A peek inside

So I thought it was time to take a cold, hard look at the ridiculous amount of crap I’m schlepping on a daily basis, to see where I can lighten the load.

The wallet stays.

The wallet stays.

Wallet.  Can’t get rid of this for obvious reasons.  Plus, contains very little actual money, so is surprisingly light.

Lunchbox

Lunchbox

Shut up.  Seriously, stop laughing.  Bento lunchbox is awesome.  It is flat, and fits easily into the bag, and holds lots of food, and saves lots of money that would otherwise be spent on subpar sandwiches at Corner Bakery.  I love lunchbox.  It stays.

File Folder, Notebook, Book

File Folder, Notebook, Book

These things are, admittedly, kind of heavy, but I can’t give them up.  The file folder contains work to do at home, which enables me to leave the office at a reasonable hour.  The notebook I try to always have with me to jot down notes, phone numbers, etc.  After years and years of losing the envelopes and scraps of paper I used to write that stuff down on, I’m committed to my notebook system. The book is a fabulous tome containing the history of and recipes for old-timey cocktails, and while I suppose technically I could attempt my commute without a book, I find that it’s important to have something to look at other than your fellow passengers, so as to avoid accidental eye contact which seems always to lead to (ugh) early morning conversation with a stranger.

Rain accoutrements

Rain accouterments

We had a storm.  You may have heard about it.  My hair is very sensitive to rain.

That’s it for the main compartment.  Time to turn to the pockets:

Pocket dwellers

Pocket dwellers

Well…gosh.  I appear to be deeply concerned about lip care.  Let’s take a closer look:

So!  John!  All those times I asked you in accusatory tones why you had stolen my carmex/burt’s bees and hidden it from me?  Um, my bad.  Also, glad to see that I’m keeping the two nicest cosmetic items I own (those two Chanel lip glosses) in the ratty dingy depths of my work bag, considering I don’t wear lipstick to work, like, ever.  This also might explain why I ended up swiping Vaseline on my lips in a fit of desperation before the wedding we went to this weekend when I couldn’t find any lipstick anywhere in the house.

So, what have we learned here today?  Clearly I can remove, oh, a half dozen lip balms/glosses/sticks from my bag.  But I have a hunch that the combined weight of a burt’s bees, a carmex, two lip glosses and a kiehl’s tube is hardly going to make a difference for my poor neck.

I guess the only other option is to invest in one of these:

That, plus a pained expression and a hunch to my shoulders, ought to be enough to buy me a seat on the train so I can set the damned bag down, dontcha think?

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