June 2006


Remember on Sesame Street how each episode was “brought to you by” a letter? Or a number? Were they ever brought to you by a color? Beacause if my life was Sesame Street, today’s episode would be brought to me by the color red.

Red Part 1:

I had a meeting with a partner to discuss a real estate deal he’s working on. I’m in charge of investigating one teensy tinsey issue of a huge honkin’ deal. To give you a sense of it- my issue is worth $660,000, which seems like a lot until you realize the whole deal is worth $450 million, at which point a measly $660,000 sounds almost insulting.

So, partner is talking, and I’m nodding politely and taking the occasional note, and then we get to this odd choice of law provision in my teensy tinsey part of this deal and I say “well, maybe they chose the Eastern District of Virginia (the “Rocket Docket”) because of its reputation for efficiency and because local counsel is located in D.C.”

“I don’t know about that,” he says. “I’m just a dirt lawyer. What’s a docket?”

“Um” I stammer.

“No, I know what a docket is, I’m just kidding,” he says. “You didn’t think I don’t know what a docket is, did you?”

Shit. Obviously the guy knows what a docket is. He is a PARTNER at a LAW FIRM. I don’t want him thinking that I thought that he doesn’t know what a docket is, so I say, (truthfully) “oh, no, it’s not that, I just thought you were quizzing me on my knowledge of dockets, which seems awfully harsh for a Friday afternoon.”

“Well in that case,” he said, “let’s make it a quiz. What’s a docket?”

“Um, no, it’s okay, we both know what a docket is,” I reply, flushing crimson. Of course I know what a docket is, but it’s sort of weird to try to explain it on the fly. It’s like if someone asked you to define “report card” without warning- we all know what it is, there’s no need for explanation, but if you were forced to explain it to a stranger from another planet it might actually take a while- you’d have to start by explaining the concept of classes, then the idea of grades, before you could even get to report card, plus it’s the kind of thing that you just know so inherently that it’s awfully hard to explain it- it just is. So no, I don’t want to tell the freaking partner what my definition of a freaking docket is. Jesus.

“You’re right,” he said. “But you sure you don’t want to tell me anyway?”

“Nope!” I’m tomato-colored now. “We’re good!”

He laughs heartily and we continue the meeting for 20 minutes or so and then and I think we’re all done when suddenly he says “Just one more question. Do you always turn so incredibly red when you get embarassed?”

“Um, well,” I say, flushing EVEN REDDER THAN BEFORE, “I guess so!”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

Um, thanks? Who the hell calls someone out on their blushing? It’s like saying “hey, do you always sweat a lot?” It’s not like it’s something I can control. It’s a PHYSIOLOGICAL REACTION. Sheesh.

Red Part 2:

Middle aged men having happy hour at a BREW PUB drinking red wine instead of the house-brewed beer and saying things like “well, it’s not a 2000 bordeaux malbec blah blah blah- it’s not even as good as a 2003 blah blah blah- ha ha ha! but it’s pretty good, pretty good!” and then passing the single glass of red wine back and forth between the 4 of them look like tools.

Red Part 3:

(WARNING: Boys are likely to find this part gross and should stop reading here.)

SO! I could not have picked a better day in my whole entire life to be wearing a red patterned skirt, if you get my drift. Phew! Seriously. Not a better day in my whole life. Not even when I was 14 and things were still a little unpredictable in the skirt region, if you catch my meaning. Ahem. Because if I had not been wearing a red skirt, I would not have been able to stand up from my chair, or I would have had to go buy a new skirt on my lunch hour or something. Instead I got to buy a new blouse, which was much more fun.

Here’s the thing about lawyers: they’re a competitive bunch. Not much of a revelation, this, but there you have it.

I knew lawyers were competitive about work things: driving hard deals, trying to outmaneuver their opponent in court, competing to see who can send the most terse email with the fewest hints that the writer might be human and not robot- you know, the usual.

What I hadn’t counted on was how competitive they could be about charity work. Yesterday, 10 of us put togehter two teams for a charity event in Daly Plaza. This event involved groups of semi-in-shape professionals changing into shorts and tshirts in the middle of the day and riding stationary bikes at full sprint for eight minutes each and seeing whose team can ride farthest put together. (I know! Random! Stationary bikes? The seemingly-arbitrary 8-minute time frame? Daly Plaza?)

Holy. Toledo. Riding a bike a full sprint for 8 minutes with a group of 4 other lawyers hovering over you and checking how fast you are going then going over the other team to see how fast they are going then coming back to tell you that “you’re behind! pick it up!” is REALLY FREAKING HARD. You know that scene in Bridget Jones’ Diary? When she decides she’s going to start exercising and goes on the elliptical trainer for like two hours and then gets off and her legs promptly buckle and she falls over? Yep! That was me! (Except, thankfully, I was able to catch the handlebar of the bike and pretend that I’d tripped instead of having to admit that I was so exhausted my legs could hardly hold me. Then the partner whose turn it was next started yelling at me to get off the bike so he could get going.)

I was really proud of my ride- according to our odometer, I did 4.1 miles in 8 minutes- until I saw the scores of all the other lawyers on our team. There were 5 partners who participated. Average age: 68. Average ride: 4.6 miles. One guy did 5.1. I seriously thought we were going to have a medical emergency on our hands- these guys flatly refused to let themselves be beat by summer associates or (god forbid) girls, and were ready to end it all right there and die on the bike if that’s what it took to get 4.7 instead of 4.6. It was insane. I was beaten handily by a man with two fake hips. Two!

As we were staggering back to the office, the most competitive of the partners, (the one who announced after, another summer associate got 4.4, “I will not be beaten by a girl!” right before he passed out on the bike,) came up to me and asked, “so, why have I not seen you at our weekly running club? You should come out and run with us!”

To which I replied in my head “there is no way on God’s green earth that I will ever, EVER, put myself in an athletic situation with you ever again because I might die,” and out loud I said “you’re on!” Maybe I’ve got a little of that competitive lawyer streak in me after all.

Does your graduate school have this?

At my law school, papers are never really “due” during the term when you take the class. Instead, papers are “due” the first day of the quarter following the class. So if you took a class in the fall, and needed to write a paper for it, that paper would be due on the first day of spring quarter.

So it is that I come to be frantically writing a paper on policing strategies for a class that I took in the winter. As in, completed in March. As in, it is now the middle of summer (okay, technically it’s only 6 days into summer, but it sure feels like the middle of summer) and I am trying to remember that great idea I had for a new policing program back in February. Terrific.

I guess the positive thing about writing a 30-page paper during your summer vacation is that you really really (Really!) don’t so much care about the outcome. If I were still in the class I might be more invested in trying to impress the professors, or distinguish myself from my classmates or, you know, not suck in public. Now? Now I don’t care so much. Especially because my professors have both been ousted from their jobs in the mayor’s office since the class ended, so the whole “we might use your idea in a future policy!” thing has become more of a “I will read your paper while I sit, bitter and unemployed and alone, wondering how I got caught up in all this scandal!” thing.

Not caring for me is a HUGE step, (you’ll be shocked to learn I’m kind of a type-A school overachiever) so it was with some glee that I finished an entirely average 32-page mediocrity on Sunday, saved it, and emailed it to myself for one final read over on Monday morning before I emailed it to my prof. You can see where this is going. I opened the email on monday morning and found a 3 page, very early draft. I figured I must have just sent myself the wrong version, so I went about my day, came home, and looked for the real, full-length version. And it was gone. Gone. A look for it everywhere including a search of temp files and autorecovery kind of gone. A put my husband who is good with computers on the case and even he is unable to find anything and is left shaking his head in confusion kind of gone. Goney McGoner. Poof!

Shit. The only thing worse then spending two days of your summer vacation writing a 32-page paper? Is spending a third day WRITING THE SAME PAPER AGAIN.

Maybe today will be the day that I break down that last the summer associate taboo and start drinking at lunch. I think I’ve earned it.

It is interesting, I guess, that I choose to write this blog under a pseudonym. First of all, I’d venture that at least 6 out of the 8 of you who read this know exactly who I am. Second of all, the pseudonym and the rest of my cover are pretty easy to figure out if you were committed to cracking the code. Still, I persist in pretending to maintain my anonymity because I AM TERRIFIED OF MY LAW SCHOOL. If someone who was not one of my dozen or so friends found this and figured it out, I’d suddenly feel compelled to be a lot less candid in my rantings about why my classmates lack souls.

So imagine, if you will, the delicate position in which I found myself when the lovely Samantha Jo, who is all brave and shit and doesn’t use a pseudonym at ALL on her blog, and who has been a faithful reader and commenter, asked what my real name was. What to do? Well, I battled this out internally for about .3 seconds and up and told her. And then we went for drinks. It was like a date! Except for bloggers! And it was totally totally fun!

We went here, which is one of my favorite places to have a glass of wine after work, mostly because it is filled with couches where you can lie back and slouch down in there and sort of pretend that you’re at a cooler version of your house instead of in a bar. Also, I have this memory of these thin-crust pizzas that they make, with rustic ingredients and cracker-thin crust and all big and irregularly shaped and served on a wooden pizza holder…..so we order one to split, and it comes, and don’t I look like a doofus now because here I am trying to impress my blog friend with this huge, rustic-chic pizza and instead it’s maybe 6.5 inches across, perfectly round, and looks suspiciously like it just came out of a frozen Lean Cuisine box.

Samantha seemed willing to overlook the pizza problems, though, and we had a lovely chat, and I was forced to totally reconsider all my opinions about Wheaton, and it was frankly just very cool to realize that someone can be cool and fun in writing and be that way in person, too. Next time I just have to convince her to do our blog date here– I’ve been trying to convince John to go to “make his own man bag” with me, and you’ll be shocked to learn he’s not all that hip to the idea.

At a wine tasting event at the city’s oldest liquor store last night, the owner, a third generation manager of the family business, said “we’ve seen this neighborhood go from great to horrible and we’re so thrilled to see it’s getting back to great again.” This got my ire up. As far as I can tell, the neighborhood was never that bad. I know that 10 years ago, a period she described as “horrible,” it certainly wasn’t. It was never blighted the way the south side has been blighted, the way the west side is blighted now. It was always a mile from the Loop. It was always close to the Gold Coast. And I truly hate when people get all alarmist about a neighborhood because there are some homeless people living there, or young black kids loitering on the street. Drives me nuts. I don’t believe the negative hype about the neighborhood where I go to school. I tell people with some perverse twinge of pride about how I used to teach in the ghetto, in the middle of a gang war zone. I scoff at people who tell me “sweetie, you shouldn’t take the el at night.” I’m a modern urban woman. I won’t be scared of my city. This is ridiculous.

But then I found out today that Mason got mugged at gunpoint last night. That makes her the second of my two very close girlfriends at law school to be robbed at gunpoint in the past 6 months. Our friend Mooks was carjacked in February, forced back into her car, and taken by the robbers to her bank, where she was forced to withdraw several hundred dollars from the ATM, also at gunpoint, before the robbers abandoned her by the side of the road and drove off with her car.

The good side of this story is that both Mason and Mooks are okay. At the end of the day, it’s just stuff, and neither of them was hurt or suffered lasting trauma. But Mason in particular is just like me in that “won’t get alarmed by other people’s alarmism” kind of way. She and I have had several conversations about how silly people act when they talk in hushed panicked tones about how dangerous the neighborhood is surrounding our school. And it makes me feel a little ill to think about someone taking advantage of Mason, who has so much faith in people, who is so unwilling to judge, to generalize, or to dismiss entire groups of people because they’re perceived by others to be “scary.” Though you don’t want it to happen to anyone, if it had to happen to someone I wish it had happened to one of the alarmists, one of the mace on the keychain always take a taxi after dark never look a homeless person in the eye people. Because then it only would have confirmed their already deeply-held beliefs and fears, rather than forcing Mason (or, more accurately, forcing me) to wonder if we’ve been stupid all this time, and whether it’s time to take my mother’s advice that I get some pepper spray.

Of course it’s not black and white. You don’t have to be either alarmist or enlightened. There are some things that you just shouldn’t do, and I accept that. But pepper spray on your keychain isn’t going to do you a hell of a lot of good when someone sneaks up behind you and already has his gun drawn when you turn around and see him for the first time. At some level it’s all sort of a crapshoot- your car can get broken into in Lincoln Park and your wallet can get stolen at a swanky restaurant (though probably not at gunpoint). But then again you can flag down a car in that same bad neighborhood where you just got robbed and find three people all ready to jump in and help you out and wait with you until the police arrive. This isn’t just a good neighborhood/bad neighborhood thing.

Mason, bless her heart for still being the same old Mason we love, felt upset for the first person who was brought in for questioning, because he wasn’t the guy, and he shouldn’t have had to go through that. There is no part of me that is worried that she’s going to turn into a nervous alarmist because of this, and for that I’m grateful. But it has given me pause. And I took a cab home from my most recent firm event.

Perhaps the best summer associate coping strategy I have figured out thus far is one that’s actually borrowed from my days as a college freshman. It is this: “never be the drunkest person at the party.”

Last week, the firm took us to watch a Cubs game in the bleachers at Wrigley. I’ve been to a lot of Cubs games in my life, but never in the bleachers, and let me tell you, after always being kind of confused by those “bleacher bum” sketches on SNL, I finally get it. In the bleachers, you don’t really even watch the game because watching what’s going on around you is so much more interesting. And in my case, what was going on around me was a contest between a 250-pound male associate and a 120 pound female summer associate that they called “one beer per inning.”

When the Cubs are playing good defense but shitty offense (a common occurance, including on the day in question,) an inning can go by pretty quick. You have to be working hard to drink a beer an inning, especially in the sweltering heat. These two were unfazed, and managed to keep up the pace until they realized that they stop serving beer in the seventh inning at ballparks. Oh, the agony. They spent the next two innings cajoling the rest of us to leave the game and go to a bar to keep the party going.

We waited until the end of the game and went to the bar, where the 250-pound associate ordered three rounds of tequilla shots for the table and my 120 pound friend ordered 2 rounds of whiskey for herself on top of that. Then on to a Mexican restaurant, with margaritas and more tequilla shots.

During all of this, I felt about a million years old. Despite my best efforts to “hang,” I couldn’t help but pace myself. I had a couple beers at the game but switched to water when the thermometer crept above 90 and I thought I might die of dehydration. I had one shot at the bar and then threw the other two over my shoulder because seriously? I haven’t done three tequilla shots in that short a time frame since I was a freshman. I had a margarita with dinner, and left the evening feeling happily buzzed, but like a total party pooper. Should I have taken those two extra shots? Should I have stepped up to the one beer per inning challenge?

In a word: no. The 120-pound summer associate, after I left, fell asleep AT THE DINNER TABLE. Think she’s heard about anything else since? Nope! (At least not from her fellow summers- its come up at least once a day since.) She will now forever be “Jenny who passed out drunk in front of the partners.” What a great way to ingratiate yourself to your future employers!

There are some niggling issues about these legendary stories of summer associate drunkenness that gnaw at me a little. There are a few men at the firm who are famous for having gotten wasted at firm parties, but it’s all recounted with kind of a gentle teasing tone mixed with a little bit of awe that they can still hang like they did in college. You don’t hear those stories about women. Women seem to catch it much harder if they make the mistake of getting wasted at a firm event. Hell, I live in Chicago and people still tell me that story about the poor girl in New York who got so drunk she jumped off the piers. And it’s not gently teasing and mixed with awe, either- this girl gets mocked. So I don’t know if there are larger gender issues at work here- it seems like maybe.

What I do know, though, is that no one seems to remember a single thing about that day except for Jenny Pass Out, and there were a lot of people who were, (to borrow a phrase from my ever-diplomatic father,) “overserved.” So maybe instead of “never be the drunkest person at the party,” I should refine my motto for firm events to be “try to be the second drunkest person at the party” because hey- free booze, with no lingering bad reputation!

You might think that the messiest thing that could happen to you on a plane flight would be spilling a drink in your lap, or maybe getting airsick. You would be wrong. The messiest thing that can happen on a plane flight is when the 8 year old child sitting in front of you decides, as an experiment, to vigorously shake a can of Sprite for a minute, then open it. The result? A truly extraordinary spray radius, including (a) the ceiling of the plane, (b) the windows of the plane ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE AISLE, (c) my flip-flop clad feet, my jeans, my book, my hair. As the ever-cheerful Southwest flight attendant tried to mop it up while the kid kicked the seat in front of him, unapologetic and oblivious, I swear I heard her mutter through clenched teeth “Jesus Christ, this kid should be tranquilized.”

Oh well, at least his sister’s blankie had the featured a charming musical element that allowed it to play an electronic version of “Jingle Bells” roughly 496 times during the flight.

Anyway, we’re back from California, and there are funny stories to tell, but I’m currently late for work so they’ll have to wait.

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