May 2008


I have worked at my current job for 9 months and YESTERDAY, (9 months after I started! 270 days!) one of my bosses said “so if you can just print your reports out from trackit for us to add to our time records…” and the world started getting fuzzy and I weakly said “um, trackit? what is trackit?” And she said “it’s the computer program where we record our work time,” and I said “eep” and then I died.

See, we rarely get fees for the work that we do at my job, and as a result we do not bill in the same way lawyers at law firms bill their hours- we don’t send out monthly invoices, or participate in little competitions between ourselves to see who can bill the most hours in a month.  We just work.  When I started, I asked one of my coworkers about keeping time, and she said “we don’t, really- I mean, keep maybe an informal record of the meetings you go to that would be compensable if we ever got fees, but otherwise don’t worry about it.”

Turns out she’s in the group whose time is NEVER compensable, so they don’t keep time at all.  I am not in that group.  Apparently, I was supposed to be logging my time in a computer program that I did not know existed, (including non-compensable time!  just for fun!) to “provide a record” of what I’ve been doing.  I’m supposed to do it in 6 minute intervals.  It’s supposed to be classified into different categories of work.  I now have to go back and try to recreate, in 6-minute blocks and 10 different categories, what I have been doing for the last 9 months.  Hold me.

No one in the office has ever mentioned trackit, or told me how I was expected to track my time, or, you know, gave me a login and password for the program or anything and I KNOW, I should take responsibility  and keeping time is part of being a lawyer and I should have inquired further and should have been keeping better track of my time anyway for my own purposes and yadda yadda.  But come ON.  Shouldn’t this have been in the employee handbook somewhere? Shouldn’t I have learned about this sometime before now?

More importantly: how the hell am I supposed to go about reconstructing the roughly 100,800 minutes I have worked at this job into nicely categorized 6-minute chunks?

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All weekends need to be three days long, because when weekends are three days long you are able to have houseguests AND go out of town for a wedding in the same weekend and still feel okay and almost well rested when you go back to work on Monday. Almost.

One of John’s best friends was in town with some other folks for the weekend. (Brief detour in this story: um, hi guys! if you’re reading this! Because you referred to me as “pseudo” all weekend, which makes me think that you might be reading, in which case the next time I make a typo or do something else embarrassing and you’re tempted to laugh, remember who it was who gave you beer and homemade turkey burgers and ice cream and very explicit directions on how to get back to your hotel on the el so you didn’t get lost.)

I love having people in town. Chicago is, I think, a totally underappreciated city, especially among people who live on the West coast. Our California friends come in town and are so surprised that there are, like, tall buildings and paved roads and stuff here, because isn’t the midwest just the region you fly over on your way to New York?

But because I love this town so much I feel all this PRESSURE to show people the BEST TIME IN CHICAGO EVER. When I have picked all the restaurants and bars and attractions that we go to, I feel completely responsible for whether my friends like the food, or are enjoying the activity. I find myself apologizing for things that are just a part of life- surly waiter, long wait for an el train, mysterious inability to hail a cab in an area that is normally cab central. I worry any little hiccup will sour their experience with my city, and they will go home to San Francisco and tell all their friends in their designer jeans and thrift store t-shirts that they were right all along, Chicago is just some hick backwater.

Which is, of course, ridiculous. After all, Chicago has its own entire neighborhoods populated by hipsters in designer jeans and thrift store t-shirts. Plus (yesterday at least) we have weather that breaks 75 degrees.* Take that, San Francisco.

* (I woke up this morning and it was 45 degrees. We’re not talking about it.)

I have eaten at least one donut every day for the past 4 days.  This is not normal.  The first day of Donut Extravaganza 2008 started with the Daily Dozen at Pike’s Place market in Seattle, which are pretty much the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten, followed by Day 2’s fresh raspberry glazed perfection at Top Pot, also in Seattle, and it’s been dramatically downhill from there.  Today’s three stale donut holes from the box of Munchkins from yesterday’s meeting- not delicious.  Note to self: donuts are only really worth it when they are still warm. (Also: why is spell check so opposed to doughnuts?  Why is donut considered the one true spelling?)

Other scenes from a lovely Seattle weekend:

-Sunburn on my neck from spending the afternoon at a cheese festival in 85 degree weather.  (Dear Chicago: it’s even 85 degrees and sunny in freaking SEATTLE.  Get with the program.  Enough with the 50 degree rain.  Sincerely, me.)
– Drinking four (four!) kinds of homemade beer made by Bird’s friend who I’ll call Hoppy.
– A delightful dinner at an organic restaurant in an old converted house, which was homey and comforting and largely delicious, except for the salad, which was so salty it tasted like it had been brined.
– Wandering around the farmers market, admiring the lettuces and rhubarb and pencil-thin asparagus and wondering if the TSA would stop me from bringing porcini mushrooms home on the plane.
– Driving down the highway to the airport, watching a Winnebago lose the cap to its sewer tank and spew what had to be at least a week’s worth of sludge behind it on the highway for miles and miles.  (Smelly and not awesome.  But kind of hilarious.  When we drove by, the driver had this look of panic on his face, and Bird said: “he’s imagining how he’s going to get that cap back on.”  Can you IMAGINE trying to shove a cap back onto an actively-leaking waste pipe?  It is too gross to contemplate.)

And now I’m back in Chicago, spending the week in a high school, watching it rain outside for what seems like the millionth time this week, eating stale donuts.  I want the weekend back.

I dance around the question of how much to say about work. The public interest community in Chicago is small, and though I’m hardly the world’s most anonymous writer, I take some comfort in the fact that my coworkers are unlikely to find this little cranny of the internet by simple google searching of my name or my field.

As a result, when work things take a turn for the unpleasant, when I end up spending too many nights in a row working late and then working more after I get home, I sort of lose my zeal for the sarcastic, off-the-cuff writing I do here, because I worry that by talking about it I’ll compromise my pseudoanonymity.

But it’s been a couple of months now that I’ve been wrestling with the same unpleasant situation at work, and in the past couple of weeks it’s really escalated and taken over my nights and my weekends, and I have some things to say about it. Caution to the winds!

The Background: Some of my work involves schools, and through this work I have spent a ton of time recently (seriously, like 75% of my work hours) helping out a stellar group of educators facing some seriously shitty circumstances from the higher-ups in their organization. I’m not trying to be coy by not telling you more, I’m trying to protect them as much as me, but suffice it to say that for some people school = place to educate children and for other people school = source of revenue and shut up with your stupid talk about “teaching” and “learning” and “serving the kids” already. (You can probably guess which side I am on.)

The whole situation sucks. There is a clear good guy, a clear bad guy, and a bureaucracy that lacks the political will to actually do the right thing. None of this is unusual, but it still sucks.

But the situation really took a nose dive a week ago, when a ridiculous, easily-disproved allegation was made against a teacher who has devoted her career to education by a party who wants to “discredit” the group I’ve been working with. The higher-ups seized upon the allegation, ignored the evidence that indicated there is NO WAY that it could have happened, suspended the teacher, opened an investigation with DCFS, and called in the police.

One of the most frustrating things about working in law is the times when people try to manipulate it to their own advantage with no apparent care for how that might affect others. I don’t mean to be all aw-shucks naïve- I realize that people everywhere, all the time, try to manipulate the system to their advantage. But making an accusation that you know to be false, that could ruin someone’s career, and putting a child in the middle of it, just because you are trying to gain an edge in a disagreement on some comparatively minor point? That crosses the line.

I want there to be repercussions for the people who can be so cavalier about lying about something so serious. I hate working in circumstances where you can’t rely on the adverse party to at least abide by certain basic rules of common decency. Disagree with me to the death, argue your point passionately, yell if you have to, but leave the lying, cheating, conniving shit out of it. Because where before I was zealous in my advocacy but civil in my demeanor, now I’m just pissed. I don’t like being pissed, it ruins my day- so trust me, adverse party- now that you’ve gone there, I won’t give a second thought to ruining yours.

Today is my birthday.  Remember how in elementary school on your birthday you brought in cupcakes for your whole class?  In that same spirit of giving to others on one’s birthday, I have something for you.  Some people have asked to actually *see* the yucky new haircut.  Fine. Here is a picture of the best-case version of this haircut, which requires TWO different hair products PLUS a flat iron.

This photo also gives me the chance to show off my birthday gift from John: a Wii MarioKart remote.  I was a huge fan of original MarioKart and I have to say, playing on the Wii is pretty great.  Especially because it gave me the chance to use the damn Wii again after John totally hijacked it for like 2 months with Tiger Woods 08, a game in which I have zero interest.  Now if I could only figure out what this whole “drifting” thing is all about….Maybe I should rent this?

I plan to spend the next two days eating way too much, drinking way too much, and sleeping way too little.  (Apparently my perfect birthday celebration at 29 looks much the same as it did at 19.)  Have a good weekend everyone!