The next week, Tom had a new case that all the other lawyers were envious about. His client had been out drinking at a bar in rural New Mexico. The bar was on one side of the railroad tracks and the house where he was living was on the other, although they were only about a quarter of a mile apart.
When he decided it was time to go home, he walked out and a train was sitting on the tracks between the bar and his house. Rather than walk around, which was about a mile, he decided that since the train was stopped, it would be safe to walk between the cars to the other side. In order to do this, he had to climb up on the coupling to jump through to the other side. As he was climbing up onto the coupling, the train lurched forward. He lost his balance and his shoe caught between the car and the wheel. His leg was pulled forward and cut off right below the knee as the wheel moved forward. It was a horrible accident.
The client wanted to sue the railroad because he could get onto the tracks. In other words, we were arguing that all tracks should be fenced off so that people cannot get onto the tracks.
When the rest of the firm heard about Tom's good fortune, the boss, Bennett, popped open a bottle of champagne.
"Tom, I am jealous of such a terrific case. A live person missing a limb, it doesn't get any better than that! I'm just glad I get a part of the profits!" He laughed as he toasted Tom's glass. "The best clients are alive but missing a major body part; the worst clients are dead."
"Reminds me of that case I had last year," John, another of the older partners, recounted. "This twelve-year-old kid was riding his bike on the Air Force base. One of the Air Force transport trucks was coming around the corner. They cut the corner too close and slammed into the kid, dragging him for about fifty feet. In the end, the kid's foot had to be removed. The transport driver's passenger had seen the kids about two blocks before they made the turn. Her testimony was everything. As soon as the jury heard that the guy should have seen the child on the bike. The Air Force was toast! That foot was worth one point two million dollars!"
Everyone lifted their glasses in salute.
"Dead people are worth practically nothing," Bennett, the managing partner, bemoaned, "but a missing body part? That is worth its weight in gold!"
"Hear, hear!" Julia exclaimed.
"Always reminds me of what my Torts professor used to say," orated Tom, "How much would you be willing to take for an arm or a leg, no amount would actually make you whole, would it? That's how I always end with the jury."
"Fabulous," Bennett exclaimed, "that must get 'em every time." He knocked back his full glass of champagne and filled it up again.
I was fortunate to work on the railroad case, as we called it, with Tom. However, I was a bit horrified by how excited they all were with the injury. The railroad made a motion to dismiss the case, and it was my responsibility to respond -- and keep the case going. My contention that railroad tracks are inherently dangerous, together with a great expert report showing how many deaths and injuries occur on railroad tracks every year, obviously made a convincing argument to the judge because it wasn't granted. I whispered a thank you prayer that stupidity of the other party was not a defense.
Not too long after that, the railroad argued that we did not have the facts to support our claims. Again, I was called upon to keep the case alive and well for the firm. So I argued that "the client was clearly injured by the defendant railroad because they actually found him in the ditch the next morning. He had the presence of mind to tie a tourniquet around his leg, which is what saved him from bleeding to death. Thus, he wasn't so drunk that he couldn't make a rational decision." The judge loved my argument, and we were off to trial. Tom was thrilled, but I was slightly embarrassed by the arguments I was making. I wanted to win, but I knew, deep down, that the guy was an idiot. Maybe train tracks were inherently dangerous, but everyone really knew that, right? There was a little queasiness in my stomach with each win. I didn't know if I was doing the right thing -- I wanted to be proud of what I did . . . but I wasn't.
In addition to the railroad case, I was still working on the dregs of the breast implant cases, and boy was I getting tired of them! I'd been at it at least six months. Can we move on already!?! I wanted to scream. Julia sent me to Chicago to sit with one of our experts while the defendant took his deposition -- for the sixth time. Seriously, what more could the man have to say?
But it was Chicago -- at least that was fun. On a Monday night, I hopped on a plane for the Tuesday deposition. My hotel was on one of my favorite shopping meccas -- Miracle Mile, but by the time I arrived, I was depressed to discover that the shops were already closed. At least I could order room service and chat with Sam. I'd wanted him to come, but he was too busy with work. Secretly, I was kind of glad -- I could shop free from guilt or distraction.
"Hey Sweetie! It is chilly in Chicago."
"How's the hotel?"
"I like it -- it's a little funky, but I had a great dinner. They even brought me cookies when I asked even though they weren't on the menu."
"Aren't you special?"
"Indeed I am. What's happening there?"
"I have a meeting with the CFO at 6:30 for bagels and coffee to discuss 10K issues."
"Wow, 6:30 -- that's ridiculous! I won't keep you then, at least you can get a little sleep."
"I won't be able to sleep since you aren't here. Call me tomorrow when you finish the depo. Love you."
"I love you too. Talk to you tomorrow."
Not quite ready to sleep, I called my mother to chat about the wedding.
"Hey, Mama, did you have a chance to look at the pictures I sent you of the possible reception venues?"
"I did. I love the one of the old theatre you sent. Why don't I come up this weekend and we'll make a final decision? Also, if you have any time, why don't you go shopping for your trousseau after this deposition? Since it's January, the sales should be on. You might be able to get some deals on new resort wear."
"I'll definitely try. This deposition isn't supposed to take too long."
I had chosen a tweed wool suit for the deposition. An authoritative look, I nodded approvingly at the image in the mirror. I put on some pink pearls. Very nice, a little understated. I pulled my hair into a bun -- too librarian; then back at the nape of my neck -- too severe. I'd have to let it hang loose. I gave myself an appraising look. Although the outfit was perfect, my hair made me look young. I wished I had brought my glasses that would have given me a little more respected appearance. Oh well.
When I arrived at the defendant's offices that Tuesday morning, I was all excited. The deposition was beginning at ten o'clock. So I figured I'd be shopping by one. After six depos on the same subject, they couldn't have too many questions.
We began just a few minutes after ten. The questions were the exact ones asked in the doctor's previous depositions. I knew because Julia made me read them before I came to Chicago. Oh, it was so boring!. This was supposed to be short, but it was dragging on and on. I looked at my watch -- it wasn't even eleven yet.
I made a quick decision, if I don't object to any of the questions I might be able to speed things up a bit. I pretended to take notes, but instead I was trying out variations on my soon to be name. Jessica Romero, Jessica C. Romero, Jessica Clark Romero, Jessica Clark-Romero, I just couldn't decide. Which one was the best? Which way should I go?
I glanced at my watch. It was half past noon, and I was starving to death. Was this ever going to be over?
"Excuse me," I cleared my throat, "are we about done here? It is lunch time."
"I'm almost finished," the defense counsel responded curtly.
I looked at the witness who looked very annoyed. The questions continued for another half an hour, but I had no idea what this guy was even asking. I couldn't focus at all. Ten days in Tahiti and Fiji. What was I going to need? At least three bathing suits. I didn't want to wear the same thing all the time. I wanted a couple really snazzy cover-ups -- like one of those sarongs that make it look like a dress. I needed at least five sundresses, shorts and t-shirts, what else? My attention was suddenly drawn back to the present. My expert sounded really mad. Had I missed something important?
"Look," my expert grumbled, "I have to have something to eat. I need food right now."
"I'm just about finished." Defense counsel was looking at me. I didn't say anything, I just looked back at him. If I said anything, it would only prolong this torture.
"I don't care," my expert asserted as he walked out the door. He came back a few minutes later with a sandwich, which he ate as the defense counsel continued with his monotonous questioning.
"How did I miss the opportunity to get something?" I wondered, disgruntled. I would even be willing to eat his pitiful-looking egg salad. I didn't think I could take much more.
At three, the defense counsel closed his notebook. "I think I'm all finished here." I glared at him, as did my expert. We both grabbed up our stuff and rushed out the door, lest he think of anything else he wanted to ask.
"That was awful," I complained. "I am so sorry."
"Not your fault. He's an idiot and a jerk. There was no need to go on and on like that. He should have been finished after two hours."
I nodded, feeling a little guilty. I hadn't paid any attention, maybe if I had I could have sped things up, but I doubted it.
"Nice to meet you. Have a nice rest of the day." He smiled at me and hailed a taxi.
I was thoroughly annoyed. I had planned to have far more time to pick out my trousseau. The shopping in Chicago is fabulous, far better than New Mexico. That defense counsel had really cut into my day.
Hurrying over to the Miracle Mile, I began my search for the perfect outfits for Tahiti. Let's see, what had I decided? I needed at least two bikinis, no three, dresses, shorts, a really cute cover-up. I didn't have much time to find all of that.
When I arrived back at the office the next day, I had a new suitcase full of the most perfect resort-wear anyone could imagine. I was going to be perfectly decked out for our honeymoon in Tahiti. The clothes were spectacular.
Around lunchtime I headed over to find out what had been happening in my absence. I sat down next to Marcus, whom we all called "Carrots" after his favorite food, though not to his face.
"Hey, how are you doing today, Marcus?" I asked as I sat down with my salad and sandwich.
"Um," he uttered. His brow was furrowed and his eyes looked slightly pink around the edges. Not a good sign.
"What's wrong? Is there anything I can do?"
"I have a new pet."
"That's great. What is it?" I was worried. I didn't see him keeping anything alive. He looked dead himself.
"I caught a mouse in the kitchen. I didn't want to kill it, so I put it in a box. I'm going to keep it as a pet."
Did I enter the Twilight Zone when I came through the door? You want to keep something with rabies or plague in your home as a pet? Alrighty, no way to answer that one.
"What kind of box?" I figured it had already eaten its way free of the shoebox.
"I started with a shoebox, but I could hear it eating the cardboard, so I put it into the shower and made certain it couldn't get out. Then I went to PetsMart and bought a cage with one of those wheels. Now, I have it in the cage."
"That's good. It won't get out."
"I thought a pet would be good for us. I've read that they reduce stress."
Hmm, I wondered who "us" might be. But I was too gutless to ask. I also didn't want to explain to him that those studies were of dogs and cats, not rodents. I wasn't certain that you could catch a mouse and make it a stress-relieving pet. Maybe I was wrong.
"I have lots of pets," Marcus answered with what I thought might be a smile. "I have seven cats. Two of them are married."
"Really? Married?" I didn't know if I wanted an answer to this or not.
"I married them myself," he told me proudly. "Inky, he's a black cat, and Jello, she's a calico. They're very in love."
"Great." What could I possibly say to any of this?
"Now I'm feeling guilty about keeping the mouse in a cage. I think I'm going to release it into the wild."
"There is a field right next to my house."
Well, it should take the mouse the better part of a day to find its way back to his kitchen and then into the tummy of one of his cats. But I said nothing, just smiled and nodded. What was there to say to someone who would keep a mouse they caught in their house as a pet? I certainly couldn't think of anything. I feared what kind of lawyer he might be if he kept a field mouse as a pet for his married cats.
Not long after that, the firm decided I should start having my own cases. So, they moved me into an actual office in the main headquarters. Previously a storeroom, my funky little office had walls with dark brown cabinets, it was like working in a kitchen with no appliances. There were both upper cabinets and lower cabinets and a countertop over the lower cabinets. I had an actual computer with normal sized screen and keys, but there was no place to put my legs because of the cabinets. I had to hold the keyboard on my lap to work. But, it was better than meeting clients at the door and escorting them four feet to my half a cubicle for our initial meeting.
My first case involved a worker's compensation claim. Travis, the client, came into my office and sat down.
"I got my arm hurt at work."
"Tell me what happened?"
"Well, I was workin' the machine where you mix up the concrete, and I had to force somethin' that was stuck. My shoulder got thrown clean out of whack. I couldn't lift it the next day. I ain't been able to lift it since. I don't think it'll ever be the same."
"How long has it been like this?"
"'Bout a week, I reckon."
"How high can you lift it?"
Rather than speaking, which is what I intended, he raised his arm almost to the level of his shoulder.
"And you haven't been able to lift it any higher since the accident?"
"How high could you lift it before?"
He lifted it above his head. I paused as I stared at his hand over his head. Did he not realize that I could actually see that he wasn't injured? What to say about this?
"All right, I think you'd better go on home and rethink whether or not you have an injury. Thanks for coming in."
I hoped they didn't all go like that. No one would believe it if I didn't have a single case that was actually a case. I decided to take a quick break and run out to look at invitations. Maybe I could get a latte and a biscotti too. I was dieting to fit into my wedding dress, so no more muffins and only skim lattes instead of cappuccinos.
I LOVE paper! I could spend hours looking at interesting invitations. Should I have a scroll that pops out with confetti? How about real swan feathers on the swans forming the heart on the front? Oh so many choices and so little time on my lunch hour! How was I ever going to get all the planning finished and work at the same time? This wedding was so demanding.
I was pleased with myself; I had set a date. We had a church and a reception venue. The theatre had been transformed. It had several levels, odd sized areas, brick walls and columns that were at least two stories tall. I was working to persuade the church to allow us to have the full fifty-person choir sing. A soloist was just not enough to fill the cathedral we had chosen.
I took a couple of invitation books on loan and floored it back to the office, just had time to grab my latte before I met my next client, a chicken farmer.
"Can you tell me what happened?" I asked, trying not to breath; I was slightly put off by the smell. I wondered how he had ever gotten used to it.
"I done got audited by the IRS." He seemed to think this would explain everything. I hoped this had nothing to do with taxes as I couldn't even fill out my own1040EZ.
"You want to sue the IRS for auditing you?" I was thoroughly confused.
"Yes ma'am. They killed my chicks."
"Excuse me, the IRS killed your chickens? The chickens you raise on your farm?"
"Yep. They killed thirty chicks."
"How? Why would they do that?"
"Well, they come down to my farm because they didn't believe something on my tax return. They wanted to count all my chickens."
"OK. So you let them count them?"
"I didn't have no choice. They come down and insisted on seeing the workins of my chicken farm. Wanted to know how many chickens I keep and how many babies I got. They wanted to count all the chickens. First, they did the adults. Them's pretty easy to count see because I keep 'em in separate pins with oh 'bout fifteen chickens in a pen, but I keep the baby chicks on palettes, you know?"
"The big wooden kind?"
"Yeah. The baby chicks jump around all over them palettes. The IRS man kept trying to count the chicks, but they moved around so fast, he couldn't tell which ones he had counted. So, they got the bright idea to take a picture of one of them palettes and count 'em on the photograph."
"Did you authorize the photo?"
"No ma'am, I could've told 'em that was a bad idea."
"Why is that?"
"Chicks is skittish, frighten real easy. So, when the IRS man took the photo, the danged light went off. Every chick in that palette had a heart attack at the same time. Every one of 'em was dead after the picture was taken."
I tried hard not to laugh. I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep my emotions together. I wanted to bust out laughing and say, "Must have been easy to count them." But I didn't.
"How much is each chick worth?"
"Between twenty and thirty dollars. Each palette has thirty-five to forty chicks on it. I reckon they cost me at least eight hundred dollars."
"I think we can do something about that. I am certain I can get you reimbursed for your chicks, your time and the legal fees. Would that satisfy you?"
"Oh yes. That would do fine."
"I'll be in touch."
"Thank you kindly, ma'am."
This wasn't so bad. A call to the IRS and I thought I could get it taken care of; if not, I knew I could win in small claims court. This client stuff was cake, much easier than dealing with Julia and breast implants, although I was begrudgingly grateful for the breast implants. Since I had been a part of actually getting them settled, I had made quite a bit of money.
Plus, the clients had been really nice. A couple of the women whose claims had been going on for years came in to see us with little thank you gifts. I had been eating cookies every day for weeks. That was just before Sam asked me to marry him, now I couldn't possibly have a cookie. I had to fit into the most perfect dress on the planet, once I found it.
Later that afternoon, another client came in, the owner of a small brewery.
"What can I do for you?"
"Well, I've had some property destroyed, and I want to see about getting the value from the perpetrator."
"Tell me what happened."
"I'm a small microbrewery, but we've been doing really well. We were interested in getting investors so that we could move into a larger market. In order to put together a proposal, the investors require us to have an audit done."
"Of course, that makes sense."
"So, we hired some guys in town to do it. When they came down to the brewery, everything seemed to be going all right. There were three or four of them sent by the accounting firm. One of them was brand new, the other guy told me so. I wasn't there for all of this, but it seems that the other guys decided to play a joke on the new kid. They told him that in order to do the audit, he had to put on scuba gear, jump in the tank of beer and make certain that it was as deep as we said it was. When the day came for him to jump in the tank, they let him get in the scuba gear, climb the ladder to the top of the tank and supposedly, they were going to catch him before he jumped in, only they didn't. He jumped in and ruined a whole batch of beer, about five thousand dollars worth."
"They didn't offer to pay you for the beer."
"No, they wanted to give me the audit for free, but that doesn't do me any good because of the investors. I want to pay for the audit and have them pay for the beer they ruined."
"I understand. I think I can work this out for you."
Wow! Two cases that could be taken care of quickly and without any real chance of us losing!. I was going to be quite the star.
Tom stopped by just after my meeting.
"Jessica, I've just given a case to Sharla. I want you to work on it with her. Go by her office today and have her tell you about it."
He was gone without any response from me. Ug. My least favorite person at the office was Sharla. Interestingly, her name had been Sharee when I first started, but she changed it. I could never quite understand why.
I checked my schedule. I had just enough time to drop by her office and see what this project was all about.
"Sharla," I called as I tapped on her open office door. "Tom told me to come by and check with you about a project he gave you that he wants me to work with you on."
She looked at me like she couldn't understand a word I had said. Please God, don't make me work with her, I prayed silently.
"Oh, Tom wants us to work together, huh?" She said it like it was a death sentence. I guess our feelings for each other were mutual.
"That's what he said." I knew I was being a little snippy, but she acted like I had asked to get involved with this. I wasn't happy about working with her either.
"So, what is the case?"
"It is called the dog and pony show."
"What?" I asked perplexed.
"This guy owned two Rottweilers. He lived next door to a man with Shetland ponies. One day, the dogs got out and ate the ponies. We are trying to get Mr. Rott to pay Mr. Shet for the ponies."
I sat down to see what her view of the case was and get an idea of what I might be doing. She gave me a nasty look.
"I'm not sure I have time to fill you in now." Her tone was nasty. "I'm very busy. Maybe we can reschedule when it is convenient for me." I got up to go. But before I could say a word, I heard her give a little cry.
"I can't find a fucking thing in this place." She was ranting and pushing files off her desk. Great, I thought, she's not only nasty, she's a raving lunatic. There must be a way to get out of working with her.
"Linda, get in here." One of the secretaries came running in.
"What the fuck happened to the dog and pony show file?" OK, she didn't want to talk to me because she has no idea what the case is about. Light was dawning on me. Maybe Tom knew she hadn't given the file any attention and that was why he asked me to work with her. I wasn't going to carry her load. If she wasn't doing the case, then he could give it to me. I wasn't going to help her.
"I don't know, I gave it to you yesterday." I could see Linda was flinching as she said it, and I soon knew why. The filth that came out of Sharla's mouth would have made anyone cringe. I was trying to stealthily move toward the door and away from her.
"Where the hell do you think you are going?"
OK, I could see she was about to cross a line. She and I were on the same level. She had no authority to be pushing me around.
"I'll come back when you have pulled yourself together."
"Damn it! We need to get this done NOW."
"Five seconds ago you said you wanted to work on it later. I don't mind working on it, but I am not willing to stay here with you screaming obscenities. You need to get hold of yourself before I will work with you. If you can't get it together, then you can let Tom know that you will handle this case yourself." With that, I wheeled around and exited.
Walking out of her office, I almost ran Julia over.
"What's the matter?" Julia asked in her nearly constant haze. I think the only reason she asked was because I had moved so quickly and, well, straight into her, that I was fogging up her glasses. I took a step back.
"Sharla seems to be having a little trouble pulling herself together. I'm not working with her until she can control herself. I am unwilling to be abused by a colleague."
"You know," Julia admitted dreamily, "she's run off at least two people with her screaming and cursing." Julia wandered off, making me realize my statement didn't seem to faze her. Well, I had said it, even if I had said it to someone who probably couldn't remember -- if indeed she had heard me. Good enough. I started back to my office.
I didn't ask Julia who she'd run off, but I certainly wanted to know why she was still there if she ran people off. I sat down and looked around my office trying to think what to do. I really wanted to go home and do wedding stuff. I tried to think what I wanted to finish tonight, the bubbles for our first dance or putting the gold boxes together for the groom's cake. Before I called it a day, I went to see Tom.
"Tom, I don't think Sharla and I can work together. We have, um, a personality conflict. But, I am willing to do whatever you need on the case."
He gave me a wan smile. "Could you write a letter to opposing counsel? I gave Sharla that file a month ago, and I'd really like to get this case settled."
I went to Tom's paralegal to see if she had kept a copy of the file -- knowing that she had because she was the most organized person on the planet. Once I sat down with the file, it only took me an hour to see that settlement was practically finished. I wrote a letter, faxed it, and called it a day.
First thing the next morning, Sharla stormed into my office. "Great, you are stabbing me in the back, huh, bitch?" That wasn't going to fly with me. I didn't know who she had dealt with in the past, but I didn't put up with that kind of accusation.
"Get out of my office." I was trying to keep myself calm. Zen calm. I could do this, I'd been taking yoga for nearly a year. I could calm myself. Actually, it was Sharla who needed the Zen, she looked to me like she might go postal at any moment.
"I can't fucking believe that you showed me up by writing that letter to opposing counsel on the dog and pony show."
"We're working together. That means that we are on the same team. If I do something, it is for your benefit and mine. It is not about showing you up. It is about doing what is in the best interests of the client. Do you understand?"
She looked at me. Clearly no one had ever tried to reason with her before. I could see that the little wheels were spinning processing what I said. If she didn't go with that argument, I was going to tell her that she sucked because she'd had a file that was practically finished on her desk for a month and couldn't even write a simple letter. I didn't have to say that.
"Oh." Was all she said. She just stood there staring at me dumbly. I had left her speechless. Ten points for me.
"Now," I began, taking advantage of her not knowing what to say. "I will work with you on this case ONLY if you keep yourself together. That means, no yelling or cursing at me or anyone else about this case. Are we clear?"
She nodded. Obviously all she needed was a little authority.
She turned and walked out of my office.
My next assignment was to work with Julia's stepdaughter, Mickey, the attorney for a rural township nearby. She assigned me the task of going to city council meetings and answering any questions that might come up.
So, I went after work the next Wednesday to be of service to the council. The meeting was called to order. I was astonished to see that the room was full -- people were even standing in the back. My table was to the side so that I could see the council and the spectators.
I looked at my agenda. First up was whether a trailer could be put on someone's property. An older Hispanic gentleman got up.
"I need a variance to put a single trailer next to my house."
"I'm sorry," a councilwoman responded, "but we need more information to allow something like that. Why do you want to put this trailer on your property?" She was looking down her nose at him. Her glasses were perched on the end of her nose making her look like an owl. Her hair stood up in tousled spikes. I would definitely have cast her as one of the witches in Harry Potter.
"My daughter just moved out of her boyfriend's house. She and my granddaughter and grandson need a place to live. So, I'm going to put a trailer next to my house for them."
I could see that this was totally logical to him. He had no idea that they could or might say no. He was just showing up to have a stamp of approval. I pitied him because I could see from the looks on the faces of the spectators and the downward glances of the council members that he was not likely to receive his variance.
"What does the city planner have to say?" Madame Councilwoman asked.
"This is not an acceptable variance. The plot of land is only two-thirds of an acre. It is not large enough for the size trailer he is proposing. It is zoned as a single family home. We are recommending that this variance be denied."
Mr. Gallegos was shocked. I saw his mouth fall open and his eyes widen. I felt sorry for him, but on to the next one, I say. But it wasn't "on to the next one."
"Comments?" Madame Councilwoman looked out at the crowd. A line began to form behind the microphone.
First up was an elderly woman wearing patched overalls, boots and a red bandana around her head. It was the perfect outfit for a farmer, and I was enthralled by all the details. She was dusty; her nails were worked down to a nub. I could see I could never be a farmer. I looked down fondly at my long nails lacquered in "I'm not really a waitress."
"Thank you kindly. My husband and I live two plots over from the Gallegos place. A trailer would be too unsightly sitting there next to his house. We do not want you to grant this variance." She nodded with finality. So much for neighbors getting along, I thought. Mr. Gallegos would never accept a package for her again.
Next up was a man in a three-piece suit. He looked completely out of place here among mostly farmers and ranchers dressed in jeans and flannel shirts. His shoes were shined like mirrors. I figured he must be ex-military.
"We have just purchased the land to the south of Mr. Gallegos' property, as you know. It is slated for development over the next five years. We worked long and hard with this council to set the terms of the development from septic tanks to making certain roadways accessible through our own monies. A trailer would change the entire demeanor of the area. We object to any variance being given."
OK, I thought, it is clear that everyone is against the variance. You don't need to hear from everyone. Moving on. Surely the councilwoman would tell the other people to sit down. The decision was all but done. But, clearly, that wasn't the way things were done. Each person was given a chance to speak. They might repeat themselves ten times, but no one interrupted, no one suggested we move on. I could feel myself drifting.
I looked down at the agenda. There were six items on it. We had spent nearly an hour in this room, and we were still on the first one. I didn't think I would be able to make it.
I tried to discreetly pull out a fresh sheet of paper. At least I could be productive with this time. I jotted down a quick list of things I still needed to do for the wedding. This weekend I was going shopping for a dress. Then I could pick bridesmaid outfits. I still needed a florist and a photographer. Then, we needed to do a menu tasting before the end of the month. I thought that was it.
I looked up and realized everyone was looking at me. Oh no! I think they asked me a question when I wasn't paying attention. What should I do? Look stupid and ask them to repeat it? That was probably the safest route. I couldn't give advice when I didn't know the question.
"I'm sorry," I said nervously, trying not to let my voice shake, "I didn't hear all of what you said, could you repeat it?"
"Is there a reason we can't vote on this variance tonight?"
"How should I know?" I wanted to say, "this is my first meeting. I haven't any idea." But, instead, I figured I would just make a decision. Besides, all I wanted them to do was get this over with. No need to revisit it another time.
"No, go right ahead and vote." The council seemed pleased with this response. I hoped there was no reason they had to wait. Nothing like giving advice when you have no idea what the answer is.
After the vote, the council called for the next item on the agenda. I glanced at my watch, a quarter to nine. I might not get home until midnight at the rate they were going. But here was the big issue: how was I going to get out of doing this again? I couldn't sit through another one of these horrible meetings, and I certainly couldn't do it every other week as I was slated to do.
The next man came up with a huge drawing. He set it on the easel. "Here is my proposal. I want to build a ten-car garage in my backyard. I collect vintage automobiles. I need a place to store them, so I am asking for a variance to build another building on my property."
I could see that this was going to go the same route as number one on the agenda. I was surprised to see that wasn't clear to number two. He looked just like number one before anyone began speaking -- this is just a formality. I'll tell them about it, then go home and do what I want to do. Think again, I wanted to shout, but I just sat there and watched as the line to get to the microphone grew to the point that it was outside the room we were in. Tonight might not make me live any longer, but it was certainly going to seem like I had lived an eternity.
I zoned out but tried to look alert. If I wasn't looking down writing a list, maybe they wouldn't catch me off guard the next time. The next two hours ticked by second after second. I watched each tick on the clock over the heads of the council members. My contacts were so dry from staring; I knew I was going to have to pry them off my eyeballs. I was completely exhausted. It was ten minutes until midnight. I dragged myself out of the meeting and home to my bed. My only thought was how I am going to get out of doing that again?
My new office was next to Hugh, whom I called Crazy 80's guy. His radio was always going with hits from the 80's. The problem wasn't that I didn't like the music; it was that I knew it too well. It got stuck in my head everyday -- A-ha, Poison, Bon Jovi -- it was high school nostalgia heaven.
Hugh sang along with his favorite tunes, which was fine as long as I wasn't trying to talk on the phone, have a conversation with someone or concentrate on something I was writing. I contemplated what to do about this problem. I didn't want to hurt his feelings because I really liked him.
I tried asking him to turn the music down, and he did. But the next day, it was back up again. I brought in earplugs, but I couldn't work with them in. I had to take them out all the time, and by lunch I'd lost one. So, I decided to beat him at his own game. I brought in my classical CDs and put them into play.
Hugh came in a few minutes later, "Great tunes! Can I borrow them?"
I sighed, defeated. "Sure, I'll bring them to you."
He smiled happily and strolled back to his office. I guessed I would just have to learn to tune it out -- or play my music louder than his. Everyone was starting to make me a little testy. I'm tired of all the quirks and craziness, I thought wearily. What I need is a treat. I'm dieting, so no food. I'll just step out for an hour or so and go to the mall. That'll do it. Mall walking always relaxes me.
I picked up my purse and headed out the back door. No one will miss me. I'll only be gone an hour. I can say I had to go to the library to do some research! I felt better already. Nothing like getting away from it all for just a bit.
As soon as I arrived at the mall, I knew I had made the right choice. I wandered around looking at the latest spring fashions. Pink! I love pink. I needed something pink. Then I saw it -- a pink satin pea coat. Perfect! Just having it in the sack gave me a feeling of tranquility. I bought an iced latte and sipped it happily as I meandered around for my last allotted twenty minutes.
Heading back to the firm, I felt relaxed, almost tranquil. I needed to do this for myself more often. This would really help me. Oh! This and one treatment a month at Ten Thousand Waves. Why hadn't I thought of it before? That would do it. Then I could deal with all the issues, personal and other.