With the clerkship over before I'd planned, I was in a tough spot. No job meant no money. No money meant nothing fun, no shopping, no eating out. Sam loved me without a job (although he missed the money) because I could meet him at the door with a Mojito, and we could relax! So even though I longed to be laying out by the pool, doing my nails in pink and silver, having lunch with my friends and going to chick flicks in the afternoon when it was too hot for the pool; instead, I'd pounded the paving searching for the job that would lead me to my destiny where I would make the world a better place.
The ad in the Post asked for a lawyer interested in helping women -- that was me, right? Who didn't want to help women. So, I applied.
I should have known when I walked in for the interview to turn and run. As the elevator doors opened, I gasped -- the place was covered in Pop art. Fifty or so light bulbs were hanging over four of those exceedingly uncomfortable Scandinavian chairs -- no padding, just wood and steel. Behind the chairs on the wall was a Lichtenstein, a giant face of a cartoon girl made with black and white dots with fake platinum blonde curls and a tear larger than her cheek. It was hideous. I just stood there with my mouth open.
"Excuse me! Can I help you?" That brought me back to reality. I looked around to see where the voice was coming from. I hadn't noticed before because the surroundings were so ghastly, but a desk was pushed in the corner and a red-haired girl of about twenty was sitting there.
"Excuse me!" She seemed to be getting quite feisty -- tapping her toes and drumming her fingers on her arm.
Why am I here? I wondered, my attention still focused on the ugly room. Oh, yes! I had an interview with a law firm specializing in representing injured women.
"Um, I'm Jessica Clark-Romero. I'm here for an interview."
"Take a seat." Her annoyance was evident as she gestured to the uncomfortable chairs before me. "I'll call Bob's secretary."
I nodded and sat down on the edge of a chair, hoping I wouldn't have to sit too long -- the bones in my butt were chafing as I tried to get comfortable on the contraption. Before me was a small metal table. Aha! A magazine will take my mind off my discomfort. The D.C. Bar Journal, Medical Malpractice Times and four copies of the Georgetown Law Review -- they had to be kidding. Seriously, trying to get clients -- don't you have Star or People at the very least? I was really hoping for an US Weekly. Great! Nothing to focus on but sitting on the edge of this beast trying to avoid sliding back off the front hump into the abyss -- where I knew I'd NEVER be able to stand up again.
Eventually, the girl from the desk returned.
"Bob will see you now." She pointed to a door next to the crying cartoon. I struggled to get up, and as I emerged into the back office, I felt my lip curl up in disgust. These people must have the worst taste in the entire world. All the furniture was metal and the walls were covered with more Pop art, on one wall was a burgundy canvas with a wide black swipe at an angle, and on the other, a copy of an Andy Warhol soup can.
Another woman at a desk pointed to an open door, "Go right on in. Bob's waiting for you."
Bob was sitting at a round table -- well, at least sort of round. As I moved to a better angle, I realized that it was an egg, with a big yellow yolk in the middle. This gave me serious pause. Bad taste was pretty much unforgivable -- what kind of person would actually spend good money on something that hideous? Probably not someone I wanted to work for. Hmm . . . what to do?
"Have a seat and tell me about your last job." Bob said pointing to the chairs around the yolk table. When I sat my bag down, I realized that the chairs had chicken feet for legs. Oh, please God, let me wake up from this nightmare.
The interview droned on. I answered the questions with as much of a smile as I could muster. It was just like all the other interviews -- although it wasn't one of my better performances. When he asked me to explain the legal difference between negligence and obvious fault, I stuttered, "Uh, well, when it is obvious, you don't have to prove negligence."
"WRONG! You must always prove negligence!" He thundered.
I could feel my face turning red.
"Don't worry. No one gets that right. Can you start on Monday?"
I had reservations, but I took it because I was desperate. Working for the judge was supposed to make it easy for me to get the job that would let me change the world. However, all of my hunting up to now had produced nothing -- How is that possible? I wondered each morning as I dragged myself out of bed. Sam had been patient initially, but as September approached, he was fed up and wanted me to get a job -- before the unemployment came to an end.
So without further ado, I took what was offered. After all, I wanted to help women. That seemed like a good thing to do. Besides, I could keep looking for a better job -- one that would lead to me changing the world, fame and fortune. This was just temporary -- my destiny would kick in very soon!
On the first day, I stood in front of my closet choosing the perfect first day outfit. In the interview, I noticed the office was fairly casual; the guys were in slacks and shirts, and the women in slacks and sweater sets. At my last job, I wore suits. I didn't have a lot of office casual. I smiled, what a great reason to have to buy new clothes. Sam could never argue with that!
Brown trousers with a cream pinstripe, that seems very business casual. I had found them at the Gap outlet down the street for only twenty-five dollars, but they looked expensive. A cute cream sweater set and some pearls made it an outfit. Quite elegant, I thought. If this works out, I could even buy those fabulous brown boots I'd seen last week at Nordstrom. But this is about making a difference in the lives of my fellow human beings -- clothes, my worst temptation, should take a backseat. Never mind that this was the single pair of pants besides jeans that I owned. I would worry about what to wear tomorrow -- well, tomorrow.
I sprayed on my favorite scent, 'Allure,' and looked at my reflection, very rested -- a nice change from before the summer when I looked like a raccoon because of the dark circles under my eyes. The highlights in my chocolate hair had just been redone. Stunning! I loved my new stylist. Maybe I'll ask for red the next time -- that might really bring out my green eyes!
"You have to do this," I spoke to my reflection. "Before Christmas you will be making a difference, setting the world on its ear! You can do this." I nodded to myself. Deep breath!
I walked downstairs.
"You look great," Sam mumbled with a half-eaten piece of toast dangling from his mouth. "You ready?"
I nodded, but I wasn't ready. What I wanted to do was go back to bed, pull the covers over my head -- No, I wanted to go back in time. If I could go back to the beginning, I would go to Princeton and Harvard Law. I hadn't thought that would matter, but obviously it did. I needed a different resume and a lot more connections. Feelings of depression washed over me. The next job would do it! I would finally connect with someone who could help me scramble up to the next level and start doing something I cared about.
"Let's go," Sam said opening the door and taking the Washington Post from the top step and stuffing it in his briefcase. "I bet you are looking forward to getting back into it."
I looked at him. He knew that statement was ridiculous. I guess the look must have said it for me because he winced.
"OK, maybe you don't want to get back into it, but Jessica, you need a job. This seems like a good fit for you. Don't stop looking. We'll find you something better soon, 'kay?" He squeezed my hand.
"I know. I just wish the something better would go ahead and come along." I trudged after him up the hill to the King Street Metro stop. I hated the Metro, although I didn't really know why; I used to like it. Besides, driving makes me just a little crazy -- I might make a few comments to the other drivers and change lanes a little in order to find a faster lane. The problem was Sam -- he would be clutching the door, turning greener and greener. On the Metro, I could read and arrive at work slightly less harried.
But somewhere along the way, I had grown tired of pushing onto Metro cars, having my feet trampled on, and feeling like I had no control over getting myself from place to place. I wanted to be behind the wheel -- in a Hummer! Then no one would get in my way. I'd own the whole road.
Sam nudged me, "Where are you today? Isn't your stop next?"
I had totally forgotten what I was doing. "Right! Thanks!" I started gathering up my purse and my other bag.
"Call me when you get a chance and tell me how it is going. You are going to do great, Jess! I'm proud of you!" I smiled and gave him a peck on the cheek.
The doors opened and suddenly I was a salmon swimming upstream to the escalator.
I arrived to find the only named partner, Bob, waiting for me.
"You'll be working in here," he said. Bob was pointing to the round table in his office.
I don't know if I audibly gasped or not, but I know I swallowed hard. Although I do work, I have to have my "breaks." Get on the Internet and browse eBay for a few minutes or play a game of spider solitaire or maybe call someone for a quick chat. I could NEVER work in someone else's office.
"Now, go put your stuff down and come back. Your office is back there. Goodbye." He motioned me out with a little wave.
Thank God! I did have an office. What a relief. OK, I was glad to have an office, but I had no clue where it was. I started looking around for help finding said office. Wait a minute my brain spiraled back to his dismissal. Did he actually say "goodbye" and wave me out? I realized that in my joy over actually having my own space I had sort of missed that. Hmm . . . that gave me pause for concern. "Now Jessica," I said to myself, "you are looking for things not to like about this job. Stay positive! The right thing is just around the corner." Besides, this was only a temporary job -- I had at least fifty resumes out there -- counsel for the National Gallery of Art, that would be interesting or the Senate Education Committee, I knew I could change what is wrong with the education system, or that teaching position with George Mason Law School. This was just about the money -- I would be somewhere great by Halloween, Thanksgiving at the latest.
Standing outside of Bob's office, I saw that Bob's secretary was at her desk, "Um, could you point me toward my office?" Her name was Nancy, I thought, but I didn't want to chance calling her the wrong thing.
She barely glanced at me and said, "Down the hall, last door on the right."
I walked down the hall, gawking at the horrible artwork. There was a photo of a garbage dump -- at least five feet tall and wide. Then a photo of an old man sitting on a bed with a gun in his hand. Taste in art says a great deal about the person who owns it. This art said the owners were scary and suicidal. Concern popped up into my head again, and I struggled to push it down. This job is only temporary. You have to have a job to find a job. Unemployment isn't going to help you change the world. I just had to keep telling myself that.
I found myself entering a large office. There were two desks pushed together so that if two people were seated at them they would be facing each other. Worry struck me to the core. No one else was going to be in here, right? Was I going to have to stare at someone all day long? I couldn't take that! I just couldn't! I was really worried now. What should I do? The far desk had a window where I could look out, so I plopped my stuff down and sat. Deep breath. Jess, you can do this! You can do anything! It is just a job. I couldn't think of anything else to tell myself as tears pricked the back of my eyes, I so did not want to be here.
I reached for the phone to call Sam and tell him how rude they were to me. Ick! The phone was sticky. Then I noticed the desk -- covered in crumbs, as were the keyboard and numbers on the phone pad -- what a bad omen. The office hadn't prepared for my coming at all. A torrent of worry overwhelmed me; I couldn't hold it back. I felt like I was drowning. This could not be happening to me. Maybe if I close my eyes, when I open them, this will all be a bad dream. I shut them hard and took five deep breaths. My yoga instructor would be so proud. I opened one eye, just a little. Nope, same nasty place. It wasn't a dream. This was my life.
I called Sam.
"Hey!" He said. "How's it going?"
"They didn't prepare for me," I complained. "The desk is covered in crumbs! They didn't even show me to my office."
"Don't worry," he soothed. "The first day is always the worst. You know that. Wait to pass judgment until you meet the other people and see what kind of work they give you."
"OK," I said grudgingly. "I'll give it a try."
Before I had any more time to contemplate the situation, in walked my boss, Bob.
"Where have you been?" He snapped. "I thought you were coming right back. Let's go." He stomped out of the room. With a pad and pen that were sitting on the desk, I hurried after him.
When we got to his office, he shoved a gigantic stack of papers into my arms.
"This is the summary judgment that was just filed in the Roberts case. Go read it. Goodbye." And again, he made that little waving gesture. Worry fluttered in the pit of my stomach. That little waving gesture could make me kill him, I thought. Well, maybe killing was a little strong. Currently, I just wanted to pull off his hand.
"Uh," I stuttered, wanting to ask if I should be planning for a response to what he'd given me or if I was just reading for information.
"GOODBYE," he boomed and turned away from me.
I couldn't do this. I didn't want to do this. There was no way this was going to lead to anything earth shattering. I trudged back to my dirty office, dropped the paper pile with a thud and was just pulling up my chair when Bob's son J.R. walked in. J.R. had already told me that his name was an abbreviation of junior. I wondered if he was serious when he told me that.
But now, as he began to speak to me, I could see that he had been serious. He pulled up a chair so that he could sit just to my side of the desk.
"I'm . . going . . to . . give . . you . . a . . lesson . . on . . the . . ins . . and . . outs . . of . . our . . business," he told me. He spoke the words so slowly that I was guessing what the end of the sentence was going to be. I had to bite my tongue not to guess out loud. "We . . represent . . women . . who . . have . . been . . injured . . by . . their . . doctors. We . . have . . women . . who've . . had . . bad . . results . . with . . plastic . . surgery, women . . who . . can't . . get . . pregnant, women . . who've . . been . . injured . . by . . drugs, things . . like . . that." He made each utterance as if he was mulling it over, rocked slowly back and forth as he spoke to me, getting closer and closer to my face with everything he said. I began to try and decide if he was mentally challenged or well uh, something else. Focus Jess, focus!
"We . . represent . . injured . . women," he proclaimed, stretching out each syllable. I knew he was continuing to talk, but the words were starting to sound distant to me.
"OK," I said impatiently, wanting him to shut up and leave me alone. "But I did this kind of work before, when I was living in New Mexico. I've been a practicing attorney for six years." In other words, I know what I'm supposed to be doing!
"You . . need . . a . . basic . . understanding . . of . . what . . we . . do . . here," he said, speaking as if I hadn't spoken. He rubbed his hand over his buzz cut the way I touch a mink coat when I walk through the fur department at Neiman's. "I . . want . . you . . to . . get . . to . . know . . this . . book. Let . . me . . tell . . you . . about . . it." He opened up the book and began pointing out things for me. "This . . is . . a . . complaint."
"I know." I tried not to let the irritation creep into my voice. "I've written dozens before."
He continued, ignoring me. I stifled a yawn. My mind wandered, searching for something to focus on. My brain screamed at me -- why hadn't I listened to my father and gone to journalism school to be the next Barbara Walters? That would have been so much better. I knew there was more to life, and that I wanted to do more and have my life have an impact. The newspaper was full of stories about people who had an impact. I just hadn't realized it was going to be so hard.
Bob walked in, forcing me back to the present.
"What have you done about Roberts?" He snapped.
"Well," I said, "J.R. has been in here giving me the finer points of your practice." I thought that would be obvious to him since he could see J.R. sitting, practically on top of me here at my desk.
He scowled at both of us.
"Let's go," he grunted turning to walk out of my office. "We've got a staff meeting."
I followed like an obedient puppy, rubbing my eyes and trying not to yawn where they could see.
The staff meeting began with Bob pointing to me. "This is Jessica Clark-Romero. Do you have to hyphenate? Why can't you just take your husband's name?"
I know my mouth hit the table. "Uh, well," I began, not knowing what to reply to that. "I already had my license to practice when I got married, I didn't want to change it. I can be just Clark, if you want."
"Fine," he muttered. "Two names are ridiculous. Jessica is going to be doing what Alex was doing before he left. She'll call up the experts. Stroke them for us. She seems to have a good personality. I think if they meet her then they won't flip for the defense."
I have to admit, I was slack-jawed. I had no idea he had hired me to take out experts and give them kudos. He didn't know me yet, but I would guarantee he didn't want me to do that job. I have one particularly bad habit -- I tended to say whatever came to mind. "Help!" I wanted to scream, "This isn't right! I'm supposed to be doing something important."
Bob continued the meeting without ever bothering to introduce a single person to me. I was getting quite concerned about the environment here. He asked how many cases we had, where they were, all the normal stuff that happens in a law office. But I noticed that everyone was hedging his or her answers, handling the boss with the biggest kid gloves I'd ever seen. J.R. sat next to me, his hand caressing his buzz cut, he was beginning to look almost relaxed. I desperately needed a cappuccino fix. When was this going to end? I looked around. It didn't seem anyone else was thinking toward an end. I started to wiggle my toes in my shoes, hoping that might keep me from bolting out of this meeting and finding a place that sells raspberry muffins. I hid my hands in my lap and started picking at my nail polish.
The meeting ended, and I was more confused then when it started. I had no idea what was going on in this office. No one had given me any direction, so I went back to my office to start reading that mound of papers, but instead I sat down and stared out the window because I didn't think I could bear to read that stuff.
But before I could start, J.R. reappeared.
"I . . want . . to . . tell . . you . . about . . our . . work," he began, "we . . represent . . injured . . women."
Déjà vu. I couldn't believe it -- he was repeating his entire speech even more slowly than the first time, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. I was actually grateful when Bob interrupted that he wanted to see me in thirty minutes on Roberts. With a deadline looming, J.R. did leave me alone with the paper and the crumbs. "Do I have time to run out for a little pick-me-up?" I wondered. I could really use some caffeine.
I looked at the papers in front of me. OK, if I read ten pages, I can get a muffin. With that promise to myself, I dove in. As I read, I realized the work was fairly straightforward. I felt up-to-date when I went to see Bob half an hour later. I'd decided I would get myself a muffin, cappuccino and a Heath bar if I went to see Bob first. Nothing could have prepared me for his next item.
"Write me a brief on that. You have two hours. Go. Goodbye."
Was he insane? He had to be. No person could write a brief in two hours. Besides, I was promised a muffin, cappuccino and a Heath bar. Muffin first, brief second, I decided. Stunned by his insanity, I went back to my hole, I mean office. But when I walked through the door, there was J.R.
"I . . need . . to . . give . . you . . more . . training."
"Bob gave me a project," I stated, worried about how Bob was going to react and hoping that would make J.R. go away. Besides, I was on my way to get a muffin. And a cappuccino. Listening to J.R. was not on the agenda.
"You . . need . . training," J.R. reiterated. I truly wondered if he could hear me at all. "Follow . . me."
"Here . . are . . the . . folders . . we . . keep . . each . . client's . . records . . in. You . . need . . to . . read . . each . . person's . . records. It . .is . . important . . to . . be . . familiar . . with . . their . . injury. You . . have . . to . . prove . . an . . injury . . to . . get . . damages." Did he not know I went to law school? I was beginning to get extremely tired of J.R.'s schooling. I glanced at my watch. Could it really only be eleven thirty in the morning? It felt like three in the afternoon.
"Here . . are . . the . . boxes . . that . . we . . keep . . issues . . we've . . already . . briefed . . in. You . . can . . find . . the . . briefs . . and . . the . . cases . . we . . used . . to . . support . . them." A light went on for me. Maybe you could write a brief in two hours -- if it had been written before. I glanced at the issues. Sure enough, the same issue Bob had given me had been briefed before. Hot damn! I grabbed up the file while J.R. droned on.
"J.R.," I said. No response.
"J.R.," I said, a little louder. Nothing.
"J.R.!" I gave him a push.
"What?" He asked, his eyes flashing. He obviously didn't like to be interrupted.
"Look, this is really helpful," I declared, trying to coat my voice with sugar, "but it is just too much information for me all at one time. Can I grab some lunch and we'll start again in say two hours?"
He grunted at me, but turned away. I took that as acquiescence to my request. I actually did go grab a salad, but I couldn't find a place with my raspberry muffin or a Heath bar, so I returned to my desk with my treasure. They had briefed this exact issue. All I had to do was change the facts. I sat down, salad on my lap and started looking it over.
Bob walked in, took one look at me and announced, "I do not pay you to eat."
I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. He didn't look like he was joking. But he had to be joking. I just smiled at him and turned back to the brief. He left, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Brief completed in an hour and a half. Not my best work -- OK, it wasn't my work at all, but it was finished with time to spare. I went to Bob's office and handed in my assignment. Then, I was going out to find a cappuccino, no matter what.
"What's this?" Bob asked.
"The brief you asked me to write in Roberts."
"I didn't want you to write a brief in Roberts. I want you to start calling those experts. See what's happening in the cases. Goodbye."
Shock. Numbness. I shook my head to clear it away.
"GO. NOW!" Bob commanded, bringing me back to reality.
I wandered back to my office, passing someone as I went and said hi. No response. This was becoming the worst of my "first days on the job." The first day is always bad -- you don't know anything or anyone. You feel alone and a little frightened. It takes a few days to get into the routine of an office, to find your rhythm. I was used to all of that, but I had never before had a first day quite this bad.
As soon as I stepped over the threshold of my office door, there was J.R. Damn it! I want my cappuccino NOW! If I didn't get it soon, I was going to be really cranky.
"Ready . . to . . resume . . your . . training? You . . really . . need . . to . . get . . to . . know . . our . . business. It . . is . . essential . . to . . read . . client . . records. You . . need . . to . . know . . what . . each . . client's . . injury . . is." The way he went at this, training would take the rest of my natural life. Fast-paced is the way for me. Now, how was I going to speed him up?
I couldn't believe it. He was like a broken record. I spent the next two hours, glassy-eyed, trying to pay enough attention to get my nods and yeses in the correct places. He had to be slow. How he had made it through law school? All I could think about was getting away from him and finding myself a cappuccino. I couldn't have cared less about what he was saying to me.
Around 4:30, Bob came back into my office.
"Where's that brief?" He demanded. Whoa! I stared at him. Where had he been when I offered it to him three hours ago? I handed it to him mute because I honestly was speechless. He took it and stalked away, shoulders moving up and down as he went.
J.R. left. My head was splitting. I walked into the kitchen, which was next to my office. So far the one and only good thing I had been able to ascertain about this job was that the drinks were free and abundant; I grabbed a Dr. Pepper and went back to find some aspirin.
I sat down at the desk, and for the first time, had a moment to look around. Behind the desk, which was in front of mine, were dozens of those plastic body part things you see in doctor's offices. In the middle and larger than life, was a huge breast. The nipple was the size of a coffee mug. There was a heart, a pair of lungs, a skull, and some parts I didn't recognize. I turned slowly around, the next wall was full of books. I continued to turn, and promptly fell out of my chair when I came face to um, pelvis with a life-sized skeleton. This was too much. I didn't become a doctor for a reason. I wasn't keen to work with the breast staring at me on one side, and the skeleton staring on the other. It was bizarre like one of those old time house of horrors. Perhaps Bob was really Vincent Price.
I picked up my stuff to go. Thank God it was time, I could not have stood one more minute in that freak show office. As I made my way to the elevator, I almost ran into J.R., literally.
"Are . . you . . going?" I thought it seemed rather obvious since I had all my stuff, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, since he was mentally challenged.
"OH!" He said it with such relief that I was bewildered. "I . . thought . . you'd . . found . . another . . job. You . . know . . we . . have . . been . . running . . through . . people . . like . . water! They've . . been . . quitting . . left . . and . . right." He started to mark them with his fingers. "Three . . receptionists, two . . lawyers . . and . . three, no . . four . . paralegals." I swallowed hard. There was no worse sign.
"Well, goodnight." I practically ran away.
Sam laughed hysterically when I told him about the breast and skeleton.
"A giant boob? What would you ever need that for?" His eyes were watering, he was laughing so hard.
"How should I know?" I asked irritably. "But I don't want to work with it in my office."
"Can you steal it? The guys in my office would think it was a riot. I'd get free beer for days!"
"NO! You seem to be missing the point -- the giant breast is weird, but the office is horrid. No one spoke to me. The guy gave me an assignment and when I gave it to him, didn't remember, then asked for it hours later. Doesn't that concern you?"
"Oh, Jess," he was still laughing, and I could tell, trying to figure out a way to get me to bring the breast home, "You overreact. Maybe he was tied up with something and you disturbed him. I'm sure it will get better."