I didn't want to, but I went back the next day. I'd chosen my outfit carefully -- a black skirt, but instead of the jacket that matched it, I took out this really cute red shirt with tiny black strips I had gotten at Target a few weeks before. When I wasn't working, shopping at Target, rather than my usual Ann Taylor, gave me a little shopping fix. Tossing a black sweater over my shoulders, I looked in the mirror. Not bad. It looked sleek and sophisticated, and looking good always made me feel better.
This time, I wasn't taking any chances. I purchased my muffin and cappuccino before I entered the building. I even bought a second bottled frappuccino for any emergency that might occur in the afternoon.
As soon as I walked out of the elevator, I knew something was different. The atmosphere was distinctly lighter. I asked one of the assistants what was going on.
"Oh, Bob's not in yet."
That was interesting -- not a good sign when the air was that much lighter when the boss was gone. My last job had driven that point home emphatically.
I dropped my stuff off in my office and started to check my email when I realized I hadn't been given an address yesterday -- I guess J.R. hadn't let me out of his sight long enough. I wandered back over to the assistant, Anne.
"Can I get my email address?"
She started to laugh.
"We don't have email."
"We don't have email. If fact, we only have AOL dial-up, but, you have to check first to make sure that no one else is using it because whenever anyone gets on, it kicks the other user off. In other words, only one of us can use the Internet at a time."
Oh, My, Gosh! No email? No Internet? I would have to quit. I simply could not make it through the day without them, I was sure of that. What was I supposed to do all day? I need my eBay! Online shopping was a decent substitute for the real thing. When I put in what I was looking for -- like Jimmy Choo shoes, I could feel myself relax. I figured one day I might see a pair I could buy and then everyone would be really envious. They never had to know where I got them.
"So," I ventured, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. "What's it like here?"
"You spent all day with J.R. yesterday, right?" She asked.
"Yeah," I responded, haltingly.
"Well, that's pretty much what it's like. After all, he's the boss' son."
I felt my pulse quicken and my heart beating in my chest. Ooo, I did not like the sound of that. I might need that extra frap now. In particular, I did not like the insinuation -- too scary. I wandered away from her desk in search of some of the other people that worked here to get a real feel for the place.
Walked into the office next to the assistant's desk, "Hi!" I exclaimed, extending my hand.
"Hey, I'm Greg."
"Nice to meet you. So, how long have you been here?"
"Oh, just trying to get a feel for the place. J.R. told me yesterday that a lot of people had left."
Greg let out a sigh of relief. "I've been here almost three years. It's OK, once you get used to it. Although you have to have a tough skin, you know, let things go, like water off a duck's back."
"Mm," I responded noncommittally.
"Yeah, people leave pretty quickly here. Bob's a screamer, but he won't yell at you yet because you're new. However, it is inevitable because he yells at everyone. Plus, he never remembers anything he tells you so he'll ask you to do something, come in twenty minutes later and say, 'What the hell are you doing that for?' Then he'll give you a whole new project. The last girl left in tears after he laid into her. The guy whose office you got, stormed out when Bob accused him of being negligent on a case. Of course, the truth was that Alex had told Bob all of the problems, Bob told him not to worry about it, Alex let it go, and then when it blew up, it was Alex's fault. Very typical."
I was sick -- truly, physically ill, my bowels beginning to twitch and my stomach started giving leaps of protest. This job was not good for my health. I was sure Sam would see that -- he didn't want me to be sick.
I turned my focus back to Greg. "Why do you stay?" I really wanted to know.
"Well, I'm a physician's assistant. I make more money here, it's two minutes from my house, and I don't let Bob's ranting bother me. Besides, I like the work. It's all medical in nature, which appeals to me. Plus, I have more responsibility here than I would at any other firm. I have thirty-five cases of my own."
"Really?" This surprised me. What about the four lawyers that were here? Didn't they handle cases?
It was like he heard my mental question. "Oh, the other lawyers have cases, but if you haven't noticed," his tone was dripping with sarcasm, "J.R. is completely and totally incompetent. The nurse, Kyla, who sits next to me, and I handle all of J.R.'s caseload."
Well, that explained a lot. "Thanks," I said. "I appreciate the heads up."
"You might be able to handle it," he said, "if you can ignore Bob. Just be sure that you cover yourself by putting whatever you tell him on paper and into the file. Massive CYA is needed at this firm."
"Ug," I thought and tramped on to the next office, feeling queasy. My last job had a boss that was impossible, where I had to walk on eggshells, nothing I did was ever right, and he couldn't remember anything I told him. I DID NOT want to repeat that particular performance here. It was way too stressful for me. Besides that, I do not do screamers. That had happened two, no three jobs back. It had happened exactly once because I had walked out of the office, picked up my stuff and walked out the door before he finished the screaming. I never went back.
"Hi," I flashed a smile as I extended my hand to the next person.
"Nice to meet you, I'm Carol."
"So," I began, trying to gauge what was the best tactic to take with her. She was a lawyer too, but I didn't know if she would feel any camaraderie or not. "Have you worked here long?"
"About seven years."
I breathed a small sigh of relief. Maybe it was tolerable to work here, after all, she'd done it. Seven years was an eternity at one job. "Do you enjoy it?"
"Well, I like the work." Carol was hedging, I could tell. I am an expert on hedging because I do it better than anyone.
"I don't like to litigate, and I like lots of client contact. I get that here. No case ever goes to trial. We settle every one before that."
"You must get along well with Bob and J.R." I was fishing and knew it, she'd know it too, but maybe she would give up the goods anyway.
She smiled at me. The game was up. "We get along all right. I went to law school after I'd worked on the hill for a few years. I took this job right out of school. I'd had twins while I was in law school, and I liked this job because it was regular hours. When my husband and I divorced, I stayed because it was the best income I could get coming in at nine and leaving at five. I never have to stay. That is pretty much impossible to find in the legal field."
"Would you like to do something else?" I ventured. I thought maybe if she told me what she wanted to do, she might really tell me what I should do.
Again, she understood my meaning perfectly. "Well, if I didn't have to stay here, I wouldn't. It is not a great working environment. Bob gives you things to do, but it is almost impossible to figure out what he wants. He doesn't give any direction. He's all over the place. On top of that, J.R. is second-in-command and a complete imbecile."
I smiled at her. I was sincerely grateful. That kind of truth in an opinion was not only precious, but also extremely difficult to come by. I was sorry that I wouldn't be sticking around; Carol would make a really great friend.
"Thanks," I said, "I truly appreciate your honesty."
As I left her office, I had one question left to answer. How long should I stay? Could I make it through one month? If I made at least two weeks, I'd have plenty for those fall boots, even if I didn't change the world.
I ventured back to my office, and to my surprise, found someone at the desk across from mine.
"I'm Dan," he declared shaking my hand vigorously. "I'm clerking here. Today is my first day. I'm a second year."
"Great to meet you," I said wrenching my hand away before he shook my arm out of its socket.
"I hear you started yesterday."
"How do you like it?"
The million dollar question had been asked. How should I answer? I didn't want to be honest, but I couldn't give him a false impression. After all, he was bound to find out for himself the minute J.R. walked through the door. I took a long drink of my cappuccino to stall. I deeply regretted only buying a Grande. Today was definitely a Venti kind of day.
"It's OK," I hedged, trying to sound light.
It didn't work. He pounced. "Why? What's wrong?"
"Well," I started, but I didn't get to finish because J.R. came through the door shoulders slumped, his beefy arms swaying back and forth. He looked so much like an orangutan; I started coughing in my attempt to suppress the giggle.
"What?" Demanded J.R.
"Sorry," I hacked, "something in my throat." I picked up a piece of muffin and followed it up with a gulp of my cappuccino. I wondered if I could sneak out and get another one before Bob came in. I supposed I could settle for a Dr. Pepper. If I couldn't escape, there wasn't going to be enough caffeine to make it through this day.
He stuck his finger in Dan's chest. "Time . . to . . start . . your . . training. You . . have . . to . . learn . . our . . business. You . . have . . to . . get . . to . . know . . each . . of . . the . . clients. Read . . their . . files."
He must have had to memorize that speech. There was no other way. It was amazing that he could give it over and over again, without any hint that he had done it before. I truly believe that it was new to him every single time it came out of his mouth. I stared, watching him rock back and forth as he intoned his speech to Dan, just as he had to me the day before.
I watched Dan follow J.R. out the door for his tour. Dan glanced back at me with a wild look on his face. I knew he wanted to flee. It was also clear from that look that Dan understood what I was trying to communicate when he'd asked how my first day had been. I was sad for Dan, but exceedingly grateful that J.R. was occupied with a new victim.
When I reached my desk, I found the brief, marked up and ready for changes. It was nice to work in the relative quiet of my back office. By the end of the morning, I was able to finish the brief and place it on Bob's desk. There were no interruptions from Bob, who wasn't there, or J.R., who was still busy with Dan. I had actually decided that I could make it through a few months at this firm, until the other shoe dropped.
Bob came busting out of the elevator in a rampage, followed by Liza Minnelli in the largest glasses I'd ever seen. I stared, fascinated. Then turning to find someone to ask, I ran into the assistant, Anne, coming to the kitchen for a cup of coffee.
"Was Liza injured by some doctor?" I asked breathlessly. A celebrity in the office was so exciting to me! Maybe I could be famous after all! This might be my starting point. All you need is one good contact, and Liza would make a terrific contact.
"Liza Minnelli. I saw her walk in the office."
Anne laughed so hard that she snorted coffee through her nose, spilling it down her top and all over the floor. I had to jump back to be sure my Ferragamo pumps were safe.
"That," she wheezed out trying to catch her breath and mop up the mess, "is not Liza Minnelli. That is Bob's wife, June." She started laughing again, and her eyes started to water with mirth.
"Are you joking? She's a dead ringer for Liza," I retorted, stunned.
"Nope, she comes almost every day to make our lives hell. She follows us around giving us tasks to do. Wait until she finds you." She walked out with her cup smirking.
June didn't find me first. She found Dan. I came back into the office after running out for a sandwich to find Dan atop a ladder in our office.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm changing light bulbs."
"Why? Don't they have maintenance in this building? Besides, why are you changing light bulbs, you're a law clerk. Surely you have something better to be doing."
"June doesn't think maintenance changes them fast enough," Dan retorted. "And I am changing them because she is the boss's wife and told Bob, in the shrillest voice I've ever heard, that someone MUST attend to the bulbs this minute. He gave me to her."
"A sheep to slaughter."
"This is it," he told me, "I'm not coming back here. They're insane. I've worked at two other law firms and a court. This is not the way it is supposed to be. I wanted to get experience, but I have a bachelor's and am getting a doctorate. I already know how to change a light bulb, but she gave me this assignment with such solemn intonation, you'd have thought it was a death penalty appeal."
I snorted and turned to my desk, but before I could sit down, a screech hit my ears.
I whirled around, nose-to-nose with Liza, I mean June. We were so close my breath was fogging up her glasses.
"I need you immediately. There is an important job for you." She physically took me by the arm and led me from the room. I looked back helplessly at Dan. He wasn't laughing. He wasn't even smiling.
"Now," she barked at me, "you will go through each of these files and pull out the ones that are more than seven years old and put them in these boxes to be archived." She gave me a little shove. I don't like to me manhandled, and she had touched me twice. I stepped back.
"I'm afraid I have too much work to do. You would have to clear it with Bob." I started to turn and walk away. She grabbed at my wrist.
"Please, do not touch me." It came out of my mouth before I even thought about it. She looked stunned.
"Excuse me?" She was glaring at me, which was more threatening than it should have been from a 60-year-old lady, because her eyes were magnified to the size of fishbowls by her glasses.
"I don't like to be touched," I responded, with as much dignity as I could muster. "It bothers me." I tried to be cold and raise my head with dignity, but it was all lost by her screech.
"What?" He shuffled out of his office in an obvious temper. "I'm busy."
"I want this girl to go through the files, and she won't." She actually stamped her foot for emphasis. I stared down. I didn't think I'd ever seen anyone over the age of five do that.
"Jessica," he snapped, "go through files until I finish with this draft of your brief."
He turned and walked away. She glowered at me triumphantly and flounced away. I watched her go, then closed my eyes, wishing that I'd see her leave in her Jaguar so that I could run her down in my Hummer, if I had one. I was losing patience with the job very quickly. I didn't actually mind going through files, after all, they paid me no matter what I did and that work is mindless. However, one can only work for so many people, and this office was teeming with bosses -- all of whom were related to one another. Nepotism never produces good things.
I spent the next few hours going through files. I was really getting into the swing of it, making a game of trying to toss files into boxes, when Bob appeared out of nowhere. He shoved the brief at me.
"We need to file this. Finish it now. Goodbye."
It was late. There was no way to get this thing filed today, but I hurried back to my office anyway and went through the changes as quickly as I could. When I took back the finished product, Bob was gone.
"It's five-thirty, there's that bar downstairs, why don't we get a drink?" Dan suggested.
I was extremely grateful. "That would be great, thanks!"
After we sat down and ordered drinks, Dan turned to me, "Are you coming back tomorrow?"
I looked down into my vodka and tonic, swirling the lime with my swizzle stick. "I don't know. I don't want to. But, I can't very well quit over the phone, so I guess I'll have to come back in the morning. What about you?"
"No. I'm not coming back. I don't have time to waste changing light bulbs."
I nodded. I decided right then -- I would quit in the morning. There was no way this job would get me anywhere on my quest. My destiny was to change the world -- not go through files or change light bulbs. No, this job simply would not do.
When I told Sam about Liza, he got annoyed, "She was pulling at you and shoving you?" He was incredulous. "That will not do. I hate to admit it, but I think you should quit this job. I just don't like anything you have told me about it."
I was very pleased and grateful because I had been a little worried that he would think I needed to give it another chance.
In the morning, I picked out a perfect quitting suit, all black. I tied a gorgeous red scarf around my neck. Red is my favorite color. They didn't know it, but I was showing my great pleasure at getting to give them the boot. I had them put an extra shot of espresso into my Venti cappuccino -- I needed all the help I could get. Nothing like courage in the form of a stiff morning coffee.
I marched right in all prepared to quit. But I had to wait, as J.R. and Bob were busy trying to hire a new receptionist. I sat in my office and tried to think of how to say, "It's not you, it's me -- but obviously, it is really YOU!"
I got my chance a few minutes later when Bob came in with a new project.
"I want you to organize this box." He was storming out when I said, "Um, I need to tell you something." He turned, bewilderment written all over his face.
I cleared my throat. "I am giving you my notice." He was turning a different shade of something, so I hurried on, "The truth is, law is not the right career for me. I thought I could come back to being a plaintiff's attorney and be OK, but I need to find a different career."
"How can you say that?" Bob sputtered. "Your stuff was good. You'll make a fine attorney!"
"I appreciate that, but it just isn't right for me."
"Why?" He asked accusingly, "Is it the money? Don't you like to help injured women? What is the problem?"
"It isn't any of those things," I tried to assure him. "I have been struggling with this for a while, and I wanted it to work, but I can feel that my heart is never going to be totally into it."
"My daughter says the same thing. I'll tell you what I told her. That is ridiculous. This is a great career -- you can be successful and help people. It's the best career you can have."
"I'm sorry." I meant it. I wasn't trying to upset him.
"Well, you've ruined my day. I'll tell you one thing: I'll never hire a woman again. You can get your check and go." Whew! I was worried he wasn't going to pay me. At least now I knew I'd have enough for Sam's birthday present -- even though he would be mad that I spent it that way rather than saving it.