Saturday, November 21, 2009

Life in Recess(ion) Chapter 2.0

There is no such thing as a simple organism, not really. The simplest we can get are microbes. Little paramecia and the like. And even they aren't truly simple. Sure they look easy enough to understand, but we know that if we subject one of those little guys to enough stress (i.e. heat their environment, shrink it, etc...), they'll do various things to preserve themselves. They'll take a different shape, move differently, and so forth. What makes them "decide" to do that? We can't really see a brain in there. So how do they know? Complexity.
My environment had changed, too.
"Heah's yuh desk," Lynda said, "I think I got all my stuff outta theah."
"Oh I didn't know you were leaving."
"When's your last day?"
Tuhday? TUHDAY!? So I had one day to swipe all the knowledge preserved on this woman's stone-tablet brain and learn how to apply it? Oh I was a very nervous microbe.
"Yeah," she continued, "The othuh para's gonna start next week, so you'll have to know this stuff well enough tuh teach it."
Now I was screwed. But I listened anyway. I'm always doing this. Getting myself into situations where I have to do something I don't know faster than it's ever been done before. Though usually there's never much risk to it. If I can't learn to play the guitar in a week, well, no one's gonna bang down my door and haul me off to prison. Here, though, failure meant back to poverty - where the only value of a college degree is in its use as toilet paper.
"Did I tell yuh 'bout thuh kitchen?"
"Yeah. About the labeling?"
People say "Yeah" alot in these jobs. The quicker the better.
"Okay, so...oop! I fuhgot Mr. Mittens!" She collected a porcelain cat from the top of her computer and put it in her purse, which was on the short, gray carpet. The kind of carpet no one ever puts in their homes, but offices always use.
"So, heah's the computer. You know how tuh file a motion?"
"Make two copies of all Court docs and stick one in the file ovuh theah."
I didn't actually know all these things, so much as heard of other people doing them. She went on. Some things I asked about. Like I was truly lost when she got into civil cover sheets. As far as I could tell, the document was a series of boxes and lines, some of which you could leave blank, others you could only leave blank if you wanted prison time. So the stakes were high.
"Arright I'm gonna grab lunch, then you can go."
I sat at Lynda's desk. My desk, I suppose. It seemed like a light day. Bill and Terrence were out today. Bill was at Court, and Terrence was taking a personal day. I guess you can do that when your name is on the door. If only there were a way to skip straight to that job.
The chair was rejecting me like a body rejecting a new organ. Her ass groove was much too wide for me. Too low. The armrests too high. The seat too slanted downwards. The chair had to recalculate now. So did I.
My desk was bare, save for a few files I couldn't even begin to guess at the relevance of. Well, I didn't have any cases to look after at that point, so I figured I'd devote my time to administrative work. In about ten seconds, I was on Facebook.
Somewhere along my administrative journey, I hear a yell.
I didn't know how to answer that.
I had to do something. This was my ship now.
"He's out today."
"Oh yeah," Rick faded out from his corner office.
The phone rang. Now we were picking up steam. I answered.
"Barney Rodwell, Jonathan here."
"Who the hell is this?" vibrated the female on the other end.
Okay, so my maiden phone call wasn't going to win any Tonys.
"This is Chris. I'm a paralegal for Barney Rodwell."
"Where's Lynda?"
"She's on lunch. But today's her last day. I'll be taking over for her."
Silence. Then a sigh.
"Jonathan what?"
I hated that question.
"How'd you get stuck with that?"
"I don't really know, but I'd imagine the same way you got stuck with yours."
Which at this point I could only imagine to be "Doucherson."
"Hmm. Is Rick in?"
"Can I speak to him?"
"Oh, uh, sure hang on..."
I figured out where the "Hold" button was and ran into Rick's office.
"Uh, Rick?"
"Yeah," he blandly muttered, ogling his computer screen.
"There's a woman on the phone who wants to speak with you."
"Who is it?"
"I don't know."
"Well what's her name?"
I wanted to say, "Ms. Doucherson, I assume," but it came out:
"I, uh, don't know."
"Name, case, and what it's regarding. Three things you always get off the phone. I don't know who this person is. You gotta get those three things. If they have a case, take the info down and e-mail it to me. Tell them we'll get back to them."
He didn't state this in an upset tone, just an, I'm-doing-something-else-and-you're-bothering-me tone.
"I'm sorry."
"Put 'er through."
"You got it."
Back at my desk, her presence was still there as a flashing number on my phone's mini LCD screen. I looked everywhere for a "Transfer" button, but didn't see one. Taking her off hold, she heard me fumbling, hit several buttons, then hang up the receiver. I was pretty confident I had gotten it right until--
"Uh, it's 'Jonathan.'"
"Right. Did you send that call through?"
Well, I thought I did.
"Uh, no, I guess she hung up."
"She hung up?"
Silence. Is golden? I had to think so. By then Lynda was back.
"If yuh need me, I'll be in heah."
She then went into Bill's office, and shut the door without turning on the light. It seemed like everyone had a better job than me.
After a few hours of manning my desk, transferring calls (I had read the manual by this point), and surfing the internet, Melody stopped by.
"So how's your first day going?"
"Oh fine, I think."
"You think?"
"As first days go, nothing out of the ordinary, I'm sure."
"Hey could you swing by my office? I'm having trouble with my phone."
So I wasn't the only one.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Life in Recess(ion) Chapter 1

Sometimes people ask me why, as a playwright, I ever worked as a paralegal. Well, I had four years of pre-Law undergrad at City U. There was that interest, which reached back to the 9th Grade. Some intern experience. But is any of this the answer? No. By the time City U. cut me loose, my legal saliva dribbled no more than a paraplegic on a basketball court. I wanted to be somewhere where the law would almost never come into play. And I figured if anyone could screw up the study of the law, it would be a law firm.
Hence that day: June 21, 2008. Sitting in a conference room, overlooking Third Avenue. Never was a view so inducing of power and suicide at the same time. I wrote plays every chance I got, but, by far my greatest piece of fiction was tucked under my left elbow:
"Resume?" asked Lynda, a half-fossilized paralegal who acted like a stegosaurus in the office on the last day of the Jurrasic Period - she just didn't care.
"Right here." The thing could have won a Pushcart Prize, no joke.
I slid the paper over to her. Of course, this was one of those things they wanted you to e-mail, and I did. But you'd never bring that up. The economy was in the toilet. You kissed the ass of any job you could sit for.
The dinosaur eyed the paper. You might even think she coud read.
"Hmm. The attorney will be in soon."
And she left. As if this were a scene from "Law & Order." I, the perp, was to wait in the interrogation room, alone, until my lawyer finished his bowel movement and decided to kill a few minutes with me.
I just did what I always did in times like this - I read. (Well, I didn't do that every time I was left alone, but I assessed the situation as too dangerous to masturbate.)
Within a half-hour, I met Terrence Rodwell. With glass coasters over his eyes, and a rug on his head, I nearly mistook him for a wrinkled version of my living room.
"You interned at McStevenson, I see."
"I did." They were the law firm to whom I donated a semester my Junior Year.
"Those guys are assholes. No balls. All pussy."
And did I mention I was interviewing at a firm that handled gender discrimination cases?
"Well, I was only there for a semester."
"Why'd you leave?"
"I was about to take the LSAT, and I really wanted to focus on that."
"How'd you do?"
"A bit above average."
I got somewhere in the 140s. Basically a score that might reflect the legal savvy of Lee Harvey Oswald. But you can't say that.
"Are you going to law school?"
"It's in the picture, but I'd like to get more real-world experience first."
It was about as in-the-picture as a giraffe in the Mona Lisa.
"Hmm. You know Lexis?"
Whether he meant the search engine or the car or his wife's sister, the answer was the universal "Unemployed 'Yes.'" The Unemployed Yes was invented because saying, "I have no idea what you're talking about, but I'm just going to nod profusely in the affirmative because eating catfood is getting too expensive" took too much time for too little results.
"Yes, sir." (The "sir" was my own personal touch.)
"You bet."
"When can you start?"
"As soon as you need me."
"Okay, I'll have Lynda show you around."
"Sounds great."
Lynda waddled in after Terrence - Mr. Rodwell? - exited. As we toured the U-shaped office:
"Ovuh theah's Bill's office, he's out today."
"That's Rick. He's on a conference call right now. That's Melody sitting next to him. She's an associate."
Head raced back to my five minutes of web research I did on the firm while my porn was loading: Rick Barney, named partner. Terrence Rodwell, named partner. William Krups, partner. Melody Barnes, associate. Lynda Smith, paralegal... Got it.
"Back heauh's thuh kitchen. You put somethin' in the fridge, you gotta label it so ya don't get confused."
I had a B.A. Theoretically I've remembered more complex things. Though Lynda did have a lot more memories. Like Lincoln's inauguration.
"If youah hired, you'll sit here. It's moi desk nao, but it's where thuh para sits. If they hire another one, that para will sit theah."
Two desks embraced by the "U" of the offices. Made sense.
"Do ya have any questions?"
"Oh you should know by this aftahnoon. You'll get a call if you got the job. We got one more person tah intahview. Then we'll have seen everyone. Gotta good pool this yeah."
"That's great."
That was horrible. I had to do something, fast.
"Well," I began, "I'm just very eager to work here. I mean, not to jump the gun, but it's not even about the money, for me. The feeling of making a difference, that's why I'm here."
"That's wonduhful," she said, as if I had just brought her roadkill and told her to enjoy her lunch.
The sad thing was that there was an ounce of truth to that, once. After reading "To Kill a Mockingbird," I couldn't help but think, "Yeah. This is it. The law. I can save people's lives as a lawyer." Of course, all the while, I was writing fiction, which later evolved into plays. Somewhere along the line, I realized "To Kill a Mockingbird" was also fiction, and maybe I should just stick with that. I just kinda wished I realized that before I took the LSAT.
"Well, g'boi. We'll be in touch if you got the job. If ya don't hear frumus by the end of the day, we've gone with someone else."
Before I knew it, the prehistoric para had shown me the door.
"Thank you so much for the interview," I said, humbly.
With that, I went home. I was still living with my parents, after I decided money was just something you bought DVDs with. To get my mind off the job, I popped in a Cary Grant movie. It wasn't much help, though. They had a great pool, just like dino-bitch said. They were probably Ivy Leaguers, with better degrees, higher educations, and more pullovers than me. I went to City U. They probably went to Yale. Yale. City U. YALE. city u. Then thoughts like, "Well, I could do without this job," were planted. Then it was, "I'd be better off without those slimey lawyers around me all the time!" Then it was, "Yeah. The hell with this. I'm going to get myself a job in the theatre and be really happy!" (I was delusional by this time.) Then it was, "I'll make it through this just fine. So I don't get a job straight out of college. It's the 21st Century. Who does?"

And then the phone rang.