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Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Sing 'White Christmas" or I'll Kill You . . . "

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           
Moma Rock

            This week, I chose the topic, and I asked everyone to write about an unexpected outcome. 

            The subject came to me after a conversation with my friend Karen, a close friend who I met at work almost exactly eight years ago.  Karen is also an attorney, and together we worked at a smallish law firm in Chicago. 

            Ah, that law firm. 

            To steal (and re-write) a line from The Great Gatsby:  “It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America.”  Replace “rented a house” with “accepted a job” and “communities” with “law firms” and you’ve pretty much got it. 

            I could literally write a book about that firm.  You’d think it was fiction, of course; we attorneys often joked that our lives would make a great reality show, but no one would believe it were true.  I won’t burn bridges and get into dirty details, as much as I kind of want to.  I will only say that working there was a challenge, and it was not suited for everyone.  Indeed, in my nearly five years there, I witnessed a 100 percent turnover in support staff and twice that in attorneys.  The pace was fast, as it was a very active litigation firm and we took cases to trial.  The firm administration was … well, it was interesting.  HR consisted of the firm owner’s brother (need I say more?).  Expectations were high, but pay kinda wasn’t.  It wasn’t a place to get your feet wet – you had to hit the ground running.  As such, tears were not uncommon, nor was frustration.  Or yelling.  Or drinking. 

            Now, one might imagine that in a setting such as this, co-workers might not get along.  You might imagine backstabbing, pushing others under buses, maybe even fistfights.  And you wouldn’t be completely wrong.  As in any workplace, not everyone gelled.  Some people stepped on others to make themselves look good, while others did the bare minimum and rode co-workers’ coattails.  Fingers were pointed, fists were waved, hard words were hurled; hell, I broke up a fight in a restaurant ladies’ room during a holiday party.  It was to be expected, I suppose, given the powder keg and the “interesting” firm culture.  Those things did happen – but so did something else.

            The outcome I didn’t expect – the impetus for this post – was that, for the most part, we employees bonded.  Our feelings of oppression and frustration pushed us together instead of pulling us apart.  We spent time in each others’ offices, chatting, commiserating, sometimes hiding.  Many attorneys went out together for lunch, or after work for drinks or dinner.  We addressed each other by nicknames, or at least by last names, or by the initials we used when entering info into our shared databases (I was DDK and remain so).  Our Christmas parties were legendary, almost beyond belief, and for years, a group of the firm “alum” would have its own holiday party the same night in a nearby location, so close were the ties.  Many of us became friends, good friends.  And many of us stayed friends, even after we left, even after many years.  Karen is my best example:  we not only remained friends after she left the firm, but our friendship also grew.  We talk almost every day, via text and phone call.  And we both stay in touch with other former co-workers.  Two of our former associates are now wed to each other, and many others work together at other firms.  I do legal work for another former associate who started his own firm.  I consider two of my former partners to be my dearest mentors, and I continue to talk to both men. 

            I’ve wondered why we came together in a setting that could just as easily have bred contempt.  In my mind, what makes the most sense is to compare it to what I imagine it’s like being in the military.  Severe, less-than-ideal circumstances, high expectations, loads of stress, even sleep deprivation (when on trial).  Perhaps we felt safety in numbers, or perhaps we knew the best way to survive was to stick together.  Then, too, although the law firm wasn’t run the way we’d have liked, it attracted many talented, intelligent people, and the hiring partner did an amazing job choosing some honestly impressive candidates.  Our intelligence and skill bonded us; we could talk and bounce ideas off each other – really, truly practice law together.  I’ve long believed you have to be smart to be funny, and we were funny.  We referred to our company as “The Island of Misfit Toys.”  We labeled the most undesirable office (the one located between the firm owner and his brother) the “penalty box” (I got scolded for that).  We played practical jokes on each other:  nameplates ended up adhered to bathroom stall doors; MMF programmed DC’s computer to play the A-Team theme song whenever DC opened his Internet browser.  To this day, Karen and I use a former co-worker’s last name as a verb to describe the act of falling asleep while sitting upright at one’s desk.  Because our cases almost always involved bodily injury, we shared a gallows humor.  We had no choice – it was a matter of survival. 

            We also did some amazing work.  We won NGs (“not guiltys,” which are few and far between).  We wrote impressive briefs and crafted impressive arguments.  We were truly good at what we did, even when it was hard, even when we were tired, even when we were sick of the law and the firm and each other. 

            Although my exit from that firm was less than ceremonious (oh, now that’s a story), I’ve never regretted my time there.  I learned a great deal, made some great professional connections, and even better personal ones.  I pushed myself and ended up a better attorney for it.  I don’t believe in fate or that I was “meant” to work there or any of that, but even given all the negatives connected to my employment, the positives prevailed.  And they continue to do so now, years after I last walked through that revolving door. 

            I am sure there are co-workers who left the firm and never looked back, ones who regret every moment spent there, who continue to taste bitterness at the powers that were and continue to be, people who’ve severed all connections and ties.  I get that, I do (I’m for sure in on the joke about the line at a certain person’s funeral, not to say goodbye, but to make sure he’s really dead).  I, too carry some regret, but only a little.  I choose not to feel too bitter.  I choose my friendships, my professional development, my memories (even the one of being felt up at a holiday party by a female co-worker.  I told you, those parties were legendary.).  I choose to recognize those five years for what they were:  a step to somewhere else, a unique experience, a challenge.  A success.  I choose to be grateful that I met Karen, that I walked away with what I know will be a life-long friendship, one in which we will share many “remember whens … ” and inside jokes that few others will understand (or find funny), like the time she spilled gin on me at a party, or her “train station” story, or the creepy kid photos, or . . .

            Though I may need some therapy to work through the holiday party memories.  Because I sure didn’t see that stuff coming. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

You Can't Hide Your Smiling Eyes

Back to blogging with my three co-bloggers!  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, mostly.  Sometimes?  Don’t judge me.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Merryland Girl           

This week, Froggie chose the topic and she said:  The most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen.

            Now, I’ve had this topic for a few weeks, as Froggie gave it to us before our break.  I thought it over and over and over.  I thought and I thought and I thought . . . and I came up empty.  I simply could not come up with anything fitting the topic that was not at the same time too “gushy” or too pat.  I’ve seen many beautiful smiles – my kids, my husband, Jon Bon Jovi – but any attempt to write about them sounded like a particularly bad Hallmark card.

            So, I thought some more.  I thought about what draws us to another, the things to which we become attracted.  A memory popped into my head:  several years ago, a good friend and I went to see a psychic, and the man told me that my eyes were my “best feature,” that they drew people in.  I smiled at the memory, of course; his observation had nothing to do with his reading – nor was it a pick-up line, as the psychic was gay – but it was a compliment, nonetheless.

            I decided to go with that memory and write about the psychic reading, the one that started with an observation about what is apparently my best feature; not my smile, but my eyes. 

            My feelings about psychics and mediums are complex.  I don’t know that I “believe,” but I can’t say I don’t believe, either.  As such, my motivations for seeing the psychic were mixed.  I was at a sort of crossroads in my life, and thought maybe, just maybe, he’d have some interesting insight.  At the very least, it would be entertaining, and I’d have an evening out with my friend, who very much believes in psychic powers.  We’d share a memory and an experience.  The price was right, so why not?

            I’d gotten this psychic’s phone number from the woman who used to color my hair, who also very much believed in psychics and their powers, and who’d had a reading with this man, one that left her more than impressed.  She said he’d known things about her he could not have possibly known from looking her up online – things I didn’t know after having spent many hours in her chair over the course of years.  His words both elated and comforted her.  I took down his name.

            A few months later, I called.  I will be detailed here, because I think the specifics are relevant to what followed.  I called the psychic from my work phone.  This is important because, interestingly, on caller ID, my work phone did not show up as my actual number but instead appeared as another phone number for an unrelated company.  At the time, I worked for a law firm, but you could not know that from that phone number.  The psychic booked my appointment using only my first name – that’s it.  I made an appointment for my friend, too, but the psychic did not ask his name.

            A week or so later, my friend and I went to the psychic’s apartment, located in a high rise near Kinzie Street and the Chicago River.  We checked in at the desk and were sent up to a large flat that was chock full of furniture and books and stuff.  It was dark and reeked of cigarette smoke, but it was not wholly unpleasant.  The psychic greeted us at the door, ushered us in.  I went first, so my friend sat in an overstuffed velvet chair in the living room, while I took a seat at the cramped kitchen table.  I knew my friend would hear my reading, but I didn’t care; it just saved me the hassle of telling him everything, anyway.

            The first thing the psychic said to me was the statement about my eyes.  I took the compliment for what it was, though I hardly cared about my best feature.  I wanted this man to see into my soul.  The reading was remarkable, for many reasons.  Like how the next thing he said to me was that I was an attorney, but really wanted to be a writer.  Without my full name, he could not know that I practice law.  I wasn’t even dressed like an attorney; that day, I’d worn a rather casual sweater dress with suede boots.  Out of the gate, he’d known something that I could not for the life of me imagine he could know, not without more information.

            From there, it was hit or miss – but mostly hit.  I will admit that, at times, he seemed to “guess” or surmise things that were somewhat general.  An example:  he figured out my Mom is Polish and always lived near Milwaukee Avenue.  This was not too hard to surmise, as (1) I look Polish and (2) a huge population of Chicago Polish people live and have lived near Milwaukee Avenue (they’ve lived elsewhere, so I had to score him a few points).  But, overall, he blew me away with the things he said.  After my reading, as I waited for my friend, I jotted down everything I could remember in the Notes section of my phone.  Some of his accurate revelations:

*            He knew the number of siblings I have (which not everyone knows, as I have a half brother, which many people do not know);

*            He knew I am Polish and Italian (this is not an uncommon mix in Chicago, but it was one hell of a guess);

*            He knew I was raised Catholic but no longer practiced (could’ve concluded the religion from the Polish/Italian thing but the “no longer practiced” was less obvious);

*            He knew I do not look my sister, that people don’t think we are sisters, and that she has a completely different nose than I – all of which is true;

*            He knew my grandma’s name was Mary and that she wore a certain perfume;

*            He knows I don’t like the winter and that I want to live in California (which I have and would love to do again);

*            He knew I was an attorney and that I worked at a small law firm;

*            He knew I was divorced, and he knew how long my first marriage lasted (he also named some of the issues connected to that marriage);

*            He knew qualities about various family members – my parents, my sister, my brother, my in-laws – that were directly on point;

*            He knew my husband’s ethnicity (impressive, as he is a mutt);

*            He knew my eldest daughter’s exact height and the youngest’s hair color;

*            He knew I was the baby of my family; and

*            He knew the names of two family members – an aunt on one side and an uncle on the other; incidentally, both passed away almost exactly a year later, within weeks of each other.

            Two other things he knew:  at one point, he said the name “Tom,” which just so happened to be the name of my friend sitting in the living room, a name never uttered to him.  He also mentioned “Evanston” during Tom’s reading, which is where I was living at the time.

            The above laundry list may not seem all that weighty, I know.  But I left out the biggest piece.  Most impressive to me, the psychic talked at length about a friendship I had at the time that was causing me to lose sleep.  He said the person’s name and then proceeded to outline the ups and downs of the relationship.  If nothing else blew me away, this did.  Even if he had somehow figured out my identity before my visit, he could not possibly have known anything about this friend or our history.

            When I was done, I sat in the living room and listened to my friend’s reading.  He didn’t seem to hit as many points as to my friend, which I found odd.  I mentioned it to my friend as we walked into the cold night to my car.  He smiled and said, “That’s because I blocked him.”  My friend was actually impressed with the psychic’s inability to read much.  His reading had been a test – and the psychic had passed.

            I’ve never really been able to articulate what, if anything, this experience taught me, other than perhaps to keep an open mind and to not claim to “know” that which I cannot possibly know.  Two of my co-workers went after I did, but they did not have the experience I did, making me wonder whether part of what I got was a result of what I gave.  Perception is reality, right?  I can’t say I learned anything specific (though the psychic did offer advice at times), but I had fun.  I would definitely go again.

            And so I’m left to wonder:  are my eyes my best feature?  Could the psychic look into them and see things others could not?  I sure hope so.  I love the idea that people are gifted in this way, that we don’t realize how much of our brains or hearts of souls we don’t use, that perhaps intuition means something more to certain people, ones who know how to “read” what they “see” in their mind’s eye. 

            The thought of that makes me smile . . . beautifully, I hope.