It was May of 1990 and I had big hair and big shoulder pads and had just graduated college. I should have graduated in 1989 on the same weekend my brother graduated from his college but I didn’t because a couple of years earlier, I chose to take a different path known as LOSING YOUR MIND and that delayed my degree a little. I wound up finding my mind eventually and with some new batteries, it was as good as new and I graduated college with a 4.0 GPA and high honors. And hey, at least my bout with temporary insanity relieved my parents of the dilemma of two kids graduating from two different colleges on the same day. Try to remember that, Mom, OK? It’s that old cloud and silver lining thing. A little manure to make the roses grow. I’m the rose, not the manure, just to clarify.
So, there I was, ready to enter THE WORLD as a car and student loan indebted, full fledged adult with lots of Aqua Net in my hair. I thought of law school but that took money and I had none so I thought I’d get a paralegal job at L.A. Law in the interim. Who cared that L.A. Law was only a pretend world unfolding in a studio lot 3,000 miles away on the opposite coast? Not me. I knew there was a real live L.A. Law equivalent somewhere in my hometown. I could smell it. It was either that, or the Aqua Net. They kind of smelled the same.
Are you seriously trying to tell me you don’t know what L.A. Law is? Who Victor Sifuentes is? Arnie? Kuzak? Grace? Anne? Stuart? For crying out loud, how old are you? Quick, someone check out my wrinkles and tell me how old I am. I forgot.
I answered an ad in the paper seeking a paralegal in a downtown law firm. Downtown. With tall buildings filled with shiny windows and important people and lunch dates and office cocktail parties. Just like L.A. Law, except without the smog and plastic surgery. I had never driven downtown and the thought of one way streets and off ramps and on ramps and parking garages and pimps and murderers scared me. Not that I had ever actually seen a pimp or a murderer but this was the city and they were bound to be on every street corner next to the hot dog vendors and it really was a miracle that so many more did not die downtown every day.
Then I reminded myself that I was a college graduate, an adult, for crying out loud and I was perfectly capable of driving myself through downtown traffic in daylight for an interview. Without getting lost. Making no moving violations. Finding a legal parking space. Finding the building. All without getting murdered or becoming enslaved in the process.
Then I called my friend Chris and cried and pleaded and begged her to take me.
She dropped me off in front of a tall, mirrored building and I entered the lobby and immediately got lost trying to find the elevators. A nice young man approached me, assured me that he was neither a murderer nor a pimp and directed me to the elevators. Soon I found myself in a plain, ugly lobby of a law firm and I supposed that if I closed my eyes and smoked some crack, I could pretend that it was L.A. Law. But I was a nice girl from the country who wouldn’t know crack if it bit me on the face so I sighed and took a ripped chair in the corner of the waiting room and waited for Victor Sifuentes to come out, fall madly in love with me, marry me, whisk me away to Greece where we’d settle down and start our half Greek, half Latino family.
I bet you wished you watched L.A. Law now, don’t you?
Victor never made it, unless I wanted to close my eyes, smoke some crack and pretend the little old man in a wrinkled suit, glasses and comb over was Victor. But like I said, I didn’t know what crack was. So I waited for the little old man to walk over to where I was seated, at which point he introduced himself as Bill and asked if I was Sandra. And I said no, I was Andrea. And he apologized profusely, shuffled his feet, turned seven shades of red, mumbled something about Sandra sounding like Andrea and asked if I wanted to be interviewed anyway. I had nothing better to do that day so I agreed. He led me back into his corner office and we sat down and he smiled at me and then began my interview.
My interview lasted for about ten minutes during which time I learned that he was a senior partner, that Jan had been his trusted paralegal for the past twenty years and she had recently retired, he handled estates and trusts with a little bit of real estate thrown in, I was the only one who had responded to his ad, he had two dogs named Buck and Roo, would I mind feeding them every once in while, it sure was sunny out, his wife was ill, he liked pasta, where was that damn pen he needed, I’d also be helping his son who was an associate down the hall, neither he or his son cared that I didn’t type, I was his first and only interview, the job paid $20,000, full health benefits and paid parking but shhhh, don’t tell anyone else that, was I interested and could I start tomorrow?
I looked around the ugly office, the dirty rug, the grimy windows, the piles upon piles of paper stacked on dingy chairs, the faded and worn and frayed carpet, the brown case files littered across his desk, the mounds and mounds of files piled so high that he sometimes had to peek around them to look at me. I was afraid to breathe too much lest they all topple over on his head and crush him to death.
I wanted Victor. I wanted beautiful people in big glass offices with lots of windows and lots of office romance and drama in sixty minute increments. I wanted silk dresses with big shoulders. I wanted big hair. Bill had no hair. I wanted L.A. Law and this was so not.
Bill was a mess. A kind hearted, scatterbrained mess in a wrinkly brown suit. One look at the dazed expression on his lined face and I knew that he was lost without Jan. I knew Jan had taken care of him, scheduled his appointments and then penciled them in 1/2 hour earlier on his calendar so he wouldn’t be late, opened his mail, wrote his correspondence, and kept a spare pair of his glasses in her drawer, just in case.
He needed Jan and Jan was gone and I was the only prospect. He needed me and my big hair. I needed to grow up and pay for car insurance and food. I needed him and his no hair. Not to be confused with nose hair, which he did have and which totally grossed me out but if I just didn’t look too closely, I supposed I could learn to overlook it. Ugh.
So I sobbed inwardly, said a tearful silent goodbye to Victor and my half Latino, half Greek children and accepted the job and I could literally feel my hair deflate. Bill broke out into a smile and lead me down the hall where I met all of the other attorneys. I met his son who seemed to have his act together because his paper piles weren’t as many and they weren’t so precariously high. Then I met the other senior partner. Let’s call him Obnoxious Asshole. OA did not want to hire me because I could not type and when he found out that Bill had offered me $20,000, he was apoplectic and had a coughing fit. Thank God he wasn’t privy to the free parking because he might have hacked up a lung and that would have been messy.
I would have taken my deflated hair and run out of there screaming VICTOR, SAVE ME but it would have meant trampling right over Bill whose frail body looked as if it would give out at any moment. Bill patted me on my shoulder pad, took OA aside and, as I later found out, quietly ripped him a new one. OA glared at me, gave me a cursory welcome, took what was left of his ass and stomped away, leaving me alone with Bill who apologized for the spectacle, advised me that OA wouldn’t be a problem and he’d see me in the morning.
I soon learned that Bill was not only a nondescript, aged, disorganized, slovenly mess but a rain maker as well. He had big money clients who went where he went and in a law firm, nothing speaks louder than money, certainly not an Obnoxious Asshole down the hall who made a habit of dropping “F” bombs in his wake.
Bill came in late, left early and all he ever seemed to do in between was go to lunch. He was either scheduling lunch, driving to lunch, calling me from lunch or returning from lunch. At least once a week I’d accompany him and we’d frequent the same two or three restaurants. At first I tried to make conversation to cover those uncomfortable silences that began as soon as we sat down and lasted until the check came but I soon realized that Bill was quite content to eat in silence. He just didn’t want to do it alone. He drove a beat up old van that was held together by rust and smelled about 75 years old – much like Bill himself. I didn’t have to worry about making polite conversation in the van because I could have detonated a bomb and you wouldn’t have heard it over the muffler that dragged underneath the van. It dragged for the entire duration of my employment with Bill.
My L.A. Law dreams had been flushed down the toilet long ago but I have to say, the depth to which they had been flushed still caused me pause every now and then. Like when I was sitting at my desk and Bill caught me rubbing my forehead and asked if I was feeling well. I told him it was nothing, just a light headache and his hand dove into his jacket pocket, searched around for a minute and emerged grasping one small Tylenol capsule covered with dust and lint and BLECH. He brushed it off and carefully placed it on my desk, told me to take care of myself and then shuffled into his office and quietly closed the door so as not to disturb me. It was the sweetest thing anyone had ever done for me, even if it did make me hurl.
I quickly got into a routine. Every week, one particular client would demand that his will be revised to disinherit his younger brother. Then the brother would come in and demand that his will be revised to disinherit his older brother. My job was to make sure they didn’t bump into one another while all the disinheriting was going on because that would have awkward and Bill was, simply put, allergic to awkward. And yet, he was the walking definition of awkwardness. How he managed to be in the same room with himself and not go into anaphylactic shock is beyond me. I was on constant guard with an epi pen, just in case.
Several of Bill’s clients disinherited a relative or two or ten on a monthly basis. The richer they were, the more often they would disinherit. It would have been comical had it not been so sad.
Bill hand wrote all of his wills and he’d drop them on my desk and ask me very nicely to type them up and I’d say “Sure, Bill! How soon you need them? Friday? ” And he’d say “Oh, how about twenty minutes?”
Blink. Blink. Stare.
And he’d ask earnestly “Is that OK?” I honestly think he would have let me reschedule all of those wills into the following week if I had asked him, but I never asked him because I didn’t want to let him down. But it was quickly apparent that the Hunt & Peck method of typing I had practiced for years was no longer going to cut it in the real world and if I didn’t want to disappoint Bill, I’d have to finally learn how to type. So I took a class, learned home row and the rest is history.
Well, not really history because that makes me sound old and I AM NOT OLD, DAMMIT. How old am I again? I forgot.
Bill also handled real estate but he hated to attend closings because they interrupted his lunches so pretty soon, I was attending the closings as his representative. Representing the seller was a piece of cake. I kept my mouth shut, collected the checks, smiled and left. But representing the buyers was a totally different story. I held their hands as they signed their lives away and when they asked for certain clauses to be explained, I faked my way through it and just drew their attention to the one that said MAKE YOUR MORTGAGE PAYMENT OR WE’LL GET MAD AND FORECLOSE because that one seemed pretty important. My goal was to get out of there before I drowned in stress sweat. They could have been signing away the rights to their first born for all I knew and the thought that I may have participated in any number of illegal adoptions kept me up at night.
Bill’s son, Bill Jr., also known as Steve for reasons unknown to me, used to work at the public defender’s office before going into private practice and occasionally, he still took an assignment or two from that office. I worked on several murder defenses with him and it was, by far, the most fascinating work I have ever done.
I got pretty good at drafting all the necessary motions and briefs on my own for Steve’s approval. He would tell me what our defense was and I’d lose myself in legalese, telling myself that we were fighting for the downtrodden, the poor, the unjustly accused and that innocent until proven guilty included the monster sitting in Steve’s office on whose brief I had just typed “illegal search and seizure” in response to the victim’s blood stained clothing having been discovered underneath the monster’s closet floor. And I would repeat everyone deserves a fair trial by a jury of their peers over and over to myself as I typed “coercion” on his other client’s motion to dismiss, all the while trying to ignore the written confession detailing exactly how much bleach the defendant poured down the victim’s throat before beating her to death. I’d accompany Steve to the jail to take pictures of the scratch on his client’s abdomen and as I drafted our motion in support of self defense, I’d try to wipe the memory of the photos of his victim lying dead in the kitchen with a gaping gunshot wound in the back of his head. And I tried simply not to think at all after clients were stopped for their second or third or fourth DWI and I had to draft countless motions to subpoena the companies who manufactured, sold and installed the breathalyzer machine, as well as anyone who had ever come in contact with the machine within the previous five years who could have potentially damaged it and caused it to perform inaccurately.
I adored Bill in a quirky, weird, oh-my-God-what-is-that-on-your-shirt kind of way and between Bill and Steve, I had become quite a good paralegal but after two years, I knew it was time to move on. Bill constantly surprised me by managing to find his way to the office every day but I knew that soon, he’d just go straight to lunch and not bother stopping in anymore. And I could no longer do Steve’s work and sleep at night. I wanted something that wouldn’t cause my moral compass to spin out of control and stab me in my conscience every night. Something that would afford me good money and a good night’s sleep, without ulcerated intestines.
Another law firm dangled an offer in front of me. Their carpet was plush, their chairs were elegant, their furniture was cherry and mahogony and their offices were covered in glass with sparkling windows galore. People spoke in hushed tones in the hallways and lobby. Nothing smelled. Nothing was stained. No rusty mufflers. I would have my own office and a staff down the hall.
The only catch was … I’d have to work in foreclosures.
Oh, and by the way, they’d match my salary.
I threw my moral compass out the window, told my intestines to suck it up, and sold my soul for a wall full of windows and a river view.
It was the most L.A. Law thing I ever did.