Thursday, February 22, 2007

public interest

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The day of the public interest job fair, the temperature hovered at five degrees. I had to be downtown at 7:30 a.m. to sign up for an extra interview slot and register. The wind razored its way through the legs of my suit pants. I was grumpy because my day to sleep in was taken from me. I wore a down jacket over my suit jacket. GF drove me down, bless her heart, and dropped me off at the pretentious gothic gates of Secondmost Elite City Law School.

Secondmost had waitlisted me the first year I applied, but my LSAT scores were too low, and they cut me loose. They had been my first choice early admission school. They make you interview. I spoke with a very nice woman who had gone to law school elsewhere and was now working for them. Not a good sign about satisfaction in the profession, I remember thinking. She asked me about teaching, then grilled me about whether or not I really wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to ask her the same question, but I couldn't.

The next year I spoke with an impatient young woman who grew irritated when we both realized my most recent freelance job was not on my resume. I had been bouncing around by then, and was trying not to look unemployed, but my piecemeal writing gig was not what I thought of as a real job, and I had forgotten it. She didn't like that. My LSATs were slightly higher, and I applied early decision again, even though everyone told me the school was a corporate lawyer mill. What law school isn't, though? They didn't bother to waitlist me this time. No corpora te lawyer mill for me.

Now I had a whole day to wander their halls, stuck without a car until after my one scheduled interview at 4:15. Thier cavernous stone entryway reminded me of similarly uninviting halls down at Most Elite University. Impressive but not at all friendly or warm. Interesting that this was the site of the public interest fair, given how many other law schools are in the city. I sat down on a hard wooden bench and tried to keep warm.

At 9 a.m. we were herded into a big parliamentary classroom with high-backed pews that faced each other, descending down to the middle of the room like old-fashioned medical classrooms sometimes have. Medieval-looking crests sat on either side of the stage and podium at the front of the hall. Impressive, but hardly friendly, this room strained to convey an impression of striving, reminding one of nothing so much as the ermine-trimmed patrons in Renaissance altarpieces kneeling with their families on either side of the Annunciation. Rich enough to pay for the painting and even be in it, but not good enough to come inside the house and hang out with the Virgin.

The lottery commenced, and I signed up for an open interview slot with a policy group. I thought they might be interesting because they worked on affordable housing, public housing, and educational policy.

After this we were free to wander among tables where different representatives from city and state government services and public interest organizations sat ready to answer questions, hand out forms, and take resumes. I spoke with people at legal aid clinics, child services, and the public defender's office--all lovely, friendly, skeptical people who loved their work. After that lunch, then the wait to interview. The interviewer at the policy place was not a decision maker, but was there as a kind of intake person. I gave her my resume and tried to be enthusiastic. She was slick, wooden, heavily made up, and under 30. I think her hair was made of polystyrene. I think also she didn't like me so very much.

Finally the whole reason for my being there all day approached. My one interview. I climbed the steps of the library, up into the stacks, looking for the room where I was supposed to be.

The stairs of the law library rose before me, up through the center of the library itself, modern stairs with see-through steps. As I climbed, I looked out at magnificent panoramic views of the frozen lake glittering brightly beyond the huge floor-to-ceiling glass expanse of the far wall. Students sat quietly at tables, reading, oblivious. This treat was only for them, but none of them even raised their eyes to it. I wondered if they noticed it anymore.

The room at the top of the third floor stairs on the right was small, flourescent, and windowless. A little man with white hair that stood out in wispy strands around his face shook my hand. His baggy sweater hung on his shoulders. He asked me why I was in law school. I fed him some line about opportunity he only half-listened to. He cocked his head and looked intently at me. "Do you know what we do?" he asked.

I confessed that I didn't. I hadn't been able to find a web page, or a google reference of any kind, and they weren't listed in the big books that had been in the law theater that morning.

He nodded his head, satisfied. "We do post-conviction habeus petitions for people on death row."

"Fabulous!" I breathed. I couldn't help it. It just came out.

He went on to emphasize that this was no Innocence Project. "These are the guilty!" he announced, happily. Then he told me some of the petitioners were mentally handicapped. Others had been victims of spousal abuse. One woman was on death row for attempting to kill her husband, though no one was hurt.

He asked me what it was like to be back in school at my age, and told me his wife had gone to law school in her fifties. he told me he was 69. He spoke contemptuously of young law students, who he warned me would sit at work and tell me about their boyfriends and their girlfriends. "You're lucky if you can get six hours of work out of 'em!' he cackled.

Then he leaned forward. "I had a guy like you," he said, looking at me steadily. I think he meant an ex-academic going back to school, not an overweight blonde lesbian with a nose ring. He told me that first year students were the best for what he did, because second year students had to take the money of the big firms in the 2L summer, whether they wanted to eventually work at a firm or not. He told me that my writing skills would be perfect for his little storefront office, where he and his wife toiled together to try to save people from being gassed, or electrocuted, or lethally injected for the bad decisions they had made in their fairly awful lives. He gestured to my resume with disgust. "I mean, an English Professor! Of course you can write! How do you like law school? How did you do?"

I confessed I hadn't done so well. He shook his head, as if I had confirmed his worst thoughts. "We'll teach you something that'll be USEFUL to you," he said. "My wife and I, we gotta take care of the older people."

He asked me if I had any questions, and I asked him when he might know about his selections for the summer. His eyes twinkled. "If I offered it to you right now, what would you say?"

I was flabbergasted. "I'd say I'll take it, of course!"

He nodded, satisfied. "Send me an email accepting it," he said. "My wife and I, we'll protect you from the teenyboppers."

I stumbled out of the flourescent room onto the stairs, past the reading students and their panoramic vistas, past night and day and into the stone hallway, out the heavy oak doors and into my gf's waiting car. "I think I just got a summer internship!" I breathed. "He actually PICKED me!" I couldn't believe it. I hadn't imagined that I would actually get something out of the day beyond information and a few applications.

As we drove home past the expensive highrises, past the lake and the big houses near its shores, I thought about people who spend their lives making no money, wearing scuffed shoes and stretched-out cardigans, saving the world in their classrooms and storefront offices and legal aid clinics, day after day. And for the first time, really, since starting law school, I felt happy.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


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Happy Valentine's to all! This week has been (happily) hijacked by the freedom to marry people (freedom to marrieds?). I want to give a shout out to Mombian, who has assembled a carnival of freedom to marry posts for your enjoyment.
Oh, and she mentions me. Just saying.

Valentine's Day is great in the abstract but often hellish in real life, especially for gay people, who have to decide whether or not to brave the het crowds in order to drag sweetie out for the ritual meal, so it's nice to have some queer activism putting its mark on this year's mix.

I'm sure plenty of straight couples also find V-Day a bit hellish. It's like New year's Eve, only worse. New Year's is about getting loaded in a crowd, whereas V-Day is all about squeezing intimacy out of a date with Special Someone, at a restaurant with Tripled Prices in Honor of the Day, all while trying not to notice your waiter hurrying you along so as to turn your table for another Special Pair with later reservations. And then what are you supposed to do? Go home to your messy house and have sex while the cats walk on your head and the family upstairs stomps up and down, over and over? How romantic.

My Valentine and I are apart this year, since I'm in school and the date falls on a Wednesday. Still, we spent a good part of today talking on the phone and texting each other. She went to the Auto Show and sent me pictures of dream cars. If I was home tonight we'd probably order Thai and watch tv. Maybe get under a blanket together on the couch, feed shrimp tails to the cats, flip channels. Try a new show on On Demand. Talk about the blizzard that just ended. Drink bourbon. Smell each other's hair. Smell each other's farts, probably, if we stayed on the couch long enough. Give neck rubs. Gossip. Text message friends. Watch the Daily Show and scroll Craig's List on our laptops.

Now THAT would be the perfect Valentine's Day. A normal, quiet night at home. Sigh.

Happy V-Day to all, and to all a V-Night.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Snow day

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I should be in class right now, but I'm home eating oatmeal and bananas with gf, watching the snow taper off. Yesterday when it was time to leave to drive back to school I found myself feeling chilled, hungry, upset, achy, and sleepy. Psychosomatic? Maybe--although I did have a fever of 100.6. So we ordered thai, lay on the couch with blankets, and watched Battlestar Galactica, The L Word, and Rome. Eventually I warmed up and felt better, but not before my window to drive back disappeared. Then it started snowing.

This morning it is still spitting snow. I need to drive back, and I will, and the strange part is, I don't even feel guilty. I needed a lazy weekend. I needed this snow day, this putting off the week for a few more hours.

Last week was perhaps the craziest week of my life (and remember, I was on the academic job market for four years). It began with a Monday morning interrogation in Constitutional Law. Some of my classes have scheduled participation instead of random hazing. This means that class may be organized into panels, so each day some students must be extra-prepared, knowing they will be called upon at length. Monday morning at nine o'clock was my time. I got up early to be extra-prepared. Tuesday we had a rough draft of a change of venue memo due. I got home from class at three, sat down, and worked on the memo till one. I sat up till two reading for Con Law, then went to bed and was up at eight.

I have another class--Civil Procedure-- where the teacher is running down names alphabetically. Guess whose name was due to come up on Thursday or Friday? Also, the final draft of the venue memo was due Friday morning. And there was an extra Civ Pro squeezed in there--a makeup on Friday at noon. By Thursday afternoon it was clear that THAT particular makeup class would be the one where I was called on.

Up till two Thursday night finishing the memo, then up at 8:45 the next day. Skip Statutory Interpretation, unfortunately, because there would be no time to prepare to be called on in Civ Pro at noon otherwise, since the writing class where the memo was due was at 11 am.

Get up and read, read, read for Civ Pro, and try desperately to nderstand the rules for diversity jurisdiction in the cases we were studying. Ah! Not finished, and it's 10:50! Throw on clothes and screech out of driveway. Parking meter at 10:59. Dash to class to turn in paper. Read more in the ten minutes between that class and the next. Go to class and be grilled for 20 minutes straight. Slump over in seat when he moves on.

Home for lunch before next class. Pack and throw stuff in the car for trip home this weekend. Too tired to make sense of the reading. Dash to class, nod off, jump in car and drive home.

Hit traffic. Add extra hour on trip.

Get home three and a half hours later and swing by apt. to pick up gf for dinner plans with other friends. Go pee. Go to restaurant.

Sit and talk with friends. Drink martini. Drink wine. Come home and collapse.

Slow Saturday. Slower Sunday. Lazy Monday.

Time to get up and get going. Gf off to teach. Together we will brush off our cars, parked in the street. We will hold each other tight and whisper about Friday. She will drive to school and I will drive away and we will listen to music and think about each other and think about the week, starting slowly, rolling faster now, passing by in the minutes and hours wished away, our precious time in this life spent waiting between the weeks, between the snowstorms, watching the clock tick by until we can be together again for another timeless, lazy weekend.