Monday, October 26, 2009

a turning point

It isn't very often that you can look back at a single event as the one that changed the course of your life. Sure, big things like weddings, momentous moves, picking a school and the birth of children are pretty obvious ones but sometimes we overlook the smaller moments that made those big changes possible. It recently hit me that this week is the 10 year annivesary of one of those smaller milestones that made the bigger one possible. It was ten years ago this week that I came to New York for my first job interview. No, not my first job interview ever. My first job interview in NYC. I was just 24 and was in the midst of the first semester of my second year of law school, also known as my hardest semester of law school because its pace took me by surprise. I was breaking all the rules by applying to jobs in every city in which I had even the slightest interest of living which meant September and October were full of mid-week flights to those disperate places. I had pulled my first lost love out of the recycle bin and dated him briefly. I was prepping for my first trial advocacy competition with my partner who is now, incidentally, an assistant US attorney. I was slogging through an immense amount of work for the journal I had worked so hard to gain the privilege of slaving for. I was planning the best ever Halloween party with my two best party planner friends and hunting for the finishing touches of my catwoman suit. And, I had my first (and let's hope only!) kidney stone experience. And don't forget the school part - I still had classes to attend and cases to read.

Let me back up just a bit to explain to those of you lucky enough not to be familiar with the world of law school hiring to fill you in. The way law school works is you kill yourself to get good grades your first year so you can work for free somewhere over the summer that makes you look interesting and smart so that in the fall of your second year - a full two years before you will ever work anywhere permanently - you can interview with law firms in the hopes of getting asked to spend your second summer "working" with them and coasting through your third year. Or, at least, that is how it worked back in my day. The current recession has knocked the whole ridiculous process on its head at the expense of all the poor kids who have found themselves in their second year of law school this fall.

But luck was on my side in the fall of 1999. Sort of. Clutching my transcript and resume and wearing my navy Jones NY suit repeatedly, I dropped resumes with just about every firm that came on campus and interviewed with a good percentage of them. The dot com bubble had not yet burst and money was aplenty in big law firms - something I had extreme difficulty comprehending. As I played the numbers game and waited for the on campus interviewers to get back to me in September, I felt a moment of panic and dropped a few more resumes - including one to a firm in New York City. I had never been to New York - unless you count the time I had a long layover at JFK on my way to Europe for my study abroad in '97, which I did because I thought interviewers wanted some sort of tie to the city. I did not yet know the arrogance of the New Yorker who believed everyone wanted to live in New York because it is the center of the universe and the greatest f'n city in the world, in contrast to the LA interviewer who was paranoid you only wanted sunshine for a year or two and demanded to know all your connections to the place outside of your childhood trips to Disneyland.

So I dropped my paranoid resume with career services and by the time the interviewer came to town for round one, I felt confident with my chances of getting a job with any one of the other places that were flying me around and putting me up in fancy hotels. Only, I shouldn't have felt so smug.

Except that it probably helped me relax. I remember the day I was interviewed in a study room in the library better than any other interview. Well, except maybe that one where I insulted the law library of another near-by university for not being as nice as my current school to a couple of interviewers from a certain firm that carried the same name . . . oops. Oh, and those jerks from Chicago with their matching three-ring binders and coordinated flip to my transcript and their snobbish questions about that one sucky grade from property second semester . . . .


As I was saying, I remember the day of that interview because I didn't really care about that one. I was pretty sure I would be heading to California or perhaps staying in Utah the next summer and I had no real desire to live in New York. But I would interview just in case they decided to fly me out for a call back. My sister was in town and I found the interview to be a bit of a nuisance in its timing. I had to put on a suit and chit chat with this guy while my sister found a way to kill 30 minutes before we went to see an exhibit at the school's art museum.

The interview wasn't like any of the others. After I responded to a question posed by the interviewer, he would jump in and coach me as to how to tweak my answers for the call back. Um, so does this mean I have a call back? By the end of the interview he was handing me my resume marked up with proposed changes he wanted me to make by the end of the day so he could hand the revised version to his firm's recruiting office. Oh, and yes, they would then call me back. The carefree day with my sister had another setback.

Before I knew it I was scheduled to fly to New York City for the first time in my life on Tuesday, October 26th. Ten years ago today.

On Saturday, October 23rd, I woke up with the worst pain I had ever experienced in my life in my lower back. So I called my mom. My parents lived 45 minutes away and I was living in a bizarre little duplex with a lava rock exterior and a train-like interior. I had two roommates - one from Japan who was shy and reclusive and didn't speak much English, the other with an identity crisis because she didn't like people confusing her name with a local grocery store. She used this weird pyramid scheme Noni juice stuff on a cotton ball for something I never figured out and spent the bulk of her time locked in her room falsifying our census ballot (she was Mexican from Mexico but tried to list that she was American because Mexico is part of the American continent . . .yeah), playing with her giant punching bag and reading her Spanish People (I'm guessing, I don't really know what she did in there, that is just all I know about her). So I wasn't really wanting to turn to my roommates in my great hour of excruciating pain.

I counted the 45 minutes down to the second on my watch and took about 30 minutes of that time putting shoes and socks on. I found the pain was almost tolerable if I curled myself up into the fetal position on the side without pain. I had no idea what was happening to me.

Finally, I called my parents who cheerfully told me they were just reaching the point of the mountain since they had a couple of errands to run before heading down. Clearly, they had misunderstood the gravity of my situation. I was in tears and to really get the point across that I was in severe pain, I threw up in my garbage can during our call. I could barely speak and I completely freaked my mother out as she suggested I call someone else. For reasons I do not understand now, I was incapable of putting my glasses on and claimed I couldn't see anything to find anyone's phone number and it was pretty obvious that I was no longer coherent. Especially with the puking.

To make matters worse, my parents had never been to my current apartment. So as I lay dying on my couch watching for them out the window, I saw their van drive by at a faster rate than I had expected. I hobbled to the door in time for them to see me as they doubled back. My dad held the miniature version of the yellow pages (remember those!) he kept in the car and was muttering about the location of the insta-care as my mom helped me into the back where I may or may not have just laid down on the floor. My condition convinced him that maybe the emergency room was a better destination.

My dad dropped us off at the entrance and my mom went to the window while I sat down in the waiting room where I lasted all of two seconds before a nurse rushed out to my side. I didn't know you could get help that quickly in the ER. Perhaps my hobbled position, tears and the look of sheer agony on my face tipped them off.

I was taken to a room, instructed to de-robe and asked 101 questions, every other one being "are you preganant?" or "could you possibly be pregnant?" Sometimes the nurse or doctor or orderly or whomever tried to shield me a bit from my parents as they asked just in case their presence was altering my response. Finally, in a fit of why-the-hell-do-you-keep-asking-me-the-same-damn-question-I-am-in-a-lot-of-PAIN! humor I responded - to my father's delight - that unless the gestation period was more than three years, no, I was not pregnant. I was no longer impressed with their service. I wanted the pain to be gone.

So they finally hooked me up to some drugs so I could get some relief from what everyone suspected was a kidney stone. Wiped out by the pain and woozy from the extreme dose of narcotics now coursing through my system, I had to endure one of the more humiliating moments of my life that I didn't even notice at the time, my mom had to help me pee in a cup. After that I was wheeled down a hall stretched out on one of those wheeling beds with my IV dripping into my arm, for a cat scan or something (I wasn't totally aware of everything going on) and it was at that point, when I was left in the hall and possibly misplaced for a time. It may have been just a few minutes, it could have been an hour. I don't know. All I know is I remember being left in the hallway as I slowly blinked trying to stay awake with my blurry vision incapable of identifying anything or anyone around me. And then it dawned on me. That recylced first love boy I had briefly dated a month or so earlier? This is where he worked. I was a greasy, sweaty, pukey mess full of kidney stones and pain medicine. Yet, I was afraid he would be the one to walk down the hall and find me.

I'll never know if he, in fact, found me that day and ran the other way because the next thing I know I heard someone say "there she is" like I wandered off on my own and I was wheeled into get scanned. I fell asleep in there so everyone's horror stories about going into that tube thing - I just don't get because I was too drugged up to notice or care.

We spent the day there, my parents and me and I was discharged with a fistful of prescription slips and several strainers which I was instructed to use each time I urinated to try and catch my kidney stones. My biggest concern was whether I could get on a plane on Tuesday if my kidney stones hadn't "passed." I was given the name of a urologist to consult on Monday and experienced my first anti-lawyer encounter with a doctor who hates my kind.

By Monday the stone had vanished without landing in my pee strainer and the urologist couldn't located it on the ultrasound. He didn't recommend flying but gave me a couple more prescriptions in case I insisted on going. I did.

So it was with a significant amount of residual pain in my lower back that I packed up for my first trip to NYC. A couple of my classmates were also going with overlapping days. One offered to share her hotel room if I wanted to stay over an extra day - which I did. Another invited me to go see Ben Folds Five at the Hammerstein Ballroom on the 27th, I accepted. Sure, I was excited about the job opportunity, but mostly I was extremely intimidated.

The traffic was crazy driving into the City and I am sure I was wide-eyed at all the sights and sounds and smells of the chaos that is downtown Manhattan. I stayed in the Millenium Hilton across the street from the still-standing World Trade Center and it was dark outside by the time I checked in. I walked outside hoping to find somewhere to eat but was intimidated by the darkness, the chill in the air, the people hustling off to someplace else and the piles of garbage mounted on the curb. I also couldn't find anything aside from a McDonalad's or KFC to eat so I returned to the hotel and ate there, disappointed in my first night in the City that supposedly never sleeps but looked quite dead to me. Little did I know that the no-sleeping areas were further uptown from the financial district.

I found the firm where I was interviewing the next morning without delay and had to hold back excited squeals of delight at seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time ever from the firm's reception lobby. It was a stunning and distracting view with boats in the harbor, the sun glinting off Lady Liberty's torch. And I had to sit demurely with my leather interview folder and hands in my lap. I met with four or five lawyers and was then escorted to lunch by two lawyers - one of whom I still keep in touch - to Delmonico's, which is billed as America's first fine dining restuarant having opened in 1837. 

After the interview lunch was over, I walked back to my hotel for a quick change of clothes and became a tourist. I spent the bulk of my tourist time across the street at the top of the World Trade Center where I took an entire roll of film. If you remember film days, you will recall that unless you were some type of professional photographer, using an entire roll of film on anything was considered wasteful. When I developed the film, I thought it was a waste. Now, the photos are a treasured memory of a lost view. My first glimpse at a city I would grow to love (and sometimes hate).

I met up with my classmate that evening and he introduced me to the subway (my first ride originated at the Cortlandt Street station which is no more) and NY pizza. We then hit the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom where I was blown away by Ben Folds' entertaining style and by the fact that almost everyone in the room was short. We managed to work our way up fairly close to the stage and I remember being able to see over pretty much everyone's heads and being surprised by that.

That night the Yankees won the World Series, sweeping in four games. I felt bad that I was going to miss the ticker tape parade the next day but felt energized being in the City where it happened. I met up with my other class mate who had offered to share her room with me and we did some more exploring the next morning before her interview and before my flight home. We walked and walked and walked and walked - my first real introduction as to the best way to get to know New York. We stumbled onto the famous Law & Order steps of the courthouse where I posed for some silly photos and we ate Krispy Kreme donuts (not yet available in Utah) and other forgettable snacks and treats along the way. I think we even wandered into China Town.

Needless to say, not long after I returned to school, I received an offer. And the rest is sort of history. Except, I have to add a couple of tidbits for flavor. Despite the fact that the NY firm was by far the biggest and most prestigious of all the firms with which I interviewed (and I was totally unaware of this at the time) and despite the fact that I felt I had better interviews with other firms - some practically guaranteed me a position over lunch - the only offer I received that fall was in New York with the most intimidating firm of them all. A place where I lucked out on timing because they were letting just about anyone in the doors, even a naive kid from Utah who had never even visited the Big Apple.

I feel like I should do something to commemorate or honor my first visit here in some way - but it would be impossible to retrace any of the steps I followed those two days. And really, I wouldn't want to. I had a singular experience that can never be repeated. I aimed for a position that was arguably outside my qualifications, yet I got it. For me, the best way to honor this anniversary is to once again, set my goals high and reach for something that is arguably outside my reach.


Emily said...

I'm not going to be able to adequately articulate myself, but I just have to say that this post? Is TEH AWESOME.

Tiffany said...

I loved this post so much. I had forgotten the terrible kidney stone detail. Ugh.

And I'm not sure your privacy thing is working because I've seen the last two posts in my regular reader...

Jill said...

What an adventure! Good luck with your next lofty pursuit.

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