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I Saw This One Coming…

Writers Sue Thomson Reuters Findlaw

God speed, brothers. God speed.

Rage Against the Machine

The phone call ends with him telling me that they’ll e-mail me the offer sheet by the end of the day.  It arrives in an attachment at 3:12pm along with a message saying to sign it, drop it in the mail if it looks ok and to have a nice weekend.  It’s Friday.

I print it out. It’s one page and details my salary, job description, vacation, travel expectations and all types of HR stuff.  It seems ok, but what do I know?  It’s the first offer sheet I’ve ever looked at, and I never even heard of the term “offer sheet” until today.

I find an employment attorney on Craigslist to review it for $125.00.  I forward the attachment to her and she calls me back the next afternoon.  She asks if anything they ever told me is to the contrary in the offer sheet.  I say nope.  She asks if I’m happy with the salary listed, and being that it’s over double of what I was earning at TR, I say yep.  Probably the easiest $125.00 she’ll ever earn, but I feel better having done some due diligence on behalf of my future.

She says I’ve officially accepted their offer of employment when I drop it in the mail.  I can’t find a mailbox fast enough.  It’s Saturday afternoon and the mailman has come and gone.  The blue drop box on Hennepin across from the Uptown Diner immediately comes to mind.  I was going to walk to Walgreen’s anyway to get some non-fluoride toothpaste and batteries.

I pull on the creaky mailbox handle and I’ve missed the Saturday pick-up time but that’s fine.  Dropping it in there is more symbolic than anything.  I hear it land on a pile of letters and I’ve set in course some life changing chain of events…a cube to an office…a 12 year old car to a new Jeep Rubicon…QuickBooks to my own personal financial advisor…mutual funds to individual stocks.  Lately, I’ve had CNBC on in the mornings and now “ETF’s” and “angel investors” are no longer foreign concepts.

Walking away from the mailbox I realize I got exactly what I wanted.  For years I felt like I was on a treadmill…staying in one place.  Now I’ve grabbed a rung of success and the only way is up.  The stronger I am, the higher I’ll climb. I used to be naïve enough to think that people who worked for success and money were sell-outs.  I raged against the machine along with the others who thought there was nobility in just getting by.  There’s not.

Nothing Can Bring Me Down Right Now, Ho!

The interview was scheduled to last two hours and I’m walking out 3 ½ hours after it began.  Another good sign, I think.  They told me the new hire will almost immediately fly to the corporate headquarters in Santa Monica for a week of orientation.  No problem I told them.  No problem at all.

It’s just about happy hour and I’m extremely happy.  I strut into Lyon’s on 6th and it takes maybe three minutes to polish off my first Bass ale.  I don’t mind drinking alone but I don’t like celebrating alone.  I call my pal Tommy…he’s in advertising.  Tommy said he can join me in about 20.  He shows up two Bass ales later and asks me who I stole my suit from.

“Nothing can bring me down right now, ho.” I fill him in on the past two interviews…the pretty brunette receptionist, my suit, the empty office they showed me that I’ve already mentally decorated, Santa Monica, salaries and the Jeep Rubicon I plan on buying.  Tommy’s doing well in his career and he’s honestly happy that I’m making strides in my own career.  He suggests that a real celebration deserves a real bar.  We start walking toward Prohibition in the W hotel.

The crowd at Prohibition is the type of crowd I’ve always resented because I secretly wanted to be a part of it – the well-dressed achievers with asset allocation funds and frequent flyer miles.  I loosen my tie, smile and the first round is on me. We spend the next five hours losing count of our beers and downing at least two Irish Car Bombs.

I told a pretty blonde I would buy her a drink if she could recite the unintelligible chorus of Fall Out Boy’s “Sugar We’re Going Down Swinging,” and she does it…we’re going down down in an earlier round/but sugar we’re going down swinging/ I’ll be your number one with a bullet/a loaded god complex cock it and pull it.

The cab drops me off at home and there’s a box from Amazon.com leaning against my front door.  Tom Wolf’s The Right Stuff has arrived. I watched the movie on HBO as a kid and it gave me an idea of the type of man I wanted to grow up to be.  Not necessarily an astronaut, but to always have a pursuit and a certain level of fearlessness.  I had my mom buy me plain white undershirts like the astronauts wore and I named my goldfish “Gus” after Gus Grissom.

I crack open a freezing cold can of Budweiser because it was a good day and it’s been a long stretch where I didn’t know good days.  It’s a good day when you feel a palpable shift in your life.  The realization that I could be leaving a job that has all the challenge of tying my shoes in the dark.

Turning the TV to the digital music channels and Land Down Under by Men at Work has just started on the Classic Alternative channel.  I crank the volume and dance stupidly around my living room while women glow and men plunder…can’t ya hear can’t ya hear the thunder?  I raise a toast to no one in particular.

At the same time I flash back to an argument I once had with Amanda… we passed on a group vacation to Florida because she would’ve had to pay for most of it and I wasn’t comfortable with that.  As a result, she told me to “grow up” and get a job with a good salary.  It was a cruel thing to say and it genuinely hurt. She later apologized but it hurt because it confirmed that she knew I was living below my potential.  She expected more from me and had every right to.

He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich…

Thank You, Donna Karan

There’s a scene in Kramer v. Kramer where Dustin Hoffman’s character is told by his attorney that he doesn’t stand a chance of getting child custody since he’s unemployed.  Hoffman assuredly tells his attorney that he’ll get a job in 24 hours and hangs up the phone.  It’s Christmas Eve.  Hoffman’s character, a copywriter, walks in un-invited to an office party at a New York City ad agency with only his portfolio and a shitload of gravitas.  He gets a job.

I’m getting dressed for the second interview and that scene is playing on repeat in my head.  If only it were that easy these days.  Hell, maybe it is, I don’t know.  But it’s a marked contrast to all the little events that have brought me to this day.

All the online job applications and resumes sent to a central resume bank, the form rejection e-mails, no rejection e-mails, countless user names and passwords for countless job sites, career fairs, phone calls in the D building stairwell where the echo carried my discussions with recruiters and receptionists up and down six floors, the Youtube videos about breathing through the diaphragm for better speaking and voice projection during interviews…I want that all behind me now and forever.

It’s why I spent about two paychecks on this DKNY suit for this second and final interview.  I liked the suit because on the mannequin it fit exactly like Jimmy Fallon’s suits fit him. And it looks the same way on me.  I look like I know what I’m doing and where I’m going in this suit. I could take Taylor Swift to dinner in this suit and end up taking her to breakfast the next day.

For luck, I’m wearing the same belt as I did last time.  I’m standing on Hennepin and the #6 is approaching.  It’s the same bus driver as last time…a good sign.  Something I’ve done my whole life in nervous times is read a book that I’ve read at least once in my life.  Today’s selection for the bus ride is Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. The familiar words relax me and being relaxed adds to my confidence.

One of my TR friends (I have few) told me yesterday that she’s happy for me and it’s admirable what I’m doing.  She made it sound like I was joining the Peace Corps.  She began at TR in 2005 and told herself she would be there no more than two years tops.  But this is no time to be thinking about her…I’m wearing a DKNY suit for Christ’s sake.

I step off the bus and walk towards the building entrance like I’m late.  I’m far from late, but pretending I’m late makes me walk with a purpose.  The guy at the security desk says, “Welcome back,” and gives me my “visitor” badge.  There’s no waiting for him to verify why I’m there like last time.  He buzzes me right through the door.  The same twenty-something brunette wearing the telephone headset smiles at me when I enter the office.

“Heeey, great suit.  Coffee?”

The Alcoholics and My Second Interview

“So we’d love to have you come in for another interview and meet some more members of our team.”  That’s how the message ends on my answering machine. I still have an answering machine because I still have a land line, and voice mail is an unnecessary expense.  And the blinking message light is always something to come home to.  This particular message comes at a moment when I really need to hear it.  I’ve just returned from the coffee shop where I sat at the corner window table with Get In The Van by Henry Rollins.

There were two middle-aged men seated to my right and two more behind me.  After ten minutes of their conversations leaking in on my reading, it’s apparent that two are recovering alcoholics and the other two are their sponsors.  There’s a church just around the corner so a meeting probably just ended.  These are the saddest and, at the same time, most self-indulgent conversations I’ve ever eavesdropped on.

It’s a cacophony of self-pity, day-to-day existence and over-rationalizing of recovery.  They all appear to be in their mid to late forties, and I never want to be them.  One guy takes a really spiritual view of recovery, and another talks like he’s smarter than the whole process.  I find out that they’re all single and that being on Facebook is prohibited in recovery.  Looking at profiles of exes and their successful lives makes us all pick up a beer, but these guys would never be able to stop.  Any ambition they’ve ever had has been replaced by fragility.  It would suck to be these guys.

I never want to have so much free time that I’m able to fall into chemical dependency, attend AA meetings and sit around discussing myself in a coffee shop.  I don’t want that to be my day, week, month and year.  Who knows how many years these guys have lost to their addiction?  Years they’ll look back on and realize they didn’t make the most of that time.

It’s exactly why I need this job.  Not want it, but need it.  I don’t want to look back on a time in my life where I sat unrecognized, unfulfilled and unhappy in a cubicle and did nothing to make it better.  Making a paycheck but never becoming wealthy.  We all deserve to be rich.  It’s not a bad thing.  We all have that potential and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let it go to waste in this place.  Excess money won’t guarantee my happiness, but it will guarantee more choices for myself and my future family.  I’m too young to accept complacency.  Aren’t we all made in God’s image and isn’t God prosperous?  I’ll never prosper at TR.

So fuck it.  I return the call to set-up the second interview.  I’m going to take the entire day off for it and not just a half day.  I grab my car keys and I’m out the door to buy a brand new suit.  I’m going to buy the ultra-nice and expensive DKNY one because four alcoholics made me realize that I deserve it.

I’ve Been Looking Forward To This…

It’s been so long since I’ve worn a suit that I forget to button the top suit coat button.  All the time at Thomson Reuters has negated the need for a professional wardrobe.  I arrive downtown for the interview 45 minutes early and mill around City Center…everyone walks fast around here. I rehearsed three days for this one day.  I had my shoes professionally polished and memorized the company’s quarterly earnings from Hoovers.com.  The first words out of my mouth will be, “Thank you for meeting with me.  I’ve been looking forward to this.”

I want to look clean and organized, so I left the leather shoulder bag at home.  I carry only an 8 ½ x 11 portfolio and the day’s Star Tribune. I thought the Wall Street Journal would be pushing it a little. I was told I’ll meet first with the recruiter and then with the woman who I’ll report to if hired.  A Linkedin connection informed me that the recruiter recently competed in the Twin Cities Marathon.  And my connection made it a point to emphasize that she competed in it as opposed to merely running in it.  Either way, it’ll be my ice-breaker.

I want to arrive exactly five minutes early to minimize the wait and the nerves.  I figure I’ll leave about two minutes to check-in with security and to get to the appropriate floor.

I tell the security desk that I’m here for an interview.  The corporate entrance has the look and feel of an expensive hotel.  The two guards are extremely professional – they’re wearing ties and look like FBI agents.  I can’t imagine they stare at girls and make locker room remarks, like I’ve seen the TR guards do.

Off the elevator and I approach the room number that I had written on a post-it note in my wallet.  I open the door and a twenty-something brunette with a telephone headset smiles directly at me from behind her U-shaped desk.  The past seven days of Crest whitening strips allows me to return the smile just as confidently.  I politely decline her offer of coffee or water and take a seat in a comfortable chair.  I slip two Altoids into my mouth.

Everything is nicer and cleaner here.  It’s intimidating.  Everyone walks with a purpose and it looks like they want to be here.  It’s refreshing. In situations like this, it’s easy to tell yourself that your clothes aren’t as nice as everyone else’s, your hair isn’t as cool, you didn’t have an exciting weekend like they all had, etc…but I can’t do that.  It’s just a different environment than the one I’m used to.  Damn Thomson Reuters has given me post-traumatic stress.

I’m waiting and thinking of the various ways this job would change my present circumstances: the starting salary would instantly boost me to a higher tax bracket, I would be a better dressed person every day, my commute would change to a ten second walk to the bus stop and a short #6 ride from Uptown to downtown, I would have an array of upscale bars and restaurants at my disposal for happy hours instead of Jake’s sports bar, I would be introduced to the world of annual bonuses and raises and gone would be the days of repeatedly hitting the snooze button in dread of another day.

Now I’m eager.  Not just plain ordinary eager, either.  I mean Budd Foxx-waiting-to-meet-Gekko-for-the-first-time eager.  “Life comes down to a few important moments, and this is one of them,” said Mr. Foxx.  Time to Pretend by MGMT is melodically buzzing through my head…let’s make some music, make some money, find some models for wives.

There’s a hallway to the left of the reception desk.  I can’t see around it, but I recognize the recruiter’s voice from our phone conversations and she’s approaching.  She’s now walking towards me with a smile and an out-stretched right hand.  I extend mine.  “Thank you for meeting with me.  I’ve been looking forward to this…”

Exit the Building Immediately

I wonder if it’s appropriate to be drinking this much at a children’s birthday party?  I wonder if anyone is counting the number of empties that I’ve scattered throughout the back yard and kitchen?  It’s a Saturday afternoon that I’m treating like a Friday night, and for no other reason than I have nothing to do when I get home.  For the parents here, this is a stop on an agenda.  For me, this is it for today.  The parents were told to bring their kids and the single people were told to bring themselves.  If this house weren’t walking distance from mine I’d still be sleeping.

The weather isn’t even that cool, but some are wearing the North Face that they’ve been eager to debut for weeks…anxiously waiting for the temperature to dip below 70 degrees.  Why the hell is North Face treated like Haute Couture around here? Minnesotans wear it like Parisians wear Christian Lacroix and Givenchy.

I walk inside and some husbands are watching college football, but UT doesn’t play until tonight so I have no interest.  I make my way to the bathroom not because I have to piss, but it’s a place to leave one more empty Miller bottle before I grab another from the fridge.  All the kids are in the living room jumping around to The Knack’s My Sharona. I want to tell them to shout out, “My scro-tum,” in the chorus but they’ll figure that out for themselves in college like I did.

I’m at the home of Jennifer and Scott.  Jennifer spent about one year as a Westlaw contractor, and to say her tenure came to an abrupt end is putting it mildly.  She returned from lunch on a Friday afternoon and was unable to log-in to the testing platform.  Her e-mails to the project lead went un-returned.  Jennifer’s phone rang and it was the woman at the temp agency who placed her at WL.  Temp lady told Jennifer that she just received a call from some WL middle-manager and that because work on the project was slowing down, she had to inform Jennifer that her time as a contractor had ended.  She then told Jennifer to hang-up and immediately exit the building.  This all happened in the span of about 15 minutes.  One of the reasons contractors had zero vested interest in product quality.

I used to think it was odd that I kept in touch with former fellow WL contractors, but I reached a conclusion about it.  We’re like survivors of a plane crash…we have a shared bond over an experience we never anticipated and would rather forget.  My blog is the little black box.

Naps in the Reflection Room and Are You a Maverick or a Louden?

Every group of males has guys with names like Schmitty, or Smitty, or O’mar, or Waggzy, or Snoop, or Burnzy, or Sluggo.  Tonight, Waggzy calls and wants to grab drinks at The Bulldog.

Waggzy and I were college roommates and he spent about a year at TR, where he routinely took naps in the basement Reflection Room.  He said if he had to walk in the bathroom and see that guy washing his feet in the sink, then a mid-day siesta in the Reflection Room was even-stevens.  I know…what a dick.  This is the same guy who nearly broke his back in college attempting to walk up bleachers with a log on his shoulders like Brian Shute in Vision Quest.  Waggzy is now a mutual fund manager.

We had that f’ing movie on VHS in our Como Avenue apartment and we watched it religiously.  Before a night of boozin’ in Dinkytown…pop-in Vision Quest.  Before a final exam…pop-in Vision Quest.  After a night of boozin’ in Dinkytown…pop-in Vision Quest.  Louden Swain was a hero to us…our every man.  He was an ordinary individual pursuing an extraordinary goal.  Our other friends had Pete Mitchell (call-sign, “Maverick”) and all his bravado in Top Gun, but what Louden lacked in machismo and shirt-less volleyball skill, he doubled in courage and conviction.  Maverick was a champion.  Louden was the conqueror of a champion.  Maverick knew he was the best, but Louden had the hunger and clarity to beat the best.

Louden works part-time in a hotel delivering room service to its guests.  The chef is an old guy…a lifer at the hotel who lives in a small room and has lived his life standing against the wall watching it all go by.  Louden stops by his room wondering why he took a rare night off to attend his wrestling match.  “It’s six lousy minutes,” Louden implores…

And then there were two 21 year old guys in a messy living room trying to hide their watery eyes, even though we had watched that scene over 100 times.

Matthew Modine (Louden Swain) was Jerry Bruckheimer’s first choice for the role of Maverick in Top Gun.  Modine was turned off by the film’s overt themes of war and Reagan/Bush foreign policy and declined the offer.  The role went to Tom Cruise.  But that’s fine.  There’s too many Maverick’s in the world.  Those Jersey Shore douche-bags…Mavericks.  The guy tail-gaiting you on the way to work this morning…Maverick.  For all those Mavericks and Brian Shutes, there’s a Louden Swain lurking…

Viking Jerseys

Tomorrow is the Vikings opener, and the only reason I care is because the official over/under on the number of Vikings jerseys spotted on the TR campus has been set at 11.  I’ll get the over by 1pm at the latest.

Vans, Denise Richards, Westlaw Contractors

I was hammered last night. I reached that point of alcohol consumption where I consciously realized that I’m drunk. It happened as I was seated at the Green Mill bar and looking down at my coffee-stained Vans slip-ons, which I’ve worn for five days straight. I have plenty of other shoes that are nicer, but these Vans have been my second-skin for work, weekends, taking out the trash and anything else.

With the inebriation came the freedom from self-consciousness that will accompany being alone at a bar. I was no longer checking my cell phone every couple minutes pretending to be waiting for someone. And I was no longer attempting to read the City Pages because it was too dark to read anything anyway. And I thought it was hilarious that the website I write the next day (today) will be for a law firm that specializes in DWI law. That’s even kind of hilarious sober. But these Vans will also walk me home.

My personal remedy for a hangover is to wake-up and immediately do 50 pushups. Then get a tall coffee to-go from the Uptown Diner before I head down 35W. So that’s what I do. Now I have four pages of this DWI site under my belt and I need to take a walk. I walk through the skyway over to the Westlaw side. As usual, the Findlaw girl who looks like a young Denise Richards is talking with the black guy in the graphic print t-shirt in the middle of the skyway. She giggles and he acts cool even though he’s wearing a graphic print t-shirt. They don’t even notice me

Over in Westlaw, I pass the ice-cube trays where all the contractors are watching TV, You-tubing, and Facebooking. Speaking from experience, it’s completely amazing how much work goes un-done when you’re a contractor at this place. I watched three seasons of Friday Night Lights and bought and sold hundreds of dollars of ebay merchandise while all the Novus data I was supposed to be checking went un-checked in front of me. [editor’s note – if you’re a Westlaw subscriber and your database isn’t displaying properly…sorry…It was because I was on Hulu.com during external release testing.]

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