Excerpt #10 - Burning Down The House

The first thing I had to do in order to jump off of the quarry ledge without knowing the depth in the pool below, as they say, was to quit my job. Be done with it. Sayonara, as they say in the Far East. Make a clean slate of it. Fresh start. This sudden departure would most certainly surprise my colleagues, for I had spent thirteen years and nine months aggressively jockeying for a more prominent seat in the wood-paneled board room, if you know what I mean! A good deal of back-stabbing, slander and self-promotion went into this effort – not by me though, unless, of course, I was prompted by my colleagues who sought the same seat. Self-defense or justifiable homicide they call that, always careful to walk the line between excessive force and justification. Make like Charles Bronson and you'll be okay, I have heard it said. 

Yeah, that was my pandemic, even before pandemics were a thing. My personal pandemic, I guess you could call it. Like those "personal pizzas" or whatever that were such a big deal at Pizza Hut back in the day, which idea - the personal pizza, for you and you only, with whatever you want on it - was actually quite genius, as it prompted people to eat more pizza alone than if they had to share. Good for the pocketbook, and good for heart disease. And we wonder why obesity is becoming such a thing that one day they may even have a television show called "My 400 Pound Life," the episodes of which culminate with a forklift breaking as they try to lift some dude out of his house and into the hospital for an assessment as to the propriety of bariatric surgery only to be told that he's actually outgrown the procedure itself and he has to thereafter live on a diet of half pieces of bread with no butter and small cutlets of salmon for the foreseeable future, and his poor caretaker (usually his poor mom, who has some major disorder of her own) is tasked with the responsibility of making sure he doesn't cheat. Okay, that's probably absurd, that kind of show would never exist. People would not become so insecure as to want to watch that so as to feel better about themselves. Capitalism and society would never turn in on itself after reaching a pinnacle of absurdity where institutions like the Boy Scouts merge with the Girl Scouts and then go bankrupt, while Little League Baseball becomes more of an institution for adults to make a few bucks and live vicariously at the same time than a place to have some fun and keep kids out of trouble.

They do say that when the winds of pandemia blow around us we are often surprised that the same sentiment that global health and geo-political pandemia stirs within us is not so foreign after all, because most human beings, at one time or another, live under a cloud of neurosis that imminent doom is always upon on us and our loved ones in some way shape or form, and so, when it is actually upon us, it is well rehearsed and those people who might have been called "Nervous Nellies" before the pandemic can actually find themselves in quite a placid state as plague sweeps the land and can only be stamped out with the most extreme measures of self-isolation.

And then there are those people who though they may not carry the weight of what if that neurosis brings, actually create or have imposed upon them circumstances akin to pandemia. The verdict is still out as to whether there is some biological or neurological condition within the human condition that causes some to gravitate to or attract these pandemic circumstances and personalities, but there is certainly a good case to be made in this regard.  

So anyway, I had had enough. One might say this dog-eat-dog life at the law firm of Fuchs & Youn, P.C., brought out the worst in those who would have otherwise been considered gentlemen, but this manner of behavior was actually held in very high regard in certain quarters. In any event, having wounded more than having been wounded in this battle, I stood to very soon be rewarded handsomely with a raise, bonus, equity share, and abundant accolades and pats on the back to be sure. Everything anyone could ever want. They even promised to “spill a lot of ink” on the announcement, whatever that meant. At the urging of my mentor, who had a face fit for a dartboard, I had already put a handsome deposit down upon a new, very expensive car on special order.

I woke on the morning after the funeral with some very specific vision of what I would walk in and say, but I hadn’t really considered what would happen after that. I guess that was the whole idea. If you’re going to jump in, it might as well be feet first without a plan as to how you might find your way back to the surface up through the depths down into which the plunge takes you, while you hold your breath hoping for the best.

At our morning meeting in the beautifully decorated conference room overlooking the river, I would solemnly advise my fine colleagues – and very fine these gentlemen thought they were indeed . . . you could almost imagine them in their silk stockings – that, with deep regret and only after lengthy contemplation, I would be stepping down from my esteemed position at this prominent firm.  Effective immediately.

On the drive into the office, I felt like an actor before taking the stage, the script having been written and everything leading up to the moment he delivers his lines, but he knows the script will not go as planned. I practiced what I would say, which was not dissimilar to what someone else had said to me in the not too distant past.

“I do want you to know that my intention is to depart on the best terms possible, and though, unfortunately, it does often seem that my partings are always not as nice as I'd like them to be, I hope that we part amicably and with satisfied minds that we are both better in some way for having known each other and worked together all these years.

“I wish you only the best, and whether down the road we encounter each other on some lawsuit as adversaries or members of the same team, it will be with the knowledge that we, together, have accomplished some wonderful things.  Maybe not everything we could have, but more than most could.”

Something like that. Interpretation: you guys are assholes.

After parking my car, I moved deliberately from the parking garage to the door of the monstrous office building. Steel grey gun-metal clouds blanketed the sky, and the smell of distant, burned out and smoldering fires filled the air. Ash and dust blew around in the eddies of the building, having blown into the financial district from the poorer neighborhoods the night before. The thoroughfare up to the entrance of this building where I had expended so much energy for so many years made me feel nauseous, as it did many days as I entered those doors before dawn and left after sunset, which my doctor said left me deprived of Vitamin D, which he blamed for my preonset, borderline personality disorder which drove me to drink, he said. His words not mine. He did say that I was fortunate it was only borderline, but that I should definately watch my step and find some balance.

I couldn’t ignore Johnny, the homeless guy who sits on the stoop outside the building. I told him that there was a pandemic on the horizon and that he should get out of Dodge and into the wilderness where the disease can’t transmit so readily among a homeless population as it can in the city. He said the city was his home and he wasn’t going “nowhere no how.”

Anyway, I flipped Johnny a few bucks and made my way up to the boardroom in the glass elevator. After we had all filed in and taken our seats, I let those gents have it. I said nothing I had rehearsed, though, and I wish I could recall specifically what I said, but it is quite a blur now, as I sit here today. Perhaps you can imagine what you would say in a situation such as this and fill in the blanks. In any event, suffice it to say that my delivery was very eloquent and very much on the mark in all respects because I was of very sound frame of mind at that moment, having just stayed up all night drinking bourbon, smoking and watching the fires throughout the city burn out, and, yes, I must admit, feeling a wee bit sorry for me self.

After I delivered my manifesto, I tossed a thick folder of papers with my resignation letter and some client files onto the table. Well, it hit one of those good gents in his small, little hand as he reached out to block it as it slid quicker than I had anticipated across the long and well-polished marble board room table.

This managing partner, though bold in defending his clients and even bolder in dealing with subordinates, was heard to cry out quite like a child, “Oh my, oh no, I’m bleeding, I have a cut, you cut me, oh my lord, I have blood on my shirt,” which was quite the shame because his shirt no doubt cost a pretty penny and he was very proud of it, as evidenced by the fact that his initials were emblazoned on his cufflinks and stitched on the cuff itself. Initials and narcissism abound.

“This shirt young man, this shirt Jeffrey Buckley, is going to be Exhibit A when I sue your ass off.”

“It’s a fucking paper cut, Harold Winthrop the third, relax, take a pill or something” I replied, adding, “or is it the fourth, are you a fourth or third, I can’t remember, how many Winthrops preceded your climb to the top?”

But that was it, the script changed from me walking out of the room with my dignity intact and the upper hand, to me being escorted out by security and subsequently accused of assault and battery by the same good gentlemen who then insisted that I forego my contractual entitlement to severance and buy-out, not that they were trading their right to file police reports in exchange for anything of value, for that would be extortion. Of course, it was a deal I couldn’t refuse, but I can assure you that my ex’s lawyer had a few questions concerning the matter, in response to which I told her that she should issue subpoenas to all of those lawyers in the room that day and ask them what happened and why I gave up such a lucrative severance package. Though the records of those proceedings were sealed, I heard that they were all forced to sit there on video deposition and plead the fifth amendment while their lawyers explained why reporting to the Attorney Grievance Commission was not in order. Poor guys. I wish them nothing but the best. For real, I do, and I hope that they are heartily enjoying themselves during this pandemic and avoiding all manner of infection.

Two large security guards ushered me down the elevator and through the front door beside which stood those vertical glass panels in which I had seen myself for the first time that morning. One of them had picked up my brief case on the way out of the board room and handed it to me as I was pressed out the door and onto the street, where I saw Johnny still accosting his usual customers for change, as they politely did their best to keep a distance of 6 feet while he reached toward them with his calloused fingers for some change. In fact, the more aggressive he was, the more likely the scared people were to quickly hand Johnny whatever money they could quickly access in their pockets or bags and scurry away fearful that he has the virus, and so while there were less people on the street due to the plague, those who were there feared for their lives and paid handsomely to avoid losing it by prolonged interaction with Johnny, who, though he seemed healthy enough, certainly lived a lifestyle that would be very attractive to the virus as it endeavored to spread amongst the populous.

I walked over to Johnny and gave him my briefcase. It was the most expensive of briefcases, made of the finest leather, with the firm name largely emblazoned in bright, shiny gold beneath the handle. One that had wheels and a long extendable handle so you could fill it with all your work and roll it all the way home at night so you can look at it in the vestibule and freak out about getting what’s inside done instead of devoting that same energy to the people who love you so that one day, they don't say “you’ve changed” and you find yourself, you may ask yourself . . . well, you know how the old song goes. 

The briefcase was given to me by the managing partners when they anointed me a junior partner, whereupon one of them told me that I should consider it an honor to walk into court with that briefcase, with showing everyone I worked for that law firm.

Well, Johnny was thrilled when I gave the briefcase to him, he said he’d take good care of it, and if I ever wanted it back all I had to do was ask. I told him it was his for good, on one condition. Namely, he had to promise to display the briefcase prominently outside the building as my former masters entered to begin their honest day’s work . . . not an easy thing for them to do. Johnny agreed, adding that he’d still like me to consider his case against Elvis’s estate, which is a story for another day.

Alone, on the crowded sidewalk I stood. A sea of faces indifferently swirling around, over, and past me, like I was a rock in the Red Cedar River, where I fed the ducks as a child with my grandfather. I must admit that I did not feel as free as I had hoped. But I also did not feel as if I were drowning, as I my neurosis suggested I might. Small favors, I guess.


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Excerpts For The Pandemic
by M. Christian Rossman
©publishing313, Inc. 2020