I Live Above Lawyers / 17 February 2001
I have sort of a weird apartment at the moment. It sits atop two floors of law offices, like a penthouse suite, like this pocket of residential activity hidden away behind the corporate comings and goings, like where the boss goes when he needs some let’s call it R ‘n’ R with his aide de camp and I feel a little guilty every time I skulk into my unmarked door. Also, we all share the front door so whenever I come in I have to say “hithere” to the receptionist. Sometimes I add: “That whole Anne Anderson, et al. v. W. R. Grace & Co., et al. thing is a real ballbuster” and she nods wearily.
To clarify: These are small offices, each containing, tops, 1-2 lawyers each, and I have total access to the main office on the first floor since we’re all buddies and I need to cut through there to get to where my car is parked in the back (sometimes I needle them on the way out, saying like dudes, love to chat but I got to get my ex’s body out of my trunk and into that swamp before she ruins the interior, etc., and there is much back-slapping and tear-wiping). The office is homey, a great deal of wood and plush leather and perhaps some brass, and in fact there is a nice little bathroom with the toilet paper sitting atop a special brass stand made just for that purpose, meaning no longer are we chained to one location for toilet paper use, we can take the stand to a different room, if necessary, and my heart, she sings with the liberation: La la la laaaaaa! These are not the sprawling, glass-and-chrome filled offices of the movies. There are no fluorescent lights, except in the Scary Basement, where they flicker and buzz, and there are burnt-out ones stacked up against the absolutely scariest part, there around the corner on the short leg of the L, with the heavy wooden doors that lead into blackness and the exquisitely complex phone wiring that looks like the innards of some futuristic fish after being cleaned and hung from a steel hook.
One night I went down there and my clothes were still wet (the complimentary washer/dryer being the only reason for me to visit the Scary Basement) and to kill time I picked up one of the bulbs and swung it around like a light saber, since, for the bulk of my life, every time I look up and see a long, cylindrical fluorescent light glowing up there, raining down headaches, I think: That looks sort of like a light saber. So I’m swinging it around and really the effect is lost since the bulb was not active and glowing, like at all, and then the inevitable happens and I smash it against one of the scary wooden supports. I’m not entirely convinced it was accidental. The thing was, I didn’t really smash the bulb all that hard, and yet it pretty much disintegrated. There were shards of glass scattered around the scary dirt floor, sure, but it seemed like if you assembled those shards they’d only add up to maybe a third of the total length of the fluorescent light. It’s like the thing just popped out of existence. Then a piercing panic hit me: What if the lawyers found this broken glass? Of course they’d suspect foul play. So I stomped on the glass until it was shining powder there in the dirt, and then I dragged a box filled with rotting files over the crime scene. My fingerprints were all over the goddamn place.
I’ll also admit that I looked through some of the files.
Also in the basement are a bunch of hugely blown-up photographs, grainy black-and-white, some of intersections, some of building sites, one of a car accident and, scariest, one of a deer, lying on its side, not really looking dead, just lying there. What in G-d’s name was that case about? There is also a life-sized, fully articulated model (I hope it’s a model!) of a skeletal leg and foot. The intensity of doing laundry has gone up tenfold, the sheer anxiety of the experience bitterly delicious.
When I moved in, I was assured by the main lawyer, also the landlord of the building, also handler of much of the refurbishing and even builder of his own desk, I was assured that I could use any of the equipment in the office, the xerox machine, fax, even the shredder. “I don’t know if you’d have any need for a shredder, but,” he said, and I said, still trying to impress him, I said: “I’ll definitely be needing that.”
Sometimes I’ll slip into the office late at night, when I have the whole building to myself, just me and the ghosts of the wrongfully accused down in the basement, the place lit solely by the crimson glow of the EXIT signs. (I have one in my bedroom, too, since it’s the law, and it faces my bed and is extremely bright when I’m trying to sleep. I was told, in hushed tones, when first moving in, how to disable it, like illegally, and so I did, but recently the place was “inspected” by somebody and this was while I was away in Portland, so somebody came into my place without asking and changed the smoke alarm and turned the EXIT sign back on and now I can’t seem to shut it off. So I’ve taken to placing a giant plank of wood against it, said plank originally belonging to a giant, crappy, ugly bureau that the previous owner kindly left behind, forcing me to take it apart and leave its now-even-uglier pieces in my bedroom ever since, being too lazy to cart all that wood out to the beavers or the dumpster or wherever. The EXIT sign still glows evil and red from behind the wood, however, making me feel like I’m at the end of 2001 when I wake up and gaze upon it.) On the wall is a framed newspaper article of a legal victory against the local power company, and I’m like: Where is my landlord’s Erin Brockovich? He even made his own desk by hand but because he doesn’t dress like a tawdry streetwalker, he doesn’t — I’m sorry, it’s all too upsetting.
I shredded some documents just to do it, you know, just some stuff I found lying around on people’s desks. I was a little disappointed. I mean, seriously, if you had some funding, you could’ve easily reassembled those strips into something coherent. When the time comes, I want a shredder that makes the shreds so fine, that if you even try to pick them up, they’ll cut your fingers, maybe even cut them off entirely.
Only once have I slipped down there, very late, and held a business meeting in the head lawyer’s office, often slamming down an enormous tome of Pennsylvania statutes to drive my point home. I won’t ever do it again.