May I Ask a Question? Who in their Right Mind Hired You?

I’m sitting at my desk at work and wondering why I signed up for a job that involves the worst of humanity. Maybe I could deliver flowers. I would be a good flower-deliverer. “ALL PARTIES IN THE JOHNSON CASE REPORT TO COURTROOM NUMBER THREE…” I wish it was the Crosby, Stills and Nash song, “Our house is a very very very fine house. With two cats in the yard…”

A guy hops up on the extended part of my desk. He’s eating cheese nabs and crumbs are falling on a stack of medical records I’m reviewing. He has greasy hair. He’s wearing tattered jeans with motorcycle boots up to his knees. He has a distinct odor, like a combination of mildew and Beefaroni. A large plastic pink flower ring is perched on his index finger.

“May I help you?”

“I’m waiting for my case to be called.”

“There’s a waiting area out in the hallway.”

“The social workers wait in here.”

I’m open minded about appearances but this guy is going to homes to remove children and he presents like Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest except not as well dressed.

Later, Katie, one of the attorneys returns from court.

I say, “I met a very interesting social worker today.”

“Yeah” she chuckles. “I was just in court with him. One time I caught him in my office on his knees sniffing my chair. Word at social services is that he steals women’s clothing from the homeless donation box and crossdresses in them.”

“What?”

“He leaves me sticky notes all of the time. One of them said Leave Muscles. Love, Brains. Muscles refers to my husband.”

“Holy moly.”

I suspect it’s difficult to find quality social workers at this department of social services. The caseload is three times higher than any jurisdiction in the area. They pay squat for the worst job on the planet.

Katie tells me that the social work supervisors won’t hire anyone smarter than them for fear of losing their job. I know one thing for sure: there is an epidemic of wacky – and my threshold for wacky is higher than Everest.

 

 

Salutatorian Nancy

Despite an introductory evening that involves breaking into my apartment, police officers showing up and a proclamation that I’m still married, Wayne calls to ask me out to dinner. I’m happy because the only date I went on in the two years since I’m separated was a disaster.

My date and I are watching a band of nice guys who are my friends.  My date is on beer number too many and a couple of shots. The band finishes the song Moondance by Van Morrison. My date yells out, “This is a bunch of hippy dipshit music. You guys suck.”

He’s asked to leave. He grabs my arm and pulls me towards the door. A few guys in the band jump off the stage and help me out. After that I decide I’m as interested in dating as I am designing corporate contracts with Salutatorian Nancy.

Wayne and I go to dinner. He majored in history in college. The degree is not serving him over and above the knowledge he has gained. He’s studying for a degree in computer programming – the statistics class is killing him. He plays bass in several bands- a jazzy singer-songwriter group and a trio inspired by the music of the Velvet Underground.

We talk about music, the genius of Salvador Dali, the delicious appetizer we order that we guess is tomato paste, chili powder and garlic – the rest of the ingredients are a mystery. Wayne tells me about the street vendor he visited when he studied in Beijing, China – the dumplings were like butter. The exchanges from Wayne are soft spoken. I wonder if he’s been through a tragic breakup and he’s protecting his vulnerable, broken heart.

I say, “How do you feel about children? I mean, not the two of us having children but children in general. I have one of those. Also, do you have any girlfriends? No big deal if you do but I’m hoping for an exclusive relationship. Not that we have a relationship. I mean it’s our first date. We’re mere acquaintances who have kissed, hahaha.” I’m so nervous.

Wayne reaches over and kisses me.  The evening goes well.

I cannot take any more of the corporate law job. I peruse paralegal job ads. One catches my attention: “Paralegal for City Attorneys who represent the Department of Social Services.”

I apply and get the job. During the interview with the head honcho city attorney I ask what the job entails. He says, “You know, social service cases, that kind of thing.”

No shit, Sherlock that’s what the ad says. I hate corporate law so much I don’t care. I’m desperate for a different job away from Salutatorian Nancy. I want to salute Nancy goodbye.

I arrive on my first day at the job. The office is located in the juvenile court building where the cases are heard. The walk through the waiting area is a visual spectacle. The preconceived idea I have that court-attenders dress conservatively and try to make a good impression goes out the window. Honey, I can see the entirety of your boxer shorts like they are an accessory. They should be an accessory after the fact – like when you pull up your pants.

I walk into the office. An attorney comes running through the front door. “You’re the new paralegal? Hi, I’m Lyn.” She runs into her office and grabs some papers, hands them to me and says, “Here, answer these interrogatories. Gotta run back into court.” (To this day Lyn and I laugh that she literally handed me the worst case in the history of cases before I even got settled in.)

Lyn is a tall, blonde fifty-something year old badass lady. She was working in Alaska with a bunch of guys who said they didn’t think she could make it through law school.  She went just to spite them. She got her law license when she was in her forties. She has a great sense of humor and she’s smart as a whip.

I make my way to my desk. I sit down and review the interrogatories. That’s the point that I realize the job is regarding people who do very bad things to children. On a scale of one to ten in bad the case is a twenty-five.

A speaker above my desk announces, “ALL PARTIES IN THE BROWN CASE REPORT TO COURTROOM TWO. ALL PARTIES IN THE BROWN CASE REPORT TO COURTROOM TWO.” Okay, that’s a little distracting. It goes on all day long.

Wayne comes to visit me to see how the first day went. I collapse into his arms and sob uncontrollably.

“Oh my god what happened?”

“Dead baby. That’s all I can say.” Then more sobbing.

I return the next day even though I want to run away screaming. It’s impossible to keep up with all of the work. Most of the cases are regarding child neglect. Not enough food, hygiene issues, single mother with multiple children, substance abuse and mental health issues. Then a case comes down the pike that throws me to my knees.

The photos I see of homes in deplorable condition make my house look like the uptight neat freak Felix Unger from the Odd Couple moved in.

I meet child protective service workers when they wait in our office for their case to be called.

“Hi I’m Katina.”

Katina looks like a lady of the night. She’s wearing a skirt so short I can almost see her bum, a top that shows her ample cleavage, leopard-print tights, four inch platform heels and one inch long fingernails. She’s wearing lots of bling, including her front tooth which is covered in gold.

If Katina came to my home to remove my children I would lock the door and call the police. Katina missed the memo about how to dress for court.

I worked on her case. The affidavit that states the facts of the case makes no sense. Katina is a girl who does not use punctuation.

“I removed the child the uncle was at the home after jail the mother’s cousin called a report that uncle is a sex offender lives in the home the uncle ran out the back door mother lied said it was a neighbor child said it was uncle removed child.”

I have piles of cases to work on. It’s a window into a world I’ve never seen before. Designing corporate contracts may not be such a bad gig after all.

 

 

 

I’m Not So Sure About This Paralegal Gig

I’m around two years separated. Ray and I are not officially divorced because we have no money for an attorney. We divvy up our time with our daughter Melissa straight down the middle. There’s no urgency to finalize the divorce.

I finish school and get a job at a corporate law office.  I work for Nancy. I reckon she’s around thirty years old. On my first day she tells me she has a MBA and a law degree. Her student loans cost more than her mortgage. Then she adds, “I was supposed to be valedictorian of my high school but there was a tie between another student and me. The school picked the other student. I was salutatorian only because the school made a bad decision.”

It’s a good thing she clears that up because I am totally judging her for her salutatorian status. The department she represents calls her Narcy because she’s such a raging narcissist.

Nancy has me design a contract. We spend an entire day going back and forth.

“Could you make this box about a third of a size smaller?”

“Actually, remove the box and make the one next to it bigger.”

“I changed my mind. Put it back the way it was originally.”

“You know what? I don’t like the way it looks. Let’s start over.”

Jesus Christ, my head is no day in the park but I would seriously hate to be inside Nancy’s head. Why did I pick this career? I neglected to consider the working for uptight lawyers detail.   

I decide to attend a drum circle. Perhaps I can beat out my work frustrations on a drum.

The drum circle is a gathering of percussionists who gather at a round house to play drums. It’s architecturally in line with the theme of the gathering. Depending on who is in attendance the drum circle either sounds like the percussion section of Santana or the percussion section of a first grade band.

During the break I chat with Wayne. He’s one of the Santana-worthy drummers.  He offers me some of his trail mix. He seems like a nice guy.

It’s New Year’s Eve and my friend Meg and I are going to see the band The Ululating Mummies.  I tell Meg I have a feeling I’m going to meet someone. I say it after several beers and a shot of wishful thinking.

Meg and I arrive at the Ululating Mummies show. They’re a fun multicultural band of creative misfits that play songs with titles like Lebanese Hillbilly Music and Dance of the Bird People. They dress up in flashy robes and they wear fun, weird hats. Danny, the saxophone player, makes hats out of colorful kid pants and stuffs the legs. The legs perch up on his head in whimsical glory.

The Ululating Mummies show is packed. I have a happy buzz on when I arrive. George, the bass clarinet player has his face wrapped up like a mummy. I later find out it’s the anniversary of his wife’s death. The gauze masks the uncontrollable tears that pour down his face all night long.

I see Wayne from the drum circle at the show. We dance to the groovy sounds of the accordion, saxophone, bass clarinet, drums, bass and guitar. We hang out during the set break. Wayne reigns nearly a foot over my five foot two frame and I like it. He has long silky auburn hair, long sideburns and a nice smile. I recall how friendly he was at the drum circle. I’m smitten.

At the ring of midnight Wayne kisses me. My friend Meg leaves. Wayne and I continue our dance party, then he gives me a ride home.

“Wayne, I can’t find my key.”

“We can go to my house.”

“No, I have to get inside. My dog Maggie needs me. See if you can break through the French doors.”

Wayne is pushing and kicking in the door. The volume is at an eleven. A guy walks by on the sidewalk. I smile and say, “Happy New Year” like everything is kosher. An apartment light turns on. Wayne and I get inside. Maggie is overjoyed to see me.

Wayne and I hang out for a while. I tell him Ray and I are traveling the next day to visit our dear friends.

Wayne knows Ray from the drum circle. He asks, “Aren’t you divorced?”

I say, “Not officially. Only because we haven’t gotten around to it.”

Wayne looks concerned.

I want to add, “I’m planning to call a lawyer next week.  Our friends live in Georgia. It’s more convenient to ride together. I’m sure we’ll argue about something during the trip.”

There’s a loud knock at the door. I think it’s an irritated neighbor coming to complain about the noise. It’s three police officers.

“Ma’am are you okay?”

“Yes, officers, I had to break into my apartment. Sorry for the trouble.”

Wayne says he better go. I’m 98% certain I will never hear from him again after the breaking into apartment/traveling with not-yet-divorced husband/visit from the police fiasco.

 

It’s Not A Pot-Bellied Pig It’s A Dog

A year after I get married I give birth to Melissa. I’m twenty-two years old. Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare book does not have a chapter titled “The Emotional and Physical Needs of Young, Dysfunctional Mothers” or “When You Cry More Than Your Baby.” I read the chapter Trust Your Instinct. Melissa has a fever and no appetite. I bring her to the emergency room in a panic. “I think my baby has encephalitis. She needs to be seen right away.”

I’m working as a receptionist at a construction company. Most of the calls go something like this at an elevated volume:  “I want to speak to the owner immediately about everything wrong with my house.”

One time a guy walks in and demands to speak with the owner. I say he’s not in. The guy parks himself in the lobby for five hours. He tells me everything wrong with his house. He finally simmers down when I tell him he’s lucky to be buying a house. “I live in a tiny one bedroom apartment with my husband and  baby. I hardly make ends meet with what this company pays me. So what if the blue paint in the dining room is not what you picked. At least you have a dining room.”

At the suggestion of my oldest sister I sign up for night school to earn a paralegal degree. It’s not at all like my dream of becoming an interior designer. Instead of taking the class Color Theory I’m taking Wills and Probate. I’m pretty sure it’s not as exciting.

I get a job working for five solo practitioner attorneys while I’m in school. Being an attorney is a tough gig. There’s a lot of competition. The attorneys take whatever case they can get their hands on.

I say to the attorney Rob:  “Do you know anything about maritime law? Are you sure you should take that case?”

He laughs. “Nah. I can wing it.”

The attorney John does a lot of criminal work. He wears schmuck on his Ralph Lauren sleeve like Danny Zuko wears cool on the sleeve of his leather jacket. John is so shady I wonder if he will need to represent himself one day. He has a lovely wife and adorable young children. He takes the beautiful receptionist out to “buy toner” once a week. The office doesn’t need any toner.

My marriage is a mess. It’s as healthy as beer and pizza without the going together part. We argue like siblings who hate each other. We decide it’s time to separate.

We move out of our house into apartments. Not only does Melissa have to contend with the breakup of her parents; she is uprooted into new dwellings that are small and sub-par. I’m a player in her sorrow and it devastates me.

Ray and I strive for civility during the separation. It’s a challenge but it mostly works.

Ray tells me about all of the things wrong with his apartment. While I’m at work I hear Jeff and Jeff, a couple of pranksters from a local radio station. The show is called Victim of the Day. They call unsuspecting victims and play practical jokes on them.

I had pranked Ray once before on the show. When I hear Jeff and Jeff I get the idea to prank Ray a second time.

I call the radio station. Jeff immediately remembers Ray because his reaction to being pranked is loud and scattered with expletives. Jeff tells me Ray was their favorite Victim of the Day.

I tell Jeff we recently separated. I have an idea for a prank.

Jeff is worried. “Hmm, what do you have in mind?”

“He recently moved into an apartment. He told me a list of things wrong with the apartment. He just dropped off the list with the landlord.”

I tell Jeff the list of problems. He rolls with it.

Jeff calls Ray. Jeff sounds like a schmucky used car salesman. “I’d like to go over the list of the problems in your apartment.”

Ray says, “Okay.”

Jeff says, “Regarding the worn out and damaged tile in the kitchen I’ve arranged for you to pick up a used piece of tile from a veterinarian’s office in Dinwiddie.”

Ray, “Uh-huh.”

Jeff, “You say you’ve got to manually turn on the light bulb in the bathroom to make it work? I suggest you don’t stand in the bathtub while you turn on that light bulb.”

Ray, “uh-huh.”

Jeff, “Let’s see here, the cracked window. My advice is that you stay away from that window. By the way the neighbors tell me they saw you with a pot-bellied pig. We don’t allow pot-bellied pigs in the apartment.”

Ray remains polite but it’s obvious he’s seething.  “You mean to tell me you want me to pick up a used piece of tile from a veterinarian’s office to replace my kitchen tile, not stand in the bathtub when I turn on the light bulb and stay away from the cracked window? You have got to be kidding me. And by the way, I don’t own a pot-bellied pig, it’s a dog.”

“Ray. This is Jeff and Jeff. You’re victim of the day.”

Ray, “Oh my god, oh my god, you guys suck! Hahahaha. You guys suck! You really got me good.”

 

 

 

 

“I Just Love That Angela Lansbury”

When I return home to my parents after the California adventure they are relieved that I didn’t die and annoyed that their pain in the ass daughter is back home to add “color” to their quiet retired life.

Dad says, “have you ever thought about joining the military?”

I nearly spit out my coffee. “Dad, do you really think your defiant, war-hating daughter would last longer than five minutes in the military?”

I sleep a lot and watch TV with my parents. It’s not a good depression rx, FYI. 

Murder She Wrote is on. Mom says, “I just love that Angela Lansbury. She does such a great job tracking down those murderers.”

Dad says, “For crying out loud Phil it’s just a TV show.”

Hoo boy. I need to get the heck out of dodge.

I go job hunting for a waitress job. I hope for a  much better situation than my first and only waitress job up until that point: It’s my first day. I get the orders from the party of ten correct. I bring their food without incident. I grab a pitcher of water and go to refill their glasses. Unbeknownst to me the ice has settled into a giant ice cube. I’m ignorant of this possibility because I have no prior water pitcher experience.

The giant ice cube comes gushing out onto a lady’s plate of saganaki. I’m mortified. In nervous embarassment I say, “guess you’re having soggynaki for supper, hahaha.”

The owner runs over and screams at me in Greek with a few English words like idiot thrown in the mix. I run out of the back door, ending my two hour tenure as a waitress.

I travel to Richmond, Virginia with a friend. I fall in love with the city. The beautiful historic homes, the river, the vibrant music scene. Within a week I find a room to rent and move there.

There’s a zen saying, “Wherever you go there you are.” I say that to someone one time and they reply, “Well duh. Yeah.”

My point is that I’m happy to get out of Williamsburg but I struggle with anxiety. I haven’t successfully google-mapped a route to the location in my head where I can turn down the anxiety button. One reason is because Google Maps doesn’t exist at that point.  Even if it did directions through regions of the brain are not an option. “You have arrived to Amygdola.”

I meet my neighbor, Ray. He looks like a character from the movie The Outsiders trying to get his act together.

We immediately connect. I’m as comfortable with Ray as I am soaking in a hot tub on a cool Autum evening.

We’re both broken souls, poor but wealthy in laughter and music and hikes at the river. 

Four months later Ray asks me to marry him. I’m thinking, “Whoa. This is moving faster than a Porsche on the German Autobahn.”

I want to say, “Can’t we wait? Why the big hurry? I’m twenty one years old. It’s the legal drinking age not the legal marriage age.”

Instead I say, “Yes.”

I need a lesson on how to say no. It goes like this: “You just say no. The end.”

About Me

cropped-kathy032-jpg-e15366895552352.jpeg

I’m Kathy. With a K not a C. Sometimes I want to say, “K or C. You pick. You could put a M there and I really wouldn’t care except I am definitely not Mathy in a multiplying fractions kind of way.”

My mother says, “I’ll never forget your birth. Goodness, it was terrible.” She says it after my sister gives birth to an eleven pounder born breech and I say, “That’s a whole lot of nope.”

I ask, “How so?”

Mom says, “Something went wrong with the stirrups. That’s all I remember.” Then she laughs nervously.

I think, “You laugh but Miss Possibly Brain Damaged Daughter over here doesn’t think it’s so funny.”

My introduction to my therapist:

“Hi, I’m Kathy. Apparently, something went wrong with the stirrups. Details are sketchy. Also, I used to run behind the mosquito truck in a cloud of Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane also known as the endocrine disruptor DDT. Oh and one time I tried riding my bike down the neighbor’s concrete steps. You know what happened? A big ol’ concussion and a visit to the emergency room is what happened. Does this help lay the foundation for why I have felt like an uppercase oddball during my 53 years on the planet?”

For eighteen years I’ve been working as a paralegal for four attorneys who do child abuse work. Unsolicited advice: Don’t do that. Four attorneys is attorney overload. Also, the child abuse gets old after one day. Four thousand six hundred and some days later I’m still doing it. Exhibit A of why I am a crazy person.

 

Elephant Seals are Strange Creatures

I graduate from high school. I planned to go to college and major in interior design but my father kept busting my chops. “You’ll never get a damn job with an art degree.” That’s coming from a man who majored in music.

I’m working in Colonial Williamsburg selling gingerbread cookies. It feels like 130 degrees in the bakery due to historical interpreters demonstrating baking via a three foot wide flaming oven.

colonial

I’m walking down Duke of Gloucester Street when my best friend Thomas pulls up on the no vehicles allowed street honking his shiny blue ’68 Dodge Coronet, a car that looks like the Batmobile minus the wings.

“Hey Kathy, want to go to a party tonight?”

I pray my boss is not around.  Thomas weaves through the hordes of tourists strolling down the street and honks goodbye.

I meet Thomas my senior year in high school. He reminds me of the comedian Gallagher, not because he’s into smashing watermelons with a mallet but because they resemble each other and they are total goofballs.

We are best friends at first sight. Both of our fathers are college professors and we are both the youngest children of large tight knit families. It’s an instant connection.

Thomas and I head to the college fraternity where the party is located. I take a seat in Jeff’s room. He’s a quiet, intense anthropology major. Jeff is nice and easy to be around.

Jeff passes me a bong. He takes a hit, blows out a cloud of smoke, coughs and says, “Death is our eternal companion. It is always to our left, at arm’s length. Death is the only wise advisor we have.”

I say, “I’m not a fan of death.”

“The fear of death is not the way of the warrior. These are the Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda.”

I say, “No offense, Jeff, but the death talk is not elevating my buzz.”

Jeff moves on to discussing Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy about dream experiences and music while we listen to Sun Ra, an artist whose music sounds like the planets Venus and Saturn took LSD and composed jazz.

The next day Thomas calls me. “Hey Kathy, do you want to go to Ventura to see the Grateful Dead?”

“Sure, why not?”

I quit my job. I leave a note for my parents: “Dear Mom and Dad, by the time you read this I will be on a Greyhound Bus to see the Grateful Dead in California. Don’t worry about me. I have $188.00 and a sleeping bag. Love, Kathy.”

Thomas and I are on the bus weaving colorful embroidered bracelets that we hope to sell at the show.

Thomas has a photographic memory – my memory is more like a polaroid instamatic. “The Battle of Chickamauga was the first battle in Georgia in September 1863. The Confederates won. There were 18,454 Confederate casualties and 16,170 Union losses. It was the second highest loss after Gettysburg.”

A few moments of silence. Then Thomas continues.

“There were one hundred and twenty generals at Gettysburg and nine of them were killed? Nine. That’s a lot.”

“Pickett’s Charge had around twenty thousand Confederate soldiers but Gaines’ Mill had more than fifty thousand Confederate Soldiers.”

I weave bracelets like nobody’s business. “If I was a soldier I would run away. I would run away and hide behind a big log. If I had Elmer’s Glue I would glue leaves all over my body and lie still in disguise.”

“They didn’t make Elmer’s Glue back then.”

“Well, they made some kind of adhesive. It may not have dried clear but I would make sure I had a bottle for my clever leaf disguise.”

After the concert Thomas and I catch a ride up North. We drive through Santa Cruz and up scenic Highway 1 to a beautiful and remote beach called Greyhound Rock.

We join a dozen or so hippies who claim the beach their temporary home. Below the craggy cliffs is the wild and dramatic Pacific Ocean. Greyhound rock, a massive rock boulder the size of a super-size whale reigns supreme over small rock boulders in the shoreline. Elephant seals bask in the sun. Sometimes they make a noise that sounds like a singing garbage disposal. Watching the elephant seals helps me feel much less awkward about myself.

Sleeping bags are scattered on the beach along the bottom of the cliff. Each day we walk a treacherous climb up the cliff to the parking lot and catch a ride to Santa Cruz where we eat at a soup kitchen and hang around town. We return to the beach and party all night. The vagrant lifestyle gets old quick.

I’m coping with anxiety. I’m around people 24/7. I feel like an oddball and let me just say that if you feel like an oddball around a group of smelly hippies that live on a beach, smoke pot all day and engage in free for all dancing around a bonfire like a neolithic summer solstice celebration it’s symptomatic of a serious issue.

After a few weeks I’m at the beach camp while everyone is sleeping. I’m wide awake and very stoned. The moon is full. I can see figures moving around but I cannot tell if they are elephant seals or Charles Manson’s cronies lurching behind the rocks. I pretend to be sleeping. I reckon the Manson cronies will kill the sleeping hippies located closer to them. I’ll sneak behind the big boulder to my left and either a) find a rock to throw at them or b) run like hell.

The next day I wake up and wonder why I’m living on a beach with a crew of folks whose main vision of their future involves where to score the next joint. I return to my parent’s house and try to figure out how to get my act together.