Saturday, March 26, 2005

Anonymous Wife has a delicious home-cooked meal planned for Easter tomorrow. Of course, she isn't the one doing the cooking. It's amazing what you can get for a hundred and eighty dollars per person. They even bring a picnic table. So the lawn furniture that I spent three thousand dollars on can remain in the garage, never touched. And Anonymous Wife can just sit there painting her toenails, and we still get to eat. My parents are here for the weekend, which explains why I'm in the office on Saturday afternoon. Dad is wandering the halls, looking for dust that the cleaning staff missed. He loves when he visits and I let him come to work with me. He misses this. I mean, it was never this intense for him, but he misses the atmosphere. He misses having a secretary. He misses having a set of people hanging on his every word. He misses having a reason to wake up in the morning, somewhere to go, someone to talk to. So I bring him here, let him run free, flip through stacks of paper, help me out on a case I don't really need his help on, make him feel marginally useful. I think he appreciates it.

I'll bring him back again on Monday or Tuesday, when there are more people in the office, and let him tell some stories about what it was like back in the day. "Before computers, we had to type out every contract by hand...." Right, dad, it was you, at the typewriter, not some woman making four dollars a week and having to cope with your partner's unwanted advances at the Christmas party. Dad was a good guy. His partner was a creep. Dad tolerated him for way too long, never quite getting up the courage to confront him about anything. His partner ruined the practice for the two of them. They haven't spoken in years. But I'll indulge Dad's stories, and his revisionist history. He doesn't understand the lifestyle today, the added pressure, the around-the-clock nature of the business. He's still stuck in the 1960s.

He was a better father than I am. Mom says he was always at work, but that's not how I remember it. I remember him being there, more often than not. I don't remember work getting in the way when I had a birthday party, or a baseball game, or graduation. I don't even know if I really knew what Dad did until I got to high school. It wasn't something that interfered with life. Meanwhile, Anonymous Son knows the names of my top ten clients and how many hours I've billed each of them in the past fiscal year. Anonymous Daughter knows how many times they've been cited for violations under OSHA and how much they've had to pay in fines. It's not as easy as it was before e-mail, before globalization, before this became more than just a job. There's a pressure that wasn't there for Dad, without a seven-figure mortgage, $25,000 private school tuition, $180/person Easter lunches in the backyard....

So while Dad's roaming the hallway, and Mom's with the kids in the shopping mall, buying them who-knows-what and letting them get body parts pierced that I can't even imagine, I'm getting a few hours of catch-up work done so I don't have it on my mind all weekend. I'm realizing I know Conference Room 24B better than I know my living room. I know where the cell phone reception is strongest, I know which chairs wobble, I know which cabinet the extra legal pads are in. I know which window to look out to see the people having more fun than I am, living lives with perhaps a bit less purpose, but more happiness. Sometimes I wish I didn't have quite so much ambition, and was okay settling for a meaningless existence of tennis matches and long drives along the coast. That everything didn't have to have some grander purpose, some goal in mind. It goes by so quickly, what does it matter anyway? No one's going to remember what I accomplish whether I'm chairman of the firm or I sell pottery on the beach. But I'm not like that. Dad wasn't like that, despite the lower pressure at a place like this back then. He wanted to make a mark, somehow. I don't think he realized until too late that what he spent his life doing largely just didn't matter. I mean, it mattered to us -- we got to live in a nice house, in the right neighborhood, go to the right schools... but it didn't matter to the world whether the insurance company won its case or not, whether the settlement was good, whether the contracts were airtight. It was just a means to an end. And this is the end. An old man wandering the halls hoping for someone to tell him he matters.

I like the conference room. There's a peacefulness to it, when it's Saturday afternoon and the file folders aren't covering the desks, and there aren't four paralegals in here stamping every sheet with the "sign here" stickers. Or a client pacing the room, wondering why we have to reprint sheet 74, and why we can't get this done any faster. Maybe I need a conference room at home. For the kids to do their homework, for Anonymous Wife to hide the shoes I told her not to buy but she bought anyway, for Dad to act out his own Chairman of the Firm fantasies whenever he comes to visit.

Or maybe I just need a $180/person lunch, complete with its own picnic table. Can't possibly be worth it, but can't possibly be worse than having to do it myself, I suppose.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?