Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where's home?

My mom and dad were born and raised in Detroit. After their first two years of married life in Alaska, they moved to Flint, Michigan in 1969, set up housekeeping and had my brother and me. He was 13 and I was 11 when we moved to West Virginia.  After 13 years away, my parents moved back to Flint in the late 90s -- same neighborhood even -- and stayed until around 2006 or so. They live near my fortified compound on the outskirts of Columbus now.

On Thanksgiving my dad and I were talking and the subject of Flint came up. Though he knows it's a hole now and said that he couldn't see the point of living there again, it seems pretty clear that he and my mom will always think of it as "home." Or at least as close to "home" as anyone who has lead lives as itinerant as theirs can.  Conversations with my brother suggest that he thinks of Flint as home too.

It's not my answer. When people ask me where I'm from I invariably say Beckley, West Virginia. I lived there from April 1988 until I left for college in September 1991, and again for the summer of 1992. That's it.  A little over three and a half years.  I lived in Parkersburg, West Virginia around the same amount of time but if asked to give a quick biographical sketch I usually leave Parkersburg out completely. I lived in Washington D.C. around the same amount of time and that's quickly referred to as the time I was in law school with no attempt to make a connection between the place and my life as a whole.  Counting college, I've lived in Columbus for a total of 16 years -- almost my entire adult life -- yet it's always where I live now, not where I consider home. And I often make a point to say that, if given the chance, I'd love to live in any number of other places.

What makes Beckley my hometown to me when at least two other places -- Flint and Columbus -- have much stronger claims?

Maybe it's the coming of age thing. I got my driver's license after I moved to Beckley. My first job. My first real kiss (spin the bottle in junior high school doesn't count) and first real girlfriends there. I graduated high school there. I met the woman who would become my wife there. She's a native, and for years when we went home for the holidays, Beckley was where we went. A lot of the important stuff in my life happened in Beckley.

But most of the same could be said for my brother too, and he doesn't call Beckley home. My parents did all of those things in Detroit, and that place seems consigned to ancient history for them, with Flint taking greater prominence.  And really, it's not like Columbus has just been a way station for me. My entire professional life is here. I bought my first home here. I've had and have raised two children here. Everything that's important about me as an adult can be explained by this town. But it's still not home.

It makes me think that home is merely a state of mind. That we can be, technically speaking, from anywhere, but we can choose what is home based on just about anything. Maybe it's time. Maybe it's people. Maybe it's an emotional connection.  Why Beckley? Maybe it's the weather. Maybe it's the topography. A lot of it is probably the memories. More than anything I think it's because I've always felt at peace there in ways that I've never felt peace here.

Where's your home? Is it a multiple choice question for you like it is for me? Am I odd in thinking that I can just choose the place I call home? Am I a central Ohioan or a Michigander in denial?

This is the stuff you think about on a Saturday night when everyone else is asleep, the ABC affiliate is carrying the crappy football game instead of the good one and you just had a tall glass of Maker's Mark.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Shyster Chronicles: The Interview

Before reading this, please read this.

I knew him, but I wasn't sure if he knew me. 

Oh, he knew my name, my work experience and my education because my resume was sitting on the desk right in front of him. He knew that my morning had gone well so far and everyone else had been nice because the interview had been going on for five minutes.  But did he remember me? Did he remember that two years ago I was, nominally at least, his lawyer? Did he remember that I was assigned by his friend -- my old boss -- to counsel his wife as she fought some petty little battle with a home remodeling company who had screwed up the basement renovation?  The lawsuit was filed in his name too because he owned the house and paid the bills, but I never spoke with him.  I only spoke with his wife, who made sure I knew which furs were damaged by seeping ground water and which family photos were curled by the moisture and flecked with mold.  Long conversations, mind you, that went on for as much as an hour after I had obtained the information necessary for the latest demand letter or the latest draft of the complaint.  She went on about the contractor. On about the neighbors. Occasionally she went on about her husband too, who at this very moment was asking me about where I saw myself in five years while -- maybe -- trying to figure out why I seemed familiar to him for some reason.

Those long conversations with Mrs. Morton ended abruptly. I was to call her on a Monday morning and she didn't answer. When two days passed without hearing from her I called her husband, but he didn't answer either. Emails went un-returned as well.  I drove by the house, but no one was home.  I was a bit worried by this, but only a bit. Mostly I was just happy that I was being given a break from this dreary little case, the time for which I wasn't even allowed to bill thanks to it all being a big favor from my boss to the Mortons. With them incommunicado I could get back to the cases which actually interested me and, more importantly, for which I could bill my time.  I was having a rough enough year without having to spend so much of it on this pro bono nonsense for my boss' golf buddy.

A week later I finally heard from Mrs. Morton. It was a short call. She sounded as is she had been crying. She told me to dismiss the lawsuit. When I asked her why, she would only say it was a personal matter. She thanked me for my time and effort and that was that.  I told my boss about it, but he acted as if he already knew. In fact, he seemed surprised that I was still in contact with the Mortons at all.  He asked for the file and told me to move on to other things. Oh, and not to talk to anyone about the matter.  Which was easy because I didn't know what was going on.

I finally figured it out a few weeks later when my boss' secretary spilled the beans:  Dan Morton had been arrested for solicitation of a prostitute the morning I was supposed to have spoken to Mrs. Morton.  It was kept quiet -- didn't even make the police blotter because of who Dan was and who he knew -- but he couldn't keep it from his wife.  After picking him up at the police station -- his car had been impounded -- she packed a bag and flew down to the condo in Ft. Myers to clear her head for a few days, a lawsuit over home improvements the last thing on her mind. My boss was doing his best to smooth things over legally for his buddy Dan. He probably would be successful in doing so, but no one knew for sure about that marriage.  Or what might happen to Dan's standing at his firm or in the legal community at large.

But he somehow gutted it out. The charges were dropped, because in this town they're always dropped when they involve guys like Dan Morton.  Word got around about the indiscretion, but not too widely.  Somehow Dan kept his job as managing partner at Hicks Henderson & Foley. Somehow Dan and Abby Morton stayed married. I went back to work on billable matters.

Over the next two years I lost momentum at my old firm.  I wasn't happy with my cases and my boss was increasingly unhappy with me.  I felt I needed a change of scenery and figured I'd try to jump someplace else before I was inevitably pushed. When the recruiter told me that Hicks Henderson was looking for a mid-level litigator I didn't give a second thought before telling her to go ahead and send them my resume. I didn't even think of Dan Morton until I got my interview schedule the day before and saw his name on it.  And now, here I was, sitting across the desk from him, the managing partner of their Columbus office, making small talk and wondering if he knew that I knew that he was busted in a Walgreens parking lot trying to pick up a $25 whore on a random Monday morning two years ago,

He knew.

"You're probably curious to know what happened with that business with the basement," he said.  "We settled.  It all worked out OK."

I told him I was happy to hear that.  After what seemed like a long silence he went on.

"When I got your resume the other day, I showed it to Abby.  She said that I should hire you.  Said you were . . . supportive back when the case was pending.  I appreciate that."

Again, I thanked him.  But I can't say that I liked his look.  He was clearly uncomfortable talking about this, even if he seemed compelled to cover this territory. And after an interview in which he had been far more content to talk and talk rather than to ask me any questions, he now seemed like he was waiting for me to say something.  When I did nothing more than offer a closed-mouth smile and a slight nod, his expression brightened.  He may have been waiting for me to talk, but he was happy that I didn't. And my silence apparently sealed the deal.

"Welcome to Hicks Henderson, Mr. Sullivan.  I'd like you start as soon as you can."