Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Pain, Misery, and Suffering Years

I have of course alluded many times since I escaped the place how fervently I loathed earning a steady paycheck as a word processor for the gigantic San Francisco law firm of Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro for three years after my daughter was born, but it’s a story I never get tired of telling.

The partners were mostly arrogant dickheads — none either more arrogant nor more a dickhead than Vaughn R. Walker, whom Ronald fucking Reagan named to the U.S. District Court, and went on to be involved in a lot of high-profile cases. The associates were almost invariably officious little pricks who couldn’t have been more impressed with themselves on a bet. What a great many of them had in common, to my astonishment, were the inability to write grammatical English and great affection for the Grateful Dead, whom I’d loathed from first hearing. When I left the firm and sued it for having inflicted emotional distress (which of course it had, in spades!), their lawyer tried to embarrass me by invoking my past employment at Larry Flynt Publications. I got great pleasure from (and made him laugh by) pointing out that a much higher class of person had worked at LFP than at PMS. At the end of every day, it was a tossup as to whether I, suicidally, or one of the attorneys was going to go out the window, and I commonly worked, in one of the gigantic firm’s three skyscrapers, up to 22 stories above sea level. That no one actually perished attests eloquently to my self-restraint.

That I was one of two straight male word processors in the whole firm did me little good romantically, as there was a very rigid caste system in place. The attorneys didn’t mix with the help — except, in my case, for a shapely blonde second-year associate with problem skin who perceived me, bless her heart, as a rock star in exile. Her birthday guest wish list included Bon Jovi, Nelson (Ricky’s twin sons, who were huge on MTV for around 90 minutes), and…me.

In fairness, a couple of associates, Oklahoman Sydney Sue Hollar, who seems to have gone on to practice mental health law in the Bay Area, and Tom C. Clark II, son of the ultraprogressive former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, were down-to-earth and charming, and I dared for a while to consider Tom a pal. Thomas V. Loran (one cannot practice law without a middle initial) was a lunatic — he’d wait until the last millisecond to file motions, and then stand fuming and cursing and twitching as though electrified as his latest one emerged maddeningly slowly from my printer — but turned out to be a good egg.

The work was intellectual torture, and I was awful at it, and my being awful at it made me anathema to the arrogant dickheads and officious little pricks alike. I was quickly banished for either incompetence or insubordination from nearly every group to which I was assigned, my favorite, he said ironically, having been the Environmental group, which was in the business mostly of defending the big oil company that was PMS's principal client in cases brought by the Sierra Club and others. What a lovely warm feeling I derived from contributing, even in my small way, to the destruction of the environment!

I became the firm’s Klinger, as in M*A*S*H, reporting for work in the loudest clothing I owned (and, as a former member of the Musicians Union in Hollywood, I owned some very loud clothing), huge drop earrings, and eyeliner. I was dismayed to learn the firm probably wouldn’t fire me for fear of my suing (and thus embarrassing) them. They were even more loath to fire persons of color. Those of my fellow Stylewriter jockeys who weren’t gay white boys were black women, and oh, did several get away with murder, taking 15-minute cigarette breaks that commonly lasted an hour, for instance, and lunch hours that lasted most of the afternoon. When I advised our mutual supervisor that I was happy to do my fair share of the work, but not 150 percent of my fair share because Jan C. Broadnax, for instance, was in the breakroom smoking and doing her nails, I was effectively invited to STFU.


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