Read an Excerpt
Happy Hour Is for Amateurs
"You threw it out?" I barked into the receiver.
"I...I...I..." My roommate stammered on the otherend of the line. "I...have...to...go. I have so much shit to do today." Click. The line went dead.
I put the phone on the table and stared out the window at the Dumpster in the parking lot behind my apartment. Could I dive into it? Was there a chance success was still in my grasp, thirty yards and a few feet of trash away?
Ring. I answered. "Hello? Hello?"
"Look, I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you." My roommate coughed and stuttered. "I've had so much on my plate. I didn't. I mean, I didn't mean it..."
"That's nice, but what do I do now?" I pressed hard, but civil. I couldn't attack him. I had to live with the guy. But I had to vent, and the mess I was facing was his fault.
"Why didn't you ask me? Why would you just throw something like that away?" Click. "Hello? Hello?" He hung up on me.
I gulped the last of my coffee, slammed the cup on the table and dialed him back.
"Perimeter Funds, good morning," the operator yip-yipped in a pixie voice. I spit my roommate's name and department into the receiver. "Certainly, sir. Let me transfer you."
After a half dozen rings he picked up. "Why did you hang u..."
He cut me off. "Look, I honestly don't remember throwing it away, I just..."
"Then where is it? Give me your dishonest answer."
"I'm fucked. You realize that." I was hyperventilating; late for work already, with a mountain of paper to clear off my desk before two. Everyone was depending on me. People were coming in from D.C., NewYork, and Boston. They were sitting on trains and planes and waiting in traffic. They'd cleared their schedules to make the trip and the one thing I was supposed to take care of for them...the reason they were coming...I'd fucked up, terribly and irreparably.
"Look, I have to go. I'm sorry, but I have a huge project going, and I can't deal with your shit right now. I'm sorry. What else can I say?" Click. He didn't give me a chance to speak another word.
I ran to the parking lot and opened the Dumpster. There was no way to rummage through it in a seersucker suit. Anything worn in the process would be destroyed. The only way to do the dive was naked, and I didn't have the luxury of risking arrest. Still, the mountains of bulging trash bags taunted me. Theoretically it was easy, a matter of finding the right one and combing through the piles of coffee grounds, rotting cold cuts, and junk mail. Then I looked a little closer. The greasy black flies buzzing around my head and the odor of diapers and spoiled fruit dragged me back to reality. It was true...I was a few feet from saving the day, but they might as well have been a thousand miles.
I trudged back into the house and called my assistant.
"I have an emergency. I'm going to be late. No. I'm fine. Just, uh?.?.?.?, I'm going to be late is all." Click.
Most of being a lawyer is pretending you know everything while actually knowing next to nothing, "practicing" your trade in the most literal sense of the word. Hoping some elected judge has the facility with English to understand the complicated argument you've handed him. Guessing how the court might rule on confusing language in contradictory statutes drafted by twenty-three-year-old state senators' clerks. Poring over endless pages of rules in volumes of books thicker and denser than Atlas Shrugged to find a simple answer as to when and how some court document has to be filed. You wake in sweats in the middle of the night. Did I have thirty days or twenty to respond to my opponents' motion? Did I file the proper notice of appeal in the Auchincloss case? Does Rule 4:15(a)(6)(vii) supersede Rule 6:17(e)(3)(iii) when they conflict?
These thoughts never leave, filling your head with endless tedium. Being a litigator is living in that nightmare where you're sitting in an exam and suddenly realize you haven't studied and don't know a stitch of The Information. You're as good as your last fuckup, which is just like any other job...except that unlike any other job, you have a pack of adversaries at your throat, angry little shits who live to find and exploit the tiniest error in your work and make you look stupid and illogical. You toil in constant fear of the big mistake that brings down the house of cards and sets a fellow shark or vulture upon you, suing for malpractice. This is Philadelphia...Shyster Central, Electric Lawyerland. Of course we eat our own, and statistically, sooner or later, every one of us makes a mistake.
"I'm totally fucked here." I paced back and forth through the living room, running a pointless postmortem on the situation. "I can't believe this. He threw it away!"
My girlfriend Lisa emerged from the bathroom and stared at me, combing her hair back and fiddling with a towel around her breasts.
"You still haven't found it?"
"Would I be running around like this if I had?"
"You are such a drama queen. Do you know how high your voice gets when you're mad?"
"How could he do that?"
"He was probably cleaning. You're the biggest slob I've ever met."
"Look at me. Do I look like a slob?"
"Oh no. You are very put together. It's everything around you that's a mess."
"I don't need a lesson now. Do you know how much this sucks? This is a serious fucking problem." I buttoned my cuffs and started tying my tie in the living room mirror.
"Great, I spilled coffee on my pants. That stains, doesn't it?"
"That's a cotton suit. It'll come out."Happy Hour Is for Amateurs. Copyright © by Philadelphia Lawyer. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.