August 28th, 2011 | 2 Comments
I recently had to fly to an undisclosed location to participate in an interview with a witness who shall remain nameless. Everyone involved tried to make the whole thing seem very high security, as you can probably tell. They seemed to be caught up in the intrigue and secrecy of it all. I found it extremely inconvenient. I didn’t get to know where I was going to go until a couple of days before, and I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone about it.
After arriving, I was supposed to meet some people at a mysterious location. They refused to give me any details in advance. I knew the purpose of the meeting and who set it up, and I didn’t want to end up on the other side of town scrambling to reach some secret location in time for my appointment. I consulted Google, entering the name of the government agency involved. I went to the location I found, the first hit nonetheless, and I sat there drinking a cup of terrible coffee.
Shortly before my scheduled meeting, I got a call from the organizer. He told me to meet everybody else at a certain location. It probably had way better coffee than the place I chose. It was a few blocks away, so I walked over and made small talk. Some impressive law-enforcement types pulled up a few minutes later, and we got into a little convoy. I felt like the president. For about sixty seconds.
Where’d we go? A few blocks away, to the exact place where I was happily drinking that awful cup of coffee ten minutes earlier. I wish they’d at least given me some kind of warning about the coffee. The kicker is that they wouldn’t confirm where we were going the next day. Hint: it was the same place.
Thinking about that makes me think about another situation.
I recently went to visit my parents in rural Western Kentucky. I met an old friend at a bar one night, and I saw they had Sam Adams Octoberfest on tap. In my opinion, it’s the best beer that company brews, so I ordered a pitcher. As I carefully poured two pints, I noticed it was cloudy and the carbonation was off. The smell wasn’t right either. My friend and I knew there was something wrong with the keg before the end of the first sip.
I started to write this paragraph beginning with the words “I don’t want to brag,” but that seemed ridiculous. I probably should brag; I have a great palate when it comes to beer. I can taste any beer and consistently identify the style, the varieties of malts and hops used, the IBUs, the yeast strain, and much more. I’ve spent years testing myself too. I can make a homebrew clone of pretty much anything I can taste. I drank a Sam Adams Octoberfest from a good keg less than a week prior, and Oktoberfest styles are among my favorites. Unless the Boston Beer Company has started making a special edition Brettanomyces or Lactobacillus Festbier, there was something wrong.
Confident there was a problem, I brought my glass to the bartender and told him there was something wrong with the beer. His comment? “That shit is fucking delicious. It’s a fresh keg.” There was a blond girl with curly pigtails sitting next to him. She looked exactly like Daisy Duke’s beat-up evil twin, with super-short cutoff jeans and a red and white plaid shirt that exposed her stomach. Apparently she was a beer connossieur, so she chimed in. “Yeah, that’s good shit. Totally fucking delicious.”
I asked the bartender to try some, a request that didn’t require much convincing. He poured a quick shot from the tap and without looking or smelling tipped the glass back and drank it in one gulp. He should have looked at it, as certain beers are supposed to have a certain appearance, and he should have smelled it, as you can get at least as much sensory input from smelling a beer as you can from tasting it. It took him a second, but after an awkward pause in which he seemed to have forgotten why he just took a shot of beer, he confirmed his initial reaction. “Fucking delicious.”
In situations like those two, I often think about a comment my mom made made a year or two ago. She was talking about retirement and mentioned how it would be interesting to see how it feels, as the men and women of her generation identify themselves by their work. The job defines them, apparently. I’ve thought about that statement often. I can’t say if she’s right, but I can say that a negative implication of her statement is definitely true. The men and women of my generation generally do not identify themselves by what they do for a living.
I frequently see blog posts about job-hunting for law students and new lawyers. Getting a job is obviously a big concern for a lot of people, and there are plenty of others willing to provide advice. Advisors suggest things like hanging around with practicing lawyers and broadening the search to include non-lawyer jobs. They say to embrace social media and to think outside the box. Those are the tools to get a job, the explicit goal of people in my generation. Rarely do people mention being qualified for the desired job as an important part of the equation. The advice all seems geared toward staying just as you are while altering superficial things that make you more appealing to employers.
My generation wants work, but they don’t want to define themselves by their work. A job is a way to live in a nice house, drive a late model car, and have enough stability to relax on evenings and weekends and during several weeks of vacation each year. A job will provide an office with a window and a big desk under which they can grab a quick nap after taking a long lunch break at a trendy restaurant with their work friends. Jobs are means to an end. They want a job not because it’s the job they want to do or even that they can do exceptionally well, but because it will help them do the non-job-related things that make them happy. They don’t care if their work time is well spent as long as it pays the bills.
Every time someone who’s done nothing to build a foundation of knowledge and skill in a given area of law complains about how employers in that area want someone with three to five years of experience, I worry about the future. Just like when I’m confronted with government agents needlessly shuffling me around to make work and bartenders with no knowledge of the beer they’re serving, it confirms that far too many people my age believe a job is just a way to stay busy and get paid. It isn’t the kind of thing that you strive to do well or efficiently to make the world a safer or more enjoyable place, but rather a set of motions you go through to draw a paycheck.
My experiences have left me hoping that my generation isn’t actually different. I hope that previous generations were just like us but that they changed. I hope that they’ve just forgotten, and that they now they criticize us because their memories are bad. I suspect the only way the world is going to function in the future is if we change, and knowing it’s happened before will make me far more optimistic. If my hopes are misplaced, though, I suppose I’m going to have to get used to wasting time over bad coffee and paying for unintentionally sour beer.