The Actual Axing of My Ass

When I first started working there, I wasn’t sure what a paralegal was supposed to do, exactly, but my predecessor left a pile of stuff on his desk, which gave me clues. Call people on the phone. Make lists. Look up things on Westlaw. Write memos. Come up with chronologies.

I worked there around a year and a half. I liked working there. I got good at it. Everyone loved me; well, almost everyone. By my standards, I made plenty of money. I rode through Chinatown on the crowded California Street bus, jaywalked across Montgomery Street, went into the lofty marble lobby through a chrome-plated revolving door and got free coffee in the company coffee room. I liked getting free coffee. Another thing I’ve always been is cheap. How do you think I’ve managed to play golf every day for the last two and a half years on the paltry settlement money I finally managed to squeeze out of those Bozos? By being cheap, that’s how.

The partners billed me out at eighty-five bucks an hour. I had my own office. We took up the whole 22nd floor. My window looked out across the red roofs of Chinatown. I ate lunch in the park next to the Transamerica Pyramid — usually with one or another of the secretaries. They were all pretty cute, too. Terri. Stephanie. Tess. Barbara! I flirted with them. They flirted back. I was happy.

In my spare time I wrote thinly disguised fictional stories about the place. That’s another thing I’ve always done — my whole life I’ve been writing thinly disguised fictional stories about stuff. In the stories I called the place “Sadler, Cristlieb, Altschule and Beckwith” or “SCAB.” That’s one of the slick things about fiction; you can thinly disguise the things you write about to suit your own clever, ironic purposes.

The reason Shafer, Kirloff, Isaacson and Barish fired my ass was that I tried to organize a union among the support staff. Organizing a union pissed them off. The partners prided themselves on being big time union busters. That was their job. That was what they were paid to do. It would have been hard to charge the kind of money they charged to keep unions out of other businesses if they couldn’t keep a union out of their own damn business — hey, don’t think we hadn’t thought of that.

Organizing a union was intended to piss them off. They had pissed us off — mainly by making us work longer hours without increasing our pay. Personally, I was happy to be getting the money I was getting, but the secretaries were all up in arms. They were the ones who wanted the union in there. I couldn’t have cared less. But I’d written some seminar material about how to avoid union organizing and therefore knew a little something about the mechanics.

The first thing you have to do when you’re organizing a union is shut up about it. We had surreptitious planning sessions after work. Stephanie and Terri and I all took pictures of each other sitting in Kirloff’s office with our feet on his desk, leaning back in his chair, and wearing a baseball hat that said, “Union, Yes!”

I called the local Teamsters Organizing Committee. They said they’d back us up — sure, go for it, they said — and the next day, on behalf of all the cute secretaries, I wrote a memo to the partners informing them that it was our intention to form a duly recognized labor union affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

That got their attention. The partners had a healthy respect for the Teamsters. Gary Barish used to work over there. He’d recently been made managing partner, although it was Rick Shafer who started the company and still really ran the place. Shafer looked like Lenin — Vladamir Ilyich, without the goatee. Barish looked like the guy from the Men’s Warehouse. He turned the task of dealing with me and our union organizing efforts over to Walter Reynolds. Wally, he was called. Wally looked like the gray-haired guy on “The Nightly Business Report.”

With their fear of the Teamsters backing me up, I told the partners all they had to do was increase our pay to compensate for the increased hours. It seemed simple enough to me, not to mention fair and just and reasonable. Barish and Reynolds objected to the “tone” of my memo. That was it. We didn’t get our raise.

It took them another couple of months, but the partners finally got the secretaries to give up on the idea of joining a union. Then they sent me a “warning” memo which included a bunch of cockamamie reasons they were going to use to fire my ass for so-called “good cause.” One of the things the memo mentioned was that I had said, “Gary Barish eats shit,” to someone in the elevator. I drafted an answer which pointed out that it wasn’t in the elevator, it was in the coffee room, and that, furthermore, it was a fact, Gary Barish did eat shit — not only due to the USDA finding that there’s a certain amount of fecal matter in most commercially prepared foods, but in the more traditional meaning of the phrase, as well. My letter started out: “If you’re reading this, I’ve been fired.”

I carried it around with me wherever I went so I could whip it out on them when they finally got around to actually giving me the ax. In the meantime, just for practice, I whipped it out on Barbara Kalinowski. She was Wally Reynolds’s secretary. Her cubicle was just outside his office. She had overheard some of our more heated conversations and liked the way I stood my ground.

I liked the way Barbara Kalinowski looked, period: green eyes, red hair, big juicy mouth all lipsticked up. She wasn’t quite twenty-five but had been on her own since she was fifteen. Her husband produced pornographic movies. She was allowed to have sex with women, but not other men. Her husband was allowed to have sex with other women and didn’t want to have sex with men. It didn’t seem fair.

We went out for drinks after work one night on the verge of them getting around to finally firing me. She had four or five gin and tonics. I sipped a Glenfiddich on the rocks. She read my letter out loud to me and kept getting all breathless with laughter and cracking up in the middles of sentences.

After we’d taken a cab to my apartment, I went across the street to get her a six-pack of Michelob. When I got back, she was on my bed with no clothes on. She had a single body piercing — a small, tasteful, 24 carat gold clit ring. She had multiple orgasms. I forget how many. Sixteen? Seventeen? Some astronomical number. She must have had some sort of gynecological condition. It wasn’t anything I was doing, exactly, she just kept having orgasms, one after another — you barely had to breathe in her direction and, whoops, there she was, having another orgasm. She said it wasn’t quite a record, but record or no record, it was all the orgasms I ever wanted any chick I ever had anything to do with to have.

The next day, I was summoned to Gary Barish’s office and was told I was being “let go.” Fired. Terminated. Given the old heave ho. Shafer was on vacation. Barish and Reynolds did the actual axing of my ass. I whipped out the letter I’d already whipped out on Barbara Kalinowski on them. It had a few gin and tonic stains on the first page. Barish and Reynolds weren’t particularly impressed with my Pleistocene understanding of labor law. Oh, well. I signed up for unemployment and wrote a letter to Rick Shafer. He said I should get on with my life. Guys like Shafer always say that. What it means is that they would like you to go away and leave them alone so that they can get on with their own lives.

A few months later, after I turned all our correspondence over to the National Labor Relations Board and filled out a formal complaint, Shafer and Kirloff met me at the Cadillac Bar and Grill and I agreed to take around ten thousand dollars in exchange for dropping the thing. It was kind of anti-climactic. I could have gotten a lot more, but I’d mainly just wanted to prove my point. Then I moved up to my mother’s house in Ashland and played golf every day for the last two and a half years.