My office was a shared cubicle that afforded me six feet of desk space, a three-foot shelf for books, and one file drawer. On the writing surface were one legal pad, one note pad, and a list of office rules, all written in the negative.
NEVER keep office files in your cubicle.
NEVER take supplies from the supply room. Give Miss Dunlevy a list of what you believe you need; she will fill your order as she can.
NEVER eat or drink at your desk. Use the break room during your appointed break times.
NEVER smoke within the office. If you must smoke, go outside during your appointed break times.
The list continued for three pages. By the time I had read the first page, I was sure there would be an item denying me the right to use the restroom except during my appointed break times. Sure enough, I was to let someone know where I was going before I used the restroom.
I felt as though I had returned to the first grade. An image passed through my mind of twenty six-year-olds holding onto a rope as they made their way along.
“Do people really abide by these rules?” I asked my cubicle mate in a whisper.
“Only those who still work here,” she whispered back.
“How long have you been here?”
She did not answer me. I wasn’t surprised. After all, one of the items on the list was “NEVER engage in idle conversation with another member of the staff.”
As Stone Face II walked past, I mentally gave her the “Heil, Hitler” salute.
My “task” that morning was to proofread letters, which the paralegals had typed from transcription. I put the mini-tape in the recorder, put on the earphones, and played the tape. Of course, the typed letter was perfect. I initialed the routing slip, put the letter aside, and moved to the next one.
The most challenging part was proofing a property description. Property descriptions can be tricky: “Beginning in the southeast corner of the southeast quadrant and proceeding in a southerly direction 127.45 feet to a point and turning 45 degrees, 30 minutes…” Even so, the paralegal had made no mistakes. Something told me the paralegal would have been out on her ear had she made a mistake.
At eleven o’clock, my telephone rang. I answered it to hear Stone Face II’s voice informing me that it was my appointed break time and that I would have fifteen minutes away from my desk. I replied with a simple “thank you” and dashed to the restroom.
Life became more difficult that afternoon. Then, one of the partners came by to welcome me. Of course, Stone Face II was with him.
“And how do you like our little corner of the world?” he asked me.
I lied. “Oh, I think this is going to be wonderfully challenging and stimulating.”
He knew I was lying and cleared his throat and said, “Uh, yes,” even as he moved on.
Suddenly, I remembered item 37 on the list: “NEVER lie to a principal.”
What was I supposed to do, tell him I thought his firm was…? Well, you know what I mean without my saying it.
I returned to my task, proofreading two long and complicated reciprocal wills. Reciprocal wills are written by a husband and wife to ensure that each provides for the other and to establish who shall be deemed to have survived the longer in the event that both die in a common occurrence. Thus, if the couple die in a car crash, the reciprocal will determines whether the proceeds will pass to her and her heirs or to him and his heirs based on who the couple decide shall have died last.
Life looked up. The wills were interesting, for the couple had accumulated valuable heirlooms from around the world and were heavily invested in such fascinating areas as oil and gas, commercial real estate, and entertainment. They even lived in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in the Washington area, Potomac, Maryland. Their 12,000 square foot home would pass to the survivor with the funds necessary to pay it off in entirety. Even the wealthy have to provide for such things, it seemed.
I found two mistakes. One was a clerical error. The other was a legal error. I did not know how it would be received when a junior clerk pointed out that one will said the couple owned the mansion as tenants in common, while the other will said they were joint tenants. On a hunch, I re-read both wills in search of similar errors but found none. Noting the two errors on the routing slip, I passed the wills forward.
I received the answer to my question the next morning, when I found a red carnation in a bud vase on my desk. The accompanying note read simply, “Good catch. Keep up the good work.” I had no idea who had sent it.
Had I really made a good catch, or it been a test to see whether I was paying attention? I never received the answer to that question.