Avoiding Superman- Chapter One

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“Laz, I love your work. You’ve been with us for a quite a while now. How long has it been? Six? Seven years?”  That’s how Ronald Curry began in his quest to remove me from the firm.  It was going on nine years. Curry always used my shortened name when he approached me with words that I didn’t particularly want to hear.  “Aside from me, your tenure has been the longest in this practice group. Your work has been extraordinary. You even brought one of our largest clients to Beckman Longo. If I was going to paint the picture of a perfect attorney, you would be on that canvas.” “Ronald was at times a movie star with a law degree. Other times he was philosopher, a politician, even a professor. Today he was more like a pimp.

“Unfortunately, it is because of the difficulty that Lex’s company has been having and the investment that the firm has committed to in regards to that company in recent years that our Intellectual Property group has been seriously compromised financially… Do you know what that means Laz?” Ronald Curry was a tall slender man.  His wire frame was very well maintained by his obsession with running and other aerobic exercises that he managed to squeeze in daily morning jaunts through Metro Park. His obsession with his fitness and diet gave him the face of someone 10 or 15 years younger than the early fifties that his eyes and gray hair revealed. Ronald always found the right suit to compliment his dark completion, though his glasses were almost two small for his oval head.  To compliment him, Ronald was a shade over six foot five which he often used to talk down to his colleagues both literally and figuratively. Even to me- and I’m about six foot two- he had the advantage.  “What that means Laz, is that we need to make some cuts in an attempt to salvage the future of this firm.”

Beckman, Longo, Rios and Curry is one of the most prestigious and powerful boutique style law firms in the country. Though under a hundred attorneys worldwide, it has been a major player in high stakes litigation, real estate and of course intellectual property. Founded a little more than twenty years ago by four ambitious attorneys who left the largest firm in the country in search of their own frontier, Beckman Longo had for years only been a minor player in the legal intellectual property scene. That was until about eight years ago. That’s when I brought them their largest client. Their cash cow. The one that put them on the map- Lex’s corporation. I was only a second year associate at the time and through my connections BLRC landed the account. And here I was standing in my office listening to this asshole tell me what he was about to tell me.

“Now I know you care a great deal about the future of this firm.  You understand what we have to do today and why we have to do it. You are a senior associate and though your work is excellent, your salary is at the highest tier of associates in this firm. Given the circumstances of the corporations new issues, they may have to forego payments of legal fees to us for an undetermined about of time. You, as a top associate work solely on matters concerning this corporation means if we continue on this pace we would be paying you not to bill.” How convenient it was of him to leave out that the only reason this corporation was our client was because of me and though I had brought in other business it was on his firm suggestion that I service only that client. At that very moment I could feel my chest tightening form the rapid pace of my pulse. The already gray walls seemed to shade gray even more as the surrounding sounds of keyboards tapping, phones ringing and colleagues whispering all went mute.  My forehead moistened a bit, but I stood my ground, stayed expressionless and let him continue his bullshit.

“The firm would not be able to survive at its current operation structure, so it is with my deepest and heartfelt regret that I have to dismiss you of your duty here at the firm. “ There it was. He got it out. To his credit, he never broke eye contact the entire time. Those sharp light brown eyes looked on me and waited for me to react.

“Okay.” was my only response. Believe me, I wanted to say a whole lot more, but I was so shocked at the audacity of this man and his firm that any alternate reaction would  either been inappropriate or had given  some sort of satisfaction to that idiot.

“Laz, I just want you to know that this was not my decision.  I voted against your termination.” He was looking for some sign of gratitude from me. “I know how important you are to this firm. Yeah he was pimping at that moment. “Of course we will not sever all ties immediately. “ Ronald continued. I always wondered if he was disappointed that I didn’t cry or beg him to fight for me to stay. “I fought to have you receive twelve month’s severance pay at seventy-five percent of your salary. That still keeps you in a healthy salary bracket until you can get back on your feet. If you need a recommendation letter, I would be happy to write it up for you.” None of this was making me feel any better. My chest was still tight, and at this point I didn’t know whether it was the circumstances I found myself in or if it was that I was close to fifty pounds overweight. Neither reason was good. I hadn’t felt this much anxiety since I had been left in the Museum of Natural History on that class trip in the third grade. That evening the walls felt as if there were closing in on me and that same feeling at returned more than twenty years later.

“You can though be reassured...”  He was still talking and I was barley listening. “ That all of your work for Lex’s corporation will be in good hands as I am taking over as the major point of contact for all things Luthor  from this now moving forward.” And there it was. Pius Ronald Curry, keeping the torch burning for me in my demise. “I do though, according to firm policy have to stress that you signed non-compete and non-disclosure forms with the firm so that you may receive your entire severance. I have your assurance that these clauses will be honored?”

After all of that bullshit. After all of the grandstanding.  After the fake tears that he couldn’t push out. After leaving my office door open while firing me so that the entire office can hear our conversation.  After telling me to my face that he was stealing my client that I brought in and that saved this fucking firm he’s questioning my honor? All I could say was “sure.” What else was I going to say after giving this firm ten years of my service?  Actually it was more than ten. I summered with Beckman Longo after my second year in law school. That’s when I met Ronald. Beckman took an interest in me because I was third in my class and had graduated from Georgia Tech magna cum laude with a major in aerospace engineering. Ronald had just begun to tap into the firms IP practice group and tagged me as his protégé that he could mold into a perfect legal soldier.

“I guess I’ll collect as many of my things as I can and come back for the rest tomorrow.” I tried to hold tone but I heard my voice cracking. I wondered if Ronald caught the same imperfection.  I went into the small closet in my office and retrieved a moving box from the Home Depot. At that moment everything about my office felt small. The actual size of the office was sufficient. I had enough room for my desk, three visitor’s chairs and a small sofa against the wall.  That sofa was for the many late nights that I gave that firm. I wasted my life working for them. I don’t know why I kept that box. I guess I always knew that this day would come. Better to be prepared.

“Don’t worry about what you can’t take with you.” Ronald circled around my small desk and joined me on the other side. “Nargis can have all of that sent to your house. You are still uptown correct?” He actually began to remove items from my desk and put them in the box I had just constructed.

 “Yep, I’m still uptown.” I had invited Ronald to numerous events I had held. Holiday Parties, summer cookouts, Super Bowl. He never came once.  My pace sped as I began to dump the contents of meaningless crap from my desk into the box as opposed to the gentle placing I had begun with.

“Good, I’ll have your belongings sent.” He offered his hand to me. I ignored it and kept packing. It was the quickest by movement and yet the longest in temporal perception I may have ever experienced.  At some point during my exodus Ronald managed to slink his little skinny ass out of the office and two security guards appeared in his place waiting to escort me to further embarrassment. I texted my girlfriend of two weeks, Danielle and let her know my fate.

You never really appreciate the effort it takes to decorate your workplace until the day you are forced to leave. As the death march proceeded through the hallways of Beckman Longo, I paid no attention to the hordes of whispering secretaries and paralegals whom all seemed to take a pause from their duties to `watch the procession while they pretended to be on the phone, or typing at the computer, or some even had the audacity to pretend to be leaving on break just so they could follow behind like the rush hour asshole who slips behind the speeding ambulance. I focused my attention to various tones of greens and reds that lined the walls. The old black and white pictures of attorneys, courthouses and cases of yesteryear- most not related to this firm. For the first time I noticed how the desks were evenly spaced so that the secretaries didn’t infringe upon each other while slaving to please the partners and associates that would never treat them as equals. I even noticed the smell of that ‘Mountain Fresh’ Fabreeze which was on an endless timer to hide the trail of smoke that rode in on the clothes of the overworked staff coming in from their respective breaks.

The behavior of my legal peers was just as disappointing. I could see all of their little bulging eyes peering out of the cracks in their office doors watching as intently as they watched those You Tube videos that distracted them daily from getting work done. I was just another distraction.  No one had the decency to step outside of their office and face me as I walked out. At least throw me a look of sorrow letting me know you feel my plight. I checked my phone and no response from Danielle.

That elevator ride down was something that again was longer than it should have been.  I have used that elevator a thousand times and for the most part the ride up and down from the 34th floor has been relatively quick. This day, the car stopped at every floor.  No one got off, everyone was getting on. I received the silent stare as each eye scanned the security and then me holding my pathetic box of belongings. Yes, as usual, my disgrace needed an audience and that bitch Fate was more than willing to hand it to me in grand fashion.

I didn’t even bother to look back as I left the building. I headed right down the street and walked down to the train station below. I don’t remember the wait for the train. My mind was going a thousand miles. How in the hell did I go from being the tops at Georgia Tech to standing in this fucking station holding a box full of shit that I wouldn’t want otherwise, but I took just because?  Still no answer from Danielle. I watched the homeless people roam the platform and wondered what my fate would be in the next few years? What if I wouldn’t have brought in this corporation as a client? Would I still be there now?  I should have accepted that job offer from Rivington.

Leave it to me to bring in the definition of a financial ‘boom or bust’ for a client. Fuckin Rafi. I should have known. Even though I had Rafi as a connection in the corporation’s engineering department, its leader is too volatile in his dealings within and outside of the company.  Raqi had warned me to be cautious brining this client to the firm. Its founder always walked that line of moral, ethical and even legal acceptability. He was constantly being destroyed in the media, especially in the Planet.  That paper and in particular, certain journalists at that paper made a crusade out of trying to destroy that man and his business.

Of, course their slant was towards was always in the favor of the bald man’s rival. The Planet’s hero.  The man who can save the world with a single breath. He is impressive I do have to admit. I mean, you do have to give it up for someone who can get from one end of the country to the next in a blink. Lifting buses and trains and all of that. The guy is everywhere- magazines, news programs, there are a thousand blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter handles all dedicated to him. The video games that they have of him are of high quality and from what I’ve read very entertaining.  I once even entertained the thought of buying a t-shirt with his symbol on it. Couldn’t do it though. Idolatry is not in me. 

It is his constant battle with the bald genius that keeps the corporation’s stock in flux, no matter how many world changing devices or prescriptions the company develops. There will always be that stain of suspicion as long as the city views the bald guy through the same colored glasses as its hero.  This latest incident is the exact example and more than likely the reason why I was sitting on that train in mid-afternoon looking like I had just been fired.

Rumor was that the corporation had been working on developing something special that could have changed the world if used the right way. Unfortunately, no one ever believes that the CEO will use the things developed by the company the ‘right way.’ However, it does not even matter what anyone thought it was going to be used and for.  ‘Mr. Metropolis’ swooped down, destroyed the prototype and convinced the world that we were better off without it. He even got the police to take the CEO into custody. It was my job to help secure the patent for this particular device. All of that went out the window with the arrest. Stocks dropped. Investors pulled out- once again. The company falls under investigation. The corporation’s R&D department’s funding is suspended and further research grinds to a halt.  That means no new inventions for a while. That means no new patents. No new business. The firm suffers and as a result- I’m fired.

There was no measurable time to my train ride uptown. Images, thoughts, and words all faded in and out, crossing with lightning speed through my mind. I walked through my neighborhood like a zombie, ignoring my usual stops. The smell of fresh bread that always imitated from the Martinez Bakery failed to catch my attention for my daily roll with butter. The pretty little Nigerian girl who worked in the laundromat on the corner and always made it a point to waive to me went ignored. The Korean girl who worked at the buffet and managed to get me in to eat daily stood confused as I turned her down.  My mind was occupied. If not for the thousands of times I had walked that path, I may have kept right on walking to Kansas City. It was my instincts that kicked in and forced the turn onto my block and it was there when I saw my home that the flood of emotions that should have come long ago, began to flood out of my pours.

I charged up the stairs to my house with no particular purpose- even that simple task was stress on me I could feel my weight digging into my knees. My breathing labored as if I had been forced to run two miles.  My normal Hello to Ms. Cummings, who as always was peering out the window, was forfeited. I’m sure he took offense to my unintentional slight. Ms. Cummings had been renting out my upstairs apartment for years. She approached me the day I put the for rent sign in the window, not long after I had bought the building eight year earlier. I could feel her eyes locked on me from the top floor. She must have known something was wrong by my movement because she made no attempt to start our usual nightly conversation.

My hands trembled as I had to focus to fit my key into the lock hole. My body pressed deeper into my box of belongings. It took me four keys and three attempts at the right key to get the door open. I can’t even remember if I closed the door behind me. I do know that I drop all of my shit right there in front of the door. A thousand and one thoughts streamed through my head. What about my mortgage? How bad is the market? Should I have been putting away more money? Why is this girl ignoring me? What is Raqi going to say?

I paced my apartment from front to back.  I didn’t even attempt to flick on a light or turn on the TV or blow out my scented candles- all of which at that time were habits to me upon my arrival home. I just walked. Somewhere in that first few minutes my dog Layla joined me, nervously running into my legs on my sudden stops. The tingle in my legs intensified with every step. I could feel my chest tighten as my breathing labored with every intense thought. My ears seemed to be burning off of the side of my head.

My eyes grew heavy with water as I fought back a drizzle. It almost felt as if I sucked the water back into my ducts.  I wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of my tears, even if I was alone. I ran down to the basement, my jelly legs failing me more than a few times as I bounced off the staircase walls. I stepped in Layla’s water bowl at the bottom of the staircase and as a result, my wet Bostonians left me with no support- I wiped out on the basement floor, my knee twisting behind the rest of my body. Stumbling to my feet, I limped over to my desk file cabinet and began riffling through all of my files, checking numbers, dates, accounts. It had to have been a good twenty minutes and my hands were still in tremble mode.  I scattered everything on the floor of the basement searching for something that would give me peace. It was useless. I moved to the old topaz sofa that I had kept from my days in undergrad and law school and sat in darkness. Its worn cushions and support springs, grooved with years of lounging was my only comfort.

With Layla at my feet, there I sat for hours into the early morning night thinking of why I was here. What led me to my current despair? I traced my entire life from childhood, through high school, into law school and beyond. All my thoughts, my inductive and deductive reasoning, my calculations of my career pattern and what went wrong. I couldn’t find fault in any of the life or career choices brought me to where I was at that moment.  Even if I had changed some slight details-undergrad, law school, firm, where would I be? I was following the life pattern that I had always wanted to live. There was only one constant to all of my variables.  He was constant that controlled what companies thrived or died. He decides what is good for the world and what a hazard is. He decided who is a genius and who is a villain. A singular voice that controlled an entire planet of opinions. I knew then what I had to do. I had to change all of this. I needed to free the world.  On that sofa, the night I was fired from Beckman Longo, the night I cried even more than the day when I had been left in that museum. That was the night I was reborn.

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