Law in Contemporary Society


-- By DanLEe - May 19

After my 1L finals, I met up with Dom, old friend of mine who had taken on a position at Sullivan & Cromwell during the pandemic, and was assigned to, among other things, a proceeding where Volkswagen is the defendant client. The firm is still dealing with the legal fallout from the infamous 2015 diesel emissions fraud, battling a number of claims from governmental and private entities in a variety of jurisdictions. By all accounts, S&C is doing a commendable job at minimizing Volkswagen’s liability in these courts.

Dom was very depressed. It was a Tuesday evening, and he was half in the bag by the time I arrived at the bar. His girlfriend, a chemist working R&D for a tire company, looked bored and greeted me listlessly.

“I’m dying out there,” Dom said. “Emails to and from people I detest, all day. Tedious busywork that makes me want to melon-ball my eyes out, in service of THE CLIENTS, who, frankly, don’t deserve a hair off my ass. Remember, back in school, I made that big stink about the paper that we used not being recycled, and they brought in that gray mulchy crap for all internal memoranda because I wouldn’t stop? I thought I was doing something. And now look. Me, a little paper monkey for a fraudulent, polluting, megacorporation founded by, ha, literal Nazis. And don’t—” here he waved shut my opening mouth “—don’t tell me it’s because working from home sucks. Not being there in person just gives me… clarity. About what I’m doing.” His bleary eyes latched onto a tube top across the room, and he was almost derailed.

“I read about this guy in college,” he started up again, “He wrote about this factory where they’d make pins. You’d have one guy cutting the metal, some other guy sharpening it. Someone putting on the heads, another painting them, another packaging them. In sum: eighteen schmucks to make a single pin, but when they were put together they would make, like, ten times more pins than eighteen guys each making their own pins. I remember that blew my mind in college.”

“Adam Smith,” said the girlfriend.

“Huh?” Dom glanced at her, annoyed. He half-scanned the bar, as if he would find Adam Smith among one of the Stevens kids crowding the place. He seemed dangerously close to forgetting his point again.

“So you were thinking about that and felt like you were one of those guys,” I offered. “Sharpening or cutting ten hours a day.”

“Yeah.” His face brightened as he retraced his steps. “Actually, no. I feel like I’m a chair for one of those guys.”

“A chair?”

“Yeah, like I’m bent over and an associate pin-factory worker is sitting on my back for eighty hours a week. Tedious as all hell, but just difficult and undignified and uncomfortable enough for me to stay excruciatingly aware of my unceasing predicament.” He sat back, pleased with the analogy. “And the pins that the guy sitting on me helps make, the pins are all sold to bad people who promptly stick them under fingernails. Children’s fingernails.”

“Well, I’m sure the chair-guy doesn’t get paid nearly as much as you do,” I said, flicking his sleeve. His jacket was Balenciaga.

Dom frowned, looking down. “No. He would not.”

The girlfriend finished her second Moscow Mule with a clack. “You’re alienated.”

“Yeah,” said Dom. “Huh?”

“Didn’t you read Marx?”

“Oh, Jesus, take me now.” Dom scooted out of the booth. “Bathroom.” He took the long way, which took him past the tube top.

“Aren’t you a chemist?” I asked the girlfriend, whose name it was much too late to ask for.

“Yeah,” she said, starting on Dom’s drink. “And you know what’s funny? This was my dream job. My reach.”

“Well, neither you nor Dom are exactly pin-factory workers. Or chairs.”

“Well. I go to work and follow an OSAP, which is a handbook with all the Operational Standards And Procedures. I get fired if I don’t. I spend maybe a quarter of each day doing any real chemistry, and the formulas that I make are tested, tweaked, or, most often, discarded by someone else down Piscataway. The rare times my work actually gets to road-testing, I don’t care. What do I care about tires? I take the PATH.” She ordered another Mule. “You should check out my Etsy, though. I make these crocheted plushies. I know the guy that makes the yarn, even.”

Dom slid back in his seat, flushed. “Where the hell is my drink?” He gestured for the waiter.

“Dom,” I asked slowly, “Remember that time in high school when we went fishing with Chrissy and my dad?”

He laughed. “The eels! Yeah, of course. Your dad made that rice thing—what was it?”

“Jang-eo deop-bap,” I said.

“Yeah, that.” Dom turned to his girlfriend to show her the pictures of the eels he had caught, and suddenly, I was in the Catskills in the late autumn’s evening, hooking a nightcrawler onto a ten-pound line, casting it into the darkness. Watching the glowstick tied to the tip of the rod jerk and swish as I set the hook to fight the eel. Hearing my friends and my father exclaim at the size of the writhing mass as I set it on the ground.

“—these big, beautiful, white fillets. And we put them over the rice like, this, with the sauce. Dan,” said Dom, turning his attention to me, “forget the law. C’mon, drop out, and I’ll leave my gig too. We’ll open a restaurant next to the Beaver Kill. River-to-table in an hour, tops.”

He must have noticed the startled expression on my face because he started chuckling. I started laughing too. The Rihanna song playing ended, and there was a queer moment when our laughter sounded absurdly loud over the chatter of the bar, which made both of us laugh even harder. We left ten minutes later, and Dom paid the tab.

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r3 - 20 May 2021 - 01:29:27 - DanLEe
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