Q: You worked in a law office.
A: It was 1994, I think. I was in college, and I saw an ad in the paper for help in a small office. When I say small—it was small. It was one attorney and me.
His area of practice was family law so he handled divorces, adoptions, paternity suits… The stuff he worked on was down and dirty.
I saw a lot of bad cases because he was often appointed by the court as the guardian ad litem for kids. So, if parents were getting a divorce, the mom had her lawyer and the dad had his lawyer, and if things get really nasty, the kids would get their own lawyer issued by the judge. They are meant to look out for what’s best for the kids.
So when the kids get their own attorney, that’s when cases get particularly gruesome.
Q: So you saw a lot of nasty divorces.
A: Yes. Which sounds sad, but sometimes it was actually funny. The way people acted was shocking to me. The pettiness was beyond anything I’d ever seen.
One couple I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. They hated each other’s guts. It was like ‘War of the Roses.’ Neither one of them were likeable so their constant bickering was hilarious. At one point, they were dividing up their household goods, and I had to go to their house with a notebook and pen and a sheriff’s deputy. And we stood there watching two people fight over plates.
The husband was a police officer, but on the side, he had a business doing bathroom renovations. At one point, the two of them were literally fighting over a toilet in the front yard. He had one side of the bowl and she was holding onto the other.
I was at this job for three years and this couple was fighting for two of it.
They had both started dating other people, and I’m sure it was completely out of spite. The man the wife was dating—his last name was Enos. This was a long time ago and the ex-husband was able to change the message on their home answering machine so it would say, “Hi. You have reached the Penises, please leave a message.”
Then the husband was dating a woman that the wife claimed was fat, and the wife would only refer to her as “BonBon Bitch.” She’d never use her name. Even in our office. It was always “BonBon Bitch.”
Oh! And here’s an interesting sidebar: I had quit my job there and fast-forward seven years later—I’m in a carpet store and a woman working there is helping me. She looks soooo familiar but I can’t quite place her. Then, in the middle of our carpet conversation, she works in a complaint about her jerk-off ex-husband. And bam… it was her. Crazy, divorce lady! It all came back to me.
Q: Eek. What else can you tell me about the job?
A: It was probably the most interesting job I ever had. It was such a small office that I did everything there. I washed windows, I hand-delivered divorce papers.
Q: You had to serve divorce papers?
A: Right. I’d go to someone’s place of employment and say, “Can you page so-and-so?” And then some poor guy would show up and I’d ask him, “Are you Joe Dirt?” or whatever. He’d say yea, and I would hand him an envelope with divorce papers. I had to watch them open it to prove they’d been served, and then I’d get the hell out.
There were other times I went to people’s houses. You develop a knock—thump thump thump—like you mean business. I remember going to an apartment where the door was made from painted plywood and there was a glob of dried blood on it, like in a classic, crime scene “spatter” pattern. That guy didn’t answer the door, thank God.
But it was all about the knock. Just use the side part of your fist like a hammer. Even today a lot of people tell me, “You knock like you’re serving a warrant!” I’m pretty proud of that.
Q: This seems crazy. Would you do something like this today?
Some of the stuff I was asked to do was pretty crappy, looking back on it. And dangerous. But there was never a dull moment. One time, a client paid the lawyer with a baby pig. So that day, I babysat a pig.
What I remember was that I wanted to pick it up and hug it and it was like, “Weeeeeeee!” and kicked the crap out of me. And it stunk so bad—it smelled like pig shit. That’s the kind of oddball weirdo shit that was always happening. I remember thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know pigs were currency.”
Q: Nice. What other kinds of cases did the lawyer have?
A: Adoptions, which were happy. Usually it was grandparents adopting grandkids because the parents were unfit.
And so many kids went to foster care. These were kids from women on the edges of society. In some cases, the moment the child was born, the state would take it from them because the mothers were unfit. There was a case like that with one lady. She had a baby and it was taken from her because, years before, she scalded her baby to death in a hot bathtub. It was an accident and she was crazy so she put the baby’s body in a metal trash can and filled it with cement. She moved that trashcan all around to every apartment she ever had until someone tipped off the cops about it.
There was another lady I remember—she had 12 kids and ALL of them were taken and put in foster care. At one point the judge asked her, “Do you know where babies come from?”
Q: Why is the lawyer involved in cases like these?
A: He was appointed the guardian ad litem for the baby.
Q: Ah, I see. Any other types of cases?
A: There were also paternity suits. It went on and on, like “That’s not my baby!” “Oh yeah it is!” It was straight-up Maury Povich. The guy would swear up and down that the baby wasn’t his but he would be court ordered to take a blood test. And, guess what? It was ALWAYS the guy’s baby.
Q: This seems so interesting.
A: It was fun, and I learned a lot. It happened at a formative time in my life though. I was getting my journalism degree and I thought about going to law school, but this job killed that dream.
I’d meet a lot of different lawyers and I’d ask them, “If you could go back and do it again, would you choose to be an attorney?” and not one person ever said yes. Not one! That was pretty revealing.
You deal with a lot of dirtbags in that job. I think it sandpapers away the shiny parts of your soul.