Here’s this week’s episode of The Port City Chronicle, the continuing serial novel of Gretchen, a 46-year-old criminal defense lawyer, and her family and friends, seeking love and happiness in Portland the hard way:

“Miller’s going to give you your review this year,” my boss Howard said. “He has nobody else to review and it makes him feel bad.”

I felt a little bad myself to be sacrificed to Miller’s ego, but when I pointed out that Miller barely knew me it only made things worse. Howard paired us up to do all the tasks nobody else wanted to do, like interviewing applicants for associate jobs, so Miller could get to know me under those ideal circumstances.

Right from the start, I gave him a bad review.

“Is Gene your real name?” he asked the first applicant, a guy in his mid-thirties, older than most associate candidates.

“I was baptized Eugene,” the applicant said, “but no one’s ever called me that.”

Miller pursed his lips. “Jesus calls you Eugene.”

Gene swallowed. I assumed it was his pride.

“You seem a little nervous, Eugene,” Miller said.

Gene shook his head but Miller ignored him.

“The reason you’re nervous is you have such high expectations for your performance. The way to avoid that is don’t have such high expectations.”

Gene was nonplussed. “I didn’t even realize it was that simple.”

But Miller had moved on from those helpful suggestions anyway.

“So I see you’ve lived in Florida, California, Minnesota, Alaska and Senegal,” he said, glancing at Gene’s resume, “and you were in the Marines and the Peace Corps, and worked for Greenpeace and the DA’s office.”

I tried to see if there were any typos in there, but Miller was holding the only copy of Gene’s resume too close to his face for me to read it.

“How do you like Portland?” Miller asked. All those other things must have canceled each other out in his mind.

“I like it,” Gene said.

Miller pursed his lips again. “You should love where you live.”

He wasn’t sure Gene got the point.

“I love Portland. I love my life. I love my job.”

Gene swallowed again. Despite Miller’s advice, his expectations for his performance were obviously still too high.

“You know the job you write on the back of an envelope when you graduate from college?” Miller said. “I have that job.”

Not that it was likely the back of Gene’s envelope looked anything like Miller’s. Among other things, it either had a lot of cross-outs or in the meantime Gene got a wife and two kids and had to abandon some of his other interests to make money.

“Look, this may be a small firm, but it’s top notch,” Miller continued, perhaps sensing Gene’s motivation despite the absence of other interests himself.

“The head of the firm is brilliant, dynamic, and creative, and is a big-hearted person with incredibly high integrity.”

He looked at me. “Do you have a different view, Gretchen?”

I swallowed and shook my head.

“So let me ask you something, Eugene,” Miller said. “Where do you see yourself in the long term? Where do you see yourself in the medium term? Where do you see yourself right now?”

Despite its obvious poetry, I figured the question might be confusing to Gene due to its violation of the space-time continuum and the general theory of relativity.

But Gene was spared having to answer because the head of the firm himself suddenly barged into the room.

“Where the hell is Kevin?” Howard shouted at me. “I’ve got a call with a client in 30 seconds and know nothing about the case.”

It might not have been entirely consistent with Miller’s portrait of Howard but it certainly brought the conversation back down to earth.

Of course at the moment I was unaware of Kevin’s whereabouts because I was bonding with Miller, as Howard had directed. Fortunately Kevin himself rushed in to save me. As he told Howard, his security card had malfunctioned and he had to go to the building supervisor to get a temporary pass.

Despite his big heart, Howard was not sympathetic. “We pay you enough to figure out how to get in the building,” he snapped.

Kevin had to give Howard the 30-second version of the case while dialing the conference call number with shaking fingers.

On the other hand, that was the only version Howard ever wanted to hear anyway. Contrary to the usual approach, in recent years he’d adopted a philosophy of make-it-till-you-fake-it. In fact, even the 30-second version of the case was too long for him.

“Fine, I get it,” he said irritably, cutting Kevin off. “The client wants out of the deal. What’s the term of the contract?”

“The initial term was ten million years,” Kevin said. “Then they extended it another five million.”

You could see why the client wanted out of the contract when it allowed for so little possibility for change through the millennia.

Meanwhile we heard a dial tone and Kevin introduced the call. But Howard still hadn’t forgiven him.

“Try not to sound like a stewardess,” Howard hissed while Kevin was announcing the participants.

At any rate, as so often happens, despite such extensive preparations on our part, the client had to reschedule anyway.

“If it’s rescheduled past Thursday I won’t be here,” Howard told Kevin. “I’m in London the rest of the week.”

That gave Miller an opening to insert himself. “I was in London last week myself.”

“Oh yeah?” Howard said. “What did you do there?”

“My wife and I took our kids to see Churchill’s war rooms.”

“Yeah? How was it?” Howard asked.

Miller pursed his lips. “Rich in history.”

But Howard wasn’t listening anyway. He’d noticed the stranger in the room and, with his usual acumen, guessed the reason.

“So tell us about yourself,” he said, picking up Gene’s resume. “We’re looking for someone with lunch-bucket trial experience. Gangs, narcotics, general street crime; nothing white collar.”

Maybe it wasn’t brilliant, dynamic or creative, but at least it did have the advantage of being clear. Gene finally stopped swallowing his words and managed to respond accordingly.

It was a good fit and Howard didn’t care whether what Gene’s name was or whether he liked Portland.

For once, despite everything, I gave Howard a good review.


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