Fall 2014

Soon after the surgery, my parents went on their annual trip to their place in Greece, aiming to spend a few weeks enjoying the beautiful scenery of Halkidki.  It was initially smooth sailing with my mother’s recovery, with all signs pointing to the probability that all traces of cancer were eliminated.  However, the outlook suddenly changed a few weeks later when one doctor expressed concern, and my mom’s initial treatment plan was scrapped.  Instead of a few weeks of radiation therapy, we were now discussing chemotherapy.  My parents cut short their trip to their place in Greece, and returned home.

Overlooking the nearby beach

Halkidiki, Greece

* * * * * *

Before my parents’ unexpected return home, I called my Dad after his visit to Cyprus, and we talked for a long time about all the details he learned and about the funeral that they were finally able to have.  He had learned that Antonis was initially captured by Turkish Cypriot militiamen, but based on the location of his body along with a few other facts, it was clear that he was eventually transferred to the custody of the Turkish Cypriot police.  He was then held under their guard for months, where he was tortured.

In examining the body, they found injuries stemming from incidents from different times.  First, the nose had been broken in and crushed.  A couple of months later, there was a separate injury where the cheekbone was fractured.  This was not severe enough to be fatal.  The body was found with the hands tied behind the back.  The conclusion was that based on these details, Antonis was most likely buried alive.

Antonis was one of 16 people found in this mass grave.

It was by luck that they were even able to find the site, the result of some previously unplanned excavation as they work on improving conditions in the occupied territory.  This was my Dad’s first visit to the occupied territory since his injury in 1974; it was only recently that travel restrictions for Greeks had been eased.  He still decided that it was better to use his American passport; a Turkish Cypriot guide drove him and his brother around, since Greek Cypriots cannot drive without special insurance; he had to return by the end of the day, because that is the extent that Greek Cypriots are allowed to remain.  Not only was he able to see the site where they found Antonis, but his guide took him to a couple of hills where he believed that he sustained his injury during the war; my Dad is unsure they found the correct spot, and is looking forward to another trip to make certain.

Questions still remain.  And while the government is quick to mention the tragedy of ’74 (and rightfully so), their unwillingness to confront the awful acts that the Greek Cypriots committed during the 60’s has led to terrible delays with cases like that of Antonis.  And the entire nature of his kidnapping and detention still makes us wonder who knew of his situation, when did they know, and why were our family was never informed.

I was told that the funeral was a wonderful experience, and there were many great eulogies for Antonis.  While the facts that we learned were horrible, at least we now knew them.  In the days since we talked, I have often thought of my uncle.  I try to think hard about that one photograph, so that could be my memory.  But I end up instead with an image of bound hands, and mounds of dirt.  And I immediately choke up, and feel an intense pain for a man I will never be able to meet.

My uncle

The funeral

* * * * * * *

Once I learned more details about the potential new course of treatment for my mother, I expressed a significant amount of skepticism.  The consensus was that there was ~80% chance that the cancer would never return if my mother went with the treatment plan that was initially set.  Chemotherapy would add between 5-10% to that calculation.

I was apoplectic at this proposal for such a radical treatment when there was so little benefit to this course of action, and showed a complete misunderstanding to how statistics work.  We would go from “cancer is very unlikely to ever return” to “cancer is very, very unlikely to ever return”; even after the chemotherapy, there was only a 50/50 shot (at best) that the chemo would have had any benefit.  In my eyes, this was a ludicrous proposition by her doctor, one that was determined more by emotion than a rational assessment of the situation.  The patient is understandably anxious about his/her fate, and therefore thinks that any course of action may be necessary; the doctor should be providing the most objective analysis possible, and not pushing the patient to accept the most drastic possible treatment.

I was even more livid when two days before my mother was set to begin her chemotherapy treatment, she received a phone call informing her they had to go with a different set of drugs, since there was a 5-10% chance of heart failure with this particular set that had been chosen.  “HOLY SHIT, ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” was my reaction, as I had to restrain myself from throwing a plate across the room.  Not only was there so little to gain from this treatment, but they were still gung-ho about this course of action despite the fact it carried such a great risk of terrible, terrible failure.  And my mother, who was previously the victim of overzealous treatment that resulted in an extended stay in the hospital (and nearly killed her), was still willing to go through with all this.

It is likely that a lot of my anger was due to the fact that I felt that no one was listening to me, despite my attempts at explaining all the problems in-depth.  After all, I did spend all those years going to those fancy schools that they paid a lot of money for me to attend, and I thought I should be able to pass along some of my knowledge when appropriate.  But no, whatever the doctor says goes, and that’s the end of that.  At least it allowed me to target my anger at something besides just general fate.

Chemotherapy is awful.  This should not surprise anyone, but I don’t think it is possible to truly know this without confronting it directly—in the abstract, everyone knows the toll that chemotherapy takes on a person, but seeing it up close affects you in a way that you could not otherwise anticipate.  My mother is one strong-as-hell woman, and it was devastating to see her look like fresh death during the second and third rounds.  I remember feeling absolutely helpless as she would rest on the family room couch, and that with each visit into the room I was afraid of the possibility that she had died, since she appeared so lifeless.  I could only stand there and watch her suffer; despite my pleas to help, there was nothing I could do to relieve her of her misery.

I thought that the fact that I was still at home for all of this would provide some small comfort, since I could provide any aid as necessary.  However, I proved to be completely useless.  I was not even able to make use of my modest cooking skills, since my parents’ friends would come by and provide meals for my mother.  The extent of my contributions was one dinner that I cooked for my dad and myself; my mother was too sick to eat anything that night.

I would not wish this experience on anyone.

* * * * * * *

Don’t you dare disturb me while I’m balancing my past; cause you can’t help or hurt me like it already has.

I have to admit, as much as I would like for it to have been the case, my attention was not solely on my mother’s condition during those months.  It was getting closer to two years since my clerkship ended and I was still looking for a job, and my lack of employment was weighing upon my psyche for just about every minute of the day.  My job search was at the front of my mind, no matter what I did.  It may have looked like I was working out, or watching the game, or eating dinner with my family, but my thoughts were almost solely focused on all my previous failures, and if there was any window of opportunity that existed, it was closing fast.

I found myself spending each day trying to figure out what is the most awful way to be rejected for a job.  It seemed like the stars were finally aligning that fall, and I could finally find employment once again, ending this nightmare.  However, each week I found new and awful ways to be denied an opportunity.  Vote on which of these ways you think is the worst:

  1. Simple rejection. Sure, this is destined to occur at some point during the job hunting process, but depending on the circumstances, it can still hurt.  There were several jobs that were longshots, and while it sucks not to be considered, at least those rejections are understandable.  Less understandable are the situations where the explanations for the rejection make no sense, like the time I was rejected from a position for drafting orders for the Land Use Board of Appeals, because I lacked experience in “land use”.  This was a position that, despite involving primarily legal work, required no law degree (“Board of Appeals” should be a dead giveaway to any observer), and instead created a complex formula where such a degree was supposed to account for the required experience (7 years of college + law  = 5 years of experience).   The fact that I had studied Environmental Law and had won several awards in science in high school was not to be considered when judging my competence in handling the scientific aspects of the job.

No, the most hurtful rejections come from the positions for which you are overqualified.  I applied for a job with the Legal Aid Center in Coos Bay, and was rejected straight-up for the position; I sent in the application on Friday, and by Tuesday I was rejected.  Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the geography of Oregon, rest assured, Coos Bay is the very definition of Bumblefuck, Nowhere.  It has less than 20,000 people, and is hours away from Eugene, and even farther away from Salem and Portland.  You can imagine that the Legal Aid Center in Coos Bay receives a staggering number of applicants with a B.A. from an Ivy League school and a J.D. from NYU, and that anyone with that kind of credentials would love to spend some time working in the middle of nowhere for pay that amounts to less than shit.

Rolling through town

Coos Bay, Oregon

  1. No response. For the record, I am only referring to those jobs that had posted openings, and not shots in the dark, meaning that these employers wanted people to apply for a very specific position, and then decided not to follow up at all with the majority of applicants.  While form letters are their own kind of bullshit, they at the very least fulfill the basic function of “notice”, i.e. you have been rejected from this job.  There is disappointment in the rejection, but at least this prevents the applicant from spending weeks wondering just what the hell is his/her fate.

This is a surprisingly common occurrence for legal positions across the state of Oregon, which should be unsettling to any member of the bar.  I would estimate that at least 20% of my applications go completely unanswered, which is appalling.  These are colleagues that are being mistreated, fellow lawyers who presumably could sit across from you as equals in court.  These are people who are supposed to be treated with professional respect, and these asshole employers cannot bother to treat them with basic common courtesy.  We are also talking about organizations which have their own Human Resource departments, with people whose very job requires them to fulfill this very basic duty of simply notifying applicants about the hiring process.  If your employees cannot do this part of their job, then that failure is on the employer as well.  All it takes is a few minutes on a Friday afternoon to load some names into a form letter, and bam, you’re set.

For some reason, the particular employer that angers me the most that uses this tactic is the District Attorney’s office in Linn County.  Linn County is the Grass Seed Capital of the World, so you know people really want to live there and their DA receives a ton of great applicants.  Twice I’ve applied to their office, and considering that I lived in the neighboring county for 15 years now, there is a good chance I would accept such a position, but no, they have yet to send me any response for at least two years now.  Contrast this with the behavior of their neighbors, the lawyers who work for Linn County itself—they sent me a letter early on in the process to excuse any delay, and then a couple of weeks later gave a polite letter of rejection.  That is much nicer.

Then I remember how the Linn County DA requires an application that mainly requires people to repeat what is already listed in a resume.  Not only that, but one must either fill out this application by hand or type it out in one shot because the PDF file they use cannot save any alterations.  Even when opting for the digital approach, one must then print out the completed application, and then sign it by hand.  Then if you want to avoid using regular mail, you then need to scan everything again so you can apply via e-mail.  All this extra work that requires all this extra effort, and I can’t get a response that requires all of two seconds of their attention.

(The target that is a close second for my ire is the Department of Consumer and Business Services, who had no problem with accepting credit for my work, but could not bother to answer me after multiple applications to their posted job openings.)

  1. Blatant discrimination. It is difficult to know for certain in most cases whether or not a job applicant has encountered discrimination, but for one particular opening I received information that indicated that I was a victim of such behavior.  Unfortunately, this kind of discrimination is not what you might expect, and any fight against this specific type would get ugly really quick.

That is because for this particular position I was denied on the basis of my gender, and it was very blatant behavior on the part of the employer.  There were three positions available, and the agency interviewed twelve people.  Eleven of the interviewees were women.  There were a total of 90 applicants, so that would mean for this to be close to a representative sample, there would have to have been somewhere around 83 female applicants.  Considering that law school graduation rates still tilt strongly towards men, this is even more highly unlikely than you may have believed.

The problem in this particular case is not just with the blatant discrimination, but the nature of the position itself.  This was for a few low-level positions with the Office of the Legislative Counsel, which offers opinions on the constitutionality of proposed legislation, among other things.  This is an office that is built on neutrality, and by stacking the deck in such a way, it throws their credibility into the trash.

The best part is that I was even more qualified for this position than would normally be the case, because of my background in politics.  So not only did one have my degree from an elite law school, my clerkship with the state Supreme Court, my time with the DOJ, as well as my summer as one of the few Americans working in The Hague to consider, there was also my degree in Government from Dartmouth, my volunteer work on numerous political campaigns, and my summer working for the Embassy of Cyprus to examine as well.  So, I definitely had all aspects of the job covered.

To add insult to injury, one of the positions was for an Employment Attorney.  As someone who actually took Employment Law, I could have told the LC that even if you don’t have discriminatory intent, that disparate impact is still a concern, and this was a clear example of the latter.  The fact that nobody after all the levels of review in the hiring process sought to fix the situation where 83% of interviewees are women shows a level of total professional incompetence.

This situation has lead to further contemplation on my part.  I wonder whether it is worse to have been barred from consideration due to discrimination or to be interviewed merely as a token candidate, and if the latter, whether it is worse to know that you are a token candidate or to be ignorant of the situation.  I am not sure of the answer.

  1. Rejection from previous employment. As I mentioned before, despite my excellent work with the ODOJ, I have been turned down for every single position for which I have applied.  Instead of rehashing all of my accomplishments from my time there, I want to tell about my work on a particular case.

Near the end of my summer at ODOJ, I picked up a complaint that had been buried for six months in the inbox of one of my supervising attorneys, and called the private attorney that referred the matter to the Department.  After confirming that we were dealing with mortgage rescue fraud, I tracked down the complainant, an immigrant from SE Asia who spoke no English.  Despite the language barrier, I was able to figure out the basic components of his complaint, and more importantly, learned the name of the person who suggested the fraudulent company, which allowed us to find other victims.

It remained a difficult investigation, since the company that created the scheme went under multiple aliases and had been defunct for a long time.  Nevertheless, I was able to find hidden within Google’s cache a dead webpage which listed the Board of Directors for one of the aliases.  Tracking down the President was another issue, as he had an unlisted number.  However, I was able to locate a doctor that had a similar name in the region; after calling the number of his practice, we were able to determine that he was also the President of the mortgage relief company.  At that point, I helped another supervising attorney with the deposition, and the doctor admitted his involvement with the scheme.  I then returned for my final year at NYU before the case was settled, but in all likelihood the Department used one of the other settlements that I helped draft for similar cases that summer as the template.

In addition to the restitution provided for the victims, the Oregon Department of Justice itself received $65,000 in compensation, which is more than the salary of a first-year Honors Attorney.  I, of course, received no compensation.  Despite being an “internship”, I did not even receive course credit.  The addition to my resume was supposed to be enough of a reward, as well as the possibility of recommendations from my superiors.  I did receive those recommendations, but apparently that was not enough for the DOJ, and apparently there is not a single other legal office in the state that gives a good god damn about my three months working for them.

Depending on the day, I alternate in my assessment of which is the worst result.  Despite the anger that I feel with each show of incompetence, somehow it is the Coos Bay rejection that hurt me the most.  I think it is because at that point I knew that it was all over: the game was rigged.  I wasn’t good enough for the bottom of the barrel.

* * *

During these few months, I received three phone calls from NYU asking for a donation.  Each time, I had to explain that I still did not have a job.  The third call was the best: “We don’t have anything for your current employment; would you like to update that information for us?” “Yes, I would like to update that information, but unfortunately there is nothing to update.”  Finally, in September, I received an email from the Public Interest Law Center, in which they forwarded an opening with the City of Portland.  I informed them that while I had previously applied for a job with the City and was rejected (despite being more than qualified), I would give this a shot.  The position did not start until September of the next year, but at least if it worked out, I would at least have an end date for my “vacation.”

I never got a response.

 

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