June 10, 2015

It was Wednesday, which meant I called my parents as part of the usual routine to see how things were over in Greece.  While they were personally glad to be able to return home once again for a relaxing summer vacation, the situation in the country at large was worrisome, with new problems popping up by the day.  After getting the rundown on their week so far, I mentioned to my mom that it had been one year since her surgery.  She had no idea that it was the date of that particular anniversary, which was a blessing, since her recovery meant that there was no need to remember all the details of such a morbid event.

After the grueling ordeal of chemotherapy, our lives slowly got back to normal, and Mom gradually regained her strength once again.  By the time Christmas rolled around and my friends came to visit, nobody had suspected what she had been through; the only possible sign was the fact that her elaborate Christmas Village decorations were absent that winter, but a quick “she was tired” prompted no further inquiry.  My guess is that the wigs were taken to be bold choices made at the salon that apparently had paid off.

* * * * * * *

June 10 also meant that it was the anniversary of the shooting at Reynolds High.  Most people seem to have forgotten about the tragedy, or were unwilling to reflect on it.

It was Wednesday, June 10, and to mark the occasion I posted a picture of a single white rose from our garden.  For the past couple of summers, I would post a different flower from the garden each Wednesday and provide a humorous “Gardening Tip” caption.  It was silly, but a lot of my friends seem to enjoy the effort, and at the very least, coming up with material each week allowed me to focus on something else for a change.  But I decided that for this summer I did not need to post a constant reminder that I was still living at home, even if many of my classmates had failed to make the connection.

There was no “Gardening Tip” that Wednesday; instead, I quoted the final lines to Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945”, a song that has provided comfort to many in their attempts to cope with tragedy.  It was my personal tribute to Uncle Antonis, though it is unlikely that most of my friends would have picked up on the connection.  However, I hoped that the sentiment of “and it’s so sad to see the world agree that they’d rather see their faces filled with flies, all when I’d want to keep white roses in their eyes” provided some inspiration, if only for a moment.

The first few lines make it an even more tragic connection.

A white rose for Uncle Antonis

* * * * * *

“Got a foot in the door—God knows, what for?”

Most days that summer, my mind was elsewhere.  After coming up empty on the job search for over two years, I thought I had experienced every kind of rejection imaginable, from the discriminatory to the just plain disrespectful.  However, this latest response could only be described with one word: cruel.

Back in mid-April, I received an e-mail from the Office of Public Defense Services, alerting me to a Deputy Public Defender opening.   I had interviews with the Office twice before (including once as a gesture of goodwill since the job had already been filled before interviews had begun), and considering that I had helped craft their most important legal victory in a decade with the Lawson opinion, there had long been a mutual interest between us.  However, this e-mail was the first time that an employer had reached out to contact me about a possible position, so it was beginning to look like the third time was the charm.

I checked the details, and found that the deadline was three weeks away.  I decided to take some time and spend some of my weekend re-writing yet another cover letter and making a few minor adjustments to my resume, and planned to submit my application closer to the deadline.  One week after the initial e-mail, I received a second e-mail that once again asked me to apply for the position.  After this additional push, I made a few final adjustments, went through a couple of rounds of proofreading, and submitted my application materials the next morning.

It was two long weeks before the deadline had passed, but I was able to keep my mind elsewhere waiting for it to arrive.  As the days kept ticking by, my anxiety grew.  When I did not receive a response a week later, as had been the procedure before, I began to worry.  More days passed.

Almost two weeks after the deadline had passed, I headed next door for a party celebrating our neighbor’s graduation from the local law school.  The entire family has been among our closest friends ever since we moved to Oregon, and we were all glad to see how the youngest son had overcome so much in reaching this achievement.  At one point during the celebration, the father asked me if I had heard back from OPDS.  As a former ODOJ attorney who helped me get my first internship with the Department way back in college, he had been one of my primary references for a number of years, and I thought this meant for the first time in history an employer actually followed through and talked with a reference.  I informed him that I had not yet heard a response, but hopefully that would change in the next few days.

After the party, I found out from my dad the real impetus for the inquiry.  My neighbor had a fellow graduate at the party, and it turned out he was interviewed by OPDS a few days before.  He had informed my neighbor that he felt good about his chances.

I waited until Tuesday to e-mail OPDS and ask for an update on the hiring process, and to confirm what I already knew.  The agency had decided to interview a SingleWhiteMale graduate of a third-tier law school who had yet to even take the Bar exam over someone who had a much better resume.  I have long defended the quality of the local law school; I have had intimate knowledge of the institution since my dad has worked there ever since we moved to Oregon, and I know that it has long been underrated in the eyes of many.  However, there is no comparison to the law schools that rank among the nation’s elite.  Not only that, but somehow a semester working as an intern outweighed two years working on an appellate court, where the agency’s battles are fought.

Weeks went by, and I did not receive a response from OPDS until after Memorial Day.  They informed me that I had not made the cut, and that they had a large field of applicants—61 other people had applied!  I am sure that those 61 other applicants all had much better qualifications than I did.  A few hours later, I got an auto-generated reply informing once again that I did not get the job.

It took a long time for me to feel anything but absolute anger about my treatment by this agency.  I talked to my old boss at the Court about it, and he recommended against my plan to walk in and just yell at everybody, or to write an angry e-mail blasting them for this treatment, which was probably a wise move on his part.  After a few weeks, anger gradually gave way to despair.  I just did not have the energy to be livid.

I was broken.

It was not the simple fact of missing out on the job.  It was the way that these people rejected me that stung the most.  What was the point of going out of their way to inform me about the position, if they were not going to take me seriously?  And not only once, but twice?!  Did they expect my situation to have changed in the few months since the last interview?  If so, what would that have proven?  If I had a shitty temporary job, how would that have improved my position?  If I had a better job, then why would I take a step down to work for them?  If they thought so highly of my abilities that they remembered me after all these months, then why would you so easily destroy that connection by failing to even grant an interview?  Because after all this, why would I (or anyone that reads this) EVER want a job with this agency?  Or was this their actual intention; did they want to burn this bridge so thoroughly as to make me never consider applying for a job ever again?  If that is the case, there are less sociopathic ways to accomplish this task.

So in the end, I sat in silence.  I did not e-mail OPDS, I did not storm their office, I did not do anything.

With the retirement of my old boss, the Oregon Supreme Court lost its strongest voice in favor of the rights of defendants.  Since his departure, OPDS has won only about 5% of its cases before the Court, a fact that was told to me by the old Chief.  So one would think that it might be a good idea to hire someone who has experience with the rest of the judges on the Court, and someone who also has a direct line with one of the best defense lawyers that the state of Oregon has ever had.

Maybe OPDS should have taken a look at their big victory in Lawson.  It would have provided clues as to the cracks in their foundation.  The new evidence standard that was established with the opinion was based largely off of the work of the amicus briefs, with little consideration taken to the arguments advanced by OPDS.  Also, considering that despite the support for the new standard, the Court decided to split the verdict with the two combined cases and affirm the conviction of one of the defendants, which should raise a few red flags.  When it came time to look at the specific facts, the Court did not care for the arguments made by OPDS.  Most importantly, the case came about at the exact right moment, with the makeup of the Court entirely in their favor.  It was not a Pyrrhic victory, but it did foreshadow the trouble that OPDS would have in the next few years.

But I was too tired to point this out to them.  And who would think that they would even listen to me at this point?

For a long time, I had excused the rejections made by the various PD offices to which I applied, justifying their decisions by noting that they often had less of a budget to deal with and fewer openings, so they had to make their picks count and go with lawyers with greater experience.  This incident proved that was not the case.  I was done making excuses for anyone.

* * *

A few months earlier, I finally heard from the one lead given to me by NYU.  Though the application deadline was before Thanksgiving, the City of Portland had scheduled an announcement of interviews for their Honors Attorney position at the end of January.  However, those two months proved to be too little time for them to make their decision, so they sent applicants a letter on the original date of the announcement that they would wait another week before sending notices.  A week went by, and I received nothing.  A few days later, I received word that I had not made the cut.

About a month after that, I met with one of my former supervising attorneys (and an NYU Law alum) from ODOJ who happened to now be working for the City of Portland in that same office.  When I told him my experience with his office, all he could say was, “It’s competitive.”  That was pretty much the entirety of our interaction; no follow-up whatsoever.

* * *

I remember meeting up with a couple of friends right after I got that second e-mail from OPDS.  It was one of the few times that I gave people any updates into the job search, because what is the point of constantly telling people of your various disappointments?  Maybe it was because for once I let myself feel a bit of conscious optimism.

They were more enthusiastic in their response.  One of them remarked, “Well, they would have to be real fuckheads to deny you a job at this point.”

I had nothing else to add.  In the back of my head, I probably knew exactly which way this statement would prove to be correct.

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