Homo-something.

Such a strange artifact I found today: A letter from an old lawyer to a new one. Published in the American Lawyer, found via New York magazine’s website, getta loada this:

Dear Sarah,

Your father tells me you started a job at Cravath, Swaine & Moore earlier this fall. Perhaps you are aware that I spent some of my formative years at that firm.

I’m sure you will learn a lot at present-day Cravath. I, certainly, learned a lot when I went to work at the firm in the fall of 1952, just after graduating from law school. The firm was then located at 15 Broad St., directly opposite the New York Stock Exchange, the facade of which, outside my window, was not yet covered by a gigantic American flag.

Actually, the window was the province of E. Gabriel Perle, a more senior associate who got the desk nearest the window in the office we shared. “Gabby” took me out to lunch and dinner and introduced me to the many stanzas of “The Partners’ John,” a song telling the story of the rise of a young associate to the long-anticipated moment when he receives a key to the partners’ john.

I use the pronoun “he” because there were only men at the Cravath of 1952. No women lawyers, no women secretaries or stenographers, no women in any capacity at all were allowed in the hallways of Cravath, Swaine & Moore. “We are a place of business,” it was explained to me. Ladies would be a “distraction.” Even the messengers, who carried documents from one office to another and sharpened our stacks of pencils every morning, were elderly men in gray office jackets, reputedly recruited from among the ranks of retired runners at the exchange. If I needed to dictate, a buzz quickly brought a male “steno” who was older than I was. There was a special midnight shift of stenos who would have any late-night work freshly typed and ready on a partner’s desk first thing in the morning. “Women wouldn’t be safe in downtown New York during these night hours,” it was explained.

It could be difficult to tell a male secretary or steno from an associate, but clothes made the difference. Lawyers wore suits from Brooks Brothers. Stenos did not. Moreover, lawyers wore hats, something I completely failed to understand, despite frequent admonitions to “take your hat and come to lunch.” I never acquired a hat, nor, as you can imagine, did I ever see the inside of the partners’ john.

Every few days I get something in the e-mail about Hillary Clinton — what a bitch she is, what a ball-breaker, needless to say a dyke, an asshole, you can take your pick. And then I think about an interview I did last year, with a woman lawyer of Hillary’s age. Here’s the entry from my notes: When I decided to apply (to law school), was accepted and spoke to the dean of admissions. “Will I be employable?” Dean said, “Of course you will be, we need women to take low-paying legal work that men won’t take.” Representing juveniles, etc.

This was at the University of Michigan, by the way, not exactly Bob’s College of Law and Bartending. Then, as now, a tough nut to crack. And this was the dean of admissions talking, no doubt already pissed that he had to give one of his 450 precious seats to someone destined to work in juvie legal aid. (Two word coda to her story: She didn’t.)

Obviously, things have changed. But if, in 1952, women were considered so toxic to the legal mind that they couldn’t even be seen in the background of the office landscape at this particular white-shoe firm, that was still recent history in 1972, when Hillary graduated. I’m not going to belabor this point; I can’t imagine what I would bring to the discussion that hasn’t already been said. Just: Follow that link up there to the whole piece. It’s fascinating reading. And then think about it a while. That’s all.

You are also allowed a snicker or three at the homoerotic overtones of it all. I mean — all those jokes about the partners’ john. Please. A large infusion of estrogen must have been a downer in more ways than one. At least for some of them.

Bloggage:

This arrived a little late to do any good — it’s the entry for a YouTube/Home Depot contest to win a major cash infusion for renovating your home, and entries are closed. But you Hoosiers in particular are urged to watch. It’s funny, and it’s about a town in your orbit (Huntington). What did old buildings do before gay men were invented? Wait for the inevitable blow from the wrecking ball, I guess.

Also: This project has a blog. I really hope they win.

The Free Press, like all newspapers, is series-heavy this time of year; gotta get ’em published before year’s end, to qualify for awards. Columnist Bill McGraw’s assignment — drive every street in Detroit, then write about it — started strong on Sunday, faltered a bit Monday, and is back today with an entertaining piece about art, guerilla and otherwise, in the city.

Off to drive around the city in a panic finish my shopping. Strength and honor!

Posted at 9:19 am in Media, Popculch |
 

18 responses to “Homo-something.”

  1. John C said on December 18, 2007 at 10:21 am

    “The Partner’s John” put me in mind of this … A few years back my goodly wife was honored as one of the top 100 women in the North American automotive industry. She got the hardware at a very nice dinner that featured short speeches from some of the honorees. One of them was Toyota’s first female plant manager. She recalled when she first went to work there, at a plant in Kentucky, not only was she the first woman in the executive suite at the factory, there were no womens’ bathrooms in the executive suite at the factory! It was the mid-80s! Her speech was pretty shiny and happy. But one got the impression that the home office back in Toyota City was not that different from Cravath, Swain and Moore circa 1952.
    Ironically, several of the top execs at General Motors that my wife works with are women.

  2. brian stouder said on December 18, 2007 at 10:36 am

    The lawyer’s letter was interesting, and the homo-eroticism was indeed pronounced! (I liked when he went into the venerated partner’s corner office, only to find him seated at his desk, barking on the phone, glaring at papers that runners keep bringing in, and having another young fellow kneeled before him – shining his shoes!)

    As for HRC, I like her; and I especially like Obama; and the spectacle of HRC and company (including WJC) repeatedly attacking Obama as a druggie and a narcissist (not say an uppity black man); and engaging in base bigotry with regard to the man’s Muslim ancestry, is as unsurprising as it is unpleasant.

    Bottom line – I have no use for people who would call HRC any of the names Nance pointed out; just as Hillary’s campaign (and her many minions, including Evan Bayh) scores no points at all with their repeated (and clumsy) attempts to slime Obama.

  3. alex said on December 18, 2007 at 10:44 am

    It’s a hallowed tradition in the firm where I’m employed that spouses never attend the Christmas party. It’s a tradition that has outlived its purpose, far as I can tell. But as I was told by an old-timer, the mixing of wives, paramours and alcohol would have been disastrous.

    And Brian, as for the kneeling boy, I have a funny story about a very big person at the very big firm of Winson & Strawn in Chicago. A friend who worked there told me that the HR department had to take this guy aside after he ran his own ad for an assistant without HR vetting it first. He wanted a male, and the qualifications had to do more with age and body type than with education or experience. They thought he was out of his gourd. Ah, the hubris that comes with power.

  4. Danny said on December 18, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Folks, here is what I have been doing for the last year and a half. This is just the housing of the gearbox (no internals, gears or shafts just yet). This housing is over 5 feet tall and weighs over 8,000 lbs. When the assembly is complete, the whole shebang will weigh over 14,000 lbs and transmit, about 40,000 hp (depending on the ambient temperature at the engine intake).

    I am the designer. It goes to test in June 2008. I sure hope it works!

  5. brian stouder said on December 18, 2007 at 10:56 am

    So Danny – presumeably the gear box comes with a tag that says

    ‘satisfaction guaranteed or double your money back’

    eh?

  6. nancy said on December 18, 2007 at 10:57 am

    What does it do? Grate cheese?

  7. Sue said on December 18, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Back in the day, the indoctrination started very early. Girls didn’t play baseball unless it was neighborhood games that their brothers let them join. Girls didn’t play high school sports; they were cheerleaders. And (I remember accepting this as being totally reasonable) girls didn’t take men’s jobs because that would be taking away a job from a man who needed to support his family. You could be a teacher or a nurse or a secretary, but you’d better quit when you got pregnant. I am so grateful I was able to straddle the line between my mother’s generation and the ongoing women’s movement. Even though I was never in the trenches, I observed, grew up and was horrified by what I saw and heard, and learned to emphasize to my daughter that the gains were hard won and are still tenuous.

  8. del said on December 18, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    The senior partner of my division was Donald Swatland, known as “Gen. Swatland.” I would be notified in advance when he wanted to see me: Every minute of his time was precious. Minutes before the interview I would be summoned to his outer office with the words, “Stand by for Gen. Swatland.”

    It reminds me of the big firm where I first worked out of law school. The partner in the office next to mine couldn’t just stop in to ask me to do something. Instead I would be called on the telephone; not by the partner, but by her secretary who would always begin with . . “please HOLD for . . . ” Yes, alas, the messages were clear.

    And in one department every lawyer’s billable hours were published and disseminated. Of the 35 lawyers in that department the department head generated the most billable time — by my calculation 11.15 billable hours every day of a 31 day month. That message was clear too.

    For the last several years there have been more women in law schools than men, so the times they-are-a-changin’.

  9. Dorothy said on December 18, 2007 at 12:45 pm

    The Pittsburgh Post Gazette is running a 3 part series (ended today) about students in a forensics class at Duquesne University corresponding with a serial killer. They even got to talk to him on a speaker phone for an hour. It’s sort of fascinating and repulsive at the same time. But it’s a great experience for the students, and their instructor, I might add.

  10. Danny said on December 18, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    Brian, I really pushed for that tag to be removable.

    Nance, it connects to a gas turbine engine weighing about 40k lbs on the high speed end and a generator weighing about 180k lbs on the low speed end. The whole package will be 70 ft long from end to end. So the application is electrical power generation by burning of natural gas or liquid fuels, both on-shore (municipalities, factories, hospitals, universities, etc.) and off-shore (oil platforms) locations.

  11. ashley said on December 18, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Check out this obituary about an attorney that evidently worked at a similar firm.

    Some choice bits: “His death should be a warning to all those who believe that they are being used by insensitive employers. He deserved better, both in life and death. Bruce had been seduced into a sedentary and high stress life style after he moved to New Orleans by the promise of “big money” from a corporate defense law firm.”

  12. Dorothy said on December 18, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    Danny my husband works on gas turbine engines at Rolls Royce – did so previously at GE in South Carolina. Are you a mechanical engineer?

  13. Sue said on December 18, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    The obit from Ashley is one of those communications that says more about the writer than the subject. I’d love to know the backstory on that one.

  14. Danny said on December 18, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    Dorothy, yes. And now that you mention it, I do remember you telling me where your husband worked.

  15. del said on December 18, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    Wow, what an obit! It called to mind another situation that might shed some light on a possible backstory.

    Attorneys at 2 prominent cross-town rival firms were getting a divorce. It was very contentious. The day after the husband’s attorney grilled the wife on the stand she died of an aneurysm. She was in her early/mid forties. And the obit? It was full of loving comments from the devoted husband. Coulda been for the kids’ benefit but I suspect there was some probate posturing going on there. Maybe Ashley’s obit by the estranged widow reflects similar concerns.

  16. basset said on December 18, 2007 at 8:26 pm

    John C mentioned a Toyota plant which I assume is the one at Georgetown, Kentucky… back in a former life I went to the dog & pony show officially announcing that plant would be built, in the middle of the field where it eventually went up.

    and of course the rain commenced to pour about the time everything started, those of us who could crowded under the one big tent on the grounds and purely by accident I ended up standing next to the president of Toyota’s interpreter. or the senior vice-president of gaijin operations’ interpreter or something, anyway he was working for the ranking Japanese there.

    little guy, built kinda stocky, thick glasses and flattop haircut. trying to be nice, I turned to him and said something generic.

    “Well, how ’bout it?”

    Blank stare. Pause. Then, in perfect British English,
    “Excuse me?”

    Ended up having to explain that I was making a general-purpose, non-specific cordial greeting. His English vocabulary was probably better than mine, guess he hadn’t studied anything colloquial though.

    I finally bought one of the cars a couple of years ago, pretty decent appliance-level four-door Camry, been real satisfied with it.

  17. basset said on December 19, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    clunk, splat… another basset post, another thread drops dead on the spot. wonder if it’s my breath?

  18. del said on December 20, 2007 at 8:36 am

    Nah . . . I liked when you referred to the “dog & pony show.” When I was in my early twenties and working for an insurance company a couple of big shots from the home office visited our office prompting an older, wiser co-worker to crack that it was a “dog & pony show.” Based on your post I think I’ve confirmed what that is. My co-worker also spoke of them blowing sunshine up our asses. I think I know what that meant.

    clunk, splat. ..