Tag Archives: Washington DC

I Have Moved Around A Lot

I currently live in a suburb of Raleigh, North Carolina. I have been living here for about two years. Like most people who live in this area, I am not originally from here. I grew up in a town called Avon, Connecticut. I went to college in Boston. I lived in Washington, D.C. for a stretch and then went to law school in New Orleans. While in New Orleans I met and married my wife who grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After law school we moved to Scranton and lived there for a year. Then we moved to Philadelphia and lived there for ten years.

In Philadelphia I worked for a big, corporate law firm performing a job I hated. It paid me well but I hated it. I felt unappreciated, made to perform mindless work and trapped because I had upgraded my life style to match my income and could not move to another job that would pay me as well.

In 2009 the recession put an end to that misery because my wife and I both got laid off. We then moved to Connecticut thinking we could live with my parents for a short period of time until we both found work. That short period of time lasted longer than we expected. But eventually we both landed work from home jobs. Suddenly we were in a position to move where ever we wanted to. After some research we picked a place with good schools and a low-cost of living and here we are.

I look back on all this moving with some regret. Everywhere I lived I always felt like I was trapped in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had to do it all over again I would definitely have made different decisions.

Now that we live in North Carolina I find myself constantly amazed by how nice people are in comparison to all the other places I have lived. When I first moved down here I found myself in situations where I expected people to  f#!@ with me and surprised they didn’t.

I suppose there is some Wizard of Oz message in all this. That I can travel the world looking for happiness but I really only had to go no further than my own back yard. I did move back to my own back yard after I got laid off and it was miserable. But the message is not literal. Dorothy is referring to the back yard of my soul I am sure. I think that is true to a point. Certainly, if you are miserable you are most likely going to take that misery with you where ever you go. On the other hand, if you are miserable there is something about your current situation that is making you miserable so shaking things up can be a good thing. Certainly staying put will probably not change things as I learned from staying at that law firm in Philadelphia for ten years.

I think change can be made, but it has to happen from within and sometimes outside help is needed to make that happen. Growth is possible. I am not the person I was twenty years ago. There’s nothing to do but look forward and keep moving.

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Feeling Like an Outsider

For a few years my wife and I had thought about moving to Connecticut where my parents still lived in the house I grew up.  I was not all that happy with Philadelphia.  I did not like my job and I did not have that many friends.  My wife liked it there but she was willing to make a move.  So for a few years while I worked for Dechert I had been conducting a job search in Connecticut.  I waived into the Connecticut bar (a process which took more than a year of amassing records and dealing with the court system).  I was even approached by The Hartford (an insurance company in Hartford, CT) and interviewed for a position that seemed like it would solve all my problems. I ended up not getting the position.  After that my wife and I decided to stop looking to move to Connecticut and decided to buy a nicer house in Philadelphia in an effort to commit to the area and establish roots.

This issue about establishing roots has its origin in the fact that ever since I graduated from college I never felt like I belonged anywhere. When I was young I felt like I belonged in Connecticut even though I was bullied, picked on and humiliated.  When I went to college in Boston I felt like I belonged there.  I was on the same level with all of my peers who were from various places around the country.  But once I graduated from college and could not find a job I fell off the life track that I was supposed to be on and that I felt all my peers were on and had left me behind.  As such, I was so humiliated and felt like I had to hide from the world because I no longer legitimately held a place there.

This feeling stayed with me.  When I moved to Burlington, VT I felt like an outsider there because I was not hippy enough.  When I moved to Washington, DC I felt like an outsider because I did not have a good enough (i.e., well paying and connected job).  When I moved to New Orleans for law school I felt like I belonged on one level because I was on the same level as all my fellow students.  But deep in my heart I felt like I did not belong because I was not a native to New Orleans.  After New Orleans, I was an outsider in Scranton because I was not born and raised there.  And when we moved to Philadelphia I was an outsider there first because I was not a native to the area but also because the firm I worked for treated me as a second-class citizen.

This feeling like an outsider is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon.  On the one hand, did I feel like an outsider because I carried that feeling with me?  In other words would I have felt that way no matter where I went?  Did I attract situations where I would feel like an outsider?  The job a Dechert would seem to support this theory.

So my wife and I decided to buy a bigger house during the height of the housing bubble.  We made some money selling our starter house but in order to buy our larger dream house I borrowed some money from my father.  He seemed happy to give me the money at the time but later I felt ashamed for having done that.  Especially after the housing market crashed and I lost my job and we were no longer able to pay the mortgage.  At first we tried to sell our house but there were no takers after the crash.  During this time I burned through my 401K that I accumulated over eight years at Dechert.  Just as that money was about to run out we were able to rent the house.  By this time we were living in Connecticut living with my parents.

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How to Breakup With Your Girlfriend

While I lived in Washington DC I wanted to break up with my girlfriend Allison.  We had been dating for four years but the relationship had grown stale.  I felt trapped and resentful and as a result everything she did annoyed me.  This, however, was not her fault.

I felt this way because I was afflicted with three shame-based delusions.  First, I think at my core I felt that there must be something wrong with someone who loved me because I am always wrong.  Second, I thought the grass would be greener on the other side or to put it in shame-based terms, the grass on my side was less green (and deservedly so).  Third, I thought that if only I could get all my ducks in a row, move to the right place or in some other way change my circumstances things would be better and I would not feel shame.  The truth is, the shame traveled with me until I properly addressed it.  Properly addressing shame requires fully feeling the shame, which is something a shame-based person will go to great lengths to avoid.  This was not that point in my life.

I was too afraid to breakup with her for three reasons.  First, we lived together and I was not sure how to coordinate all the complications that would entail.  Second, I did not want to go through the process hurting her feelings.  Third, I feared not being able to find anyone better.  This last reason conflicts with the delusion that the grass would be greener.  But another essential feature of a shame-based mind is conflict and not being able to come to a decision.  As such half of me wanted to breakup with her and the other half was afraid to. Basically, I was spineless.  But I was spineless because I was shame-based and I was shame based because of everything that had happened to me up until this point in my life.

Allison and I had talked about marriage but I never really took it seriously.  To me, that was just something a boyfriend and girlfriend talked about after dating for a while.  Women tend to take this type of conversation more seriously, I would discover.

When I left Washington with all my stuff packed in my white 1992 Ford Escort I had a new energy.  I was embarking on a new chapter of my life just like when I moved from Connecticut to Washington.  It was a new chapter I hoped would solve all the problems of my previous chapters (again).  It did not matter anymore that I was unemployed.  I was now a law student and back on the track of life again.  Allison remained in Washington and once safely in New Orleans I could break up with her from a distance.  Not that I had this all planned in my mind but I suppose subconsciously I did.

A few weeks after arriving in New Orleans, getting settled, making new acquaintances and pretending everything was normal between us, I called Allison and broke up with her.  She was surprised.  She said, “But I thought we would get married.”  I remember how I vacillated when I broke up with my high school girlfriend (breaking up with her and reuniting over and over) and was determined not to do that this time.  I stuck to my guns.  When she said that she thought I was being weak I countered that I would be weak if I continued to stay with her.  When she said that the only reason we were broken up was that she was up in Washington and I was down in New Orleans and that she was willing to take a job in New Orleans, I said okay but things were going to be different between the two of us.  When she said that I should have done this a few years ago I said so now I’m not allowed to break up with you?  I stuck to my guns and broke up with her.

A week later she called me and told me she was pregnant.  I was pretty doubtful of this.  I told her I was not ready to be a father and implied that she should get an abortion.  At the time she worked for the White House and left on a trip to China a week or so later.  When she got back she told me she got into a car accident while in China which ended the pregnancy.  This seemed suspicious to me as well.

Over Thanksgiving my parents were in Washington so I went up and stayed at Allison’s apartment.  It was strange but we ended up sleeping together.  She came over to my sister and brother in law’s place in Dupont Circle for Thanksgiving dinner.  She told me later she felt embarrassed and my mother and sister told her that I was leading her on.

After I returned to New Orleans I met a girl, dated her for a while and proposed to her.  We invited Allison to the wedding but she declined.

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My Roommate From Hell on Capitol Hill

Once I started working for the conference I was able to move out of my sister and brother-in-law’s condo in Dupont circle.  Around that time a staffer named Kelly in my brother-in-law’s office found an apartment and was looking for a roommate.  Per his suggestion, I contacted Kelly and we arranged to meet up and get to know each other.  We met at a bar in Adams Morgan and it seemed to me like we got along pretty well.  She was kind of pretty and seemed fun and easy-going.  So we agreed to move in together.

The apartment was a dumpy two-floor, white brick town house with two bedrooms and one bathroom.  As soon as I moved in Kelly presented me with her rules about cleaning.  We were to rotate cleaning the apartment weekly.  Cleaning included vacuuming the common areas and cleaning the kitchen and bathroom.  I thought this was pushy but reasonable and being eager to please I agreed readily.  As time progressed it quickly became apparent that Kelly intended to be the dominant person in this relationship.  She criticized my cleaning and accused me a few times of not cleaning at all when in fact I did.  This reminded me of my prior roommate Collin in Burlington and made me wonder if it was worth it to clean at all.  At first I tried to keep things peaceful and I asked her if there was anything I could do to be a better roommate.  She said, “Well, you stop flooding the bathroom.”  I’m not sure what she meant by this because I was careful to clean up after myself but I realized I had made a mistake putting myself out like that.  I was such a people pleaser back then and to predators like Kelly I was an easy mark.

Kelly did not want us to use the air conditioning to save money on our electric bill even though Washington DC was ungodly hot in the summer.  I used the air conditioning in my room anyway.  I knew it pissed her off but I did not care.  Later in an argument she said she let me use my air conditioning as if she was doing me a favor.

When I first moved in she had this creepy boyfriend that reminded me of my RA freshman year.  He had some political job on Capitol Hill and my brother-in-law knew him but did not like him.  At one point Kelly told me that he had not filed a tax return in several years.  My brother in law took delight in hearing that.  He would often stay the night and I could hear them having sex from my room.  This made me uncomfortable but I never said anything.

After she broke up with her boyfriend these guys started calling and leaving messages for her.  One time I had forgotten to give her a message.  The guy called back and yelled at me saying, “Make sure you give her the message this time!”  Later I told her about it and she indicated she did not even like the guy.

She also had an asshole, judgmental friend who would stop by from time to time.  He was a slim guy with dark hair.  They would exchange snide glances with each other whenever I entered the room as if they had been discussing what a terrible roommate I had been.  They both struck me as typical Washingtonians at the time who only liked you to the extent you could do something for them.  A person without an impressive job or pedigree was looked upon with disdain.

At some point a leak developed in the ceiling.  The bathroom was on the second floor and every time either one of us took a shower water would drip through the plaster ceiling into the living room below.  The management sent someone to fix it.  He cut a hole in the ceiling and then left it that way for a few weeks.  The shower still leaked the entire time.  He eventually came back and did a half-assed job patching up the ceiling.  It still leaked every time we used the shower.

Furniture was scarce and we did not have a table and chairs to eat at.  One day I came home to find these crappy chairs and table.  At this point I was fed up with her and wrote this nasty note to her telling her that I lived there too and did not appreciate her moving furniture in without talking to me.  I later apologized to her but I’m sure she used that as evidence to all the people she complained about me to.

Around that time my college girlfriend Allison moved to DC. She visited one time and turned the air conditioning on in the living room.  I was out and Kelly came home and told her to turn it off.  Allison spent the rest of the day in my room with the air conditioning on.  Later Kelly told me Allison came over too much.  I protested that she used to bring her boyfriend over all the time and I never said anything about it but she did not seem to think that was a valid point.

One time my cousin Phil and his friend Betch came to visit.  We went out to the bars and got drunk.  I started yelling at some bums on the street, which made Betch upset.  Later on I apologized and explained that I was angry living with this bitch Kelly.  Phil said that there are always two sides to a story and I was probably doing things that bothered her.  This annoyed me but I did not say anything because part of me agreed with him. I had used her laundry detergent from time to time if I ran out.  I guess this bothered her because she filled a detergent container with bleach.  I of course used it and ruined some new clothes I had bought.

Phil and Betch stayed with me at the apartment for a couple of days.  Kelly was cordial at first but I could tell them being there annoyed her.  At the time I worked a second job at this shitty restaurant around the corner.  I gave Phil and Betch my key to the apartment and told them to be back by the time my shift was over so I could get in.  Late that night I came home and the door was locked.  I knocked a few times but Kelly either could not hear it or ignored it.  I sat on the steps in the rain and waited for Phil and Betch to get back.  I was angry because I had to go to work in the morning.  Finally a cab pulled up and they ran up apologetic.  I was pissed and did not say much to them.  They slept on the living room floor and left an apology note on the steps.  The next morning Kelly woke up and took the note.  I left after she did.  Phil and Betch were still asleep on the floor.  Later when I got home they told me Kelly and arrived home before me and they confronted her about what happened to the note.  She said she thought it was trash and picked it up.  They then asked if the note was in the garbage can and she stumbled saying that she probably put it in her briefcase or her car.  Phil and Betch told me they did not feel comfortable staying at my apartment and went to stay with my sister and brother in law.  Phil said he was wrong when he suggested my roommate problems were the fault of both of us.  Betch said that Kelly was pure evil.

Later I confronted her.  I told her living together was not working out.  I want to live in a place where my friends feel welcome.  She said she did not give a fuck about what my friends thought of her.  I told her that was pretty evident.  I then went on to say that I thought we were two different people and were just not compatible.  I remember saying that she live in a “Kelly-centric” universe.  She protested that we were not that different.  I’m not sure how that furthered her position.

Later Kelly moved out and Allison moved in.  I had been gone a couple of days and when I returned she had moved all her furniture out.  It felt so liberating and freeing to not have her around anymore even if there was even less furniture now. I saw that Kelly left her scarf in the closet.  I threw it in the trash.  Sure enough a week later she knocked on the door and asked if I had seen her scarf.  It was obvious she left it so she would have a reason to check the place out after she left.  I told her I had not see it.

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The Conference

My first day working for the Conference felt good.  It was the first time I had a “real,” full time (not temporary), office job.  It felt good to ride the metro into work wearing a suit and tie with all the other people.  I felt like I got back on the track I had fallen off after graduating from college an in the same league with my peers.

The Conference, established by the Clinton administration, was tasked with setting up a conference for the U.S. travel and tourism industry.  The attending delegates would be industry leaders including CEOs of major tourism and transportation corporations as well as state and federal legislators and other politicians. Its purpose was to establish a national tourism strategy as most other countries had rather than 50 different state level strategies.  This was important because the tourism was the second largest industry in the US after healthcare.  I joined the staff about a year before the conference took place.

They paid me $24,000 a year, which at the time seemed like a fortune.  I remember a negotiation with Pierce on the phone where he tried to negotiate a lower salary for me but then probably felt bad for me and settled at $24,000.  I had no health insurance and no taxes withheld so I had to set aside a good deal of my paycheck for quarterly filings.  So it actually ended up being a lot less than I expected.  But it was enough to move out of my sister and brother in law’s condo and live meagerly.

At first, I answered the phones and relayed messages to the upper management, consisting of just about everybody else except myself and this other guy Ted.  Later Pierce had me entering a huge volume of contact information into a mailing list database.  I guess I was not entering the information quickly enough because one morning Pierce came down and asked me to come with him to his office.  We silently rode the elevator up to his floor and went into his office.  He chewed me out for a while about not taking my job seriously enough.  I thought I had been taking it seriously and felt really humiliated.  For the next few weeks I came in the office at 5:00am, left late and worked weekends to populate this database.  Later on Pierce seemed surprised at what I had accomplished and apologized for yelling at me.  I think I might have over reacted to his criticism which, looking back on it, was probably in reaction to someone shaming him.

At some point each state department of tourism sent in recommendations as to what they wanted to happen during the conference and what they wanted the conference to accomplish.  Their recommendations were in the form of 1 to 50 page documents.  I was told to go through the documents and compile a list of the recommendations making note of the more popular ones.  I took this project by the horns and developed an Excel spreadsheet summarizing all the recommendations by state and compiling a list of the most popular.

The management seemed happy with the results and took me to a conference in Nashville at the Opryland Hotel.  I remember one meeting.  I was told the dress was casual and showed up wearing shorts and a polo shirt.  Everyone else had on a suit and tie.  I felt embarrassed but tried my best to continue on as if everything was okay.  At the meeting the subject of the Grid came up.  Pierce suggested that it be used in the materials distributed at the conference.  One man (I forget who) vehemently said, “No!”  When asked why he said, “Because I don’t think it’s credible.”  He went on to say that he could not find what the grid indicated in a specific state’s recommendations.  I remember thinking of a reason why that might be the case but did not stand up for myself.  At the end of the meeting the man turned to me and patronizing said, “I’m sorry I criticized your grid report.”  That felt humiliating.

At some point the law school in Loyola Law School in New Orleans told me that I had been accepted for the following fall.  I asked them to defer my admission one year so that I could finish my time with the Conference and they agreed.  Later I had another trip with the conference to New Orleans and checked the law school out.  I had not seriously considered attending this third tier law school but after having fun in New Orleans the idea seemed more plausible to me.

I assumed the role of the funny guy working for the Conference.  Pierce often commented that I did not say much but when I did it was always funny.  I liked having that reputation.  It did not really afford me the respect needed to be assigned serious projects.  I always felt under utilized and considered to be not all that capable.  I did not really know what I could do differently to change that, however.

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Dupont Circle

In 1994 my sister and brother in law, Eric knew I had a hard time finding work in Connecticut and invited me to live with them in their Dupont Circle condo in Washington, DC.  The said I could live with them for a short time while I looked for a job.  Once I got on my feet I would move out.  Moving from suburban Connecticut to metropolitan DC was an exciting change and brought me out of my depression.

My brother in law worked for a member of congress as a Legislative Assistant.  He used his connections to get me interviews with other Democrat Legislative Assistants for staffer positions.  I was extremely clueless about politics back then despite all my instructions from Rush Limbaugh.  I remember being in an interview and the person interviewing me asking if I was a Republican or a Democrat.  I responded that it did not make a difference to me.  He responded that it may not matter to me but to people in Washington, it does.  At the end of the interview I said, “thanks for taking time out.”  Many times I have thought about how I handled the interview and felt embarrassed.

I sent out lots of resumes to law firms and governmental organizations.  I applied to “The White House Conference on Travel and Tourism” and got an interview with this guy Pierce.  I thought the interview went well but I did not hear from him for a long time.  I sent out more resumes without much success.  One time my other sister (who also lived in DC at the time) suggested I call a small law firm where a friend of hers worked.  The attorney I spoke to told me he thought I was “a zero” but was willing to put me “on the payroll.”  He then put me on hold to talk to someone else but I could still hear him talking, working out some kind of deal with whoever he was talking to.  I felt a little humiliated about this interaction and declined the opportunity.

I spent a lot of days in my sister and brother in law’s condominium making calls, sending out resumes and feeling worthless.  My brother in law had Ken Burn’s Civil War documentary on video.  I took me a couple of days to watch the whole thing.  Having a lot of free time I explored the city.  Walking around town and meeting people in social situations I always got the impression that people only wanted to know you to the extent you could provide something for them.  I always tried to avoid the subject of “what I did for a living.”

Eventually I went to work for a temp agency doing paralegal work.  These jobs were tediously boring.  They typically involved sitting around a conference table with other temps putting binders of documents together or making sure two large binders had the exact same documents in them.  I remember one job where they assigned me to load discs of data into a database.  While the data loaded I had time to read but felt guilty doing it.

After a while I got the impression Eric thought I had been there too long and wanted me to move out.  Things began to feel a little uncomfortable.  I wanted to move out but my current income was insufficient.  As luck would have it, soon after that I called the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism to see if the opportunity still existed.  Pierce called me back and told me it did.  They offered me a job answering their phones.

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