36 comments

American Drama

T.S. Eliot was right, Harrison thought. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a whimper. 

Although his English bachelors degree had been useful in law school, now Harrison James Pellingham, III needed it for a job. Yes, he knew that 100,000 new lawyers graduated every year from varying degrees of prestigious institutions, all vying for the same jobs. Yes, he knew that only 63% of law school graduates actually found work within the legal field, while others took far less distinguished work. Yes, he knew that taking out excessive student loans would saddle him with crippling student debt for decades. 

But he was different, until he wasn’t. 

We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men

Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!

Now the compounding interest on his six figure law school debt caused him many sleepless nights.

So, there he sat, demoralized and exhausted, in the university’s career placement center lobby. Harrison James Pellingham, III, having slyly played the game, having garnered the prestigious internships, having excelled at the unwritten office politics for law clerks, now lost whatever momentum he thought he had in his nascent legal career. In response to uncertain times and the principal shareholders’ financial disputes, the law firm where he interned in hopes of a job abruptly rescinded all offers. 

“Pellingham?” called one of the career placement counselors. She looked at him with almost complete indifference.

“Call me Harrison,” he replied, holding out his hand, ready to grip hers with a firm handshake. 

“Follow me,” she motioned, then added, “Harrison.” 

Shape without form, shade without color,

Paralyzed force, gesture without motion.

In a cubicle, Harrison sat on the edge of his chair, ramrod straight with appropriate eye contact. 

“Stand down, Harrison. This isn’t an interview. I’m just going to tell you what we have available at the present time,” she said flatly, attempting to reassure him. But her reassurance wasn’t reassuring to Harrison, who felt he had deigned to return to the university from which he’d just matriculated. 

He should not have needed help to find a job. 

“Are you interested in sales?”

“No, I’m an attorney,” he crisply replied.

“It says on your resume you have an MBA,” she looked at him, raising an eyebrow. “A sales position might lead to a management role?”

“I’m a corporate attorney,” he amended.

“Son, you are neither right now. You are unemployed,” she slowly said, knowing the full effect of her words. He looked down at his newly polished loafers. 

“I’m not interested in sales,” he muttered.

“Are you looking for an internship?”

“I have interned and was a law clerk this past summer,” he said. “I’m looking for a job at a law firm.”

She sighed and scrolled down the screen, eyebrows furrowing. 

“There is a teacher shortage,” she remarked. 

“A teacher?”

“An English teacher,” she clarified. “There are a dozen openings, mainly in the downtown area schools. You could apply for an immediate temporary teaching certificate until you pass the state tests. English is a critical need subject. Luckily, you have a bachelor's degree in English.” 

Luckily,” he repeated. “Luckily? I just graduated with my juris doctorate,” Harrison replied, failing to keep the arrogance-bordering-on-hysteria out of his voice. 

“There is no shortage of lawyers,” she looked at him, pointedly. 

He sat stone faced. 

“Would you like to apply to be an English teacher? You could start in August,” she tried again.

“You. want. me. to. apply. to. be. a. high. school. English. teacher.”

“Actually a middle school English teacher. There always seems to be middle school English teacher jobs available. I believe two are nearby where you live . . .” She continued to click and scroll. 

“What’s the salary,” he finally said, not completely believing such a question formed in his head and came out of his mouth.

“Let’s see,” she squinted at the monitor. “A first year teacher in this particular school district makes . . . yes, here it is. $39,408. You would also qualify for a $523 yearly stipend considering your advanced degree. You could always coach a team or pick up an extra class for additional stipends.”

“Say that again,” Harrison asked. “What’s the salary?”

“$39,408. Plus benefits.”

“Do the benefits include another $39,408?”

“Harrison, I know you were hoping to find another legal job, but the market is upside down right now. Law firms, the ones still in business, simply are not hiring. Especially recent graduates with zero clients and zero expertise. We already discussed possible options with the public defender's office. As a public defender, you would work about twice as hard as a teacher. The hours are challenging. If you want to stay in the legal profession, we can look at some pro bono organizations. Legal Aid was looking for . . . ”

“I’m a transactional attorney. I have an MBA. I have my JD. I’m not using my credentials to get some homeless vagrant out of jail,” Harrison replied evenly.

“Well, you might want to do something until the legal field rebounds. Law firms across the country are restructuring the way they do business. You could open your own shop? Maybe try one of the new virtual law firms?”

“But they all want someone with experience,” he said, looking down at his shoes again. 

“That’s the Catch-22. You can’t get experience without a job. You can’t get a job without experience. That’s the problem we run into all day long here at career placement,” she said, sadly confirming what he knew was true. 

Between the emotion / And the response

Falls the Shadow / Life is very long

He was an overeducated, unemployed young man with almost zero possibilities. Although over a quarter of the way through his life, he felt as world weary and dispirited as an old man. 

How much simpler it was when he was an undergraduate student, he thought. The English classes were so rewarding, compared to the endless finance and accounting courses in his MBA program, compared to the endless esoteric readings of legal opinions and writing stale case briefs in law school. 

“You know, I’ve always liked English,” he said, looking out the window. “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?

“Do you dare disturb who—?” the counselor half questioned, focusing on typing his information into the computer. The printer whirled, printing out a possible future for Harrison James Pellingham, III. 

“You can call these two assistant principals for an interview,” she smiled, handing him a small stack of papers. “Who knows, Harrison? You may just love it.”

“Possibly,” Harrison managed a wry smile. “Middle school English teacher? The hope only / Of empty men.



December 15, 2020 00:46

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

36 comments

Ray Dyer
16:16 Dec 17, 2020

Oh, wow, Deidra - Shakespeare in the title and T.S. Eliot in the paragraphs. You know I couldn't stop reading. I love the way you've been able to create this guy who feels like he should be utterly infuriating but is actually trying so hard to grapple with what life has done around him. He's got the determination and confidence he would need to become a lawyer, and we're seeing the moment where he has to settle in his life...maybe for the first time. It's the ending that makes all that sympathy feel worthwhile. There were a few times where...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:18 Dec 17, 2020

At this point, I think I just write for Ray Dyer commentary. You seem to make much more sense of my stories than I do. I'm just a slave to the infinite weird characters in my skull mashing up with a decade of teaching British literature. Thanks for catching the typo. Total rookie move on my part. As for our lawyer turned teacher, he'll be all right. I think so many young people (and old people) have been sold a bill of goods with what makes a meaningful life. In this respect, the Europeans' quality of life seems far more superior than the ...

Reply

Ray Dyer
19:01 Dec 17, 2020

Aw, now you're being too kind. Part of me is jealous that you've gotten to teach British literature for a decade. I took a sharp turn into telecom when my desire to teach in public schools intersected with my basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing. I got to train, and that turned into curriculum design...so, I'm still using my degree, but like Harrison thinks, not the way I ever imagined. My best buddy at work moonlights teaching English at local colleges. I live that part of my life vicariously. My experience in high school was most...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
19:40 Dec 17, 2020

If you'd ever like to collaborate on a piece, let me know. Always fun to write with other people.

Reply

Ray Dyer
20:12 Dec 17, 2020

Thank you for that offer, Deidra - I'd like to take you up on it sometime. I'm underwater lately just trying to finish my story before the week ends, but I think it would be a lot of fun to collaborate on one!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Bianka Nova
10:42 Dec 23, 2020

Sorry for doing some sneaky comment stalking, but I couldn't resist - YOU TWO SHOULD ABSOLUTELY DO A COLLABORATION! 😊🙌🙌🙌 And, yes, another great story by Deidra. The realities of life... I liked the positive ending. You never know what is it in life that would/could make you happy and fulfilled. For many, it's definitely not their first career choice. So, if you're lucky to be thrown into a different direction, better take that chance ;) Although, on a separate note, while reading I couldn't help but think that with a name like Harrison J...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 2 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
N. N.
06:23 Dec 15, 2020

T. S. Elliot! If there's anyone who could pull off incorporation of wide ranges of authors' and poets' works, it's you. It's always interesting to find out who the next bard you chose is, and never once has it disappointed. Back to the story, a clever premise is all I can say. One could almost feel sympathy for Harrison. Almost. And the counselor is a very interesting character who, though monotonous, helps to cheer up the general atmosphere with her facts. Her patience really is admirable — I wonder how many frustrated clients she's ha...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
06:37 Dec 15, 2020

Excellent catch. Lazy proofreading on my part — Tis the season to be distracted 🤪 Thanks for caring enough to help ❤️ Who doesn’t love T S Eliot? (Cats notwithstanding—but that Broadway horror show isn’t his fault!) “The Hollow Men” is the perfect poem for the times, especially regarding recent college grads looking for a job. They’ve been sold a Bill of Goods for sure... Harrison is pure youthful expectations; the counselor is pragmatic reality. The difference between the two equals the starkness of the post-digital revolution’s new gig e...

Reply

N. N.
06:54 Dec 15, 2020

Sure thing! Yep, surely the cats can understand. They know, Webber is to be blamed. 'Between the idea/ And the reality' I believe this line fairly justifies the reader's position amidst Harrison, and the counselor. ;) Sigh. It might be rough, but we shall face it head-on, shall we not? Hope, love, courage. And we shall manage.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Zilla Babbitt
20:57 Dec 15, 2020

An ENGLISH TEACHER? Heaven forbid! They really don't pay teachers much, do they? The style is pretentious like his name. A funny edition. I laughed aloud. The only thing I'm wondering is what's the message? You talked about the title in a comment. So are you saying not to plan ahead? Lawyers aren't necessary? Humility is best? I don't think it's the first. I hope it's not the second. My guess is the third. On surface level the whole thing is confusing but I like how much more is revealed on second read. I recently got back in contact...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
21:47 Dec 15, 2020

The message? How about "the secret of life is low expectations..." :)

Reply

Zilla Babbitt
00:32 Dec 17, 2020

That works too 😉

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
David Gottfried
03:40 Dec 15, 2020

You've managed to have two well developed characters in a small number of words. That's impressive. I also really enjoy the way you weave classic literature into your stories. Well done. By any chance are you an ex-lawyer?

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
05:55 Dec 15, 2020

Thanks! I’m surrounded by lawyers — all miserable. It’s a rough field, especially today. I took the title from Shakespeare’s Henry VI; “The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers".

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Black Raven
16:20 Dec 15, 2020

I love your writing. It's very clear so the reader can understand everything. Also, flow and pace are amazing. The protagonist is super relatable. A lot of people I know have been having problems working for the career they studied for. Maybe he's gonna like English better than law even if he earns less.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:33 Dec 15, 2020

How could anyone not love teaching English? It's the profession of the gods! Lawyers have very high divorce, alcoholism and suicide rates. It's not a great job these days. Give me the wisdom of the ages instead :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
D. Kase
15:47 Dec 15, 2020

The language and description in your words are as sophisticated as ever! What an amazing read! Love your work, as per usual! I know you said to let you know when I posted a new story... "Magnificent Mile" is up now in case you feel like reading it. If not, no biggie! I value your feedback, as always. :D

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
16:31 Dec 15, 2020

Always happy to read D Kase's fine work. Thanks for dropping by on this one. It's a pile of MEH, but my goal is one a week: the good, the bad, and the MEH.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mou Sukoshi
10:07 Dec 21, 2020

Loved the character, Very very relatable. :)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jr Mercier
07:56 Dec 20, 2020

Oh this was brilliant. You can really feel what he's going through and the quotes scattered in the story fit. So. Well! So so good!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
10:38 Dec 20, 2020

Thanks Jr. I appreciate your kind remarks. No one in this job market—especially the young and inexperienced—is going to have an easy time. Oy vey.

Reply

Jr Mercier
13:23 Dec 20, 2020

You couldn't have said it better. It's a difficult time but your story perfectly conveys that struggle but still manages to add a little hope in the end, even if it isn't what he anticipated. Just how life tends to take us places we never thought of.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
13:55 Dec 20, 2020

Agreed. We have so little control. Albert Camus and his embracing absurdism is the only way to rock 2020-2021-2022???

Reply

Jr Mercier
15:22 Dec 20, 2020

Yes, definitely. :D

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Kate Winchester
23:24 Dec 19, 2020

You make the readers invested and interested in the characters and in such a short amount of time. Harrison is very relatable. I liked the humor in your story too! The Catch-22 is so true.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
00:03 Dec 20, 2020

Thanks, Kate! It’s going to be tough going for a few years for our college graduates...

Reply

Kate Winchester
14:56 Dec 20, 2020

You’re welcome 😊. Yes, definitely. I’m glad I’m out of school already. Lol

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Julie Ward
17:28 Dec 19, 2020

Oh my goodness, Deidra, I haven't stopped by for awhile and shame on me! First of all, Harrison James Pellingham. The. Third. You didn't have to say much more, but what you did say was so effective - I could picture him immediately. And in contrast to the counselor, I just felt the collective pain of all the poor kids out there trying to do what they've been told to do all these years (reach for the stars! go for the gold! live your dreams!) while running smack into the brick wall that is reality. I can also picture HJP III on his first d...

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
03:25 Dec 20, 2020

Julie—thanks for the kind remarks and dropping by 😃 That brick wall of reality is getting taller and thicker by the day for the up-and-coming generation. They’ll figure it out, no doubt beating boomers at their own game. (And Mr. Pellingham will get owned in his classroom in August, want to quit in September, then fall in love with his crazy middle schoolers and be their favorite teacher.)

Reply

Julie Ward
15:47 Dec 20, 2020

I want to read that next chapter! Middle schoolers are hands down the best. My only real experience with them (except with my own kids) was as a camp counselor. The space they live in, between childhood and adulthood, is so fun and so hard and so complicated. I wrote a story about middle school camp couple of weeks ago. I have a college student in my world as well - whoof - it's haarrrrd to be at that stage right now. But I have a feeling you're right about these up and comers. They're amazing.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Rachel Macmorran
17:16 Dec 19, 2020

You've got a bit of a fatalistic bent, don't you? ;-) I enjoyed this a lot. The short bursts of dialogue and staccato paragraph structure (inspired by TS Eliot, I assume) convey the stutter-step progress and frequent roadblocks of Harrison's life. I only wonder at his lack of curiosity. But perhaps that's the point. I hope those kids teach him not to be such a puffed up toad. It makes me glad I changed my major from law to architecture. ;-) If you have the time, I'd love to get your feedback on my latest story. Thanks!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Laura Clark
12:40 Dec 18, 2020

Poor Harrison! I laughed out loud at ‘do the benefits include another 39k?’ I love your inclusion of the greats. I’m not hugely familiar with TS Eliot, owing to the fact that I’m not a huge poetry fan, but the excerpts you chose complimented your prose perfectly. As usual, intelligent writing. I love how you can present a snapshot in time and manage to include a full backstory, despite not dedicating much time to writing said backstory. It’s all in details - the name choice, the way he sits, the choice of quotes he uses. Excellent.

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
17:28 Dec 18, 2020

I think we all know "Cats" ruined TS Eliot (as well as other self-important post modern British poets). Our sad attorney will be fine, once he lets go of the Ayn Rand-capitalist agenda which has made exactly zero workers happy.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
✨Abby ✨
06:10 Dec 17, 2020

Wow, I loved this. Amazingly executed and it flows beautifully. Amazing job!

Reply

Deidra Lovegren
09:54 Dec 17, 2020

Thanks for your kind remarks!

Reply

✨Abby ✨
17:26 Dec 17, 2020

😀

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply