“In four minutes, it would be another hour; a half hour after that was the ten-minute break. Lane Dean imagined himself running around on the break, waving his arms and shouting gibberish and holding ten cigarettes at once in his mouth, like a panpipe. Year after year, a face the same color as your desk. Lord Jesus. Coffee wasn’t allowed because of spills on the files, but on the break he’d have a big cup of coffee in each hand while he pictured himself running around the outside grounds, shouting. He knew what he’d really do on the break was sit facing the wall clock in the lounge and, despite prayers and effort, count the seconds tick off until he had to come back and do this again. And again and again and again.”
— David Foster Wallace, The Pale King (affiliate link)
Yesterday, the New York Times ran a longish piece on just what in the hell was happening at the IRS office in Cincinnati. A Kafkaesque tale of bureaucratic intrigue, the treatment does little to tell us why in the hell we care just what in the hell was happening at the IRS office in Cincinnati. I’ll leave that determination to the qualified pundits and their punditry.
But what the Times article does do is shine a light on what it means to be a lawyer. What it means to others and what it means to us. Completely by accident, the mess at the IRS tells us how important lawyers are. And how impotent we are. This makes little sense even as I type it. But bear with me. Please. It is not often that meaning comes so nicely gift-wrapped.
What does it mean to be a lawyer?