Mental Breakdown 101
September 22, 2008 by Legal Tease
You’re not really a rock star until a member of your band o.d.’s face down in a hotel bathtub somewhere between L.A. and Detroit. Does the same logic hold, then, that you’re not really a Big Firm Associate until you witness a fellow associate having a full-out foaming-at-the mouth mental breakdown at 3 a.m. just outside your office? I think, for better or worse, that it does.
My initiation began as most do: waiting outside my office in the middle of the night with another junior associate for a new set of redlines to print out. The associate, Pete, and I stood by the printer when we heard familiar footsteps coming at us. Had to be Dave, our senior associate supervisor on the deal. A recent lateral and brand-new dad, Dave had been pulling 400-hour months, grown a Unabomber beard, and long stopped eating anything that wasn’t Red Bull or jerky-based. I had the under on when he’d get a divorce; Pete had the over (the official line was two years). We stood and braced ourselves for whatever wild-goose-chase bullshit research project Dave was inevitably coming to pull on us. What we didn’t expect, however, was what came next.
Remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit? You know the part at the end where Christopher Lloyd’s evil character reveals that he’s actually a cartoon and starts squealing out giggling peals of inhuman, pig-slaughter laughter? Well, swap out the ’toon for a 6’4, lumberjack-build, Jersey-guy senior associate in four-day-old business casual, have him shimmy his shoulders à la Pat Benatar’s dancing posse of hookers in the “Love Is a Battlefield” video, and you’ll have a pretty dead-on picture of what Pete and I were staring at. Dave paused in front of us, stopped the donkey giggles for a second, whipped his head around nervously to check for, presumably, the cadre of shadowy black devil trolls that had been making all those noises in his head all night, and then bellowed “What up, guys?!!” in a pretty impressive impersonation of Tickle Me Elmo. And then bolted down the hallway, out of sight.
So. What do you do? What do you do when you witness something like this? Do you even acknowledge it? Do you ask if he’s OK? Do you go in for the “Hey buddy, it’s all good” hug? Or is there some sort of BFA crack-up code where you’re not supposed to say anything and just let the poor slob shake and scream and drool all over himself until he stumbles his way to Bellevue…or at least a decent lifestyle firm in Scottsdale?
Well, after standing there frozen and wordless for a good six or seven seconds, Pete and I shared a brief look, then walked back to our offices without uttering a word. Like all who had come before us, we realized the best way to handle this uncomfortable Big Firm rite of passage was to just let it happen, keep your head down and hope that when it comes time for your own drooling, spastic show, your colleagues have the respect to respond with the same paralyzed apathy that Pete and I showed Dave. And failing that, just pray like hell that you’re some place far away with as few witnesses as possible. Say, a good old-fashioned hotel bathtub.