Saturday, March 03, 2007

New York Bar Exam: Fading from memory like a bad ex-boyfriend . . .

FINALLY! I'm back at the ol' keyboard after my traumatic bar exam experience. I spent Sunday through Wednesday of last week in Albany (about 2 hours northeast of Binghamton, and New York's state capital) taking the test. I had been studying since October, and stressing about it since I got my law firm job in June, so needless to say I'm extremely pleased to put this long chapter behind me and get back to having some sort of a life again.

The test itself was pretty uneventful so I'll just give you the low-lights of it. Basically, I showed up at the testing site on Tuesday morning for the first day of the exam. My testing room was in the Albany convention center, which is a massive subterranean cavern below Governor Rockefeller's Empire State Plaza government complex, a striking 1960s-era modern marble and concrete edifice that must be seen to be appreciated.

There are 4 or 5 testing sites around New York state, and Albany is in my region so that's why I was there, but it is also the catch-all testing location for all the out-of-state and out-of-country test-takers. This would explain why the huge line of people included tons of people who looked more to me like cab drivers (sorry, that probably sounded un-p.c., but it's true!) than the traditional law students I grew used to. It also explained, I think, why the overall stress level in the room was lower than I had expected- foreign/non-traditional February (i.e., off-peak test date of July) just don't bear that uniquely American brand of "oh my God I'm $100,000 in debt and I won't get a job or my firm will fire me if I don't pass this thing NOW" mentality.

So you show up at the exam, and you are only allowed to bring in a 1-gallon (max) sized ziploc bag that has your #2 pencils, pens, Excedrin and ear plugs. There are only a few items you are allowed to bring into the test room, so purses and things like that are strictly prohibited. God forbid you might have a contraband cell phone in there that rang during the exam!

This strict ban means that test takers are easy to spot- we were issued green wristbands on the first day that we had to wear both days to identify us, and carry around that stupid ziploc bag. The worst part is at lunchtime, when you try to blend in with the thousands of government workers who fill the concourse outside the testing room on their lunch hours (and these are government employees, they ALL take a lunch HOUR, at least!).

After you suck down some soup at the cafeteria, you have a whole hour left to wander around in a stress-and-study-induced-daze that is made all the more apparent by the fact that you are carrying a ziploc baggie with your creepy-looking earplugs visible ("No, as a matter of fact, I CANNOT be trusted with sharp objects or anything that does not fit into a transparent pouch, thank you!")

And there are really only a few benches to sit on in this massive underground concourse that seems more like a really busy airport terminal at lunchtime, so the bar takers, wearing jeans and sweats and such comfy things, tend to cast propriety aside and sit on the ground against the wall along the wide enclosed walkway.

I admit it, I did it, too. I pretended it was like in the days when I backpacked around Europe and this was the train station in Prague and I just had to get a little rest before going off to the next fabulous location. (OK, so this was upstate New York in February, but I had to make it OK in my head that I am 33 years old and sitting on the ground while people in suits and nice shoes stroll by on their way to their formal government offices.)

So I turned my parka inside-out and crumpled it up, not unlike the way a homeless person crumples their soiled "bedding" after a long night, and sat on it to keep my butt warm and off the marble floor. I even found a (used, of course!) newspaper and was just settling into my new "home" at knee-cap level, seriously hoping I wouldn't see anyone I knew because I looked so trashy, when I glanced up from my paper to see a couple of well-dressed men walking by me, one looking at me. Oh my god, it's the former Deputy Mayor from Binghamton and the President of the local Community College (which is a big deal around here).

My secret was out. I had been spotted.

"Shpare any shaange?" I asked in my best skid row impersonation as I put my hand out from behind my newspaper. Rich, the ex-deputy mayor, was already on his way over to me and greeted me with a hug when I stood up. Larry, the community college exec, didn't recognize me in my "Binghamton Yacht Club" t-shirt and jeans, even though I've been in small and intense meetings with him in the past (when I was wearing a suit, of course).

Oh well, I also ran into a lawyer I knew from my days as the Vice President of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, and that was REALLY random because he moved out of LA four years ago and doesn't even live in Albany. I also saw my state senator the day before the exam, as I was scoping out my test site, so I caught up to him on the sidewalk and introduced myself (old habits from lobbying are hard to break!) He was nice enough to show me to the room. Talk about "constituent services."

Anyway, I was at work on Thursday morning and, by Friday, my work buddy (yes, I really have one!), Delphine, told me that I was dwelling on the bar too much. Reliving the bad memories and beating myself up about the answers I got wrong. She told me that I need to think of the bar like it was a bad boyfriend- that I needed to forget what it had done to me and just move on with my life because I can't change the past and I need to embrace the future. I think that was great advice- we're going to Italy on Wednesday- woo hoo!

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