A: You may have discovered that your boss has his own plans for reducing the glut of lawyers. I wonder what kind of law your firm handles—if it's matrimonial or bankruptcy, let's hope some sharpshooter at the firm doesn't have to lunge for the drawer in order to subdue a dispute. Depending on where your firm is located, there may be laws regarding unsecured weapons. No matter where you are, a loose loaded one in a worksplace is alarming. I think you should take this to your school administrators. Explain this disturbing discovery, say you don't know whether the weapon is loaded or not, and frankly given the volatility of the office, you are too uncomfortable to ask your boss about it. As hard hit as the legal profession is, your law school should be concerned that a student could be hit by a flying bullet. Let's hope they find you another placement.
Q. Boyfriend's Old Emails: I agree with you, Prudence. In high school I was the geek sophomore and youngest member of a choral group and got along with everybody in the group except one girl, a senior. We never hit it off. Next week we celebrate 36 years of marriage together. Unless she has evidence that her fiancé still feels this way, she needs to let that very small window of the past go and focus on her future with this guy who obviously learned that first impressions aren't always the right ones!
A: Congratulations, and thanks for this wonderful story!
Q. Difficult Co-Worker: I'm part of a two-person department at work, and the other woman in this department is very difficult to work with. I've already spoken to HR about the main issue, which was how we divide up our work, and they have been supportive and pro-active in helping address this. I'd like your advice on how to handle a part of the problem that I'm not sure HR can help with. My co-worker is emotionally needy and sometimes makes me really uncomfortable. I think she would like us to be closer than we are. One time, out of nowhere, she told me she loved me. Sometimes she'll talk in a babyish voice and say how pretty she thinks I am, or how "lovely" I am to work with, or how I have this quality that makes people feel good. She's straight and married, so I don't think she's harboring some kind of secret crush, but I still don't like this. She is also a nonstop talker, and I've gotten good at excusing myself from conversations, but there are still times she talks to me this way and I want to run for the door. Do you have any advice? Thank you.
A: Yes, human resources is supposed to help you when your disturbed co-worker declares her love and starts telling you look "so pwetty, just wike a widdle doll." Go back and explain the problem has escalated beyond simply work division. Say your co-worker is making you deeply uncomfortable with her inappropriate behavior and personal declarations. If they don't do anything but tell her to stop announcing her love, you may need to take this higher up in the company. Also start documenting her behavior. What you describe is intolerable. Given the unemployment rate, how is it that so many nuts retain their jobs?
Q. Bathroom Etiquette: Recently I went to a moving-in party for a friend-of-a-friend. When I got there I asked to use the bathroom. After using the toilet (for number two) I realized to my horror that the toilet would not flush. I stayed in there for 15 minutes trying to come up with any solution. There was no plunger or any tools I could use to better the situation because the house was just being moved into. I finally decided to go and tell my friend and ask her opinion, but not before the house owner tried to use the toilet. He was incredibly annoyed, and told me I had to "get it out of there!" which I promptly refused. All the rest of the night he made reference to the incident and the fact it was still in his bathroom. My question is, what else could I have done? What is the etiquette on such a supremely embarrassing situation? I don't think he deserved money to compensate for my ... mess, but is there anything I should have done? I still felt awful about the whole thing.
A: As a housewarming gift, find the volume of David Sedaris' work (readers, which one?) in which he describes being in exactly the same situation at a friend's house. In my recollection, Sedaris finally scooped the thing up and tossed it out the window. You were not obligated to handle the situation by defenestrating your number two.What happened was mortifying, but you dealt with it as best you could. It was your host who behaved like a turd. That his toilet broke is not your fault. If that was the only bathroom, he needed to put a sign on the door and wrap up the party early because of a plumbing failure.
Q. Re: Gun at Job: I think the writer could approach her boss, tell him/her about the gun, and say she's concerned this poses a safety risk to anyone who might come across it. And if you found it, someone else could as well. Lawyers should be sensitive to potential liability. If the boss shrugs it off, then you talk to someone at school. Just be calm and professional about it. You're doing the firm a favor pointing out this is a risk.
A: Good advice, thanks.
Q. Flaky Baby-Sitting Client: I am 20 and work as a baby-sitter to earn extra pocket money while I attend school. I baby-sit for a successful businesswoman and single mom. “Ms. H” has two daughters under the age of 7. I baby-sit for her two or three times a month, and she pays very well. Twice in the past two months she has stayed out WAY past when she told me she would be back—2 a.m. instead of 11 p.m., for example—and has not responded to my texts and calls. The first time she apologized profusely and gave me an extra $150 for my troubles; the same thing happened the second time she stayed out late, and when she came home her speech was slurred, I could smell alcohol on her breath. I felt uncomfortable leaving her alone with her kids but, when she rejected my request to spend the night, I left. I don't know what to do now—stop baby-sitting for her? I'm worried about her behavior and how it could impact her kids.
A: As I've made clear in recent columns, I am a real prude when it comes to alcohol. What's not clear from your letter is how long you have been baby-sitting. If it's been a year of normal behavior, it could be that Ms. H has a new boyfriend and is losing track of time and her intake. But if it's only been a few months, I can understand your concern that this is becoming a pattern. If you want to keep sitting, you need to have a talk with her. Yes, it will be hard, but standing up for yourself will be good training. Next time she calls tell her that you need to have clear hours you're expected to sit. Say that you've got schoolwork and staying up until 2 a.m. isn't good for you. If she says she understands, then continue to sit. And if she's been driving herself home intoxicated, the next time you sit, before she goes out, pull her aside. Say this is difficult for you to say, but the last time she came home, you were concerned about her being on the road after having had too much to drink. Tell her you don't want to worry about getting a call late at night that something bad has happened.
Q. Re: Busted Toilet: Or you do number two at your new mother-in-law's house, the toilet overflows and floods the bathroom and hallway. That was 20 years ago and I'm still mortified.
A: But the decks were swabbed 20 years ago—surely this has become a funny story by now.
Q. Re: Gun in Office: My father was an attorney who at one point in his career defended a man who was accused of a pretty gruesome murder. During the course of that trial, he received repeated death threats (toward him and his family). From that point on, he kept a gun in his desk drawer and his nightstand. Attorneys receiving death threats is not uncommon, as you can imagine. Many older attorneys do keep firearms in their offices because they have received threats. As attorneys, though, they should be particularly aware of the risks associated with loose loaded firearms (and their potential liability for such). Speaking to your boss about your concerns will not make you seem weak, quite the contrary. Phrasing it in terms of liability for the firm will make you seem like a prudent future attorney.
A: Interesting, thanks. And another letter writer says it's too late for another placement and talking respectfully to the boss is the way to go, which sounds right.