The Big Fish

by Marlene Lee

Seniority is rampant in New York City. Iím a senior myself, sixty years old, to be exact, recently moved to Manhattan. But thatís not what Iím talking about. Iím talking about the kind of seniority you gain when you stay put. When you hold down the fort while everyone around you moves away. For instance, a few days after I began work in Manhattan the Big Fish in my freelance court reporting office told me quite firmly that she has seniority and gets to report the deposition of her choice every day. Every day!

I find this to be true when, by accident, I am given a wonderful reporting assignment. No one in the office quite knows what it is. It turns out to be a referral for an arbitration in the national tobacco litigation. Ohio attorneys are appearing before three arbitrators to try and prove they deserve a rather large percentage of a very large settlement. The hearing is held in a ballroom at the Marriott Hotel on Broadway. It is a long, hard job. I work Saturday and Sunday from 8:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m., with a half hour for lunch.

Yet Iím happy. The coordinator of the case compliments me for remembering twenty or thirty attorneysí names and reporting difficult argument in a ballroom whose sound system predates Edison. She says the arbitrators will be back in town a few weeks later and could she request me for future reporting services? Bravo. I give her my card.

But a few weeks later I hear that the Big Fish has the job. Whatís bad about seniority is that it is so permanent. She will always have been here longer than I. If I live to be 145 I might gain seniority, but who wants a court reporter with an ear trumpet?

What in the world did I do to myself, coming to Manhattan? Iíll never make enough money in this town to pay the rent. Itís a can of worms and Iím the worm at the bottom.

The old worm. But I can still wiggle and crawl, so I do my assigned jobs, turn them in early, ask for better ones, get one or two that are challenging, show them Iím reliable, and bit by bit the office manager begins to trust me. Iíll be able to stay in Manhattan.

Court reporting is no longer just a matter of having a quick mind, good hearing, and nimble fingers. Weíre information specialists. We have to be good with computers, cables, modems, e-mail, the Internet, cell phones, digital thisís and thatís. The Big Fish is not only senior. She is good. She can hook up to and interface with any kind of hardware. She could connect a cable to someoneís shoelace and send data. She is a beta site for reporter software. She reports in Europe and Asia where she e-mails, faxes, modems, beams words out to the waiting world.

I pick up her crumbs and eventually I get some interesting assignments. A peace conference is held at the United Nations Headquarters attended by delegates from around the world. I report prominent speakers from every continent while watching, through floor-to-ceiling windows, stately ships sail up the East River. Children of Branch Davidians are suing the U.S. Government for damages after their parents died in the Waco fire. I concentrate on my stenotype keyboard and try not to be affected by their weeping. Day after day I listen to an endless variety of people attempt to get something they want and donít have: money, real estate, respect, custody of a child.

And what about me, the silent reporter? Is there something I want and donít have? Yes. Seniority. But thereís something I want even more. I want someone to discover and love my eight rejected novels. An editor with seniority.

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