Cookie monster

All you Sesame Street fans out there, listen up: Cookie Monster is real, and I’ve found him on the Harvard Law School campus.

No, I haven’t finally lost my mind after too many hours spent reading regulatory law, although it’s been known to happen. I’m talking about an honest-to-goodness sighting, right here on the campus of the law school.

But perhaps I should back up a bit and explain.

Since graduating from college, I’ve cut back significantly on my extracurricular activities, which at one point were threatening to eclipse any possibility of a normal life for me. At my peak, I believe I was taking five classes, singing in four choirs or choruses, running three non-profit organizations, holding two jobs, and… a partridge in a pear tree.

Now, things have calmed down significantly. I only sing in one choir (the Boston Choral Ensemble), do a little tutoring and post-graduate advising, run a few organ recitals each semester, and (the point of this story) coordinate events for my section at the law school.

One of the things I do in this latter role is make sure that everyone has something to munch on during our last class of the day on Fridays. Last semester, it was Friday morning bagels, but my section now has no common class until Friday afternoons, so we’ve changed course. People seem to have widely varying preferences, so I’ve been trying to alternate things like donuts with things like vegetables and hummus, just to keep everyone happy. The most recent attempt has been an assortment of cookies and fresh fruit.

And now, the stage is set for my “sighting” story.

Last Friday, I was running to class from lunch and made it with a few minutes to spare. I arrived outside the classroom and was pleased to see that the law school’s catering associates had gotten everything right. (They almost always do, but I’m a strong believer in the old “If you want something done right…”) Most of my classmates had already grabbed a snack and taken their seats inside the classroom, so victuals were running somewhat low.

Just as I was plating up a sugar cookie for myself, a young man approached the table and began doing the same—but with four cookies instead of one. It’s worth mentioning that these are fairly large cookies. At first I only noticed him out of the corner of my eye and, assuming that he was one of my classmates, decided not to make any ill-advised remarks about gluttony (though several were gathering at the tip of my tongue).

But then, I looked more closely and realized that I didn’t recognize the student at all! He must have been a member of another section and perhaps even another year.

Now, a number of speakers and special events are hosted in the law school classrooms during the lunch hour (which precedes our class), and leftover food is often swooped down upon by ravenous law students once the events have ended. I’ve done so myself, and figured that this gentleman was simply mistaken in thinking that this was one of those situations. But I was wrong on two counts.

First, he wasn’t mistaken.

Second, he wasn’t a gentleman.

Thinking that I would like to be advised of my error if I were in a similar situation (after all, I wouldn’t want to be taking anything that wasn’t meant to be free for said taking), I politely mentioned that, just for future reference, snacks set up outside this classroom at this time were meant for Section 3.

I assumed that would be the end of it, but he fired right back at me: “Oh, and I suppose you’re in Section 3?”

“Well, yes…” I began tentatively, caught off guard by his remark. But then I gathered momentum: “And because I’m the one who arranges for these snacks to be here, I know just how much they cost our section, too!”

If I thought that this would shame him into silence, I was wrong yet again. His response, as he walked away with four (!) cookies in hand, completely blew me out of the water:

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a ****.”

This time, I was the one shocked into silence. You can fill in the expletive yourself (this is a family-friendly blog), but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymed less with “Kit” or “Pam” than it did with “Chuck.”

Ladies and gentleman of the jury, this conduct is shocking to the utmost degree. It is a complete betrayal of any recognizable code of ethics, and I urge you to condemn this man as a Cookie Monster.

You see, I actually did spot a cookie monster that day… not the blue, lovable, furry creature of Sesame Street fame, but a real monster: “an inhumanely cruel or wicked person.”

And even if we don’t wish to condemn him as a monster (a label that may, after all, be a bit harsh), I think we can agree that his conduct was monstrous: “outrageously evil or wrong.”

It reminds me of a case we read in my Torts class, in which the court defined intentional infliction of emotional distress as a scenario in which “the recitation of the facts to an average member of the community would arouse his resentment against the actor, and lead him to exclaim, ‘Outrageous!'”

In the moments immediately following his not-so-sharp riposte, I stubbornly bit back the urge to tell him that I hoped he choked on his cookies. One of my friends said that I should have told him to turn around and then whipped out my cell phone to take a picture of his thieving mug. Unfortunately, no such ingenious idea came to me at the time.

For the rest of Friday’s class, I remained appalled that anyone could behave so indecently towards a peer in a professional setting. I suppose I’m overly naïve and therefore benefitted from this eye-opening experience, but even writing about it now, my mind reels at the thought that someone could be so blatantly inconsiderate.

My questions include: Who is this young man’s mother? Where did he learn to treat people that way? How on earth does he intend to earn the respect of his peers once he enters the workplace? What good is any class in professional responsibility or the ethics of lawyering if people like this exist?

For the most part, though, I’m only sorry that because we went to the same school, the many kind attorneys who will soon graduate from here (including many of my friends) will be conflated with people like him, out there in the real world.

Out there in the real world, where cookies are relationships and salaries and business deals… and where monsters can be all too real.

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