My first paying job in New York City was working as a temporary paralegal for a white-shoe law firm.  The gig only lasted a night–but that time was very instructive. I was called in because there was a task so boring that none of the extremely bored people who worked in that great temple to dullness wanted to undertake it.  I came in at 8:30 PM in the evening and worked straight for 13 hours–after which they called a Cadillac to take me home.

There was an immense stack of old-timey dot printed financial records (the ones that were attached to each other by perforated edges to form a continuous spooling sheet).  This huge primitive spreadsheet detailed all of the transactions made by a group of companies in all states, territories, and dependencies over all time.  My job was to go through everything and find each time a certain sequence of numbers came up.  I then noted down the relevant numbers that appeared beside the sacred sequence on a computer spreadsheet.

Welcome to New York!

The main difficulty to this task (other than not despairing at the absurdity of human endeavor) was to keep one’s place on endless nearly identical sheets of densely printed numbers.  I therefore asked for a ruler or a straight edge and was told I would be provided with one immediately.  An hour later, at 9:30 PM, an immense packing crate suitable for, say an industrial microwave, arrived, delivered by expensive private messengers.  I opened it and found the box was filled with packing peanuts.  In the very middle, nearly lost, were two 75 cent plastic rulers.

This was an important lesson about business in New York.  It doesn’t matter whether a job is done cleverly or efficiently or even well.  It only matters that it be done as quickly as possible in the most expensive way possible.  I have always remembered this when following the news of finance and legal affairs in the morning papers.