Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Four Men Walked Into a Bar...

... 3 passed. Or just under 3. 74%. That's roughly the passage rate on the Virginia Bar. Or at least, that's roughly the rumored passage rate which was floating around the Salem Civic Center last week during the two days of testing. No one really seemed to know for sure. I heard as high as 80% and as low as 6%. But I think the kid passing around the 6% rate might have been a little over-nervous. Anyways, I took the test. I may or may not have passed, but either way, here's the whole story:

Noon-thirty on Monday, I took off in my rental vehicle. Box-on-wheels might be more accurate. In addition to actually looking like a large blue box, the Chevy Aveo handles exactly like you'd expect of corrugated material. (I used to work at a box factory, so, for the uneducated, corrugated material is the stuff you'd normally think of as cardboard, and "cardboard" itself actually refers to a broader category of stiff-paper materials... How about that? Apparently my personal usage still reflects the industry lexicon.)(Sweet monkey-on-a-cone, I actually put my box-factory experience to use!).

Now, I've been living in and around D.C. for 3 years, and I haven't really gotten out of the city too much. Apparently, I'm not alone in that regard, because it seems like culture hasn't ventured out too far either; As soon as you set foot outside of the urban area surrounding D.C., you've entered a strange little world they call "the deep south." 45 minutes out of the city, and I was on fertile mullet-breeding ground. To make matters worse, once I got out of the urban center I couldn't tune in a decent radio station. That may have had something to do with the toilet-paper-tube antenna, but either way, the rest of my 4 hour drive was spent flipping between "the sounds of wild (WYLD) country!" and fundamentalist preachers discussing the book of Revelation. On the plus side, if you were real quick on the dial, you could make it sound like the beast done drove his rig into the lake of fire.

So I finally get to Salem, check into my hotel room, get some food, and resume my stressing out. It had been two months of torture, and it wasn't about to let up the night before the test. Like so many before me, I'm going to swipe Zhubin's apt description of the lead-up to the bar:

It's a mind-numbing process, with a boredom that is uniquely fatiguing. On top of it all is the low-grade but ever-present stress that permeates every waking moment you're not studying. Sure, go to a wedding, but what happens if you're tested on powers of appointment? Watch Simpsons if you have to, but aren't you kinda shaky on intentional infliction of emotional distress? The odds of failing are so low, but the consequences of failing are so high, it's like you're playing Russian Roulette with a thousand-chamber revolver, and that's not a situation that keeps you mentally comfortable with a 9-5 study schedule.

The one thing Zhubin forgot to mention is that, the week before the test, that ugly-but-familiar rug of low-grade stress is suddenly pulled out from under you, and replaced with an unforgiving-pit-of-angry-venomous-crocodiles-and-jagged-rusty-spears-and-why-the-hell-not?-fire-too-plus-deadly-spiders-and-a-hungry-lion of ultra-high-grade stress. At least, that's how it felt for me. A couple nights before the test I was physically sick, just from the stress. So yeah, it was bad.

Dealing with that stress, plus the knowledge that I wasn't really prepared for a question on the minutiae of Virginia's specific causes of action dealing with the title and right-to-possession of real property, I put myself to bed.

The next morning, I actually woke up in plenty of time to make it to the test. This was the first good sign of the week. It was to be the last. The good sign was quickly followed by a bad sign: 12 and under girls softball.

Apparently some genius decided it would be a terrific idea to mix together 2000 stressed out bar examinees and several hundred tween girls strung out on Fanta. Let me tell you a few of the things I learned about girls' softball last week. First, each girl's family owns an SUV, and carpooling is strictly prohibited. Second, every girls softball team is named after some sort of weather phenomena. I saw The Storm, The Hurricanes, The Tornadoes, The Lightning, and The Blizzard. There were no Wildcats, no Tigers, no Eagles. The only team name I saw that wasn't an actual weather-phenomena was "The Flames." I think they were just confused. Third, if their game is at 9 a.m., they have to get up by 6, and run back and forth through the halls of your hotel, until they've decided exactly which room they'll be doing their face-painting in. Finally, not only do these girls paint their faces, they paint their SUV's. It's quite the treat to see so many SUV's - that most manly of vehicles - trussed up with ribbons and girly pink paint proclaiming that "The (insert weather-phenomena here) are the HOTTEST!" To top it all off, while the girls paint their faces, their parents prepare for the long day of cheering by emptying the very noisy ice-machine, one bucket at a time, into their coolers. Then, as I found at lunch later that day, they refill their coolers by emptying the ice-machine at McDonald's, one large-coke-sized-cup at a time, always perpetually oblivious to the line of test-takers behind them, who just want to put a little ice in their cup, but nooooo, the ice is all gone because The Low Pressure Front have such a wonderfully thoughtful team mom. Jerks.

So anyways, yes, the national girls 12-and-under softball tourney was being held in exactly the same city, at exactly the same time, at exactly the same complex, as the Virginia bar exam. Which meant that my drive to the test was permeated by slow-driving SUV's, each populated with at least, but no more than, one 12-or-under girl, her family, and a cooler full of ice. It was a miracle I got to the test site on time. Like I said, not a good sign.

Also not a good sign was the sign on the Civic Center itself. The "v" had apparently fallen off some time ago, and so that morning I entered the "Salem Ci ic Center" to take my test. Wee.

The quality of the signage, it turns out, actually spoke volumes about the quality of the facilities we were using. I could call the place a crap hole, but that'd be too generous. The floors were sticky. The bathrooms smelled bad. The advertisements on the wall announced a gigantic New Year's Eve bash - to celebrate the millennium. The few working drinking fountains were stained brown with a creepy fungus, and clogged with cigarette butts. The asbestos leaked. There was dust everywhere. And the bathrooms actually had signs on the doors proclaiming "No alcoholic beverages in the restrooms." Oh, plus the power went out half way through our first testing session.

Yeah, the power went out. Mind you, I - and the other thousand people at that location - was taking this half of the test on my laptop. Power outage + nervous laptop users = people freaking out. Fortunately, the power came back on right away, and it turned out ok, but there were more than a few shrieks when the blackout first hit.

After that, the whole experience was really pretty uneventful. At our first break, I studied some more. Unfortunately, I still went into the second half of the test utterly unprepared for the minutiae of Virginia's specific causes of action dealing with the title and right-to-possession of real property. Because sure enough, the very last question of the first day was on exactly that topic. I may have b.s.ed my way to a few points on the question, but mostly I'm counting on the ineptitude of my fellow test-takers. After all, this thing is curved.

Day two was more of the same. Only this time we took the Multistate Bar Examination - the MBE. The MBE is the universal test, given to applicants in every single state across the nation, on the same day. It's composed of 200 multiple-choice questions, each of which is written with the specific goal of covering a topic that was not addressed in your bar preparation course. I think the bar examiners succeeded in that goal, but I can't say for sure; by about half-way through the second day, all of my preparation had melted into a single hodgepodge of mnemonic devices, and I was flying on the fumes of what I had learned. Maybe taking that two-month, $2500 course helped me. Maybe it didn't. I really can't say. But hey, if I can't say, then at least I can't have buyer's remorse, right?

Ok, one final bit:

On the second day of the test, a lot of people were still looking pretty nervous. We'd had a rough first day, and the second one wasn't shaping up any better. So, in an effort to calm our nerves, one of the bar examiners got up before the group, and made an announcement. "Just remember," he said, "70-some percent of people are going to pass. You don't need to ace this, you just need to get the equivalent of a D. If you can do that, then you're good enough to join the bar. All we're looking for is minimally competent."

I love this bar


the marvelous patric said...

minimally competant? DUDE! you can so do that!

on the other hand, this may well explain our court system....

emnovak said...

toby keith, i love this bar.

Eric Michael Peterson said...

read it again and i still think the last line is the best part.... sigh... thats just funny.

dyk said...

Multiple very funny thoughts in there.

Also, I live.

GRRidd said...

To this experience, I would like to add just one thing:

1. I rode down with a friend who was taking the exam at the Roanoke Civic Center. To get from my hotel to the Salem Civic Center (every bit the horror Matt describes), I hitched a ride with my hotel's extremely kind shuttle driver. She did a great job of keeping me distracted by telling me about Roanoke and asking me about things that had nothing to do with the bar. We arrived about 25 minutes early (she had to make some other stops that morning), and there was already a sizeable crowd of suited, grim-faced test-takers milling around the front door of the Ci ic Center. As we pulled to a stop at the curb the driver said, by way of farewell, "Looks like you're havin' a funeral."

As I exited the van, I heard the voice of Johnny Cash echo in my head: maybe I am.

....oh, and when the lights went out, the guy at the table across from me full-on screamed like a girl. I thought one of the Tornadoes had found her way into the testing center.

Stephanie said...

I'm sorry, but that was hilarious! Glad to see you are done with the bar, happy passing thoughts coming your way. We should get together again sometime soon. Say hi to Laura!