:: Article

Meeting Chris Christie

By Michael Bahler.


About ten years ago, I was a youngish attorney working for the most obscure branch of the Justice Department. We defended government agencies when they were sued for breach of contract or wrongful termination of a federal employee. For excitement, we’d do a bid protest for the Bureau of Prisons. I had really taken the job to overcome my fear of flying, knowing it involved regular travel to possibly all 50 states. But it wasn’t going well and I was making up all these excuses to avoid flights. I was worried I was getting a reputation.
Then I received a call from my father.
“I just ran into Chris Christie.”

This was pre-YouTube, teacher-berating, Hurricane Sandy-handshaking Chris Christie when he was just the head federal prosecutor for New Jersey. He had been the class president of my high school but that was nine years before I graduated and I only found out about it way later during the Bridgegate coverage.

“He wants you to send your resume to his office,” my father said.
The thought of jumping from my humble position to a federal prosecutor job was too good to be true. Plus I would only have cases from New Jersey, meaning I wouldn’t have to fly to anything but the occasional wedding.

After breezing through the first two rounds of interviews, I got an audience with the man himself. He didn’t come off like someone who would be a future presidential candidate, who’d someday stay at a $30,000 luxury hotel courtesy of the King of Jordan. He was just an ordinary guy, a little on the schlubby side.

When he opened his mouth, though, he owned the room. He didn’t pontificate; rather, he simply began to tell me about my father. I’d been listening to stories about the doctor my whole life, how he had saved this patient and that patient, how he’d worked on the artificial heart, how he was a living saint. It was mostly white noise. But Chris Christie took a variation of that basic premise and spun something new and seductive and powerful, weaving a personal story of how my father had taken care of his very sick mother and done right by the family. In that moment, I thought (and granted, the only other politician I’d met before that was Robert Torricelli) that Chris Christie was magical.

And then he cinched it. “There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said to me, “you could do any job in the office.”
Any job in the office! We talked for a few more minutes before he told me he wouldn’t string me along and I’d hear back from him within the month, and then I floated out of the office in crimson and blue, like a besotted lover in a Chagall painting.

I’m a skeptic. I have a hard time believing words and promises. Yet I was stunned when I received the form rejection well over a month later, not even signed, wishing me luck in my future pursuits. Shocked that he didn’t write back to my follow up letter inquiring whether he had really truly meant to reject me. Confused whether I actually could have done any job in the office.

They say correlation is not causation. They also say failure begets failure. It didn’t happen overnight but my legal career has steadily imploded since then to the point that writing out checks to pay my bar dues now feels like alimony. But on the bright side, it’s been forever since someone asked me to fly for work.

Bahler Pic-1

Michael Bahler’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Glimmer Train, Nerve and Best of the Web. He lives in New Jersey.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, January 16th, 2016.