I was still living in Austin in January 2005 but I was ready to leave. I’d been involved in a few projects that had either failed or not achieved the success I was hoping: namely, my first marriage, managing indie bands, making music videos, and making wedding videos. My day job was working as a Researcher with the State of Texas but it wasn’t going anywhere. I was 29 and had amassed a considerable amount of credit card debt. I’d made myself a promise years earlier that if my creative endeavors were not supporting me by the time I was 30, then I would get a ‘proper job’, for a while at least. So it was about that time.
The idea of being a lawyer had never really filled me with excitement, but it remained an option. Almost every State in the US, including Texas and Illinois, requires their lawyers to have completed 3 years of law school in America. Makes sense really. I couldn’t afford to go back to law school, but after a bit of research, and writing to some State Bar Associations, I discovered that my undergrad law degree from Edinburgh, coupled with my year abroad at the University of Texas made me eligible to take the New York Bar Exam. I didn’t need to take any more classes or get a masters or anything. I just had to pass a little test. After a lot of thought, I concluded that being an attorney in New York was exciting enough and proper enough to get me out of debt and start me on a career.
In November 2004 I spent a thousand bucks on a self-study course for the New York Bar Exam and reasoned that if I studied 3 nights a week for 6 months then I would be ready to take the exam in the summer of 2005. A huge box of study materials arrived, full of textbooks that were about the size of 8 phone books.
I sat down at my dining room table in my little apartment on South Congress in early December and opened up the first book. About 20 minutes in I was so fucking bored, and I’d also forgotten everything I had just read. This was going to be a painful six months. Then I had a thought – maybe if I studied every single night for 10 weeks I could be ready to take the test in February. I checked the deadlines for the exams. The New York Bar Exam was held twice a year, in July and February, and the deadline to announce for the February sitting was the very next day. I was single, it was winter, I didn’t have any plans for Christmas, and I was ready to leave Austin, so I thought ‘fuck it’ – I’ll do it.
I quit managing all the bands, cleared my social calendar and went into hibernation. I put together a study plan that required me to put at least 4 hours of study in every night and I committed to it. Actually, it’s strangely liberating to shut out the world for a while and absorb yourself in a project like that. It makes life very simple. Study = good day. No study = bad day. After three weeks I was right on schedule.
Then I met Farah.
It was actually December 22, 2004 that I met Farah. We had a mutual friend called Melissa who had been trying to convince me to meet Farah for ages. Apparently she was working on Farah too. Like most independently minded people, I don’t like to be pushed into something unless I think it is my idea, and so I had resisted all attempts to be set-up. Farah likewise. But that night, I finished studying around 10pm and decided to go out and meet some friends at a bar on 4th Street called Red Fez.
Red Fez was the place to go on Wednesday nights back then. My friends Linda (aka “DJ Linda”) and Shane (aka “DJ Shane”) would DJ there on alternate weeks and, although the bar was nothing special, it was guaranteed that there would be people I knew there. That night Melissa was there, and so was Farah.
Melissa introduced us. I remember that we started talking and I bought her a drink. I’m pretty sure it was a dirty martini on the rocks. We sat down and talked for maybe 30 minutes. I remember there being another dude hanging about who was also trying to chat to Farah, or rather to ‘chat-up’ Farah.
I don’t remember what we talked about, but I know that she was probably the first American girl that didn’t mention something about my accent, which was pretty much how all of my first conversations with Austin girls would start. My recollection is just thinking that she was someone very, very special. Beautiful, sweet, smart, and effortlessly cool. She was not just another girl to be ‘chatted-up’. Farah has since told me that she had a feeling that night that we were going to be friends for life. She actually left with the other dude though.
The bar kicked everyone out at 2am so we were all standing on the street. As usual there were some people that wanted to keep the party going (on a Wednesday night) but I was happy to head home. Farah gave me her phone number and the thing I remember most is watching her walk off down the street with that other dude as I thought ‘I am going to do everything I can to win over that girl’.
During our brief conversation, Farah had actually invited me to spend Christmas Day with her and her family. I texted her the next day because I wasn’t sure if she was just being nice or if it was a real invitation. I think she might have forgotten about it, but she told me that I could come over after Christmas dinner. I was pretty stoked.
Christmas Day 2004. My family were all back in Scotland and so I got in some study. Farah and I exchanged texts and we were all set for me to stop by and meet her about 8pm.
What happened next may be one of the most embarrassing, miserable, shameful, and saddest nights of my life. Not the most depressing, but certainly the saddest.
Two very good friends of mine were going out late on Christmas Day. I hadn’t seen them for a while and so they invited me for a drink at Casino El Camino on 6th Street. I told them that I had plans to meet a girl later but that I could see them for one or two early in the evening.
So we met up in Casino around 630pm. I was wearing a three piece suit, and I had an unfounded sense of optimism about this girl Farah that I had met. I really felt something different. I mean we had just met, but she had invited me to Christmas Day! My two friends were dressed-up smart too. They were not going to a family Christmas party though. No, they had an alternative Christmas plan. That Christmas Day, December 25th, 2004, they were looking forward to spending the night – and I can’t believe I’m telling this story – in a strip club.
They’d been talking about this plan for months and I don’t remember why they thought this was a good idea. They were not, you know, ‘strip club guys’ either. They were, and still are, normal, interesting, good-looking guys. Their theory was something like only the saddest men go into strip clubs on Christmas Day, so if the two of them, being youngish, handsome-ish, and, well, not very sad, were to go to the club on Christmas Day then they would be treated like kings. It defies logic, and I told them exactly what I thought – that it was the stupidest thing I’d ever heard.
They kept trying to persuade me to go with them but I was adamant – I was going to meet this girl Farah. I don’t even like strip clubs. There is something about the pretense of it all that I can’t put to one side. I think that to have a good time in a strip club you have to convince yourself that the dancers enjoy being there, and that they enjoy doing what they do, but I can’t buy into that. So it just makes me feel uncomfortable. And so to go there on Christmas Day, well that would just be horrific.
We had a couple of drinks and 8pm rolled around, then 9, then 10. I was checking my phone every 15 seconds but I hadn’t heard from Farah. We had some more drinks. About 10.30pm I got a text from her saying that she was just falling asleep watching The Chronicles of Riddick with her family, and that they were not having guests.
I was pretty bummed out. I had thought that this was something special, but maybe, probably, I was wrong. We had some more drinks. The other guys then really started to twist my arm. They said they would buy me all my drinks if I went with them to their strip club. I was single, it was winter, I hadn’t been out in a month, and I was ready to leave Austin, so I thought ‘fuck it’ – I’ll do it.
And so it came to pass that Christmas Day, just as it had done centuries earlier, that three wise men left their kingdoms in the east side and set off on a speculative journey to find a babe. However the three wise men did not find what they expected. They had visions of royalty and riches but instead their destination was lowly, cold, dark, and smelled like a barn. A single starry spotlight shone down from high above as men in ill-fitting robes crowded around and offered gifts to one bemused woman as she lay on the floor. And lo the words ‘Jesus Christ’ were uttered, and the wise men went home never to forget the scene that had been witnessed.
I went back to working and studying, and Farah went out of town for New Year. We continued to text every couple of days and to my surprise, she actually did want to see me again.
Unfortunately my study plan did not have room for dating. The New York Bar Exam is a hard test even if you are fresh out of law school. It had been seven years since I graduated from a Scottish university, and I had not taken any of the subjects being tested in this exam. Conceptually the exam is not that hard, but what is difficult is committing thousands upon thousands of inane details to memory. There is no shortcut. You have to just put the hours in of reading, and re-reading, and absorbing, and memorizing. It’s like learning a completely new foreign language by reading a dictionary.
So I was in a situation where I was halfway through studying for a test that, if I passed, would mean I would be leaving Austin a few months later. Starting a new relationship did not make any sense. But there was something about Farah. Something I couldn’t let go. She was also way out of my league. At the time I wrote that if I was Celtic then I considered her to be AC Milan. And Milan were really good then.
I decided that I was going to try something different, something I’d never done before. I was going to woo her.
So how does one go about ‘wooing’ a lady these days? To me there is something very old-fashioned about wooing. Something very gentlemanly. I think of Cyrano de Bergerac or Robert Burns. Also I didn’t really have the time to go on lots of dates, so I decided I would woo her by writing her letters. Actual hand-written letters, in an envelope, in the mailbox.
This was 2005. Email existed. Text messages existed. Friendster existed. People rarely sent letters. Every once in a while I would get a letter from my Granny in Scotland talking about the weather. But writing a letter, even back then, was borderline stalker behavior.
I knew that too. I knew that it was unconventional, but I also thought it was romantic and that it might slow down the pace of our courtship so that I wouldn’t seem like a lunatic, and she might still be interested in me once I’d finished the bar exam.
So I wrote her a letter. I tried to make it sweet and funny, and not too serious. Then I waited. And then she wrote back to me. I wrote another letter and then I asked her out on a date. A proper date too. Picked her up, gave her a bunch of flowers, took her out to a fancy dinner, went to the Paramount Theater to watch an old black and white Italian movie, took her home, walked her to the door, kissed her on the cheek, and bid her farewell. That was our first date. January 13, 2005.
This photo of Farah was on her Friendster page. I fell in love with this photo that January. But my study obligations meant that I forced myself to take…it…slowly. So I did. I wrote her more letters and we went on one more date.
A few weeks later I went to freezing Albany, in northern New York State, to take the bar exam. It was brutal, but somehow I passed first time. And that was it – I was a licensed attorney in the State of New York. I was on my way to my first proper job.
The wooing continued. Actually I think that I’m still wooing her, and I’m fine with that. Farah and I have been married now since 2007. She is special, and we will be friends forever. I’ll likely devote a whole soppy chapter or two to her later and it definitely won’t include any stories about strip clubs.
But I’ll never forget those feelings I experienced in January 2005. The self-imposed shackles of the bar exam schedule meant that studying became an obsession. Like a huge jigsaw puzzle that I had to finish. But after I met Farah all I wanted to do was to be with her. So I had these two really strong but pure forces pulling me in opposite directions. It was intense, but for the first time in a long time, it was really exciting.