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Let’s call him Ishmael. He is a first-year associate at a prestigious New York law firm. Last week, he stayed up all night with the rest of the country to watch CNN’s election coverage. A few days later, he stayed up again, but for a more personal reason. And I stayed up with him. Ishmael is one of the 8,896 candidates who took the July 2000 New York State bar examination. Like thousands of others, he stayed up hours past his bedtime to wait for the exam results to be announced on the New York Board of Law Examiners’ Web site at www.nybarexam.org. Also like many other applicants, Ishmael made the decision to camp out at his office for the night to wait for his results. While exam results are reportedly available online at 12:01 a.m., most bar takers trying to determine whether they passed or failed the exam end up waiting well past midnight. The wait is due to the hordes of bar applicants trying to log onto the site at the stroke of midnight to search for their names on the list of successful applicants. The site cannot withstand such traffic and inevitably crashes, causing interminable delays. On the condition of anonymity, Ishmael generously agreed to let me observe him during this most private and fretful time in a young lawyer’s career. After carousing with his wife and friends at a Mexican restaurant to steady his nerves, Ishmael met me at his office at 11:00 PM. Here’s what happened. 11:01 P.M. I arrive at the reception area of Ishmael’s office. With a handshake, he introduces himself and leads me to his office. I have come prepared with provisions. “I’ve got food!” I exclaim, revealing a box of chocolate chip cookies and some chips and salsa. In my bag, I’ve also got a novel, two magazines, and a crossword puzzle. A year ago, I was in Ishmael’s shoes, waiting up well past 3 a.m. for the results of my own exam. I know from experience that this may be a very long night. Ishmael seems oddly at ease. “You seem strangely calm,” I remark. “I feel all right,” he answers, a Zen-like smile on his face. Something about the situation isn’t right. He should be weeping right about now, or incapable of carrying on the simplest of verbal exchanges. Well, maybe that was just me, when I took the bar exam. We break the ice by talking about the election — which looks like it may provide more work for lawyers. 11:11 P.M. We break out the cookies. I watch him open up a bottle of Advil and swallow two pills. Maybe, I think, his composure is starting to crack. 11:23 P.M. We go to the Web site and do a test run. We scroll down the home page, bypassing “Frequently Asked Questions,” “The Bar Examination,” and “Admission on Motion/Reciprocity.” We click on the only topic that matters — “Exam Results.” We are taken to another screen, this one laid out like a grid with years 1996 to 2000 listed across the top of the screen. We find February 2000, and stare at the blank space under it, where July 2000 will be shortly. Thirty-eight minutes to go. 11:31 P.M. I’m tired. My eyes hurt. My head hurts. “How are you feeling?” I inquire. “I’m feeling all right,” he says. Oh, boy. I press him further. “You know, I was really nervous last year when I was waiting to get my results,” I muse. “I was convinced that I failed, and I was on a bus heading home to look at the results, and the bus got stuck in a traffic jam. And I was really scared that I’d be late getting home, and I really wanted to be at my computer at 12:01, even though I was pretty sure I failed.” I take a breath. I know I’m babbling. I try to slow down. “But I didn’t fail. I passed. So it’s a happy story. That’s why I’m telling you the story in the first place.” Another breath. Fatigue is blurring my judgment. “And you’ll pass, too.” My eyes hurt. “So I was on that bus, and I couldn’t get home, and I called my mom on my cell phone.” I’m about to cross a line of journalistic propriety. “And I was hysterically crying on that bus. And everyone was looking at me. My cell phone’s weird, and you have to speak really loud. So I’m yelling on the bus about how I’m not going to get home in time, and I’m having a total panic attack. And I’m crying. You have to picture that I’m actually crying with tears streaming down my face. I’m on the bus, crying to my mom.” A deep breath. “You’ll totally pass.” His eyes have glazed over. 11:40 P.M. Ishmael calls his mom. “Oh, honey,” she says on speakerphone. “This waiting is just driving me crazy. I’m a nervous wreck.” He smiles at me. He’s a little embarrassed. “You’re cute, Mom,” he says in the direction of the speakerphone. He tells me that his wife is at a friend’s house tonight, waiting for her own bar exam results with a group of friends from law school. Why isn’t he there with them? “Because that’s just a disaster waiting to happen,” he tells me. “If one person in the group fails, that’s just miserable.” True. I consider sharing with him some more about last year — how only one person in my group of law school friends didn’t pass the exam; how sorry we all felt. I keep quiet. 11:53 P.M. Ishmael’s wife calls. “Good luck, Pumpkin,” he says. “I love you.” 12:01 A.M. “Ha, ha!” he cries. “12:01!” He is charged up. So am I. He clicks “Exam Results.” We wait breathlessly while the computer hums. Our waiting is in vain. “Error 404 — Connection refused.” We exhale. Ishmael’s demeanor has changed drastically from Zen-like calm to restless anticipation. He is now perched on top of his desk, methodically cracking his knuckles. 12:07 A.M. Ishmael hits the “reload” button over and over again. Connection refused. I ask him why he’s at the office tonight instead of at home. “I’m here for the high-speed Internet connection,” he says. We gaze at the computer screen. Connection refused. 12:15 A.M. Ishmael turns on his officemate’s computer. “Keep hitting reload,” he instructs me. 12:22 A.M. The phone rings. It’s his wife. “We can’t get on the site!” she exclaims on speakerphone. There is much laughing and talking in the background. “Me neither, me neither,” he says. “I love you. Call me later.” Reload. Reload. Connection refused. 12:23 A.M. Connection made! “Got it!” he shouts, triumphant. We advance to the next screen, which is a list of letter options. You are asked to click A-F, G-L, M-R, or S-Z. He immediately clicks M-R. He smiles sheepishly. “My wife’s name starts with ‘M,’” he says. “First I’m looking for my wife.” 12:27 A.M. Connection refused. We sigh. So much for a high-speed Internet connection. Methodically, we each click “reload” over and over again. “This is sort of hypnotic,” I mutter, my eyes beginning to close. Maniacal giggle from the other desk. Reload. Reload. Connection refused. “The names are killing us!” he shrieks. I’m losing steam. He’s gaining momentum. “Come on!” he barks at the screen. “Give it to me!” 12:44 A.M. The phone rings. He hesitates. “Answer it!” I find myself hollering. He does. “We know! We know!” cries his wife. He smiles just a little bit. “I can hear from you’re voice that you’re happy … ” he begins. “ Everyone passed!” his wife exclaims. She is slightly hysterical. “We all passed! You passed!” He is grinning. He says, “I love you.” She says, “I love you.” He is beaming now. I am beaming now. I’m still clicking reload. He’s still clicking reload. “Congratulations,” I offer shyly, not wanting to intrude. “We all passed,” he says, delighted. I know to whom he is referring. He and his wife, all of their friends. That makes it sweeter. They are all triumphant, together. I look at the clock. Is it too late to call my law school buddies? 12:50 A.M. He tells his mom the good news. “Thank god! Thank god!” she exclaims. “I’m so proud of you, honey! So proud!” When I told my own mother last year, she was so happy she could barely form syllables. She was simply shrieking into the phone in her own language of delight and amazement and pride. “I just wish I could hug you,” says Ishmael’s mom. I’m smiling myself, watching him. “You going home now?” his mom asks. “Hell, no!” he answers. “I’m going out to drink!” 1:05 A.M. I ask him how he feels. “Relieved mostly,” he answers. I remember that extraordinary relief from last year. Months of worry and distress built up over the course of so many months, suddenly alleviated. “I’m so happy,” he continues, “more so even for my wife than for me.” I’m still hitting reload. He has not seen his name on that screen yet. Connection refused. “I just want to see my name up there,” he sighs. I understand. I stayed up until 3:00 a.m. last year hitting reload, even hours after a friend told me that I had passed. He calls his mom back. She has almost immediate success logging onto the site. He barks instructions into the speakerphone. “Mom. Listen. You don’t need to type ‘www.’ Just type ‘barexam.’ One word. Are you listening? OK.” He sighs. 1:15 A.M. Mom is having technical difficulties. “I see a list of names,” she insists, “but your name is not on the list.” He cracks his knuckles and glares at the phone. “Mom, this is torture. Find my name.” The tension is extraordinary. “Honey, I’m sorry. I simply don’t see your name.” 1:22 A.M. I am perfectly still. He is back on the desk, in attack mode. “Mom!” he snarls. “I know my name is there. I already know I passed. I just need you to find my name.” Silence. “Honey, I simply don’t see your name.” I’m afraid to move. I am barely breathing. Why can’t she find his name? Please find his name! “Find it,” he mutters. Silence. “I want to see it, but I don’t see it.” “Find it.” More silence. “Mom. For the love of God. Find it.” 1:31 A.M. Then, finally. “I found it! There you are! I see your name!” We exhale. We giggle. We grin. We pump fists into the air. It is as if he has passed all over again. “Yes!” I hear myself cry. Yes.

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