My colleague recently confided that after a long and successful career in her industry, she was packing it in and going to law school to try out a second career. I started asking her questions about which schools she was looking at and off-handedly let it slip about the schools I was interested in when I’d been applying to law school years ago.
“You were going to go to law school? Why didn’t you go?” she asked. I offered an explanation as to why I didn’t go: I had spoken to a few attorneys who advised against it due to work-life balance issues, and I changed my mind or something. That’s not why I didn’t go, but she definitely didn’t sign up for hearing the real reason: After studying for months for the LSAT, doing pretty well on the LSAT, completing my applications and essays, lining up my references and doing everything short of pressing the submit buttons, I didn’t go to law school because John Turturro told me not to.
It’s no secret that we are living in the era of people uprooting their lives, quitting their jobs en masse, pursuing avenues they’ve always wanted to pursue but were afraid to before, and all around just making some wild-ass life moves. Some of it has big “fuck it” energy; a lot of it comes from a fed-up-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore vibe; and a little bit has been reserved for those who just want to hawk NFTs or pursue a Substack grift. It’s being dubbed “The Great Resignation,” and while at first employers were regarding this as a blip among ungrateful employees who would surely soon be met with financial ruin and come crawling back, this era still appears to still be in an upswing. (I promise this isn’t a think piece on The Great Resignation; there have been enough of those. You’re safe here.)
About a decade back, I was fully immersed in all of the necessary steps that one who is not Kim Kardashian needs to take to begin the process of becoming a lawyer: namely, going to law school. It was around this time that I also found myself at a bodega in Brooklyn picking up groceries, when I heard this extremely familiar but hard to place voice a few aisles over. I know that voice, I thought, how do I know that voice?
There’s a checklist that feels very New York-y, though we probably don’t have exclusive rights to it, among people in their 20s when trying to place why someone sounds familiar. Did I go to college with this person, did I hook up with this person, did I meet this person at a party, is someone I know dating this person, is it that waiter from the place near that other place, is it a famous person, oh my god did I hook up with a famous person? But this was such an unmistakable voice that it was maddening that I couldn’t place it. The voice was also moving around the bodega pretty quickly. Finally, I made the correct navigational calculus and laid my eyes on him: Standing in front of me was John Turturro, with what appeared to be a teenager whom I assumed was his child. I was a little disappointed in myself for not recognizing his voice immediately, because I idolize John Turturro. I have seen everything he’s ever made. I’ve watched and rewatched his scenes like they were sports replays, trying to break down what he does and how he does it. He’s singlehandledly helped me bond with my dad, who also loves John Turturro. In this house, we love John Turturro.
So naturally, I said absolutely nothing to the man–partly because I don’t even know what I would have said. Oh my god, my dad and I love you! didn’t seem like a valid enough contribution to warrant interrupting someone spending time with their kid. So, I quietly collected this moment into my “New York encounters” file along with the 20+ times that I and everyone else in Brooklyn have seen Paul Giamati on the train and pranced home to call my dad.
Later that week, I was walking around Manhattan with my friend, a filmmaker, when he stopped mid-sentence, grabbed my arm, and said, “Holy shit, that’s John Turturro.” Indeed it was. We both remained still and wide-eyed as the actor walked past us, and as soon as he was out of ear shot, we squealed in tandem. I told my friend how I had just seen Turturro two days earlier in Brooklyn, and we agreed that this was a mathematically improbable and delightful coincidence. I went home and called my dad again.
A few days after the second Turturroing, I was meeting a group out at a favorite restaurant of ours, which is in a great spot in an inconveniently located part of Brooklyn from where I lived at the time. I’ll save the dramatic lead-up: We fucking got seated next to John Turturro. What the fuck was going on?! I started relaying the other two encounters to our table in that terse, rapid whisper you do when you’re trying to be low key, but you end up drawing way more attention to yourself because it’s just a real weird way to be. Again though, I said nothing to Turturro, because what was I going to say that could justify interrupting someone’s dinner? I love you, my dad loves you, it was me in the bodega, and me on the street the other day, do you remember? I didn’t even call my dad after this one, this one was too much.
The law school that I was most interested in attending at the time was NYU, because it was local and familiar, had great law clinics, and one of my most beloved professors taught there. I’d kept stopping in front of the NYU building where one of my grad school classes was held, and it reaffirmed how badly I wanted to go there. I loved everything about it. I could envision myself being there. In my gut it just felt right. And perhaps they wouldn’t accept me, but I couldn’t wait to apply. It also happened to be a truly beautiful day outside, and I had nowhere to be, so I did one of my still favorite things to do in New York City: Pick a direction and walk around, trying to get lost.
When the weather’s nice in Manhattan, shops often haul carts with displays of merchandise onto the sidewalk; some of them feel like proper outside setups, but oftentimes it’s just a sale rack of clothes, a table with some random shit on it, or a box of books for dogs to pee in. Most restaurants and cafes have completely packed their outside dining areas, and conditions are ideal for a destination-less wander. I’m usually pretty good at watching where I’m going and being hyper-hyper aware of my surroundings, because New York has this quirky little thing about it where if you’re not hyper-aware of your surroundings, you could die immediately. But I got caught up in my music or the twee movie in my head in which I was now the main character, and I wasn’t looking in the direction my feet were moving. I slammed full-speed into the display outside of some kind of comic book store. It wasn’t until I pulled back that I realized I had run into a cardboard cutout–a cutout, of course, of John Turturro as Jesus Quintana from The Big Lebowski. This one broke me: I called my dad.
I believe in woo-woo stuff, signs from the Universe, greater meanings, ways of decoding the incomprehensibly vast and simultaneously mundane existence that is being alive. But in this moment, I felt like a dumb kid being given a Rubik’s cube, or more accurately, I felt like me being given a Rubik’s cube. I needed a little hint here, like how after watching Interstellar for the first time with a friend I agreed that the plot was perfect and flawless but like, if you had to explain it to someone who hadn’t seen the movie ever and was also a baby, what would you say were all of the plot points, explanation of characters, and everything that just happened?
I am an infrequent dreamer: This is important here, because it means that I usually remember my dreams. I fell asleep the night after the cardboard Turturro incident, and for the first time in a long while, had a dream–one dream, in which one thing occurred. Set against a black abyss, John Turturro’s floating head appeared to me and said, “Don’t go to law school.”
It was a lucid dream, as opposed to something deeper and more paralytic where you can’t participate, and everything happens to you and around you, so I responded therein: “What should I do instead?!” And Turturro simply repeated: “Don’t go to law school.” The dream ended, and I woke up.
Far be it for me to question John Turturro’s process, but I will say, even many years later, I feel like this was a deeply unhelpful delivery. For brevity’s sake, I’ll save you the suspense here: I didn’t apply to a single law school. I let all of the dates lapse and never pressed submit on any of my completed applications. With no other direction or inkling of what I should do instead, I walked away with zero back-up plan. This also isn’t the part where I tell you about the illustrious other path my life took all because I didn’t go to law school; my life is mostly pleasant, quiet, and small, and is mainly centered around my dog. I did go through a pretty big faux leather pants phase this past winter though, for what it’s worth.
When I relayed this story recently, someone asked if I had ever thought that John Turturro was also thinking, “Why do I keep seeing that woman everywhere?” I can tell you without reservation that in the time since this famous man told me not to go to law school, I’ve asked myself that question zero times. With great certainty, I can tell you this was a completely one-sided series of, let’s be honest, mathematically impossible encounters that I recently learned qualifies as some kind of a parasocial relationship–basically, a one-sided celebrity adoration. I will buy makeup because Rhianna makes it, perfume because Billie Eilish sells it, and pasta sauce because Paul Newman was the OG pasta daddy (sorry, Stanley Tucci, you’ll get there in due time). Why wouldn’t I completely tank my responsible, achievable, well-crafted life plans because John Turturro told me to?
I potentially imploded my life because a random celebrity who has no idea I exist told me to do so in a dream. My only hope is that this is not any stupider than any of the decisions anyone else has made about their lives. It certainly has caused me to reserve my judgment when I hear about peoples’ big, sudden, hopefully messy life shake-ups, as of late. I am not a lawyer because John Turturro told me not to be.