unbillable hours

Thursday, August 29, 2002

A funny little piece on caffeine for your post-lunch stupor.

Ah yes, the post-lunch stupor has set in with me. Today was Chinese food, so I will be experiencing particularly strong post-lunch stupor today. This isn't to be confused with the Post-Mexican-lunch stupor, which is what normally precedes the post-Mexican-lunch prayer to the intestinal gods. Oh you fickle intestinal gods... I shall placate you with a sacrificial offering of Pepsid AC.
TPB, Esq. || ||

time enough for all these things

It's dreary out, heavy rain having fallen over New Jersey for the past six to ten hours. Driving up to work was a mess. The local highway I use, State Highway 35, was covered in half a foot of water. I was convinced my engine would be flooded, and I would be stuck pushing my car off the road in a suit. That's one of the least nice things you can do to a suit.

Still, dreariness makes for a good taskmaster. I don't mind working hard when it's miserable out. I take the time to sit and research, sipping on my coffee, listening to rousing music (today it's Monteverdi's Vespers of 1610, a.k.a., Vespro della Beata Vergine), and I don't notice that I've spent six hours staring at case law. On a sunny day in Autumn, however, that would be torture. I would be pacing about the office, praying for any excuse to get out of the building. With last night's temperate weather, it seems like Autumn will settle in New Jersey quite soon.

Back to writing my brief. Somehow, I think I am becoming accustomed to writing as a neverending process, where the turning in of one brief only means the liberty to work on the next, not the conclusion of some event.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

This picture makes me laugh my ass off for some reason:

from Tony Pierce's busblog, which regularly makes me laugh said ass off.
TPB, Esq. || ||

"Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order. If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette U.S. (1943), by Justice Jackson.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Of Incidental Music

I remember, sitting on the steps of the law library at Georgetown, discussing musical tastes with classmates. To some extent, the discussion was a social challenge. People were mostly interested in picking music that portrayed them as having airs of culture and sensibility.[1] Some mentioned names of performers I have never heard of, and still cannot find in any record store. Others declared that they were only interested in avant garde jazz. Others still went the “180 degree” route: they picked something of such poor quality that one must assume that they were being ironic, and the music was actually good (i.e., Jonathan Richman, most punk music, etc.).

My friend RVA rested his tall, Southern body against the brass-and-concrete railings that lined the entrance to the law library. Like me, RVA tended to take in situations in near silence, generally only entering conversations to say something absurd or humorous. RVA was a dedicated aficionado of music. His tastes ran towards what we jokingly referred to as the queenly side of classical: overdramatic opera, lush musical scores, and Romantic Era piano works. I was more inclined to listen to three things: Baroque music, movie scores, and Radiohead. Lots of Radiohead.

I mentioned to the group the fact that I had recently purchased a new copy of "The Shawshank Redemption" score, to replace one stolen by my brother. A few agreed that it was a great piece of music, but RVA noted that it was merely "incidental music," meant to be played in the background, not listened to on its own merits.

I disagreed then, and will do so again, albeit with fewer indignant retorts of "Bullshit!". Music for films has to be the most under-appreciated form of entertainment out there. Go to the generic mall record store and look at the space devoted to, say, dance music. Then look at the space devoted to soundtracks (actually, classical too, if the record store even has a section for that any more). The sad part is that, if you were to go to a big box record store, like HMV or Tower Records (2), the soundtracks section is usually no bigger, even though you now need a bag lunch to make it through the dance, pop, rock, or country sections. Still, film music seeps its way into our minds, infecting us with the meaning it was designed to convey in the film itself. The five major tones from Close Encounters of the Third Kind always means something alien. The deep cello riffs of Jaws always mean hunting/stalking of some sort. The shrieking violins of Psycho's shower scene always mean a grievous attack of some sort.

I think about incidental music a lot, largely because I listen to it all the time. In the office, I listen to The Shawshank Redemption soundtrack when I write briefs under pressure, largely because I listened to it while studying for exams in law school. The soundtrack for In the Name of the Father comes on whenever I am working on something I don't want to do. I think it's strange, but fitting, that I listen to a lot of music from prison films while in my office. Of course, when preparing for oral argument, the music switches. All the way to the courthouse, my car stereo blasts music from war films: Saving Private Ryan, The Hunt for Red October, and Lawrence of Arabia are often heard as I speed down I-287, hoping that no traffic jam will delay my appearance in Somerset or Middlesex Counties.

Coming back, the film music is gone. I don't need it. In fact, I need anything but music that conveys that sort of feeling in me. Spent from argument, I switch over to jazz or whatever mindless pop is playing on the commercial stations.

Thinking about this, my love of incidental music, in particular, has reflected how music, in general, has been a universal device for me: a stimulant, a release, a calming agent, an aphrodisiac (ah, thank you, Messrs. Coltrane and Davis, as well as newcomer Norah Jones), a pacing device for drinking (thanks and damnation go to Wilco, Son Volt, and the appropriately-named Whiskeytown for that), and a sleeping agent.

the lovely, honey-voiced Miss Jones

Some people, like one of the partners in the office next to mine, profess to never listening to music. I hear him, every now and then, puttering around his (much-more-spacious) office, the AM radio listening the latest business news (the one non-irritating contribution of Michael Bloomberg). Sometimes I wonder if people like that are cut off from music. Don't they get it? Doesn't it affect them? Of course, others say the same thing about my general boredom with sports.

Tonight's a brief-writing night. I'll be here till all hours, dictating arguments, revising them in red pen, drinking bad coffee, and staring off into space. As the security guard walks my hall for the last time, shutting off all of the lights on me (without ever noticing me, as has been his M.O., that pudgy, krispy kreme-eating troll), I'll be sitting before this computer. The prison music will be on, of course. I'll talk into the tape recorder until the tape is full or I'm too tired for any more work, and then will await parole. No bars capturing me any longer, liberated by the night.

1. On one level, it is nice to be part of a sub-population where the elite is measured by intelligence, culture, and sensibility. On another level, a snob is still a snob.

2. At the least, this is true of the Tower Records locations in DC, Boston, New York, and New Jersey.
TPB, Esq. || ||

What do you think of internet polls?
In favor of them.
Against them.
Will short on blue chips this fall.
I'll have a hamburger, no a cheeseburger...
You'll get nothing and like it!


Free polls from Pollhost.com

TPB, Esq. || ||

Monday, August 26, 2002

I've linked to JSBach.Org, a pretty thorough compendium of Bach's works and a source for links providing a history of the composer. Bach's a great person to start with if you're interested in classical music. Actually, even if you're an experienced classical student, Bach's a great figure to study. He wrote such an incredible amount of pieces that you have the opportunity find some niche within his works to focus on and enjoy.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Great article on new developments in classical music found here, from today's NYT. For all that are unfamiliar with classical music, please give that genre a shot. It's really worth it.
TPB, Esq. || ||

From the "we want a negative public image" school of PR:

"We're witnessing a new and aggressive national strategy," said Sylvia Demarest, a Dallas lawyer who has represented victims of abuse by clergymen in civil suits against several Catholic dioceses and has studied the newly filed defamation suits. "People are going to see that if you come forward and allege that a priest abused you, instead of getting pastoral assistance, you're going to get slapped with a lawsuit."

Taken from the NYT.

The most frustrating thing about this story is the following paragraph.

"Last spring, Arthur P. Andreas, 28, responded to an invitation by Archbishop Justin Rigali for Catholics to report cases of abuse. Mr. Andreas first told church officials, and later told Jennifer Joyce, the St. Louis circuit attorney, that the Rev. Alexander Anderson had abused him in the 1980's, when Mr. Andreas lived at a Catholic boys' home where Father Anderson was chaplain. Mr. Andreas only reported his accusations in private to the church and civil authorities; he did not sue the archdiocese or Father Anderson.

In April, however, Father Anderson himself made the accusations public by denying them from his pulpit at his current parish in Eureka, a St. Louis suburb. In June, after a preliminary investigation, Ms. Joyce announced that she could not successfully prosecute the case because the statute of limitations was about to lapse."

Therefore, this is a slander suit based on a private conversation where the plaintiff, Father Anderson, made the allegedly tortious conduct public. Under a doctrine of contributory negligence, the plaintiff would be considered 100% liable for the publicity attributed to the allegedly false statements, as the defendant, Mr. Andreas, only made the statements in private. This makes Father Anderson's case a little difficult, and I suspect his lawyer should have informed him that he had a tenuous case, given his conduct.

Now, stepping back from the litigation element of this matter, and I have to wonder why the RCC's upper echelon is allowing this suit. What could the church possibly gain by going after people that the media is going to describe as "abuse victims"?
TPB, Esq. || ||

Friday, August 23, 2002

my life's worth, in ten pages or less

Red: Rehabilitated? Now let me see. You know, I don't have any idea what that means.
Parole official: Well, it means that you're ready to rejoin society.
Red: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it's just a made up word; a politician's word. So young fellas like yourself can wear a suit, and tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
Parole official: Well, are you?
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Today, I handed in my "Annual Associate Report for the Reporting Period of August 2001 to July 2002." This is a report all associates in my firm must prepare in order for the Compensation and Retention Committee to determine who gets bonuses, profit sharing, raises, or... fired. I hated preparing this report. I hated everything about it. The basic principle behind a report like this is that you must sell yourself, that you must tell the world that your worth is great, and that the firm will suffer a great loss if you were to depart. Would the firm suffer a great loss if I departed? I do not know. I would like to think so. Regardless, I hate the process. I should not have to sell myself again to the firm each year. I should be able to produce a chart - a table of data being an objective source - from which the Committee can derive all information necessary, and then my bosses can submit their subjective evaluations of me that can serve to justify whether I remain here or am thrown to the winds.

The Report, in a sense, is a lot like asking for parole. If the objective criteria, and the review of others is insufficient, however, how will my pleas change the determination of the Committee? Probably not at all.

As I wrote the Report, I kept thinking about what would happen if I did this in real life. What if I had ten pages within which to write of my major personal accomplishments for the twenty-sixth year of my life? What would compare with "learning the fundamentals, and developing a nuanced approach to novel issues, of family practice"? "I learned not to drink scotch without absolute certainty that my ulcer was not percolating that evening." "I found that women remain the most mystifying, alluring, and yet frustrating elements of my life." "I have had great success in developing a multifaceted compact disc collection, greatly expanding my depth of Bach's instrumental works." "I regained sixty percent of the field of motion, and ninety percent of the strength in my arm since the car accident of 2000. However, I still have declining use of my left ear, now down to 60%."

Objective data is so much more appropriate for self-reporting. Asking me to plead my case is, while natural for me, a bit demeaning. The subjective side - pleading my case - should be left to those who are real judges of whether I am worthwhile to the firm: the partners on my team and my clients.

TPB, Esq. || ||

Woo hoo! I won "worst pun" in the Ipse Dixit Caption contest! "You like me. You really, really like me!"
TPB, Esq. || ||

Thursday, August 22, 2002

And now for your moment of zen.... the periodic table of funk
TPB, Esq. || ||

Good evening/hola/bon soir to whoever is visiting me from GMT. Gutentag to you out there in DE... oops, Slovakia, too (I'm sorry, I don't know Slovakian... would smatterings of Russian or Polish do?). Nice to have you folks here. If you'd like, we can trade. You can come to New Jersey, if you let me go to wherever it is that you are at...
TPB, Esq. || ||

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

One for bad, two for good

The con. The sweet, sweet game of deception. Americans, someone once said, have only one true character that we added to literature: the con artist. Confidence men got their names by roaming the streets of Manhattan, asking rubes to invest in their schemes. Their opening line was, "Do you have confidence in me?" Truth is, no one has been able to deceive the world(1) better than Americans since the Greeks built their wooden horse. Deep down, we like cons.

Con men work, largely because we think we know human nature.

Joe: Who in the world is what they seem...?
Jimmy: People aren't that complicated, Joe. Good people, bad people, they generally look like what they are.
Joe: Then why are so many people having difficulty?
Jimmy: That's what baffles me.

The game works because we want it to. We want the game to be real. The game works because, truly, it is no different, except for scale, from how Americans deal with each other in everyday life. When I walk into a conference room to negotiate to my adversary, I'm a confidence man. When a car dealer tells me I need undercoating on my next car, he's the confidence man. When the pretty girl at the bar tells me she thinks I'm funny and adorable, it's her game. Take away these untruths, and society would be unbearable for us. We would hate each other, become brash and cold, and say things that generally are not socially acceptable.

"I'd love to go out with you, but I find that you have too small breasts and a funny nose."

"I would love to support your charity, but I'm cheap and would rather spend my money on compact discs."

"I'm sorry I can't make it for your anniversary party, mom, but I want to sit at home and watch the Yankees."

"Yes, I lied under oath, but I did not want to tell the people I got a hummer from a fat intern."

Deep down, I think we like the con, even when we're the rube. With this introduction, here's a great confidence game, this one played with numbers. From Wired magazine: Hacking Las Vegas.

1. For D-Day, the Americans set up a false army, run by actors and stage hands, to make the Germans think we weren't amassing troops for invasion. It worked so well the Luftwaffe strafed the false army three times.

2. David Mamet, The Spanish Prisoner. The photo depicts Joe, the rube of the film.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Go to National Geographic, if you have the time, and browse their photography section. They have some great stuff in the photo of the day section (I'd post it, but I actually respect the photographers enough to not make my usual academic purpose/copyright arguments). They also have a huge section on the ancient city of Petra, famous for being built into a canyon wall.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Monday, August 19, 2002

I picked up the soundtrack to Black Hawk Down today. It's a great score, with lots of African/Middle Eastern sounds. I know, I've written a lot about that film.

Black Hawk Down, despite being the work of Ridley Scott, a director I think should have stuck with science fiction (1), is a remarkable film. It captures a lot of the chaotic "fog of war" that many soldiers have discussed. It also spurs on this central question I have always had in my life. I have always wondered how I would perform in a wartime situation. Would I be able to stand up and lead when necessary? Would I try to find some way to hide behind the lines? I don't know. I've had the good fortune to never have to answer those questions. I was far too young for the Persian Gulf War, and it looks like, if there is an associated draft with what I expect will be a long-term Middle Eastern engagement, I will just miss the cut-off for anything in the future.

To understand, though, what goes on during conflict, seems so important to me. I don't simply mean understanding on one level or another - the personal view of war from the eyes of the soldier or the geo-political view of war from the drafting table of the Joint Chiefs - but rather a broad, complete understanding of the process. I think that it is somewhat easier to grasp what goes on from the political perspective because so much of that side of war has been memorialized in documents. Granted, some of these may not be declassified (2), but, at some point down the line most documents concerning the political side of war are available to historians, some of whom do a good job of packaging them in a readable format.(3) I don't think the ersatz presentations of war in films like Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down give us a good understanding of war. I think it gives us a semblance, from which we might be able to peek in at one insight or another concerning war, but I still think we lack the full experience. I suppose on some level, I feel some sort of compulsion to understand that.

1. Scott did the brilliant film Bladerunner. He also did the overwraught, poorly-scripted, derivative mess that was Gladiator. The only redeeming quality of that mess, alongside some of Zimmer's score, was Joaquin Phoenix's acting.

2. C.f. New York Times v. Westmoreland.

3. See D-Day, June 6, 1944:The Climactic Battle of World War II, by Stephen Ambrose.
TPB, Esq. || ||

I'm not hibernating, I'm just busy.

I had a good weekend. I spent Saturday cleaning and reading up on some cases. Sunday was my father's birthday gift: I took him to see the Mets play. That was a painful experience. The Mets are horrible this year, a crew of fat middle-aged men trotting from base to base. The only one that seems into the game is Piazza, and I think that's because he's trying to deal with the whole rumor mill created by Bobby Valentine. Thankfully, I'm a Yankees fan, so I have something to enjoy this year. For my father's sake, though, as he is an inveterate Mets fan, I hope the players do go on strike, just so he won't have to deal with the rest of this deplorable season.

I have those DV stories coming soon.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Friday, August 16, 2002

"Intellectual "work" is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is its own highest reward."
-Mark Twain
TPB, Esq. || ||

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Just a brief note on the story on how email can be great evidence in criminal matters. It also works wonders in matrimonial matters. Don't end discovery without it.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

the name of he who blinded the cyclops

'Cyclops, you ask my name and I will tell it you; give me, therefore, the present you promised me; my name is Noman; this is what my father and mother and my friends have always called me.' - Homer, The Odyssey, Book IX, Samuel Butler Translation.

JCA has some thoughtful commentary on the notion, drifting about the web like the Flying Dutchman, that anonymity protects the writer of blogs at the cost of greater credibility. Personally, I do not think this to be the case, simply by virtue of the fact that we are all - whether under a false name or our own - projecting an image that we want others to see. Simply put, there is no credibility lost because all of us - under pseudonym or surname - are projecting a self that is distinct from our real and objective selves. Some might go so far as to say we can barely even know our own true selves. Regardless of that point, it is clear that the self we project here - the declarative voices, the self-congratulatory views on knowledge, the absolute certainty that we apply to each and every principle - is the writer's self. It is the self that we have when we take up a dramatic position ("I am the creator!"), and strike out to tell the world something.

There is no credibility lost for not seeing an anonymous writer's name. The writer you see, under whatever pseudonym used, is distinct from the real person at the other end of the keyboard. We are blind to that person.
Somehow, the fact that people write changes who they are. In voice, he stuttered, and hung away from the view of others. With a pen, Thomas Jefferson was flowery, certain, and open to the world.

So who wrote this? Noman did.

TPB, Esq. || ||

RICO comes for the Archbishop?

NYT reported on the release of the video depositions of Cardinal Law, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Boston today. Excerpts from the depositions can be found here.

Law's testimony is interesting to me. As noted in both the deposition excerpt article and the actual analytical article (which, while pulled from NYT's main site, can be found on the Yahoo news pages), Law and the plaintiff's attorney, a Mr. MacLeish, have the following colloquy:

"There have been other focuses, have there not, Cardinal Law?" Mr. MacLeish asked.

"There have been and there are," the cardinal said.

"One of those has been to avoid scandal in the church?" Mr. MacLeish asked.

"That's correct," Cardinal Law said.

By this statement alone, and what appears to be reasonable information that Law and his agents (I mean that in the legal sense, as in those that represent the Cardinal) were aware of criminal activity and worked to conceal this activity, it appears that a plaintiff would have a very good shot at a RICO claim against the Archdiocese of Boston.

For those not familiar with RICO (the Racketeering Influence Corrupt Organizations Act), this Act provides plaintiffs with significant financial remedies when they can prove a criminal conspiracy has occurred. The Act's genesis stems from the old Mob days, when RICO's criminal provisions were used to shut down the Gambinos. Back then, no one realized that the law could be directed elsewhere: it has also been used against anti-abortion groups, investment houses, and, most likely, will be used against the Roman Catholic Church. Why? Simple. RICO offers a plaintiff treble damages along with compensatory damages if the elements of the crime are proven. This means that, if you have $1 Million in damages, you also will receive $3 Million in statutory, punitive damages. That's a hell of an award. Plaintiffs, obviously, would find such a legal avenue appealing.

RICO, however appealing it may be for damages, is difficult to prove. Plaintiffs must prove (approximately, and without any research):
(1) they were injured by two or more people;
(2) who were engaged in a pattern or practice of criminal activities with two or more criminal acts that occurred within ten years of each other;
(3) for the purposes of furthering a criminal endeavor.

Well, obviously, point one can be met by the Archdiocese. A bevy of priests were involved in the molestation matters for over twenty years. The key thing, though, is naming the right people. Plaintiffs need to name the molesting parties and the committee members who covered up the acts of the molesting parties, not merely one or the other group in isolation. This will be important when you get to point three.

Point two is met by the molesting parties by virtue of their assaults on children. It is also met by the committee members by virtue of their roles as accomplices after the fact to the molesting parties. They aided the molesting parties in concealing criminal activities, and provided further opportunity for criminal activities. That may be a stretch, but I suspect that it can be proven with significant discovery.

Point three is the tough part. What is the criminal goal? What is the central endeavor that Cardinal Law and the molesting parties were involved in? I suppose you can say the concealment of criminal activities by members of the Church. If so, then one must prove that such concealment, in and of itself, was a criminal endeavor. I suspect that this is possible, but difficult. Analytically, it would be much easier if the plaintiffs had to prove that the defendants were acting in furtherance of a goal to defraud someone of money. Trying to cover one's ass is not necessarily a criminal endeavor. However, I still think it is possible for the plaintiffs to use RICO to go after the Church.

The successful use of RICO, I suspect, will be devastating to the Church. Total losses due to these cases may be in the tens or hundreds of millions across the nation. What this will due to rich dioceses, like that of Boston, New York, or Miami, is significant. To the sparsely populated and/or poor dioceses, the effects will be consumptive. They will not be able to survive due to what may be a complete depletion of their assets. Thus, there may be a time where the Church, as a result of these cases, is ruined in the US, not because of moral reprobation by the laity (an element that has grown, but still allows for some forgiveness), but rather by virtue of bankruptcy.

If this is the end result of these cases, it will be fascinating to watch the cultural change of American Catholicism. How does such an organization continue to grow and develop when its authoritative heads have been destroyed? Will the Vatican step in, so to prevent such results? If so, how will the American people - Catholics and non-Catholics alike - respond to such a bail-out? Will there be a return to the anti-Catholic sentiment experienced in early American history? Finally, and hopefully (I admit my bias here), will the laity's political power grow within the Church to the point where it is as strong a political force as some of the many religious orders within the Church?

Lots of questions are being created by the case, and I hope I do not give the impression of overlooking the underlying one - who was legally and morally wrong for the harms worked upon countless children - as it is important, and it is unclear whether any of the answers to be provided will be positive for either the Church or the victims of the paedophillic acts that occurred in the past.
TPB, Esq. || ||

movin' on up

well, I really like writing text, but I still want to do pictures. thus, I can't stay on blog*spot forever. thus, I'm moving my site. check it out at its new location, and in its new image-friendly format at www.unbillablehours.com. right now, it's still in the "please, for the love of god, send Bob Vila here!" stage, but it will improve. I'll talk more soon.

p.s. - just to whet your appetite: will be discussing the deposition of Cardinal Law and (unrelated, I swear) three stories of domestic violence will come down the pike.
TPB, Esq. || ||

and now for your moment of zen...

the big book of sign language
TPB, Esq. || ||

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Steps have been taken to transfer this to an image-friendly location. More info to come.
TPB, Esq. || ||

The wise speak, and deliver their fancies more specifically, and piece by piece; I, who see no further into things than as use informs me, present mine generally without rule and experimentally: I pronounce my opinion by disjointed articles, as a thing that cannot be spoken at once and in gross: relation and conformity are not to be found in such low and common souls as ours. -- Montaigne, Essay No. 21, "Of Experience."
TPB, Esq. || ||

Monday, August 12, 2002

excuse me while i break my own heart tonight

Saturday, as previously discussed, was supposed to be the night of the big outing between myself and HP. It began well, as I spent the early part of the evening celebrating my father's birthday. We had a homemade meal of veal marsala (thanks to my mother, who is both the greatest supporter of my carnivorism and the greatest enemy of my attempts to eat healthily). We gave my father his gifts: tickets to an upcoming Mets game, DVDs, a Mets hat, a photo box, and... from my preposterously cheap godmother, a fishing rod from the dollar store. To be exact, a fishing rod from the dollar store with the price tag still on it. $7.99. My godmother rents three homes in an affluent shore town, drives a Cadillac, and lives in a monstrosity of a McMansion. Still, she gave my father a $7.99 (plus tax!) fishing rod. For Christmas, she gave me a car air freshener, Maxwell House coffee, and Altoids. I suppose the last is designed to cancel out the deleterious effects of the middle gift.

As my parents settled in to watch their new movies (The Lord of the Rings), I went upstairs to shower and prep for the date. I dashed out the door, ready for battle. I had my clean shoes, my non-wrinkled casual pants, and a fresh mouth (thanks, godmother!). I started up my freshly cleaned, waxed, and vacuumed (shitty) Sable, and drove down to Sea Bright.

Sea Bright, along with Atlantic Highlands, is the East Coast's answer to Cannery Row. Ramshackle bungalows, family owned bait 'n tackle shops, and beach-lined bars and restaurants dot the isthmus that runs from Sandy Hook National Recreation Area to the chaos of Asbury Park. Saturday, I was going to meet HP at Donovan's Reef. Donovan's Reef, named after one of the lesser John Wayne films, is a cinder block bar. Normally, you would not entertain the thought of taking a woman to a cinder block bar, but Donovan's also occupies about three acres of beach, and has outdoor bars that dot the high tide mark. People can spend their evenings barefoot, sand slipping between their toes, as they nurse their drinks. This may have been the sort of therapy initially proposed by Carl Rogers when he founded the humanistic school of psychotherapy. Assuming, of course, that he was a lush.

I was halfway to Donovan's Reef when HP called me on my cell phone. Tearfully, she began apologizing, explaining that she could not go out that night.

"I'm sorry, I just can't do it." She said, sniffling.

"Hey that's all right. What's wrong?" I tried being consoling.

She explained that her mother was ill, that she had cancer, in fact. If this is an overly dramatic version of "I'm washing my hair tonight," I thought, this may constitute the coldest excuse I've ever heard. This may even top my "I'm sorry, but I'm a workaholic" excuse. Still, there was no way I could know whether she was honest or making up an excuse not to go out. My profession told me to assume the worst. My belief in human nature suggested that, while the worst was possible - perhaps even likely - it would be a repulsive response on my part to assume that she was lying. If HP lied, so be it. However, if she was telling the truth, and I was, in any way, unsympathetic, then I became an evil bastard. Tough call. I decided that the only honorable thing to do was to assume that HP was telling the truth.

"It's all right," I said. By now I had pulled my car over to the side of the road. I rolled down the window and lit a cigarette. "Look, you don't have to feel bad. These things happen. If you need anything, just let me know."

She thanked me, we said our goodbyes, and we hung up.

I don't know why, but I drove to Donovan's Reef anyway. It was nearly 10:30 PM as I sat down at the bar. I ordered a beer, and sat there. I was disappointed, but at the same time, I was still full of doubt. Do I assume the worst in people in my personal life, and do damage control accordingly, just as I do in my professional life? At work, I know that there are only three truths: (1) the adverse party is almost always lying; (2) your client is almost always lying; and (3) even though your own client is almost always lying, you still have to follow their direction, unless they give you hard evidence that directly contradicts their statements. In my personal life? I know nothing. Certainty disappears once I leave the comfortable order of legal practice.

So, there I sat. I finished off the first beer, and moved on to another one of the cabanas to order my second beer. Halfway through that one, I got fed up with sitting at the beach, listening to people having a good time. I stamped out one of the many cigarettes I had chain-smoked, and drove inland to Red Bank. Sweet Red Bank, home of one of the best bars to go to while miserable: the Dublin House. The Dub, as just about everyone calls it, is a utilitarian, dingy Irish pub. It's a fun place to go to when you don't particularly care where you go or what happens to you. The walls, once clean, golden wood, had taken on a tarry appearance due to the decades of cigarette smoke that covered them. The bar, a pink copper-plated beam, was tarnished and (frequently) sticky. Still, the bartender was a good fellow, quick with an absurd joke. Still further, it was the first place where I had ever ordered a beer - legitimately or otherwise - and had once been home to a coffee house where I spent six years of my late adolescent life, arguing damn near every point possible with a dear friend, JBJ.

I walked into the Dub, and climbed the stairs up to the men's room. Halfway there, a voice called my name from behind me. HLK, a classmate of mine from high school, waived up at me.

"Come down after you're done playing with yourself and I'll buy you a beer, you bastard!" he shouted over the folk music that blared throughout the bar. I nodded and waived my hand in mindless agreement.

"Sure, sure," I mumbled, mostly to myself, "have a beer, a few jokes, a regular guys' night out."

After a few drinks, the evening had improved somewhat. HLK and I engaged in our usual banter - movies and philosophy - that made discussions with him so pleasing. He was one of those rare breeds of men, never having finished college, who knew more about the liberal arts than most college professors. He spent his days working as a painter and as a sommelier at a local restaurant. Montaigne, writing on education, spoke of the fact that he sometimes wondered whether his education - the lycee, the university, and then tutelage as a lawyer - made him any more full a person than the woman who tended his cabbage fields. Every time I talk with HLK, I get that same feeling.

I returned to work on Monday, basically feeling blase' about the whole weekend. RQD asked about the "Big Night" as soon as he saw me.

"Well?" he asked, exuberant. I imagine the thought of someone discussing sex pleased him immensely. Unfortunately, I had to let him down. I explained the turn of events of Saturday. I then posed my dilemma to him: do I assume that she was lying, and making up an excuse to not go out, or do I assume that she was telling the truth?

"You can't assume the worst. That's horrible! You can't assume that she was lying." He thought for a second. "And don't take the advice of HJD or anyone else. Those cynics have been married for years. Christ, HJD met his wife when he was fucking 17! What the hell does he know about women?"

The thought occurred to me that RQD, quietly, was perhaps the best person we had on the team. Others may come off as more intelligent, but the guy was thoughtful and kind. Those are two key traits for family lawyers.

"So," I asked, "What now?"

"Call her tonight, and ask how she is doing. Ask how her mother is doing. Let her know that, if there is a better time, you'd like another shot at getting together. If she refuses, then move on."

It seemed like good advice.

"Thanks," I said, getting up. "All right, enough of this shit. I'm going to get more coffee. Want anything?"

He demurred, and I went on my way. The day went by quickly. I addressed one client's potential domestic violence problem. I continued research on an article I was drafting. Eventually, it was the late evening. It was time to call HP, and to find out whether I fish or cut bait.

I took the elevator down from my office to the atrium outside the building. Resting against the wheel well of my car, I called HP. Her answering machine picked up.

"Hi, um... this is TPB. I was calling for HP, and I uh... well, I just wanted to see how she was doing. If you want to give me a call, you can reach me at my cell phone."

So, I'm still in limbo. If she does not call me, I will assume I know what the answer was to this little delimma. If she does....
TPB, Esq. || ||

Soylent green is people! It's people, goddamnit!!!

Someone thought making a fungus-based meat would be a good idea.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Sunday, August 11, 2002

I'm not very optimistic about yesterday's outing. Once again, I ponder the possibility of making life easier by becoming a Unabomer-style recluse in Montana.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Friday, August 09, 2002

I have been thinking about what Ernie the Attorney said about my working in a different medium than a lot of the other law bloggers out there. I suppose, now that I think about it, I don't write as much as others about recent cases or statutory developments. I think those are interesting things, and I intend to write about them on occasion, but I think that I really would be wasting most people's time by writing about the law as a thing unto itself. The law is much more interesting to me when it intersects with culture, literature, politics, science, business, and so forth.

I suppose this post is partially a mission statement, and partially a caveat about the last post. Because I deal with a particular point at which law intersects with the world - families and how those families need the aid of the law to resolve issues - I tend to deal with issues that, on occasion, are a bit taboo. Believe me, I have no intention of making this a shocking or offensive journal. I just write about what I think is interesting. If I do offend, please feel free to let me know, and I will try to address my offensiveness in as respectful a manner as possible. I am not in the business of intentionally getting under anyone's skin. By the same token, a lot of the stuff I write about is a reflection of a lot of the issues I see and deal with in family law. If this stuff is offensive... it's because we've developed into a somewhat offensive society. In other words: don't blame me, I'm just reporting about the world we all created.

Anyway, I will probably try to develop a routine of addressing a particular legal issue over time, and then returning to social issues for a while. No promises about the frequency of either issues, or the likelihood that I won't post some stupid rant about, I don't know, why I can't find any of my dress socks anymore or something like that.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Thursday, August 08, 2002

what we talk about when we talk about sex[1]


It was on Thursday that I got this idea. Sitting at lunch with RQD and HJD, an associate and a partner who work with me on the matrimonial team, we were all joking about sex, largely in response to RQD's and my terrible cases of wandering eyes. Every time a pretty girl walked by, I would slowly phase out of the conversation, and then, as she left my field of vision, return.

"...yeah, I think she's attractive." HJD was saying.

"How about Gabrielle [Reece]?" RQD asked.

"I think she's attractive, but I don't think she has sex appeal." HJD responded.

He paused for a second to pick at the sausage in his pasta dish.

"Now, Sigourney Weaver, she has sex appeal." HJD mused.

My voice rose with incredulity, "She's older than my mom! How can I think of someone older than my mom as someone with sex appeal?"

We were slowly departing from a conversation with each other. Really, we were heading toward an internal conversation with ourselves about our own, personal notions of beauty, and how beauty related to sex.

"What about Laetitia Casta, that French model... she's all sex appeal." I suggested. I have always been smitten with that model. She has a 1940's pin-up look that I thought was interesting. Well, perhaps "interesting" is not the appropriate word. The two other attorneys nodded and mumbled their agreement. HJD stirred his straw in circles in the lemonade glass into which he stared down. I let my eyes lose focus as I digested my meal. The hostess walked over to our table, right behind RQD.

RQD, riled from this discussion, raised his voice as he launched into a thought. "Tell me you would not want to just sink your--"

I gave him a light kick under the table as the hostess walked over. We asked for the check and continued talking as the hostess left.

"Thank you," RQD said just after the hostess left.

"No problem," I responded. "And, as for whatever you said, I guarantee that I would not want to engage in whatever kinky sex act you were about to describe. I have ethics, my good man."

RQD was noted for telling us explicit stories of his sexual adventures. He was particularly noted for doing so at times and in manners that made no listener comfortable. Nevertheless, he was indignant at my joke.

"Oh maron," he said, borrowing an Italian phrase my boss often used, "tell me you don't like to do something that is remotely kinky?"

"I don't like kink."

"How can you not like kink?" RQD asked. He turned to HJD, "I bet you, deep down, that TPB is some sick sexual deviant. Dahmer, or something."

"Speaking of that," I said, ignoring his innuendo, "did you hear that what's-his-name... the preppy murderer, oh damn...... ah, Robert Chambers, has been paroled?"

"No," RQD answered, and then ignored my distracting response, "but seriously, what, do you have heads in your refrigerator or something? How can you not like kink?"

"I don't like kink. I'm pretty straightforward... maybe that's what's kinky about me." I answered.

"There's nothing wrong with kink," RQD stated, a bit defensively.

"Don't worry," HJD said, turning to RQD, his lips twitching as he tried to hide his smirk, "we accept you for who you are, even if you're banned from teaching grade school."

We got up to leave the table, finally accepting that we could not avoid going back to the office any longer.

"Damn, I bet Megan's Law really ruined dating for you," I said to RQD. Passing diners looked at us with a bit of confusion and horror.

"Dude, shut the fuck up." RQD laughed.


RQD, HJD and I are matrimonial attorneys. We may handle other matters related to families - domestic violence (mostly for RQD), kidnapping (mostly for me), corporate law (for HJD and, to a much lesser extent, me), adoption, premarital contracts, and, on a rare occasion, civil commitment - but we really do divorce. That means we deal with those issues that people fixate on until they manage to ensure that their lives fall apart.

That means we deal with sex.

Clients tell us their most personal stories that involve sex. H had sex with a prostitute.[2] He was embarrassed, because he's a Russian Orthodox Christian, and did not want anyone knowing about his single past indiscretion while working overseas as an investment banker. H's involvement with a prostitute constituted six pages of handwritten notes by me, nine pages in a certification by his former wife, and four minutes of discussion by the Judge.

HP comes in for an initial client consultation. He tells me that his wife was horrible to him. She did drugs. She was verbally abusive. She beat the children. She was always like this, even before the marriage. His mother, there for moral support during the consultation, nods in agreement.

"I'm sorry," I ask, "this woman seems like she has done horrible things to you and your family. I will do my best to ensure that your interests are protected in the divorce, and that you retain custody of the children. That being said... if you don't mind me asking, why did you marry her?"

HP looks down, a somber face hardens into something even more mournful. I think for a second that he might start crying over the end of a marriage that lasted eight tumultuous years when he looks up at me, certain of his answer.

"She was a fucking acrobat, man!" He answers with conviction.

HP's sweet, older mother nods in agreement. "Oh yes," she assents, "HP always said she was quite nimble in bed."

I nearly spit out my coffee as I hear this. I excuse myself under the pretense of finding some material to present to HP. I close my office door, and try to let the humor of the last comment not affect me. Composure regained, I return to the conference room and listen to fifteen more minutes of horrifying stories about the wife's conduct towards her own children.

The first lesson of matrimonial law: sex makes us completely disregard our better judgment.

Sex made thousands of Greeks die on the shores outside of Troy. Sex made marine guards outside the U.S. Embassy to the Soviet Union give up the identities of secret agents.[3] Sex created the Profumo Scandal that toppled a British Parliamentarian and gave the Soviets a mole inside MI-6. Sex made FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen work for the Russians so he could spend tens of thousands of dollars on a local stripper. Sex killed the operatic character Carmen. Sex made our last president risk his career through perjury. Sex nearly imprisoned Senator Kennedy. Sex has made the Catholic Church the subject of countless late night television jokes. Sex permanently scarred thousands of victims of rape and molestation. Sex killed Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. Sex killed JonBenet Ramsey and the Black Dahlia. Sex makes us talk about these stories for years and years after they have long since concluded.

Assuming, as I have above, that sex is one of those primordial driving forces that motivates us toward action, it amazes me how many are motivated to such dark, horrific action. It's as though the justification for sex as a motivator - love, the desire to procreate, or physical pleasure - has been lost, and some are left only with the motivation itself, churning and driving them toward some dark, cruel interaction with others, some they once thought they loved, others they never knew or met before. When that interaction occurs...

Others, just as sad, focus so intently on the sexual act that they become repulsed by it, and walk away from all of its motivations as well. They reject love, their family, and joy in the arms of another, and become cold, unforgiving individuals, wrapped up in a pinched, angry ball of irritability. Their husbands or wives eventually leave them. They fill their children with distorted images of what a relationship "should" be, and, if they are single, they find themselves incapable of developing a relationship. Their obsession is no less real, and only slightly less destructive (if at all), than those who cannot focus on anything but obtaining pleasure from that grand realm we call sex.

Then, in the happy middle of this sexual spectrum[4], is the rest of us. Sex motivates us to fall in love, to raise children, to write passionate love poetry, to paint, to buy flowers, to declare, in an obnoxious and irritating fashion, the glories of our respective loves, and become generally well-rounded individuals, not distracted by the motivator, always heading to that final goal: love, children, and/or pleasure. The rest of us... well, I do not see this group in my office very often.


A lot of times, I think about writing stories about what I deal with here at work. I would love to address, if only to vent and let the issues escape me, the sex-related events of work. Then, I think back to a quote I always found interesting.

" We train young men to drop fire on people. But their commanders won't allow them to write fuck on their airplanes because it's obscene! " ( Colonel Kurtz ) Apocalypse Now

Coppola, when he had Brando utter that strange little line, truly understood our culture. Violence, with all of its horrors, is more acceptable to American culture than sex, whether it be a positive or negative issue associated with sex. People always talk about how Socrates died. People rarely think about what Socrates said about sex and love. Sex is taboo. Even cutting off someone's ear is more acceptable than depicting sex, even when the latter is far more cartoonish and unbelievable than the former.

Thus, we have a culture that has a 51% divorce rate. Flip a coin. Chances are just as good that, one day, you will see me or someone like me. Since I do not come cheap, maybe now is a good time to think about why you - the whole collective, cultural "you" - need me so much, even though this culture pretty much universally reviles me and every other matrimonial attorney out there.[5]

Like I discussed above... sex is only the motivator. The motivations are distinct from the motivator, and may not actually need the motivator to occur. Love need not require sex. Children... well, children pretty much require sex... but you could adopt. Pleasure comes in so many myriad forms that sex is but one limited aspect of it. For example, I am convinced my father obtains more pleasure from hearing the crack of a bat at a Mets game than most of my friends obtain from, well, you get the picture.

Why? Well, though I would never be so crass or disrespectful as to discuss it with him, I suspect my father has gotten over whatever obsessions with sex that he may have had when he was a young man. He's 54 years old now. My father knows what he was motivated about and what he loves: my mother, being a father, and baseball. I'm pretty sure that's in order of importance, although baseball may take precedent over my brother and I, at least in October.[6] Sex is a lot like warfare tactics. You do it for a reason. If you forget why you use the tactics you engage in during war, you are never going to obtain your objective. If you forget why sex is your motivator, you end up retaining me.

Personally, I would rather lose a war.

1. Apologies and much gratitude to the late, great writer Raymond Carver, whose collection of short stories, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love inspired this title. Please do go read his work, especially his final collection of stories, Where I'm Calling From. Published just before Carver succumbed to cancer, this book remains the most amazing collection of short stories I have ever read. If that's no great justification for you, think about it this way: you waste your time reading these blogs, what's the harm in wasting a few hours reading actual published works.

2. I will never discuss clients by name or initials. They will always be referred to as either "the client," "HP" (if they are male), or "WP" (if they are female). I will never differentiate between different clients either. For that matter, some clients may not be clients of my firm, but of other firms that I've dealt with, or may not exist at all. I will not violate my duty of confidentiality. Similarly, I will refer to adverse parties as "the adverse client," the adversary (for the attorney), "HD" (if they are male), or "WD" (if they are female).

3. The Soviets, perhaps better than any other nation that practiced espionage, understood the power of sex as a motivator.

4. Please don't be offended about this discussion of sex. This, if you are interested at all in what sort of law I do, is what I do. I deal with sex and all its repercussions. I deal with other things too, but somehow it always seems to come back to this.

5. I litigate and try to stop domestic violence, and I end unhappy situations. I become a social enemy. Hitmen and vicious killers like Al Capone are made into legends. Go figure.

6. "Hey Dad?"
"I don't think Flounder [my affectionate {honest} nickname for my brother] is feeling too good."
"Is he bleeding?"
"Okay, the game will be over in four innings. He'll be fine."
TPB, Esq. || ||

Status of last night: rain delay... date postponed to Saturday. It's probably better to have a date on a saturday than a wednesday anyway. You don't have to worry about getting up for work the next day.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

I saw Signs last night. I wish I were M. Night Shyamalan. Rarely do you see a film that so thoroughly captivates an audience. Furthermore, when do you see one that genuinely scares the hell out of everyone in the theatre. Good stuff. I really don't understand why the NYT didn't like it.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

irving berlin's reprise

I called her last night. I waited, pursuant to the doctrine established in Swingers, the appropriate amount of time before calling her. Three days. Three days of checking to make sure the card was still in my wallet. I know. It's silly to base one's behavior on a movie. However, I ask you this question.

How many times have you watched a movie, and started squirming out of horror because you realize it is reenacting comic and disastrous mishaps of your dating life? Never, you say? Well, then lucky you, Mr. "I'm Slick Rick without the rap sheet". I, on the other hand, have made that same telephone mistake as Jon Favreau did in Swingers. I now pay attention to when I call.

So, getting back to the point. I called.

Drinks on Wednesday. I am a happy, short little man.

TPB, Esq. || ||

Monday, August 05, 2002

good fortune in the storm

Friday was one of those strange days where, if I were Taoist, I would suspect that I had attained a harmonic state with the universe. Fortunately, I am not a Taoist. I am a gambler. Friday was the day of the Middlesex County Bar Association Benefit at Monmouth Park, a local horse track (for those into horse racing, Monmouth Park hosted War Emblem on Saturday).

I have never been to the track before, despite the fact that I live but a few miles away from it. When I was younger, there was an implicit but well-understood ban in my family on gambling. My father, a former member of the IRS prosecution team for the Third Circuit and acting administrative law judge, made it clear that there were two things he would not tolerate under his roof: gambling and crime. I understand why (both generally are related to the organized crime world of New Jersey... and therefore are related to his then professional nemesis; nowadays, he only deals with corporations). Thus, I never walked into a casino or took part in gambling until last spring, when I first went to Atlantic City. After that first night at the blackjack tables, it was clear that I had the bug. With the bug, unfortunately, came a complete lack of knowledge about the "how" of gambling.

Thus, I walked into the air-conditioned boxes rented by the Bar Association with "easy mark" stamped on my forehead. Unfortunately for Monmouth Park, the easy mark made up for his gambling sense with an eye for statistics.

At 1:00 PM, I made my first bet. It was a silly $2.00 bet that a middle-ranked horse would "show" (apparently, a horse shows when it comes in first, second, or third place; a horse wins, obviously, when it comes in first place; a horse "places" when it comes in second place). I won a whopping $3.10. Hmm, I thought. This clearly is not going to cut it if I want to actually care about the race.

Fortunately, by 1:15, KZL (yes, of course these are made-up initials... do you think I actually use real initials?), a senior associate, pulled me aside and explained the complex bets. There were trifectas: you have to pick the correct first, second, and third place horses. Then there were exactas. With exactas, you could pick three horses to win, place, or show, but you only needed to be correct about two of them. Unlike trifectas, you could pick exactas "in the box," thereby avoiding the question of the order of the three horses. I did a mental calculation. If I picked three out of a maximum of nine horses to win (i.e., made three win bets), I needed to be correct approximately 33% of the time. However, I could only win one bet each time, thereby guaranteeing a loss, overall. However, if I had to pick three horses, and have two of them win, my odds decreased to 22%, but my winnings increased, usually, by at least 33%. Thus, exactas had moderate risk with high returns (just like the stock market, eh? well, except for the positive returns...). With trifectas, I had a purely statistical odds (not counting information about the horses), of about 4%. However, the returns were approximately 90-130%. The risks were extreme, as were the rewards. I immediately decided against making trifecta bets. I also figured that, with the availability of information in the racing guides, I increased my odds to somewhere near 24-26%. I felt comfortable. My odds at winning each exacta bet were somewhere between 17-21% greater than the odds of getting my score on the LSAT. I have this theory. Once I beat the odds of something difficult that I've done in the past, I feel comfortable with a bet.

Now, this isn't exactly a well-thought-out theory, but I'm sticking to it.

I put a $24 bet down in the second race. I then walked over to the bar (nothing better than professional functions with open bars), and ordered a gin and tonic. After taking my first sip of the drink, I glanced up at the "odds" board. The race was already over. I won $185.

After the fourth race, I was up $230. By the sixth, I was up $270. By the ninth race, I had won $310, all through sticking to my little statistical method. Not bad, I thought. Maybe I should give up law and become a professional gambler, as in "Rounders." I quickly dismissed that thought. Clearly, I realized, the day had slipped from the grasp of the natural, rational world.

The tenth race was being set up. Trackhands moved the gates to the turf in front of the clubhouse, and jockeys could be seen calming their horses just off to the left of the gate. I walked over to CLV, the senior partner on the team. Like everyone else on the team, he had noticed my bizarre string of good luck.

"What's your pick on the tenth race?" he asked.

"The valet," I said as I slid on my blazer and unbuttoned the top button on my shirt (it was getting stuffy in there). "It's been fun, but I think it's time to walk away."

We said our goodbyes, and I declined a dinner invitation to McLoone's, a beautiful restaurant overlooking the Shrewsbury River and the Atlantic Ocean. I then drove over to the Monmouth Mall to drop off my final roll of film from Las Vegas (I know, it's been weeks, but I'm a slacker). After an obligatory ten minutes of lusting over the lenses on display at Ritz Camera, I wandered the mall, waiting for my film to develop. I passed the Victoria's Secret, careful to avert my eyes (sorry, 12 years of Catholic upbringing means I can't even look at lingerie ad without some fear of getting caught), and the watch shop, also careful to avert my eyes (no sense blowing my winnings on a new watch). As I passed the Macy's, I heard someone call my name.

I turned around... this tall, raven-haired woman is looking at me with an intent, quizzical gaze. Oh shit... I recognize her... what was her name, what was her name, what was her name? Oh god, don't let me blank out!

"TPB?" She asked again.

The neurons made one last attempt at firing... please, I promise, no more heavy drinking... and connect. "H...P?"

It was HXP. I had last seen her during my one year of attendance at The Ranney School, an insanely overpriced prep school (think of St. Albans, then turn it down a notch, and you have Ranney). Good lord, I haven't seen her since seventh grade.

I start doing the mental notations that I do with potential clients as we reacquainted ourselves.

"God, it's been... twelve years, how have you been?" I asked. Left Hand: No wedding band/engagement ring. Height: 5'10". Thin.

She was well. She had finished her degree in graphic arts, gotten the acting bug, and moved out to L.A. for a couple of years. Amber eyes. Color Contacts? They seem almost too vivid to be natural.

I told her the basic story I tell people that haven't seen me since I returned to New Jersey from law school.

"Moved to Boston in 1994. I studied at BC. Thought about sticking up there, but got bored. I got the politics bug, and had some connections down in DC. Once I got into Georgetown, I knew I had to give it a shot. Did three years of law school. One year as a staffer in the senate. My boss didn't get reelected, so I came back north, by then fully sick of D.C."

"And now you're back in Monmouth County?" She asked.

"Well, I live here. I ended up working all over the state."

She and I walked outside as we continued talking. She told me about how L.A. hadn't panned out, at least for the time being. I told her how I had gotten fed up with working in the big cities - I spent one summer in NYC - and enjoyed doing the small town litigation in New Jersey. She isn't checking her watch. She's not bored. All right, maybe I'm not the complete troll I think I am.

The dreaded question came: "So what kind of law do you practice?"

I could feel the tension lines around my eyes crease. Sucking in a breath, I answered "Family Law," and waited for the usual questions about how it is that I can take part in what I do, and whether I hate doing immoral work, etc.

The questions never came. She showed some awareness of family law, and was genuinely interested. Okay, today is all screwed up, karma-wise. Clearly, I have appeased whatever Fates are monitoring me.

We ended up talking for an hour, before she noticed that she had to go back to her job (she works for a perfume/make-up company affiliated with Macy's). As I walked her back to her desk, she paused.

"You know what? We should have drinks sometime. We should catch up. Why don't you give me your card?" she stated, matter-of-factly, as though it were natural to utter such a thing to a reclusive, anti-social lawyer.

Fortunately, the neurotic part of my brain had been fried by an afternoon of gambling and drinking gin. It decided that it was no longer affiliated with the rest of me, and sailed high above, as though my angst was the cameraman to this cheap Swingers remake.

"Absolutely," I heard myself say. "In fact, let me get your card. We definitely should get together." Okay, clearly luck dictates that the ceiling must collapse, striking me dead, before this works out. Too much good fortune in one day.

She smiled slyly after we exchanged business cards, sliding mine into her pants pocket. Okay, either she "loses" my card, or I completely fuck up the call to her, but this shouldn't work out. That was far too easy. I didn't even stammer once...

She asked for a hug (!), during which I swear I heard someone singing Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek."

...Heaven, I'm in heaven
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler's lucky streak
When we're out together dancing (swinging) cheek to cheek...

Walking back to Ritz Camera, I noticed I could still smell a trace of her perfume from the hug. Passing shoppers could hear me doing my best, unintentional Homer Simpson impression ever as I stumbled. "Mmm... pretty."

After my hour of deep smit, I drove - refreshed and remarkably sober - to Sandy Hook National Recreation Area. I took a few pictures of the sand dunes and the ridge that comprises Atlantic Highlands (so named due to the fact that it is the highest point of the Atlantic Seaboard, from Canada to Mexico). Finally, I noticed that I was hungry. AM, a local Red Bank girl I often hang out with, had agreed to go to dinner with me, but had, since the early afternoon, failed to return my calls. I decided to pack up my equipment and grab dinner (it was nearly 7) in Red Bank.

I packed my camera case, stowed in the back of my (shitty) Mercury Sable, and drove up the highway, heading inland along the Navesink River. As I left Sandy Hook, I thought, just for a split second, that I had seen a bolt of lightning crash down on the hills of Atlantic Highlands. Scanning the clouds that had been forming, I did not notice another one, and eventually worked my way back to the small city I had grown to love. I parked my car, just as the first raindrops of the evening began to fall, behind the sheltered porch of The Dublin House, my favorite non-Boston Irish pub. I was about to head in for a traditional pub dinner, when I thought about the day. I had those winnings burning a hole in my pocket, and I wanted to spend some of them. I turned, and headed in the opposite direction.

Down by the docks of the Navesink Sailing and Yacht Club and the local boat yards, just eighty feet from the Navesink River's murky flow, was "The Olde Union House." The restaurant was built in the late 17th Century as a wealthy individual's home. I could not fathom a guess as to when this home along the river became a restaurant, but I had been coming here, off and on, for a couple of years. The owner, P, and her husband, N, were friendly, and knew exactly when to appear with a fresh drink for myself or a date. On top of that, M was quietly one of the best chefs in the area. So, I thought I would splurge and enjoy a nice meal there before the usual Friday evening foolishness. I walked the bustling brick sidewalks of Red Bank, avoiding most of the increasingly frequent raindrops. I was content, and enjoying the occasional wave I gave to those pedestrians I recognized.

Half an hour later, I was just starting a meal of julienned chicken with pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and a light pasta when I looked through the dining room window at the now torrential rain. The wind picked up, and I noticed the rain's trajectory change from vertical to diagonal. P laughed as my eyes widened. "You're not going anywhere for a while, kiddo."

"Jesus, no kidding." I breathed.

"That means," she said as she walked over to my table, "that it's time for another drink."

Fate - and friendly restauranteurs - conspire to make me an alcoholic.

I laughed and agreed, and then returned to attacking my meal with gusto. It was a great day, and I have no reason to finish my night anywhere but home after the meal, I thought. End well, and on a full stomach. P dropped off another gin. Although, I damn well better end with a few espressos before I get back into my car.

At 8:30, the rain paused for a second, and I looked up. The meal was almost over, and I could hear a wedding party in the next room enjoying boisterous times. Suddenly, the wind and rain returned, with violent, nearly rapacious force. The building visibly shook as the wind struck it. I stood up, shocked, and strained to look through the dining room window. The rain was now moving horizontally across the path of the street.

"Jesus," P said, "this is one hell of ..."

Thunder cut off the last words of her sentence, and the power went out. I walked to the picture windows that lined the river. Outside, I could see that a telephone pole had snapped. The power lines rested on a tree a few feet down the riverbank from us. Looking at the other buildings in view from the windows, I could see that only the nearby hospital had power.

"Isn't this supposed to be a good omen?" I faintly heard a wedding guest ask.

At 9:30, and without power, the restaurant had become unbearably hot. Even with the rain, it was still in the high eighties. I sat at the bar. On one side of me, a priest (from the wedding party) told stories of his days as an Army chaplain in Vietnam. On the other side a few bridesmaids nervously went over the readings they were giving at the wedding. In the middle, I nursed my (fourth) gin and tonic, and read my book on modern war zones (The Hunter, The Hammer, and Heaven).

At 10:30, I finally escaped. AL called, stating that she was trapped at No Ordinary Joe's, a far-too-cutely-named coffee house up the hill from The Olde Union House. I paid my tab, now exorbitant from the five drinks I had ordered, and looked for an exit not likely on the same line as the downed power wire. Finally, I noticed a back entrance that led down to what was probably an unloading bay. I ran onto the metal staircase that led from the exit, hoping desperately to avoid being completely soaked. I slid, Navy-style, down the metal rungs (one of the many lessons my seafaring grandfather gave me), and hopped over onto another stairwell, leading up to a covered path between two other restaurants. From there, I made it out to Front Street, where I could regard the carnage.

Every tree on Front and Broad Streets in Red Bank had been uprooted or shattered. Cars were crushed under the heavier ones. Branches had broken off from trees and launched like arrows through the plate glass storefronts that lined the streets. Car alarms sounded throughout the city.

No street lamp was lit, and it was a new moon that night. Darkness, cloud cover, and rain were the backdrop to the police cars and fire trucks that frantically sped through the streets, seeking out one electrical fire after another. Apparently the heavens do not approve of my good fortune today, I thought. Lighting a cigarette, I stepped over a fallen maple tree, and trotted down Broad Street.
TPB, Esq. || ||

Thursday, August 01, 2002

The one thing I love the most about my office is the obnoxious banter we toss at each other. Here's a classic: "Nice shoes... [pause] How long did the doctor say you had to wear them?" I think I'm going to try and keep track of our little shots at each other. It keeps me amused. Here's one from yesterday.

In response to being sent a blank email from one of our paralegals, a colleague of mine wrote back to the paralegal and I, stating "I just had a frightening glimpse into your mind. Lo and behold, it was empty."
TPB, Esq. || ||

Okay, was the Sarbanes-Oxley thing a little too geeky? Did I cross over into law-geek territory? Because, if I did, I can stray back. I just had to get that out of my system, you see... it was venting over the $200 I lost on my 401k last week.... or the larger amount I lost last month... frickin' bastard CEO's... how hard is it to not run a goddamned company into the ground. I mean, Christ, Edison ran his company on the basis of a sixth grade education, and half the blue chip sector can't even break even?!

Okay... I'll lay off the geeky/rant posts. Maybe I just need to chill out, you know, have some hummus or something.
TPB, Esq. || ||