JUST MUSING: “The wait staff pretended not be listening, not to be watching…”

The invitation to give a speech at the Baytown Country Club was bittersweet in a number of ways.  From third grade through high school my family lived in the shadows of the country club, a world apart, foreign to our everyday reality.   The invitation came two years after an extended and bitter fight over prayer in school.   The case, Santa Fe School District v. Doe, wound a tortured path through the United States District Court, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court.  My representation of the Doe(s) served as one of the impetus for then federal judge, Samuel B. Kent, personally expressing his intended life’s mission (“I will make the  next forty years of your life miserable” (his actual quote was more profane and colorful – mean-spirited, bordering on bullying.  Absent spelling out the profane words, the descriptive words used above, coupled with one’s imagination should suffice to provide a proper setting)).

I drove that day with the intent to make the luncheon speech on time.  It was now clear to me His Honor had made good on his promise of my intended demise.  He had dismissed 18 out of the 25 cases in which I had in his court.  His Honor crafted three opinions a week, over a six week period, releasing each opinion with great fanfare.  The opinions inferred the plaintiff’s lawyer (interpretation – me/moi/mì) was suffering from drug or alcohol problem(s).  Each opinion contained faint praise – he at one time was an excellent lawyer, but that something was now amiss in his behavior and practice before the Court (please read this with a cultural twist on my part – “He be talking about me”).

His honor, in those 18 orders, directed I forward a copy of the orders to the affected clients.  All of the orders contained an explicit recommendation for plaintiff file a grievance against their lawyer or sue the lawyer (again, me/moi/mi).  Not surprisingly the clients took the Court’s advice, 18 grievances alleging their lawyer violated his obligations to them.  In hindsight I don’t blame the clients.  The cases were now dismissed.  Their only remedy was an appeal.  They didn’t know my history with His Honor.  Not many people would resist an explicit order from a federal judge inferring their lawyer was a drunk, on drugs, or made a mess of their affairs.   Part of me was internally insulted:  never consuming alcohol in my life, refusing to allow any type of drugs/mind or body altering substance to enter my body.  Avoiding advertisement, peer pressures, expected behavior.   I saw too many of my classmates succumb and fall by the wayside because of the use/abuse/addiction to those substances; substances readily available, far more available than say a fresh apple in our neighborhood.  I wonder why?  I wonder why?

His Honor also visited his fellow federal judges and told of his life altering plans for me.   He requested his fellow “his/her honors” become active participants his goal to rid the bar of my presence.  His expressed invitation was extended in a meeting of his fellow judges for the Southern District of Texas.  One of his fellow judges revealed this secret to me, even though the judges’ meetings are confidential.  Her Honor wasn’t the only one who told, another Her Honor spouse revealed the remaining judges’ decision to reject Judge Kent’s invitation to participate in my demise.  The judges directed me to file any new Galveston Division case in the Houston Division.  The remaining judges directed me to file any new case in the Houston Division, assuring me those cases “would not” be transferred back to Judge Kent’s court.    My complying with the other his/her honors’ request did not protect me from the pending grievances, nor shield me from the public relationship war being waged by Samuel B. Kent as he continued to issue opinion after opinion.  The other judges also made clear they had no authority to remove any of the pending cases from Judge Kent’s court.

When Judge Kent issued his weekly opinions, he followed his orders with a phone call to the local print media (Houston Chronicle and Galveston County Daily News).   The reporters would then in turn call me for my response to the latest edict.  I gracefully demurred.  My addressing the press in a state of anger simply didn’t seem to me a likely path for success or survival.  Judge Kent’s initial attacks began in 1997.  The Supreme Court heard the Doe case in 1999 and issued its opinion in 2000.  I was now two years removed from the Supreme Court’s decision; time’s passage did not make my drive any less internally traumatic.

҉            ҉            ҉

The drive from Galveston to Baytown was bittersweet because all which preceded my invitation to speak gnawed at me in the same manner the chemical plants gnawed at Baytown’s harbors.  My office had now been gutted.  Fear of the unknown became the burden imposed on the young lawyers and staff members prior to their fleeing to safer, more reasonable and lucrative harbors.  As they fled, the office became a poor facsimile of our previous self.  His Honor’s much public attacks devastated our federal docket, obliterated the overall caseload and caused our income to plummet.  Samuel B. Kent’s actions mirrored others’ acts which had played out during my existence in Galveston – different actors, a different time.

The trip to Baytown allowed His Honor’s unwanted attention and my childhood memories of a changing/challenging world of a desegregating south to play out.  The landscape was familiar to me, somewhat akin to watching a well-worn movie, listening but not listening, watching but not watching.  However, none of this is why I muse.  I muse because history is a vicious reminder of our past, and a wonderful predictor of our future.  I muse because as I happily now exit the legal stage somewhat similar to the boxing ring, my history tells me that my being excluded, mistakenly being invited or being expelled from the ring were constants of history’s lessons.

I was running a little bit ahead of schedule.  My decision to travel to the speech immediately after my court appearance in Galveston allowed me to save some time.  I left early also because of other obligations, a requirement I appear in federal court in Houston after the speech.  My office had informed the Houston court of the conflict and the possibility of running ten to fifteen minutes late.

When the invitation was extended, I had not been told much about what my host wanted me to speak about.  The only information given was their wanting to hear of my experiences in Santa Fe v. Doe, no other instructions.   My childhood anxieties refused to remain in the car – they walked with me every step of the way – from car, to sidewalk, to door.  The well-appointed room served as a backdrop for my history and anxieties.  I was immediately met by a gentleman.

“I am glad you made it.  I am glad to meet you personally and not just talk with you on the phone.  We were worried whether your hearing in Galveston would go over.  And then the rains came.”

“I finished early and made up some time.  Thank you for the invitation.”

“I am so excited you are here.”  It was at this time I was given a fuller picture of what the host wanted to hear.  “We want to know whether you were disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling and if so what do you expect in the future?  … Is there a chance of any additional test cases?  … Prayer in schools is important to our members.  … We request you speak for thirty minutes, leave a little time for questions.”  …

The host left me little time to answer his questions.  He left even less to take in this new information, saying, “Excuse me, I must check with my colleague on something else.”  Walking away, leaving me to my own devices.

Why on earth would I be disappointed with a ruling which was in my clients’ favor?  What test cases was my host referring – I didn’t have a clue.  This smartly dressed business man moved across this once prohibited sanctum to visit with others of like ilk.  I had not moved far from the front door when Wanda Cash, a former Assistant Managing Editor for the Galveston County Daily News, approached and asked whether I remembered her.  I assured her I did.  She now occupied the position of editor and publisher of The Baytown Sun.  Wanda too expressed unbridled excitement with my appearance.  A smile seemed permanently etched on her face.  Wanda appeared to be enjoying herself a little too much.

When Wanda left my presence, I reached for a program on the front desk.  I was now confused.  I was described in the program as the lawyer representing the school district.  “An unfortunate loss” the members were informed, but “optimism for new strategies, new cases all to assure prayer in school.”  The Baytown Rotary Club invited the wrong person.  I wasn’t the other lawyer.  I had no earthly idea how those lawyers felt, and was pretty sure no one was going to inform me of any planned test cases in order to get the question of prayer in public schools back before the United States Supreme Court.

My predicament was not one of “guess who coming to dinner”.  I was already at dinner.  When I looked up from the program my smartly-dressed host was approaching again.

“We are going to do some general business first.  There are some agenda items we need to address before I introduce you.  I say five minutes.”

            “Sir, I have something to tell you.”

“You need something from us?”

“No sir, I’m fine.  The description of me on this program is not me.  I think you invited the wrong person. I represented the children and parents who challenged prayer in the public schools, not the school district.  We won.”

As Ali’s phantom punch of Sonny Liston, in their second fight, was too fast for the human eye to perceive so was the effect of my words on this stranger.  Those words propelled his 165 pound frame across the floor.  The tails of an immaculate grey suit flapped as he approached other similarly attired men.  He may have attempted to mask his horror, he couldn’t.  His hands served as tell-tales, flailing uncontrollably.  His body appeared distended with gas.  He attempted to whisper, but the other men did not.

             “Oh shit!”

Oh shit is right.  I’m hungry.  I did not eat breakfast.  I started my day at 5:00 a.m., prepared for two hearings, spent two hours in the first hearing and traveled here in a driving rain storm for the last hour.  If I don’t find something to eat, I’m not going be able to get anything in my stomach until 4:00 p.m.  The first time my Negro butt gets to go the Baytown Country Club and I am going to get kicked out!  I have seen this dance before –‘no you can’t come in, no don’t use that water fountain.  Why to the back of the bus, are you kidding me.’ It wasn’t my mistake! Oh come on, I’m hungry!

 I immediately identified where the food was coming from and played bird dog and headed in that direction.  I was met by one of the wait staff at the door.  I told her what I perceived, what I expected to happen.  I don’t remember what she looked like.  I only remember her showing all thirty twos when I told her what was going on.

           “Can I get a plate to eat before I get kicked out?”

“Sure baby, absolutely.”

When my food was brought, it appeared the entire kitchen staff came out – all people of color.  They were the most friendly, happy bunch of Black people I have ever seen.  Joy filled the air.  Joyous, joyous people of color; I expected a chorus line to form.  While I ate I noticed the word of the mistake passing from lip to lip, ear to ear.  I noticed Wanda Cash standing and watching – the wait staff – her fellow Rotarians – me.  She was happy, a profane giddy happy; happy, happy.

The food was excellent.  The okra gumbo competed with my mother’s.  I consumed the food as fast as I could – wiping and eating, wiping and eating – as efficiently as a starving man could only achieve.  The same fast when you realize the dad doesn’t like you.  The same fast when you realize you don’t like him.  I knew I had to leave as soon as possible.

“Thank you.  The food was good.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed the food.”

“Did you cook the okra gumbo?”

“I did.”

“Check your foot, one may be missing.”

“Oh baby please, you made all our day.  If you want to take some with you, I will make you a container.”

Their day became more joyous as I approached my hosts, still conversing in the southwest corner of this temple of my anticipated expulsion.

“Sorry, excuse me.   I figured out how we can address the mistake.  You can tell your members, I got sick from the food.   I will gracefully excuse myself and make my court appearance on time.”

I expected my host to accept my proposal, he did not.  The frown gracing his forehead, which first appeared when I told him of my discovery, seemed to have become permanent scarring.  “No we want you to stay.”  I was shock by his stance, shocked enough to accept and begin thinking about what I could possibly say at a luncheon I shouldn’t have ever appeared.

The wait staff pretended not be listening, not to be watching.  I pretended not to be noticing those colored people now lining the walls.  Wanda Garner Cash wasn’t having any of our cultural “not be(s)”, she smiled, bounce in her chair in a perceptible manner.  She enjoyed these events more than anyone should publicly enjoy themselves.  Her public display of joy in all probability could meet the definition of obscenity.

I told the shocked faces I knew of the mistake.  I identified myself.  They didn’t clap.  The … Oh Shit … moment still lingered in the air.  The wait staff was having none of our socially acceptable behavior – clapping, smiling, watching – standing in a row, glued in place, collective humanity holding up the wall.

I explained, “My belief in the Constitution was borne in Goose Creek’s public schools, funded by their tax dollars.  “You have no one to blame but yourselves.”  Visions of years past came back, flooding and clouding my thoughts.  Some in the audience flashed oblique smiles.  The wait staff didn’t care, extending a laugh of appreciation, as if Richard Pryor had healed and was on stage again.

I tried to explain the importance of free speech, why the parents’ complaint was upheld by the Court.  “Thank you for the food.  Thank you for the invitation.”  They remained in their seats – astonished – well, except Wanda and the wait staff; standing, clapping, enjoying life’s contradictions a little too much.

After speaking, I hurriedly made my way through the sea of blues and grays.  I was stopped by Wanda before I could escape.  “Anthony wasn’t this just a great meeting”, all spoken while her body continued to tremble with glee, a giddy glee.  Wanda’s only attempt to control her condition came in the form of wiping her eyes.  We wished each other well as I made by dash for the door to escape   “Wanda, I’m so glad you had such a good time.”



[Author’s note:  The above muse was initially published on November 1, 2014 on Blog.com – thus a throw-back musing.  The musing is the Web-Manager’s favorite musing, and remains so.   It is hoped you enjoyed this version, with slight modifications from the original.]


JUST MUSING: “Yin – yang…”

Last night (July 19, 2017), I went to bed cataloging the things I wanted to accomplish the next day.  Taking to bed with me a newspaper to finish reading an article, completing the task, then sorting through news on the phone, seeing the report of an interview to be published in the next day in the Times.  Shaking my head, mumbling incoherent thoughts, seeing the accomplishments to be achieved the next day, wondering whether the task list was too long, falling off to sleep, believing, convinced all things are possible.

I complained in the last musing [Just Musing:  “I think he died in the zombie apocalypse…”], that my mind had taken an unexpected hiatus.  I sadly must report, after awakening at 3:00 a.m. such is not the case anymore.  An internal awakening, first, a gentle jab, followed by an alarm which refused to stop – ringing, ringing, ringing – malfunctioning in the worse way.  Compelling the body upward, announcing in bold, unmistakable terms – “you didn’t honestly think I was gone forever.”  Causing confusion, fully awaken, finding myself at a computer at 3:30 a.m., typing confessions.

Confession – I didn’t start shaving regularly until nearing the age of thirty – turning left, looking deep into the mirror – turning right.  Feeling for stubble – finding none – moving closer to the mirror, promising to dare not confess to others; as if shaving was part of the rites of passage; a determination of manhood.  Silly, silly man I was.

Confession two – the one time I used a deodorant I burned my underarms.  No older than 13/14 standing in front of Mamma showing, complaining; inflamed, reddened, painful unarms – watching her touch, smile, smell – “as only a mother can” – before speaking, “you’re lucky”.  Telling me not to bother, using logic, inquiring, awaiting an answer, walking away requiring me to figure out the rest.  Never imposing a male standard, what boys should do, what boys need to do, preaching against stereotypes.  No, that wasn’t Georgia way.

“Do you smell anything?”


“Did you smell anything?”


“You’re lucky, you don’t need a deodorant.  Also your skin is too sensitive.”

In an abstract written by Yutaka Nishiyama, the author postures Asian cultures prefer odd numbers, Westerner cultures prefer even numbers.  Quoting from the abstract seems appropriate:

Abstract: Japanese prefer odd numbers, while Westerners prefer even numbers. This is clear from the distribution of number-related words in Japanese and English dictionaries. This paper explains the reason for this cultural difference by surveying the history of numbers, Yin-Yang thought from ancient China, ancient Greek philosophy, and modern European mathematics.

The concept of numbers is seen in other aspects of our lives; in design, in the art of placement (feng shui), and even in storytelling.  Whether two examples are sufficient, or whether three examples have a different meaning in other cultures, I am going to play it safe and side with the rule of three and provide one more confession.   Confession three:  I didn’t start drinking coffee until the age of sixty (if you can call my habit “as drinking coffee” – a (as in one) cup in the morning).

The repairman was making a second – third – visit, in only a month.  Wondering out-loud why the coffee machine (a fancy relic of the law practice) was now deciding not to malfunction.

“The counter says you barely use the machine.”

“The counter is right.”

He fixed the machine, at a considerable price. Before leaving he gave me some advice, “If you don’t use it, it will continue to break down.”  To comply, I decided to make a cup a week, discarding the contents in the sink.  Something in the back of my head realized how wasteful this practice was, seeing my grandmother chastising me, standing over my shoulder, instructing me “not to waste food.”  Seeing images of years past, peeling potatoes, remembering her instructions, “it is not properly done until you can see through the potato hull.”  Watching her take the potato away and show me, wondering whether I could ever move as fast as she.

Telling the story of the machine to a friend, who came over to talk food, and continue the lesson on making Korean Seaweed and Rice rolls.  After making her a cup of coffee, Sue smiled, went over the coffee machine and retrieved a bean and bit, consuming the entire bean.

“Good for you.  Good for you.”

Extending a hand, handing the other bean she held to me (“bite it”); smiling, letting me figure out for myself, laughing at my silliness, discussing the origins of coffee, suggesting I drink a cup a day, or get rid of the machine.  Moderating behavior thereafter, consuming one cup a day when in place, seldom consuming coffee when on the road; don’t ask me why not on the road – I have not earthly idea.  But I digress; this musing has little or nothing to do with coffee, but more to do with the confusion which remains from reading what I read prior to going to sleep the night before.

My mother was a master of watching, listening and injecting at the right time.  When I was deciding on a major in college, she asked, “What is your decision?”  Never demanding; always stated in the question form; watching, waiting for an answer.

“Political science or religion…,” was my response.

“Why religion?” … “Do you have plans to teach?” … “Do you intend to open a church”, said with a smile.  I answered “no” to each question.  Mamma knew the answer was no.  I probably went through some long explanation of religious conflicts, wars, doctrines of various faiths around the world, world peace.  Mamma listened from afar, extended a spoon in the pot, tasting, turning, smile askance, before advising, “You needed to consider whether the School of Religion is a debating society, willing to debate faith.”  So political science it was, the study of culture and politics. I say the above to say, everything I has learned over the years has been turned on its head.   Perhaps I made the wrong choice.  Perhaps I need faith.  Confused … lost … bewildered … what is occurring?

It is now 4:41 a.m. in the morning.  I have not read today’s (July 20, 2017), New York Times’ story wherein our President admits he would not have appointed Attorney General Sessions if he knew Session was going to recuse himself from the Russian investigation.

No, I am not fan of Attorney General Sessions.  I didn’t think he was qualified to be a United States District Judge and was happy the Senate denied the attempt to promote him years ago; finding explicitly he wasn’t qualified to make decisions on others rights.  When the President-elect identified Sessions as a possible choice for Attorney General, the shudder returned.  This time no matter how reasoned the argument Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions was appointed to the highest law enforcement office in the land.  The plans of mice and men … maybe the mice will survive … I digressed again.  I’m sorry.

The reason I am confused:  I have never seen in my life someone, anyone, a President, continue to insist other constitutional office holders owe him a duty.  That shouldn’t be the role of the Attorney General.  He/she is not the personal lawyer for the President, if so the rule of law will always be subverted, no matter who the President.  Hoping against hope, not seeing the sun, wishing I knew an appropriate prayer, chewing on coffee beans, seeing the time (5:01 a.m.), having rushes of anxiety come in odd numbers, then even, flowing over and out, feeling for stubble, smelling, smelling, smelling the foulness of the his statement, wishing to see a day someone pulls the Constitution in one of his interviews with the alleged fake press, and use the document when questioning him about his continual assaults, which are nothing than fundamental attacks on the rule of law.

JUST MUSING: “I think he died during the zombie apocalypse…”

The well-known term, writer’s block, needs little explanation; the inability to think about what to write, or how to proceed with writing.  Merriam-Webster defines the condition as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece.”  Others have mused and written on the condition, telling of their frustrations, seeking others’ counsel, admitting inadequacies, shooting blanks (spoken in a literary sense).   I muse to say the purported writer’s block is a writer’s admission of being human, without conceding they are no different than anyone else.

Tossing, turning, awakening, attempting to comprehend, words, images, failing woefully; watching text float, disappearing into the unknown, seemingly propelling me into the same unknown space.  Describing such a condition as writer’s block is too kind, almost dismissive.  A more telling description – The sprinkling of invisible dust – by someone, something – in the cranial cavity, while placing locks on all windows to the world, rendering one a proverbial idiot.  No dictionary definition, my definition.  How about this as an alternative definition? – Gathering collective thoughts, ideas, images (collected over time, stored for prosperity sake, and later use) in a dust-pan, then a wheel-barrow, moving to the edge, dumping all contents into the abyss, rendering the subject, plain, simple, stupid.  With that, my admission – such has been my wont.

The human brain weighs 3.3 pounds (1.5 kilograms) – approximately – making up around 2 percent of our body weight.  The brain operates as the command center for the human nervous system, “receiving input from the sensory organs”, sending “output to the muscles.”  This rudimentary explanation of brain function is to make clear the later part worked, sending output to muscles, compelling functions; the former did not.  World and local events have meant nothing.  Seeing, reading about matters which normally serve as an insult to my understanding of history of the world, politics, religion have had no effect; frozen, seized in time and place, caring little of events, war, famine, crime, deceit – so be it.

The bane of the medical profession is not single-payer health insurance.  The health care industry represents 17.8 percent of the American economy.  Even in my current condition (feeling as if I have been handed a dumb-down membership card from the Zombie Apocalypse Club), I have figured out the profession/industry’s greatest threat – internet research.    Giving us too little information, and even that information over our heads because our lack of knowledge base, assuming we can become competent by reading an incomplete explanation of terms, concepts and conditions someone has spent years studying, causing us to become dangers to ourselves.  I muse to say, I am no different.  In searching for answers, I read, “Memory loss that disrupts daily life may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s or another dementia.  Alzheimer’s is a brain disease that causes a slow in memory, thinking and reasoning skills.  There are 10 warning signs and symptoms.  Every individual may experience one or more of these signs in different degrees.”  Moving back, away from the computer, grasping the chair, holding my breath, thinking, not thinking, counting signs, diagnosing, self-diagnosing, dismissing the notion of a temporary condition, jumping logical chains, assessing my condition.   My, my, my, I knew I should have eaten more spinach!

Years ago, I was requested to take on a death penalty case in which the condemned man’s lawyer had just died.  The State of Texas in its good wisdom thought it wouldn’t look good to execute a man just after his lawyer died.   In this void I received a call from a local district judge (I. A. Lerner).  Judge Lerner informed me that an execution date was pending (“you can probably get the date moved”, as if this information was comforting), that the Court of Criminal Appeals had just recently affirmed the sentence of death (something I had read about in the newspaper), and that the condemned man needed a new lawyer (I remember His Honor inserting the word, “immediately”).  My mental synapses were sharp enough to know there was no mystery as to whom he (the good judge) thought the new lawyer should was going to be.  Before terminating the conversation, “His Honor” informed me the county had no money to pay for my anticipated good favor.  Tendering the man’s name, providing a case number and his location in the prison system, thanking me, terminating the conversation; I thanked him (for what I don’t know) (maybe this was the first sign of early Alzheimer’s).

Working under an impossible timeline, rifling through thousands of pages, grading another lawyer’s trial and appeal work, looking for any error which would stop the execution – was my task.  Day and night, day and night, day and night – three weeks with little or no sleep; travelling from court to court, preparing hundreds of pages of briefing, counting the time – the days, hours – before the execution.  Ignoring all signs of trouble, speech, balance, the loss of fine motor skills; incessantly talking, taking a seat on the floor, recounting what had to be done next, never seeing the Gods reach and turn off the lights, falling fast asleep in mid-sentence, never completing the thought, being stripped of every sign of life, save a deep sleep – out cold.  Told later, not remembering any of events leading to the mind shutting all impulses, shutting down, refusing to further participate in the body’s demise.

So maybe my current condition is a temporary one, which has lingered for two/three weeks; maybe it is not.  Life has a funny way of letting us know – when the internal insult returns, becoming too much; words, images, events causing one to protest internally, then verbally, or even by the use of the written word; telling the good story, the colorful tale, or to participating in resisting when the synapses can take no more.  We’ll see.

JUST MUSING: “You got me going in circles…”

The conversation deviated unexpectedly, bounding off topic – television shows, movies, topical news, diet – an unexpected exit, moving from one lane to another, crossing lines, without regard, moving the discussion to the forbidden.  The frustrations of life sometimes unexpectedly become unbearable.  She detoured to one of those occasions.  Movement across terrain reminding me of the age-old myth, the non-recommended method of teaching a non-swimmer to swim – toss them in the deep end, emit a hearty laugh and walk away.

Life is transitional, moving, rising, ebbing mimicking the Mother Nature’s moods – the ocean, the wind, the earth under our feet – deceptive, imperceptible movements, explosive at times, forming mountains, gorges, redirecting rivers – gifting us the unexpected, the richness of living.  No matter how much we plan, how we plan, the known and unknown contingencies, life can still be full of surprises, causing our best laid plans to go asunder.  The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry – indeed they do.  Unpredictable forces, blowing, gusting, disheveling, cooling, calming, welcoming, causing movement back and around, leading to frustrations and loss of hope, albeit, even if just temporary.  Sometimes jagged, other times unhindered,  movements – through measurements of time – opposites indeed – representing life’s contrasting, predictable and unpredictable challenges; rising east, descending westward, sustaining dreams, concreting failures, fears – outward – upward – inward.

Moving in another direction she did.  Ignoring societal rules – determined to say what she was saying.  Casting me forward, from one level to another, slouching no more, upward, rocking side to side, before straightening, stiffening the spine, freeing myself of the excessive body movement; changing the slight line, no longer looking upward – staring at nothing in particularly – to the right of me, to the left of me, locking into her stare instead.  Staring at nothing in particular, not that I can tell; seeing slight, barely perceptible movements – much like the earth – eyes, lips, forehead, layered with moisture.  Seeing, feeling a cloud move overhead, staying put.  Her appearance could well be contrasted with Mother Nature’s dabbling; sprinkling, moving gently over the contours of her face, reddening, applying moisture to eyes, lips, forehead, painting a distinctive plum-like line on her bottom-eyelid.    Trance like, having to say what she wanted to say.  Ignoring the normal rules of the path well-trodden; spilling secrets, careening rapidly downward, spilling words as she spoke; exiting the pavement, in control, out of the control, toward the exit, seeming oblivious, spilling more – admitting, admitting, admitting – settling in life’s intersecting roads, silencing any contribution to the conversation, causing me to re-position both hands, shifting my body weight, becoming more a part of the couch; gripping, holding, staring.

“I contemplated suicide that day.  Everything came down on me while parked on the seawall, staring out at the Gulf, listening to the wind, birds circling, watching the few people who remained pass; like life… like life.  Seeing my children, wondering whether I was going make it through the divorce, worrying about money, thinking how unfair life is.”

My words – silence [                      ].

“Crying, crying harder, barely able to contain myself, feeling the Gulf winds, seeing the sun set, seeing myself move out-of-body – you know – not actually exiting but exiting – out-of-body, walking down the steps onto the beach, actually down the street from you …”

I didn’t see any of this coming.  Uncomfortably readjusting my posture, feeling and seeing the power of the Gulf; the changing contours of the coast, pushing, shoving, welcoming, sustaining; providing life’s substance.  Wondering how far did she go?  Filling every second with thousands of thoughts; each millisecond with almost as many questions; counting to myself, hoping she couldn’t hear me count.

“Down the street …?”   Repeating what she had already said, followed by involuntary grinding – teeth, feet, hands.  Slowly time, attempting to focus, watching, concentrating, seeing the plum lines in her face grow more intense, seeing the mist covering her face grown thicker.

“I never left the car.  I lost track of time.  I ran out of tissues, blowing, wiping, blowing; using my dress when I had no more.  Raising it up, blowing more … then he came up on one of those things.”

“What thing?”

“That thing, where the traffic cops stand up while riding, on two wheels…”


“I guess so.  …. Out of nowhere, telling me, ‘you have been here for a while Ma’am, you will need to put some money in the meter.’  He moved back, forward, back, forward, balancing, repositioning, “You need to pay or move on.”

I expected her to end the story, wipe the tears away, permit the blood in her face to settle, relax her shoulders, she did neither.  The shoulders remained tight, the stare positioned elsewhere; reliving the moment, telling the moment.

“‘Pay or move on!  Are you kidding me!  I am sitting here contemplating killing myself, getting ready to walk in the Gulf and you want me to pay money.  What else you folks want from me. After I kill myself are you going to send me a bill?  What else?  What else?  Damn you and your damn meter!’  I screamed at him as loud as I could.  He began spinning on that thing, in circles – clockwise – counter-clockwise, clockwise – round and round he went, within a few feet of my window.   ‘Damn you, damn you, damn you’, I screamed.   Back, forward, back, forward he went.  His thing …”


“Yeah, that thing … appeared to have a mind of its own, moving about, not permitting him to talk, settling suddenly, allowing him to talk, ‘Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, never mind you can sit here as long as you like!’  After speaking, the young man moved backward, his eyes bulging, not because he was nearing the edge – ‘I’m sure’.   Instantly correcting his position he did – on that thing – moving away, down the seawall, disappearing, into the horizon.”

Her last words were followed by rapt-laughter.  She wiped her face, replaced the previous intense creases with different creases, emitting the welcoming laugh.  Almost as if she was honoring Adam West’s Batman – P-O-W … Z-I-N-G  … Z-A-P … To the Bat Mobile Robin!  Her laughter was unlike the traffic cop’s reaction, moving backward shocked by her screams.  Hearing a scream he had never heard before, the scream of life’s frustrations.  Unlike the scream he heard when he entered his parents’ bedroom without knocking, seeing what he didn’t want to see.  Different than scream he emitted that day, himself, when he was showing off for the attractive life-guard, coming too close to the edge, tilting over before being grabbed by a co-worker.  Not knowing his age, but see the circumstances she described vividly, screams unlike the screams of remembrance the crowd screams – knowing screams – when the Friends of Distinction stood on the edge of the stage, years hence, singing, reminding of loss loves, hurting loves, “You got me going in circles”.

Turning, turning, turning, he did, before fleeing.

Her scream was the scream he emitted internally when he unknowingly crossed the thin-line – we all walk – interfering, bringing her back from the edge she had been pushed by the challenges, and pressures of life, all becoming too much.  A simple act – doing his job, reminding her that she couldn’t park free; a simple act of interfering, pushing her back from the edge, stopping the tears, capturing her mind, breaking the hold of the Gulf – circling, circling, circling- followed by laughter he never heard, now too intent never to interfere again, blending with the crowd, moving eastward, while the sun continued her track westward.

JUST MUSING: “One hundred and one Jason Bournes …”

I have often taken a position that the soul of a criminal defense lawyer is revealed early.  Much like a birthmark identifying kin, spanning generations, telling a tale, sometimes foreboding, other times a blessing.  Not like Catalan popular cultural beliefs with regards to witches, “a witch is a woman who, by means of a pact with the Devil, has acquired supernatural power, which she uses for her own benefit and for evil purposes.”   No, no, mine’s eye is different, believing the markings are not visual, instead sometimes bundles as a riddle, hidden, not hidden, confusing, not confusing.  Sometimes obvious signs are seen: rooting for the Indians to rout the Lone Ranger, even though the Lone Ranger appeared to be a nice guy; shouting “lock her up” and pointing at the screen at Dale Evans – yes Dale Evans – believing instinctively there has to be an “other side of the story”; hoping that someone would eventually make Clint Eastwood’s day.  No, the signs are oft-times obscure; nary a mark of the devil on their posteriors, only one pupil per eye – not two – no horns.  Matters not whether the indicators are open and obvious or obscured, everyone knows the child is different, and none are shocked by the child’s declaration years later of his/her intended vocation, to defend the criminally accused.

Walt Disney’s movie 101 Dalmatians was adapted from Dodie Smith’s 1956 novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians.   Without viewing the movie, or ever cracking open the book, one can readily assume the title references the power of collective action, exceeding the power of one; a similar tale told in various parables, fables, lessons learned in life.  This muse however is not about 101 Dalmatians, the Lone Rangers, Dale Evans, or Clint Eastwood.

We have a President at war with the intelligence agencies in this country.  Complaining when they reported the Russians interfered with the presidential election.  Screaming fake news, lying and ranting over leaks when the leaks clearly are designed to show the American public our president is lying to us.  Insisting there is a bug in the White House, parsing his words, walking gently over the coals, careful not to over-speak, fearing there is actually a bug in the White House.  Tweeting … tweeting … tweeting, directing his rage at Jason Bourne, wanting us to root against Jason Bourne.

The initial confession contained in this muse is heartfelt, meaning it is difficult to admit a bias when the majority is rooting otherwise.   Something about color, being an active participant in that thing called southern heritage and known and unknown history of this country.  Imposing a minority paranoid, leeching, controlling thoughts, persisting much like a neglected bath tub ring.  Screaming at the movie screen – at no one in particular – throwing books down, away, against the wall, complaining about the distortion of history, seeing the distortion.  Seeing and remembering history differently than others.  Disagreeing with the assessment that Andrew Jackson was a hero, (seeing the travails of Trail of Tears), refusing the blame the victim, screaming, screaming, screaming when the Patriot Act was passed, reading, seeing abuses the language concealed, instead of protection promised to the American public.  Wishing against Tarzan’s, telling a different tale, seeing him deported back to Los Angeles.  Understanding the punch-line when the Lone Ranger turned to Tonto, speaking in a united tongue when surrounded by Indians, “What do we do now Tonto?”  Understanding the point when Tonto finally awoke from his previous submissive slumber, replying, “What we white man.”  So I confess.  Oh Lord do I confess.

However, this time I have to work against type.  Casting aside my paranoia, much like Superman’s cape.  Running toward the door, the window, hearing Johnny Nash’s voice, singing, singing, signing, “I can see clearly now.”  One foot up, one foot down, one foot down; turning as the song resides, understanding it is fundamentally necessary to root for the Jason Bourne, the one hundred Jason Bournes; those whom our President has declared war against.

Throwing the book of protocols out the window, telling others the lies, recognizing we are experiencing a difference the country has seldom seen.  Recognizing the ability to outrun, out-shoot means nothing at this time, calculating their survival, the country’s survival, exposing the duplicitous nature of he and his cohorts’ conduct.  Ignoring party lines – telling, telling, telling – hoping others too will awaken from their slumber and do the same.  Not caring that in movie and books, Bourne is always white, always blond, eyes sparking much like the blue seen in the Mediterranean Sea, the sky after a cleansing rain, projecting the historical-embedded argument of superiority, of supremacy, much like Tarzan, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  Seeing a connection between “He Who Wants to Fight One hundred and One Jason Bournes” and the violent attacks occurring daily around the country, resurrecting and affirming hate, dividing us, pushing us into distinct and separate camps.  Hearing Bourne’s theme music, rooting for the enemies’ demise – because it is the patriotic thing to do – eating more popcorn, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

JUST MUSING: “Two visitors, the bartender, two fat wood-rats…”

The City of New Orleans recently began the process of removing statues honoring heroes of the Confederacy from its city plazas.  The lists reads like who’s who of the southern insurrection; gracing plaza, overlooking vistas, situated near the halls of governance, welcoming visitors world-wide, telling the story of a divided nation.  One side insisting on the abolition of slavery as an institution, the other willing to take up arms, destroy a forming union in order to protect their perceived God given right to own human chattel.  History tells us the treasonists’ bid failed; history constantly reminds us their mark on history did not fail.

Enacting laws to maintain a caste system, engaging in terrorists acts against those they deemed inferior, using the rule of law and law enforcement to protect the subjugation of another, erecting statue’s in every courthouse plaza, hall of power the use of public and private funds could finance, making the lyrics of the song, This Land is Your Land is much like Mickey Mouse, a fallacy.

҈            ҉            ҉

The bartender seemed friendly.  Moving back and forward, appearing to be tethered – on a line- moving up and down the bar, attentive, filling orders, far more efficient than Siri.  At times ending the order by saying “okay”, but never “Google Okay”; speech pattered spoken at a time prior to the birth of either.

“Picture of beer … anything else?

“Dark…light…, okay?”

“You’re sure, you don’t want another?  Okay?”

Sliding free popcorn down the bar, proclaiming, keeping others engaged, never forgetting who ordered what.  “Good catch!” “Whoa, heads up!”  “Freshly popped…!”  Much like a miracle worker, multi-tasking, wiping, pouring, filling, commenting, turning, retrieving clean glasses – stacking them, sliding filled vessels across, down on end, down the other end; polishing, polishing, polishing – the counter, glasses; engaged – listening – not listening – remembering names, completing incomplete sentences, stories, seemingly a multi-linguistic mutant possessed with the ability to engage in multiple conversations with different creeds, emanating from the other side of the divide.  Moving forward, backward, forever remaining tethered; assuring everyone was content.  Watching his movement, interaction, concentrating, then it happened, appearing in the form of a blur, seen not seen, accompanied by a pat-pat sound, not at all graceful, not clumsy though; moving rapidly left to right, then out of sight;  disappearing behind the large mirror taking up most of the back wall.

I turned to Jeff, he to me.   “Did you see that?”  Jeff didn’t answer initially, peering downward, looking into his beer, crewing, rolling a straw which was situated in his mouth, before answering, “I hope not.”

I wasn’t drinking alcohol.  I knew my vision would not have been affected by the Coke and water which sat on the counter, which was being consumed between every two handfuls of popcorn.  Still I reacted, picking up one, then the other, looking about; shaking my head in disbelief, followed by “no” before going back to our previous conversation, sharing our day, listening to others’ conversations, watching, watching, watching, with country and western music rafting through the air.  We were young lawyers at the time.  I was months out of law school.  Working for Staff Counsel for Inmates, throwing the facts of cases around, sharing our visits to other parts of the State, and the reaction of the judges when they realized the law compelled the release of a convicted inmate.

Not getting far into the conversation before the again occurred again – this time from right to left – accompanied by the same sounds – patter, patter – a scratching slide, across the track formed by the proximity of the mirror and wall – patter, patter – rapid movement under subdued lighting, causing much the same reaction, now however accompanied with new movement, shoulder blades moving upward, hands pushing off the counter, releasing the free popcorn from our grips, no longer looking at our drinks, placing them instead on the counter, movement backward, followed by an immediate comment, “I know I’m not drunk; did you see that?”

“Yes, I saw!  I saw!”

Looking around, watching for others’ reaction, seeing none, wondering whether we were seeing ghosts, Mickey’s great revenge for not believing, he – Mickey – appearing in the form of a wood-rat.  Patter-patter, slid.

“No one else is reacting.”

“Maybe we are seeing things.”

Jeff chewed on the straw much like a cigar smoker, not with any certitude, pulling the straw inward, with a small portion protruding, aptly reflecting of our uncertainty.  Looking left, looking right, refusing to take our eyes off the track, seeing All Seeing Eyes and Ears stand between our eyes and the wall, confirming what we saw.

“His name is …”

I don’t remember “his” name, but his was the image we saw; a well-fed black wood-rat.  All Seeing Eyes and Ears didn’t stop there however.

“A pet …”

“A wood-rat…?”

“Yes, a pet.”

Perhaps All Seeing Eyes and Ears’ words served as the appropriate introduction, causing “them” to come forward.  “Them” – the big black one and a companion; the other was brown, with white patterned spots.  Blurred images moving rapidly across the horizon, like The Roadrunner, like Wile E. Coyote; one leading, legs moving, in circular motions; one chasing, legs moving in the same circular motion … pitter patter… pitter patter … pitter patter.

He – All Seeing Eyes and Ears – smiled.  “The bar’s pets.”

Looking around, seeing no one else move.  No one else reacted, remaining in place, content, feasting on rat infested popcorn, consuming urine colored beer.  We – Jeffrey and I – were having none of it, acting instead the part of rude houseguest – moving backward, pulling, tugging, pushing, tossing money on the bar (“Keep the tip”); letting the locals have their place, their ways; watching out for the two obese wood-rats as we made our way out.  No, no, no, not us.

I know some of you may well be insulted by my implied disparagement of wood-rats.  Others may believe I am disparaging you, owners of pets.  I am sorry, wood-rats! – All Creatures Great and Small – my ass!  I don’t care.  I simply don’t care.    I was trained by a grandmother to kill – “all rats and most snakes” – with few exceptions.  “Carry a stick, with you.”  I obeyed, walking with one eye ensconced, safely guiding the path; the other eye was the wandering one, much like those circular security eyes, mounted in the corner, or ceiling, high above, out of the way, snapping, snapping, snapping, away.  Even if you are insulted, I must confess, I have digressed woefully, running amok much like the way Jeffrey and I ran that evening years ago, fleeing those crazy folks enjoying a beer with their disease infected brethren.   I muse to say my existence in Huntsville, Texas, served as an appropriate contrast to the Confederate statures which remain in place laying claim to history, the land, and the difference between right and wrong.  Our fleeing the local watering hole was a mere inconvenience on our part, causing us to pray and hope the popcorn was actually freshly popped; visiting another establishment telling them what we saw and being the none surprised, when they too named the rats.

“Cool huh?”

“No, not cool, those are damn rats.  Do they ever cage them?”

The new server never answered the question, instead, treating us like the strangers we were (Brother’s from Another Planet, indeed.  Yes indeed.), instead answering our question with a question, “You’re not from here, huh.”

The difference between the long persistent Confederacy statues is more pronounced.  Remaining in place, not an oddity; scattered throughout the South, making clear to the descendants of slaves they are and will remain second-class citizens, even when the enshrined heroes were enemies of the United States and sought the overthrow of the United States.  Sidney Sherman, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Jonathan Stonewall Jackson, and if he had been alive during the Civil War, Andrew Jackson, an others – prominent names of the Confederacy, engrained in stone, a testament to historical arrogance in which the City of New Orleans finally called.  Absolutely we fled from that bar.  Our insult was not an insult felt by the other occupants.  We left them secured in place, enjoying each other conversations, their drinks, the bar tender’s skills, those two fat wood-rats and that nasty-ass popcorn.

Sons and daughters of the south possessed no such right, forced instead to exist in a constant state of occupation, permanent figures standing guard, idolized in novels, movies and Americana lore.   Confederate flags flying overhead, affixed to cars and trucks, incorporated into welcoming signs when entering small southern towns, plastered on the front of stores during the time it was unsafe for the descendants of slaves to travel the highways and byways.  Ever persistent, unlike a bothersome gnat, more like a psychological hammer forever hammering the supremacy of the White race, justifying the insurrection, slavery and the ugly strain embedded in the annals of history.  So bravo New Orleans, bravo!

JUST MUSING: “You’re sure nobody died in your story…?”

The persistent debate is whether life mirrors art or whether art mirrors life.  I will confess early, I stand with the camp with believes the reason fiction is referred to fiction is because it is made up, somewhat anchored in life, real and imagined facts oft-times blended to tell the tale.  Taking real life events, changing names, dates, sequence, then pretending the events do not represent real people; while friends snicker, knowing full-well where the line between truth and fiction divide.  Art most times remains grounded in real life, providing a starting point, deviating at the split in the road.

I have this friend who traditionally interrupts any story with the statement, “umm, and nobody died in your story.”  Her point is rather simple, someone has to die, pay the price for each insult, offense, every challenge to the protagonist’s dignity.  Much like a Hollywood driven plot, keeping the audience anchored in their seats, forgetting to remember (needing to pee), knowing the plot line, waiting to see, who is going to die.  Fifteen seconds in the movie, illicit activity in an darkened room, somebody making love, then the woman dies – flash, flash – followed by disjointed, disconcerted events, someone walking across the street (death of the only black guy in the movie) – two minutes in no less, musical score playing – blacks, greys, blues, a panoramic scan – Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Lake Shore Drive, Fifth Avenue, the cobbled streets of Istanbul, Avenida de Maceo – scan right, scan left – a view of the sky, setting the tone and tenor, an explosion, additional deaths.  Five deaths in the first ten minutes of the movie, tracking the first two chapters in the book, remembering now – you need to pee – refusing to move, remaining anchored in place, the light from the screen casting harrowing images over the audiences, settled, calm, satisfied with death, telling a predictable tale, halos magically lowered over everyone, now believers; art is life, not the contrary.

“And nobody died in your story?”

“No, no one died.”

“Then your story has a fatal flaw, somebody has to die for their transgression.”

A comma, followed by a gruesome death; semi-colon, two death; a dash preceding a calamity; more deaths than births, deaths preceding celebrations, deaths accompanied by dynamic descriptive words, flipping pages; the only ambiguity in the story is how many deaths, counting again, wondering why the characters never take a pause in life, seemingly avoiding depression, particularly when annihilation abounds, Armageddon is the path.  Step by step, another death; inch by inch, death – turning, turning, turning – seeing death with each turn, each blink of the eye.

Politicians running into trouble with approval ratings, criticizing enemies, perceived or otherwise, leading to the predictable, wagging their proverbial tails (or is the right word, tales), watching their ratings improve, flexing the nation’s muscle, proclaiming leadership – much like the movies – followed by sanitized deaths.  Absolutely, I admit my friend’s version of life is correct – in this context – somebody does die; invisible, sanitized death, somebody dies.   Flipping channels, seeing the same story, flipping again, and again, seeing predictability unfold, accompanied by music, commercials, telling and retelling the story.

“Somebody gotta die!”

“Somebody …?”

“Somebody gotta to die …!”

Death is inevitable.  This doesn’t mean good story telling must always include multiple deaths, retribution for the offender, living by the Old Testament (eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth), in living color, with a dynamic score playing against the backdrop of blacks, whites, blues, still-waters, a victim lying in the street.

“Every time …?”

“Yes, every time – at least in my version of life, my version of the story.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the death rate in the United States in 2014 was 823.7 deaths per 100,000 people, with the life expectancy being 78.8 years. The number of deaths in 2014 was 2,626,418.   The CDC reports the birth rate  was 12.5 per 1,000, with 3,988,076 births (in 2014).  The data seems to indicate my friend’s analysis is flawed.  There remains still more births than death – in most societies – not the contrary.  No the statistical data does not mean every transgression is followed by a birth, breakup to makeup, with The Stylistics singing the score, followed by another car chase, music – reds, whites, blues flashing across the screen – followed by birth, another, another.  The statistical data suggest that every good story need not entail 5.3 deaths for every 50 pages of text, a minimum 30 deaths per feature film, untold number of deaths to others when our elected leaders desire to show leadership, bravery, to support the good tale.

The evening light settled on the window sill, refusing to intrude farther than two inches from the edge of the ledge, hindered by time, the rotational pull of the earth, the Gods.  The tables in the restaurant no longer seemed sequestered, each now occupied.  Kissing, hugging, staring stories, reflecting emotions, sharing their day, interacting with the hostess, the wait staff which moved through and among, those same worker bees moved much like the sugar ants moving across the door’s transom, down the side of the building to the sidewalk.  The sun retracted further, out of the building, tracking time, reminding all she was no longer a participant, promising to reappear, settling on the sidewalk, winking, yawning; the proper tenor and tone, a well written play, directed and produced by Hollywood.

The stranger’s eyes pointed in one direction, watching, listening not listening, to her companion.  Her ears moved to the next table, listening, following the story-line, directing her attention away from the Eggplant Parmesan placed on their table – yellow, red, purple, white,  contrasting against fresh basil – listening, listening, listening – a participant from afar.  No deaths took place.  Everyone made it through dinner without the hallowing sounds of anguish, allowing the stranger to hear clearly, to participate.  Captivated, remaining part of the story, finishing her meal, situated in one world, a participant in another, finally fully intruding.

“Which soap opera are you talking about?”

She believed the story had to be fiction, intricate facts, stranger than fiction, interlaced with intertwined relationships – tears, anger, infidelity, love – reflecting colors, light, life.  Her reaction told me she believed, pulling away much like the sun, returning fully to her companion, her table when my friend bellowed a hearty laugh, replying, “No, no dear, no soap opera, I am talking about my friends!”