Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

As far as cons go, it really didn't make a whole lot of sense.  I haven't practiced law seriously in some time but as a criminal lawyer buddy of mine once said of me, I have a really good bullshit detector.  And it started going off pretty quick in the discussion in front of my house early last week.  Here's what happened.

I was leaving my house Tuesday afternoon to run some errands.  As I was walking to my car, I noticed an older lady walking on the sidewalk in the direction of my house out of the corner of my eye.  

"Sir," she said. "Excuse me, Sir."

Great, I thought.  Another version of the "I need 5 bucks to get gas to go to Conway" scam.  As I refuse to be panhandled, I started back up the steps to my house.  

Then she called me by name.  I stopped.  She called me by my name.

She was using a cane and she drug a leg a bit.  As she got closer to me I noticed the surgical scar on her chest.  She was perspiring.  I guessed that she was a cardiac patient. 

"I recognized you from your picture," she said. "I have been walking up and down this street trying to find your house."

"I beg your pardon?" I said.

She told me that she came from a military family and that her husband was buried at Arlington.  She told me that she really liked a piece that I had written for Soiree Magazine here in Little Rock about a picture I took of a young man before he was deployed to Afghanistan.  She said she wanted to shake my hand.  

I still wasn't much believing this, but as she posed no physical danger to me, seeing as how I can take out most elderly female cardiac cases,I stepped off the porch and shook her hand.  Then she got down to business. Seems she wanted me to be her lawyer.  She said she knew she could trust me.

I told her that I wasn't really practicing law right now and that in any event I didn't carry malpractice.  She wilted and leaned on her cane.

"Then I guess there's no hope," she said.

"What's going on with you?" I asked.

" I got a call yesterday," they're selling my house tomorrow.

Red flag time.

"And this phone call is the first you've heard about this?"

"Yessir.  I didn't know nothing about this.  I was hoping you could file for an Injunction."

Well, no I wouldn't even if were practicing law.  Injunctive relief is hard to get seeing as how you have to prove irreparable harm.  And losing a house is not irreparable harm because you can always theoretically get another house. But I gave her the names of a couple of bankruptcy lawyers and told her to give them a call pronto.  And I offered to give her a ride back to her car which was parked over on Jackson St about 4 blocks away.

En route she told me how much she enjoyed listening to me on "Tales of the South.' She especially liked a story I told in which I impersonated my father's Indiana accent.

" I'm from Iowa," she said. "I really liked that one."

She also told me that her financial advisor had stole all her money.  Same thing happened with the investments guy at a local bank leaving her destitute.  And she didn't know that the papers she signed to get money from an investment account was a real estate mortgage.

"Well, evidently you signed one somewhere along the way," I said.

Before I let her out of the car I wrote down the names of the bankruptcy lawyers I had recommended.  I also wrote down that she should go to the prosecutors and to the Arkansas Securities Commission. Just out of curiosity I asked her where the house in question was located.  She gave me the address. It was out in a high dollar neighborhood.  

Hmmm.  More red flags.  

I wished her luck.  But I also told her that stories like this were easily checked out.  She told me she would be glad if I would check her out.  Then again what was she going to say?  

As soon as she drove off in her SUV, I went home and got on the computer.  To check her out. No foreclosures on the Pulaski County docket for her name but there were lots of lawsuits involving people with the same name.  But it is a very common name.  And the cases were old enough that none of the cases were imaged so I couldn't tell.  However, there was more than Plaintiff involved in motor vehicle accidents with the same name.  And there was one lawsuit against a local lender.

I went to the real estate records.  There seemed to be a lot of activity on a property that was allegedly owned free and clear.  But for some reason I couldn't open any documents.  So I went to the Assessor's website.

Son of a bitch.

She wasn't lying about owning a house at that address.  A 500k one at that.  The picture of the house on the page even showed her SUV parked in the driveway.

My curiosity was in the red zone.  I went to the Pulaski County Courthouse early on the day of the sale.  There on the wall where they post the Legal Notices was the Notice of Sale on her house.  

I'll be damned.  

I called a lawyer friend and told her my story.

"That's pretty effed up," she said. "That's pretty effed up even for you."

I ignored the compliment and asked her to get on the real estate records online and tell me what she saw.

" Your friend lied," she said. "That property has been in foreclosure 4 times. And this person came to your house?  I would be a little scared."

My guess is that she also lied about her dire state of poverty, seeing as how she evidently was able to hold the wolves at bay 3 other times.  I kept an eye on the bankruptcy records online as well all week.  She never filed.  Never has filed ever.  Which probably means she has had the wherewithal to pull these other foreclosures out of the fire and I'm guessing the same thing happened last week although she was really pushing it this time waiting until the last minute as she obviously did.  

I'm also guessing the lawsuit against the bank by the person with the same name as hers was a suit asking for an Injunction against a foreclosure.  I don't know that but I'm guessing I'm right.  And an unduly suspicious person might make much of all the car wreck cases brought by a person with the same name.  Then again, it's a common sounding name.  There are probably 15 of them out there.  

Like I said, as far as cons go it didn't make much sense.  I guess she thought I would take pity on her and go helling off into Court seeking relief I well knew she wasn't entitled to on the basis of her word alone.  Or because she is allegedly a fan of mine as preposterous as that sounded even to me at the time. Perhaps she thought she could appeal to my vanity which is generally a safe play except I have a pretty good hubris defense shield that works in tandem with the bullshit detector.  I mean, there are easier ways to find a lawyer other then by searching house-to-house for a face in a magazine. Hell, there are easier ways to find me if someone really wanted to do it.

Like I said, red flags. In abundance.  

But to what passes for her credit, her story was at least partially true although how she got into this fix would be interesting to know. And she never asked for money which surprised me to no end.

I doubt that I will ever see her again.  The con, whatever it was, didn't work and she's smart enough to know that I would put 2 and 2 together. Because I told her that I would.

And while I'm not scared or apprehensive, I really don't like the fact that somebody like her knows that much about me.

Like where I live.  

She liked my fake Indiana accent. That's probably true but only in that she thought it might be useful for her. I'm guessing she saw compassion in my writing and thought she could work it. That's the way con artists think.  

For some folks everything is showbiz. It's how they relate to the world.

But really, I could do without her knowing where I live.  I could do without that.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

It was my privilege last week to assist at a writing camp for Middle School kids all last week at the Hillary R. Clinton Children's Library.  While I don't have much experience with this age group off of the baseball field, I thought that it would be an interesting experience and a friend that works for the non-profit social justice organization that ran it somehow thought I would be good for them.  

While the camp was indeed about writing, it was also about using writing to understand differences (and similarities) among the participants.  Writing was just a vehicle for expression of feelings.  There was very little correcting going on by the facilitators (although I did some) and indeed the kids were encouraged to little 'er rip without regard to potential grading or other type of criticism.  

I guess we had about 30 kids there. They were mostly girls but the group, as a whole, was from all walks of life.  I was by far the oldest person in the room.  The leader, an honest to God teacher, is in her thirties.  The other two facilitators couldn't have been out of their twenties although I may be wrong about that.  But there was no mistaking that the guy with the grey beard was the senior member of the team.  We all wore name tags.  Mine said "Paul."

Something interesting happened early on.  An African American kid referred to me as "Mr. Paul."  The group was then informed that I was to be addressed as "Paul." 

I suppose I get what the leader was trying to accomplish.  Perhaps she thought that I would be offended by bring referred to in this fashion.  Perhaps, this being a camp where inclusiveness was exalted, the leader hoped to cull any age-based distinction or difference influenced distinctions out of their little brains.  After all, to name something is to acquire power over it as the old saying goes.  And, we all know that names can become labels.  And one of the purposes of the camp was to do away with labels and was about treating people as they really are as individuals without regard to race, sex, sexual orientation, age and so forth. 

I appreciate all that.  But I was not offended in the slightest.  After all, anybody could tell by but a cursory glance that I was the oldest person in the room.  And by a considerable margin.

Truth of the matter is, I kinda like being Mr. Paul.  While I really don't consider myself to be "old" I can't deny that I am no longer a kid.  Indeed, I am referred to in that fashion by half the kids in the neighborhood.  Hell, the Straessle kids call me that and they are practically my own flesh and blood. Well, the 6 year old doesn't.  But she's so cute I don't much care.  Also, that's what the kids at Miracle League call me.

I'm also referred to as "Mr. Paul" by most, if not all, younger African-American folks.  That's what my colleague Jason at the office calls me.  A lot of my clients referred to me in that way.  Even if they were older than me.

I like to think of it as a Southern thing mostly.  An intimate mode of respectful address.  So it doesn't bother me at all.  Truth of the matter is, I kinda worked hard at earning that respect and I am OK with sometimes being the oldest person in the room.  Because I'm secure in the knowledge that I am pretty young for my age and that I am better shape than a man ten years younger.  At this stage my age really is mostly a number. So far so good.

That night, I sent an email to the leader telling her that I didn't care how the kids addressed me, just so long as they talked to me.  And for the rest of the week I was either "Paul" or "Mister Paul." By the end of the week the leader was even calling me "MP."

Like I said, I understand the leader's concerns.  Perhaps she thought such language to be overly paternalistic in a certain sense.  Lord knows that was the Southern experience in white folks calling African-American slaves and/or hired help "Auntie" or "Uncle."  Perhaps it was a combined teachable moment and expression of consideration of me.  

While it is always the better practice to err on the side of consideration for others, sometimes it can be misplaced even with the best of intentions.  As was perhaps the case here with me.  

Friday morning I sang the National Anthem in Court for a Naturalization Ceremony before heading over to the camp.  I noticed one of my high school teachers across the courtroom sitting with the other ladies with the Daughters of the American Revolution.  We hugged after the ceremony.  She asked me what I was up to and I told her about the writing camp.  I also told her that while I was having a blast I wasn't quite used to Middle School kids.

"Nobody is used to Middle School kids,"she said." You will never get used to Middle School kids.  You just ride it out. I wish I had a nickel for every time some parent called me at home to ask why her kid had 'changed' since the previous month.  So really, your reaction is perfectly normal. You just have to ride it out."

I suppose that's true.  All I know for sure is that after the creative writing camp was over, Mr. Paul, "the oldest person in the room," fell dead asleep in his easy chair around 9 o'clock that night. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

One of my favorite stories is about the young science teacher who was applying for a job in a rural school district.  He was called before the school board for an interview.  

"Son," the President of the school board said,"We need to know something before we can offer you this job.  Half of the board thinks the world is round. The other half thinks it's flat.  What do you think?"

The young man thought for a minute.

"I can teach it round and I can teach it flat," he said.  

I was reminded of this story after a post made the rounds on Facebook.  The subject was evolution and whether one "believed" in the Darwinian theory of evolution or whether one believed in the Biblical account of the origin of the world, whether it was created in 7 days and whether the human race is descended from Adam and Eve.  

Naturally, this sparked a lively debate that, for the most part, remained remarkably civil.  

And yet, it is remarkable, at least to me, that several of the posters spoke of "not believing" in the theory of evolution.  And this issue commonly pops up in our political discourse as a matter of faith instead of as a matter of science.  

Of course, this particular debate has been going on since the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial.  And, with the advent of the Internet, we see this sort of-for lack or a better phrase-faith-based approach to other issues where what one wants to believe trumps empirical evidence.  

The most insidious form of this is in the form of otherwise sane and intelligent people refusing to allow their children to be vaccinated in the belief that vaccinations can "cause" autism.  The fact that there is no valid science to back this up means nothing.  The fact that the physician that ginned up the "study" that "proved this" was exposed as a fraud and had his license to practice medicine taken from him by the medical authorities in Great Britain means nothing.  As a woman I saw interviewed said on the subject, "I don't care if 10 doctors tell me I need to vaccinate my child, I won't do it."

Of course, the practical effect of the "vaxxers" obstinance in the face of scientific evidence as to the safety and utility of vaccinations and the actual historical experience of the near eradication of diseases like measles, mumps and polio is to increase the danger that these diseases may become ubiquitous in the population again. 

Whereas, the practical consequence for the average evolution denier are less dire.  As I have written before, one may refuse to "believe" the "theory" of evolution without much immediate impact or any impact.  However, one "disbelieves" the "theory" of gravity at her peril.  

Of course, the Bible says nothing about natural science.  And one can accept the Darwinian explanation for the origin of the species and still maintain that he or she is a believer in the Bible.  As the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould said, science and religion serve different magisteria. The fact that the creation myth was an attempt by the biblical writer to explain the origin of the Earth and is not a document of hard science doesn't make it any less "true" in a very real sense.  Similarly, Darwin supplied no evidence that contradicts the notion that the evolutionary process wasn't kick-started by Almighty God.  

And there are many religious people that see no contradiction between the two.  

But, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was fond of saying, "you're entitled to your own opinion but you're not entitled to your own facts." And we are increasingly becoming a Nation in which empiricism is trumped by whatever beliefs make us feel better about ourselves.

And in a world in which our competitors are getting stronger than us in math and science, I don't think we as a Nation have the luxury of reposing faith in only those "facts" that we are comfortable with.  

Some things just can't be taught "round OR flat." 

Sunday, July 06, 2014

My Independence Day Weekend Feeling

Between photography, golf. cookouts and Wimbledon there's no time for blogging.  

Hope you had a fun and safe weekend!  

Talk amongst yourselves.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

I first got the news on Facebook of course.  Then I started getting text messages.  My friend Tony had sustained a stroke of all things late Friday night.  My first thoughts were those of shock and disbelief.  After all, Tony is only in his early fifties if that.  He doesn't smoke and he observes generally healthy ways.  Up until now he enjoyed vigorous good health. He plays softball and he bowls.  Likes to hunt and play golf.

However, his main claim to fame is that he is "Mr. Tony" to the kids at Miracle League where he has tirelessly pitched to the kids all day for most Saturdays since the league started business in Little Rock some 6-7 years ago.  

How could this be possible?

I went to the hospital to see him yesterday.  The big guy filled up his bed in the ICU and he was hooked up to all kinds of electronic stuff.  I took his hand.

"Boy, what are you doing in here?" I asked.  He started to speak.  He couldn't.  His wife Tish is a nurse.  Thank God.  She recognized the symptoms and called 911.  He couldn't answer her last night when she spoke to him.  Tony is a talker.  Time to hit 911.

I was pleased to see that he had good grip strength.  No facial paralysis or drooping.  Movement is returning to the right side.  He can make vocal production but he loses his words when he attempts to state a sentence of more than a couple of words.  He communicated with me with his eyes and facial expressions.

Still, as I told folks later, he is lucid.  Tony is still Tony in there.  That is not always the case after a stroke event.  And I have every hope that he will enjoy a full recovery and return once again to his life of selfless service toward others.

But boy.  This is the kind of thing that wakes you up.  I mean, we are all aware of our mortality.  As the Richard Thompson song "Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed" memorably puts it, "She thought she'd live forever but forever always ends."

Still, you never think guys like Tony, or my late friend Hugh, are gonna get struck down. Not even for a little bit. So strong and larger than life.  This is the kinda of thing that happens to other people.  Like to people that smoke cigarettes by way of conspicuous example.  

Or guys like me.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but thanks to my father's genes I have cardiovascular disease. Indeed, the sludge in my system is in the left anterior descending artery, commonly (and amusingly) known as "the widowmaker."  

Now I work out vigorously, am completely asymptomatic, get 2 stress tests a year and am otherwise hovered over by a gaggle of white coats.  And my family doc says the odds of me keeling over like Buck did are "zero."

But stuff like this gets your attention.  We take our life and our health for granted.  We know not the day nor the hour.  Well, most of us don't at least. But that's a story for later.

Like I said, I have every hope that my buddy Tony will make a full recovery and will be back throwing at kids in wheelchairs sooner than later. The rest of us will step it up over at Miracle League until he can come back.

But damn.  Stuff like this wakes you up.  Life is short.  Way short.

Forever always ends.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

My Sunday Feeling

No MSF today due to family obligations.  

Talk amongst yourselves.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Father's Day Feeling

I've written before that I don't much think about Father's Day anymore.  After all, I'm not one.  And my own father has been gone for so long that it is almost as if he never existed. That's still an odd feeling for me, to have no recent memories. There are a few pictures of me with Buck when I was a kid.  But none as an adult or near adult.  

That's what happens when your father checks out when you are a senior in college.  A kid at Catholic High once asked me when I first considered myself to be "on my own." 

"When my father dropped dead at 52," was my response.  You tend to grow up fast-or faster in any event-when something like that happens.  But the truth of the matter is that I don't much think about it anymore.  It is just "distant ship smoke on the horizon" as the song by Pink Floyd memorably put a similar state of cognitive dissonance.  

Indeed, I hadn't thought of it in sometime one way or the other until the other day when I called an old friend to express my condolences upon the passing of her own father.  

"You were so young when you lost yours," she said. "I just can't imagine."  Well, I did.  It's true. But so many years have passed it's almost just like one of many facts that pile up over time in the building of a life.  Certainly at the time it was a terrible and frightening shock.  But now it's just part of the resume.

That's not a sad thing.  It's just a thing.  A thing that happened once upon a time when I was young. Certainly it shaped and informed my world view.  Surely it had an impact on my early struggles with law school.  I wasn't stupid.  But looking back on it I probably should have held off a year which Tulane offered. But I didn't and 7 months after Buck passed there I was in New Orleans.  

That's a lot to unpack in retrospect.  Not that I was one to unpack things back in those days.  I didn't start that until fairly late in life when it was kind of thrust on me.  Better late than never I suppose.

Off the top of my head I can't think of many of my contemporaries that still have their fathers.  Maybe 2 or 3.  Big Don (who has to be pushing 90) is still plugging along with Virginia.  When I saw him last Summer he took great pleasure in referring to me as "the old retiree."  He still stands tall and his grip is strong.  He and Virginia are still self-sufficient and in fairly good health. Good for them.  And I enjoyed visiting with them as I don't get to spend much time with the parents of my friends anymore.

But do I wonder what it might have been like had Buck not succumbed to the likely outcome of his addiction to cigarettes?  I used to get this question a lot when I was younger.  After all, if my father were alive today he would be 88 or 89.  Not many folks live that long.  Especially with the cardiovascular disease he had and passed on to me.  

I know I have told this story before, but Buck wouldn't let me play golf. Although I am very right handed, I swing a bat (and a golf club) from the left. They tried to make me a switch hitter in baseball but I was useless from the right side.  Despite that neurological problem he would not hear of me playing golf.  I can hear his voice to this day.

" Son," he said. "It's just not done.  Left handed equipment is too hard to find.  The courses are all set out for right handers.  Golf is hard enough for right handers.  I'm just not gonna let you do it."

Of course, he was completely wrong but neither did I have sufficient funds on my 14 year old self to go out and buy left handed clubs to test his hypothesis. Not that I had ever heard the word "hypothesis" at that age either.  

And so when I took the damn game up in my forties, I wondered what he might have thought.  I wondered what it might be like to play a round of golf with him? Guys talk a lot on the golf course.  What would we have talked about?  I can't imagine asking him for advice, because in the real world I did adulthood pretty much on my own and largely on my own dime, because that was the way it was. And so I can't even much fantasize about this.  Still, I think it would have been nice to play a round of golf with my father.  I don't know why I think that.  But that's what I think.  I just don't think about it very often.

My friend Hugh passed away unexpectedly about 4 years ago.  Left two teenage girls.  I remember holding the girls in my arms and telling them that I wasn't much older than they were when my own father died.  I know that girls and their daddies are a different dynamic.  Especially in these parts.  

But I told them that, hard as it might be to believe it at the time, everything would be OK.  

"Trust me," I said. "I know.  It will be OK."

And if they are like me, 35 years from now it will just be a thing.  

A thing that happened to them when they were young.