Saturday, June 25, 2005

The "Do Run Run"

Isn't this a pretty house? It is in Lake Providence, Louisiana which is an otherwise wretched little town not too far from the Arkansas state line. I was thinking of Jennifer Willbanks the other night and these ruminations brought back memories of this stately old home. You may be asking, "What in God's name does an old house in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana got to do with the "Runaway Bride?" Bear with me. All will be revealed in the fullness of time.

By now everybody has heard about the so-called "Runaway Bride" from North Georgia who told the authorities she had been kidnapped when in reality she was merely freaked over the huge high society wedding she had planned with her fiance. As you may recall, half the town went searching for her all over when in reality she was on a Greyhound bound for Las Vegas. When she finally turned herself in and her kidnapping revealed to be the scam that it was, there was much outrage on the part of the citizens and the cops.

I have recently become friends with an exceedingly proper woman from over in those parts. She knows many of the players. She even knows the prosecutor. And being a proper Georgia girl, she went into apoplexy the other night at the mere mention of RB's name and the recent news that she has sold her story to a production company who will make it into a movie. "Why that girl's crazy." she hissed. " She's been nothing but trouble. She's been arrested a couple of times for shoplifting. Now this. It's just not right that she should profit from her wrong-doing."

And so on.

Me? I got no problem with her making a buck if she can do it. After all, this is America where one person's difficult circumstances is another's "reality show." And I can kinda see RB's point about the wedding Nothing brings out the serious weirdness like a High Society wedding in the South. Granted, she ought not to have troubled the FBI and all with her personal problems. ( Parenthetically, I loved what the female FBI agent told RB when her story started falling apart: " We can't start a federal investigation just because you have cold feet, Jennifer." Hear, Hear!) But getting back to the nuptials, I have been in a bunch of these affairs and I could have told RB that she would have been better off to take the money it would have cost to put the damn thing on and to elope.

The following are TRUE STORIES from some of the weddings I have been in:

My first HS wedding was a Baptist affair I was singing for over at the old Immanuel Baptist Church here in Little Rock. The father of the groom was a local politician and the bride was some doctor's daughter. About an hour before the actual service began, the groom, who I knew a little, came up to me.

" Ummmm, about how long do you think it will take you to get through the Lord's Prayer?" he asked.

" I dunno. You were there last night at the rehearsal. Why?"

" Well, could you maybe speed it up? The less time we are all up there standing together, the better."

" I'm not sure I follow you."

He fidgeted and rubbed his forehead. " After the rehearsal dinner, we all went back to the hotel where we all stated drinking. And we all got pretty drunk I have to say."

" Okay?"

" C (the bride) was tired and went to her room."

" Okay? What's that got to do with the music? Do we need to speed it up because she is not feeling well?"

" No, we need to speed it up because I f_ _ _ _ _ the Maid of Honor. Who is all pissed off at me now. And the less time those two spend standing next to each other the better."

I went and told the organist that we needed to do the presto version of the "Lord's Prayer" before eyes were clawed out and bouquets were hurled.

He just shrugged his shoulders. "Something like this always happens at one of these big deals. People just go nuts." he said. "Either that or the groom makes a pass at me."

I never saw any of the wedding party again. The last I heard, the Bride and Groom got divorced and he and the Maid of Honor got married in Houston where they have lived happily ever after.

So some good did come out of this.

The second really big HS wedding I was in was a grand affair between a couple of my law school classmates in Birmingham, Alabama. The bride came from the toast of Birmingham society. Her father was a prominent physician in addition to having a considerable reputation as a rake. Her mother was a southern fried version of a woman straight out of Eugene O'Neill or Edward Albee depending on how much vodka she had in her. The groom's parents were Ozzie and Harriet by comparison.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once made the famous observation that the rich are different than you and I. I don't think that Fitzgerald had ever encountered Birmingham society. Otherwise, he might have said that the rich are more useless and relentlessly supercilious than you and I. Never had I been surrounded by more completely worthless human beings and never have I since. The small talk at the numerous parties given throughout the week were mind numbingly vapid recitations about golf scores, investments, SEC football and all the women the bride's father was hitting on.

Some examples: Upon identifying myself as being from Arkansas to one lady she said, "They fought. They fought."

Upon telling one gentleman that I was an attorney, said, "You work. How unfortunate." This same gallant bastard went on to tell me that he had plea and arraignment coming up on a DUI case in which he had run a police roadblock. Which I am certain amused the Birmingham cops to no end at the time.

" I told the officers that due to the bursitis in my shoulder I was not able to cut the wheel quickly enough." he said with a straight face. They are wrongfully insisting that I was drunk despite the fact that I told them about my bursitis. I intend to take this up with the judge and I will have some badges before this is over."

Finally, after the brunch before the wedding, it came time to clear the tables. A large epicene man who taught art at a local high school was in charge of the decorations. He enlisted the help of some matronly types in removing the orchids that festooned each table. He flitted about crying, "Quickly, quickly! Remove the orchids before the nigras get them."

All of these things I saw and heard in Birmingham, Alabama. Just for fun, repeat these quotes in your most ridiculous southern accent, preferably after consuming 3 glasses of Rebel Yell. That should give you the flavor of it.

Finally, let us turn to the house at the top of the page. The reason this house figures so prominently in my personal history is that the last really decent fistfight I ever got myself into was within the confines of its stately walls. During guess what? A reception after the rehearsal dinner at a HS wedding in Lake Providence.

Let me provide some background. Another one of my law school buddies was marrying a girl who was nominally from Lake Providence. I say nominally because K was packed off to boarding school about the time she started eating solid food. My buddy S came from a working class Polish family out in Scranton or something. He was serving in Army Jag in Ft. Dix, NJ at the time and this would be where he and K would make their home. This went over big with some of the bride's family as you might imagine. As also did the initial decision of the groom's party (all in the JAG Corps) to wear their dress blues in the wedding. The groom quickly realized that their waltzing into the church wearing the uniform of the Army of the Invader might evoke certain unpleasant memories, especially in the elderly in attendance, and they drove to Monroe to rent tuxedos.

So tensions were high by the time I got down there from Little Rock and C, another classmate, got up there from Thibodeaux.

Let us cut to the chase. After the rehearsal dinner, we all went to a reception at the house in the picture. After drinks were served, toasts were made and eventually it came time for the poems written by the bridesmaids. It is SOP in southern weddings for the bridesmaids to recite poems written by them for the occasion usually commemorating events known only to them or to family. As I did not expect any of this insipid doggerel to make me forget Wallace Stevens, I felt that my time was more wisely spent in the back catching up on news with C. And this is where the trouble started.

I immediately was set upon by one of the bride's family, a med student who accused me of " not taking our traditions down here serious enough" thereby causing he and his family great offense.

" You got to be f_ _ _ _ _ _ kidding me!" I explained, trying to be helpful. Whereupon he attempted to perform neurosurgery on me with a beer bottle.

Naturally C, being both Cajun and drunk, pulled me off so that he could take a crack at him. After all, fistfights are to wedding receptions in Acadiana as goofyass poetry is to receptions in the rest of the South. Not much came of it as the altercation was quickly put down by cooler heads. And after an exchange of a few more high words, we took our leave. But not before stealing a cooler of beer that was foolishly left unguarded on the porch.

This was many years ago. We have all settled into our lives and careers. In fact, rumor has it that C is on the short list to be a federal judge down there.

I spoke to him on the phone not too long ago.

" You think that the FBI will ever find out about that night in Lake Providence when they do the background investigation?" he asked.

" They will if they ask me." I said, trying as usual to be helpful.

My friend from Georgia, who incidentally just returned herself from a big wedding in Atlanta in which a makeup artist was flown in from New York for the bride and her attendants conceded that it was all a bit much. (The only other useful information I have gleaned about the event was that the bride was fortified at all times by Bloody Marys and valium.)

"But you know what?", she said. "If that boy goes ahead and marries the Runaway Bride, he's even crazier than her. After all, life doesn't often give you such a good 'head's up' that you are marrying a nut."

So maybe he will have an attack of sense and we will have a "Runaway Groom."

Hope he gets a good deal on the movie rights!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Strange Man Walks, the Rich Old Guy Doesn't and Wally Gets It All Wrong

Today we go straightaway to the criminal justice system wherein you can find all the action you want from the sports and entertainment world.

Let us begin with the BIGGEST STORY IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE which is the acquittal of Michael Jackson. We at TMFW don't really have much to say about this except that we are reminded of what some wag said when OJ Simpson was acquitted: "The prosecution worked really hard to frame a guilty man." I mean, of course, he's guilty. One doesn't share a bed with another warm body over 300 times without having sex.

Without being married,that is. But I digress.

They proved beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt that Michael Jackson is a sexual deviant, a semi-retard and a consummate strange ranger. The strategic advantage the One-Gloved One had over law enforcement was that he wasn't charged with any of that.

People will say that the outcome here is more proof that the jury system doesn't work. We at TMFW say it is proof that it does. When the prosecution comes in with a half assed case where its star witnesses are impeached to a fair-the-well and revealed to be a bunch of whack jobs and grifters, the defendant ought to walk. Even one as repellent and obviously guilty as Michael Jackson.

They proved Michael Jackson is a nut and a creep. The people of Los Angeles County should be grateful to the prosecution for spending millions of dollars to prove the self-evident. As Norm McDonald said years ago upon the divorce of Wacko and Lisa Marie Presley, " I guess being married to a homosexual child molester was just not what it was cracked up to be."

At least Elvis was spared this circus.

But enough about Neverland and the strange ranger that lives there. Let is turn instead to an offense which is near and dear to all of us who follow college sports: Dirty Recruiting. Wealthy businessman and Alabama booster Logan Young was recently sentenced in federal court in Memphis to 6 months imprisonment, which is to be followed by home detention and restitution. This was after he had bribed a Memphis high school coach to deliver local high school football phenom Albert Means to the Crimson Tide. I vividly remember the comments of an assistant coach for Oklahoma (whose name escapes me) who was in town to attend a local banquet. When asked what he thought about the then-breaking scandal he was quoted as saying, "150,000 bucks? For just one guy?"

In any event, the sentencing of Mr. Young, who was described in his June 15 disquisition of this subject as "friends with two of my buddies", drew the peripatetic gaze of Wally Hall, the sports "editor" of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette who decried the fact that a 64 year old man was going to prison for such a trifling matter. Wally should have left it at that. But no, he felt compelled to turn this case into the second coming of the Rosenberg Trial.

Wally wrote, " Young should not have been in federal court. Period." and "Apparently, Young gave [the coach] $ 150,000 to make sure Means signed with Alabama five years ago. How is that a federal crime?"

Well, we at TMFW will explain just how Mr. Young found himself in front of a jury of his peers over his participation in the dirty arm's race that is recruiting in SEC football.

First let us examine Wally's contention that Young was "found guilty of bribing a public official, which is a federal offense." Wally is correct. The crime of Public Servant bribery is indeed a violation of the United States Criminal Code. Ask Edwin Edwards. He knows.

Only Young wasn't convicted of that. Hell, he wasn't even charged with that.

The following is a TRUE STORY which might help illustrate the mysterious ways of how federal criminal jurisdiction happened to reach this latest example of the old "hundred dollar handshake" which is the mother's milk of Division I sports in these parts.

I was once visiting a lawyer buddy of mine in his office in Jackson, MS. He had just got off the phone with an Assistant United States Attorney concerning a sentencing date for his client.

" What's he pleading out to?" I asked.

" Rape." Hugh replied.

" Since when is rape a federal offense?"

" When you do it on an Indian Reservation."

The lesson? Federal Jurisdiction often depends on where you commit the crime, whether you used the telephone, put it in the mail or if you crossed a state line to commit the offense. Even if the crime is not a federal offense.

Basically the underlying charge for which Logan Young was indicted was of crossing a state line to commit a crime, namely breaking state bribery laws. Is that a slender reed upon which to make a federal case? Hell, yes it is. Which is why his defense team filed a Motion to Dismiss. The Court denied it citing Tennessee case law on bribing public officials which it felt would cover the offense of bribing a coach to induce a kid to play football at a particular crime. As the court stated, reference to a violation of state law is necessary only to identify the type of unlawful activity the defendant intended to engage. After that ruling came down, Young "had hisself a problem" as the old-timer defense lawyers say.

Or as my friend Don, who used to represent white collar criminal types back in Alabama, is fond of saying, "State lines are troublesome things."

You get the idea.

He was also indicted for conspiracy to commit racketeering and structuring bank withdrawals to avoid detection through the law requiring banks to report withdrawals over 10 grand to the Treasury. This is known as "stacking charges." And it goes on every day Grand Juries meet in courthouses throughout the land. Ask Jim Guy Tucker.

But he wasn't convicted of bribery. Wally was absolutely 100% flat-assed wrong on that one. One thing about stuff that's on the public record? It can be looked up. From your computer.

But what do I know? Maybe it's just easier to make stuff up.

I also have no idea how Young found himself in the cross-hairs of the FBI. Rumor has it Tennessee's Phil Fulmer snitched him off. Perhaps he made the mistake of dealing with someone who was already the subject of an investigation or who had bragged to someone who was who came forward with this tidbit in exchange for his own freedom. Who knows? The criminal justice world is a dark and evil place. Tassel-loafered good old boys like Young need to leave crime up to the professionals. They are better at it.

Young is free pending appeal. Maybe Wally and his buddies can console him with dinner at Corky's. It might be easier, all things considered to have this pity-party over at the one over in Memphis. He just might not be able to leave Tennessee without Court approval.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Back to the Toy Store

It has been a hectic 10 days here at TMFW. Quite frankly, I am tired. So let's do something simple just to get something up here and let people know that I am still alive.

So, let's return to the Toy Store! Let's bitch about sports!

1) The NBA! As many of you may know, the NBA Finals are upon us. Which means that the conspiracy theorists that follow the sport, and their name is Legion, will be on the 'Net and the talk shows claiming that the games are fixed, pretty much by the edict of NBA commissioner David Stern.

The most recent example of this thinking comes from the irrepressible Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons, who after they lost game 5 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat claimed, "They (the league) wants there to be a Game 7." This extemporaneous opinion cost Rasheed $20,000.

Forget Rasheed. He is a lunatic. And lest you think TMFW be hatin' on Rasheed, let us examine the record. He set the NBA record for ejections from games when he was with that roving jail break known as the Portland TrailBlazers. This should come as no surprise when you consider that 'Sheed may be the only player to have ever gotten tossed in McDonald's All-American game when in high school for Christ's sake. You could look it up. Indeed, an NBA scout once said of Rasheed, "Portland's biggest problem is that Rasheed Wallace isn't their biggest problem." Whoa! So let's forget Rasheed.

One of the reasons that conspiracy buffs find it easy to believe that games can be fixed is that, well, basketball is one of the few team sports in the modern era where games have indeed been fixed. You had the scandal at CCNY in the early fifties. Former NBA superstar Connie Hawkins took money from gamblers while in college. More recently gamblers got to players at Boston College and Tulane in the eighties. (As an aside, despite being bribed to shave points, Tulane's Green Wave always played it straight against Louisville because they hated them so much. Ya gotta love those idealistic college kids.) And Eddie Sutton, back when his paranoia was in full flower at Arkansas and Kentucky, would sometimes refer reporters to the power ratings and the point spread in the newspaper after a close loss as proof that the game was rigged from the opening tip.

Look, the common denominator in all of these scandals is criminal activity. It would not surprise me at all if the NBA would like each series to go the full seven games to milk the maximum advertising revenue out the event. But if you actually believe that David Stern could possibly orchestrate a conspiracy between the league and the refs to favor one team over another and to keep it a secret, well, you need to stick with Intelligent Design, the Homosexual Agenda and the DaVinci Code. You would be better off and your time would be better spent. Conspiracy theories thrive in the Petri dish of the unprovable. Thinking that the NBA is fixed is just stupid.

2) Wally! On June 7, Wally Hall wrote a typical discursive ( the unkind might say rambling and incoherent) piece in which he opined that Susie Gardner, the coach of the women's basketball team at Arkansas, might be in Frank Broyles' cross-hairs after a couple of mediocre seasons. On June 8, he was back pedalling at warp speed.

In a piece entitled " Observation of power not meant to be offensive", Wally wrote that his suggestion that Frank Broyles is running the Athletic Department up there was not meant to be a knock on Bev Lewis who is the Women's AD. He even apologized in print to her for suggesting that she would allow Broyles would to intrude upon her turf.

What has Wally been smokin'? Frank Broyles is practically omnipotent. He could have Mike Huckabee fired if he wanted to. But Broyles is nothing if not politic.

Here is how it would work:


" Bev Lewis."

" Bev, this heah is Frank. I want you to fiyuh Susie. Call yah press conference at 2 this aftuhnoon. I'll be on a flight to Augusta by then."

" Ok. Cool. Who do you want me to replace her with?"

" I'll have to get back to you. Aftuh all that shit with Nolan, the lawyuhs say it needs to be a black woman who is over 40. Meanwhile, I gotta call in to Pat Fostah. Bye now, heah?"

But is really interesting is the first sentence of the piece wherein Wally writes, " As soon as I read it, I knew it hadn't worked."

Didn't work? I thought journalism was supposed to be fair, accurate, thought-provoking even incendiary. It's not suppose to work. And if he knew it didn't work as soon as he read it WHY RUN THE PIECE?

This is just another example of what we at TMFW have always maintained about Wally: that he pretty much writes the first thing that flies into his head which for some reason is allowed to grace the front page of the sports section of the State's largest paper without having been first scrutinized by an actual journalist-editor.

We do not know this, but we suspect that somebody up on the Hill called and bitched and Wally retracted so as to not offend.

God forbid we ever do that on the sports page. Especially in a column entitled "Like it Is."