Sunday, November 27, 2011


No Sunday post today.  Too much stuff going on.  Will be back next Sunday with yet another heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Talk among yourselves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Thanksgiving Feeling

I would like to think that, for the most part, I am a grateful man.  While I have had my ups and downs since last year, much like you, I have on, the whole, nothing much to complain about.  Allow me to take a moment to count my many blessings in this space.

First of all, I would like to thank the Civil Service Retirement System.  While it is not responsible for the content of this message, it allows me the freedom to sit here in tennis shorts and a Nikon sweater on a Thursday morning rather than being at the law office.  As a corrollary, I am grateful that I had a long career.  Likewise, I am grateful for the prospect of doing something else.

I am grateful for my friends, both old and new.  As I have written elsewhere, the outpouring of love and affection upon the news of my retirement was beyond what I expected or deserved.  I am truly blessed beyond measure.  I do not take my good fortune or the love of others for granted as I know now all too well how fragile they can be. 

I am grateful that I have become even closer to old friends.  As Mark said, "We got a good thing going here, Bowen.  Let's not mess it up."  Although he did not use the word "mess."  And I am grateful for new friends.  You can never have too many.  At least I can't.  One of my new friends is a Baptist preacher.  Another is a therapist.  It doesn't hurt to hedge one's bets.

I am grateful to have few wants and even fewer needs.  I am grateful to have some time to figure out what my next step will be.  I am grateful for Amy at the gym.  This is despite the fact that she attempts to kill me on a routine basis.  Female trainers are the worst.  They get ahold of a fit man and they treat him like he just bounced a check. 

I grateful for the opportunity to read another short story for the Tales From The South Holiday show.  Next Tuesday.  Starving Artist Cafe.  In Argenta.  5 bucks at the door. 

I am grateful for the tolerance of shameless plugs such as the one above. 

I am grateful for Ronnie and Alicia, my new friends from Thibodaux.  They will return to UAMS next week so that Alicia can begin her stem cell treatments.  They will spend the Holidays here in LR.  I am grateful my friend Chris Riviere told me that they were here and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve these wonderful strangers at my gate.  I just hope that Ronnie,him, makes gumbo again back at the RV, non.

I am grateful for how I spent last Thanksgiving.  If you have a chance to express your gratitude to someone or to return a favor, do it now.  You may not get another chance.  Having said that I am grateful for a more acute appreciation for those opportunities when second chances present themselves.

I am grateful for my good health.  Oddly enough, my blood pressure dropped a good 10 points since last year.  I wonder what we can attribute that to.  While I am grateful to be healthy and strong, I do not take it for granted.  Read the recent headlines in the Sports section.  Hang around over at the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Center awhile.  You think you got problems?  You don't have problems.  And neither do I.

I am grateful for Newt Gingrich.  This is great. 

I am grateful for the return of college basketball.  Especially since it looks like the NBA is going to shoot itself in the head. 

I am grateful for Community brand Dark Roast coffee direct from New Orleans.  I am grateful for friends bearing whisky.  I am grateful for Brother Richard and his gentle wisdom.  I am grateful for the fact that I caught that I had accidentally spelled "gentle" "gentile."  Which is kinda funny if you think about it.  I am grateful for a woman who likes me because she thinks that I am kind as much as anything else.  I will take that.  That would have pleased my mother who liked me because she thought I was "such a gentle man, just like your father."

Maybe that's why me and Brother get along.

I am grateful for a roof over my head.  A new one at that.  I am grateful that I had sense enough to listen to Uncle Howard 30 years ago and always set aside money with each paycheck.  That's why I can afford to carry on my profligate ways for at least 7 months to a year before I have to get serious about other employment.  I am grateful that my youngest brother is about to get out of court finally.  I am grateful for the certain knowledge that even the nastiest, most protracted litigation must always come to an end. 

I am grateful for my license to practice law.  Oddly, enough I'm starting to miss it.  Didn't see that one coming. 

I am grateful for another Thanksgiving and the opportunity to see my family in Heber.  I am grateful that there's a lot of water going under the bridge.  It needs to stay under the goddamn bridge.

And I am grateful for you.  Whoever and wherever you are.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Townsman of a Stiller Town.

To-day the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at the threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

"To An Athlete Dying Young," by A.E. Housman

I knew Garrett Uekmann in much the same way that most people in Little Rock did: as a football and basketball player at Catholic High School here and later as a tight end for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  And that's OK.  He was just a kid and there was not much reason for people other than his friends, teachers and family to know him much beyond the limited context of the honors he achieved on the playing field.  However, I can say this.  I never heard the single bad word uttered about him.  And that's not true of everybody either at Fayetteville or Catholic High.

He was in his sophomore year in college, well on the path of formation to someone other than just an athlete, when he was found dead in his room last Sunday morning.  The mind reels.  How can this be?  19 years old.  An elite DI athlete, strong as 3 men.  And from all accounts he just "up and died" as the old folks say.  I cannot possibly imagine what his parents are going through right now.  Cannot possibly imagine.

Years ago, I attended a funeral service for a man who died in an accident.  Jim's hobby was remodeling houses.  He accidentally got across a hot wire in an attic one day.  And that was that. 
The homilist at his funeral Mass was Andrew McDonald, the Bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock at that time.  He told a story from early in his ministry when he was confronted by another tragic loss of life that was equally unfathomable.  I paraphrase.  But not by much. 

"There was a young couple in my first parish church.  Devout.  Strong in their faith.  Their only child had just drowned in the lake.  They came to see me not only for solace but they wanted answers.  They wanted to know how something as unspeakable as this could have happened to a couple as devout as they?

All of my studies, all of my training at seminary and in graduate school did not provide me with an answer.  Neither did my own faith in God.  So I told them, 'As God is my witness, I do not know why these things happen.'"

Bishop McDonald paused for a moment.

"I stand here today as your Bishop," he said. "And as God is my witness I still do not know why these things happen."

And perhaps that is still the only answer. 

Scant solace for his thunderstruck friends and devastated family, to be sure.

But perhaps the only answer.

Rest in peace, you good boy who had no need of rest so soon.  Rest in peace.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

My friend GiGi motioned for me at the back of the courtroom.  She was sitting next to an Asian lady. 

"Ask him," she said, pointing to me." He would know."

"They said we can take pictures."

"Yes ma'am.  This is the only time cameras and cell phones are allowed in a Federal Courtroom. You may take a picture."

" Will I be able to take a picture when my husband takes the Oath?"

"No ma'am," I said. "They will administer the Oath to everyone at once.  But when your husband goes up to receive his Certificate, you can go up and take his picture then."

"That won't be a problem?"

"No ma'am.  Absolutely it will not."

"Oh good," she said, obviously relieved. "This is such a happy day.  I'm glad I can take a picture. Thank you."

"Thank you.  And congratulations."

I suppose I have sung the National Anthem for at least 7 Naturalization  Ceremonies.  I got this job due to the fact that up until last October I was the best tenor in the Federal Building.  Now I'm just the best tenor the United States District Clerk has on speed dial.

It's a fun gig.  I try to get there early to avoid the jam at the security point by the entrance.  If a Color Guard is there, I go through the drill with them.  Unless, it's the Marine Junior ROTC from Catholic High.  With them, "just like at the ball game boys.  The flag is presented and we do the Anthem." suffices. 

Usually, the Clerk takes me back to chambers to shake hands with the Judge before Court is convened.  Friday's ceremony was presided over by United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere.  We go to the same church.  Last month's ceremony was run by United States Bankruptcy Judge Audrey Evans.  She lives down the street from me.  I used to be scared to death of Federal Judges.  Now I pretty much know them all.  This is all pretty cool.   

Yesterday, as I sat on a bench near the Bench waiting for the show to start, it occurred to me that people that hate the the government would do well to see one of these ceremonies.  Of course, it also occurred to me that a bigot who hates the government (and they sometimes are one and the same) would probably be alarmed to see so many Asians, Hispanics and Arabic people assembled in one spot. 

To some of these lunatics, the government is represented by a Muslim illegal immigrant who is trying to take their guns and do away with Medicare.  If the average Tea Party wing nut were to attend a Naturalization Ceremony, assuming they could get through the security point without packing a gun, they would see something else: the entire magisteria of civil authority in the service of all manner of people from distant shores.  In the Courtroom Friday I saw representatives of the military, law enforcement, the goddamn Postal Service even and elected representatives.  The Courtroom Security Officers enter.  Unlike the average day in Court, they aren't all tightassed.

"All rise!"

A Federal Judge appears.

"The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, United States Magistrate Judge Beth Deere, presiding in now in session.  All those that have business before this Honorable Court, draw near, and you shall be heard.  God save this Honorable Court and God save the United States of America."

I always watch my new fellow citizens as the Judge is announced.  Some of them smile.  Some are transfixed.  Some are in tears.  The Judge has taken the Bench.  They are about to become Americans by rule of law.

I thought of something else as well while sitting out there on my little bench.  Weirdly enough, I thought of Tim McVeigh.  Rather, I thought of the spoken by the Judge when he condemned McVeigh to death.

The judge said something along the lines of "The Government is not some abstraction that looms over us.  The Government is people just like you and me."

The Government is people like you and me.  And last Friday around 50 people got to be part of it.  Just like you and me.  Just like the Tea Party. 

Like the lady said.  Such a happy day.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

Ronnie and Alicia had never been to Little Rock before.  But then again, Alicia had never been diagnosed with multiple myeloma before.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is one of the leading centers in the world for the treatment of this dreadful disease.  I have heard that people show up on the steps of Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church with literally nothing more than a suitcase and a piece of paper that says "UAMS." 

Ronnie and Alicia took a more conventional route although they decided to go ahead with a planned vacation to Albuquerque after their doctor back in Thibodaux gave the bad news to the kids and them.  Their doctor told them to come to Little Rock.  So when their vacation was over they pointed the RV East and headed to the People's Republic of Hillcrest where they knew not a soul to begin Alicia's treatment.

I received the news that I had strangers at the gate via-what else?-text message.  My Tulane buddy Chris Riviere was deer hunting with a relative of theirs when he found out.  He sent Mike Robichaux-the relative- an email with my contact information and copied me in on it.  Chris sent me another text asking me to check on them. 

Small world, non?

I met Ronnie last Sunday in the lobby of the Winthrop Rockefeller Cancer Center at UAMS.  He was standing by the elevators.  He had a Subway sandwich in one hand and a Toyota cap on his head. 

"You must be Paul from Tulane."

"You must be Ronnie."  We shook hands. 

"How's it going?"

Tears.  Oh God.

"It's hard, man," his Cajun accent pronouncing it hod , " It's been hard."

By now I'm crying too.  Great.  What a sight that must have been, two grown men and all.  After we had composed ourselves we went up to see Alicia. 

She was sitting in a recliner tethered to a pole.  They found me a chair.  I sat and held her hand.  We got to know each other.  Being a woman, she is tougher than either Ronnie or I.  She told me about her kids and grandkids.  She talked about how nice the folks at UAMS were.  They both talked about how pretty they thought Little Rock was although Ronnie said he could do without all of the Hogs depicted everywhere.  I advised him to keep those thoughts to himself.  I also told him he was lucky that the only peoplein the room that understood his thick Cajun accent that delivered that observation were his wife and I.

"I know there is no cure," Alicia said as I prepared to leave. " But I hope this will buy me a little more time.  I would like to spend more time with my family.  To see my grandchildren grow some more.  That's all I want. The doctors say it is treatable.  That's all I want."

The biggest lie in the world is contained in the phrase "I know how you feel."  Unless, of course, you know how someone feels.  I can only imagine how lonely it must be for folks from rural Acadiana to be uprooted from their insular Cajun life and to be inserted into the booming buzzing confusion that is UAMS. 

I am just happy that I can provide, through mutual friends in this small, small world,  a tenuous connection to home.  I understand them perfectly when they talk.  Except on voicemail.  Cajun voicemail so far is indecipherable to me.  But that's OK.  My pingy Arkansas accent probably hurts their ears.  What's important is that we are all here for each other.

Like I told Ronnie, " I know everybody in this goddamn town and half of them owe me something.  We're gonna get y'all some support."  Not exactly the Beatitudes.  But that's how I roll. 

As I type this, Ronnie, Alicia and their son Greg are heading South having spent the night in Vidalia to break up the drive to Thibodaux.  They will be back here in late November.  By then, hopefully, I will have both the Catholics and the Methodists layin' for them.  And I know a couple of female cancer survivors that I can sic on Alicia.  The biggest lie in the world in the phrase "I know how you feel." They know how she feels. 

Once upon a time I wrote-concerning the passing of Kurt Vonnegut of all things-that hope abides in the heart that loves.  The days ahead will be hard indeed for my new friends.  But Alicia loves her family and she loves her life. 

And so hope abides. 


Friday, November 11, 2011

Speak, Memory

My friend Richard sent me a message on Facebook-of course-after he read my Father's Day post.  He wanted to share his recollection of something my Father once said either to him or to one of the classes he taught at Mabelvale United Methodist Church.  For the uninitiated, this means he was relating something that took place no later than the early seventies. 

Now, as anybody who has ever done a deposition can tell you, memory can be a tricky thing.  I wish I had a nickle for everytime I have seen somebody testify under oath about what they remember with crystalline clarity to be true only to have a document shoved under their noses prove the opposite.  It's not that these people are all liars. Memory is selective.  People tend to remember what they want to remember.  People confuse emotions with facts.  It's just human nature. 

But I have known Richard about as long as I have known anybody.  And so I know that there is not an ounce of confabulist in him.  So I will just relay the message.

Richard said that the discussion that day during United Methodist Youth or whatever group my father was leading concerned the proposed Vietnam Memorial.  He says that my father didn't think much of the notion.

He said that Buck talked about being at Guadalcanal and how you could smell fear in the air.

"Your Dad said he got so sick of that smell and being so sick of being afraid himself that one day he set up on a trench and smoked a cigarette," Richard wrote."

" You want a monument to war?," he remembers Buck saying. "Go down to the State Capitol grounds and dig a slit trench.  Fill it with all the trash and rubbish you can find.  Urinate in it.  Defecate in it.  Now let it fester a couple of weeks in the sun.  That's your monument to war."

There are a couple of problems with this recollection.  My father didn't serve at Guadalcanal.  However, although he was in the Navy, as a Seebee he served on many islands that the Marines had taken over and so he would have been familiar with the contents of a slit trench.  Further, my father was a painfully shy man, especially around women and girls.  Accordingly, while I can't imagine Buck ever using elevated bathroom language in front of high school kids, the slit trench as a metaphor for the ennui and degradation of war would have come easily to him.  So it might have been Buck. 

Most likely the speaker was Mr. Dalton Miller, who did indeed serve in the Marine Corps in the Pacific Theatre.  I have no recollection as to where he fought but that much I am sure of. 

But it doesn't matter.  As we lawyers say, the story has the "ring of truth."  Richard most assuredly heard the story from a veteran whose actual wartime experiences made his view of war cynical and unromantic.  That's all that matters.  And it stuck with him to this day.

And whoever the speaker was, we owe him a debt of gratitude along with all the other men and women who have worn, and will wear, the uniforms of the Armed Services of the United States of America.  To me, the slit trench is only a metaphor.  To either my Dad or Mr. Miller, the slit trench served both as metaphor and a disgusting reality of daily life at one time in their youth back during the Big One. 

Thanks to them and all the other veterans, I vote as I please, pretty much say what I please and go to church wherever I want.  Or I don't go if I don't want to.  Thanks to them, I was able to spend my youth and young adulthood acquiring an education and a profession.  Thanks to them, I enjoyed a good career from which I was fortunate to retire early.  Thanks to them, you and I enjoy a measure of personal autonomy that is the envy of much of the world.

And thanks to them, never had to sit atop a slit trench in order to cover up the smell of fear all around me. 

For all of these things, I give thanks to our vets.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Big Trouble In Happy Valley

By now, even the non-sports world is reeling from the sordid tale of the sexual assault of a young boy in the locker room shower in Penn State's stadium by a former coach and the subsequent completely inadequate response on the part of very important people in the athletic hierarchy who were informed about it.

Let us begin by reconstructing a basic timeline.  In 1977, Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky starts a non-profit called "Second Mile" which is created to assist at-risk youth.  More on this later.  Sandusky resigned from Penn State around 1999 or so.  However, he still had a parking place, keys to the building and an office at the athletic complex. 

On March 2, 2002, a graduate assistant informs Head Football Coach Joe Paterno that he had seen Sandusky having sex with a young boy-adjudged to be about 10-in the shower in the football locker room the night before.   On March 3, Paterno advises Athletic Director Tim Curley that the GA saw Sandusky "doing something of a sexual nature with a young boy."  No law enforcement investigation is launched. 

Later in 2002, Second Mile gets wind of the shower incident.  The AD tells Second Mile there was no "finding of wrongdoing" on the part of Sandusky.  Still, law enforcement not advised although Sandusky by this time has been relieved of his 24/7 access to the locker room and is advised by Penn State not to bring anymore Second Mile kids around the facility.

From 2005-2007 Sandusky begins another relationship with a Second Mile kid.  Buys him gifts.  Takes him to sporting events.  According to testimony before the Grand Jury, Sandusky performed oral sex on this boy 20 times during this period. 

In 2008, the kid's Mother reports Sandusky to his High School principal.  Sandusky is banned from coming on campus and the police are notified.  Eventually, Sandusky is indicted on numerous counts of sex with children.  The Athletic Director and one other administrator are indicted for lying before the Grand Jury.  Paterno escapes any criminal sanction.

Paterno says he advised AD of sexual activity.  AD testifies that Paterno told them that Sandusky and the boy were merely "horsing around."

At this point, let us distill this down to the simplest essence.

I have coached youth sports for years.  I never, and I do mean NEVER touch a kid outside the presence of another adult.  While I have devoted much of my life to being a friend to kids, I do not have a peer relationship with any of them.  It has been my recent privilege to have 3 boys in my life and I came to love them very much.  But I was not in love with them. 

If somebody came to me and told me that they saw one of my fellow coaches, or acquaintances even, was seen naked with a child, not only would I have informed law enforcement, I would probably have to be physically restrained from killing the son of a bitch.  Since when is a grown man in the shower with a naked boy "horsing around?" I don't know whether Joe Paterno had a mandatory duty as the Head Football Coach to notify law enforcement as would a doctor, a minister, or-yes-the principal that finally sounded the alarm.  I don't know whether I have a mandatory reporting responsibility as a coach of youth sports. 

But I don't need to know what my legal responsibilities are.  I know what my moral responsibilities are as one who is privileged to be entrusted with other people's children.  And it wouldn't take me very long to connect the dots between Jerry Sandusky and Second Mile.  Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks.  "Because that's where the money is," he replied.  It is not completely cynical to suggest that Sandusky was informed by a similar logic when he incorporated Second Mile. 

I don't get on my High Horse very often around here.  But I'm up there now and I'm digging in the spurs.

And the kid that Sandusky is accused of molesting between 2005-2007?  That's on Joe Paterno.  That's on Tim Curley.  Hell, it's on the Graduate Assistant.  But at least he reported it to SOMEBODY.

Paterno says he will retire at the end of the year.  You goddamn right he will.  If I'm Penn State, I tell him to hit the bricks yesterday. 

Because any kid molested by that bastard after 2002, that's on Joe Paterno. 

Sunday, November 06, 2011

My Sunday Feeling

The woman that told me this story swears it's true.  And it is the worst retirement story I have heard thus far.  A man retired from a job with the State of Arkansas.  He sold his house and moved to another town 50 miles away.  This man evidently did not have much to occupy his time.  So twice a week he drives back to Little Rock to do his old job on a voluntary basis.

Is that not the saddest thing you've ever heard?  Well, there are sadder things.  We all hear about the guys (and they are all guys) who work until they are 75 or so and then drop dead within the year.  And lately, all of the comedians in my life-and they evidently are Legion-have reminded me that the recently deceased Andy Rooney and I both retired last month.  And look what happened to him.  Please.  Andy Rooney was 92.  The fact that he died a month after he retired from CBS is not nearly as remarkable as the fact that he worked into his nineties.  I can't imagine living into my nineties much less working then.  Not that there's much chance of that.  The men in my family tend to check out way ahead of what the actuaries prophesy. 

Still, people ask me all the time, "How's it going?" or the equivalent.  And here's what I tell them.

It's going OK.  I'm not going to lie to you.  At first it was just awful.  Unlike the man in the story that opened this post, I did not miss my old job.  Indeed, I still don't.  Rarely do I even think about it unless somebody from the office calls me or sends an e-mail or something.  Oh, I miss most of the people I worked with.  But I keep in touch with most of them.  As I told one of my Louisiana friends, as long as they keep playing college football, he and I will remain in touch.  But I don't miss the job.  That's huge.  And the realization of this early on was the anchor to which I held during those terrible first weeks.

What was so terrible?  Hard to put a finger on it.  There were certain complicating factors of which I was unaware until that point in time that added to the feeling of dissonance I was experiencing at first.  To borrow Mr. Eliot's lovely phrase, sometimes the moment is forced to its crisis.  So it goes.

My friend Gisele called me from her vacation.  She wanted to know how things were going. 

"Awful," I bravely said. "Just awful."

"I was afraid of that," she said.  Then she told me something I had never considered.  Or had even heard before.

"Paul," she said.  I could tell from her voice that she was shifting into full blown clinical psychologist mode.  "You don't have to earn your self-esteem anymore.  You had a great career.  You have a wonderful reputation in the community.  You are loved by more people than anyone I know.  You earned this by your actions and your service.  And you don't need a job right now to maintain your self esteem."

Boy.  That was exactly what I was doing.  Didn't see that one coming.

"Be still.  Just like the Bible says," she said. "Now is your time to be still.  There will be plenty of time for a second career.  Enjoy this while you can."

I kept these things and pondered them in my heart.  And in time, the Big Picture that I had lost sight of returned to me.  Of COURSE this is not all the money I will make for the rest of my life.  Of COURSE, I will work again, Of COURSE people won't forget about me. And of COURSE I will have someone in my life again.

The line between navel gazing and having one's head up one's ass can be pretty thin.  I believe I crossed it.

So how are things going?  OK.  If the first pension check is any indication (and people say the first one is never right) I can sustain my normal level of profligacy for about 7 months or so based on the money I have in my checking account.  But I hope to be working again before then.  I have retained a resume service.  I got the first draft last week.  As the old saying goes, I look good on paper.

I have made new friends.  Men and women.  One of them is a Baptist preacher.  Most people find this astounding given-shall we say-my historic (ummmmm antipathy is too strong) differences with the Baptist communion.  Differences.  Let's go with differences.  But Randy and I just mainly talk about golf and photography.  But the other night, while we shooting pictures off the Clinton Library bridge at twilight he made a reference to his "personal theology of hell." 

Now this is pretty un-Baptist.  To most Baptists-at least the ones I grew up with-Hell is not a theological concept.  It is a geographical location. Like Memphis.  This is great.  The scales have fallen from my eyes. 

What else? I've been taking lots of pictures.  That's nothing new.  I'm working with a trainer again after a hiatus.  That's nothing new.  Playing golf 2-3 times a week.  The frequency is the only thing that's new.  I generally walk twice a day mainly in hopes of getting the pinched nerve in my back that has returned to loosen up.  Doing a lot of reading.  Cleaned out the shed.  Replaced the crap in there that got hauled off with other crap.  Like the box filled with my degrees and licenses.

My boy Chris from Thibodeaux has a friend up here at UAMS with bone cancer.  Wants me to check on she and her husband.  Talked to her husband before the Razorback game.  Listening to that wonderful accent made me wonder if I would need to provide translation services for the folks at the hospital.  Anyway, Ronnie said they would like a visit from the Catholic clergy.  I am plugged in to the Catholics around here.  Not to mention the Baptists all of a sudden.  But I can make that happen.  Ronnie also asked me if I knew where he could park his RV for a week.  I told him I would have to get back to him on that one. 

I'm glad Chris reached out.  It's good to feel useful.

But not much has changed in my life except I now get paid just for breathing.

So it's going OK.  At least it is now that I have got my eye back on the Big Picture. 

Thanks for asking.  Know where I can park an RV for a week?