I was in the grocery store, back by the meat counter, when someone said, “Would you like a bacon and cheese cracker?” I turned to look at the plate. Then, I looked up into the rheumy eyes of my first law mentor. I introduced myself. “Weren’t you running a condominium complex over in (a neighboring town)?” I asked. With that habitual little shrug I remembered, he murmured, “It was sold. Here, I get to greet people.” I nodded. That made sense. He was always an extrovert, a politically active Democrat who, at one point, hobnobbed with the top dogs. I remember a time he told me to call the local Assistant District Attorney and remind him how much he had donated to his boss’s campaign when the ADA refused to prosecute a bounced check. (I didn’t, of course. I just asked why.)
All that was before my boss had troubles with the Board – not to mention the eighties’ real estate dive. The most talented divorce trial lawyer ended up in Bankruptcy Court. I had, by then, moved on.
This street fighter from Munjoy Hill (where I, too, grew up on the poor, now gentrified, side of town) loved the fracas. “Give ‘em a left! Give ‘em a right! Hit ‘em ‘til they fall down!” he coached. I remember sitting in front of his desk, listening to him on the phone, responding to an offer. “I’ve got two words for you, and they aren’t ‘Merry Christmas’!” They might have been “Happy Hanukah,” but I doubt it. I loved his “bad boy” gleeful look when he dished it out. Then, of course, I was the one to carry the banner to court, but he didn’t just set me loose. His door was open if anything was bothering me before I went to trial.
Once, I represented a bulimic in a protection from abuse matter. Her husband’s attorney had, unbelievably, subpoenaed her therapist. Unknown to him, the therapist was also a bulimic. The opposing attorney intended to use the therapist to establish that active bulimics lie. He, thus, thought to discredit my client’s testimony. Thanks to my mentor, I was ready when he concluded his direct examination.
“Are you a bulimic?”
“Yes. I am.”
“Your testimony is that active bulimics lie. Is that correct?”
“Are you an active bulimic?”
“No further questions.”
Of course, I razzed the husband about the intrusiveness of bringing my client’s therapist to court, but the swiftness with which that therapist’s entire testimony was demolished was entirely due to my mentor. The judge found not only that the husband had violated the statute by actions such as knocking over a lamp whereby he had put my client in fear, but that he had also put my client’s health at risk by obsessive efforts to control her illness.
We can never predict the way our lives might come together. My cousins used to babysit for my mentor. When I was a young teenager, I had no thought whatsoever of becoming a lawyer, but one night, my mentor needed a sitter. My cousins were tied up. I was called.
He had a gorgeous wife. A redhead, she had money and talent of her own. They were going out to dinner and dressed to the nines, but that did not impress me as much as the bathroom. Stacked over the toilet, almost more than the metal shelves could hold, was a treasure trove of books. I figured that if becoming a lawyer meant owning so many books you had to stack them in the bathroom, maybe there was something good about practicing law.
Later, after I was hired as a lawyer, my mentor advised he had started practicing divorce law when private eyes were hired to knock on motel room doors and get the dirt. I arrived after “no fault,” but I always imagined that camera as having an enormous journalistic fifties flash!
I also recall being assigned an appellate brief and whining over the second or third draft. My mentor ducked into my office, listened briefly and asked, “Do you want to be a District Court lawyer all your life?” Actually, I liked the District Court. It allowed me to fight on the facts. I always found evidence more interesting than other aspects of law.
I didn’t stay with my mentor very long. I grabbed a better offer he was surprised he couldn’t match. It doesn’t matter. We’ve both had a long life. I shared with him I’m reinventing myself as a writer. “Good,” he shined. “It’s important to keep busy.” You know, as he was giving out those crackers, he still had that slightly mischievous look he used to get just before he popped someone in court (figuratively, of course). I hope I’ll remember that look long after I forget the crackers.