I am not here to grieve Larry’s death, but to thank G-d that such a man lived. Indeed, the timing of his demise, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it. And obviously, true wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves and the world around us…

Two weeks before Larry turned 61, and about 8 months before he was due to retire after more than 30 years, many as a supervisor, down at the city’s ports, he died the other day.

Suddenly.

Indeed, unexpectedly… which may be, to most of us, the preferable way of departing this mortal coil.

Hmm…

Nevertheless, the timing of Larry’s death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it. Especially to us cigar guys down at South Philadelphia’s Twin Smoke Shoppe where always-helpful-without-being-asked Larry was just about the only regular who could figure out how to help out a new customer. That is, he somehow could navigate Anthony’s, the owner, high-tech cash register that is as unsystematic and disorganized as low-tech Anthony ‘disenabled’ it to be.

Indeed, I mean Anthony is the effervescent glue that keeps us planted there — despite possessing the attention span one second less than a gold fish. He’s a guy who can’t find his keys, his office or personal phone, or his glasses about nine times a day.

Or more.

Hmm… We know him well, and love him anyway.

Just as much as we loved Larry. In fact, we loved him enough to never dare mention his most impeccable of hair pieces that even he wouldn’t acknowledge. For the Twin Shoppe is family. We’re all a bunch of elephant-sized asses who can’t figure out why the world just doesn’t act like we think it should.

Including Larry, who would often smile beneath that knife-edge mustache while introducing his latest revelation with: ‘I just don’t get it. Why don’t people just…’ And then something as cockamamie and dark as a lunar eclipse of the sun would cast a shadow of ambiguity upon us.

Look, for most of us – especially in America – life is mostly pleasant. And I understand that death is pretty peaceful. It’s just the transition, as with Larry’s, that is so troublesome.

In other words as a much wiser man than me once said: ‘I do not believe that any man fears to be dead, but only the stroke of death.’

But meanwhile, we don’t even know — we, meaning the guys he regularly smoked cigars with at the Twin Shoppe — if it was the car accident that killed him.

I mean, he was reportedly only going 25mph when he hit the back of that highway maintenance track. Then again, the police reported there were car-scraping-marks impressed upon the highway’s concrete barriers as far as a mile prior to the crash. I guess this might suggest that something more akin to sudden death syndrome was in play.

Yet we may never know. His parents, reportedly, have no interest in a coroner’s report.

Hmm…

Look. I get it. I know, most death is sudden. A brain fart. Or something dropping down the heart’s death canal. A brick wall. Or a bullet with your toe-tag on it. But whatever it was, the fact remains that Larry’s ‘sudden’ death on his hour drive from South Philadelphia to New Jersey seashore last Saturday night, has become an inconvenient truth for us guys.

I mean, even if it occurred before our very eyes, or could be conjured in our mind’s eyes, we still wouldn’t know whether it was an accident or crime scene? Or simply the Big-Guy-in-the-sky plucking him to come up yonder.

Naturally, we’re bewildered. Staggered might be a better word. We don’t understand. Our thoughts are adrift, like the smoke of our cigars. And certainly, at times like this, true wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.

As I said to Whitey, one of the more forthright in the smoke shoppe and the only guy I know who really means it when he tells you straight up he just doesn’t give a shit what you, me, or his tattooed neighbor thinks of him. I told him ‘we all live to die. But like the bug that suddenly splats on our car windshield, we just don’t see it coming.’

In other words, as Whitey clarified, living may be in the rearview mirror, but death comes through a laminated, safety-glass front window shield.

Hmm… I thought I already said that. But obviously Whitey sees things more transparently.

Anyway, at times like these we sink into unanswered questions about our mortality. We pause a moment to confront ourselves. You know: Today is the tomorrow we weren’t promised yesterday. And all that stuff.

But this time it isn’t a glib conjecture. No one was being cavalier. And-of-course it’s a pensive moment that no one can really provide clarity. Another one of those mysterious, enigmatic queries that science can’t answer and religion only provides us with G-d’s mercy and grace.

But at these moments, even through the clouds of smoke, the certainty is riveted that our days are numbered. We understand that. And then again, we really don’t. And it makes me wonder out loud why most of us are merely frittering this life away, waiting to donate our bodies to science fiction.

Or, in the words of my bourbon sippin’ pappy: ‘Most people die at 25… and just hang around to 75 to get buried.’ And then often times he would add, while exhaling on his corn cob pipe: ‘The purpose of life is a life of purpose.’

Hmm…

But for what purpose? Really? When I honestly feel we are dispatched to this penal colony mostly to serve out our life sentence.

And then, just-like-that it unexpectedly ends. It’s sort of like a parole from the here and now. Just as Larry’s here-today-and-now-gone-last-night it all becomes very real. At least momentarily. Once again. For all of us. Especially those of us puffing smoke at one another after Larry’s viewing, trying to make sense of everything that doesn’t make sense in a world of unending wonder. Eternal mystery. Interminable uncertainty.

Even Carlo, the muscular, shaved-headed, cop and warrant officer, who’s been shot more times breaking down doors and watched a partner eradicated before his eyes, couldn’t wrap his beefy paws around this.

“I don’t know why,” he said in his deep and now plaintive intonation, “but Larry’s death is the first one that’s gotten to me.”

And so it has. To all of us.

We all, like Carlo, don’t know why. No doubt because life’s real tragedy is that we become old too soon. And wise too late.

Like I said before, we’re family at the Twin Shoppe. Men need a place to hang. And that’s where we do it. Larry didn’t have a wife and kids. There is only his parents who he planned upon retirement to live with and help care for at the seashore three or four days a week. And then stay with his sister in Philadelphia at least three days a week while he continued to puff and kvetch with us at the smoke shop – his family.

Those were his retirement plans. But as the old joke goes: If you really wanna make G-d laugh — tell Him your plans.

Hmm…

Obviously where my head is at this place and time Larry’s death has reached somewhere inside the corners of my mind and humbled me in places I haven’t dusted in years. All I know for sure is that our aspirations of immortality must be interrupted by death.

And as sophomoric as I know I sound throughout this toast to the memories of all dead men and women like Larry, I can’t help but remember an old lecture from back in college, when a profound philosophy and religion professor expounded:

‘The greatest dramas in the world are all about sex, violence and death…’ he said and then proceeded with: ‘Hamlet is one of the most dangerous things ever set down on paper. All the big, unknowable questions like what it is to be a human being; the difference between sanity and insanity; the meaning of life and death; what’s real and not real. All these subjects can literally drive you mad.’

Indeed, the questions are much bigger than my – or even the greatest bard’s — answers.

But I am not ‘driven mad.’ Just as I am not here to grieve Larry’s death. I am merely here to thank G-d that such a man lived.

In the end, the life of the dead is placed in the memories of the living. And the person doesn’t really die until the last person who remembers him expires. We’re going to be fondly talking about Larry for years to come. And that’s grand. For, not being talked about, can be far worse.

Certainly some lives may seem more precious than others. But in some way and means, all lives are treasured. All lives should provide us with something to remember. Something meaningful, or something just as simple as to: Taste too much. Drink too deeply. Love too passionately. And embrace our fear of death. For only then do we live in the moment we are meant to live.

Hmm… something more to ponder.

Thanks, Larry.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Children begin by loving their parents; then they judge them; rarely, do they forgive them. But blame is for G-d and the small children we must keep from going insane. Leanne discovered she couldn’t have them. And I had married into insanity. Indeed, mothers may be fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own…

With just a tad of a snide edge in her Australian accent she wondered about my butterfly pins, as in “What’s up with them?” At the same time her long fingers lightly examined the broach arrangement of the colorful flying insects displayed on my chest. And then she pointed to the bracelet adorning my right wrist.

At first I wanted to dismiss the inquiry… as usual. To shrug it off. And simply provide my standard offering about metamorphosis: That we sometimes experience dramatic events that alter our lives forever.

And that was going to be that. Nothing more. Norhing less.

But then, for some reason or other, I basically changed my thinking. To self-indulgence. After all it was Father’s Day. And no one bought me a tie. Or anything else.

Hmm…

Isn’t it amazing what we end up confessing to strangers every now and then? Probably because they go away. And take our guarded secrets with them. They don’t linger around or about, like friends. Or acquaintances. Or even our own relatives. Reminding us of what we professed. What we imparted. The stuff that churns memories you spend a lifetime endeavoring to drink away.

Besides, she was a psychologist, as she told me early in our incipient conversation, attending a 3-day convention in Philadelphia from the Land Down Under. So I imparted a short-part of a long story from years back about me and my butterflies.

If I’ve mentioned this to you readers before, please don’t interrupt, because obviously she’s never heard about that time. In West Africa. When we ex-pats were being held – more like incarcerated – in compounds.

A large rag-tag of kid soldiers with carbines was guarding us. And one day a snarly teenager poked me one too many times in all the wrong places. And I snapped. Snatched his rifle. And provided a few angry butt strokes.

Next thing I knew — after an intervening frightening episode or two that I didn’t go into — I was in ‘the hole.’

The ‘hole’, as I explained, wasn’t quite like the solitary confinement you hear about in a U.S. prison. Nor was it like the jailhouse brig of a ship. Such as the massive four-masted steel ship turned into a floating restaurant where she and I were presently sipping beers. Aboard the upper deck, open-air bar of Philadelphia’s Moshulu.

A summer breeze skimmed across the Delaware River from the half-mile stretch to New Jersey and tussled her flowing cognac hair… as I related that the only aperture in this little dirt tunnel of ‘the hole’ was just barely large enough to frame my face.

And there I was. Hours roiled into days. Days merged into weeks. Weeks toiled over three months.

‘Months?!’ She repeated, in a controlled professional tone. ‘That could really do something to your mind.’

‘If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter,’ I said flippantly. But then admitted that it surely did. And continued that: What actually saved me. What saved my patch of sanity, were these butterflies.

‘Periodically, one… or two… would land on my face. Obviously, these lofty creatures had no idea that they landed on a human. My mug had apparently blended into the dirt and trees, beneath the burdensome humidity. Or they simply didn’t care. And recognized my despair. They seemed so goofy. But they kept me in touch. They gave me hope. They made me smile with my heart.

‘So I would keep my face motionless. And my eyes from blinking. Not only to keep from scaring them away, but hopefully because they would return.’

And they did. And, eventually, so did I.

Hmm…

‘And you’re all right with it now?’ she wondered.

‘But of course.’

‘No repercussions.’

‘This happened years back. Hey, I haven’t killed anyone in… in…’ I made a theatric gesture to count on my stubby fingers… ‘What? Three… no four months… Aren’t you lucky there aren’t any steak knives around.’

She was amused. ‘Is that how you deal with it? Humor?’

‘Is there any other way? I should have killed my last ex. But I figured what the hell, what the heck, let her latest husband hang her up by duh neck… I hear he’s researching an alibi…’

Hmm…

For some reason, at the very moment, we gazed at each other with some luxury. Not like two lovers, but simply two people who just met and engaged. A man and a woman absorbed in a revealing conversation that had rapidly transpired in the less than an hour since I pulled up a barstool next to her, smiled appreciatively, and facetiously asked: “New in town, sailor?”

Her name, I learned, was Leanne. And at this point she suddenly became aware of the din from the multitude of other patrons and diners surrounding us.

‘Is it always this busy?’ She wondered. ‘Along this harbor area.’

I explained that this harbor area is known as Penns Landing. And it’s been a coming attraction for the city for 50 years. Mostly because, surprise-surprise, the federal government never delivered what it promised by ‘capping’ the Interstate 95 that runs from New England to Florida and cleaves the city from easily ‘sitting on the dock of the bay… watching the tides drift away…”

“It’s also Father’s Day,” I informed her. “Dads get to pay to drink heavily in front of their kids.”

‘Oh yes,’ she realized, ‘You a father?’

I rolled my eyes. ‘Apparently I wasn’t a very good one.’

‘How’s that?’

‘My grown kids still think they hate me.’

‘Any particular reason?’

‘I donno. Maybe next time I ought to learn their names.’

Again she laughed. Her dark eyes sparkled. And I went on elucidating that certainly I was 49 percent of the blame concerning the matters of my dysfunctional family.

However, there is no question that my wife was, indeed, evil, I said. But don’t just take my word for it. There were petitions signed by 40,000 people. Including all her exes. And my exes. And all her forsaken screaming in padded cells. Everybody she’s driven down the potholed road of insanity. Including her parents. And they were once missionaries. Not to mention the police who would no longer arrest me. And the courts who would no longer try me. That is after they finally realized she was like a politician: when her lips moved she was lying. Otherwise she was scheming.

“So you still blame yourself, do you, mate?” I love the way beautiful outback women utter that word: Mate.

“Blame is for g-d and small children,” I said, during an especially satisfying quaff of beer. “So yes, I blame myself. I am still a small child. I used to be a g-d. But then I got over-circumcised.”

Hmm…

And then for a moment I stopped joking. I confided that my younger son was born with every imaginable and unimaginable malady known and unknown. That we had been medical vagabonds about the country seeking some magical pill. Or operation.

And at 23 the patient has survived. So far. Some days barely. And who knows for how long. But there are always consequences.

The patient has been saved in a tortured manner. But at the same time my wife killed the family. She poisoned the well. The older boy, who recently became a doctor, has little to do with her, and especially me. The younger one, after a 7 year hiatus from my life, seeks contact. Or so I have been informed by an avuncular neighbor of hers. But she won’t let him come out and play without her in hand.

And, I noted a tad more than poignantly, and only half-jokingly, that I don’t want my hands to get that close to her.

Hmm… Tired, but mostly uneasy, with this strain of conversation, I exhaled and decried that I abhor Father’s Day. ‘It’s like big bully. I am neither seen nor heard…’

And to change the subject, I threw the spotlight back on her. By this time we had ordered the house specialty of two different large Sushi rolls. And she had ‘tasted’ half of mine. Like many of the Aussies I have known from that spacious country of merely 24 million merry men and women: they do have hearty appetites. For a variety of pleasures.

“Kids?” I asked. “Married?”

Her story folded down neatly into some familiar sadness. At first she never wanted to get married. And then at 38 she decided she finally wanted to get married. And, at the same time, luckily she found someone whom she wanted to be married to.

“He has the gift of gab,” she said. “He’s into sales.”

Naturally.

And then they immediately went about trying to have kids, only to discover after a 3 or 4 and more years of tests, and more tests, that she couldn’t.

“And so I’ve left the future of my parent’s family in the hands of my brother. And he’s been quite fertile about it. So, it won’t be an end to the line.”

She yielded a quick smile that weakly disappeared into her glass of beer. It became one of those soft, quiet moments. The ripples of our mental storage had spread out with the wind that had once assured our sails. And in that instance our stories, the ragged edges of memories that altered our lives, had unfolded from an aging steamer trunk that had been packed away in the safety of our attics.

The sun had dipped over the city’s tall collection of office buildings and evening had cast its early shadows. We then weaved our way through the throngs of people as I walked her the two blocks back to her hotel. To my surprise as we first stood up from our barstools she was as tall as I am. And as firmly built.

And when she wrapped me in her long-armed, good night hug on the Hilton plaza, I returned her squeeze, just as firmly and vigorously. And simply spoke into her ear. I said something to the effect of:

We’ll probably never see one another again. We’ll walk back through the portals into our worlds. And disappear. But the last three hours have been grand. And while loneliness has become my good friend, I don’t really want to jump on my bicycle and pedal back to lonely tonight.

After all it was Father’s Day. And I can’t be a father. And you can’t be a mother. And your husband is ten thousand miles away. And my family is even further. And I don’t want to be alone. Especially tonight. I want to be held. Like the child I still am. And the g-d I once was.

Obviously this wasn’t rehearsed. It just kind of poured out. She took a sturdy step back and just kind of observed me. And like a trained psychologist she simply weighed the moment. And then like a woman, she took my hand. And led the way. Under the night sky moon, until the rosy fingers of a splendid dawn splashed into her room and tickled us awake.

Hmm…

I’m glad she and I met. And even though we’ll probably never meet or have such an opportunity again, I am thankful for the moment we had. And that I seized it. We get such few opportunities in life. Such few chances. And I don’t want them to slip away.

Not anymore.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Imagination was given to man to compensate for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. We don’t lose our sense of humor because we get old. We get old because we lose our sense of humor. The problem with humor is often that people you use it on aren’t in a very good mood. And Joey G was cute when he was being humorless…

The skinny guy was about two feet from the top of climbing the 30-foot greased pole. He was part of a team of other skinny guys with tattoos, climbing over each other, groping and hoping to get to the prizes hanging above.

The huge crowd of thousands at South Philadelphia’s sun-filled, jammed, 10-block-long Italian Festival was cheering him and his motley crew on. For no one had succeeded… yet.

Behind them gazed the watchful eyes of the wall-size mural of Philly’s erstwhile Italian mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo. Hizzoner, known by many pejorative monikers during his thunderous reign in the ‘60s and ‘70s, once notoriously stuffed a nightstick into his ample tuxedo cummerbund as he departed a banquet and headed off to crack some skulls.

Hmm-hmm….

Meanwhile, in front of them puffing under the Twin Smoke Shoppe cigar tent stood Joey Gannascoli and ‘me.’ Joey G is the squat, wide-faced 350-pounder who played the gay Vito in the TV mega hit Italian mob series ‘Sopranos.’ Although the show ended over 10 years ago after 6 smash seasons, Joey G still sets folks to squealing, regularly appearing at such festivals to sell signed memorabilia and posing for group pictures.

At one point, while the crowd was oohing and ahhing over the grease pole monkeys Joey G paused his pen and smiled appreciatively their way. And with a nod towards me he simply uttered: “You don’t get many chances in life. You don’t want to waste them.”

At first I thought it was kind of a cliché. And since I struggle to speak the language of banalities I sought to respond something ridiculous. You know, like: ‘Yeah, if your parents never had children, chances are neither will you.’

But, live interaction with a crowd is a cathartic, spiritual kind of exchange, and it’s intensified at a festival. And I think Joey G was harking back to that old Italian expression that goes something like: You can’t sleep on the fame.

Just then, the skinny guy two feet from the top of the grease pole started sliding away. Millimeters, then inches, then foot by foot as he and his crew came slipping and crumbling down. The crowd exhaled its hopeful disappointment.

“Another almost,” laughed Joey G, like it was something personal. “Hey, we’ve all been there… the story of our lives. Some of us almost make it. Some of us think we’ve made it. But most of us just slide away.”

Hmm… so another grease pole becomes another allegory for our lives. Made me want to strike up another cigar and blow some symbolic smoke. But a tall, gaunt Irish guy with long stringy hair beat me to the metaphor.

He strolled right up to Joey G while he was picture-posing for a proud mother with her handicapped child. And not in a casual, but more demanding inquiry, the pained-faced fellow practically insisted on knowing what Joey G was doing ‘now.’

I think Joey G is sick and tired of being sick and tired of such insistent questions. So after his dark eyes scanned across his table of memorabilia, photographs of the Sopranos cast and a bunch of license plates with such Italian urban slang as ‘fuhgeddaboudit,’ he cracked a sardonic pose and replied:

‘I’m into porn now. Sometimes with farm animals.’

Hmm… You just never know, do you?

But I do know a lot of men are insecure about their sexuality – as if you-know-what is actually contagious. And you might have thought Joey G pulled a .44 magnum loaded with hollow points out of his too-long-for-shorts-and-too-short-for-pants zipper. For the tall guy’s facial expression turned all kinds dumb and confounded before he scampered off. Desperately pushing away folks in the overcrowded 9th Street festival like he just seen Godzilla clomping his way.

‘Can you believe that guy?’ a dismayed Joey G said to me. ‘They’re a danger to laughter.’

‘Humor can get lost during an autopsy,’ I teased.

‘Yeah, look who’s talking.’

‘Hey, I’m all into porn with farm animals.’

‘That doesn’t count,’ he retorted. ‘You grew up as a farm animal.’

‘Sheesh. And let me show you how I can squeal like a rutting hog…’

At that a hefty couple of smiling anthropomorphic cows waddled up mooing all about how they just loved Joey G on the Sopranos.

“I really, really love you, Joey,” swooned the wife.

‘You do know he’s gay,’ I joked, referring to Joey G’s Vito character.

Hmm… Apparently it was something I said. Because the rotund husband shot me a look that was like a knee to the only privacy the NSA hasn’t invaded. And then, referring to my collection of butterfly pins on my less-than-brawny chest, he snorted: ‘And how about you?’

‘Oh,’ I offered in a manly tone. ‘Don’t worry ‘bout me.’ And slowly boasted: ‘I am a lesbian.’

That took a few seconds to penetrate as they chewed their cuds of pasta. (That’s the trouble with Italian food – five or six days later you’re hungry again.) And then I chirped: ‘Just give me 11 seconds with your wife.’

And Joey G shot back: ‘Are you cheating on me again?’

Couple didn’t know whether to giggle or wonder if they had wandered into an abattoir. But they still wanted to get their photo with the former celebrity. And Joey G kindly reminded them that if they first bought a picture or video or whatnot he would gladly pose with them.

And ain’t that the business of life — Milking your success 10 years after that sun has set. For, among all the urgent demands and necessities of living, nothing is stronger than dire necessity.

Hmm…

Once more the crowd was cheering for another grease pole climber. This one looked like he was really gonna make it. And like the song goes: …If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

‘Did anyone make it yet?’ Joey G asked aloud.

‘Yeah,” I offered, ‘You do realize it ain’t rocket surgery. One guy so far. A while ago.’

‘I must have missed it.’

“No you didn’t, Joey,” I grunted. “I may have missed it. Most of the folks here may have missed it. But not you. You had your moment.”

“Moment of what?” He seemed genuinely puzzled.

“Success,” I said. “A real hit. Out of the park.”

And just for a moment you could almost see Joey G’s mental gerbil spinning back a rerun of “The Sopranos,” and his Vito.

“That’s more than 99 percent,” I said.

Indeed.

But you could also witness a fleeting sadness in his eyes. Almost a shadow of a passing cloud. In that wink of a moment you could see that for Joey G ‘once’ was not enough. He yearned for another hit at it. He needed it, for all the reasons we all seek it. We all possess the same desire — one more turn in the barrel.

So, to snap him back to the day-to-day grind of life, I offered up to him: ‘Did you ever hear the one about the Jewish Prince?’

‘Which one?’

‘Well,’ I continued, ‘this one called up a Jewish Princess and asked her to marry him. She said no… And he lived happily ever after.’

Joey G, laughed appreciatively, as I admonished him: ‘Lose your mind, Joey, but keep your sense of humor.’

Hmm…

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Just as there are doctors who help people who have done bad things, there are lawyers who defend bad people. People do not win fights, lawyers do. Everyone thinks defense lawyers must believe their clients are innocent, but that’s seldom true. Most of the time they are guilty as O.J… yet Trev also got his client off — mostly…

Trev collapsed into the cushy chair and exhaled a long satisfied pillar of smoke from his cigar. And while it formed a cumulus cloud of contentment over his exhausted, shaved head he simply uttered: “Well, I did my job…”

When a lawyer says something like that, after a ‘successful’ week-long trial, fire drills generally go off in my head. You know you gotta wonder: Who got screwed? Like the old joke about some guys eyeballing a tall leggy woman sashaying down the street, and declaring: ‘I’d like to screw that.’

And the lawyer retorts: “Outta what…”

Hmm…

Needless to say, by and large, I disdain these venal, vapid, vile legal representatives. They seem to spend a great deal of their time shoveling smoke. Not to mention that the rule of law in the U.S. has become the unbearable rule of lawyers. You know: The trouble with the law ‘is’ the lawyers.

They think because they are successfully making good money they can do nothing wrong. They set the lucrative, yet contradictory rules. They set the fees. And, unfortunately, what many people forget is that judges ‘setting’ on the bench ain’t nuttin’ but lawyers wearing robes.

But I know Trev. We are cigar buddies. And to tell you the truth he works hard. And undeniably the former Philadelphia assistant DA turned defense attorney is, like most of us, rather human – unlike many of them.

And no matter what ill feelings some of us may harbor towards these scoundrels – especially those of us who have lost even more than the house, the cars, the kids and our clean underwear — it is unfair to believe everything bad we hear about lawyers.

Indeed some of it may not be true…

For the truth is in today’s world nothing important is done in the United States without lawyers.

Damn! Forgive me for admitting that. I’ll have to recite three Hail Marys and pledge my next paycheck to trees in Israel.

But it’s reality, salient, the truth and nuttin’ but… And the truth is, if bad and devious folks didn’t lie, cheat, steal and murder there would be no need for lawyers – good, bad or otherwise.

Hmm…

But as Trev unfolded his just completed murder case to me, I have to admit I was having a few personal, layman issues — moral, ethical and just plain-old-simple-common-sense wise. On the other hand, common sense ain’t so common no more. Especially when lawyers are involved.

You know, it’s as if someone kidnapped justice and hid it in the law.

But I was also getting the feeling that even Trev, skin-deep or down deep in his marinating bones, might have thought his client was guilty, guilty, guilty…

Then again, as some crusty old lawyer once espoused: Justice has nothing to do with what goes on in a courtroom. It’s what comes out of a courtroom.

It turns out Trev’s client was found both innocent and guilty. The jury found him guilty of the robbery, but innocent of the murder.

‘But he was there, at the scene,’ I wondered.

‘Definitely,’ offered Trev. ‘There is no doubt about that. The prosecution had two corroborating witnesses.’ Although Trev did point out that he had managed to trip up one of the plea bargainer’s stories in about thirteen or fourteen contradictions.

‘Was anybody else charged?’

‘No, they never found him.’

‘Okay,’ I said in pursuing the obvious, ‘then who fired the shot that stopped the dead guy’s heart from its Timex ticking?’

‘I don’t know,’ postured Trev, while leaning forward with a furrowed forehead. ‘But what I can tell you… the most pertinent piece of evidence…’

‘Oh-no!’ I snorted before he finished getting it out.’ Is this where the Mother jumps up hysterically sobbing in the courtroom, swearing that it wasn’t her sweet son’s fault. That he was psychologically scarred when he failed to make the high school chess team because of his height.’

Trev offered a tired smile and leaned back with an exhale of smoke in my direction.

In continuing, Trev said the gun was never found. But forensics determined the bullets used were the wrong caliber for the apparent 9mm murder weapon. I think he said the bullets were on the order of .380s. And that they became distorted from being fired in a 9mm.

Hmm… I donno, that’s above my non-union marksmanship.

However, Trev went on, 13 months almost to the day that very same gun with the same wrong bullets was used in another robbery. The victim was shot but didn’t die. And the crème de la crème was that Trev’s client was in jail at that time awaiting trial.

Hmm… the client didn’t get a trial for 2 years?

“No bail on a murder charge,” explained Trev.

‘You mean no bail for the poor. Not Trump’s friends.’

Trev waved away my jaded remarks like bothersome smoke.

So I merely offered: ‘Ah-ha! The plot sickens.’

And in the end, as Trev noted, there was reasonable doubt. Or enough for the jury to be out for two whole days. That was good. He knew they were thinking that something was amiss in the case.

Yeah, like what stupid idiot would use the same wrong bullets in the same wrong gun to do practically the same wrong crime?

On the other hand, Trev said his concern was that “if the jury was only out a few hours I knew it would be bad.”

Or perhaps, as I posed, ‘they were out so long because they wanted another free lunch. After all, what do jury members get? Something like a dollar an hour – to usurp divine providence?’

Hmm… And it is my distinct understanding that lawyers get paid much, much more to keep their client’s neck from the jury’s noose.

“The family did pay me,” intoned Trev.

Indeed.

In the end, Trev’s client got sentenced to 8 years, with two already served.

“But he could have gotten life.”

At that, I pointed out, somewhat smugly, he also could have testified.

“No way,” insisted Trev. “No way.”

But of course!

As we all are aware from ‘Perry Mason’ to ‘Law & Order’ there are many misdirections and strategies a lawyer pulls out of a hat in the courtroom. Not allowing a client to testify is often, simply, to prevent cross-examination where he might say or reveal something really-really stupid.

I mean, lawyers are, after all, the first refuge of the incompetent. Most of them, at least. And whether we agree or not is irrelevant. You get what you pay for. It’s a magic show. And, undeniably, a lawyer’s job is to defend his client with every trick up his very long sleeves.

In any case, from their first day in law school lawyers learn only how to win. They are not there to solve problems. As a result, unfortunate as it may seem, and whether we like it or not, trials are no longer about freeing the innocent, punishing the guilty, and making restitution to the injured. They have devolved into a contest over who will win.

Likewise, everyone thinks defense lawyers must believe their clients are innocent, but that’s seldom true. Most of the time they believe their client about as much as O.J. Or less.

Which brought me to asking Trev, straightforward, if he thought his client was guilty. Or, at least bears a lot of responsibility for his actions.

Trev twisted slightly in his over-stuffed chair, tipping off a fit-body language that more than suggested he thought his client was as guilty as my father of siring me. And as I was about to posture – perhaps more than a tad sardonically — that it is better to risk saving a guilty man than to condemn an innocent one, Trev offered:

‘I don’t know if I really believed my client. I have serious doubts… He wasn’t exactly innocent… But he did get 8 years… I just did my job…’

Absolutely. For it was just a job. And done well – at least considering his client’s limited options. And, all in all, that’s how jobs go. Just as grass grows. Birds fly. Politicians lie. People dig graves. Cattle get slaughtered. Victims get killed. And lawyers… well lawyers defend bad people, and other clients.

Or, at least, do what they’re supposed to do.

Hmm…

And, as our smoke drifted away with our thoughts I offered a bow to Trev: ‘He was
lucky to get you as his attorney. You must be good.’

And Trev, with a composed smile, offered back: ‘I like to think so.’

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Mother’s Day can be a torment, especially if your mother’s been dead less than a year… Men are what their mothers made them. And my mother was slightly insane. She told us baked potato skins were bad for us – so she could devour ours. Hmm… I write a mental letter to my mother every day… and apparently so does my brother…

The other night with all the Mother’s Day promotions stuffing my email inbox I sent my brudder-duh-heart-doc in San Francisco a short note.

I know, I know… I must be getting old. But I do have my rare moments of human kindness.

“Hey, try not to go too existential,” I wrote, “but I’m sitting here in the dark. Thinking. First Mom’s day without Mom… Life is life. It’s nice to know that people don’t really die until the last person who remembers them dies too… It’s a melancholy thought. But a delightful one. And so life goes… and goes… and voila, then it’s gone.”

And my older brother, the brilliant dork who got all the brains while I got the mental maladies, and who’s never shared more than a tablespoon of cod liver oil with his little, pain-in-the-buttocks, doofus sibling, replied:

“Interesting that you wrote this note, as I was thinking of Mom today also. But then again I think about her often. So many times during the day I think what Mom might’ve said about certain situations. Every time someone talks about my gray hair, I think of hers. Instead of forgetting about her, I think I am thinking more of her.”

Hmm… there’s nothing like the scars of age to soften two old warriors. It’s what becomes of the broken-hearted.

But even more interesting was the link my brother attached to an article he had penned a couple of months prior.

It seems that these two women, in their mid to late 60s, had presented themselves at his hospital weeks apart. And each of them was in the midst of a serious heart attack that had destroyed about 50 percent of their heart muscles.

But what was unusual was that their attacks weren’t caused by their arteries being clogged by cholesterol, preventing the flow of blood to their hearts, which then causes the death of heart muscle. Their heart attacks were caused by a spasm and constriction of normal arteries. And my brother surmised that their spasms may have been the result of certain people being quite susceptible to the release of adrenalin provoked by fear and anger.

And as it would happen one of the women was still severely distressed and angry that Trump had won the White House. (Do I need to remind you that this was in California?) And the other woman was all contorted about the Standing Rock oil pipeline controversy in North Dakota.

It turns out that both ladies had a rare variety of a heart attack known as Takotsubo – often called the ‘Broken Heart Syndrome.’

And my brother conjectured that as far as he knew these were the first reported cases of a Broken Heart Syndrome type of heart attack induced by a political event.

Hmm…

Obviously my big brother doesn’t get out much. He should have tagged along with me in West Africa. And Russia. And Southeast Asia.

Needless to say these two women survived nicely. But all I could think was that a broken heart is a very pleasant complaint for such women in San Francisco, especially if they have a comfortable income. Because next week they’ll be stressing themselves out on something else – like the burnt coffee served at ‘Starbutts.’

Anyway my interventional cardiologist brother wrote on, to something that read like philosophy 101. That if the country wants to heal we’ve got to communicate more and understand each other better.

Hmm… No shit…

“Only then can we heal our broken hearts and divided country,” he espoused.

Obviously he doesn’t drink enough, either. Or he needs much bigger hearing aids.

But I wrote him back:
“Nice article… but never forget the old song: Only time heals a broken heart… So just don’t run out of time… tick-tock… tick-tock…”

You know, like Debbie Reynolds dying the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, succumbed. And my successful farmer and businessman Dad suffering a stroke that wiped out his mental motherboard not long after he finally and reluctantly sold the farm.

Such as it is. For in matters of the heart nothing is true except the improbable. We seem to forget that at the heart of the matter our cardiovascular monster only wants our blood.

And if my mother – who, like most mothers, was an instinctive philosopher — was still alive she probably would have smacked those two broken-hearted women a couple of teeth back.

For no matter what she seemed to be, big-breasted Mom was, for better or worse, as conflicted and whacky as the rest of us. Her rowdy laugh roared before sunrise; her heart bled from a thousand wounds, and her simple, straight–talking mind could easily foresee the future, because she gave birth to it in her children.

Her steeped philosophy was that there’s nothing you can do about the weather, so smile.

And indeed it was her smile that always greeted us that I was picturing that day, about a week after last Thanksgiving. Family and scores of friends had all gathered for Mom’s memorial service. It was at my brother’s grand-windowed house on the high and windy hill, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge straddling the glistening San Francisco Bay.

We handed out many of Mom’s hundred-or-so large, colorful, theatrical clip-on earrings. Joked that while most Thanksgiving turkeys taste even better the day after, Mom’s tasted better the day before… she cooked it in beer. And admittedly we were a tad disappointed that none of the gray and blue-hair lady friends had sashayed in wearing one of Mom’s signature, over-sized, pastel hats.

But the laughter all ceased when I stood up after my much taller brother to say a few words. I had just started to utter something about how we get old too soon and wise too late when I succumbed to the moment. And burst into a bottomless grief of tears.

What was happening to cynical, sarcastic me? Even my brother’s son, standing next to me, also an interventional cardiologist, was surprised. Here was his wise-ass, hard-hearted ,stabbed, shot and, worst of all, assaulted-by-editors uncle bawling like his newborn son.

What duh hell, what duh heck was this about, I could only wonder. The only other time I could remember sobbing this way was nearly 23 years back. It was immediately after I had to make a final, life and death, mid-surgery decision for my month-old, younger son, born with every congenital heart and lung problem known to science.

Now, a moment later my big brother slipped over to me and whispered softly: ‘I never told you it was going to be easy.’

Hmm…

No shit.

But how could I have known?

And that’s the thing about the death of your mother, or anyone else you love: You can’t anticipate how you’ll feel afterward. People will tell you; a few may be close to right, but none exactly right.

None.

No matter how many Mother’s Day come and go.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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Any jackass can kick down a barn, but it takes a good carpenter to build one up. In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to love… but us ‘old men’ turn to painting the house. I may not be perfect, but I am avid – about not giving a damn. After all, as I told my mammoth, cigar-puffing, Italian landlord: Look what ‘youse’ guys did to that last Jewish carpenter…

My landlord warned me.

Then again, my over-sized, South Philadelphia, Italian landlord and I have a rather pedestrian relationship. That is, as long as I pay the rent, he allows me to live where I live. And enjoy breathing.

Which is probably why he warned me… to be careful. No doubt because he doesn’t want to lose one of the few good tenants he’s got. That is one who pays rent. On time. And takes care of the place. That he lovingly built. And lived in for 10 years. Before he got married. And moved across the river to New Jersey. And now has a ‘second job’ trying to have a second kid.

Hmm… Who would have ever thought that having another kid would require so much work. Especially at something you used to enjoy working overtime on. While taking so many precautions to defer the midnight feedings and predawn, aromatic diaper changes.

Life can be such a conundrum… And rather screwy. Or, in my landlord’s case – exhausting.

Nonetheless, last week I informed the oversized galoot, who throws around hundred pound sacks from his restaurant supply business much more easily then I can toss about air guitars, that the second-floor, wooden and glass French doors badly needed revitalizing. Not to mention the broken doorbell, and the front stoop.

And Big Anthony squeezed out a big give-a-shit smile, with some of his cigar smoke and uttered:

‘Did you get that notice of the rent increase?’

‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘I wiped my ass with it.’

Such is the grandeur of our cigar smoking relationship.

At that I exhaled and shrugged: ‘I guess I’m going to have to do it, so the doors don’t rot away. And I’ll end up freezing in the winter.’

‘Be sure to be careful with the polyurethane,’ were his parting words. ‘Keep the doors and windows open while you’re using it. And don’t forget to sand the doors down, first.’

Hmm… He didn’t need to remind me not to forget to tape around all the windows in the French doors – all 20 of them!

But of course!

Did I happen to mention that I’m no good with this manual labor stuff. The closest I’ve come to working with my hands the last 30 years has been pounding on my computer… and blocking punches from outraged readers.

Indeed, I am avid. I am willing and eager. But I was the guy in that once-a-week high school shop class who everything that I made ended up being an ashtray.

I remember a bloody time with one of my future-ex-wives. I was carving out some perches for our bird cage. And just before I sliced my left index finger nearly off she had already gone to the kitchen to fetch paper towels.

‘How did you know?’ I wondered as she was driving me to the emergency room to be repaired with 8 stitches.

‘You never fail,’ she said, and began to laugh hysterically. ‘You’re terrible with your hands.’

‘At everything?!’

‘Pretty much.’

Hmm… I wonder what she really meant by that? Perhaps some day I ought to ask if Ed, my ex-best friend in Carolina, and her next, was any better with his hands. Then again they have stayed together the last 35 years.

No doubt I should have been handier.

But I am what I am. Like a puppy… panting, willing, excited, anxious… but has no bloody idea if he’s supposed to chew that stick… or stick it up his ass.

So I walked to the paint store. And after an hour of scouting about bought the sandpaper, brushes and polyurethane.

“Anything else I need,” I asked the youthful clerk. “Anything special I need to do?” The kid shrugged, like I was interrupting the only two thoughts guys that age have – tits… and ass.

His only disinterested response: “Cash… or credit card?”

It took me a good hour to sand the flaking crud off the heavy wooden doors. And well over an hour to tape around those 20 beveled windows.

Over an hour of taping! What-duh-hell-what-duh-hell…what duh-f-k am I doing?

But like my dear ol’ bourbon sipping Pappy used to preach to his two indentured servants – my brother and me: ‘Preparation is the key to success!’

What he meant, as we often learned, was that if we screwed up that he was prepared to plant his size elevens where duh sun don’t shine.

Hmm…

Then I began slapping on the first of four coats of the polyurethane. And even though I was completely outside, standing on the second floor balcony, the toxic aroma of the polyurethane immediately started smacking me up alongside my pathetic little brain.

The second coat got my lungs to begging. The third blew up my head like a beach ball. And by the fourth I was heavy into bourbon, beer and a shot or two of brandy.

Sheesh… the stuff is worse than an ex-wife.

Okay, perhaps I should have said: at least as bad as having ‘perfect’ me as your husband…

Then again, one merely kills you, while duh utter demonically tortures you until you welcome death. In front of a speeding Mack truck. (I’ll let you sort that out.)

Hmm…

And while I was leaning over the balcony, assuming a sickly position, Jo-Jo, who owns the car detailing shop across the street shouted up: ‘You should be wearing a mask!’

But of course!

And Mark, my neighbor to the south, who is a contractor, snorted: ‘You should have picked a cooler day!’

And then Vinny, my South Vietnamese neighbor to the north, who always looks like he’s scowling, shouted up: ‘You should have gotten my son to do that!’

What I should have done was heave my digested, gurgling beer, bourbon and brandy all over them.

But after another hour slumped on the deck, while my sickly sweat evaporated, I eventually pulled myself enough together to finish my other two ‘honey-do’ jobs: Fixing the doorbell without electrocuting the entire neighborhood. And repainting the front stoop that I somehow managed to construct without killing myself nearly 4 years ago.

At last I proudly stood out front, pointing out my day of accomplishments, in grandiose detail to everyone passing by on their way to the local pub. I didn’t care if they were deaf, blind or just dumb they were going to hear my braggadocio.

Most folks smiled politely, but then seemed a little nervous when I kept ringing the doorbell, and pointing up to the balcony doors practically glistening in the late afternoon sun.

Finally Adam, my ‘honest’ Jewish attorney stopped by. And after I rang the doorbell and pointed out my ‘excellent’ work on the front stoop and balcony doors, he offered his usually terse and honest assessment.

“You do remember what they did to that last Jewish carpenter, don’t you?”

Hmm…

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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I don’t do guilt. I definitely don’t embrace collective guilt when we should be implementing collective responsibility. Guilt is like bondage. It is a thief… it robs from your life. It doesn’t garner my sympathy, especially because ‘sympathy’ in my dictionary is located between shit and syphilis…

I have more than a wee bit of trouble with people who just refuse to listen. Like in politics, or with bad spouses.

I mean, no one is as deaf as a person who will not listen. As if they don’t believe what I am actually saying unequivocally. You know, they agree while simultaneously not agreeing. Constantly emphasizing with a pointed finger, while repeatedly uttering the equivocation:

“Yeah… but!…”
“Of course… but!…”
“Absolutely… but!…”

It seems I am greatly misunderstood by a bunch politically correct ‘butts’ doing brilliant impersonations of the flatulent asses over-stuffing the first 50 rows of a WWE wrasslin’ match. It’s seems to be the latest fashion.

They’re like the folks in a cemetery. Their mental gerbils died at the wheel. And Helen Keller is their translator. For some reason necromancy comes to mind.

How many times do I have to say:

I don’t do guilt. I gave it up. For Lent. Or was it Passover? Probably for the neighbor’s tattooed wife. For-ever…! I have no guilt about any of my pleasures. I don’t have any gnawing guilt over contributing to any unhappiness suffered by my wives. They were as much to blame as I was. I harbor nothing Freudian, even if my parents did have sex like a hog hollering contest… etc…etc…

I just don’t understand guilt – particularly guilt without responsibility. You know, unearned guilt. I am not Adam. Nor Eve. I’m not my ‘Injun’ shooting great grandmother. Nor my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy. Nor anyone named Beauregard.

Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s like punishing yourself before G-d doesn’t. I know some of my Catholic friends can’t drink the guilt out of their original sin. But I tell them no one holds a grudge for thousands of years. And if G-d, or Yahweh, or Allah can’t get over it, then He or She or He/She or It just gotta drink higher octane.

But still these dismal souls persist. And dolefully inquire:

‘How about the Armenian Genocide?’
Not guilty.
‘The American Indian?’
Not guilty.
‘Slaves?’
Not guilty.
‘The Amori in New Zealand?’
Not guilty.
‘Aborigines in Australia?’
Not guilty.
‘Rwanda?’
Not guilty.
‘Stalin?’
Not guilty.
‘Mao?’
Not guilty.
‘Khmer Rouge?’
Not guilty.
‘Germans?’
Not guilty. But I should add here that a thousand years will pass and the guilt of Germany will not be erased.

Hmm…

Anyway, I don’t know what these guilt mongers want from me. They can’t help themselves. They are tormented by guilt to the point that if they don’t ‘feel’ wrong, they don’t feel right.

I mean I feel sad for the past. I understand. But, apparently, nothing is more wretched than the mind of a man conscious of guilt.

But I’ve got serious problems with unconditional sympathy. Especially when sympathy appears in my dictionary between shit and syphilis.

There’s just no point in waking up and feeling sorry for yourself or for others. Hell they don’t want your pity. Pity is the final indignity. What people want is for us to correct our mistakes. You know, instead of being part of the problem, provide some solutions.

In other words, instead of feeling sorry for yourself, go out and help change a bad habit. Feeling sorry for yourself is the most useless waste of energy on the planet. It does absolutely no good. We can’t let our circumstances or what others do or don’t do control us.

But we can decide to be happy regardless.

I mean, there’s guilt about our treatment of native peoples in modern intellectual life, and an unwillingness to acknowledge there could be anything good about Western culture. And even in America with some of its abhorrent past. After all, we’ve also done lots of good stuff.

I remember listening to a professor espouse: ‘For better or worse, we live in possible worlds as much as actual ones. We are cursed by that characteristically human guilt and regret about what might have been in the past. But that may be the cost for our ability to hope and plan for what might be in the future.’

Now there you go.

Guilt is like bondage. Guilt is a thief… it robs from your life.

It’s a negative emotion. Even though negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change.

So instead of reducing ourselves to collective guilt we should be embracing collective responsibility.

Always remember to never forget…. Armenians, Rawandans, New Zealand, Jewish or American genocides. We cannot go into denial. There is nothing I can stop to prevent what has already happened. I can just endeavor to ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself… Which it often does.

In other words, we all carry the baggage of our forefathers. We cannot vanquish the sins of our great grandfathers, nor hate our grandmothers. As a result our lives become a complicated dance. I mean, we can’t just denounce the people we’ve grown up loving. We may know them well, but love them anyway.

Life isn’t like a movie… you can’t write your own ending. And I’m not always going to keep waiting for a fairy tale finale where in the end we throw down our crutches and walk. It is what it is. People are what they are. The past is what it was. If you want me to feel guilty about something, then make it something I pretend to ignore. Something I can do something about for the future.

All I can say is that a hard beginning often makes for a good ending.

Happy endings.

Hmm… Even if, as I’ve mentioned a time of two before, they’re mostly in porno films.

And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…

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