DAVE

I sat in the right seat calling out altitude and looking for runway lights. Tommy McKithen sat like a stone statute in the back seat. Dave calmly spoke to the tower and lined up the two needles on the ILS (instrument landing system). We were in a cocoon of pure white rain as thick as wet cotton.

“Seven-hundred-feet-no lights”, I informed Dave. “Five-hundred-feet-no lights”, I continued to advise. “Three-hundred-feet…runway lights dead ahead”, I announced happily. Dave greased his Stinson Voyager onto Runway 10 at Moisant airport in New Orleans in a blinding rainstorm. Dave needed to get home so he could fly right seat to Houston for Eastern Airlines the next day.

As a sixteen-year-old in the New Orleans squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, I had just soloed a J3 cub and been with Dave many times when he slid his little blue Voyager gracefully onto a runway while discussing the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas or some other philosopher. He was the best pilot I flew with in those days. Dave also instructed us kids in the CAP squadron in the basics of aerodynamics, navigation and meteorology, all the while throwing in information about current findings in the world of parapsychology or whatever other scientific discoveries had occurred recently.

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team

Once, he took a couple of us with him to visit his friend at the Benedictine Abbey north of Covington, Louisiana.  Later in life, I learned Dave had studied for the priesthood near Cleveland, Ohio. While at the Abbey in Covington, Dave went into the chapel and, to my astonishment, began to play the great organ with passion and dexterity. One of Dave’s priest friends approached me and said, “Dave does justice to Bach, don’t you think?”

After entering college, I lost track of Dave for about four years until my former wife and I invited Dave to be a part of our wedding party in 1955. Neither of us had seen Dave during that time when he developed alopecia and lost all of his body hair. On the night of the wedding rehearsal at Holy Name of Jesus Church on the Loyola University campus, Dave’s late arrival was announced by the roar of his motorcycle. We all looked up in silent disbelief to see this ghostly figure wearing cowboy boots strolling down the aisle toward us.
Dave’s skin glowed chalk-white with not a bit of hair to give it texture. With no eyelashes or eyebrows, his face looked like the beginning of an artist’s portrait where only the deep, dark eyes had been painted in on stark white canvas. Dave had plopped an outlandish red toupee, which must have come from his back pocket, atop of his completely bald head. His appearance startled all of us.

“You know I would like to be in your wedding tomorrow, but I may have to take a flight to Houston. I wish you well,” Dave said. This was Dave’s way of telling us, “You really don’t want this freakish looking fellow standing in your wedding and I am letting you off the hook.”. We would have been happy to have him, but of course he didn’t show up.

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team in New York

Civil Air Patrol Drill Team in New York

Dave drifted back into my life in 1960 when he came to my law office with two members of the Cuban Revolutionary Forces and asked me to represent them in a suit in which their landlord sought to evict them from premises on Canal Boulevard in New Orleans. Dave explained, “I am helping to train these folks in military tactics at a site north of Lacombe, Louisiana. Come out and visit our training camp, Tom.” I declined that invitation, but did represent the two Cubans in their eviction case.

From time to time, Dave returned to my office seeking pro bono representation for someone. During these visits he talked vaguely about his current activities. On one occasion he asked, “Do you know ‘The Little Man’—Carlos Marcello?”

I replied, “I only know him by reputation, but have never met him.”

Dave asked, “Would you like to go to Churchill Farms (Marcello’s secluded camp in a swamp south of Westwego, Louisiana) and meet him?”  I declined that invitation also. These conversations with Dave about Marcello led me to believe, with a great degree of certitude, that he knew the Mafia boss well and that Dave was probably the man who flew Marcello back into the country after Bobby Kennedy “deported” him.

Dave Ferrie was a strange, enigmatic man. I know that Jim Garrison, Oliver Stone, and probably many others, thought he had something to do with President Kennedy’s assassination. I don’t know about that, but I do know Dave trained Cuban Revolutionary Forces and associated with Carlos Marcello. Beyond that, I know that Dave was curious about everything, and flew an airplane as smoothly as Lindberg and played an organ like an angel.

Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans

Civil Air Patrol in New Orleans

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THE HONORABLE HORACE T. WELLINGTON

A View of New Orleans from the Westbank in Gretna

The Honorable Horace T. Wellington fought with me from the get go in the homicide case I tried before him. I could not figure out why. Had we not been Assistant District Attorneys in the same office for three years before the Honorable Horace was elevated to the bench by the good citizens of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana? True, the Honorable Horace had tried just enough cases to preserve his credentials as an Assistant Prosecutor, but never ventured into the deep waters of serious, controversial cases. The Honorable Horace kept a low profile.

In close conversations with select friends at lunch at Whiteside’s Restaurant, across the street from the Courthouse, the Honorable Horace expressed his opinions freely on most any subject. He also, in subtle ways, reminded us at his table that he came from better stock than us. Was his father not a member of the prestigious New Orleans Cotton exchange?    Had the Honorable Haorace inherited the same position from his sire? Did he not attend Ivy league schools? Did the Honorable Horace not own race horses and go to the Kentucky Derby and hob nob with the elite of the King of Sports each spring? Had the Honorable Horace not acquired a home in the elite country club neighborhood of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana? In his own mind, all these attributes and many others set the Honorable Horace apart from the rest of us mere mortals.

But why was he fighting me on this particular case? I had tried cases before him on many other occasions and he spared me this kind of grief, despite the fact that I did have to spend time educating him on the law and criminal procedure. Why had he now decided to take me on in open court?

True, this was an unusual homicide case. The Honorable Hoarace had not tried many homicide cases either as an ADA or Judge. This case called for the death penalty should the defendant be found guilty. Through eyewitness testimony, physical evidence, scientific evidence and admissions made by the defendant Nunzio Occipinto, I intended to prove that Nunzio, who was eighteen years old, did administer to James Norton, who was sixteen, a class 1 narcotic drug of Methadone. James Norton died as a result of ingesting the Methadone given to him by Nunzio. At that time, the Louisiana Criminal Code mandated the death penalty for anyone over eighteen giving anyone under seventeen a class 1 narcotic.

The strange aspect of this case was that Nunzio traded some of his Methadone with James for some street drugs James was holding. During this period, our society was engaged in the Methadone maintenance cure experiment, whereby folks addicted to street drugs were provided methadone in hopes they could relieve their addiction to hardcore street drugs. It seemed that Nunzio preferred his more familiar street drugs to the puny methadone the state provided him. In any event, Nunzio negotiated the trade with James and James ended up dead.

As is normal, the first day of the trial was taken up with selecting a jury that could find for the death penalty if I proved the case beyond any reasonable doubt. The jury could come back with a guilty verdict but without capital punishment. Since most jurors in my jurisdiction were reluctant to impose the death penalty, no matter what they might say in the voir dire examination, I did not expect to get a capital punishment verdict. But, I also did not expect to have to fight with the trial judge to just get a verdict of guilty.

During the whole trial, the Honorable Horace would sustain the defense attorney’s ridiculous objections while sarcastically scolding me before the jury, insinuating that I was handling my prosecution unprofessionally.

At one point the Honorable Horace overruled one of my objections and announced in front of the jury that he had a good mind to dismiss the case. That was my breaking point. I was angry, but I dare not show the jury how infuriated I was with the judge. I had l had long sense learned that juries don’t like angry attorneys. So I smiled and politely asked for a side bar and requested that the jury be excused so defense counsel and I could discuss some procedural issues with the the Honorable Horace.

When I approached the bench, the Honorable Horace shuffled papers on his bench and avoided eye contact with me. This three day fight with the Honorable Horace continued to vex me. When I approached the bench with the defense counsel,  I reminded the Honorable Horace, “I know your Honor is aware that only the Assistant District Attorney can dismiss the case. You don’t have the authority to do this. Of course you can direct a verdict at the end of the trial, but you do this at your own peril.”  This infuriated the Honorable Horace. He shuffled papers more vigorously, and looked anywhere but in my eyes and then blurted out, “Alright, but let’s get along with this silly trial.”

After four days of trial, the jury found Nunzio Occipinto guilty of the charges, but found, as I expected, that the death penalty was too harsh. The Honorable Horace imposed a three year sentence, which meant that Nunzio would be back on the bricks in about one year.

The fight with me during the whole trial and light sentence mystified me until months later I learned that Nunzio’s father, a well known horse trainer, and the Honorable Horace were good friends. Nunzio’s father even trained one of the Honorable Horace’s horses.

Of course the Honorable Horace should have recused himself from this trial. But, alas, on rare occasions, even judges don’t do the right thing.

Old New Orleans Fairgrounds

Posted in Collards, Crawfish and Crooks | 1 Comment

WHAT WE CALL SOCCER, BUT THE WORLD CALLS FOOTBALL

I have spent the last two weeks gazing at my TV trying to understand and appreciate the game we call soccer and the world calls football. Why not? Brazil has almost broken itself spending a gazillion, billion dollars building eight magnificent stadiums to present to the world the 2014 FIFA World Cup series.

I watch the matches in awe, marveling that the game has not produced more crippled, brain dead players. Eleven grown, strong young men hurl their bodies at one another at breakneck speeds, viciously banging heads, kicking one another and sometimes a multi-colored ball. They are not allowed to use their hands or arms to touch the ball, but they can bang the hell out of it with their heads. Talk about concussions. I cannot imagine this practice is good for the brain. As the players run around with hands at their sides, kicking the ball, they remind me of giant penguins waddling around in Antarctica.
I am still trying to learn the rules, if there are any, and what the markings on the field signify. I am now informed that the game is played on a pitch, not a field. Time of the match is another mystery. I understand that teams play for forty-five minutes then go out of the hot sun and, I guess go inside for a shower, rubdown and lecture. They return to the field and pay for another forty-five minutes. But wait, at the end of forty-five minutes, some official decides to add on a few more minutes to the game. The exact number of additional minutes remains a secret until the end of what I would call “regular time.” I suppose this time is to make up for time spent attending to injured players or players doing masterful acting jobs of faking injuries. It appears to me that some players should get some sort of award for their acting abilities.

If things are not settled at the end of ninety minutes, plus injury and acting extra time, an additional thirty minutes is tacked on to the match. If things are still not settled, then the match goes into a penalty kick situation, where five payers from each team try to make a short kick past the opposing team’s goal keeper. Whoever gets the most points wins. I don’t know what happens if there is a tie here, but I am sure I will learn.

Of course, players get serious injuries. When this occurs, brawny men rush out on the pitch carrying a man-sized, orange plastic basket that looks like something one would find in a morgue. They lay the injured player in the odd contraption and carry him off the pitch like a half of beef. Sometime, as soon as the player is deposited out of the fray, he jumps up out of the orange basket and gleefully greets his fellow players on the sidelines.

The game does seem to have some rules, but I have not yet figured them all out. I do know that the referee does call fouls. There seems to be several classes of fouls. Some seem to be more like misdemeanors and others like felonies. I have discerned that things are serious when the yellow card comes out of the referee’s pocket. I don’t know what constitutes such a grievous breech of conduct to get one thrown out of the game. I do notice that players from opposing teams console their opponents just after they have knocked billy hell out of him. Their apologies seem less than sincere, and seem only to be given to avoid a foul call on themselves. However I was fortunate enough to see my beloved Ticos, Costa Rica, with only ten men on the pitch, out do Greece in a 5-3 penalty shootout.

Sometimes when there is a foul, the referee spots the ball on the field where the foul occurred and marks the spot with what looks like foam shaving cream. This allows the aggrieved player an opportunity to get a free kick at the opposing goal. It seems that if there is a grievous foul near the goal, The fouled player gets to go one on one with the goal keeper to try to make a point.

I have learned that soccer is a game of anticipation. Very few goals are actually scored, but players run up and down the field like antelope without stopping. Unlike our football, soccer is nonstop. The clock keeps running and there are no timeouts for forty-five minutes at a time. The teams transition from offense to defense continually in seconds. Incidentally, if a team does not get a score, that is not recorded as a zero, it is referred to as, nil. When one team does score there is much jubilation and the teammates of the payer scoring the goal pile on him several players deep. It is a wonder the hero is not smothered by his happy brethren.

Yesterday, I heard a sportscaster say that some techie folks had tracked some players at the ongoing World Cup and found that it was not uncommon to find that some of these well fit, young men run in excess of ten miles during a match. That is while getting kicked by opponents and bouncing the ball off their heads all along. I conclude this a young, tough person’s sport.

I have not yet learned the names of positions the players play, but I can figure out the position of goalkeeper. I have also heard the terms striker and fullback, but I still can not spot them on the field. The goalkeeper has to be a quick, large person because the ball comes to him a supersonic speeds. The goal he must protect seems to be about ten feet tall and twenty feet wide. A lot of space for a man to cover.

Soccer coaches fascinate me. Most come to the game looking much like our American basket ball coaches. They prance up and down the sidelines attired in designer suits and expensive shirts and ties. They wring their hands and rub their heads vigorously when things go wrong for their teams, but engage in manly, enthusiastic embraces with fellow coaches when their team scores that rare goal. They also seem to shout a lot at their players.

Soccer fans rival, or even exceed, our football fans’ energy with their zany exhibitions of bizarre costumes and body decorations to support their teams. All this energy seems to be fueled by great quantities of alcoholic beverages.

Alas, just yesterday, I was sad to see the USA  team lose to the bullies from Belgium –  2 to 1. I am still counting on my friends the Ticos from Costa Rica to come through for me.

My friend and renowned tennis coach Fernando and I spent last Saturday afternoon watching our beloved Ticos get beat by the Dutch in penalty kickoffs after playing extra time. In the last two minutes, the Dutchmen used one of the three substitutions they are allowed to bring in a giant to defend their goal. This Godzilla like man must have been eight feet tall and had an arm span of an orangutang. He successfully defend their goal.

Fernando, a former soccer player from Chile had the patience to solve for me some of the mysteries of soccer. I now know how to spot an off sides, but according to Fernando, these calls, and fouls called by the officials are very “subjective.” In fact, Fernando suggested that the officials should have worn the Dutch colors in their match with our dear Costa Rica team.

Poor Brazil, the host country. I have just watched the crazed Germans humiliate the Brazilians by making an unprecedented five scores in less than thirty minutes. Seems like the Germans could have been good visitors and shown a little mercy. The final score turned out to be a humiliating 7 to 1 in favor of the Germans.

I look forward to this coming Sunday when the Germans and Argentina have the final shoot out in Rio. The dismayed Brazilians don’t know who to pull for. They detest Argentina and don’t care to seem them win on Brazilian soil, but they can not convince themselves to pull for the Germans, who skunked them in their own country. In Latin America, this kind of  humiliation is referred to as “Falta Respecta.”

Well it is over. Germany just bested Argentina by one goal in the last eight minutes of extra time. I am worn out and now must take a siesta.

In any event I have a new appreciation for the game we call soccer and the world calls football.

Posted in To Speak the Truth | Leave a comment

Dead Beat Dads

DEAD BEAT DADS

While on the Juvenile bench, dead beat dads were the bane of my existence. It is a wonder I did not stroke out while dealing with them.

First, let me explain who Dead Beat Dads are. They are the scoundrels who refuse to support the children they sire.  They have every excuse under the sun why they cannot contribute even a modest sum to help support their children. They are the bar room cowboys who saunter into their favorite watering hole in their designer jeans, Stetson hats, and five hundred dollar western boots, (though they have never set astride a horse in their lives) to entertain their good-for-nothing friends. They assert without fear “I will never give that bitch a dime of my money no matter what that stupid judge says.” They don’t mention that “that bitch” is doing the best she can to raise the three young’uns HE fathered.

When they do appear in court, they arrive in a more modest attire, but they cannot resist wearing their gold necklaces, expensive watches and having a package of cigarettes in their shirt pockets. I never understood their stupid need to display their jewelry, but they do. I have seen fishermen from Lafitte wearing enough gold around their neck to drown them should they fall over board from their shrimping boats.

Lafitte Shrimpers

Lafitte Shrimpers

When I explored the nasty habit of smoking cigarettes, I found this unhealthy habit cost  almost enough to feed their kids. Who knows the costs of booze they consumed to salve their conscience for not feeding their kids?

When dead beat dads appear before the bench, they have every excuse in the world why they cannot afford a paltry sum to help feed and clothe their children. After my first year on the bench. I had heard every excuse the human mind could invent. After that time I began offering the offenders before me this out: “If you can provide me with a valid excuse I have not yet heard as to why you cannot support your children, I will consider it. Otherwise the only valid excuses are if you are dead or so mentally or physically ill you cannot work. But since you have made it to court here today, the first excuse is out.” I never did hear a new valid excuse.

To the utter amazement of the DBDs before me I frequently asked the question, “How many time a day do you eat?” After fumbling for words, the response that usually came from the obese person before me was “I only eat once a day.” My response would be, “Well most of us here in the United States of America, including your children, have gotten into the habit of eating three times a day.”

New Orleans food

New Orleans food

To my utter amazement, some DBDs would try to explain away their conduct by telling me that they had a new girlfriend to take care of. My retort would be, “You can have all the girlfriends or even boyfriends you want, but you still have an obligation to help support your children–which I intend to enforce.”

Those who thought themselves to be tough when they swaggered around their bar room friends were not as tough as the run-of-the-mill criminal who populated our local jail. I used jail sentences for Contempt of Court sparingly and only for short terms, because our jail was overcrowded with real bad guys, and locking up a DBDs gave him an excuse for not finding a job. But short stays in The Gretna Hilton, as we called our jail. was necessary for some.

I remember one hapless lad who informed me that he had no intention to pay the back child support he owed because he had a new girlfriend who was now with child herself. I found him in Contempt and ordered him to spend ten days at The Gretna Hilton, with the intent to release him in a few days. When Ronnie, my bailiff returned to Court after escorting the young man to jail, he told me that as they entered the jail, a large fellow from one of the top tiers yelled down to the somewhat puny DBD, “You gonna be mine tonight.” Ronnie said the DBD turned white and asked permission to call his girlfriend. That afternoon a very pregnant girlfriend showed up at court with $650 in back child support, asking for the release of her soon-to-be spouse. I told her we appreciated the money, but her beloved would have to spend two more nights in jail just so he could sort out his options.inmate

We collected weekly from DBDs. Early on, when it came time to set an amount and time at which we could expect the money in our court, the DBDs would offer every excuse why the money could not possibly arrive on a day certain. I finally adopted the procedure of simply asking the DBD, “You name the day we can expect your money.” After much hemming and hawing they would finally give me a day.

After a couple years of remonstrating with DBDs I decided to create a magistrate system to deal with these contrary folks. I persuaded the Louisiana Legislature to create the magistrate system for my court. The magistrates would wear black robes and look like judges. They would deal directly with the DBDs and make recommendations to their sitting judge as to the amounts of and times of payments. Of course, the sitting judge routinely accepted the recommendations of the magistrates and signed an order to that effect.

Judge Tom in the courtroom

Judge Tom in the courtroom

The magistrate system worked well. My first magistrate was Felicia Higgins, better known to all as FiFi. FiFi was the mother of a young child, and a former school teacher turned lawyer. She was married to an attorney. FiFi’s father was a retired Coast Guard Commander who also had a law degree. FiFi had the advantage of attending such fine schools as Sweetbriar while her father was stationed in Washington. Being smart and a military child, attending fine schools and living around the world, FiFi had seen and heard it all. She was stern, but fair with DBDs and suffered not their lame excuses. She was dogged about collecting child support.

We hired Jay, a local attorney as a second magistrate to deal with DBDs. Energetic about his responsibilities almost to a fault, Jay invented creative ways to milk money from the hapless dads appearing before him. Once he reached deep into the legal arsenal of Black’s Law Dictionary and came up with an obscure, and not-necessarily-on point, writ which he employed to have the bailiff to remove the gold chains from a DBD’s neck in order to satisfy delinquent child support. Our Court now had gold chains in our possession. We could not figure out how to convert them to cash to send to the destitute mother, so I had Jay make a deal with the DBD to return his gold in exchange for currency.

When I left the bench, our Court was collecting and disbursing to needy mothers and their offspring in excess of twelve million dollars a year. I guess DBDs still clutter up the dockets of Juvenile Courts all over this affluent country of ours, while I enjoy the company of grandkids here in paradise.

Sailing 12' O'Day with grandkids

Sailing 12′ O’Day with grandkids

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SHORTY THE SHOE SHINE GUY

He was not a boy, but he was short. Shorty stood about five four and was about as many inches around his mid section. The mahogany skin of his fifty-year-old moon face wrinkled when he smiled. Shorty smiled a lot. When he smiled the gold tooth that replaced his upper incisor shown like a star on a dark night. A small patch of black hair lay listlessly atop the furrowed valleys of his brown shoe leather scalp.

Shorty’s shoe shine stand stood across St. Charles Avenue from the United Fruit Building where I worked as a law clerk for the last two years I was at Tulane Law School. The good uptown, traditional folks at Phelps, Dunbar, Marks, Claverie & Sims expected me to look sharp while in their employ; therefore Shorty and I got to know one another pretty well. He insured that my cordovan Bass penny loafers met muster with my boss, Mr. John Simms, himself.

United Fruit Company Bldg.In the mid 1950s, Shorty charged 25 cents for a good single color shoe shine. Of course,  a two-tone shine coast all of 35 cents. In addition to honing my shoes to where they became mirrors on my feet, for my 25 cent shine I always had the pleasure of a fifteen minute information-filled conversation with Shorty. When I said something he pretended to agree with he would acknowledge by saying, “Yes Sir, that sure enough be so.” Sometimes he would declare, “Well Sir, can you beat that?”

Shorty had constructed his two-seater stand from hardwood shipping crates that had housed  products shipped from all over the world to the Walnut Street Wharf near Shorty’s uptown home. The stand remained unpainted; it just weathered in the New Orleans heat and humidity. The wrought iron seats atop of the stand came from the demolished Union Pacific Rail Road Station at the foot of Canal Street. The four cast iron feet rest, upon which I placed my feet while Shorty lavished on paste with his bare hands, had seen their better days at the fancy barbershop in the old, renovated Monteleon Hotel. Shorty’s stand took up only maybe 100 square feet in a covered space next to a paved parking lot.

Shoe Shine Stand

When Shorty shined, his customers engaged him in good natured banter, but Shorty, being a whole bunch smarter than his station in life indicated, also listened when it was wise to listen.

Since Shorty’s stand stood beneath the tall commercial buildings of New Orleans, the business and professional elite of the Queen City made up most of Shorty’s customer base. In between jovial small talk with his customers, Shorty listened intently to the business men discuss the goings on of the day. Shorty had befriended a stock broker customer and made small periodic investments through him based on information he picked up daily at his stand.

Everybody conceded that Shorty’s shine was the best in town. Shorty had his own concoctions of shoe pastes and potions that he applied with his bare hands. Then came the big brush that just smoothed out the thick paste. Different brushes for different colors, of course. Next came the rag that Shorty popped, emitting a crack like a bull whip before he vigorously stroked the well worn cloth across the toes then the heels of his customers’ shoes. He did this in rhythm with the jazz music constantly playing on his small second-hand radio. The final touch came when Shorty sprayed his secret magical potion of liquid spit on your shoes and finished them off with final swipes of the rag that, naturally, matched the color of your shoes. Your shoes truly glistened when you stepped down from Shorty’s stand.

Your Shoes Truly Glistened

Shorty always had shoes to shine that customers would drop off at his stand then pick up at the end of the day. I have often wondered how many pairs of shoes the diminutive, energetic man would shine in a day.

One day in spring when I came for my semiweekly shine, I found Shorty talking to an attractive  woman a few years younger than me. Shorty introduced me to Lucy, his oldest daughter. He then told me, “Lucy will we graduating from high school at the top of her class the end of this month then she will be going to Xavier University in the fall. Her Maw and I are mighty proud of her and her other five brothers and sisters.”

After leaving my job at Phelps, Dunbar to fulfill my obligations on active duty to Uncle Sam, then to work off my law school debt in the oil patch of Eastern Venezuela, I returned to New Orleans to start my own law practice.

One day when I had to make an appearance in Civil District Court in New Orleans, I decided to treat myself to a shine at Shorty’s. By now I had not seen Shorty in almost ten years, but I thought he must surely be a permanent fixture at his St. Charles Avenue stand. I arrived at Shorty’s location only to find no Shorty and no stand. Only vacant space where the stand had once stood. Seeing that the parking lot was still in business  I asked Jake, the lot manager about Shorty. This friendly man told me, “Oh, Shorty gave up the business about a year ago. Said he was getting too old for the shine business.”

I asked, ”What is he doing for a living now?”

Jake just just chuckled and replied, “Shorty don’t need to do nothing. You know he be a rich man. Over the years he made some good investments that paid off well.”

I walked off thinking, “Here I am a young lawyer struggling to make a living. Did I embark upon the wrong profession?”tom and betty

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Camp Gordon

WWII Barracks

WWII Barracks

The hot summer of 1953 found us ROTC cadets from colleges all over the country housed in barracks at Camp Gordon outside Augusta, Georgia. During June and July young officers, some of whom served in World War II, tried their best to teach us how to become officers and gentlemen in the United States Army.

First Lieutenant Frank Mortimer pulled the duty of shaping up our platoon of cadets into officers and gentlemen. Lt. Mortimer wore tiny steel rim glasses that barely covered his dark black eyes. He stood no more than five foot six inches and was as lean as a sugar cane stalk. Lt. Mortimer’s jump boots, in which one could see his reflection, and the wings he wore on his chest verified he had completed parachute training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Ranger patch sewn on his right shoulder told us he had signed up for rugged Ranger training in the swamps of Florida. Lt. Mortimer was all spit-and-polish. His stiff, starched uniform clung to him as though it had been painted on his scrawny body. Lt. Mortimer had found a home in the Army and resented those of us who were just there to serve out our time, then say goodbye to the Army.

Only years later would Camp Gordon attain the dignity of becoming Fort Gordon. In 1953 the wooden barracks built during the great world conflict with Germany and Japan provided only the basic needs. Each cadet had a bunk, foot locker, and a small metal cabinet for hanging clothes. We shared a latrine with some forty other guys. The privacy of college days lay behind us. These conditions caused some tempers to flare on occasion.

Inside the barracks at Camp Gordon

Many of my brother cadets grumbled about the chow at the mess hall, but I found the hearty food– day old bread, all the eggs, steak, potatoes you could eat, and unlimited milk– to my liking. Sure it was starchy, but being from New Orleans I thrived on starchy.

Camp Gordon, situated among the steep red hills and pine trees of northeast Georgia was not the most hospitable place for humans. However, this environment seemed to suit rattlesnakes well.

As one would expect summers were hot even–for us boys raised in the south. The summer of 1953 was no exception. Our fatigues, which were constructed of a fabric known as herringbone twill, were as heavy as the canvas of our pup tents. We were required to wear these garments during all training. Training started each day at dawn with the daily dozen exercises. The salt tablets we had to take regularly came forth in our sweat and caked on our fatigue jackets, rendering them stiff enough to stand alone. I anticipated that some of the Yankee boys from Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and New Jersey were going to succumb to the heat, but these fellows were tougher than  I thought and they survived.

I got along fairly well except for a couple of screw-ups. I peeled many potatoes on KP ( kitchen police)  duty for running a jeep into a pine tree on a night exercise and bending it up a bit. I peeled more potatoes for getting lost in the woods at night on a bivouac and falling asleep up side a pine tree. I peeled more potatoes for, as a lark, handcuffing a buddy to the center pole of a mess tent while on maneuvers, only to find that nobody had a key for the cuffs. But for the most part all of us came away from this experience with a better understanding of what would be expected of us as officers.

KP potato peeling

Peeling potatoes on KP

We boys from the south and our Yankee compadres got along fairly well despite the language barrier. I was bunked next to a young, brash fellow by the name of Regan, who called New Jersey home. A short, skinny, pale, feisty lad, Regan had a tendency to run his mouth when he would have been better off just listening. I just attributed this lack of social decorum to him being a Yankee.

Also in our barracks were three fellows who would become football legends. Bart Starr, Harlon Hill, and Bobby Bowden–all of whom came from Alabama. Of course, at that time we did not know that Bobby Bowden would become the Hall of Fame coach of Florida State and guide his team to 377 wins–with 33 winning seasons. We did not know that Bart Starr would play for the Green Bay Packers, who were coached by the legendary Vince Lombardi. Starr would become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all times. We did not know that Harlon Hill would become one of the greatest receivers to ever play for the Chicago Bears. They were just guys like us and we were all in the same boat at Camp Gordon in 1953.

Bart Starr at Alabama

After about a month of training in the hot Georgia hills, and some of us peeling many pounds of potatoes for our transgressions, it came time for our first leave to go into Augusta and raise a little hell. We were to leave the post on Friday afternoon and return the following Monday.

To this day, I don’t know what precipitated the argument between Regan and Harlen Hill. But late in the afternoon on the Friday we were to depart for leave, there came a hell of a ruckus in the middle of our barracks. When I arrived to see what was going on, I saw the five foot six, red-faced Regan, staring up at the six foot four Harlen Hill. They stood chest to belly while Regan shouted obscenities up to Hill’s dark angular face that revealed his Native American heritage.

Young Bobby Bowden

Bart Starr and Bobby Bowden stood next to Hill and tried to defuse the situation. Bowden tried his best with his quick wit and compelling speech to calm down the situation. By breaking up the fight between Regan and Hill in the barracks and insuring that we all got leave, Bobbie Bowden showed the leadership skills that would serve him well in his illustrious career.

Harlon calmly took the verbal abuse and told his diminutive adversary, “ I don’t want to fight you here. It will get us all in trouble, but if you still want to settle this issue, I will meet you just outside the gate as soon as we are released for the weekend.”

Chicago Bear Harlon Hill

After things calmed own, and the onlookers to the confrontation dispersed, I got Regan aside and told him, “Are you crazy, man? Did you see that man? He is built like an oak tree. He will tear you limb from limb if you try to fight him. If I were you I would go apologize to him right now.”

I never did ask Regan what the argument was all about. I assume he decided not to fight Harlon Hill, because Regan showed back up in the barracks the following Monday unscathed.

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Drive In Movies

At the Drive In

Going to a multiplex movie theater with its plush seats and costly tickets to watch a movie on a big screen with five hundred strangers just doesn’t equate to the experience of spending an evening in the quintessential American source of culture and entertainment, an old-time drive-in theater. Neither can watching DVDs or Netflix on TV at home.

1935 Chevy

Woe to the young folks who have never experienced the thrill of stuffing their 1935 Chevy jalopy full of friends—some secreted in the trunk to reduce admission costs—and hit the open air drive-in theater on the edge of town on a Friday night.

No comfy reclining seats in an air conditioned building that costs millions of dollars—just the smelly old seats of your Chevy. No black top parking area to retain heat—just dirt pushed into grassy ridges to give you a better angle to see the enormous screen. Scratchy speakers you hung on your window afforded some semblance of audio reproduction. It was important, however, to remember to put the speaker back on its stand before you drove off lest you accidentally, or illegally, owned a speaker or got caught and had to pay for it.

Hot summers in the south attracted all manner of insects to invade your car while you watched a movie, but the resourceful folks at the drive-in sold you ingenious things to rid yourself of pests. The one I liked best was a little coil of black something or another that you lit with a match. It burned slowly and emitted a white smoke which was neither friend of insect nor human.

If an evening of hot petting with your best girlfriend worked up an appetite, you could visit the concession stand that had an endless stock of junk food. In addition to ordinary cold drinks, candy and popcorn, you could gorge yourself on hotdogs, hamburgers, pizza pies, fried chicken and ice cream—all in the privacy of your own dark, cozy car.

When you were young, your parents could take you to the drive-in in your pajamas which enabled you to snooze during some boring adult melodrama. If you had more energy, you could join other kids in PJs at the little playground out behind the concession stand.

When I was about fourteen, my sixteen-year-old cousin, Robert and I went to the drive-in in Monroe, Louisiana on his new Honda motorcycle. It was a sweltering summer night so cold beer seemed in order. Robert, a preacher’s son, somehow convinced the cashier at the store he was getting the beer for some adults. Off we went through the streets of Monroe with me on the back of the motorcycle holding onto a sack of perspiring Dixie beer and clutching the machine with my legs, like a cowboy riding a bucking horse. All went well until we hit the raised railroad tracks near Louisville Ave.

Teenage Tom and friend

Teenage Tom and friend

The unexpected jolt propelled me straight up like a sky-rocket. I landed on my rump in the dark street. Since we were going to a late show and it was after business hours, there was no traffic. I was not badly hurt, but there I lay sprawled out in the street with full cans of beer rolling about all over the place. My biggest fear at that moment was being seen by a neighbor in my small town and being reported to my parents–or worse–to Robert’s Preacher Dad. I had heard some of Uncle Roy’s sermons. They were full of hellfire and brimstone and contained many threats of burning for eternity for grievous offenses such as drinking.

Robert helped me gather up our precious cargo and we arrived at the Drive-in in time for the second feature. By now the beer was hot and well-shaken. When we opened the first one it spewed a geyser of white foam with the force of Old Faithful itself. The respectable families in cars on both sides of us glared at the two of us sitting on the ground, leaning up against a motorcycle and guzzling beer. Looking back, I am sure they must have prayed that their little ones in their PJs would not grow up to become the derelicts they saw that night.

We made it home in one piece, undiscovered and unpunished. My older cousin and I would experience other adventures together without any serious consequences at the time. He later became an accountant and moved to Houston. I saw little of him after we became adults.

He died about ten years ago. According to one aunt who keeps up with all family gossip, Robert drank himself to death.

I guess the old adage that “God takes care of fools, babies and drunks” applies only to us lucky ones.

McGee gang, North Louisiana

Tom Pat (l) and Cousin Robert (r)

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Gavels and Fountain Pens

The local bar association gives you one when their president puts the black robe on you after you have spent a  a ton of money to get elected to the bench. It is a gavel. For most judges, it sits on their bench as a symbol of authority and gathers dust over the years. Mine, a modest mid-sized wooden mallet, did just that. It was a good paper weight and simply a reminder of the day I was sworn in  as a trial level judge in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.

Judge Tom at Robing Ceremony

Judge Tom at Robing Ceremony

The imaginative folks who make movies and TV shows seem to believe the gavel is an essential tool for maintaining order in a courtroom. We see judges turning scarlet with anger, banging a gavel the size of croquette mallets and shouting at the top of his or her lungs, “Order in court. Order in court. If I don’t get order in court I will  clear out my courtroom.” These dramatic renditions remind me of the childhood limerick that goes something like this, “Order in court. The judge has got to spit. All that can’t swim better run.”

Another pet peeve I have is how fantasy land illustrates the houses judges live in. In the movies and on TV judges live in palatial mansions. The judges I have known including myself, with rare exception, were not wealthy and lived in ordinary homes.
Well, I am here to tell you that banging on a gavel is just not the way things really play out in a courtroom. If a judge has let things get to this state of affairs, he or she has already lost control of the proceedings before them. And excluding the public from a trial is antithetical to the principles of our judicial system. FISA  courts seem to be the only judicial systems we are willing to let operate in secret.

When on vacation in Costa Rica, I discovered that citizens of other countries have this illusion about judges. Even Carlos, the eight-year old Costa Rican son of the owner at the Lookout Lodge in the jungles of the Osa Peninsula asked me in Spanish, “Did you use the ‘mantilla’ (little hammer) to hit lawyers who were fighting in court?”

Carlos at Lookout lodge

Carlos at Lookout Lodge

I told him, “Most judges I knew used their pens to keep order. When necessary, they tapped them vigorously on the bench or pointed them at rowdy attorneys.”

“Con su pluma?” (With your writing pen?), the lad inquired in disbelief. The properly used pen kept order in my courtroom and most courtrooms I frequented. Besides, the light, frail little mallet was no match for the hard head of some lawyer in full rage.

Judge J. Bernard Cocke broke a lot of ballpoint pens fighting with attorneys and witnesses. Socially, Cocke could be Prince Charming, especially in the presence of women. When off the bench, he played Falstaff and other characters in Shakespearean plays. His rotund physique especially lent itself to portray Falstaff. When dealing with quarreling attorneys, Judge Cocke assumed a less cordial persona. The undisputed authority on Louisiana Criminal law, Cocke spent forty years in the criminal courts of New Orleans as the District Attorney and a Judge. He knew every trick in the book and could smell a lie before it fell from a witness’s lips.

Judge Tom's gavel

Judge Tom’s gavel

Once, Defense Attorney Ralph Barnett brought a motion to suppress evidence in Cocke’s court. The evidence, consisting of illegal drugs, had been obtained by a young, arrogant deputy sheriff on the Narcotics Squad. As Assistant District Attorney assigned to the case, I interviewed the young deputy in preparation for the hearing. He told me, “The suspect gave me permission to open the trunk of his car after I pulled him over for faulty taillights.”

“Are you telling me that Randy Russo, a known drug dealer, just gave you permission to search for drugs in his car without any dispute?” I asked the hapless young deputy. I further attempted to warn him, “And that is what you are going to tell Judge Cocke?”

“That’s the way it went down,” he insisted. I figured that it was about time to throw the over-eager, self assured, young narcotics cop into Judge Cocke’s lion’s den.

The hearing took place after Cocke had his customary lunch of a Mrs. Drake sandwich from the coffee stand and a few slugs of Old Commisky whiskey from a half-pint fruit jar which he kept in his chambers. This practice caused him to appear to be napping on the bench in the afternoon, but most of the time he heard and fully understood every word a witness said.

At another instance in Cocke’s courtroom, attorney Bobby Broussard and I were arguing a motion before Cocke in the afternoon when the good judge went dead asleep and started snoring. Bobby looked at me and said, “He is asleep. Wake him up.”

“Hell no,” I responded. “It’s your motion. You wake him up.” Bobby dropped a pile of heavy law books on the table in front of us, bringing the judge back from the land of Morpheus.

But on this day with Ralph, the young narcotics cop was not so lucky. While appearing to be dozing, Cocke heard every preposterous word the deputy said under oath.
Cocke came alive with rage, grabbed the nearest pen available, waggled it menacingly in the face of the young officer and snarled, “You are a damn liar, you little punk. I know Randy Russo and his whole good-for-nothing, drug dealing family. There is no way he gave you permission to search his car without a warrant.”

Cocke then turned his wrath on me, pointing the pen and  saying, “And you, Mr. D.A., if you had any genitalia, (except he was much more explicit in describing my private parts) you would charge this little liar with perjury.”

I didn’t charge the prevaricator with perjury. I figured Cocke’s tirade shook the young deputy so badly he would probably not dare play fast and loose with the truth in the future.

With all due respect to the creators of TV shows and movies, I am here to tell you that not only is the pen is more mighty than the sword, it is much more effective than a ceremonial gavel.

Judge Tom with his gavel

Judge Tom with his gavel

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Stanley

There I was in the back of this old pickup truck in the Wal Mart parking lot in Defuniak Springs, Florida with six other muling, grumbling mutts, some old tires and an assortment of greasy tools. This young couple picked us up along side Highway 81 in north Walton, County. We were all hungry and sickly. They fed us and took us to the Wal Mart parking area and put a sign on back of their dilapidated truck saying, “FREE PUPS FOR GOOD HOME.”

Them other squirmy dogs were a’yapping and wiggling around. This was driving me crazy so I just hung my head and front paws over the tailgate to get some fresh air. I did not care to associate with them anyway. They were just not my kind. I don’t think they was very smart. Yeah, I was weak and hungry too, but I did not make on like I needed any thing.

Pretty soon, I spied a man and woman getting out of a white Toyota pick up across the parking lot. The dude was old and moved a bit slow, but the much younger woman seemed spry and alert. I could see them talking real serious like when they read the sign below me. It was not by accident that I put myself over that sign where folks could see me. I had to find me a good home and get out of the bed of that old, run downed pickup with all them other sorry critters.

The couple approached my truck slowly and started talking to the young couple that had rescued us dogs. “Could you use some money to help feed these dogs?” the Old Dude asked the young couple.

The young man replied, “No, we won’t take any money. We are just looking for a good home for these pups.” The young man was right, I was just a pup when I got lost from my mama and got mixed up with this mess of scroungy mutts along side the highway just north of Bruce, Florida.

Anyways, when I saw the older couple approach our truck they appeared to be kind, maybe even gullible folks. I put on the most pitiful look I could muster in hopes they may take me home with them. I did not bark or grumble. I just moaned a bit to get their attention and I continued to hang my head over the tailgate. I made a point to stare at them with my dark brown eyes through my long, shaggy, curly black and white eye lashes.  This seemed to do the trick.

stanleyThe Old Dude, looked me over real good then asked the young man “What about this fellow here? Could we adopt him? We already have a Golden Retriever named P.J. that we rescued, but we could give this one a good home also. Besides P.J. needs a companion.” The Old Dude’s wife agreed.

Well anything to get out of this truck with this pack of whinnying puppies, but do I really  want to be a companion to a lummox of a dog with a silly name like, P.J.? What the hell, anything had to be better than sitting in the back of a truck in the Wal Mart parking lot. Bedsides, I heard the young couple say that if they could not find us a home they may have to take us to the dog pound where bad things could happen to us. Better to live with P.J. than risk that fate I figured.

I heard the Old Dude tell his wife, referring to me, “That dog must be old. Look at all the grey, kinky hair he has.” Now that did insult me. I weren’t old, and I considered my appearance to be what humans would call salt and pepper. I wish I could have talked in human language. I would corrected the old fart, but I did not have to. His young, smarter, wife told the ignorant old fool, “No love, he is just a pup, probably just about six months old. That is the natural color of his coat, and look at the long brown hair under his little belly. He actually is quite a handsome little fellow,” the Old Dude’s wife correctly observed about me. Of course I agree with her.

These new people told the young folks who found us that they would give me a good home. They offered again to donate money for food for the other pups, but the proud, young couple refused any donations.

I did not want to let the Old Dude and his foxy wife know just how sick and weak  I was, lest they would decide I would be too much trouble. I really wanted to have them take me home with them, but I was even too weak to walk to their white Toyota pickup. I just lay limp in the Old Dude’s arms as he gently carried me to the truck and carefully laid me on the back seat. I soon came to understand that both these people were kind folks and seemed to really care about me.

As we drove south from Defuniak Springs to my new parents’ home at the beach in Seagrove, I heard them discuss what to name me. Truth of the matter is I never really had a name before. They discussed several options and finally came up with the name Stanley. Seems that some member of their family, in their youth, had an old, loyal dog named Stanley. That sounded like a stately name to me and I think it fits my energetic, erudite, sophisticated, independent personality.

As we drove south, I heard her call the Old Dude, Tom and he called her Karen. So my new parents, or owners, depending on how one looks at things like this, were Tom and Karen.

When we arrived at my new home, I met P.J.  Now, ain’t that a ridiculous name for a dog. Well it befits him. He is a ridiculous dog. P. J. is a big old, neurotic Golden Retriever. I could see from the beginning he was good for nothing.Tom and Karen and PJ

At first, P.J. did not take kindly with me coming into his house. For about three hours he walked around and around me with a chewy in his mouth whining like a pitiful puppy. The good news was that he did not growl at me or bite me. I was still pretty sick and weak at the time so I just ignored him as best I could. After a while, P.J. settled down and went to sleep. I thought he was just too old and tired to put up a fight. Later in our relationship, I Learned P.J. would fight me when he got enough of my antics. Actually I found out he liked to fight other dogs whenever he could.

The day after we arrived at my new abode, Karen took me to the pretty lady veterinarians at Kindness Pet Hospital to check me out and get the shots civilized folks feel we dogs need to be healthy. They may call this place Kindness, but those shots stung , no matter how gently the the considerate Doctors treated me. I felt pretty lowly all that day, but by my third day at home with Tom and Karen I was feeling pretty chipper–better than I had ever felt.

Karen fed well, and P.J. and I agreed on an eating arrangement that worked for both of us. Karen made sure I got enough to eat before the big dog gobbled up all of my food.  It was a good thing that Karen thought to do this because I am a picky eater. I smell my food first then eat slowly. The big red dog just gobbles his food down, and mine if he gets a chance, before I can savor my meal. Despite his sophisticated name he has no manners whatsoever. It is a wonder the big oaf does not have stomach problems all the time.

Later on, after I became a real member of the household, I figured out strategies to enlist P. J. to help me get things I wanted or needed. If I thought breakfast or dinner was a little late, or I needed to go outside to potty, I would bark at P.J. and wake him up from his nap to go beg for food or let us out. But P.J. was way ahead of me on this procedure. Over the years he had learned to go beg the Old Dude for food or a chewy, knowing full well the lazy old man would simply call to Karen and say, “The dogs are bugging me. I think they  are hungry or they need  to go out.” This strategy worked every time, so I did what P.J. taught me. I begged Tom, who always called on Karen to give me what I wanted.

Man, man, you ought to see the house and yard I live in now. It is a young dog’s dream. The house, a big two story affair, is stuffed with junk that I love to explore and chew on. It looks like something I have seen on that TV show the American Pickers. Oh yes dogs do watch TV. At least smart dogs do. Seems Tom and Karen built not only a house to live in but a studio and workshop where they create pottery, paintings, photographs, greeting cards and write stories. Tom has many tools in his workshop, but when I hear him cussing, I don’t think he knows how to use most of them. It is one of my favorite places  to explore or potty if it it is raining outside. The Old Dude got really upset  when I did this the first time, so I humor him by doing my business outside most of the time.

The house sits on a big lot with many trees. Karen had planted vegetable and flower gardens all over the place. Sometime Tom helps her with the vegetable gardens, but he tells her, “Your flowers are pretty, but you cain’t eat them.” Karen explains to the ignorant fellow that the flowers attract bees who pollinate the vegetables. Well even I, a dumb dog, can understand that.

stanley in backyardMany squirrels and birds live in our yard. Now I am fast, but those damn squirrels can out run me. I have yet to catch one. But I do catch rats. We live next to an overgrown vacant lot, therefore rats occasionally come into the lower part of our house which is supposed to be our garage. I have heard Tom tell people on many occasions, “Of course we don’t put our cars in the garage. That is like putting a twenty gallon gasoline bomb in your house.”As I said before, my parents have strange and wonderful things in our garage they use to engage in their many hobbies. For instance, Karen prepares all of her greeting cards she sells at Sun Dog book store in Seaside downstairs. They call these things necessary equipment. I call it clutter.

But rats do get in downstairs and hide down there. I have, with serious resolve, taken on my responsibility to ferret out and extricate these rascals from our home. I guess it is just in my nature to dispose of rats. I heard Karen say it is in my breeding. Karen and Tom can’t decided on my heritage, but they agree that I am a ratter.

When I smell those varmints, I corner them up amongst the project stuff downstairs, and bark at them until they come out or l wear myself out. As soon as the critter makes a run for it, I jump on him in a flash, grab him by the neck, take him to the backyard and dispose of him. This makes my new parents happy and me proud to be a working member of the household. P.J. is not much help in catching rats, but he does give me  moral support.

To say that P.J. is strange is putting it mildly. The other night I was just asleep at Karen’s feet. P.J. was asleep on his bed about five feet away. All of a sudden he jumped up and raced toward me growling  for no good reason. True, I do give him cause to growl at me all day long, but not on this occasion. I guess he had a nightmare and wanted to take it out on me. For whatever reason, he scared the bejesus out of me. I thought he had taken leave of his senses and was going to eat me up. I cuddled up to Tom, but he had no sympathy for me so I went back to Karen for protection, who stroked my rough fur and  told me not to worry. She said P.J. just had a bad dream.

But the old dog can be useful. Being a young active fellow who has worked all day catching rats or chasing squirrels and birds out of Karen’s gardens, I get really really hungry about sunset. Usually, P.J. is doing what he does best–sleeping. I need his help to get Karen’s attention so she will feed us. I bark at P.J. to interrupt his slumber and in dog talk tell him to go beg for food. He then goes through his routine of bugging Tom who in turn prevails upon good-natured Karen to feed us. I guess the old dog ain’t so dumb after all, because his tactics seem to work every time. If  I have to go out to potty in the middle of the night, I want P.J. to  go with me, so I bark him awake so he can beg Karen to open the doors.

P.J.I take these nightly potty breaks to inspect our yard and bark at any unwanted critters or humans. Tom and Karen, and even our neighbors, say I bark a lot. But what is a dog to do? One of my many jobs is to warn Karen and Tom of intruders. I remember once about three in the morning, Karen had fallen asleep on the living room couch and I was fast asleep on my bed at her feet, but with one ear open. I heard someone in our front yard, so let out my shrill, alarm bark, the one that tells those nearby there is something amiss. It is different from the bark I use just to shoo away unwanted squirrels or lizards. This is my serious bark, telling Tom or Karen, ‘There is danger here–do something.’

The next morning, Karen told Tom at breakfast, “I don’t know why Stanley got on a barking fit in the middle of the night.”  But when she went out into our yard that morning she discovered that some villains had come into our yard and stolen three of our plastic flamingos. I don’t know why people who come to our part of paradise have to  do tacky things like that. Karen and even the Old Dude praised me for being a good watchdog. I was happy to see they appreciated me and figured this made up for some of my bad behavior.

Four little mixed breed dogs live with Bob and Rhonda across the street from us. They bark all the time, and of course I must answer them. Of late I have learned I can jump the banister on the downstairs front porch, so I go visit these dogs and stir them up whenever I can. I find this to be great fun. Bob and Rhonda like me. They say I am cute, but I don’t think they appreciate me disturbing their mutts. I bark at them every time they walk in front of our house just for the fun of watching them go nuts on their leashes and drag Rhoda and Bob down the street.

Yes, I do like fun and adventure. I get away and run about the neighborhood any chance I get.  P.J. is just too old and set in his ways to keep up with me. Sometimes I do get to lead him astray. Our little adventures wear him out, but if the truth be known,  our little escapades invigorate the old fellow as well.

We live just one good golf shot from the aqua, blue waters and gleaming white sand beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes when the tourists are not around, Karen and Tom take us down and allow us to run in the surf. I chase the seagulls, but they are faster than the squirrels and they can even fly away. Old P.J. just mosies along with the Old Dude. Once I talked P.J. into traveling East down the beach with me to a secluded state park called Deer Lake. As we pranced off down the beach, Karen became quite upset and kept calling for us to return. P.J. wanted to obey and go back, but I talked him in to continuing our adventure. I know I was wrong in not obeying Karen, but I just could not pass up the opportunity to see what was down at Deer Lake.

Eventually, Karen persuaded some county workers cleaning up the beach to drive their truck down the beach and corral P.J. and me. She was some pissed off, telling me, “You are a bad dog. You corrupt P.J.” She thinks P.J. is such a goodie-two-shoes, but I know better. I have seen him do devious things to get what he wants.  Anyway, Karen is such a sweet woman, and I am so cute when I turn on my charm, she can’t stay angry with me long. Too bad P.J. just does not have my charisma, but for some reason she loves him as much as she loves me.

On another occasion, Karen and Tom had things to do that kept them away from home all day. A storm whipped up which really upsets P.J. He wandered around downstairs whining and crying pitifully. To distract him, I convinced the reluctant P.J. to break out out of our front porch and go rile up Wanda and Bob’s barkie little dogs. As I have mentioned, this one of my favorite sports.

Rhonda took it upon herself to return us home, but the storm got worse. This became too much for P.J., so he chewed our way through the wooden fence on the front porch and we broke out again. This time we took a long trip West down the beach toward the community of Seaside. We got about a mile away in front of the only high-rise condo on our beach. Many children came out to play with us. I dearly love to play with little folks because they have so much energy and can run fast. P.J. Just stands there and allows the little ones pet him, but I run their little legs off.

Stanley on the PorchOf course, Karen really got up set by this little escapade. The truth is we had gotten so far from home, we were lost. Karen had had the foresight to have the vet to implant a high-tech locating device under my skin. Some kind gentleman, at the condo, called the animal control folks of Walton County and they came out and found out who owned us and called Karen. She came down in the little Toyota truck and brought us back home scolding me all the way. But again she eventually got over being mad at me, hugged me and told me she loved me even though I was an exasperating little dog.

All my bad behavior has prompted Karen to try to teach me discipline. She has even threatened to take me to obedience school, but I think she has given up that notion and is going to take on the job of improving my behavior herself. I know I try her patience. I don’t try to be difficult by running away,  barking at other dogs and people, tearing up pillows Karen has made for Tom, shredding magazines, and even eating Karen’s checkbook, but I am still just a puppy and I can’t just sit around the house doing nothing like the lazy P.J. After all, I, unlike P.J., earn my keep by catching rats and shooing away potential burglars.

A ninety-one-year-old guy, also named Tom, who lives down our street has marked off a one hundred meeter running track on our street. He  comes and jogs that course  every day with his mean, shaggy, brown chow dog. Old Tom is a neat, pleasant fellow. He has participated in and won some senior Olympics competitions, but  that chow dog of his is unpleasant and can be downright mean.

Just the other day, Karen was bringing P.J. and me back from our favorite swimming hole. Old Tom’s chow was out in front of his his house with his master. I thought I would be friendly and just go over and try to play with that honery, female dog.  As I ran to her she growled at me. Now I am here to tell you that P.J., as sweet and laid back as he is, just don’t take no gruff from any other dog no matter the size–especially if  that dog is growling at me. Well P. J. lit into that chow and fur flew all over the place. Of course, I had to join and help P.J. as much as I could. I think the chow got a hunk of J.P., because my old buddy limped around for a day or two after that, but he seems to be his old self again.

Karen was mortified by our behavior and tried to apologize to Old Tom. He dismissed her concerns and told her that his dog needed a good whipping anyway. Well P.J. and I certainly did that for him.

As I said, P.J. will take on most any dog in a fight, except our neighbor, David’s dogs. David has two giant, white great Pyrenees dogs. Their barks sound like thunder when we walk in front of their house. P.J. and I just walk on the far side of the street in front of their house and look the other way when we walk by. If they are in their fenced yard, I pray that that fence holds them back, because I don’t think even P.J. could handle these monsters.

Speaking of David, he is a hairstylist who works out of his house. He gives Tom and Karen their haircuts. He is a sweet, gentle guy who took care of P.J. and me when Karen had to visit Tom the two weeks he had to spend at the Bay Medical Center Hospital over in Panama City last February and March. This was a bad time for all of us–especially for Karen and Tom. David took good care of us and saw that we got good food and potty breaks.

Tom’s son Sean and his daughter Paige came over to do what they could while he was in the hospital, but Karen did all the daily heavy lifting. She took on the trying job of making sure the doctors, nurses and technicians were doing their jobs correctly. But lo and behold, no sooner than Tom entered the hospital, Karen twisted her ankle badly rushing down our stairs to go to care for him. Man oh man for a time around here we had the cripple assisting the more crippled.

Of course, P.J. and I did our part. When Tom and Karen were laid up we came and sniffed them all day long to make sure things were not going downhill with them. Everybody knows that we dogs can sniff out an illness long before humans suspect they are sick. Our problem is we don’t have vocal cords to communicated this information We do talk in many ways and could be understood, if our human friends, would just learn our language. Tom and Karen, especially Karen, have caught on to what we are trying to tell her.

When they got Tom home after a week in the hospital, he had to go back in three days later because he had bad infection in both arms. The doctor also prescribed a strong blood thinner  which damn near did him in. He had to go back to the Emergency Room to correct this mistake and stay another week to renew his blood platelets and get strong antibiotics. After the Old Dude returned from his second stay at the hospital, I am here to tell you he was sure a mess when we got him home. For sure, he wanted to be at home with Karen and us dogs, but he looked like the fellow Frankenstein that I have seen on television.  As I said before, I do watch TV, but only selected programs. Tom had tubes coming out his neck and both arms and bruises on his stomach where the doctors had performed test on him.

Tom became exasperated with the home health care people the hospital had recommended. I heard him tell Karen that they were a ripoff and charged Medicare far too much for the services they supposedly provided. He and Karen call in a registered nurse who was an old friend to administer the antibiotics. Dru, a sweet, smart lady, came every day for two months to treat Tom. I tried to help her in her duties, but she kept telling me, “No Stanley, I don’t need your help.”  But I know she liked me because she talked to and petted me all the time. That is all a dog can ask for.

As time went on, Tom became more pert so he and Karen invited friends and neighbors over to the lot across the street and boiled mounds of shrimp, potatoes and corn. Tom and Karen don’t actually own the lot. It has been owned by a family from Dothan, Alabama, but they have  built nothing on it since they purchased it forty-something years ago. Tom talked to the doctor who administers the family estate, and asked for permission to clean the land up so we could get to the beautiful Eastern Lake. The good doctor was only too happy to have Tom clear the debris and cut the small trees on the property. Tom devoted many days, and chainsaw blades last winter converting the bramble and dead trees into a lake view park.

This is a pleasant place where P.J. and I go swimming. The Old Dude keeps a flatboat and sailboat here. Grandkids use the aluminum flatboat to fish out of and go to the beach when they visit. When Tom tries to teach grandkids how to sail a boat, I hear him tell them, “You need to know how to sail a boat. Any fool can turn a key on to start an engine.” I see him trying to teach them many things. Some of it gets through, but most of his words are just lost in the wind. He tries to teach me things too, but I guess I am too stubborn to try to learn new things. After all, I am just a puppy and there are many fun things to do in life, like chasing squirrels and birds and shredding magazines all over the living room floor.

pj and stanley by boatKaren has put out a crab trap in the lake. We catch a few crabs every week. I help Karen corral the little buggers. She boils them then makes crab cakes out of their meat. I ain’t much on eating crab meat, but the humans seem to like it.

P.J. and I dearly love to go swimming in the lake–especially in the hot summer. Sometimes, we swim way out into the lake chasing ducks that have come in for the winter. Those rascals are tricky creatures. When you swim out to get them, they are sitting on top of the water, but as you get closer, they just disappear below the surface and stay there  for the longest time. After they hide beneath the water, P.J. and I just swim around a bit looking for them, but our little legs get tired so we have to swim back to shore. When we get back our long fur is  full of water so we do like all dogs. We find the nearest human, preferably one that is not fond of dogs anyway, stand close to them and shake vigorously showering them with doggie water. P.J. taught me this trick. I find this especially  fun.

Once Tom felt a little stronger after he got out of the hospital, he started building a floating dock to put in the lake. I overheard the engineer, Duane Porte, tell Tom he could get him a permit to build a permanent pier into the lake, but the permit alone would costs $800. The last I heard, Tom said he has about $500 in his floating dock including the $100 he paid to grandson Nathan to help him build it. I heard Tom tell Karen that Nathan was a good worker. He told her, “You just have to show him something once then turn the project over to him. He will work on his own until the task is complete without further supervision.”
When Nathan was not working with his PaPa on the floating dock, he took P.J. and me swimming down where the lake empties into the Gulf. This is the best swimming hole in the world. Nathan is one big strong, energetic young person. He is going to play on the Varsity foot ball team at Jesuit next year even though he will only be a freshman. He is already as big as, but much stronger than his PaPa. He ran me around so hard, I about fell out. My tongue hung out the side of my mouth and I could not wait to get back in our air conditioned house where I slept all night long with nary an interruption. P.J. was pretty much zonked out also.

Floating dockJust yesterday, the Old Dude and Karen decided to take P.J. and me in their little aluminum flat boat down to the swimming hole. Tom was teaching Karen how to operate the boat. Neither of them was paying much attention to us dogs. As soon as the bow of the boat hit the sand banks of the swimming hole, P.J. jumped ashore and headed for the beach. Since it was summertime, many people, including a passel of young children, lined the shoreline. P.J. and I both love children and allow them to pet us all they want.

Stanley's swimming holeI don’t know what got into P.J. on this occasion, but he decided to head West on the  beach for about a mile. I did not think the old dog had the energy to make such a trip. Of course, I had to go along to take care of him. We played along the way and had great fun. During our sojourn, P.J. had to take a crap on the beach which in Walton county, is a big “No, No.” P.J.s bowel movement really upset a woman on the beach. This woman accosted Karen who was chasing after us about P.J.’s bad manners. Karen tried to explain to the  angry person that we had run away and she was trying to catch us. Later that week, Karen met this woman at a bookreading down at Sundog books in Seaside. The embarrassed woman came up to Karen and apologized for overreacting and her bad behavior. Things went well for the two of them after.

Tom tells me I am a sassy dog. That is not true. Maybe a bit headstrong and serious about my duties as a watchdog, but not sassy. Tom yells at me when I bark at our neighbors and their ill bred dogs, but that is my job. When Tom yells at me, Karen tells him “You scared him. You know you love that dog.”

Tom sheepishly admits, “I do love him, but sometimes he drives me nuts with his barking.” But that is what I am supposed to do. I must alert the Old Dude and Karen to dangers they are too dumb to see.

A few days ago, the UPS man came in his brown truck with a package for Tom. Of course I barked at the man in the brown uniform until he gave P.J. and me a treat. Now I would say that is one smart man. I wonder how many treats he gives to barking dogs every day. Anyway , Tom had ordered a mechanical turtle from Hammacher Schlemmer that shines blue lights on the ceiling, plays soft music and makes surf sounds. When Karen saw the strange turtle, she asked Tom. “Why did you get this? This is used to put children to sleep.”

“Well it could put adults to sleep as well. Besides, I just wanted it,” he responded. Now I am here to tell you that the Old Dude does not need any help sleeping. He can sleep all night long then nap on the couch during the day. Nowadays, because he is taking some medicines, he does have to pee several times during the night. P.J. and I don’t let this disturb our sleep.

I don’t like the damn mechanical turtle Tom brought into our house. I bark at it when it shines its lights on the ceiling, plays soft music, and make ocean sounds. It will never put me to sleep. It is a strange looking thing and I don’t trust it.

The Old Dude don’t yell at me any more after I cornered the water moccasin in our garage. He praises me over and over. He pets me and tell me what a good dog I am. Karen hugs me and tell me she loves me. This makes me proud, but I an sure they will get angry with me again when I pull one of my little doggie escapades.

I trapped the snake when Tom and Karen had gone out to lunch. They are always going out to eat and leaving P.J. and I at home. Of  course I have duties, like corralling a snake. As usual, P. J. was no help. He just went to the back room and went to sleep.

I saw the critter slither into our garage,  so I barked it into a corner. When Tom and Karen came back from stuffing themselves with pasta at Angelina’s, I had the mean fellow herded up in the front corner of the garage. I barked my alarm bark until Karen told Tom “I think Stanley has trapped a water moccasin.” Somehow I knew better that to go grab this creature like I do the rats. Tom got a big flat shovel and chopped the snake’s head off. I wanted to help, but Karen made me go upstairs while the Old Dude killed the snake and threw his remains in the empty lot across the street.

Stanley looking for snakesAll in all, living with Karen, the Old Dude and J.P. ain’t too bad a life. It sure beats the hell our of being in the back of an old pickup in the parking lot of Wal Mart with a bunch of yapping dogs. Yeah, I think I will try harder to behave myself a bit more so I can stay in the good home I have found.

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Court Reporters

tom blog003Court reporters are an interesting breed. I have always admired the skill and dedication that most of them bring to their very important job. Some of them, however, come up short in the responsibility department.

Dean of court reporters in Jefferson Parish, Martha Jane was irreverent and sarcastic, butreliable.  She  was quick to share with attorneys and court personnel during a recess, “Can you believe what that lying sack of feathers said? Do you believe the Judge bought any of it?” In her sixties, Martha Jane eschewed wearing fancy clothes or the services of a beauty shop. She showed up most of the time in runover sandals, frumpy hair  and some loose-fitting garment decorated with garish flowers.

I once exclaimed under my breath to my young assistant, “My gosh, she has come to court in her nightgown and slippers.” Her chain smoking, even in the courtroom where the judge would allow it, caused her to appear older than her years. But Martha Jane was accurate and delivered her transcripts in a timely manner–which was about all you could ask of a good court reporter.

Tim was another matter. He did not study under Martha Jane, but convinced some court reporter school that he had gained sufficient proficiency to be let loose alone in a courtroom. When lawyers sometimes became verbose and shouted at one another in the heat of verbal battle, Tim would simply reply to the Judge, “No matter, Judge, I got every word of it.”

We all believed Tim to be a genius with the steno machine until we started calling for transcripts. Tim kept delaying production of the transcripts, citing the many hours Judge Hebee required him to be in court.

One day, without any notice to anybody, Tim failed to appear in court. Tim had fled the state and remains a fugitive, as far as I know. When Martha Jane attempted to decipher Tim’s steno tapes, she told Judge Hebee, “There is nothing but gibberish on his tapes. I told you that long, tall string bean didn’t have the sense God gave a billygoat.”

Charlie, Judge Cocke’s court reporter, chauffeur, confidant and procurer of all things necessary for the aging  judge, recorded in long hand with pen and ink. A slick article, Charlie wore flashy, expensive clothes, lathered his coal black hair with oil and combed it straight back. He lavished expensive, strong cologne on himself, invisible clouds of which floated out into the courtroom. In one trial, after a particular heated exchange between all the attorneys and the judge, Charlie leaned back in his chair with his pipe clenched in his teeth, appearing undisturbed.  I told my assistant  “It really doesn’t matter. The transcript is going to read the way Judge Cocke wants it to read anyway.”

During a civil trial in Orleans Parish, I warned Evert, Judge Cassibry’s court reporter, “My client, Libby, has a gastric problem and may barf during testimony.”  Evert, a fastidious fellow, one might even describe him as effete,  did a fine job reporting for Judge Cassibry. He always sat close under the witness stand so he could hear and report accurately every word a witness said.

This being Libby’s first time in a big city, much less a courtroom, she became very nervous. The situation aggravated her stomach problems. She spoke softly so Evert moved even closer. Without warning and unpreventably on Libby’s part, she barfed all over Evert’s expensive stenograph machine. The Judge recessed and allowed both Libby and Evert time to regroup. After some time, a visibly shaken Evert returned to the courtroom visibly shaken to complete his duties.

Orleans Parish

Orleans Parish

Joe Cass was a seventy-six year old piece of work. The white mustached, silver-haired gentleman could pass for Walter Cronkite. The bottom half of the white mustache, was stained yellow from the from the Keep Moving Cigars Joe perpetually chewed on.

With his old-fashioned fountain pen, Joe had recorded trials for half a century. Judge John Boutall, a good Judge imbued with great empathy for those in need told me, “I have to keep the old man on. He has lost his wife and pension. This is his only source of income.”

Joe’s antiquated method of recording was slow. As he aged it became even slower. “Whoa, slow down,” he would shout to attorneys while frantically waving his left hand in the air. He would invariably do this at the most inopportune time, just when a witness was replying to an important question.

Joe liked to socialize and have a few beers with the boys after work. One of his favorite water holes was Ovella’s restaurant and bar. The good Italian family that owned Ovella’s served the coldest beer in frozen mugs, called schooners, and the best roast beef po-boys in the area.

When the loud mouth patron disturbed Joe’s enjoyment of cold beer and roast beef po-boy at Ovells’s one night, Joe felt compelled to punch the oaf in the face–unfortunately with his writing hand. This took Joe out of action in Boutall’s courtroom and for a while all the attorneys appreciated the benefit of a substitute. When Joe returned to work, he became even slower and interrupted more frequently, but the loyal Judge kept Joe on until the aged court reporter could draw retirement.

I still miss the courtroom and its wonderful characters, but not enough to leave Paradise.

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