Flintstones Mobile

Thought I’d be back this Monday but turns out I’m on the bench for one last week.  So Sherri Frank Mazzotta has kindly filled the breach and is batting 4th.  Thanks, Sherri.  Will see everyone next Monday.


I never learned how to drive.  Not formally, at least:  No driver’s ed.  No practice rides in parking lots.  When I was 17, Dad pulled into the A&P and said, “Okay, you drive.”  So we switched places.  I got behind the wheel of his big-ass Lincoln Town car.  This was back in the early ’80s, before they’d shrunk the Lincoln and all cars down to environmentally friendly versions.  The hood stretched two-lanes wide.  The pedals seemed far away.  “Which one is the gas?” I asked, just to be sure.  Then I adjusted the rear-view mirror, clutched the wheel, and off we went.

We took back roads that had corn fields on both sides.  Cows and horses in pastures.   It was August and sunny and I was scared to death, wincing at oncoming cars, hoping the road was wide enough for both of us. But I was driving.

“Go easy on the brakes,” Dad said.   Every time I touched them, we’d both pitch forward toward the windshield.  This was before people wore seatbelts too.

By the time we hit the highway, I was feeling more confident.  I put my elbow on the arm rest, the way Dad always did.   “I’m doing pretty good, aren’t I?” I asked.  He just shook his head and told me, “Keep both hands on the wheel.”

I drove for an hour.  I was trembling but exhilarated by the time I got out of the car.   Dad let me drive on the way home, too.  All went fine until I stopped hard at a light.  He lurched out of his seat, grabbed the dashboard, and hit his head on the sun visor.  “That’s it,” he said.  “I’m driving.”

And that was the end of my driving lessons.

Still, I got my license on the first try, though I failed the parallel parking part of the test.  I guess parallel parking isn’t that important in New Jersey, where every house has a driveway and every store a parking lot.

Soon afterwards, I took Mom’s Mustang to the mall.  It was dark and raining when my sister and I finished shopping.   I got confused trying to find the entrance to Route 80, and somehow headed up an off ramp.  I managed to turn around, but as I made a second turn, a car rammed into our passenger-side door.

That was the end of driving Mom’s car, too.

After that, I became terrified to drive.  Not because of the accident, but because I never got enough practice.  My friends picked me up and dropped me off on endless trips to the movies, Burger King, and the mall.  It’s true, there wasn’t much to do in Jersey.  My older sister got up early to drive me to work.  My brother took me to play rehearsal.   I became a perpetual passenger, carted around like a sack of laundry.  Dependent on others to get where I was going–which I resented.

At night, I dreamed I was trying to drive but the car wouldn’t move unless I ran with it, like Fred in his Flintstones mobile.  Even then, I couldn’t keep it going for very long.  My legs got tired.  The car stalled.  Others speeded by, but I was stuck.

Then I moved to Boston and didn’t need a car.  I could get most places by bus or subway.   My friends drove, so I could also get to the beach–but only when they wanted to go.  I hated that Volkswagen commercial with the tag line, “Drivers wanted.”  It implied that drivers were bold, fun-loving people.  And passengers were just dullards, relegated to reading maps and scraping up change for tolls.

Then I moved to Boston and didn’t need a car.  I could get most places by bus or subway.   My friends drove, so I could also get to the beach–but only when they wanted to go.  I hated that Volkswagen commercial with the tag line, “Drivers wanted.”  It implied that drivers were bold, fun-loving people.  And passengers were just dullards, relegated to reading maps and scraping up change for tolls.

I was also ashamed I couldn’t drive.  It was my deep dark secret, hidden the way some people hide the fact that they can’t read.   To me, it meant I wasn’t an adult.  I wasn’t in control of my life, which was difficult to accept.

When I got a job opportunity in Sudbury, I rented a car for the interview.  Sure, I’d rented cars before, but each time felt like the first time:  Sweating.  Trembling.  Sleepless a week in advance.  After I got the job, I borrowed money to buy a car.  Maybe I was motivated by the prospect of a new situation.  Or maybe I was just tired of waiting on rides.  But suddenly I owned a car and I was a driver.  I was breathing the sweet scent of gasoline on a regular basis, and it felt good.

It took years to feel comfortable behind the wheel.  Now, I drive all the time:  At night, in the rain, in the snow.   Between Massachusetts and New Jersey.  On one of those trips, an 18-wheeler ran my car off of Route 84, and I ended up in the gully between lanes.  My husband jolted awake in the passenger seat, cursing.  But the car was fine.  We were fine.  So I just pulled up onto the road again and kept driving.  Sure, I was shaken.  But I knew how important it was to get back in the saddle.  Or in this case, back in the bucket seat.

Others may be proud of their golf scores or their cooking skills, but driving is still one of my biggest accomplishments.  Every time I merge onto Route 128 without being hit by a truck, it feels like a victory.  I take my place on the highway and smile, knowing that I’ve moved far beyond my Flintstones mobile.

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” Mario Andretti


This is the third and final week of guest columnists.  Batting today is a return visit  by Harry K.


Representation of a divorce client: $20,000

Representation of a large company in a contractual dispute: $200,000

Representation of a poor person accused of a crime: Priceless.


I’m  often  asked, “How can you represent someone you know is guilty?” and “Why do it when it doesn’t even make you rich?”  For the record, I am very rich, rich in the incalculable rewards that come from representing the very poor.

There have been times that I haven’t had enough change in my pocket to buy coffee.  But I always knew there was going to be more money coming.  Those of us who always had a roof over our heads cannot imagine the skills, the resourcefulness, the tenacity, the sheer will that it takes to survive POOR.  When medical, mental health, or addiction problems are added to the picture, some of us might become judgmental.  But when you meet a real human being, when you touch, smell, hear, listen and talk to them, it’s impossible not to want to translate your brief moments together into an opportunity for them to make a life better than the one they are living.

It’s really all about power.  Maybe you’ve felt the powerlessness of being unable to relieve a loved one’s pain, or not being believed when telling the truth.  Now imagine that you had the power to relieve that pain or to persuade that doubter.  That’s what it feels like to represent a poor person.

Take my Haitian immigrant client in the lockup last week.  The mother of his two kids claimed that he’d pushed and choked her after having too much to drink.  He got arrested and she got a restraining order, so he had to scramble for another place to live. When he sent her a text to see if he could visit the kids, she called the police and he was arrested again for violating the restraining order.  Time passed, the kids clamored to see their dad, so she invited him over.  They argued again, she called the police again, and he got arrested again.  I’m seeing him in the lockup because his bail has been revoked.

He’s been brought to court for trial about the pushing and choking that started it all.  He is in the U.S. legally, but could suffer any number of immigration consequences if found guilty.

Some might think: he shouldn’t have put his hands on her, or what an idiot he was to have texted her and gone over there.  Some people think, send him back to Haiti.

But I think about him in jail.  He can’t see or call his kids.  The only pictures he has of them are on the phone that was confiscated.  He can make only collect calls, and only to those people whose numbers he actually remembers–a job his phone used to do.  If his cellmate is a screamer, there’s no spare room.  He has lost the hourly rate paying job that took him months to find.  He is powerless.  I am the only force in the world that can help him change his situation.

So I do.  Will he stop drinking too much?  Will he be able to spend more time with his kids?  Will he control his anger?  Will he get another job?  These questions are his to answer, but at least I can help him to regain the possibility of power over his future.

Are some of my clients guilty?  Of course.  And some are not.  John Adams once said: “It is more important that innocence be protected than it is that guilt be punished, for guilt and crimes are so frequent in this world that they cannot all be punished.  But if innocence itself is brought to the bar and condemned, perhaps to die, then the citizen will say, ‘whether I do good or whether I do evil is immaterial, for innocence itself is no protection,’ and if such an idea as that were to take hold in the mind of the citizen that would be the end of security whatsoever.”

Guilty or innocent, my clients are people with problems on a scale that most of us cannot understand.  Imagine wondering how you’re going to find a place to sleep for the night.  Every night.  Imagine being branded a sex offender for the rest of your life for having sex with a fifteen year old girl when you were eighteen and her parents involved the police.  Imagine seeing the look in people’s eyes who believe you to be a criminal because of your skin color.  Imagine being presumed to be guilty.

There are injustices to right, and power to be kept balanced.  That’s why I look forward to seeing my clients every day.

“Power must never be trusted without a check.” John Adams


Next up during my recovery month (which is going well) is Harry K.  Enjoy!


K.: I just met with a career prostitute.

M: Oh my goodness!

K.: She talked to me for three hours about her experiences.

M: Another chapter for your “chick lawyer” book?

K.: Probably. I’ve been thinking about chapter headings. Maybe one could be, “Harry, what should I wear to Court?”

M: I remember thinking it needed more chapters.

K.: Or another, “Harry, will you buy me some cigarettes?”

M: Good…! Keep thinking!

K.: “Harry, am I going to jail?”

M: Yes!

K.: These are the common questions and many anecdotes flow from these.

M: I can only imagine.

K.: The prostitute’s stories were amazing.

M: Yes, I’ll bet, and think of the ones she did NOT tell you.

K.: She was arrested for indecent exposure once because she was wearing a very tight cat suit. She represented herself.

M: Did she win?

K.: She stood up at her arraignment and said to the judge,…

M: Male or female judge?

K.: Male. So she said…

M: Suspense is killing me!

K.: “Your honor, you see anything indecent about me?”

M: Lol.

K.: She also told the judge, “I’m from New York, and this is how we dress, and when I drove over the border, I saw a sign about not having any guns, but I didn’t see nuthin ’bout no dress code!!”


K.: Yea, I liked that one a lot. She won, too. Case dismissed at arraignment.

M: Good for her.

K.: She stabbed a guy once, too.

M: Such talent…wasted on johns.

K.: Apparently the cops knew her well enough to know that she was justified.

M: Self defense?

K.:  Yea.

M: What else have you been up to?

K.: Well, I went to the jail to visit a couple of my guys recently.

M: I bet they’re not as interesting.

K.: They have some amazing stories too, but that prostitute was pretty remarkable.

M: Yes, I can tell.

K.: One of my guys has a tendency to use a lot of malapropisms. He said he had a “pleflora” of papers.

M: Not a malapropism exactly.

K.: No, but cute. Another time he said something about “racial epitaphs.” And he said that the cab of his truck vibrated and “cogitated like a washer/dryer.”

M: I see that for all intensive porpoises he was still able to get his point across…

K.: Despite the flaw in his ointment…

M: Did you insure him that you would profligate him through the lecherous waters of the system?

K.: Yes, yes! He’s been hanging around in libido for so long that any progress will make him extantic! The prosecutor is venomously opposed to a dismal of the case!

M: Stop stop!! Lol!

K.: By the way, he injured his onus.


K.: Anyway, back to the jail. I was surprised by the number of unsupervised children playing just outside the doors. It was dark out.

M: How old were they?

K.: Well, I’m no good with that, not having had any myself….

M: Yes. Big disappointment.

K.: Sigh. I’d say they were maybe eight or nine years old.

M: Were the guards watching them?

K.: No, not even the guards seemed to notice them. It was downright Dickensian.

M: Did the kids notice you?

K.: Yes, they immediately stopped sliding down the rails and running in circles to rush up to me to say hello!

M: Cute!

K.: Yes, but weird. Anyway, I had some serious trouble with the metal detector.

K.: Yes, but weird. Anyway, I had some serious trouble with the metal detector.

K.: I did get in finally – I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating the process – getting the right clipboard of forms – lining up the grooves in the locker tokens with the nubs in the locks – -figuring out how to switch off between walking shoes and high heeled shoes and such.

M: So what happened with the metal detector?

K.: The underwire bra phenomenon!

M: Oh dear.

K.: Yea, no visible metal on me anywhere – rings, off; glasses off; watch, off. Annoying buzz nevertheless.

M: How did you figure out it was your bra?

K.: The dreaded WAND detector! Silent over the legs, silent down the arms, silent over the back, BEEP BEEP BEEP over the breasts!  Cripes.

M: Well, you know, you don’t really need to wear a bra…

K.: Yes, Mother.

M: We’ll have to figure a way to work it into the chick lawyer book.

K.: That should be easy. If I ever get around to writing it…

M: How is music going? Are you going to start your own band some time?

K.: Nah.

M: Even go on the road?

K.: Nah.

M: You could get preggers!

K.: Sigh.

M: Well, Em, I really don’t know how you do it all [admire, admire]. I’m glad to know it’s my daughter who is being one of the GOOD ones, giving lawyers a GOOD name for a change.

K.: Awww, thanks, Mom. I love you!

M: I love you, too.

K.: Later.

M: Later.

Phantom Gourmet

This past Thursday I had shoulder  surgery which knocks me out of the writing box for about 3 or 4 weeks.   Rather than close shop I’ve asked people to substitute for me.  First up is Sherri Mazzotta:


These days, food is big business.  There are “Food Phests” in every city.  The Food Network offers 24 hours of programs such as “Good Eats,” “Cupcake Wars,” and “Barefoot Contessa.” Book stores are filled with food magazines and food “memoirs.” Chefs are now celebrities recognized by first name alone:  Giada, Paula, Emeril, Nigella.  And it’s no longer just the Phantom Gourmet helping us find the best pancetta-stuffed pork chops in town.  We’ve got plenty of food bloggers and restaurant reviewers pointing us in the tastiest direction.

My husband and I like to think we know “good” food, though our definition sometimes stretches to include the pancakes at several north-Jersey diners. We have our own way of judging the quality of food, and it has nothing to do with Michelin stars.  For us, it comes down to a simple question:

If we were on death row, what would we choose as our last meal?

We often debate this over a weeknight dinner of spaghetti or cereal. I hope that doesn’t mean we’ve run out of conversation after eight years of marriage.   Never mind what we might have done to get on death row.  Never mind that we don’t live in a state that sanctions the death penalty.  And never mind the politics seething behind the issue of capital punishment.  The important part of the conversation is the food.  What foods are so deliciously stupendous that we’d choose them over all other foods as the last thing we’d want to eat before exiting this world?

Truly, isn’t that the highest praise we could give a meal?  Isn’t that worth far more than any Zagat’s rating?

Steve envisions a day’s worth of meals, though I told him that was cheating, since you’d only get one meal.  One choice.  For breakfast, his menu includes eggs benedict with steak.  For lunch, a pepperoni pizza.  And for dinner, the Capital Grille’s filet mignon, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, and potatoes au gratin.

“I don’t think the Capital Grille does take out,” I tell him, because I’m a stickler for detail.

“Somebody from the prison could go pick it up.”

“Why would they do that for a convicted felon?”

“They’d have to.  It’s my last-meal request.”

I shake my head.  “You couldn’t eat all of that in single day.  You’d get sick.”

But really, does it matter how much indigestion your last meal causes if you’re going to be put out of your intestinal misery–and all of your misery–at the end of the day?

Since I first selected it, my last meal hasn’t wavered.  Despite all of the warm goat cheese salads, Kona-crusted sirloins, and chocolate lava cakes I’ve eaten over the years, when it comes right down to it, I’m a Jersey girl at heart and like the simple things in life.  My last meal would be a Bertucci’s pizza with roasted zucchini followed by a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream.  And don’t forget the Rolling Rock.  If I’m going out, I’m not going out sober.  The only question is whether or not to add pepperoni on the pizza.

“Bertucci’s isn’t that good–not if it’s your last meal on earth,” Steve says.

As if there’s a right answer.  As if this isn’t all about opinion.

“Pizza and ice cream are the perfect combination,” I say.  “I can’t think of anything I’d rather have.”

Of course, you’d have plenty of time to think about your last meal while on death row.  But I’m a planner, so I’d feel better knowing that I had this figured out before my cell door slammed.  One less thing to worry about, I suppose.  Troubleshooting, as a friend of mine always says.  But how hungry would you be if you knew you were about to die?  Pretty hungry, I think.  Especially if you’re a stress eater like me.

Steve and I use the last meal as a yardstick when we try out a new restaurant:

“These steak tips are great,” he says.  “Really tender and flavorful.”

“Yes, but would they make your last-meal request?” I ask.

He puts down his fork to give serious thought to this question.  Finally, he looks at me and says, “No. They wouldn’t.”

I smile:  There are good meals, there are great meals, and there are last meals.

Who needs restaurant critics?

There are web sites cataloguing the last meals of criminals who have been executed (http://www.famouslastmeals.com/ and http://www.icanhasinternets.com/2012/02/the-last-meals-of-the-infamously-condemned/). Here, for instance, you can learn that serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s last meal included a dozen deep-fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe chicken from KFC, French fries, and a pound of strawberries.  The sites include photos of the criminals as well as their last meals–in case you have trouble picturing what that bucket of chicken looks like.

Not everyone chooses a complete meal.  Aileen Wuornos opted for a cup of black coffee. Timothy McVeigh selected two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream.  Velma Barfield, the first woman to be executed in the United States after the 1976 return of capital punishment, asked for a can of Coke and a bag of Cheez Doodles.  I hadn’t considered snack foods as part of my last meal, since I’d want to save room for the pizza.  But if calories don’t count, appetite is infinite, and we’re using my husband’s multi-meal approach, I’d tack on a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, perhaps as an afternoon snack.

One of the strangest last-meal requests came from James Edwards Smith in Texas. Instead of a meal, Smith requested a lump of dirt, apparently for a Voodoo ritual.  Because dirt wasn’t on the approved list of prison foods, his request was denied.  He settled for a cup of yogurt instead.  Maybe yogurt was on the approved list for the Voodoo ritual, because I can’t imagine choosing anything so nutritious.  I’m not going out sober, and I’m not going out skinny either.

And speaking of Texas, which has executed more people than any other state since 1976 (count:  478):  In September 2011, the state announced that it would no longer accommodate the last-meal requests of prisoners on death row (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/us/texas-death-row-kitchen-cooks-its-last-last-meal.html).  Those scheduled for execution now receive the same meal served to other inmates in the unit.  Talk about being robbed.  Talk about getting a bum rap.

Inmates can blame convicted killer Lawrence Russell Brewer, whose last-meal request included the following : Two chicken fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple meat bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and jalapenos; a pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; three fajitas;  a meat-lover’s pizza; a pint of Blue Bell ice cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

Does anybody really eat okra?  Or know what it is?  Maybe if Brewer had left out the fried okra, nobody would have taken notice.   Or maybe if he’d actually eaten any of the food he’d ordered…

Perhaps the Food Network could do a show about last meals.  Apprentice chefs might cook their best beef wellington or chicken parmigiana for a panel of death-row inmates.  The inmates would choose which meal they’d want on their final day.  Again, is there any higher praise?  The show might be called, “Dead Man Cooking” or “Cooking with the Convicts.”  Hey, in a world with programs focused on the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and “Dog The Bounty Hunter,” it’s not such a crazy idea.  It would definitely put a new spin on the concept of “Phantom Gourmet.”  The winning chef would get a spot on “Good Morning America” and his/her own show – this time, cooking for people who are likely to be alive to watch future episodes.

But don’t rely on “Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction” or “Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels,” to help you decide what’s best to eat.  Give it some thought.  Ask one simple question:  What would you choose as your last meal?

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” Virginia Woolf