Give Me A Goy Or Get Me A Gun

(An Early Bird dinner in Florida)

It started when Barry, the 60-year old waiter, screeched to a stop at our table. “Your table is number twenty-nine, remember that. I stink at this job, so when I screw up you can just shout ‘table 29.’”  His Groucho was so good I wanted to jump up and stick out my knee to shake his hand.  Turns out he was funny—and, unfortunately, honest.

Things moved along, the occasional call across the room for “butter, not margarine” and “Can we get our coffee now?”  No problem, Groucho did his best.  But my Jewish self-loathing, usually reserved for the Israeli genocide of Palestinians, began to rear its head as the table next to us filled up with a nine person circus.

The women.  Ahh, the women.  Blonde hair, black hair, another, the hue of Rita Hayworth in Gilda—at least that reddish hue you’d imagine it would be if the movie were in color. If I had a dime for every nip and a dollar for every tuck, I’d buy the world a Coke.  We’re talking 80 plus without a single wrinkle or wattle.  Blonde hair, black hair, silver hair.  You gotta hope they shaved their legs.

And the men.  I couldn’t quite count the dentures and none popped out—at least that I could see from my seat.

“The game last night, my god, what a way to lose,” said the man, who became The Maven. (He who knows it all).

“I watched it but don’t remember the end,” said the guy who turned out to be The Forgetter.

“How can you not remember the end?  It was the best part.  Everything happened.  Did you fall asleep?  Mother, do you know what you want to eat?”

“What?  I can’t hear you!” Blonde Mama yelled from the other end of the table.

“Are you wearing your hearing aid?”

“What are you saying?” she shouted.

“He’s asking if you know what you want to eat,” Silver Hair explained, talking into her ear.  “Why aren’t you wearing your hearing aid?  You spent a fortune for it.”

“They make my ears look too big for my head. And I don’t know why he keeps asking the same damn thing.  I always get the veal.”

Which veal?” Silver Hair tries to shorten the inevitable process with a preempt.

“The Italian one. I just don’t know what’s the matter with that kid.  He must have a gene missing!”

The Blonde Mama had a problem hearing, but when the waiter finally came, her memory was razor sharp.  She ordered with machine gun precision: matzo ball soup, salad, blue cheese dressing, veal (Parmesan, it turned out), ziti on a side plate, vegetables, iced tea with two lemons, “make sure it’s two lemons.”  I idly wondered if she was going to take one of the slices home.  When she asked for a Styrofoam cup and top in advance for half her matzo ball, I was sure of it.

Meanwhile the table had moved on to politics.

“Obama, what’s to know?”

“Plenty, just listen to Colbert,” The Maven was saying to anyone who might be listening (loud enough that “anyone” could include the entire restaurant). “I’m telling you, he’s a genius!  Him and that other guy.  Pure genius!”

“Comedians can’t be geniuses,” the Forgetter responds, “anyway, both of them are slanted. And they don’t admit it.”

The Forgetter, who had forgotten that the waiter had taken all the orders added, “The waiter won’t know what veal dish you want.”

“Ahh, another country heard from,” said his wife.  “He just took all the orders,” shaking her head.

I’d fallen into one of the Seinfeld Florida episodes.  I also realized that Jerry might be a comic genius too, but in those cases, he just sat down with a pen and paper taking notes at the early bird.  It wasn’t parody or satire.  Just what it was.

At this point Groucho brought our $9.99s.  I thought about doing the hora around their table with a pork chop in each hand, shouting that I’d spent 12 years in a yeshiva.  Restrained by Sue, I quietly dug into my chops and continued to listen.

Their main courses began to arrive.  Act Three.

Barry began selectively scattering little side bowls of broccoli around the table.

“Where’s mine?” asked Blonde Mama.

“You ordered the vegetables,” said her neighbor.

“Broccoli is a vegetable,” Blondie replied and grabbed the dish.

“You got to take this plate back,” The Maven said angrily to the waiter.  “I must have said ‘well done’ four times and look at this!  Everything is bright red!”

The waiter, looking suicidal, to his credit, calmly picks up the dish and apologizes.  “I’ll take it to the kitchen,” he says, barely getting the words out in a strangled tone.

That Blonde Mama heard.  “Just eat what’s in front of you!” she bellowed to The Maven.

“Okay, okay,” The Maven replies. “Just give me the plate. It’s fine!”  And grabbed it from the waiter who looked like he wanted to jump through the window.

At this point I needed a Gentile. I needed someone who will think an underdone steak is a penance to bear.  Or, when he realized he had ordered mixed vegetables instead of broccoli, he’d eat that succotash in silence or just quietly leave it there until it was cleared away.

I really, really needed a Gentile.  Even one just to look at.  Hell I’da admired his plaid pants and golf club.  I needed a goy or I needed a gun.

Sue saw the look on my face. “Just be patient.  There’s vodka in the freezer at your dad’s.”

Silence descended at the group’s table as everyone decided to eat.  Didn’t last too long. Someone said, “They give you your money’s worth here, anyway.”  Which began an argument about where you could eat the most for the least until their food was gone.

“Gone” really isn’t the correct word.  Half gone, quarter gone might be closer to the truth.  But the eating had stopped with an air of satisfaction surrounding the table.

Barry came back.  He knew the drill.  “How many boxes?”

“Seven big ones,” The Maven demanded, still angry about his red meat.

I remembered a friend telling me about the ultra fancy Jewish country club a few towns over.  Although the place was filled with Caddies, Mercedes, Lexis’s, and Jags, no one was allowed to bring pocketbooks or bags into the restaurant for the fancy buffet.

Not so in the Grand.  Hell, they supplied the carry-out tools.

Again the table lapsed into silence as people shoveled their food into the Styrofoam until Blonde Mama forked the unfinished matzo ball, shook it into the cup, then tilted her bowl to make sure every drop of cold liquid made it into there too.  Practice makes perfect.  Somehow I believed she could have done it in her sleep.

And then they were gone.

My nerve endings still firing, we called for our boxes, filled them up, paid the check, got in the car and headed home.  No goys, no guns, but we made it back alive.

Case Closed

The negotiations went on all day Friday and late into the night.  Then picked back up early Saturday morning:

“We can’t give you anything close to that much money.”

“And we can’t take anything near what you’re offering.”

“You got to be kidding—that’s more money than that family would see in a lifetime.”

“What’s important is what they will no longer see in their lifetimes–her husband, their father.”

“My bosses will kill me if I take them that number.”

“Your client actually killed my client’s husband.”

“This is it—take it or leave it.”

“My clients will fire me if I bring them that offer.  I guess we’re going to trial on Monday unless you come up with another decent chunk.”

A day and a half, sometimes with hours between the conversations, they finally hit our number.  We settled—but don’t think of it as “settled,” as in conceded.  It was almost half of the highest award ever given by a jury in that particular county.  And three times what the plaintiffs had hoped for.

Let me say right off the bat that money, no matter how much, is a piss poor substitute for a human life.  But there was no way of bringing back our client’s husband.  And now his widow at least has a chance to create a decent world for herself and her kids.  There is a sense of real accomplishment in that.

The bummer: the confidentiality agreement signed upon settlement means that the doctor’s gross negligence, the guy who caused her husband’s death, won’t have a red mark next to his name.  It’s the price of buying a woman on disability with two special needs kids a better life, but nonetheless a tough pill to swallow. I only hope his near miss will teach him something about being thorough whenever someone else’s life is in his hands.  But that’s only a hope

So I’m home sitting at my desk, tired as hell.  Yeah, I know, I thought I’d be gone for a good two weeks and ended up back here after just a few days.  Man, did I overpack.  Yet, from the moment the team met on Wednesday through the two days and nights that followed, we continued prepare for trial despite the negotiations.   Which, as usual, meant long hours and little sleep.  I’m getting a little old for this.

Of course I’m glad to be home.  And happy we got a settlement for the family that we may not have gotten with a trial.  Over the years, I’ve learned that trials are very mercurial.  They don’t just hinge upon “the facts,” certainly not justice, or even the law.  Like plays or Olympic meets or the NBA playoffs, talented participants can have a bad day, or the ensemble of players on the team may not work in sync as they usually do.  And just like in sports, the judge may make decisions along the way that hamper your game plan or take away too many of your points.  And the nature of the population of a particular place, city, or county cannot be underestimated in these anti-plaintiff times.

Nevertheless, there’s a legal malady I sometimes feel: trial interruptus.   Months of research, strategy, legal motions, legal briefs, depositions, and focus groups–all geared toward this particular court room, toward this particular judge, toward the particular type of people who would serve on the jury–everything on the cutting room floor.  All that time and energy, that forward motion, stopped at the last minute.  Well, that’s happened to me before, and undoubtedly will happen again.  But we were able to give a family who had run out of chances another shot.  That satisfaction remains.

There’s an upcoming trial in September in that same Midwestern county and I’ll be back at it.  And once again I’ll try to send home posts from the front.  Who knows, there might even be more than two.  Or not.

Meanwhile, I’m unpacking my bags, shredding files, catching up with bills, and will pick up the saxophone for the first time in weeks.  Sure hope I remember how to get it to sing.

There are two things a person should never be angry at – what they can help, and what they cannot.

Dylan, Ochs: A Conversation

(Artistic License Taken)

Thursday night I’d anticipated going to the documentary Phil Ochs: There But for Fortune. This edited instant message conversation took place between me and my blogger friend Rawrah ( or see “Links” on this site):

Rawrah: From what I’ve read he hated Dylan. Ochs would torture himself to write and Dylan would simply pull magic out of his ass.

Me: For sure Ochs poked fun at Dylan. In one of his songs (forgot the name) he did it in a self-deprecating way. But I would call Dylan’s lyrics poetry, not magic.

Rawrah: Ochs believed in what he was singing. Dylan rejects the idea of “meaning” in his songs.

ME: Hell, I’ve used that line about my Matt Jacob books. Don’t make it true.

Rawrah: You might bullshit but that doesn’t make Dylan a liar.

ME: Trudat—but I still think he’s doing a throwaway.

Rawrah: Good to be a mind reader, huh?

ME: Asshole. It’s interesting. Dylan is talked about at the music studio. Probably ’cause I bring him up.

Rawrah: About whether he actually knew what he was saying in his songs?

ME: No. Because I say he’s the most important songwriter in our lifetime. The argument is usually about his “musicality.” I’m hit with “He can’t sing and his music is at best rudimentary, if that.” I say the poetry of his lyrics supersedes—but that don’t really fly at a music school.

Rawrah: I think people attribute a lot more depth than is actually displayed.

ME: Thanks, pal.

Rawrah: I read he’d skim a newspaper and dump out three or four songs of lyrics. Or eavesdrop on a conversation then spew out its essence. A savant.

Me: Depends on the definition. Savant means “sage” or, as in “idiot savant–an intellectually disabled person who exhibits extraordinary ability in a highly specialized area, like mathematics or music. Gotta be a stretch to call Dylan intellectually disabled.

Rawrah: Why? Some say most people have “savant” potential but few have the series of experiences to trigger it.

ME: You know, we’re writing my Monday post. You mind?

Rawrah: Feel free.

ME: Thanks. See, what I think when you talk about Ochs’ needing to struggle to write and Dylan “pulling it out of his ass,” is their difference in ability to access the subconscious. Take Robin Williams…

Rawrah: Uh oh.

ME: When he’s on a talk show and somebody says something that clicks you can almost see the door to his subconscious open and out comes a riot. But a crafted riot. So I’m saying that Dylan’s door was more open than Ochs but that Ochs got there anyway and both used craft to hone their message into art.

Rawrah: And isn’t that the real difference between Ochs and Dylan. Ochs had to work to create—to say nothing about living his ideals—and Dylan didn’t.

ME: I probably call that the difference between genius and not. As for living ideals, don’t forget Dylan helped ignite a movement and Ochs ending up killing himself

Rawrah: Now who’s the asshole? I’d say there are truly gifted people and when their particular gift intersects at precisely the right circumstance, what emerges is magic.

“Please… could somebody just go ahead and WikiLeak whatever it is Bob Dylan has been singing for 50 years?” Bauart