Part of The Problem, or, Love In The Time of Lawyers
Standing in the parking lot of the big box store off of Route 41, I realized that it was official. I was now part of the problem. Commando in grey gym shorts, wearing sandals and an ill-fitting, nearly thread-bare 20-year-old souvenir T-shirt, I was about to join the denizens of the night.
“Welcome to . . .” an old man ushering carts out for shoppers began.
“Where can I find a police whistle?” I cut him off.
“Aisle 37. If you’d like, I could take you . . .” he said, helpfully.
“No. I can find it. Where can I find steel trashcan lids?”
“We sell the lids with the cans. They’re over in Home Supply in Aisle 17. If you want . . .”
“I just need the lids. How about socks and underwear?” I continued.
“Men’s Wear, aisles 20 through 25. But . . .”
“And Jack Daniels. Where would I find Jack Daniels?” I asked, urgently.
“Our liquor store is open for another hour and is near our North entrance.”
“OK. North entrance, aisles 37, 17, and 20 through 25,” I repeated to myself.
“Are you planning a party?” he asked.
“No, I’m planning the cure,” I said, and set off to find the police whistle.
Returning to my office an hour later, I was relieved to find Abby Norman, the formerly wealthy Mormon, still sound asleep on my reception room couch. I sat in the darkness and regarded him for some time. He was, despite his drunken escapade on Siesta Key, a man whose face communicated grandeur and nobility. His aquiline nose, beaking slightly as it descended the length of his face, flared about his nostrils as he drew breath, and he made a slight whistling noise as the air rushed out from them. His hair, no longer the greasy and matted mess it had been when we found him drunk, stoned and armed in his Siesta Key home, was well-trimmed, impossibly white, and lay close to his well-formed skull. Even the white stubble that marked out his prominent chin and ran the gamut of his jaw only served to remind you how blessed he had been by genetics. My eyes began to drift shut and I considered how long it had been since I’d slept in my office. Shaking myself awake, I reached for the Jack Daniel’s bottle. Neither of us was going to be sleeping much tonight.
At eight-thirty the next morning, Gene returned to my office.
“How’s Abby?” he asked quietly.
“He’s right as rain,” I said, pointing to the groaning figure lying prone on the reception room floor.
“What happened to him?” Gene asked, alarmed by the sight Abby’s shuddering body.
“I did.” I smiled.
I had arrived at Turtle beach—a slightly more remote beach south of Siesta Key Beach—where I saw a group of men and women in suits running, tripping and falling in the sand. At the head of the group, shouting encouragement to them, was a woman in a peasant blouse, denim shorts and sandals. It was Emma Jean Woods with a bull horn.
“Laugh! Fall! Run!” she sang out to the men and women stumbling along the edge of the sea.
Emma Jean Woods was one of the contacts Matt Tomlinson had given me. Emma Jean and I had actually met years ago in Los Angeles at a speakers’ conference. At the time, I’d been surprised by her particular area of expertise as both a coach and motivational speaker.
“Marty, we smile, we get up, we laugh,” she chided a straggling suit on the beach.
“But it’s a $500 . . .” he whined.
“We smile, we get up, we laugh,” she said, slightly more sternly and with a slight lilt in her voice.
Marty, the whining suit, smiled an unconvincing smile, got up and began to chuckle.
“That’s better,” Emma Jean called out.
The group continued its loping progress along the shore. I’d always wondered what this looked like, Emma Jean’s “Method.”
Emma Jean was, when I first met her, a buttoned-down, business-suit wearing, power platform speaker whose topic was always hard to believe. When we ended up in an elevator together and found out our rooms were on the same floor, I asked her the question.
“So, you really teach lawyers how to stop being lawyers?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I do,” she smiled.
“And they pay you for that?”
“More than you can possibly imagine,” she said.
She was right, of course. Back in those days, I’d found it hard to believe people would spend a few thousand dollars for coaching or a workshop. That an attorney would spend 50 to 60 thousand dollars to learn how not to be an attorney was something I could not imagine, much less believe.
“So, how’d you do it?” I asked her over drinks.
“Stop being a lawyer. I mean, you didn’t go to a workshop or anything like that,” I observed. “Or did you?”
“No, I didn’t. When you say it like that, it kind of reminds me of something I read as an undergrad,” she said, thoughtfully.
“What was that?”
“You sat down by the river, finally seeing your own path?”
“No, I was thinking about Siddhartha’s conversation with The Buddha about the fact that he couldn’t teach his path, because he wasn’t on a taught path when he found enlightenment.”
I laughed. “You’re saying that ceasing to be a lawyer is some sort of transcendence to oneness with the universe?”
“No,” she said, too quickly. “But it’s a form of enlightenment. Unless you understand how an attorney thinks, you can’t appreciate how hard it is to stop being one.”
“So, how did you stop?”
“Well, first of all, you really have to want to.”
“So . . . then what?”
“You don’t think like an attorney for one minute,” she said pensively.
“Is that hard?”
“So, why do they come to you to learn to quit?”
“Because they want to be happy. They want to learn to live. To just be,” she said softly.
“Hmm. Seems too metaphysical for me to believe.”
“All happiness is the same. All misery is unique. An attorney’s misery is profoundly unique.”
“Ah: ‘Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’Anna Karenina,” I said.
“Yes. Undergrad, again.”
“We keep coming back to that. Usually, people fixate on a time when they’ve been traumatized. What happened to you?”
“I became a lawyer.”
I ambled along the beach, my path’s trajectory set to intersect with Emma Jean’s as she lead her group on its path to humanity.
“Cusper,” she called out to me on her bull horn.
“Everyone, this is Cusper Lynn. Say ‘Hi Cusper!’”
“Hi, Cusper,” the group said.
“OK, everyone. We’re going to sit on the sand, kick off our shoes, and feel water rush between our toes.”
Heels, Bostonians, nylons and socks sailed into the air.
“Marty!” Emma Jean called out.
“But I might hit someone and they’re really expensive . . .” Marty whined, carefully tucking his socks into his shoes.
“We’re kicking off our shoes, Marty!” Emma Jean called out on her bull horn.
“Jeez!” Marty complained, slipping his shoes back on. Then he kicked them over his head and threw himself onto the beach, if sullenly.
“Some people are lawyers all the way down,” I observed, as I walked over to Emma Jean.
“That’s why I had to charge him double,” Emma Jean said, setting aside her bull horn.
“I suppose you know why I’m here,” I began, sheepishly.
“I know Matt Tomlinson wanted me to meet with someone as a favor to him?”
“I appreciate your meeting with me.” I smiled.
“I of course told him to go to hell.”
“Matt has an amazing way of opening doors and endearing himself to everyone he meets.”
“Then he told me it was you. So I told him that I would meet with you,” Emma Jean said, then sat down on the sand.
“Again, I appreciate your meeting with me,” I said, and sat next to her.
“Why didn’t you just call me?” Emma Jean asked, giving me a serious look.
“About this or in general?”
“About this, I didn’t know it was going to be you. I just gave Matt an ultimatum to schedule me with his best contacts,” I said, kicking my shoes off and letting the water rush in around my toes. “In general, my life has comprised a series of nasty shocks of late, and I dislike imposing my company on people when I can’t project a positive outlook.”
“Cusper, that’s exactly when you should call.”
“Well, Emma Jean, if you ever come up with a Twelve Step Program for quitting being a doctor, or a consultant, or any of the other things I am, I’ll be the first to sign up.”
“Quitting isn’t what you need to do,” Emma Jean observed. “But I do have a friend who does a workshop for doctors who want to quit being doctors.”
“I suppose that was inevitable.” I laughed.
“She’s booked out for the next two years at this point.”
“Given the way things are going, I expect she’ll have to train protégés to handle the overflow.”
“She already is. So, what are we here to talk about?”
“Your bad news angel?” Emma Jean asked, cocking an eyebrow.
“I like to consider him my test case. I decided to get back into the speaker, personality and informational product arena.”
“And you decided to take on the most impossible, useless human being on the planet and see what you could make of him?” she asked, eyebrow still dangerously high.
“He was the first project available,” I said, defensively.
“You could’ve waited.”
“I had a cash crunch.”
“And you’ve got actual money out of this project?” she asked, in appropriate disbelief.
“Just the money I’ve managed to blackmail out of Matt.” I smiled.
“If you’ve managed to blackmail Matt, it must be serious. So, what do you want from me?”
“I want to do a joint venture. Abby is staging his comeback and we’re getting ready to launch his new product line.”
“So, you want to tap my lists,” she said, her lips becoming a thin pink line.
I smiled and said nothing.
“So, what exactly is the old reprobate selling?” she asked after a moment’s silence.
“Isn’t step two of learning not to be a lawyer, ‘Ceasing to judge the faults of others’?” I asked.
“No. It’s ‘Ceasing to categorize the faults of others’,” she corrected me. “I’m helping people to stop being lawyers. I’m not teaching them to be brain dead.”
“Fair enough. He’s teaching recovery and redemption.”
“So, you’re taking the morally indefensible status and making it an asset,” Emma Jean observed, tracing an infinity symbol in the sand.
“Our assets are always our shortcomings.” I grinned.
“You know, my list is a tough sell. Anyone who isn’t here is either graduated or just starting out. That means almost none of them will buy.”
“Actually, by my calculation, a third of them will buy.”
“How do you figure that?” Emma Jean asked, truly surprised.
“The third who have bought or opted in to your list want to redeem themselves. Nothing, and I mean nothing, moves those seeking redemption like an old, broken down, formerly wealthy sinner.”
“So, you think you can sell to my group on the ‘there but the for the grace’ factor?”
“Partially, yes. The other part is that when they see what Abby is today, they’ll be amazed at the transformation he’s achieved,” I promised.
“Not from what I’ve heard. A little bird told me Abby was out on a bender with a video camera just yesterday,” she said.
“A minor setback on the road to recovery,” I countered.
“Minor?” she said.
“I’ve taken corrective action,” I said, authoritatively.
“Being . . .”
My cellphone erupted, cutting Emma Jean off.
“Pardon me,” I said apologetically and answered my phone. “Hello?”
“Cusper, Abby’s climbing the walls!” Gene shouted.
“Is Sheila there?” I asked calmly.
“No! She stuck her head in the door, took one look at Abby, and left!” Gene bellowed.
“OK. Go to Sheila’s desk,” I instructed.
“He’s trying to get my car keys!”
“Fine. Then run to Sheila’s desk,” I said, unperturbed.
“He moves fast for an old man!” Gene panted.
“On her desk there’s an envelope. Open it.”
“It’s a . . . police whistle! What am I supposed to do with this?” Gene snapped.
“Look this isn’t a . . .”
“Just blow the whistle.”
I heard the sound of a single, long whistle blast and, then, silence.
“OK, so what’s Abby doing now?” I asked, quietly.
“He’s on the floor, vomiting,” Gene said in disbelief.
“Good. Tell him to clean it up or you’ll blow the whistle again.”
“But . . .”
“And if he stops responding to the whistle, I’ve left some trash can lids in the hall closet. Just bang them together a few times and he’ll settle down for you.” I ended the call.
“What was that all about?” Emma Jean asked.
“You know how you teach lawyers to stop writing like lawyers?”
“Yes. But that’s only for my advanced students,” she said in awe.
“Well, I applied a similar treatment to Abby. Let’s just say that it’ll curb his behavior significantly,” I grinned.
“OK, then,” Emma Jean said, taking a paper from her pocket.
“My joint venture contract,” she said, passing the paper to me.
“I thought the third step of quitting being a lawyer was ‘Learning to have faith in people,’” I said, scanning the paper, which was covered in very small print.
“I have complete faith in the attorney who wrote it.” Emma Jean grinned.
“I assume he or she was a drop-out from your program,” I observed, reading the third performance clause.
“The only refund I’ve ever issued.”
“OK,” I agreed, folding the contract and putting it in my pocket. “But I think Martymight be the second refund you have to issue.”
“No, Marty likes the abuse too much. He’s going to learn to slip on grapes in a grocery store and not sue,” Emma Jean said, with confidence.
“You have your work cut out for you,” I said, standing.
“Not compared to what you’re up against,” Emma Jean said, getting up, herself.
“We’ll see,” I said.
“Give me a call, Cusper, and not just about business,” Emma Jean said, picking up her bull horn. “OK everyone, we’re now going to take a trip to the grocery store.”
“I will,” I said, and watched the suits retrieve their shoes.
Walking back to the car, I envied Emma Jean. All she has to do was get an army of attorneys to fall in a grocery store without any of them filing a lawsuit. I had to get Abby Norman through the next five days armed with only a couple of trash can lids and a police whistle.
# # #
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