Monday, December 28, 2009

The Weather Is Fine Today

I moved to Florida for the weather.  There were other reasons, but I forget what they were. In case I forget to mention it, it's sunny, 68F and balmy here in the Tampa Bay area on this Monday after Christmas.

For the first few months after I left Connecticut - I left in mid-October 2008 - I began most phone calls back north with the weather report.  "Hi, it's 78 and sunny here."  The first few times I did that, I garnered the desired expressions of envy, tempered with shared joy at my sweet circumstance.  Of course, that soon changed.  I have learned that short-term pleasure at the good fortunes of others rarely survives serious snow.  Eventually, the bloom falls off the rose, and people start to snarl.  I started getting responses like, "Shut your pie-hole. My car is in a snow bank."

Being the sort of guy who is sensitive to the plight of the less fortunate, I eased back on the weather routine.  "Hi," I'd say, "How's Fido?"

And my Northern Correspondent would reply, "Fine.  I suppose the weather is great where you are?"

Not wanting to lie too blatantly, I replied, "Um, it's nice, I suppose."

Silence descended.  I could sense the battle raging in my NC's soul.  Eventually, perhaps inevitably, unable to stifle the fatal question, my NC would crumble and ask, "How nice?" 

"74 and breezy."

"Shut your goober-trap.  Fido froze his thing to the fire hydrant last night and we needed the fire department to free him."

"Gracious!" I would exclaim, as sympathetically as I could.  "I hope he's OK?'

"Well, he'll never be a father again."

Eventually, I learned to temper the truth for the benefit of the bereft.  "Oh, it's cold and grey down here," I'd say.

"How cold?"


"Shut it.  My nose hair iced up while I was jump-starting the car this morning."

There really is no adequate response to that.

To help my northerners heal, I called often last summer to report the weather.  "94 and humid as hell," I'd say.  My NC invariably felt comforted that it was only 85 in Hartford.  I always neglected to mention that I was at the pool with a pina colada and that everything here is air conditioned to a fare-thee-well.  "Just miserable here," I'd say. "Be glad you're up north."

So here it is December again.  Life is so sweet.  But don't tell that to my NCs.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

When Blogging Infects the Ego

Sitting at a computer blogging about whatever I happen to be thinking this morning is undeniably an exercise of ego, an electronic form of mental masturbation -- fun to do but not much fun to watch.  Personally, I like it.  Blogging, I mean.  I have decided to do it more, even if I go blind.

Each opening day of a certain law school class in Connecticut, a learned professor  began with the question: "How many of you intend to pursue a career in professional writing?"  Thirty fresh faces, as yet unscarred by the horror of what they were proposing to do for the rest of their lives, routinely came up blank.  The still-human folks behind the faces no doubt wondered whether they had signed up for the wrong course. Silence begets fear of grade deflation, so the wise professor sat silent, waiting.  Tick-tock.

After enough tick-tocks, one student, reliably and timorously, always raised a hand.  About shoulder high.  Emboldened, others followed, until the whole class finally tumbled to the idea that all of them were in fact planning a career in professional writing.  Lawyers write.  They get paid to write.  Some think before they write; others do not.  Some write well, others do not.  The ones who do not write well beget lawyer jokes and deservedly so.

So, yes, I'm a lawyer (DISCLAIMER ALERT - whoop, whoop, whoop!) but not here in Florida.  I practice law in Connecticut.  Ask me for legal advice here in the sunshine state and plan on being politely brushed off.  The local bar casts interloper lawyers into dungeons and chains.  So I don't interlope.  Even my Connecticut practice is becoming an occasional thing, ever since I came to my senses and bagged it for this sunnier clime.

But I arrived with a lifetime of writing prejudices and nowhere to park them.  Well, technically, it's not a lifetime yet.  Just a little hyperbole there; so sue me.  Anyway, I used to teach baby lawyers how to write like professionals.  Short, simple declarative sentences, strong verbs, active voice, that sort of thing.  Some got it; others will write about the party of the first part, being subrogated to the rights of the party of the second part, for the rest of their regrettable lives.  These issues are no longer my concern.

But I come here with a few firmly held beliefs:
  • "Legal writing" is a euphemism for "crappy, unintelligible writing."   My friend Mark Dubois, who still teaches baby lawyers in Connecticut, will steal this line for his next class.  I hope.
  • Good writing is universal.  It is sufficient to writing about the law, about what I did on my summer vacation, about an old man and the sea.
What I have been doing here in Eye of Newt has mostly fallen into the "summer vacation" essay genus.  Somewhere in another venue, I am writing about old men and the sea.  And Lord knows I have written enough about the law, although, like Vicodin, that last is hard to put down entirely.  Still there remains, what to do with the teaching gene that has so disrupted my life.

Enter Shaking the Writing Tree.  Yup, another blog tossed upon the blog-o-heap.  SWT differs from my earlier teaching experiences in that it does not seek to tell others what to do.  I admit to a little regret in this regard.  Teaching law students was sweet in that, if students failed to do what I told them, I flunked their asses and ruined their pathetic little lives.  My readers - if I ever develop any - will be made of tougher stuff.  I hope.

Instead, SWT discusses why I do what I do.  The subjects will range from "Arrant Pedantry Up With Which I Do Not Put" to "Why Adverbs Stink."  Responsible opposing viewpoints will be encouraged.  I hope you enjoy it.  There are links to Shaking the Writing Tree elsewhere in this blog, and here's another one:


Friday, December 25, 2009

Santa Visits Kuwait

Santa isn't just for those of us who I hope are at peace. I received this from my son, Erik, who is with an army helicopter maintenance unit in the Great Sandy (See Army of One, August 2009).

Merry Christmas to all


Saturday, December 19, 2009

I'm Staying Here

I met with Susie and Bill today to learn how to make my blog work for me. Susie has the advantage of being much younger than I, so she naturally understands blogs and twits better than I. Actually, I understand twits all too well; it's tweets that leave me puzzled and forlorn. Bill, on the other hand, is nearly as old as I, so understands virtually nothing about this crap. I find that endearing. It's not hard to tell who's who: see Susie's blog at See Bill's at . Susie, of course, is also considerably better-looking. (Don't ask me why one website is linked to this post and one is not. I have no freaking idea. Neither does Bill.)

Now, in violation of the peculiar sensibilities of the on-line community, of which I am now a de facto member -- I say "de facto" so my old lawyer friends will see that I can still talk the talk -- anyway, I've probably outed Susie by mentioning her name in the same sentence as her Harley May blog address, so let's pretend I just made up the name "Susie" for this post. You with me, Bill?

I came home from our meeting fired up by my observation that makes it much easier for readers to post comments and subscribe to its blogs than does blogspot, which is where you are reading at the moment. If you try to comment on this site, I'm afraid, you will face the Medusa that calls itself Google. Only by leaping through bewildering hoops -- much like my SSA hoops in the preceding post -- can you actually leave a complaint about the various inanities you find here. Now that I think about it, that's probably a good thing.

I set up a proto-website at webpress and immediately sank so deep in the geek-mire that I couldn't reach my beer. I am humbled. Well, I'm further humbled, I suppose, since I have been humbled so often before. In any event, you won't soon find me on webpress. In fact, I can't find the site myself. It may or may not still exist.

Once this is posted, I'm going to go sign up for a twitter thingamabob. God help us all.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009


First, it's been a month since I have posted anything here, and I'm a little embarrassed at my general indolence. Understand, however, that I came to Florida for the express purpose of being indolent. I count the last month as a measure of success. So fuck it, let's get on to something useful.

I visited the Social Security Administration office in St. Pete today to jump through hoops. Understand that I am an educated fellow, with three different degrees in hoop-jumping. Different genres of hoop-jumping at that. And for the past twenty-three years since that third sheepskin, I have jumped through hoops at the professional level. I'm inexplicably proud of that. None of this prepared me for the hoop-jumping that the SSA requires of ordinary people.

I took a number and waited in a room with no clocks. I melded into the congregation of supplicants, all of whom - well, most of whom - were entitled to some form of government benefits after having paid their hard-won money into the system for years or decades. Some were supplicating due to age, some due to physical infirmity, some due to other more depressing incapacities. Supplicant No. A-496 looked as though may have fallen into all three grim categories.

"A-495," came the call from the clerk behind Window No. 1. "Yo!" and A-495 strolled victorious to Window No. 1, where he commenced to doing whatever business he came to do. I was evidently in another queue, waiting for E-210. Whatever happened next was no skin off my nose, you know what I mean?

A-495 eventually rose from his chair at the window, vaguely disappointed, as - down deep - we all expected to be, and wandered off. The clerk behind Window No. 1 called, "A-497."

An old gent sporting a beige suit with soup stains, onyx skin stretched tight over prominent facial bones, and slicked-back white hair, stepped forward. He was tall and spindly, and he walked like a praying mantis or one of those other stick-bugs you sometimes see on the National Geographic Channel, slow, graceful and particular where he put his feet. "Excuse me," he said to the lady behind Window No. 1, "but you forgot to call A-496."

"Did not," said Window No. 1. "Go back and wait your turn." The old gent blinked in confusion, but turned back to his seat. It took him a while. I was pissed on his behalf at the petty rudeness, but he himself did not portray any outward sign of pissedness. Someone bearing the lucky A-497 ticket slid up to the window and was seated.

I had read the sign on the government-green wall: "You may not be called in strict numerical order because not all clerks are trained to handle all cases. You may need to wait for a specialist." I understood the system - that's the benefit of all this education - but the old gent probably did not.

Another lady, this one behind Window No. 2, called, "A-498." The old gent stood up, blinking again. He walked in his stately and deliberate gait to Window No. 2 and said, "You forgot to call A-496." Wisely, he betrayed no outrage. This was, after all, the Government he was dealing with. In a quiet corner of the room, watching, stood a big man wearing one of those uniforms that are worn by people who always wanted to be police. I could not tell if he carried a sidearm. Let's assume so. The Window No. 2 lady said, more gently perhaps, "No, you will have to wait." The old gent walked his stately walk back to his chair, chagrined and perplexed.

Folks, there were only three windows in the place. It took no great leap of logic to see that the old gent's expert must lurk behind Window No. 3. He, of course, didn't get that. Sad.

Finally, the call came. "A-496."

It was the lady behind Window No. 1.