Monday, July 29, 2013


Last week was a tough one for me as a lawyer, but moreso for my client.

Immigration and the Department of Homeland Security is incredibly bureaucratic with more rules to follow than an Orthodox religion.  Tons of them are written down, but even more are not.  Or there’s a “local exception” that they only tell you about when you’ve either showed up to do something or have just committed a major faux pax.

So to get around this, the lawyer talks to everyone he can about the situation to get tips, take their best guess and go forward.  As anyone who’s ever dealt with a bureaucracy realizes, you can be technically right and still lose just because the person on the other side of the desk has decided that you will lose.

So last week we had an appointment to go for a citizenship interview.  These are normally pretty routine.  You need to be able to speak and understand English, to read and write simple sentences in English, and to pass a history / civics test that is somewhat complicated but not impossible.

There’s a “Medical Waiver” exception if you have a legitimate reason that you can’t do the exam or the English proficiency stuff.  You fill out the appropriate form, get a doctor with actual knowledge of the patient to attach their opinion and records, and submit it. 

Sounds easy, right?  Other lawyers and the instructions were all clear – be as detailed as possible, attach supporting documents, etc.  So that’s what I did, only to be met with an officer who denied the application because (paraphrasing) “the supporting stuff is too complicated.  I just need one sentence that says your client can’t learn English or history.”

Oh, and he considered the Spanglish that he observed us using to communicate – lots of gestures and facial expressions included – to be sufficiently proficient in English.

The problem with this, of course, is that we were counting on approval of this routine request.  As a result, the client didn’t prepare for any of the tests.  A “Pop Quiz” is never fun.  When it’s thrown into an already stressful situation with such tremendous importance to the individual, it can be overwhelming.

He actually did pretty well, passing the reading and writing, and about half of the interview (which essentially amounts to going through the Citizenship Application and confirming the answers in English), but 3 out of 10 on the civics and history questions won’t do it. 

So it was a very long and somber ride from Charlotte to Hickory.  And then a lot of days in  bed with the blankets over his head for my client. 

And in two months we get to go back and try again.  Assuming I can convince him to get out of bed and study in the meantime.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Eagle Project

One never realizes how much working at a desk has softened him until called upon to do actual hard, physical labor.  This message was brought home last weekend as Mr. Caleb needed assistance completing his Eagle Scout Project.

It sounds simple and benefits one of his favorite groups – the Newton-Conover football team.  Specifically, the project called for him to clean out the big ornamental flower bed in front of the football field, trim the bushes that had been ignored for the last 2 decades and become overgrown, and stain the concrete red (one of the school colors).

While we’re at it, let’s cure cancer and bring about peace in the Middle East, too.

We are very “hands-off” with regard to these projects.  The whole point of an Eagle Project – the culmination of one’s scouting career – is for the young man to learn to coordinate and supervise a project, line up the labor and materials needed, and pull it off before turning 18.

As with many projects, though, the paper projections are much easier than the actual implementation.  We were willing to help, though, especially as the deadline is looming.

So one (fortunately) cloudy Saturday morning we showed up promptly at 8 to begin work, tools in hand.

All tools except my bolt cutters, which would have been handy in cutting the lock off the gate because the Coach forgot to leave a key or otherwise make the space available.  The wait was only about 15 minutes, though.

With every project, there are unanticipated issues.  In this case, it was that the shrubs – Chinese holly – were so tough that the electric hedge trimmers we bought just kind of curled up and whimpered.  Fortunately, one of the dads out of the troop (there were lots of scouts helping by this time) went home and got (a) a chain saw and (b) a gas powered hedge trimmer.

Once again, we see that the right tools make a job possible.  There was a bit of artistic difference in just how much should be trimmed from the hedge – some of us advocating for a simple trim, whereas the guy with the chainsaw thinking more along the lines of “slasher flick”.  Of course, trimming a hedge is a lot like a haircut.   Once you’ve started trimming, you can’t change your mind.  Just like a haircut, though, a short cut will eventually grow out.

We hope.

Apparently Coach wasn’t all that thrilled with the outcome, to which I say “Tough bananas.   You should have had the gate unlocked on time.”

Karma has a way of working out.

So for the next few hours the clouds stayed in place but held off the rain and a group of dedicated volunteers chopped, hacked, dug and dragged the debris off to the ditch at the back of the school property for deposit to allow it to organically return to the earth.

And then, at the end of the day when we’d all gone home, we felt the impact of this type of foreign labor on our 50+ year old bodies. 

Fortunately, Ibuprophen comes in 500 count bottles and we had a new one.

But an Eagle project is almost done.  It’ll be something of which the school can be proud and will last for years, until it’s time for some other Eagle Scout to jump in and refurbish.

Monday, July 8, 2013


It’s amazing sometimes how you go along and life just takes over, so when you look up you realize that you forgot – or just didn’t make time – and something got left behind.

So it is with this Blog.  A year ago today I did my last entry – and, incidentally, thanks to those of you who asked – I did not succumb to shellfish allergies.  For those of you who didn’t ask – well, I’ll remember that!

The last few weeks before I stopped writing were kind of chaotic (more than normal) and the Muse chose to visit others.  When I write and “hit the groove” (undoubtedly an ancient reference to when music came on plastic or Bakelite disks and an actual needle touched it to transfer the sound to the speaker) it flows.  I sit down, begin to type and all sense of time is lost.  When I look up it’s either been minutes or hours and I have some content – usually enough that I need to cut it down.  I feel relaxed and satisfied with what I’ve accomplished.

When the Muse doesn’t come, though, these sessions are pure torture.  Words are elusive and avoid falling into place.  Grammar and punctuation rules that I routinely follow sit just out of reach, available, but it takes an effort to get them like a television remote that has been magically transported across the room sometime after you have tucked your blanket around your feet.  Spelling becomes phonetic and occasionally devolves to chaotic.

Part of the reason for the delay is that I just wasn’t in a happy place in my mind for a while.  The topics which were inspiring weren’t light and entertaining, they were tending toward the dark and disappointing.  Someone commented that “CornerAt8th” seemed to have become the “CurmudgeonAt8th”, and that’s not what I wanted.

The other problem with that is that it’s exhausting to always be in a rage.  You can’t concentrate, and when you finish instead of being invigorated you’re drained.  My way of coping with this is avoidance.  It’s not a perfect way to deal with things, but it’s worked a lot of times.  There truly are many things that, like an annoying little brother, will go away if you ignore them.

Overall, I’d rather turn an average event sideways and laugh at it.  There’s enough dreary news in the world and I think we need to laugh at ourselves – and others, because heaven knows that there are people that sorely need to be called out and laughed at in public – to try to keep some sense of sanity.

The other thing is that a person can only stare at a computer screen for so long before you go “snow blind”.  Prior to the break, my real job has entailed lots of document drafting.   Not the kind where you can build on earlier projects, change the names and move on, but the kind where you have to slog through each and every sentence in every paragraph to make sure that you’re consistent throughout and that you’ve covered all the points you need to address.

During the 4th of July week in 2012, I generated about 48 pages of that kind of content on three different projects, so by the time I quit each day the thought of looking at the computer again kind of made me queezy.

It’s been a year, though, and it’s time to suck it up and start again.

Besides, I have all these opinions saved up to share.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Experimenting -- Am I or Am I Not?

A week with a holiday on Wednesday is a complete waste of both a holiday and a work week.

During the first part, nobody gets too enthused about doing anything, because, after all, . . . “we’re off on Wednesday.”  When you come back on Thursday, the same reasoning prevents starting any new projects. 

Besides, half of your coworkers have taken off either the first or last half of the week, or both, so essential personnel aren’t available.  It is a week of piddling without breaking a sweat (metaphorically speaking; it’s 102 degrees out there this afternoon).

It’s also too hot to even think about cooking, which means that we had the “where you wanna eat” discussion along about 5:00. 

Red Lobster won.

It won for a couple of reasons, not the least of which that we wanted to try an experiment to see if I really had acquired a shellfish allergy. 

Where better to test this theory than a seafood restaurant.

Besides, we know that my doc is in town, the hospital is less than 10 minutes away from the restaurant, and I had my epi-pen, which is a real pain to have to remember, with me.

A shrimp lover’s feast awaited.

The lobby to Red Lobster is my favorite part of the restaurant, especially if there are little kids.   The lobster tank is both fascinating and within reach unless the parental units are really on their guard.  I learned this early on when Caleb, upon seeing a similar tank in the grocery store, promptly ran up to it and asked in his loudest 7 year old voice, “WHY DO THEY HAVE THEM BIG BUGS IN THE GROCERY STORE?”

Today, an even younger child noted that the entrees on the hoof at Red Lobster were, “. . . taking a shower before dinner,” a reference to the recirculating pump that kept the water aerated in the tank.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

So anyhow, we ordered (a beer first; if there was going to be a hospital stay involved, I wanted to get a bit of early relaxation going) and then our food.

It was very systematic – take a bite, check for symptoms.  Take a bite, check for symptoms.

At least, that’s what I was doing.  About halfway through the meal, I observed that there didn’t seem to be any adverse reaction. 

Sweating?  Yeah – it was still triple-digits outside.  I defy anyone my age and size NOT to sweat, despite air conditioning.  Not clammy, though (at least not that I could tell from the inside of my skin) and the sweat wasn’t such that it seemed to be shellfish-related.

Not being the one with the medical expertise in our family unit, though, I turned to the in-house expert for a second opinion only to realize that he had forgotten that we weren’t just at dinner but were engaged in a serious experiment to see whether I "swole up" and was gonna die or not.

The only thing on my first-responder’s mind by then was whether or not I was going to eat those last 3 shrimp on my plate, once again proving that it is imperative that the patient be involved in his own healthcare plan.

In the end, the experiment was successful.  It confirmed that I continue to get significant indigestion when eating deep-fried anything, which is unfortunate given my dietary preferences, but concerns about a shellfish allergy seem to have been misdiagnosed.  

I wish I'd known that before we went to Maui on vacation.  

But now instead of an epi-pen, I get to carry Prilosec, which is preferable.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dawg Days of Summer

July 5.  Vacation’s over, and it’s time to return to the real world.

Well, almost.  Jet lag is still kickin’ in a bit so there’s a need to keep moving in the evening because the minute we sit down we tend to fall asleep.

Like about 7:00 in the evening.

And that wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that it leads to waking up even earlier than we normally do.

Like about 11:30 in the evening. 

You see the circle.  Eventually we’re going to be getting up when other people haven’t even gone to bed yet.  At some point, either we or the world is going to be out of sync for an entire day.  That can’t be good.

Add to that the fact that it’s hot.  Not just “warmish” or even “a might uncomfortable.”  It’s HOT. 

As in record-breaking, triple-digit, too-hot-to-wear-many-clothes hot that makes you feel like you need a shower from the second you walk out the door in the morning and keeps you inside close to the air conditioning wishing you’d bought stock in Duke Power in the afternoon.

Too hot to either cook OR light the grill.

There has to be a good reason to go out.  Today it was the need to stay awake, and to do that we decided to engage in that age-old summertime ritual and take the kids for ice cream.

The fuzzy kids, that is.  The others all have drivers’ licenses.  They can get their own ice cream.
We didn’t realize that it’s Thursday night, which means that there’s a “rod run” at the old Dairy Queen, the one that we patronize over by the concrete plant.

Complete with Elvis singing on the sidewalk out front.  

There’s no inside seating.

No seating at all, in fact, unless you bring a lawn chair or stay in your car.

Just as we were leaving the house, EM came along and joined us. After all, everyone likes ice cream.

So we joined the show in the parking lot at the DQ, with the boys getting theirs first (they split a small cone in a cup usually), and after they’d eaten theirs the adults got to enjoy their treats.

One of the advantages of doing it this way is we get to learn exactly how long the dog's tongue is.  This is useful, because they'll want to share ours even though they already had theirs.

While that was happening, the manager came out to visit with us.  At first I thought she was going to tell us that dogs weren’t allowed.

That rarely happens, although it has a couple of times – CVS, Target and Best Buy apparently have rules, but c'mon!  We were in the parking lot!

She actually was just coming out to tell us about their “Dog Days of Summer” special.

It seems if your furry four-legged friend brings you on Tuesdays, they get a free “pup cup” if their human makes a purchase.

And free ice cream is almost as sweet as a snitched melon.  So I suspect we’ll be going back on Tuesdays for a while.

Because it looks like it’s going to be a long, hot summer.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Zimmerman's Attorneys

Having been an attorney for over 25 years now, I have a great deal of sympathy for what George Zimmerman’s attorneys are going through.

Zimmerman, you may recall, is the self-appointed neighborhood watch captain involved in the shooting of 17 year old Treyvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.

Zimmerman’s attorneys, who are fairly high-profile criminal lawyers, are to be commended for taking a case that is incredibly unpopular. Everyone, regardless of how morally repulsive they may be, is entitled to competent legal representation in this country. It always amazes me how otherwise educated and intelligent people fail to recognize that this is one of the foundational concepts of our country.

John Adams, the second President of the United States, recognized this early on and represented 8 British soldiers involved in shooting into a crowd and killing civilians in the “Boston Massacre”.

I appreciate attorneys who take on unpopular cases because it’s the “right” thing to do, like Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When they do it without any fee, like the lawyers for Zimmerman did, it’s even more noble to some extent. At the very least, it’s a personal sacrifice.

The problem is that no good deed goes unpunished, especially if you have a client who seems inclined to “go rogue” anyhow. Lots of times there are signs that you can watch for in clients that will let you know they’re going to be difficult in that regard.

Things like refusing to keep appointments, or fill out paperwork or provide necessary details to the lawyer. Calling the other side (or their lawyer) to try to negotiate around their attorney is a big ol’ red flag, too. Every lawyer has had either the nightmare about or the actual experience of learning some damning fact about their client from the witness stand, in front of the jury and judge and the client then trying to justify their failure to disclose.

“Yeah, DSS took my first two kids away. Why, was that important?”

“But that happened a long time ago; it’s been almost 3 months since that DUI.”

“We ‘self-divorced’ in another state. I can’t remember which one. I’m sure it’s recognized here, though.”

“Oh, yeah. I was convicted of that before. Did I forget to tell you?”

If you start denying representation to the ugly people, it’s a short step to denying legal assistance to those with whom the majority – or a vocal minority – simply disagree. Whether we like it or not, that disagreement and debate is one of the things that pushes society and ideas forward. It’s too important to risk limiting it.

Zimmerman’s attorneys realized they had the start of a problem when he stopped responding to telephone calls, texts, etc. Then they got word that he had set up a web site, contacted a talk show to arrange an interview, and was trying to call the Special Prosecutor to discuss the situation directly with her.

These are the kind of things that promote substance abuse among those in my profession.

When the lawyers are trying to control the message in the media for damage control purposes – especially in a case where your client is so unpopular that he’s had to go into hiding in another state because of the death threats – the last thing you want to hear is that he’s set up an interactive website and is making arrangements to go on a talk show.

Especially when that client has quit taking your calls.

So they did what any responsible attorney would do. The withdrew.

For those that don’t know, withdrawing from representing someone in a legal matter is often not just a matter of telling your client “I quit” (especially when you can’t get the client on the phone). You may have to ask the Court for permission (whether you’ve been paid or not), and have to take steps to make sure that the client isn’t prejudiced by the action, or that he or she has had ample opportunity to protect themselves before you leave. It can take hours to get out of a case that took only seconds to get into.

So my sympathy for Zimmerman, which admittedly wasn’t much before, is a bit less today. He had good lawyers who were trying to help him and chose to ignore their advice. Now things are going to get very interesting. The fact that his own lawyers can’t find him mean that he’s likely to be considered a significant flight risk if charges are actually filed. If that’s the case, bail, if it’s offered at all, will be significantly higher than it would have been otherwise. His court-mandated leash is likely to be quite a bit shorter than it might have been otherwise.

George Zimmerman, like many defendants, has probably failed to realize that his own credibility is pretty minimal and the Courts rely on the ability of the lawyers to handle their clients appropriately. He also doesn’t recognize just how valuable that “free” representation he was getting was worth. Smaller firms likely couldn’t even begin to take on a case of this magnitude, just because it shuts you down from too many other clients. They certainly couldn’t do it for free and a larger firm could easily require a retainer well into 6 figures just to begin to start a case like this.

Noble causes are one thing, but the bills still have to be paid.

So George’s life is likely to change in a lot of ways, all of them somewhat “unintended consequences” of his determination that he knows better than anyone else how to handle a situation, to appoint himself as neighborhood watch captain, to carry a gun and then to follow Treyvon Martin despite instructions from the 911 operator to the contrary.

And regardless of his guilt or innocence, or even the specific details of the interaction between him and a 17 year old African-American male, he may now find that his refusal to follow directions from people with more experience and knowledge than he has may come back to haunt him.

Maybe it’s my personal prejudice, but my sympathy lies with his lawyers who were trying to do the right thing by their training and profession and help their client. Because every time something like this happens, it makes another tiny cut and produces a bit more scar tissue in the already jaded outlook that many lawyers have, and the next person who comes along and needs quality representation, but can’t afford to pay for it, may not get it because George has already burned that bridge.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Silhouettes on a Winter's Evening

We are moving slow here today. That doesn’t mean we weren’t up by 6, it just means that there’s more groaning involved and the trip to the bathroom and downstairs for coffee takes a bit longer than normal. Yesterday was a full day, and we were up way past our normal bedtime.

It was for a good cause, though, so the hurt isn’t so bad, kind of like the way you feel the day after you’ve spread mulch all over the yard. There’s some real pain, but a definite feeling of satisfaction involved.

Yesterday was the culmination of almost two year’s work.

A couple of years ago one of the local physicians came up with the idea that we needed a support group for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) youth in the area. This revelation came to him after some of his patients came in with complaints that nobody – especially a kid – should ever have.

Things like being beat up to the point that, despite the fact that he had been this boy’s physician since birth, he couldn’t recognize him, or testing a 16 year old for STD’s (Sexually Transmitted Diseases) because his parents threw him out when they discovered he was gay, resulting in him becoming a prostitute.

So a group of people got together with the thought that “We ought to form a club.”

Well, not exactly. Adults don’t form clubs. They convince their friends to help them form nonprofit organizations and foundations to support their cause. Then they badger them into helping and giving money.

So we helped create OUTright Youth of Catawba Valley, Inc., a bona-fide 501(c)3 not-for-profit, your donation is tax deductible organization. Anyone who's ever worked on a new nonprofit knows getting through the paperwork of that ordeal is, in itself, a real test of endurance.

As a result every month we meet in a conference room and tell what we’re doing to help beat back the misguided ideology of the rest of society to help a group of kids that need a little boost and to know that someone cares. There’s a couple of ways to do this.

The first is to create educational programs, especially ones focused on bullying, whether in school, in churches or in society, in the hopes of preventing teen suicide, then to get to present the programs in places that they might actually do some good.

This is more difficult than it sounds. Some school systems haven't exactly welcomed us into the fold of their bosom. Some have, though, and that's part of what keeps a group like this going.

The second is to provide a safe social outlet for these kids.  Nothing spectacular. Hang out and watch movies. Go skating. Play board games. Things that any church group might do, except these kids -- who often aren't welcomed into churches or other groups because they happen to be gay -- don't have any place to do those normal things.  To flirt. To talk for hours on end. To just hang out and be who they are.

Starting up a nonprofit is a lot like starting a business. In some ways it’s worse, though, because you can’t fire volunteers. Well, you can, but it just seems a little awkward. This group is unusual, though, in that everyone shows up for the meetings.

They’ve done their homework and have new things to bring to the table.

They help put a plan of action together and then go out and make it happen.

Last night, all of that culminated in our first fundraiser – “Silhouettes on a Winter’s Evening – an Evening of Distinction.”

You don’t get to be my age without having done the “rubber chicken” circuit more than a few times, so I know what you’re thinking.

"If I buy a ticket, do I still have to go?"

This was different, though. One of the nicest restaurants in town offered to close down – on a Saturday night – so we could have our event there. Then the chef and the owner came up with a menu that was sufficiently exotic to be exciting, but not so far out of the norm as to scare people off.

Homemade cheese biscuits with Jalapeno Jelly. Moroccan chicken, from an old family recipe. Couscous with veggies in it. Warm bread pudding with vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was as far removed from the typical chicken breast with green beans as a burger is from filet minion.

The food is only one part of an evening, regardless of how wonderful it is. Others kicked in with amazing things as well.

The President of the North Carolina NAACP--Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman -- introduced the guest of honor, Mitchell Gold, who wrote the book “Crisis in America” about bullying of LGBT kids by houses of faith.

Mitchell gave an incredibly moving talk about change that needs to happen in our society, and especially about the proposed North Carolina Constitutional Amendment that will not only limit marriage for gay people, but will substantially impact the rights of ANY unmarried individuals in this state. More importantly, though, he talked about caring for the future of our society, our young people.

Especially those that might not be in the mainstream.

A centerpiece of the evening was a video created by the youth themselves. There were roughly 160 people in the restaurant – it was packed to capacity, which at a minimum of $100 a plate is a miracle in itself with this economy. But during the 10 minutes or so that the video played, there wasn’t a sound. 

You can watch it here (if the link changes as we anticipate when it's made public, I will revise it here...)

Nobody talked. There were no glib remarks or side conversations that continued.

Everyone in the house was glued to the televisions that were playing the video.

I said there wasn’t a sound – by the end, that wasn’t exactly true. There was more than a little sniffling and nose blowing.

It was THAT moving.

So our day yesterday was the end push of a lot of days of preparation. Everyone got a copy of Mitchell’s book and a little jar of the pepper jelly to take home, party favors to help them remember the evening and our organization.

There are some things that are telling about whether an event is a success or not, though. People will say, "Oh, this is so wonderful," when they're really just wanting you to go away so they can finish eating and go home. You can't rely on that, especially in the South where an emphasis is put on being polite.

Besides, you want some of these same people to come to YOUR group's event when it happens, so you want to say nice things to them.

But numbers don't lie.

We had generated almost $40,000.00 in sponsorships and ticket sales before the event. We were too tired to tally up the totals last night, but I have no doubt that we far exceeded that amount with what was given during the evening.

More importantly, though, people hung around after they ate. Usually it’s almost a “dine and dash” to get out of a function like that after you’ve eaten.

People – and it wasn’t the usual crowd that you’d see at an event like this – circulated through much of the group and talked to others.

The other interesting thing was that I know it was a financial stretch for some of those attending to buy their ticket. But they thought it was important to help fund this group.

Finally, about 11:00, with both the wait staff and the Board members exhausted, it was time to pull down the decorations and call it a night. We cleaned up and headed for the house.

So we’re moving a little slower than normal today, popping the ibuprophen because we’re not used to standing on a concrete floor in dress shoes for 8 hours on end, and I suspect that the afternoon nap may be a bit longer than normal.

That’s OK, because it’s not like we’d planned to go to the circus or anything today.

It’s the tired you feel when you know you’ve done a good thing.

In the legacies of my life, this is one of the best things of which I’ve ever been a part. It’s a chance to work hands-on and not only make a difference, but to see the difference you make and to know that the world is a better place than it was before.

That’s worth tired feet and a sore back.

If you'd like to help support the work of ORY you can make a tax-deductible donation via the website at: 

Like us on Facebook at "OUTright Youth of Catawba Valley."