Saturday, May 1, 2010

At The Point of Intersection Between Past & Present

The nice thing about having a mind that is essentially unencumbered by thoughts regarding the big issues of the day is that it has ample room to accommodate the occasional flight of fancy. OK, more than the occasional flight.

Yesterday morning I was due in court for 9:00 a.m. trying to secure the dismissal of a cause of action against my client. The crux of our position was that even though the facts underlying the plaintiffs' case were unquestionably tragic (the plaintiffs are the representatives of a man who was struck by a car and killed while simply waiting at the bus stop for the bus he rode on every weekday afternoon to carry him home from work) there was simply no way to affix liability for what happened on my client. My client is not the person who drove the car. She was instead the driver's temporary guardian. The back story on the controlling statutes is far too long and boring to get into here (if you want to poke out your own mind's eye, then spring for your own stick) but suffice it to say that there is statutory authority in New Jersey that says - under this particular set of facts - not the temporary guardian's fault if her ward loses control of a vehicle that she (the ward) owns while driving it and runs into a bus kiosk, killing one of its occupants.

My 'usual' fare does not involve a lot of give and take with the Guardianship statute or with the Vulnerable Adult Act, which is a statute I did not know existed at this time six months ago. On the drive to the courthouse yesterday morning I was doing what I usually do, which is listen to the radio. As I was flipping around the dial, I wandered across a station that was playing a tune that made me think of the first time I had spent any quality time exploring the boundary lines of guardianship.

When I was a wee lad of fifteen, my friend Mike and I went to the movies one night hoping to see the film that was certain to launch Sean Penn's career as one of the great comedic actors of his generation. Sadly, while the two of us together were thirty but neither independent of the other was at least seventeen we could not get admitted into the theatre to see Fast Times unless accompanied by a parent or a guardian. While it might be impossible for a reader of a certain age to fathom, once upon a time movie theatres actually enforced age restrictions at "R" movies. Once upon a time, the movie theatre where we attempted to see Fast Times (the Menlo Park Cinema) was a stand-alone, two-screen job located alone on an island in the parking lot at the Menlo Park Mall as opposed to the multi-screen megalopolis that is now part of the Mall proper.

A parent going with us to see Fast Times would have defeated the whole purpose of going to the film. A teenager could not fully appreciate the adventures of those crazy characters from Ridgemont High in the company of an adult whose full-time job was being that teenager's parent. And a teenage boy certainly did not want to be in the theatre with his mom for certain scenes (Four words for you right here members of the Google generation: Phoebe Cates Swimming Pool).

In the interests of full disclosure here I must confess that (a) at gunpoint; and (b) while being dragged by a team of wild horses are two of the prerequisites that would have had to have been present before I would have ever considered asking Mom to join Mike and me at this particular movie and while his mom was wicked cool (you never knew if or when during a ride in Mrs. K's car she would - while stopped at a traffic light - yell out, "Chinese fire drill" and make everyone exit the vehicle and run around it one time before hopping back into it) there remains little doubt in my mind almost three decades later that Mike also opted against giving his maternal unit the option of joining us at the cinema.

Thus absent a parent - or a reasonable facsimile thereof - Mike and I hatched a plan. We started scouting out kids who looked older than we were - such as guys who we watched exit from behind the driver's wheel of a car - looking for a candidate to purchase our tickets for us. It took us a while before we happened upon a guy who was there with his girlfriend (the impact that Phoebe Cates' Phoenix-like rise from the swimming pool had on their relationship remains one of life's unanswered questions for me all these years later). Out of earshot and eyesight of the ticket window, we approached him and asked him if he would buy our tickets for us. He seemed cool to the idea at first. We offered to purchase either their tickets or their popcorn and drinks for them. Still he resisted.

With show time fast approaching we thought we were screwed. At age fifteen with no jobs, we were a touch light in the "disposable income" department. Had he sought to bargain for something else for us to buy for him and his date we would have spent two hours on the curb waiting for Mike's mom to pick us up. Thankfully, the deal was struck not by giving him something else but by NOT giving him something. What was it we took from him that got us into Fast Times? Responsibility. We agreed that if our plan went south and we ended up in trouble for whatever reason, his role in what we had done would never be disclosed. We were prepared to take the proverbial bullet for him.

Deal in place and with our minds having met our little rag-tag quartet approached the ticket window. We stood behind him, trying to strike a pose that was equal parts deference and indifference....just like a couple of fifteen year old boys. In a clear, confident voice he declared his intention to purchase four tickets. When the woman at the window saw Mike and me behind our champion, she asked who we were to him - as we were clearly not his children. "My wards", he replied with nary a moment's hesitation. Wards? But for after-school afternoons spent watching Batman and familiarizing myself with Robin's alter ego I would not have known what a ward was. I had. And I did. So did Mike. The moment he uttered the words I realized that we were in the presence of greatness.

She looked at us - and then him - with the hard stare of an adult who believes in her bones that the kids she is dealing with are jerking her around. He did not cave. Neither did we. She told him what the total cost of the tickets were, peeled off four and slid them under the glass, using the little counter top bunker that always seems to be there, into his waiting hands.

The four of us walked together into the theatre - not merely for show but because Mike and I were on the hook to buy Mr. Cool and his date their snacks - but once we got into the space where Fast Times was playing we sent our separate ways. "Remember our deal", he said as he/the Missus drifted off into the darkness. "If you get caught or get in trouble, you are on your own." Thankfully for all concerned, we never had to the firmness of our resolve on that particular issue.

Yesterday morning I drove to court and realized that I was prepared to make the same argument on my client's behalf as our Temporary Guardian had skillfully advanced on his own behalf almost three decades ago. And it worked as well now as it had then with the judge ruling (in accordance with the little-known yet very important case of Spicoli v. Hand) in favor of my client. His Honor recognized that the temporary guardian was not responsible for the actions of the ward. Somebody's baby? Perhaps. Somebody's burden? Nope.

Suddenly, I find myself in the mood for a Chinese Fire Drill. Anyone else game?


No comments: