Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Ballad of the Boat Rocker

I am at my core a simple-minded little rube. I say - only in a half-joking manner - that among the reasons I went to law school was that I had absolutely no gift for either mathematics or any of the sciences and being an attorney appeared to present me the best possible opportunity to marry something I possessed the ability to do with something at which I could earn a living. I suppose that in a perfect world, where money concerns do not exist, I would be teaching United States History and Constitutional Law somewhere - preferably to children of no younger than junior high school age and no older than high school. The familial patriarch was a teacher after all. It is in the genes I suppose.

Being a man of limited skills, I aspire every day to simply maximum the return on my investment by working as hard as I can to maintain a level of performance that is not only professionally satisfying to me but also satisfactory to my employer. Having been married for close to two decades I readily understand the difference between my opinion and the opinion of certain others. One of them counts. The other one? The other one is mine. So far, so good.

One of the parts of my job that is equal parts exhilarating and nerve-wracking is trying cases. There are attorneys who seem to be on trial perpetually. I have friends of mine - professional acquaintances fits the relationship better I suppose - who try a dozen cases a year. Me? In the busiest twelve-month trial period I ever had I tried three. Granted that two of them were significant injury cases and the trials of each case took upwards of ten trial days (two weeks) to complete but nevertheless there were only three of them. I spend far more time not being on trial than I do being on trial.

I have spent the past week on trial, which marks the first case I have tried since I came back in from the cold a year ago May. While I did spend the better part of a week in September camped out on a case in Bergen County, that matter resolved in the middle of jury selection so no witnesses were called, no arguments were made and no verdict was needed. This past week has been an honest to goodness trial. After crawling through the process of jury selection from Tuesday afternoon through mid-morning Thursday, my adversary (who is a genuinely good man and an effective advocate for his clients as I hope I have been for mine) and I kicked it into high gear. From about 10:00 a.m. on Thursday through 4:00 p.m. on that very same day we opened to the jury and then put on our respective cases in their entirety. There are a couple of very big pieces of business to be taken care of on Tuesday (no trial on Friday or on Monday - the joy of trying a case in a one-judge vicinage) - namely our respective summations, the Judge's charge to the jury (instruction as to the governing law) and the jury's deliberations resulting in a verdict - but for the most part the heavy lifting is behind us.

Having been out of practice trying a case I had forgotten how tiring it is. It is mentally a very draining process. I came home each night this past week feeling completely worn out -as if I had walked the forty-eight miles that separate the Warren County Courthouse from my office at the end of every day as opposed to covering them in my car. Most nights when I arrived home, I felt too spent even to run, which is usually a part of my day-to-day. It was as if my little brain, which really seems puny when juxtaposed against the over-sized carrying case in which I cart it, was fried.

Yet it is nothing more or less than an occupational hazard. I knew the job when I elected to pursue it. I knew what I was getting myself into when I stood up in the jury assembly room in the Middlesex County Courthouse all those years ago and took my oath as an attorney. The job has not changed. I have perhaps. It has not.

I suppose I started thinking about all of this silliness when I first saw the story all over the news last week about a professional football player named Harrison (I do not know his first name and taking the time to look it up would imply caring enough to do so) who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers threatening to retire in response to the NFL's directive imposing significant penalties against players who launch themselves at other players as if the former is a ballistic missile and the latter is a clapboard house on a test range in the Nevada desert. I had to chuckle at the thought of just how obtuse this particular member of the tribe of man has to be. Talk about just not getting it.

In the interest of full disclosure I am forced to confess that I did break down and learn his full name - although I did so only because one of my favorite writers, Rick Reilly, wrote a piece about him. Reilly is a fellow member of the ever-expanding herd of Buffaloes, which I am certain does not hurt him in my evaluation of him, and has been for as long as I have been a reader of such work, one of the pre-eminent sports journalists/essayists around. As is his custom and practice, Reilly squarely captured the essence of Harrison, who was quoted in the piece as saying that while he does not want to see any other player get injured, "I am not opposed to hurting anyone." A true Renaissance man.

It must be a real delight for the other several hundred men who earn their living playing professional football to know that at least one among their number cannot even fake giving a rat's a** if he hurts them on purpose and who when called to account for his actions, threw a man-sized temper tantrum and threatened to take his helmet and his shoulder pads and go home. Show of hands of everyone who thinks that once he realized that the Earth would keep right on rotating irrespective of his decision and that if he opted out of his profession the only difference would be in his ability to keep enjoying the view from his mansion on the hill, he decided to reconsider his decision? Who ordered the reality check? That would be Mr. Harrison at table seven.

There is enough bad shit that happens in this world, which attacks us indiscriminately, without there being a need for one of us seated in the canoe to start attempting to paddle it in a different direction in a deliberate effort to scuttle the rest of us. Walt Kelly was right after all. We have seen the enemy and the enemy is indeed us. Hopefully upon further reflection - and the writing of a high five figure check or two, Harrison will remember the old adage about no one winning unless we all win. And even better, perhaps he will come to understand that the "win" of which we speak bears little to no relationship to the numbers on the scoreboard at game's end......

....or even the verdict rendered by the jury at the end of a trial. Well, let us not go too far too soon; right? Then again, perhaps we all could benefit by playing nicely nicely with one another.

-AK

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