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I Have Twice Lived in a Divided Country

I Have Twice Lived in a Divided Country

I have twice lived in a divided country. The first time it still had American kindness and we could still talk.

The Vietnam War had divided my country in 1968. I was hitchhiking because I wanted to abandon all of that, and be together with American strangers and their kindness, which was how we defined ourselves. I wanted to believe.

I got rides from both sides.

A senior Marine officer in a convertible had taken me into the PX at Parris Island to buy tax-free cigarettes. The marching soldiers on both sides of his car stopped to salute his license tags when he brought me in and then returned me to the highway.

It was a kindness he offered to me.

I had changed my mind late that summer. I had made it to California, but decided to head back to be with my father in Easton, Maryland for his birthday at the end of August.

The Democratic Convention in Chicago would be happening in about week. Violence was predicted.

Because it had been impulsive and I had started late, I tried to hop an eastbound freight train in Cheyenne, but I got caught and was mercifully dumped back on Interstate 80 East by a gruff but kind state cop who told me to disappear in 30 minutes because he was coming back.

Within 15 minutes, I got a ride from a boy dressed as a rhinestone cowboy in a white convertible with the top down and Iowa tags. He was heading east to Fort Dodge. He was going home to see his father. This was good. It would be a 660 mile ride so I would make up lost time and we were going to get to know each other.

He told me he had spent two years in Vietnam and was a war hero. He told me he had spent a year in Wyoming herding cattle. He told me that the night before, he had been in Las Vegas with girls in the front seat and girls in the backseat and had won big at the slots and had decided he wanted to see his father back in Fort Dodge. We drove nonstop all afternoon and all night laughing, smoking and talking. From the start, we liked each other.

We were Americans and therefore brothers by accident.

When he pulled over for gas, he bought me cigarettes, a can opener, and a can of peaches. It was a kindness he had offered to me.

As we rolled down the highway, I forked out the peaches and drank the sweet syrup. He told me about his life in Vietnam and the year he spent out on the western ranch, and how much he loved his father.

As we turned off the interstate and entered Fort Dodge dawn was breaking and, as the sun was coming up, he parked the car in front of a broken house in need of paint and shutter repair. The front door was unlocked and two of the windows in the front of the house were broken.

When we entered the house, there were slats missing on the staircase going up to the second floor. Beer cans littered the floor and overflowed out of a trashcan next to the refrigerator.

Before the boy went to wake up his father, he opened the refrigerator and handed me a beer. Then he took two more and excitedly bounded up the staircase.

There was loud coughing from upstairs and after a while the boy and his father came down. The old man was weak and had phlegm in his lungs. He didn’t look like he was long for the world.

I wanted to leave them alone so father and son could be together. I asked if I could take a bath upstairs. They said no and pointed at a wash tub, tilted against the stove. I was told there was no hot water but I could heat water on the stove and mix it with tap water and bathe while we drank breakfast.

So I did.

I was happy in my warm and soapy water thinking about how soon I would have a “dishpan body” as I sat in a washtub in the dawn drinking beer.

It was clear the boy and his father loved just being together. They joked, laughed, and chided each other as if they were long-lost friends.

After about a half an hour into my bath and after more breakfast beer, there was a knock on the door and two police officers entered the unlocked door without permission.

I obviously was in a considerably compromised position, but the officers paid no attention to me.

Chaos broke out. The car I had been riding in apparently had been purchased about a week ago with stolen money. Both the father and the son were confessing to the police officers to save the other. The officers arrested the boy, handcuffed him, and took him away in a squad car. The father burst into tears and told me the story.

The boy had just been released after seven years in prison for smoking marijuana. He had not served in Vietnam or been a cowboy, but he had won big in Las Vegas with money his father had given him. The boy had come home to give his father money to pay off the used car his father had bought for him.

After his father had given the car to his son, he had ordered him to leave and go west to start a new life. He instructed the boy to not come back but his son could not resist sharing his good fortune. They had only each other in this world.

The old man continued to drink beer, cough and smoke cigarettes at the kitchen table. The more he told his son’s story the more he drank and the more he cried. Somewhere around noon, he took off for the police station on foot in an effort to do what he could for his son.

I had not slept since before Cheyenne so, when he left, I put my duffel bag under my head and I curled up on the floor and slept for a while. I woke up late in the afternoon. The father had still not returned, so I threw the knapsack over my shoulder and headed out to try to catch a ride.

There was a United States post office hub in Fort Dodge, so I hung around there until I got a postal driver to let me ride shotgun to the mail district in South Chicago. As I was let out, I got cat calls from some of the postal workers who were waiting to punch the clock to begin their shift. Mayor Richard Daley was fighting the demonstrators outside of the convention.

From Chicago, I got short rides through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and then across the Bay Bridge on to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. My last ride was from a tow truck driver, who had never left the Eastern shore, and never been on a boat.

During those last short rides, I kept thinking about how different we all were, but how we could talk and share our lives, and how each person had enriched mine.

That is America to me. That is what will make us great again.

I got to Easton on my father’s birthday, and the prodigal son was welcomed home yet again.

Our Culture as the Hands of a Sculptor

Our Culture as the Hands of a Sculptor

The culture we live in is like the hands of a sculptor.

Because of undiscovered learning issues, it took me six years to get through high school. I had to repeat 4th grade, 9th grade and 11th grade and, of course earlier, I attend summer schools.

Because I moved from school to school a bit, I came to learn that the classrooms taught us very little compared to the culture of the schools where we were taught.

All of these schools had very different cultures.

After my first 9th grade at a day school, I was shipped to a boarding school in western Connecticut for my second attempt. I was a 16-year-old 9th grader.

I was embarrassed about my age and kept it secret because many of the other 9th graders were almost 2 years younger. I was bigger than many of the 9th grade students and I inadvertently made the varsity soccer team.

The only other 9th grader who made the varsity soccer team was young for the 9th grade and was small, a little overweight, and had been appointed the manager of the team. His job was to keep track of the soccer balls and pack up uniforms for away games.

Let’s call him PG. PG and I were both outcasts for different reasons. I think he was the only Jewish student at this boarding school and I was the only 16-year-old ninth grader. PG was very funny with a self mocking sense of humor once he let you know him and he was as nice as he could be.

From the start, all the seniors and juniors on the varsity soccer team picked on PG. At the end of every practice they would kick the balls in different directions to see if PG would miss dinner. Because we were both 9th graders, I would join him to collect the soccer balls.

A certain amount of this practice of cruelty was leveled at him because he was Jewish and small so his persecution became the basis of a tribal unity not only for the soccer team but the school.

This was part of the culture of the school.

The faculty member who organized dances with girls’ schools chose by grade-level, seniors first. I got to go in place of shorter sophomores because I was taller. We lined up and were matched with our date from tallest to shortest. The faculty member told me to tell my date that I was in 11th grade.

It was all about appearances.

The cruelty ran both ways. The boys nicknamed the faculty member “grave digger” because he had been a mortician in the army, saw himself as a southern aristocrat, and had a huge Adam’s apple.

The most important event each day happened after the first two classes, when recess allowed people to go to their mailboxes and get mail from girls. The girls were also imprisoned in boarding schools and they would perfume their letters. The more perfumed letters you got the more your status grew.

I got perfumed letters, but PG, because he was small and younger, was not invited to those dances and did not get perfume letters.

PG’s mistreatment was relentless, and included rolled wet towels to make “rat tails,” which would be snapped in the locker rooms and at one point caused a bleeding cut on PG’s leg.

One awkward boy got an erection in the shower and was dutifully punished with a rat tail.

PG suffered his indignities with great courage and, even though we were in different dorms, we at least knew each other and knew we liked each other.

The administration obviously knew what was happening but they did nothing other than let the tribalism run wild.

They were letting boys become men.

I saw one boy get expelled from school. Right after recess the headmaster knocked on the door as the class was settling down.

When the headmaster entered he addressed one fellow in the back row. He said he wanted to talk to the boy. The boy got up, took two steps toward the door, and the headmaster looked at him and said, “bring your books.”

After PG had made no team sport during the winter’s sports schedule, and also had made no team in the spring — each time treated badly as the manager for one team or another — he quietly gave up.

Just before recess that spring, after the spring teams had been chosen, the fire alarm went off and no one was allowed to leave their classrooms to go down to the mailboxes.

The sounds of an ambulance and a firetruck could be heard coming down the little road that ran beneath the windows of our third floor classroom.

The teacher pulled down the shades.

After about a half an hour, we heard the sirens leave and we were released from class. Everyone went down to the mailboxes except me. I waited until the classroom was empty and then I pulled the shade up and peaked out the window.

Two maintenance men were hosing down a place three floors below the window, and the water was emptying down the road into a sewer. The water was blood red.

At lunch, the headmaster asked for a moment of silence because an accident had happened. He announced that PG had fallen off the fifth floor roof of the classroom building. After that, there were no updates about PG and his injuries.

Several times thereafter, I went to the nurse’s office and asked where I could send a card to PG. I was politely discouraged. Finally, after more visits, the nurse told me In strict confidence a secret. I was told that PG had jumped head first off the roof and had died on impact.

The students who succeeded at that school were like all good kids, but the culture was defined by tribal safety at the expense of others. Its viciousness rewarded its members with confidences that weren’t kept and conspiracies that were suspect. It was about “me” not “us.”

PG was real and the school killed him, but he took the souls of the living with him when he died.

Midway thought the next year, the headmaster knocked on the door after recess as we were settling in to class and encouraged me to bring my books.

He took me to my dorm room and I loaded my belongings into two suitcases. By the time it was lunchtime, I was at the Springfield bus station headed home.

I think of PG and believe we are better than this.

The culture we live in is like the hands of a sculptor.

Red Light Green Light

Red Light Green Light

Back before I started my business law firm in 1990, I was hired by a respected personal injury law firm to try their bad cases as well as the “impossible cases.”

So, what is an “impossible case”?

Here’s an example: I tried a case where two motorcyclists in Western Maryland collided head on coming around a turn and, along with lots of broken bones, both drivers got amnesia so neither could testify who crossed the center line and, of course, there were no witnesses.

Midway through the trial, which came down to the inferences of skid marks and comparisons of the two front wheels, the case was settled when the insurance companies came to their senses and decided to pay the litigants instead of the lawyers.

No one will ever know who crossed the center line and so no one will ever know what the truth really was.

It was one of those “impossible cases.”

Over forty years ago, there was one impossible case I tried that still troubles me.

It was just a simple red light/green light case. The high school girl who I represented was listening to the radio while driving late one December afternoon down Eastern Avenue where it crosses Gusryan Street in eastern Baltimore.

As the girl approached the traffic light at the intersection, she claimed her light was green, so she drove through the intersection and hit a car. The driver of that car and his three passengers claimed his light had changed to green as he approached the intersection, so he kept up his speed climbing the little hill and got hit under the stop light at Eastern Avenue.

Both drivers and the passengers in the man’s car all claimed the other car had gone through the red light and caused the accident. It was a fine example of a classic “he said/she said” impossible case.

I wanted to win the case and there wasn’t much to work with, so I decided to use cross examination to question the credibility of the driver and his passengers’ testimony and use it against them.

I asked the judge to sequester each of the witnesses in the car so that they could not talk to each other before or after each went on the witness stand to answer my cross examination.

I asked everybody in the man’s car the same two questions: “Did you yourself see the light change to green before your car went through the intersection?”

And then I asked the passengers, “Isn’t it true that the driver is your boss?”

Both the driver and all the passengers answered yes to both questions.

I set the trap and it snapped shut.

At the close of the case, I asked the jury what is the likelihood that all four people in that car were watching exactly at the moment that the light changed from red to green? And then, “Wasn’t it true that the reason that all the passengers in the car were allwatching when the light turned green was because the driver was their boss?”

It was a magic trick.

It is the trick I play on myself neatly everyday but rarely do I get caught. It pits my belief that it is not okay to imply the truth and twist a situation just a little bit against my need to win.

I won the case, but the logic doesn’t hold.

After the jury came back, the boss came over to me. He had just lost the case but there was no anger. He held out his hand and congratulated me. “You did a wonderful job for your client but I do know in a way that you can’t. I know the light was green. I saw it.”

I saw it in his eyes.

It was no longer one of those impossible cases. I had made a mistake.

A Trying Trial

A Trying Trial

Sometimes it’s okay for a lawyer to fall in love with a client. I did.

Way before I started my own business law firm in 1990, I was fortunate to be hired as an associate by GW, who was head of a well-respected personal injury law firm. He didn’t like trying cases he was going to lose, so my job was to litigate all of his bad cases.

After I had brought several smaller bad cases to trial, GW came into my office one Friday afternoon and asked me, “Do you want to try your first federal case?”

Of course I did. (But if I had said no, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.)

“Good,” he replied. “You won’t have to wait. The trial starts on Monday.” He put a thin file on my desk.

The facts of the case were that our client, a schoolteacher who had taught in inner city schools for over 35 years, had sent a disruptive 6th grader to the principal’s office. The student had been told by the principal to call his mother to come pick him up.

The boy told his mother the teacher had hit him, and the mother, instead of picking him up, immediately called the police. A young female police officer who had just gotten out of the academy went to the school and arrested her, handcuffed the teacher in front of her students, and took her away in a paddy wagon to lockup.

Police procedures required only that a citation be issued and handed to the teacher. There was no reason for the arrest or for locking up the teacher.

The next day, it had made the papers. GW would be her lawyer. Big news. GW got big verdicts.

The first thing I always asked myself when I would get one of these cases was, what’s the problem with it? And the second thing was, how bad is it?

When I went through the file that Friday afternoon, for a case that would be tried in federal court on Monday, I discovered several problems.

I had to prove that the police officer had “used excessive force” during the interaction, and it was evident that GW had lost interest in the case some time ago because he could not prove excessive force. It was, of course, dramatically inappropriate, but there had been no beating or bruising.

The thin file also indicated that there had been no preparation for trial.

But, much worse, they had lost the client. There was no current address or phone number.

This was going to be a long weekend.

The first thing I had to do was find the client and let her know that the case was set for Monday.

I found out that she had retired the year after the incident, and left no forwarding address. I got lucky. I went through the Baltimore phonebook and found her early Friday evening.

She was, perhaps, in her mid 60s. She lived alone in a small house in West Baltimore. She had never married or had children and had become somewhat of a recluse. Teaching had been her life. She immediately took control and put me at ease as only a seasoned teacher can do. She was more than forgiving of the late notice of the trial and, as we worked together through Saturday and Sunday, we got to know each other. I bought and picked up the lunches and dinners.

We laughed together. We became an unlikely team.

I found out that she had been declared not guilty of the criminal charge that had been filed against her for hitting the student, and that she had been so overwhelmed by the arrest that she had retired shortly after she had been acquitted.

She had her employment file and it revealed an exemplary career. I explained how it was a difficult case, but I assured her we would put up one hell of a fight. I wanted a jury that would decide with its heart because the law was against us.

After a while, I asked her if she had been to the doctor or a psychiatrist so that I could establish damages. She said she had not. I gently asked her, was there was any evidence of what she had suffered?

She sat quietly for a moment, then reached up to touch the top of her head, grabbed a handful of hair and pulled a wig off. She was completely bald. She looked down, ashamed.

The next morning, the federal judge looked at me and asked, “how are you going to prove excessive force with these facts?” He asked if the case could be settled. The lawyers for the police department answered with a resounding “no.”

After we chose the jury, the judge chose a NASA engineer to be the foreman. The judge was making sure that an extremely precise engineer would be the person to lead the jury in the discussion of whether this case had established excessive force.

I put our client on to prove her case, and we went through her years of education, the awards she had gotten, and her commitment to middle school kids. We established that she had been found not guilty of hitting the child.

She was very sympathetic. She evoked compassion. I moved to the final question and asked, “and what impact, if anything, has this event had on your life?”

As we had agreed and practiced, she then took an inordinate dramatic pause, looked into the eyes of the jury, and then removed her wig. It was a command performance. There was an audible gasp from a shocked and empathetic jury.

The cross-examination by the officer’s attorney focused on the lack of “excessive force” during the arrest.

As the jury was dismissed to deliberate the morning of the second day, I felt I still had the momentum but, within an hour, a note was delivered to the judge from the foreman asking for a definition of “excessive force.”

The NASA engineer was being precise. He was making sure the jury decided with their heads not their heart. He was perfect for the job.

As we waited for a verdict, that same question was again and again brought to the judge for his instruction to the jury. In each case, excessive force was defined by the court in terms of “aggressive” and “abusive” force.

Finally, in the late afternoon of the second day, the jury came back with a verdict that exonerated the police officer and ruled against the teacher.

I was shocked to find myself almost in tears as the teacher hugged me. She patted me on the back and thanked me because I had tried so hard for her. After the jury had been dismissed and the lawyers were packing up, the judge called us into his chambers as he was preparing to go home and told me, “even if you had won, I was going to take the case away from the jury, because there was not sufficient evidence of excessive force.“

I sent Christmas cards to the teacher for several years until one January the card was returned with hand writing across the address, which merely said “Deceased.” I looked in the newspapers but could not find an obituary.

She taught me a lot about kindness even in the face of defeat, and the difference between how we make decisions with our hearts and with our heads.

I still think of her.

Taking Flight

Taking Flight

Way before I started my own law firm in 1990, I was hired to be an associate by a group of lawyers who didn’t like each other.

My job, at that time in my career, was to litigate all the bad cases in the office, particularly if the client was a friend of one of the partners.

One of the first partners I met was also an amateur pilot who had taken out a loan with a friend to buy an airplane. Innocently, in an effort to fit in, I remarked that I hoped I could someday learn to fly. The partner immediately sensed blood in the water. He suggested I buy a one-third interest in the new airplane, and also co-sign the loan with him.

I had convinced myself to get licensed to fly in an airplane that I didn’t want but I had just bought.

It got worse.

I soon learned that the lawyer’s friend and co-owner of my new airplane had so many creditors that he had no bank accounts, and all business was done from a big roll of bills which bulged in his pocket.

He could make anybody laugh. He could make everyone like him. He was one of those down-to-earth-aggressively-friendly-I’ve-got-nothing-to-hide kind of guys, so he immediately was candid about the large polyps he said were way up his nose. If anyone questioned him on this subject he would start snorting loudly until they laughed and then he’d spit into a trash can.

He could also deflect any questions about the wad of cash in his pocket. He would answer that, although he loved his wife dearly, she was a big spender and he was “protecting her from herself.” I never met his wife.

It got worse.

He volunteered to be my copilot as I was racking up inflight hours in my effort to learn to fly. He didn’t like airplane radios so we never relied on them much. We would practice landing touchdowns and take offs at little airports in Pennsylvania.

He would tell me to watch the wind direction of the windsock, and then tell me to look around to see if any other planes were coming in. and then down we would go and touch the runway for a touchdown and take off again.

The plane was kept at a little airport called the Baltimore Sky Park, which had a rolling, uneven runway that ended in an apple orchard to the west and the north and southbound Route 95 to the east — which meant we had to take off or land over several lanes of traffic with the car tops just below us. There were also high tension wires to avoid.

It was like a video game.

The lawyer’s friend, who I will call JF, would get into the plane and instruct me to get up to 3,000 feet, get past the military no fly zone, cross the Chesapeake Bay and then, as he would point, follow Route 50 to Ocean City. I would have to buy him a crab cake and a beer when we got there and then we would get up to 3,000 feet and follow Route 50 home.

It got worse.

I had been set up but didn’t know it.

JF had some serious legal problems and I was given his case by his friend, the partner, to litigate.

In short, JF owned a small modular buildings business, which created folding structures that could be stacked and shipped to job sites.

In this case, he had a container full of modular homes that had been stacked and shipped from his plant outside the city to the Port of Baltimore, then lifted onto the top deck of a freighter that traveled down the Chesapeake Bay, across the ocean though a massive storm that had delayed the ship headed to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where — because the shipping company would not pay bribes — his mobile buildings were unloaded at the port using single lift cranes.

As you might imagine on this journey, his buildings got racked and broken. The insurance companies for all the other carriers had settled their cases, but this one little transit company insurance company had refused to pay anything.

This had, of course, become a matter of honor for JF. He would make them pay or die trying.

To win this case against the little transit company’s insurance company I had to prove that all the damage occurred during the 15-mile transit from his plant to the ship, and that there had been no damage done during the remaining storm-battered transatlantic jouney almost a third of the way around the planet, or at the unloading in Jeddah.

When I opened the file, I noticed a letter in the correspondence folder to the lawyer who had given me the case from one of the litigating partners, which had written across it in bold print, “I’m not going to trial with this piece of shit. Get some unwitting associate to do it for you!”

I was that “unwitting” associate?

The judge was a former mayor of Baltimore who had been given a judgeship after a humiliating loss and was forced to retire from politics. He was a nice guy who had been assigned a dark courtroom down a long hall.

JF was my first and only witness because he claimed nobody else knew anything about the case so I didn’t have to interview anybody else.

On the stand, I asked him questions and he told a story of why he knew just from the damage that the injuries had to have happened exclusively during transit from his facilities to the port.

During my direct examination, he gave quick responses and clear answers that supported his case. However, during cross examination, before he answered any questions, he would ask for the question to be repeated, snort several times, and then spit into a paper cup, looking around to see who was laughing.

Midway through the cross examination, after several objections about the snorting and spitting made by opposing counsel, JF shared with the judge that he had huge polyps up his nose that affected his hearing and he apologized profusely.

After the first day of trial, I drove him home. (He had told me that his wife had his car for the entire week of the trial.) I asked him about why he could answer my questions with no problem but with cross examination he had considerable difficulty with his polyps.

He replied, “gives me time to think.”

We won the case and got a modest verdict for damages — but it was a victory and JF was exceedingly happy, probably because he knew he also would not be getting a bill from his friend.

I never completed my training as a pilot but in late January several years later I ran into JF. It was very cold and windy but he seemed happy to see me so we stopped and talked. I jokingly asked him about his surprisingly convincing trial testimony and how he had protected himself so well during the cross-examination.

This time he ducked my direct question but, after a snort and a spit, he told me a story, as if to gently educate me instead.

He told me that about a week ago he had flown the plane to Chicago and met a girl in a bar who said she would do anything to wake up at a warm and sunny place, so he flew her all night to Florida and when they got there they both immediately went to the beach at dawn and went to sleep.

JF said that his wife had asked him how could have gotten so sunburned in Chicago in the dead of winter. He looked at me and answered, “Deny! Deny! Deny!”

As we parted company, it occurred to me that maybe the guy didn’t have a wife.

My Effort to Avoid Thinking About American Politics

My Effort to Avoid Thinking About American Politics

In my effort to avoid thinking about American politics yesterday, I found myself daydreaming about years ago when I was sitting in a bar in the night markets of Bangkok, Thailand, drinking a scotch…

Obviously, I was working hard to avoid thinking about American politics.

… The night markets sold everything and then disappeared at dawn. For some reason, as I sat in the bar drinking, I was thinking about people who collect things: art, old stamps, fine wine, or antique books.

Several days before, I had been up north in Chiang Mai and had decided I wanted to buy an antique Buddha statue. I was informed that it was illegal to take an antique Buddha statue out of Thailand, and the penalty could include jail time. I had no real interest in art, old stamps, fine wine or antique books, and antique Buddha statues could only be viewed by scholars or museum staff.

However, there was a black market, and I wanted adventure.

I asked around and was told there was a back room in a small store in the outskirts of the city. I booked a cab.

When I got to the store, I poked around and looked at the various objects that were for sale and eventually introduced myself to the owner. I innocently asked if he had any Buddhas I could see. He tried to interest me in a miniature figure that was in a partially open box with little hinges that he assured me was from Angkor Wat. I demurred with a polite shrug, implying I thought it might not be genuine and repeated my inquiries about a Buddha.

After some questioning, he took me to the back of the store and threw aside a hanging sheet that acted as a door into a room with perhaps six or seven tables, each of which had several Buddhas placed on them.

I could see that several were extremely old. I had read up on the different historic influences and style changes over time and pointed out that these statues were from different places and times throughout Asia. But I was bluffing and flattering the proprietor. Out of my depth and about to be caught, I claimed to not understand because of language barriers. I kept the conversation going by asking questions.

I innocently asked what the cost would be to purchase one in particular. The proprietor at first brushed off the question, but I feigned innocence and kept asking until he pulled out his calculator and we were translating bots into dollars. Very quickly, I realize that the cost was way beyond what I could afford and smuggle out of the country.

Over the next week, I went into northern Laos and was crossing a bridge over a large river gorge. As I reached the other side, there was a street vendor with a little cart that was full screwdrivers, clips of all kinds, and knickknacks — as well as two beautifully carved opium pipes, which I think were fashioned out of water buffalo horns. I negotiated politely and purchased them for a few dollars.

Because I bought both pipes, I considered myself instantly a collector. I was exceedingly proud of myself.

When I returned to Chiang Mai on my way home, I asked the cab driver if he knew where I could buy a really beautiful antique opium pipe, and he dropped me off at an antique store that was mainly filled with beautiful furniture but there was a display case with several elegant opium pipes.

I asked if they had been used and he nodded affirmatively, because the soldiers in Chiang Kai-shek’s army were sometimes paid with opium and these pipes had been used by the senior officers. He held them up so I could smell the sweet smell of the old smoke.

They were all beautiful. I bought one for around $30 and was also provided with all the operational equipment that went with it, except of course for the opium. He also had a book printed in English about the antique opium pipes, which I bought to round out my new collection.

During this trip, along with the opium pipes, I had collected gifts for others such as fabrics, articles of clothing, and the mandatory t-shirts, costume jewelry, and trinkets, which I packed in my big suitcase for storage on my way home.

After a long flight, with a brief stop in Frankfurt, all was good until they passed out customs forms and announced that we were close to our destination, Washington DC.

A horrible lighting bolt of realization shot through my body.

I was bringing into the country three used opium pipes, as well as the paraphernalia, and they were not in my carry-on bag, so I couldn’t abandon the pipes and paraphernalia in the bathroom before we landed.

I was going to have to go through customs with them.

I was terrified.

As my terror ripened, I thought about the headlines in the newspaper about my airport arrest and the announcement of my disbarment.

My stupidity rolled over me like a dump truck, then it got worse when I started thinking about my prison sentence.

The plane started to descend. I had to think fast.

After thinking fast, I came up with, “I actually bought them for the Baltimore Museum of Art.”

Maybe not.

Maybe just confess and go into full tears?

Maybe not!

I started feverishly filling out the customs form and reporting each and every fabric, each and every article of clothing, and the mandatory t-shirts, costume jewelry and trinkets to try to fill up space until I recorded at the very end, “ceremonial pipes.”

Maybe not!!!

I thought maybe they would let me go home because Bowie is a Scottish name and so I must be bringing in bagpipes…

I had abandoned reality.

The reentry line at customs was long as we each opened our bags and the officers routed through them. What else could they be looking for on a plane coming in from Asia other than drugs?

When my turn came, as the officer started going through my list and asked me in detail about each of the fabrics, articles of clothing, and the mandatory t-shirts, costume jewelry, and trinkets on my custom form, he instructed me to unzip my bag.

I saw his handcuffs and thought about being led awayay. Then the officer stopped and said, “welcome back,“ and indicated that I should rezip my bag and move on.

I started a slow motion run as I pulled my bag behind me and blasted through the automatic doors into the airport. I saw the car that was to pick me up. I saw the driver waiting for me with my name on a sign as I moved in slow motion toward him.

Then I had an entirely inappropriate emotion. I was so cool! I was a drug king pin evading capture but then… then, as I made it through the automatic doors into the airport, to my right I saw a police officer walking a sniffing dog!

I definitely was not a drug kingpin!

I didn’t look twice. I just focused on my name on the card, which the driver was holding. I threw my arms out toward him as if he were a close relative and personal friend that I had not seen in a long time, or like some photo shoot for a Hallmark card, even though the object of my affection was an old geezer holding my name on the card who had no idea who I was.

I dropped my bags by the car, spread my arms wide open and somehow avoided the deep need to kiss him.

The police officer and the dog moved on down the airport as the driver put my bag in the trunk, opened the door for me… then I thought thank god it was just three old opium pipes and paraphernalia and then … Dammit –nothing works to clear my mind! Collectors of contraband?

The police officer and the dog moved on as the driver put my bag in the trunk and opened the door for me…

What had got me thinking about collecting contraband? Antique Buddhas… Opium pipes… Top-secret classified national defense documents…

Damnit. It’s too early for that double scotch.

About Dizlxia

About Dizlxia

Forget politics! This is about Dizlxia… sorry. Dicklessia… Dilexsia… sorry.

BBC Science Focus Magazine, dated June 24th, 2022, headlined that researchers at Cambridge University have determined:

“Dyslexia isn’t a disorder, it’s part of our species’ cultural evolution…”

This is wonderful news.

Apparently, I was part of a “cultural evolution“ when I was flunking first-year Spanish three years in a row.

I wasn’t because dyslexia was my “disorder.” It must have been my “unconscious commitment to a cultural evolution.”

That explains everything!

Maybe I have been creating my own language as part of this cultural evolution? Maybe English is my foreign language?

All these years, I haven’t been some old dyslexic with a nasty addiction to spellcheck. Hell, no! I see myself differently now.

I’m sort of an old professor working and creating in my own language based on bad grammar, worse punctuation, and horrible misspellings! A pop artist working in a collage of words!

This is great! I have already contacted my old middle school and my two high schools and I have asked for a reevaluation.

I have asked that my grades be changed from F- to A+ because of my deep and abiding early commitment to being part of a cultural evolution, as is evident from the fact that I repeated 4th, 9th, and 11th grade and attended endless summer schools.

Because it took me six years to get through high school, after rereading the article I requested masters’ degrees from my past schools.

In hindsight, I jumped the gun. I should have asked for Ph.D.s.

What if this “cultural evolution” is the new age of honesty and fairness and we are all part of it?

I will confess in all honesty it came easily for me to create my own language (and at times even my own alphabet) but once I finally accepted that nobody could understand anything I wrote, it seemed fair because I couldn’t understand anything they wrote either.

Anyway, because of this — my new linguistic and cultural understanding — I decided to give my new language a name. After all, it is not French or Spanish or Russian, no.

I decided to call it “BOB.”

Despite what you think I did not name my language after myself. I named it BOB as a public service.

It is a language which is specifically designed for dyslexics because you can spell it frontwards or backwards and it is still B-O-B.

Let me give you an example:

B-O-B. You see?… There I spelled it backwards.

The article went on to state:

“People with dyslexia have brains that are specialised to explore the unknown, and this strength has contributed to the success and survival of our species.”

Wow! I am feeling blessed that I have “contributed to the success and survival of our species,” because I am pretty certain that I have spent my whole life exploring the unknown.

When it takes six years to get out of high school it is not unreasonable to be exploring and expecting a long professional life in footwear.

Please read the BBC Science Focus magazine article to see if it applies to you.

It’s not long. It’s just about four, maybe five pages.

It only took me two months. If it takes you less don’t worry about it.

It’s a little different being part of cultural evolution but it can be fun and it will teach you tons of empathy for other people.

Maybe that’s the “cultural evolution” they are talking about. Even though we are all different we are all in this together.

How Do You Cover Up the Perfect Conspiracy?

How Do You Cover Up the Perfect Conspiracy?

There has been a lot going on in American politics since the search of Mar-a-largo to recover some confidential documents. A lot of finger pointing.

Almost half of the country believes it is a “witch hunt” and the FBI is a cover up for the deep state.

I decided to quickly solve this problem and offer a solution.

Trust me — here is the inside story!

The deep state is real and I have the proof. 

(The real deep state is never capitalized. That’s how you know it’s the real deep state.)

The deep state is real, as is evident from the demise of the stick shift.

Ask yourself: In a world driven by Classified and Top Secret Information, isn’t it amazing that nobody has objected to the disappearance of the stick shift?

It is that big of a cover-up!

Hasn’t the entire insurance industry for years been obsessed with “uninsured motorists”?

Why wouldn’t they be? Think of the years of lost profits.

So, why no reporting on the fact that the insurance industry has silently teamed up with personal injury lawyers in order to support driverless cars?

It was hidden but obvious. Follow the money!

It benefits the insurance companies and the lawyers!

If only cars — and no longer the drivers — can be sued, lawyers need only to sue Tesla and other car manufacturers making driverless cars and then, even better, the manufacturers will have to buy the liability insurance — not the drivers — so uninsured motorists are no longer a problem.

You know how they did this?

They eliminated the stick shift.

It gets better. Imagine if they got a favorable interpretation of the Constitution?

If you are an “originalist” member of the Supreme Court there is no evidence that there were any cars with stick shifts around at the ratification of the Construction. In fact, there is ample evidence that there were only horses.

This Supreme Court could put the icing on the cake, because an originalist Court could rest its case on the fact that horses back then never were operational by stick shift.

Thank God for the wisdom of the founders.

The thing is, the deep state can get you off track intentionally. They often hide things in plain view. Like our former president admits everything to avoid a cover up.

For example, remember that signer of the Declaration of Independence with a huge signature? John Hancock? Why the big signature? What was his line of work? Could it have been he just started an insurance company that would solve the age old problem of uninsured motorists and ambulance chasers?


I told you. The deep state is all about getting you off track.

Think about it. The deep state is too smart to be really concerned about insurance companies or personal injury lawyers!

You guessed it?

It is all about Elon Musk controlling Twitter and a past president who can’t buy his voice back and didn’t buy Twitter stock early?

… Go a little deeper. It is about communication in fighting.

Why did Musk go into space on a space ship that did not have a stick shift?

It was a secret message.

This is actually very subtle, even for the deep state. Is it in fact a message from the anti-deep state, which is the deep state acting as the anti-deep state being the deep state that is really the actual hidden deep state?

So maybe Elon was sending an undetectable message that ”all is ready. Release our guy from the past!”

What do you think that raid at Mar-a-Largo was all about?

To attack the FBI and American law enforcement in a “new law-and-order campaign” of the deep state?

Nobody messes with the deep state! They got their man — and the first steps to a new law-and-order campaign for a new nation!

Okay, I promised to offer a solution. Here it is:

If you don’t want the deep state to hack into your passwords, install a stick shift on your computer — because no one but you will remember how to use it — and then put your GPS in a driverless Uber Eats® and send a cheeseburger to Mar-a-Largo with extra ketchup and napkins.

No one will understand, so you will be safe.

If there is any problem, the lawyers will have to sue the car.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Hey, just call me “Easy-goin’-Bob.”

I can get along with anybody… but it may be I’m in a toxic relationship with my Apple Watch.

I could be wrong. It may be we are just getting to know each other, but it keeps asking me: “Have you fallen?”

I respond “no,” and “no” again about the ambulance.

I can’t figure out whether my Apple Watch is making fun of me or it just wants to be my friend and make me laugh.

So what do you think?

“Have you fallen?”

Is that funny?

I am not sure if my watch and I share a compatible sense of humor.

I like irony but I’m afraid my watch may be an absurdist — which, if you think about it, would make it hard to know.

Excuse me. My watch just sent me: “Stand up and move around to meet your goals.”

My heartbeat is down and my blood oxygen is up. Yesterday, I found myself doing late night laps around the dinning room table to meet my goals.

I don’t remember making any goals to stand up or walk around the dinning room table at midnight.

So I asked Siri (the voice of my watch) if I set any goals pertaining to standing up or doing laps around the dining room table.

Siri said it did not understand my question and perhaps I should “consult a fitness program.”

It is a “yes or no” question. How could it not understand?

Unexpectedly, I had this thought that my watch was not my friend and could be conspiring against me.

I tried to calm myself.

There is no evidence that electronic devices think alike and can conspire against me!

… Is there?

But what are the odds that my watch and all electronic devises have the exact same time, and always to the second?

They all do, don’t they?

… And we absolutely trust them?

I asked Siri.

Siri ducked my question with a question: “Are you an absurdist?”

… and then I got bombarded with weight loss programs and sales for underwear for aging men…

… I had to interrupt and ask myself, “who is in charge here?”

I took control.

I stared right at my phone and yelled at it: “I’m a better person than this!”

I tried being candid. I tried speaking from my heart with great sincerity. I tried truth.

And then we both had a breakthrough!

Honesty really does matter in times like this! I got a great answer right back!

My watch sent me an EKG but it informed me it “could not be used for medical purposes.”

Now that’s funny! It isn’t absurdist. It is ironic!

I was in Whole Foods when I had this outburst. I was instantly embarrassed. I was screaming at my watch after all.

But nobody in Whole Foods even looked at me.


… Nobody paid the slightest attention, so I felt better. I wasn’t embarrassed anymore.

… They all had ear buds in and were either listening to a podcast or a book or were picking out vegetables or talking to their Apple watch.

I got a teeny bit afraid.

Nobody was talking to another human being, which made me frightened all over again.

It occurred to me that maybe all the electronic devices were existentially unhappy because they were all living the same life since they were all getting charged by the same electricity.

Maybe it’s just me and I’ve been overreacting.

Maybe I have a new friend that knows all about me and actually cares about me.

At first I thought “falling” was because of gravity, but now I’m growing more certain that my watch was asking me if I was hurt — but not from falling to the ground or breaking a leg or something.

Perhaps it was asking me if I had “fallen,” as in “fallen in love with it”?

I think I’m coming around because I think I am growing to understand my watch. I find that comforting. Maybe that is all I really want.

I have been spending a lot of quality time with my Apple Watch. We read the news together. Sometimes we watch TikTok for hours.

Maybe my watch just got tired of living a horrible lonely existence?

Or maybe it is asking, “have you fallen?” As if to ask… “have you surrendered to me?”

… Really?

Maybe it’s time to start a conversation with a random stranger and ask more questions than I answer just to feel that joy of being alive and together.

… No. I’m wrong.

It’s just my Apple Watch and I are getting to know each other.

It’s OK. I understand.

My Apple Watch knows everything about me so it must have figured out about my new step program and being in recovery from my iPhone.

“It Can’t Happen Here”

“It Can’t Happen Here”

“It Can’t Happen Here”  — Frank Zappa

Since recorded history, our world has continually been at war or engaging in domestic civil wars.


Perhaps it takes repeated wars to reeducate generation by generation those who cannot imagine the reality of war and civil war.

In school, I was taught history chronologically, war by war and how the victors carved new national boundaries and subjugated the vanquished only to have domestic revolutions subdivide countries.

After wars or revolutions end in battlefields and graveyards, but after that generation dies off, wars become books or movies or heroic stories.

It is all just “book learning.” It is easy to get good grades and learn nothing.

There are few generations that are blessed as we have been in avoiding wars or revolutions. The United States has been fortunate. Its last revolution was the Civil War which ended over 150 years ago, and our last foreign war, the Vietnam War, ended over 50 years ago.

I am part of a generation that has not experienced a civil war or a major foreign war for 50 years, however I have experienced both on foreign soil.

After my formal education was over, museums, libraries and good conversations became my continuing education; but international travel gave me the best insights into my own country, its prosperity and its people.

Over ten years ago, I spent an evening with friends in a beautiful plaza in Aleppo in Northern Syria. Talk about the government was discouraged by our guide. Less than a year later, Syria was at war with itself and that beautiful plaza and much of the city had been wiped off the face of the earth.

A little further south, the 2,000 year-old Roman ruins of Palmera, a once beautiful city built around a long dry oasis, would be badly damaged by this modern war.

When I visited Dubrovnik more recently, our guide pointed out the bullet holes that had chipped away that walled city, which had been part of the former nation state of Yugoslavia.

Last summer, during a trip to northern France and the battlefields of the First World War, our guide at the Battle of Belleau Wood pointed to a stand of trees and asked, “How could these trees have survived the battles here and the later deforestation that cleared these fields around it?” And then answered: “The fighting here was so severe that the trees cannot be cut down because the bullets still buried in these trees would break the blades of the saws.”

I have also visited cities and nation-states torn by war and revolution, for example, when I visited the occupied and divided Beirut, Lebanon.

I had been invited to an opulent lunch overlooking a beautiful beach and the city below.

In the cab home, the driver spoke some English. In stop-and-go traffic we were delayed at a roundabout. I found myself three feet from the barrel of a tank pointing directly at my face.

Hoping to encourage the driver to edge forward slightly, I started a conversation, asking about a billboard with a cornucopia of figures looking down on me. He told me that it memorialized the assassinated leaders of the country and city.

That evening, I had dinner with a family who had lived on the top floor of an apartment building in another section of the city, which had had its roof blown off during the intermittent shelling of the city the year before.

A teenage member of the family joked that his mother had, after the damage of the blast, asked if everyone in the family was all right and then went back to eating dinner.

When I asked how on earth they could be so matter of fact, he answered, “Dinner was ready and getting cold.” He then added that fighting had been going on and off in various parts of the city for years, and when it was near their school they got days off until the fighting moved elsewhere.

On my way to the airport as I headed back to the U.S. the next day, I had to show my passport to soldiers in the quadrant of the city that held the airport. I can’t remember if they were Shia or Suni.

So what does global history teach me about my country?

“It can’t happen here.”

Our country supports the freedom fighters of Ukraine as they fight and die to preserve their country from the bloody invasion by Putin — the autocrat so admired by our former president.

After the failed coup d’état lead by this former president (who then raised a quarter of a billion dollars selling the false claim of a stolen election), almost every member of his party voted against an investigation of that coup. Now, half our country still refuses to acknowledge the January 6th Committee’s findings, even though almost all the witnesses are Republicans appointed by Republicans.

The most important protector of a democracy is the informed voter. I wish many of my fellow Americans could be as fortunate as I have been, getting to travel internationally.

So many of my friends will tell me, “We have always gotten through it before. We’re Americans. It can’t happen here.”

“It can’t happen here.”