What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been
Article byPosted Featured AuthorJune 2022
During a pre-retirement (nope, that’s an article for the next issue) cleanup, I found a list of law school classmates, which made me nostalgic. Well, shoot, these days I’m about five minutes from maudlin at any point. Going through the list made me remember the loose-knit group of rowdies and scalawags that called itself The Law Dogs (our mascot was an imaginary dog named Bona Fido). Our meeting place was a little café-that-served-beer across the street, Salmagundi’s. Much philosophizing, and more than a little drinking, occurred there, and it was an integral part of our law school experience. In fact, the owner, I believe his name was Jim Fury, attended law school graduations, shook everyone’s hand, and offered free champagne after the bar exam.
When you were little, did you ever fantasize about what you would be when you grew up? I spent many hours in my dad’s TV repair shop. Back then, televisions were full of different sized vacuum tubes, which came in different sized vacuum tube boxes. The empty boxes were great fun, and I used to line them up for a pretend, miniature classroom. In case you’re wondering whether I was fantasizing about being a teacher — not for a minute. Instead, I was training for my OCD life.
I didn’t fantasize about going to law school. Back then, poor kids didn’t go to college, much less law school, but somehow it happened. And I found myself in Salmagundi’s, at a table of fellow law dogs, imagining what our legal careers would be like. Somehow, none of us thought we’d be hired by an actual law firm (that was for the students from that law school up north). So we created our own perfect practices.
My friend, Steve, was going to rent hobie cats on the beach, in an open air hut with a thatched roof. In the back would be a small desk where he could eke out enough of a practice to stay alive. There might have been a margarita machine involved. Another friend, Brian, hoped to rent skis in the mountains, with a small chalet that would have a desk and probably enough hot buttered rum to sufficiently impair him so that practicing law wouldn’t be an issue. John saw himself on a lake, selling fishing equipment, renting boats, and maybe taking depositions on the dock, beer and pole in hand.
My ideal practice was based on a bar that I used to frequent when I lived in Seabrook, Texas. Maribelle’s was a big pink building on stilts, with a huge neon sign. You could find bikers and astronauts at the bar together. The bathroom was “downstairs,” and the best advice was to go before you left the house. In the kitchen, there was always a pot of something cooking — courtbullion, maybe, gumbo, chili, the possibilities were endless, depending on the weather and the cook’s mood. As long as you were drinking, you were welcome to go back to the kitchen and help yourself to a bowl.
I figured that was the ideal setup for someone from a long line of Irish barmaids who happened to go to law school. There would be a sign over the bar, “Simple wills written; 1040’s prepared; keys made, scissors sharpened.” And, of course, there would be a pot of something in the kitchen, although I’d have to learn how to make courtbullion and gumbo. What a carefree way to practice law! Well, except for the excessive day drinking part, which has been the ruin of many a poor lawyer.
Like many things, getting what you wished for might not be what you want. While driving through southern California in the 80’s, we decided to take a side trip to the Palomar Observatory. It’s located up in the Palomar Mountains, and the road took us by a general store, with a schedule for when certain food items would be delivered from the flatlands. Just down from the store was a law office. Perfect for my friend Brian, right? I thought so, too, until we walked around back and realized that the public restrooms were… well… right there. Quelle embarrassment! Although, if you think about it, sometimes after a client has poured his heart out to you, a good flush might make everybody feel better.
It all makes you wonder how much of your career was the result of careful planning and strategy (in my case, virtually none) and how much was due to whim and chance. And wrong roads taken, like when you agree to take the CPA exam as a favor to a friend. Now, that’s a long story. Still, reaching the end of this bumpy road, with all the twists and turns, unforeseen disasters and random opportunities, I can say that it’s been a hell of a ride!
Several years ago, I went back to Maribelle’s, and not much had changed. While writing this article, I decided to check again, and found it under “dive bars.” Sounds about right. It seems to have a new location, in a strip mall, of all things, and no stilts. Without them, I guess the bathroom would have to be inside. The interior looks the same, though, decorated in what might be called early ramshackle, with a touch of so what? Trip Advisor rates it a four out of five, but who rates a dive bar? Jeez, if ratings concern you, go to the Yacht Club. Still, I wonder if they would let me have a sign over the bar and a little space in the back?