It’s all about recognition in the legal world

Name recognition is a valued commodity for legal practitioners. To be known is to be successful – although it doesn’t hurt to win a case or two occasionally.

Unfortunately for most attorneys, getting one’s name recognized is all too often left to the Yellow Pages or having one’s moniker inscribed on the side of an otherwise unremarkable office building on an otherwise unremarkable boulevard in Anytown, U.S.A.

All this, however, may soon change.

Conniving with a pair of as-yet-unidentified cohorts – also known as accomplices – I think I’ve come up with a reasonably priced solution to the old name recognition problem.

The solution tentatively has been christened Buzz Legal Services, and it soon should be available to any far-sighted attorney with a with a little jingle in his or her jeans and the courage to let us mold his or her reputation through concentrated bursts of carefully orchestrated chatter.

Here’s the game plan:

For a basic annual fee of, say, $750, an attorney who has yet to have his named bandied about the Supreme Court hires Buzz Legal Services to make sure that his name becomes synonymous with truth, justice and a bite like a barnacle-munching barracuda.

Participating attorneys may select three court appearances a year during which our specially trained spectators (crudely referred to as “shills” by the uneducated) will gasp in astonishment when a subscribing attorney enters the courtroom.

For example, when attorney-at-law Michael McWrit strolls confidently into the courtroom, our operatives will turn, gasp and whisper urgently (just loud enough for Oregon to hear):

“Hey, isn’t that Mike McWrit?”

“Whoa! Michael McWrit in person!”

“Mike McWrit …”.

“Mike McWrit …”

“McWrit – didn’t he win the big (unintelligible) case?”

“Yer daaaaamned right.”

“Now we’re gonna see some justice in this county …”

And that’s only the beginning.

For a slight additional fee we’ll be able to have three temporarily unemployed members of the news media trail a subscribing attorney from the courthouse steps to the courtroom, waving notebook and microphones while urgently shouting questions which we guarantee will sound quite compelling but be absolutely unrelated to the lawyer’s actual practice.

“Mr. McWrit! Mr. McWrit! Is it true you’ve decided to file an impediment for transactional immunity? What about the forum rei gestae?”

“Isn’t that a little like nunc pro tuncing the remittitur? The DA says you’re not going to get away with it!”

“Mr. McWrit!”

If the subscribing attorney isn’t used to dealing with the news media, we’ll also provide a handy cue card (three for $10) which he can memorize and use for painless – but compelling – replies, such as:

“Well now, it’s still early days, but I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that my client will soon be vindicated and justice will be served. This is still America and the Stars and Stripes are still flying over the courthouse lawn.”

Hey, name recognition doesn’t get any better than that, amigos …

Originally published March 4, 2007

Finding the (im)perfect match for chameleon sports coat

Sometimes I think I’m nothing more than a walking, breathing magnet for weird clothing – not avant-garde, not outrageous, just weird.

My propensity for such apparel was reinforced a few days ago when I found myself in the men’s clothing section of a large department store and was inexorably drawn toward a colorful banner that offered “Sport Coats! 20 Percent Off!”

This appeared to be a great deal not only due to what appeared to be a substantial price reduction, but also because all the aforementioned sport coats appeared to be intact. It seems like every time I purchase an article of clothing that’s advertised at 20 percent off, it means the sleeves or pockets are missing.

These corduroy blazers had not only both sleeves, but were priced under 40 bucks. Even better, they were painstakingly tailored in Vietnam, the recognized fashion capital of, er, Vietnam…

Best of all, they were offered in a conservative charcoal gray color, perfect for lurking about dimly lit courthouse hallways where I ply my journalistic trade.

Alas, it was that conservative gray color that eventually proved to be my undoing, because the coat wasn’t always gray.

When I stepped out from under the department store’s fluorescent lights and into the bright sunlight, the coat appeared to turn black. When I later stepped into incandescent light, the coat turned a distinctive brown. In my car it looked to be a brownish-maroon.

At first, I thought I might be suffering from some rare ocular malady. When I glanced around my office, however, I realized the only thing that was changing color was my coat. My chair remained a goofy aquamarine color, my desk stayed an uninspiring gray and the county reporter’s hair was still dark brown.

“Hey, what color is my coat?” I asked passing co-workers.

“Gray,” said one decisively.

“Brown,” said another, just as decisively.

A third then weighed in with a cheerful “Peat moss – definitely peat moss. But not that stuff like in a peat bog. More like, you know, a coastal mountain range with a lot of rotting oak trees. You know, earthy but dependable …”.

She later summed the whole thing up with “That’s really kind of weird …” and sauntered off to calculate retail sales tax revenues.

Not only is it weird, it’s a potential workday apparel disaster.

Hey, I’m no fashion model – you figured that out, right? – but I do try, every so often, to coordinate my business wear.

So exactly how do I coordinate an earthy peat moss coat with shirt, shoes and trousers when the aforementioned color may change to brown or charcoal gray in the blink of an eye?

Sure, I could simply give up and deliver the reality-challenged sport coat to the Salvation Army, but 40 bucks is 40 bucks and I’d only worn the damned thing twice.

On the other hand, I now run the risk of showing up in court and being greeted by an impeccably dressed attorney or judge who’ll cheerfully observe “Nice outfit – planning on joining the carnival?”

It’s a complicated world, amigos …

Originally published February 25, 2007

Another sinister conspiracy…

My bedside telephone was ringing shortly after 2 o’clock one dark morning last week and I didn’t even have to use my psychic powers to determine that the caller undoubtedly was my old ’60s sidekick Sapper.

Forever lost in the Age of Aquarius after ingesting some unidentifiable herbs in Bolinas in 1968, Sapper is subject to periodic brainstorms and likes to share them with the world between midnight and sunrise.

“Lissen up, bro – I’m about to unveil to you, and you alone, one of the most fiendish conspiracies ever foisted upon the American people,” Sapper intoned ominously.

“It’s all about Perky the Duck.”

“Uh…” I responded.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t heard about Perky the Duck, Mister Pulsebeat-of-the-Nation journalist?” Sapper asked impatiently.

I initially drew a blank, but then sleepily remembered the tale of a duck who was shot by a hunter and tossed into his refrigerator, only to be found alive by the hunter’s wife two days later and rushed to a veterinary clinic, where it actually died on the operating table but later was revived.

“Yeah, yeah. Nice story. G’night …” I responded less-than-enthusiastically.

“Oh, maaaaaan. You really don’t get it, do you? Put your thinking cap on, brainiac. This isn’t about the duck, it’s about Vice President Dick Cheney running roughshod over the American people again,” Sapper said, enunciating each syllable as if talking to a backward third- grader.

“It took me awhile to put it all together, bro, but the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming,” Sapper explained. “Sometime in mid-January, Dick Cheney managed to elude his Secret Service keepers to do a little duck hunting. As is his habit, I’m pretty sure Dick managed to wing three lawyers, a bus driver and O.J. Simpson before he grazed a passing duck.


Another hunter mistakenly picked up Cheney’s duck and took it home, leaving Cheney with no proof that he’d actually been hunting ducks and not the entire defensive line of the Miami Dolphins, two exotic dancers and an ice cream vendor,” Sapper continued.

“The bird in question, I tell you, is Perky the Duck, and the heroic life-saving measures had nothing to do with saving a wounded duck and everything to do with saving Dick Cheney’s reputation as a skilled hunter.”

I probably should have thrown in the towel and hung up, but I couldn’t resist asking Sapper what kind of evidence he had.

“It’s called dee-ductive reasoning, pal. When you examine all the elements of this mystery, the diabolical machinations of Dick Cheney hold the only possible explanation. It’s like Sherlock Holmes said, ‘When you’ve eliminated the unlikely, the impossible is probable,’ ” Sapper replied.

“Now it’s up to you, bro. Take that ball and run with it. Put it on the front page and tell America what’s really going on,” Sapper concluded, for the first time in years hanging up before I tossed the phone across the room.

Much as I’d like to put this on the front page and the Associated Press wire, I really don’t think I can measure up to the magnitude of the story. Maybe I’ll just e-mail it to Katie Couric …

Originally published February 18, 2007

Vacationing with a rooftop cavalry on the charge

Depending upon one’s personal preferences, vacations offer a broad and ever-changing variety of exciting possibilities – travel, sports, visiting long-lost relatives or, perhaps, studiously avoiding long-lost relatives.

For many of us, an important part of any vacation is enjoying the luxury of tossing one’s bedside alarm clock into a drawer and blissfully sleeping in for an extra hour or two each morning.

At least that’s what I was looking forward to a few weeks ago when I decided to take some time off and get reacquainted with the long, lazy mornings I remember from my last vacation in, er, 1996.

Alas, it was not to be. On the first morning of my vacation, the Mad Cossack Roofing Company arrived on top of my apartment shortly before 7 a.m. and immediately began practicing cavalry charges back and forth across the roof.


I can’t imagine how they got a horse up there, but that’s what it sounded like as the ceiling shook and the hooves, er, hammers, pounded roughly 8 feet above my bed.

Sure, my apartment manager had notified residents weeks before that roofers would be working in our apartment complex – the beginning of the rainy season is always a good time to do roofing – but I’d stored the information away in a small compartment of my brain labeled “Don’t Worry – Be Happy!”

How the hardy troop of Russian cavalry managed to land on my roof at precisely 6:55 a.m. on the very first day of my vacation still remains a mystery to me, but there they were.

Sleeping after their arrival was an impossibility and, I reasoned quite reasonably, the roof had to be repaired someday and that day apparently had come.

“I’ll just have a cup of coffee and get on with my vacation,” I thought. “Maybe I can catch a nap at the bus station…”

Silly me.

No sooner had I sat down with a reheated cup of yesterday’s coffee than the roofing cavalry launched a particularly enthusiastic offensive overhead. Moments later, I noted that there was an inordinately large amount of coffee creamer in my mug.

Strangely enough, I don’t use creamer in my coffee.

“Hmmmmm,” I wondered as yet another dollop of white powder rained down on my dining-room table.

Yes, the exuberant roofers had somehow managed to send a large chunk of debris crashing through the crawl space directly above me and had broken the plasterboard over the dining room.

(Did I already say “Wheeeee”?)

The pounding continued for another day, but after that the Mad Cossack Roofing Company moved its theater of operations to another portion of the apartment complex and only periodic pounding could be heard from my bedroom.

With nearly two weeks of vacation still ahead of me, I trundled off to bed the following night prepared for a leisurely wake-up time well into mid-January.

That’s when the scrub jays flew in to serenade me shortly before dawn. They were ahead of their usual springtime arrival, but they were in fine voice.


Thank God none of them had hammers …

Originally published February 11, 2007

Use a gun? Bad obit!

As a society, I think we’ve tried, at one time or another, virtually every deterrent to crime imaginable – from a stout hempen rope draped tastefully around the neck of convicted evildoers to supervised probation and gentle psychological counseling.

Judging by the growing numbers of befuddled felons who continue to blithely skip through our criminal justice system, we still haven’t quite found the solution.

There’s one potential tool, however, that the criminal justice system has woefully neglected – the time-honored newspaper obituary.

Read any obituary page in any newspaper in the nation and you’ll learn about wonderful folks who were great fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. They were business leaders, chess champions, gourmet chefs, lawmakers, inventors and philanthropists.

And this is as it should be. An obituary is, traditionally, the very last thing ever to be written about any of us. Our achievements, no matter how modest, should be recognized one last time before we spring free into the next stage of our existence,

(Uh-uh, I’m no fool. You’re not going to catch me writing anything that would even vaguely suggest any recognizable religious interpretation of the afterlife. Whatever works for you works for me, amigos…).’

As you peruse the obituary pages, you might read about someone’s favorite hobby, beloved pets or the time they hooked the biggest bass in Sam Rayburn Reservoir.

What you’re quite unlikely to see is a detailed account of how the deceased shot up the Quickee Mart one hot August night because he needed gas money to fuel his stolen car.

Let’s face it, nobody wants to be remembered for the time he or she was arrested naked at the top of a downtown palm tree after a spectacular evening of drunken driving.

And perhaps we can use that very fact to make folks think twice before they stray from the straight and narrow path.

Break the law more than once and the record of all your dastardly deeds will be court-ordered into your obituary – no exceptions. A once laudatory obituary might now read something like:

“A successful cattle rancher and former auto dealer, John Doe was a lifelong resident of Elmodorsa Hills. Known in his later years as a trophy-winning sport fisherman, Mr. Doe also is remembered for the fateful afternoon his methamphetamine lab exploded and set fire to two nearby police cars. His marksmanship also was well-known to local law enforcement, particularly after he shot out no fewer than 18 city street lights on Broadway while dressed in a Vera Wang wedding gown.  A man of strong convictions, Mr. Doe was always quick to point out that he also had several acquittals…”

Of course, if you manage to clean up your act, obey all laws and resist the temptation to smack your no-good brother-in-law, Roscoe, one upside the head with an ax handle, you could petition the court to expunge your record – and your obituary – so nobody would have to remember the time you got caught rustling sheep in Minadoka.

Will rap sheet obituaries help deter crime? Only time will tell…

Originally published February 4, 2007

Lawnchairs: Still everywhere…

Nearly forgotten in the drifting mists of time, the sounds of Our Daughters Wedding have returned to Vacaville and, curiously enough, have nothing to do with anyone’s daughter or anybody’s wedding.

Our Daughters Wedding was a three-member synthesizer rock group that was born in Vacaville nearly 30 years ago. The trio – Layne Rico, Scott Simon and Keith Silva – had a dream of bringing a new kind of music to the once sleepy onion-processing community and, perhaps, the world.

Their songs included “Lawnchairs” and “Buildings” and “Raincoats & Silverware,” among others. “Lawnchairs” is, perhaps, the best remembered.

Lawnchairs, they sang, were everywhere. And who can deny that?

Unfortunately, the group was about 10 years ahead of its time and far from the painfully repetitive mainstream rock of the late ’70s. People were still blearily focused on the Bee Gees, Pink Floyd and The Knack.

One day in 1980, members of Our Daughters Wedding decided to expand their horizons, packed themselves into a boat-like 1968 Chevrolet Caprice and headed east for the New York music scene. From there they took Europe by storm, touring from Germany to Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and England. The group found itself part of a growing new Eurosound and Vacaville was left wondering what ever happened to those lawnchair guys.

By 1985, the band was no more and all anybody back home had were memories and a few vinyl singles.

Our Daughters Wedding, however, was not to be forgotten and, just a few weeks ago, their never-before-released 22-track CD compilation “Night Life: The Collection” was launched by Almacantar Records and rushed to – where else? – Vacaville Music in greater downtown Vacaville.

This was a breath of fresh air for Our Daughters Wedding aficionados like Vacaville’s Alan Novak, a longtime insider with the electronic rock trio.

“They were pretty phenomenal then and I think they’re still phenomenal now,” said Novak, a driving force behind the CD revival. “They were just great musicians.”

Two of the band members, Layne Rico and Scott Simon, are living in Los Angeles and New Jersey, respectively. Rico is a corporate jet pilot and Simon is raising horses.

Although the pair are no longer the electronic warriors of the 1980s, they’re both excited about the compilation CD and are talking about getting together in February to make some new music.

There’s just one thing missing – Keith Silva has dropped out of sight and neither of his former band mates have been able to locate him.

According to Simon, Silva is believed to have been playing with a small Bay Area band called Monet’s Garden in the late 1980s or early 1990s. He also may have attended Santa Monica College in 1996.

The music, Simon said, won’t be the same without Silva, and he’s hoping someone will know Silva’s whereabouts so Our Daughters Wedding can get together.

Will lawnchairs once again be everywhere?

Ah, if only…

Originally published January 14, 2007

What time is it? Call corporate…

One of the dubious challenges of working at a community newspaper is taking the pulsebeat of local businesses during seasonal flurries of activity when business is anything but business as usual. The Thanskgiving-Christmas season is a good example. So is the topsy-turvy period of retail wackiness surrounding the Presidents’ Day holiday.

These are the times that try ink-stained wretches’ souls, because these are the times that, for the 3,457th time, an editor will blearily raise his or her head from a mustard-stained desk and declare, “Hey, call around to local businesses and see how the (Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year’s-Presidents’ Day) sales are going. What are the hot gifts? Who are they shipping with? What’s the last day I can feed my hamster?”

Twenty or 30 years ago, this was a relatively easy task in communities like Fairfield or Vacaville. The designated reporter could simply pick up the phone and ask the folks at Vacaville Book Company or Fairfield Office Supply how business was going and get a reasonably cordial, and printable, response.

These stories are neither rocket science nor major investigative efforts.

(Major investigative efforts invariably require at least two hours to put together).

No, these stories are the local equivalent of bumping into Joe the Haberdasher on the sidewalk and asking “Hey, how’s it going, Joe?”

But that was then and this is now. Many local businesses are now part of multinational corporations based anywhere but here. The corporations employ local folks, they sell to local customers, but when it comes to asking the local guy “Hey, how’s it going, Mr. Manager-of-a-Nationwide-Franchise-Store?” the sky darkens, thunder rumbles and the timid fellow who answered the phone gets reticent.

“Uh, er, is this for the newspaper? I, ah, can’t talk about that. You’ll have to contact corporate. I can’t talk to the press. I can’t even talk. In fact, I’m not here at all. You must be calling somebody else, ’cause if you were calling me, I wouldn’t have answered. OK? Good-bye. Have a nice day…”

Corporate paranoia – don’t ya just love it?

The biggest problem with this kind of approach to the dreaded news media – at least on a local basis – is that “corporate” is invariably based in Dallas, Chicago, New York or New Delhi. Those folks can tell the hometown newspaper about national sales figures and new products, but they’re rarely in touch with what’s happening with the franchise store on Harbison Drive or North Texas Street.

Worse, many of the locals who timidly refer the hometown newspaper bum to “corporate” have absolutely no idea of how to reach “corporate.”

What happens at this point? One of two things: The reporter either spends the rest of the day trying to get someone at corporate to speak 10 words that might loosely apply to their Vacaville outlet, or the reporter gets thoroughly frustrated with the whole process after four or five hours and simply gives up.

I realize, of course, that some of you out there may not agree with my assessment of this rather complex situation.

Hey, no problem. Call corporate…

Originally published January 7, 2007