Philadelphia Metropolis


I Used to Be a Lawyer

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By Philip Dryden

Before I open my eyes I hear the rain, steady and unforgiving.  It's still dark out but I know I have to get up, up and out and make it to court without the help of an umbrella, which I know is rolling around somewhere, but certainly not within conscious access.

I used to be a lawyer, worked here in Philadelphia, hewed the wood, got up early and worked late.  I ran from courtroom to courtroom, prepped my cases like a mother, shouted out closing arguments into the uncomprehending air as I walked my dog.  I also drank like a fish, snapped at my family, and went into psychotic rages when the Eagles lost.  I gulped down Tums and Zantex as if I owned stock in them; closed my eyes at night and felt my heart racing.

Sad Man 2.jpgTo get to sleep I would imagine that I was Robert Kennedy after he had been shot - his heart had kept its rhythmic beat for over a day after his brain had stopped functioning.  Imagining that I was RFK, that the heart would eventually slow down and that I would then be released into oblivion, seemed to help.  I used to be a lawyer.  And some days - like today, when it is raining like a slow and steady diarrhea - I must get up and go to court and be a lawyer again.  I try to keep it all limited, do only court appointments to help pay the bills.

"You're back," people say.

"Not really," I say.

"How's the book coming along?"

"Great.  Just great."

The book is not coming along at all, it being a mere invention created to explain the unexplainable act of quitting a job that brought in money and a certain amount of acclaim.  Success, some would call it, although my man Bob Dylan says there's no success like failure, and I know exactly what he means.

Arriving at court I remember why it is that I fled from this place.  Discontent oozes from all sources - from the clerks who perpetually roll their eyes as they count down the magic number of days until retirement; from the cops who feel under-appreciated and overworked; from the judges who complain about a never ending backlog; from the lawyers who try to keep their minds on their cars or their next vacation and away from what it is they do day after day, year after year.  It isn't just that nobody is happy.  Here, even the concept of happiness seems highly suspect, some fruity idea from antediluvian times. 

"Donte Jackson," the clerk calls, and I perk up.

But my client isn't here. Instead, he is off in Delaware County where he is enjoying the good services of their prison thanks to a tiff with his baby's mom, who is present and who accosts me in the hallway, demanding to know why in hell her man is in jail anyway.

I explain that he is in jail - in another county - because she called the police and told them that he pointed a gun at her and her baby, threatening to kill them both.

"I ain't listening to this," she says.

Since I am being supplied by the city at no cost to her or her baby's father, she decides I can be of no use and throws some old familiar words at me:  "I'm gonna get me a real lawyer."

I feel like hugging her, like telling her, How could you tell?  You're right, I'm not a real lawyer!  You're right, you're right!

I leave the courthouse no richer, but undeniably freer.  I might have been a lawyer, and a "real" one, for the rest of my life if it hadn't been for a discussion about a blood test and biopsies, the kind of discussion that changes everything, even if it actually ends up changing nothing. 

At home I brew a cup of tea and get to work on a review of a reissue of a Charlie (Bird) Parker record.  I take my time, because it's an important subject to me and I want to get it right.  I'd like it if it caused somebody to check Bird out.

I'll make fifty dollars, a fraction of the amount I used to bill out for a ten-minute missive spewing some vituperative point of view that I had been paid to espouse.

Was I a success then, and not now?

"A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do."  Dylan again.  Dylan knows a thing or two.


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