Thursday, December 30, 2010

Pepper Spray v. Smelling Salts: A Cure for the Legal Vapors

I'll be the first to admit that it is often hard to reconcile a mannerly Southern upbringing with the day-to-day life of a criminal defense attorney.  If a gal didn't find some way to deal with the constant insanity and circus-like atmosphere of District Court, she'd stay laid out with the vapors like Aunt Pitty Pat when a "mourning" Scarlett danced the Virginia Reel with Rhett.  The already overworked bailiffs would have to pack smelling salts next to their pepper spray...and I think we can all agree that would be a disaster waiting to happen.

I remember when I started at the firm and got my first court appointed client.  The gentleman was a...guest...of the New Hanover County Jail and I packed up to go and see him right away.  Interestingly, I wasn't nervous about going to the jail, but I was terribly nervous that the man was counting on me to help him. 

Somehow, my mother caught wind of the news that I was heading to "Time Out for Grown-ups" (thank you Baby Belle 1) and I can almost hear her dulcet tones to this very day:  "STEVE!  You aren't letting your daughter go to the jail with...with...criminals!"

I also remember my father stepping safely out of swinging distance when he answered in carefully measured tones, "Well, Bonnie, she's a lawyer.  It's what she's supposed to do."

Indeed.  It was blunt, but no one has ever accused my father of flowery prose:  I'm a lawyer and it's what I am supposed to do.  Accordingly, I scurried down to the jail and I zealously represented my client in court.  I continued to represent my client in court for his next twenty-three charges, although I admit to growing a little suspect at his uncanny ability to being in the wrong place at the wrong time so very often.

I chanted my little mantra fervently when a client of mine became frustrated with the Judge's inability to get her name right during a guilty plea.  In what I can only describe as desperate attempt to provide a reference point, she ripped open her shirt and pointed to her name that was, in fact, tattooed across her ample bosom.

When I tried an assault and theft case between two manicurists and had to introduce a bag full of fake fingernails as evidence--thereby causing the judge, the bailiff, the courtroom clerk and the court reporter to jump back in disgust and horror--I calmly told myself that I was a lawyer and I was doing what I was supposed to do.

I tried to chant the mantra through the searing pain and suffocation of an accidental snoot-full of pepper spray.  I was unlucky enough to stand next to an inmate who--for some reason--thought that being wrist and ankle shackled, clad in a neon orange jumper sporting the fashionable "Inmate" logo and being surrounded by bailiffs in a secure courthouse would be an ideal time to make a break for it.

I really tried to chant when my cross-examination innocently re-kindled the ire that two hookers felt for their pimp (think Martin and Aykroyd's "Wild and Crazy Guys" skit) as they exited the courthouse, but I was laughing too hard.

The truth is, boys and belles, that being a lawyer is a serious business.  For every funny story, there are two heart wrenching tales where you're left feeling like you didn't do enough and you carry the hurt home with you in your heart.  Every lawyer has their own survival skill and I guess that mine is looking for the humor in the insane situations that my job so prolifically provides.

Accordingly, I will submit to you that a Southern hothouse flower has no choice but to blossom into a steel magnolia if she wants to make it in this business.  Wait...let's make that "diamond magnolia" instead.  Diamonds are even tougher than steel and I think we can all agree that they suit a girl much better.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Parents' Weapons of Last Resort: Pro Wrestlers and Firepower

When it comes your children, there is a very fine line between being a cool parent and being "like totally embarrassing."  I wish there was a definitive age where children change from "Mama can do no wrong" status to ""Dear God, please rid me of this albatross around my neck" status so that parents can at least prepare for the inevitable.

My misspent youth was particularly painful when it came to parental embarrassment because I am born of very sadistic people who actively went out of their way to mortify me for their own amusement.  I'm sure you're thinking, "Oh, hogwash, Ashley!  Everyone thinks that their situation is the worst!"  Probably, boys and belles, but at least let me state my case:

To the best of my recollection, I started walking either three steps ahead of or three steps behind my parents around about seventh grade because that was when a kid moved to junior high school in the Stone Age.  The stupid boy/girl cat and mouse game started, the pretty girls got to be cheerleaders and the boys got to wow us with their phenomenal hackey sack skills and brightly colored shirts sporting surfboard wax logos (not unlike the male peacock prancing around to woo the peahens).  There were also those terrible, traumatic, horrible dances in the school gym. 

Oh God, I just threw up a little in my mouth at the very thought of those dances, but I shall persevere.

Waaay back in the day, my parents and their friends threw raucous birthday parties for each other.  For my mother's fortieth birthday there was a port-a-potty dropped on our front lawn amid about two hundred plastic flamingos brought in specially for the grand occasion.  Those wild birthday parties included gag gifts and my dad ended up being the proud owner of a Harley Davidson t-shirt while my mother was, for some reason, given a bright red Dusty Rhodes "The American Dream" t-shirt.

Gentle Reader:  If you don't recognize the name Dusty Rhodes, please proceed immediately to Google and look his ass up because I could tell you that he was a pro wrestler, but pitiful words simply don't do him justice.

For some sick and depraved reason, my parents thought that it would be more fun than a barrel of monkeys to pick me up from dances, the movies, slumber parties and most any other social event you can think of wearing the aforementioned shirts.  On really special occasions, Dad would add a blue bandanna do-rag and the scruffy beginnings of a beard.  It's possible that he added a fake earring to the ensemble once, but I'm not sure if that really happened or if it was just a nightmare.

Fodder for a therapy?  Going with my parents to a Willie Nelson concert when I was eleven years old and witnessing my father standing on a chair in the middle of Trask Coliseum wearing his Harley gear and hollering, "PLAY WHISKEY RIVER FOR ME, WILLIE!"  My own little "Freebird" moment.

Dad really kicked things up a notch when the whole dating scene came around.  My father is an avid hunter (if it flies, it dies) and he has more shotguns than a pawn shop at Christmas.  Right before the appointed time of my date's arrival, he would lay all of his shotguns out in the living room because they allegedly needed to be cleaned right that minute.  When the unsuspecting young man entered the house, he could then survey all of the firepower combined with Dad doing his best John Wayne impression while cleaning the barrel of a gun, "Curfew is 11:00.  Not 11:01 and not 11:00 and 59 seconds.  Clear?"

They were usually pretty clear.

So, I know all too well that the time is coming when my baby belles will be either accidentally or intentionally embarrassed by their mother.  I guess I have no choice but to embrace the shame like those before me.  I'm thinking that the 21st Century's answer to the Dusty Rhodes t-shirt is might be Steven Seagal...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ice Possums and Other Anomalies

There are tons of reasons why I live in the South.  Of course, I was born and bred here, so I certainly feel at home.  Also, I respect most of the traditions of polite Southern society--even though many folks in this day and age might call them archaic--and I want my baby belles to grow up with the same appreciation.  No one will have cause to ask my children if they had, in fact, been raised in a barn (a sentiment that crosses my mind more than once when I see other people's kids at Monkey Joe's).

Nonetheless, there is a more...pedestrian...reason for my homesteading on the coast of North Carolina:  I don't do cold.

My amazingly fantastic and wonderful paralegal (who I would hold hostage if she ever tried to quit) is from a small New York town that borders a lake with Canada.  What I am able to gather from her horror stories is that the town's summer usually consists of one Tuesday afternoon in mid-July and the reason residents don't pack up and move the hell away is because the snow is blocking all ingress and egress to and from their homes.  The fact that my paralegal made it out and lived to tell the tale is a testament to her mind-blowing persistence.

So, if I completely lose my mind and decide that I want to spend the rest of my life freezing to death, rest assured that I will pull up my tent and move somewhere where it is supposed to get cold.  As it stands now, I am cold weather milquetoast:  Anything in the forty degree range is severe winter weather and anything in the thirty degree range is a catastrophic portent of the next Ice Age.  We need not even discuss temperatures less than thirty degrees.

Not only do I not like the cold weather, I don't function in it.  If there is a threat of ice, I won't even venture to my mailbox and you can completely forget about driving.  When Scott and I moved to Smithfield, North Carolina so that I could attend law school (I call it "doing time in Smithfield"), we had a tremendous and unexpected snow.  Scott thought that the blizzard from Hell would be a good opportunity to teach me how to handle a car in winter weather.  The lesson consisted of him driving us to an empty parking lot and me screaming in terror for the whopping half lap I operated the Jeep.

So, I am admittedly thin skinned when it comes to the cold, but I also think there is another reason I shy away from snow and ice:  I am a klutz (see Failing Grace, et seq).  I can fall on a sidewalk in perfectly nice weather with no catalyst in sight, so why in the hell would I risk my life to walk on a path covered in ice?   

Back when I was young and under the impression that I was bulletproof, my family took a couple of ski vacations to Colorado.  Believe it or not, I enjoyed skiing, but stopping was a bitch.  On our third trip out to there, I was so excited about hitting the slopes that I shot out to squeeze in one quick run before things closed up for the day.  As usual, I was overeager and not at all mindful of the fact that I should take my first run slow to get back into the groove.

I found myself sailing down the path on my skis and actually enjoying the cold on my face and the feel of the snowflakes on my eyelashes.  I was so into it that I completely forgot about the sharp left turn on the path.  If a skier didn't make that left turn, they had a very, very, very long drop in their future and I was going way too fast to either make the turn or stop in time.  As the drop off loomed ahead of me, there was only one option:  Stop abruptly by diving head first into the snow. 

Anyone who tells you that Colorado powder is "so light and fluffy and soft" has obviously never hit the ski brakes with their face.  So, there I was...face down and so very uncool.  I have one hard and fast rule born on those Aspen slopes that applies to all klutzes in all embarrassing and klutzy situations:  If you fall, stay down, don't move and don't speak.  People will be less likely to laugh at you if they think that you are seriously injured or dead.

I played possum until the Ski Patrol showed up and I got a ride down the mountain with a lovely young fellow by the name of Adam.  I can also tell you that the Ashley Culbreth Council Possum Pose worked a charm for my little brother who--during that very same ski trip--accidentally skied straight into the basement of a slope-side restaurant. 

Those long ago ski vacations--lovely though they were--cemented my belief that I am not meant for any sort of "adverse winter weather conditions" (to quote one of those overly made-up women on The Weather Channel).  So, why in the world I was out driving around in the horror that was today's weather?  It's Santa's fault.  Santa screwed up and brought only one of the baby belles a pair of sheep slippers (the other one already has a pair of frog slippers) whereupon there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in covetousness.  Mama hauled ass at first light this morning and finally found what must be the last pair of lamb slippers in the Northern Hemisphere at the Monkey Junction Harris Teeter and--no--I do not live anywhere near the Monkey Junction Harris Teeter.

There you have it:  I braved today's blizzard for my beautiful (spoiled) baby belles and Santa will be hearing from my lawyer.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"Southern Living" Christmas Propaganda

Those of you who know me are aware of the fact that I am a bit of a bah humbug around the holidays.  I realize that I could get kicked out of the South for admitting that to you, but there it is nonetheless. 

Christmas in the South is supposed to look like the cover of Southern Living Magazine's holiday edition.  Our dining room tables are supposed to glow in ethereal light from the flickering candles held in sterling silver candelabras.  Glittered pinecones and other yard debris should be artfully scattered about amongst the good china thereby giving the appearances of a winter wonderland.  Whatever mystery meat strikes your fancy should either be coated in oil or honey so that it is very shiny and it should sport the mandatory red cherries decorated in a crisscross pattern across the top and--if you want to go the extra mile--you could slap a ring of pineapple on on it as well.

Every flat surface in your house should hold some sort of nutcracker, be-ribboned bowl of pecans or silver tureen overflowing with clove oranges.  When my brother and I were little, one of my mother's "fun" Christmas projects involved us shoving cloves through thick orange skins.  It smelled nice enough, but I still have calluses on my fingers to this day as a result of that little family project.

Another family project involved buying wood birdhouses, covering them with pasty icing strong enough to adhere tiles firmly to the space shuttle and decorate them with candy.  We gave them to our friends so that they could enjoy a "gingerbread house" for Christmas and then have a birdhouse for the rest of the year.  Adorable, n'est ce-pas?  Nice enough, but assigning that project to a six year old and a ten year old is ill-advised in light of the fact that they will be decorating with candy.  Ethan and I looked like Lucy and Ethel at the conveyor belt of the chocolate factory.  To this very day, I can't look at a candy house without getting a wee queasy.

Then, of course, there is the Christmas food.  Here in Wilmington, we have have all kinds of different traditions.  There is the Christmas Oyster Roast (I do not recommend going that route while pregnant).  There is the Christmas Flounder:  A tradition started during the Great Depression when it was a hell of a lot cheaper to go out to the sound and gig a big 'ol flounder than spring for a turkey or ham.  There is also Christmas Spaghetti which is a favorite in the Council household because we are all completely sick to death of holiday food by the time Christmas rolls around that same vein...there are Christmas Fajitas. 

Of course, we have all of our different preferences for Christmas meals, but whether you go turkey, cow, pig or tofu...wait, scratch that--we are below the Mason Dixon Line, after all.  Anyway, no matter what a Southerner chooses to put at their Christmas table, we all agree on fixing it the exact same way:  Rent a flat-bed truck, go to Costco, fill the truck with all of the butter they have, go home and start cookin'.

I remember one year where I was assigned to bring the collards to Christmas dinner.  My grandmother and great-aunt literally interviewed me for about half an hour with regard to my collard cooking methods.  They were greatly disturbed by my admission to cooking the collards with chicken boullion instead of fatback (I ill-advisedly submitted to questioning outside the presence of counsel).  Rather than suffer the indignity of having collard privileges taken from me, I told Grandma and Aunt Louise that I would do things their way.  When the appointed day came, I cooked the collards with chicken boullion and threw in a hambone after the fact for show.  They loved my collards.

Of course, having my little Baby Belles is oh-so-slowly--but surely--bringing me around to holiday cheer.  Rather than throw my hands up in frustration when Baby Belle 2 can't resist wearing the garland thereby pulling the Christmas tree down on top of herself, I calmly untangle her and set the tree up like a bowling pin for the next inevitable round.  What it all boils down to, boys and belles, is that you can't help but catch some of their innocent Christmas wonder.  Plus, it's really damn fun to torment them with the Elf on the Shelf.

Ho to the Ho-Ho, ya'll.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Okay, time to address the elephant in the room:  I am a lawyer.  Yes, yes, I probably should have prepared you better for that information if you weren't able to ascertain that little nugget from every single blog that I have thus far written.

When I lost my damn mind and thought I wanted to go to law school, I had the delusion that I knew what I was getting myself into.  I'd worked in a law office in some form or fashion since I was in high school, so I smugly assumed that I was familiar with all of the ups, downs, ins and outs of  being an attorney.  It wasn't until after I became an attorney that I discovered a truth that no one could have prepared me for:  Never tell someone that you're a lawyer.

"Well duh," I'm sure you are saying to yourself, "No one likes lawyers.  There are a billion jokes about attorneys crawling around at the bottom of the ocean and all that."

True, those of us in the legal profession are used the trite hatred of the lawyer/ambulance chaser/shark so that it is little more than water off a duck's back in this day and age.  That's not what I'm talking about.  In my ten years of practice, I have discovered that--in social settings--when folks find out that you are an attorney, they react either one of two ways:  (1) You become an instant party favor;  or (2) They become scared shitless of you.

It pushes the bounds of my civility to be introduced to someone as an attorney only to see a fevered gleam in their eye.  I can promise you that they are going to ask me every legal question that has crossed their mind throughout their entire life.  They really think that they are getting one over on me and having a free session of legal advice. 

Let me assure you that I have no desire to attend a wedding reception only to be stuck in the corner with the bride's cousin Bill, discussing his landlord tenant issues.  I did not go to a Fourth of July celebration to hear all about how Betsy's ex is cheating her on alimony.  I would much rather watch my child dance in her recital than sit in the audience trying to ascertain whether or not Florence's sister has bought a lemon.

When little law students graduate law school, pass the bar exam and swim out into the world to be lawyers, there are two big issues fighting for time in our afraid heads:  Being clueless as to how to pay back student loans roughly the amount of the national deficit of a mid-sized African nation and the boogeyman named Malpractice.  Instead of being the greedy money seekers that society assumes, most of us are trying to pay our debts, keep the doors open in spite of the enormous overhead it takes to run a law office and giving in to the occasional need to buy groceries.  Additionally, if one learns nothing else from their three years in law school, they know not to give out random legal advice because it could very well come back to bite you in the tooshie.

I used to worry over it when I was wet behind the ears.  These days, I say, "Gosh, you should probably see an attorney for that" with the unspoken sentiment being that the Legal Aid sign fell off my back a long time ago and those student loan payments have not gone away.

What I am trying to say, boys and belles, is that there is a time and a place for everything.  I certainly wouldn't walk up to a dermatologist at church and ask him to take a look at the mole on my thigh because it would be inappropriate.  Manners, dammit!  Manners!  We're Southerners for God's sake!

Now for the scared shitless part of the program:  Yes, I am an attorney and, yes, attorneys do occasionally sue people.  However, I don't wear my attorney hat all of the time.  I'm a mom, a wife a daughter, a get the idea.  So when I ask a question such as "Do you know where I can find my kid?" I am not implying that she is being poorly supervised while playing on a pile of asbestos and making a mural with lead paint.  Please don't go all wide-eyed and stutter and stammer--I just want to locate my child and go home.  No litigation necessary.

A few years ago, I was waiting in an exam room at the doctor's office.  The doc was late and the nurse left my chart right there on the counter, so I felt compelled to while away the time by perusing my medical details.  I saw the section written in red ink, highlighted in yellow and starred alerting the reader to my litany of drug allergies.  Good practice.  I next saw the portion written with the exact same urgency:  "PATIENT IS AN ATTORNEY."  What, so you were planning on examining my ear with a knife, but since I'm a lawyer you'll use the scope? Sweet baby Jesus.

Trust me when I tell you that you will know when I sue you, but it will be done professionally with "pleases," "no sirs" and "yes ma'ams" because I am a Southern lady and I am well bred.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A New Southern Gentleman: Wild Turkeys and Mermaids

My poor, poor husband.  He's a real man's man.  He earned a Mechanical Engineering degree from NC State. He hunts, fishes, loves cars, and is a die hard tinkerer.  As my baby belles like to say (much to my husband's delight), "Daddy can fix anything!" 

His technically and mechanically challenged in-laws love him as a person and certainly as the father of their only grandchildren, but the fact that Scott can program a remote control, figure out why a red light is flashing in the dashboard of a car and re-boot a computer makes the man completely indispensable.  As a result, if things between me and Scott ever hit the rocks (God forbid), I can't honestly say where loyalties would fall.  My flesh and blood brother even confessed to having a dream that Scott and I split up and, rather than having concern for his sister, his first thought was "Who's going to fix our stuff?"  Heartwarming.  Really.

Bear all of the aforementioned in mind when I tell you that Scott is the only man in our house.  It all started when I got pregnant with Baby Belle 1.  There was no question in my mind that we were having a boy.  Scott has a large family and there are boys all over the place, so the odds just weren't in my favor.  Early on in my pregnancy, I took a trip to New York City with my mom.  In between  morning sickness barfing sessions, we went to Saks and Barney's and Bergdorf's and all I could do was look at the beautiful little girl clothes with longing.  I'm sorry, but girl clothes are so much more fun than boy clothes--you can't do but so many green frogs, brown bears and baseballs.

So, when we had our ultrasound and the technician told us that we were having a girl...well, you could have blown my paper draped, gooey gel-coated self right off the exam table.  My mind immediately filled with pink and feathers and sparkles and...well, anything you would probably see on the costume rack at a drag show.  Scott kept reminding me of the technician's admonition that there was always room for error on the test, but the pink kept right on pouring in.  It got so insane at one point that I waddled all over Beverly Hills and Melrose at Month Seven of my pregnancy when I ostensibly went to visit my brother in California.

In fact, there were so many frills and ruffles that I had one of those legendary "Crazy Pregnancy Dreams" that our house was being attacked by fuzzy pink bunnies and Gene Simmons--in full Kiss gear--showed up to save us from the rabbit menace.

As I am sure you can probably imagine, things only got frillier when our daughter actually arrived.  Scott was in love and wrapped around her little finger from the moment she was brought into the world.  Even though he looked a teeny little bit incongruous amongst all of the beads, baubles and other sparkles, he bore it manfully and even learned a few Disney Princess songs and sounded darn good when he sang 'em.  Bless him.

When Baby Bell 1 got older, she and her daddy tag-teamed me about getting a dog.  I capitulated upon the conditions that we get a small dog (less mess) and a female (I'd read somewhere that female dogs were better with children).  That's how a Chihuahua named Desdemona Muffetts Council (a/k/a "The Destroyer" and "The Ferret") came into our lives.  I really don't know what in the hell I was thinking that a small dog would make less mess; she's six pounds of pure fury.

But I digress...

Then came time for Baby  Belle 2.  I knew without a doubt in the world that I was having a boy that time.  There were just too many boy Councils in the family for the "Female Fluke" to happen twice.  In addition to the certainty of the male odds, Murphy's Law itself dictated that all of the dazzle-licious frufru-ness we already had would be rendered useless by the arrival of a little dude.

When yet another ultrasound showed a second little belle on the  While joyful visions of fairy wings and tiaras immediately started dancing in my head, the extremely unhelpful ultrasound technician said, "Just think, Dad:  When your wife is going into menopause, your two girls will be starting puberty!"  Every last drop of color drained from my hubby's face as the reality of that assinine statement set in.  I could have killed her, but death would have been too kind.

So, Baby Belle 2 made her very dramatic entrance and Scott immediately got lost in her beautiful blue eyes and the Council house became completely immersed and bedazzled in pink fluff and Barbies.  Even the second animal addition to the family--a multi-breed dog named Lola--was a female.  In the interest of full disclosure, we do have two frogs and I have no idea what sex they are, but they have been named Martha and Fufu, so they're girls by default.

So, boys and belles, allow me to introduce you to the epitome of a Southern Gentleman:  A man who can shoot a wild turkey or shoot the breeze at a tea party.  A man who can turn his daughter into a mermaid just as easily as he can fish for flounder.  A man who never met something he couldn't fix, from a car engine to a pink princess microphone.  A man who can walk a hot pink rhinestone collared and leopard coat clad Chihuahua and be secure in his manhood while doing it. 

Just to top it all off, Scott was on a hunting trip and all of the men were commiserating about the pointlessness of arguing with their wives.  Scott said, "How do you think I feel?  I'm married to a lawyer!"

Bless him.

Friday, December 17, 2010

PSA: Give your kid a fighting chance! Don't name him Leather or Bangkok.

Well, Belles and Boys, we're not going to delve too deep today,  It's hard enough for me to think deep thoughts on a "normal" day, let alone a day when I have a nasty head cold.  I will consider it a victory if I see this post lucidly to its conclusion. 

Names.  That's it:  Names.  In my ten years of legal practice, I have come to the conclusion that the name a parent bestows upon their child can pre-determine a lot about that child's future.  Celebrities these days love to generate publicity for themselves by ruining their children's lives and naming them things like Pilot, Apple and Moxie Crimefighter (all 100% real).  I'm sure it would come as a great surprise to the self-centered spotlight hogs that the bizarro name game didn't originate with them, but here in the South.

Just running through some of the names in my own family makes a person wonder what in the world was going on in the heads of my ancestors at the births of their children.  On one side alone, I've got Mutt, Pearly Moot, Sarge, Mort and Doggie.  What's even more nuts is the fact that I grew up thinking that those names were perfectly normal.  It wasn't until I was in high school and talking to a friend who had transferred from parts North about mailing graduation invitations and she snarfed her drink all over the cafeteria table that I realized that something might be amiss.

In the legal arena, I've noticed a trend with in criminal court.  A darned lot of them have these crazy assed names and--maybe I'm just so trained as a criminal defense attorney that I automatically look for explanations and excuses--but I really think that their name as a lot to do with it.  Imagine naming a kid "Fish," "Aquanetta Cleopatra," "Evanescence Rain" or "Fox Chase" and you can imagine their backstory without ever actually knowing them.

A bouncing baby boy was saddled with the name Chevrolet at birth.  School playgrounds and parks can be cruel places for any kid (every last one of us could probably benefit from a therapy session over something that happened in the jungle gym when we were little), but for Chevrolet...yowsa.  More likely than not, Chevrolet's situation plays out one of two ways:  He becomes the bully so that no one would be dumb enough to pick on him or he gets picked on mercilessly and seeks revenge later when he has the ways and means as an adult.  Either way, it nudges a kid a step closer to knocking over a liquor store. 

Now for the politically correct disclaimer:  I am not making categorical statements about the Feathers, Charmins, Hogs and Snakes out there.  I have no doubt that there is a Cashmere or Cougar out in the world who has chosen to become a one name pop star like Cher, Usher or Madonna instead of turning into a one man or woman crime wave and more power to 'em.

P.S.:  I'm not afraid to pick on my own name either.  It's so unoriginal that I went to school with about 16 other Ashley's.  Also, do you know of any old people named Ashley?  Me either.  It's odd.  Seriously odd.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

FAILING GRACE (or Death By Hoop Skirt)

Ahhh, the South.  Just hearing the word brings to mind great big porches with swings and rocking chairs holding ladies while they sip on their iced tea (or a stiff Bourbon if you're talking about my family).  Yes, trite though it may be, even us Southerners like to think of ourselves that way.  We are a society steeped in tradition and we love to be associated with the notions of gentility and grace.

Grace.  That's the kicker.  I may be stepping on toes here, but it is my opinion that the art of being graceful in thought, word and deed is more the Southern Lady's burden to bear.  I'm sure you can agree that ambulating in a hoop skirt without causing great harm to people and property takes a powerful amount of grace as does the ability to stay smiling and social at a garden party in ninety degree heat and one hundred percent humidity with mosquitoes reenacting the Blitzkrieg around you. 

Many a Southern female likes to be rewarded for her grace as evidenced by the number of pageant contestants voluntarily competing annually for honest-to-God real titles of "Little Miss Shrimp" and "Pickle Queen."  I can only presume that those particular pageants have fantastic "scholarships" or at least super duper sparkly crowns.

Steel Magnolias and all that.

Unfortunately, "Grace" means something entirely different in my family.  Grace is my very, very, very ironic nickname.  I first heard the name when I was five years old and tripped on the sidewalk, breaking my arm in three places.  Yep...had to start kindergarten with a cast from my hand to my shoulder.

Just a few short years later, the nickname really stuck during a summer trip that my family took to New England.  We had been driving for the majority of the day and, let me assure you, riding in a car is a tiring business with my father slamming on breaks and swerving to avoid as he called it "those damned crazy driving Yankees."  We stopped in New Hampshire or Vermont or some quaint place for lunch where we actually succeeded in ordering iced tea without people looking at us as though we were bat shit crazy.  I was really pooped and I honestly don't know exactly how it happened, but I simply forgot that I was holding my nice tall glass of iced tea and it went crashing to the floor.

Over the years, there were tennis injuries, basketball injuries, boating injuries, some seriously impressive skiing accidents and then some just plain 'ol walking around and tripping/running into something injuires.  I know that my poor orthopaedic surgeon rued the day he moved into the house behind ours.

Then came The Day.  The day that every sixteen year-old girl in Wilmington, North Carolina dreams about.  I got to be an Azalea Belle.  I'd grown up watching the beautiful girls decorating the lawn parties and show gardens with their big hoop skirt dresses and their hair done up in ringlets.  I was finally going to get to be a graceful Southern lady!

I showed up all primped and fluffed for the opening ceremony that kicked off the Garden Tour.  We were at a beautiful house on Forest Hills Drive that could have easily been Scarlett's Tara.  The Belles were supposed to line the perimeter of the of the garden during the ceremony.  I took my place in my peach taffeta Belle dress, pulled on my white gloves and got ready to stand there and be pretty.  I would have done a fantastic job of it, too, if some damned cat hadn't climbed up under my hoop skirt.

I am seriously allergic to cats and cats must know that because they go out of their way to come into contact with me.  There were one hundred other Belles that Hello Kitty could have chosen to take shade under, but the little bastard had to pick me.  My legs were starting to itch as the cat wove in and out around my ankles and then it decided to bat at the skirt so that it looked like I had a Gremlin under my dress.  Video of the fateful day tends to give the impression that I was having some sort of seizure.

So, that did it.  That was the day that I gave up any illusion that I could possibly be a graceful Southern lady.  I don't even try anymore.  So, yes, Criminal Defendant Person, your lawyer did just fall out of her chair while you were in the waiting room and she may have stumbled a couple of times on the way to the Courthouse, but--believe it or not--she's sober and she doesn't need coordination to run her mouth.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Mama, what do you do?"

"I'm a lawyer, pumpkin."

"What's a lawyer, Mama?"

Bugger.  Becoming a parent means that you place yourself on the line for all sorts of uncomfortable--yet inevitable--questions asked at very random and usually inconvenient times.  For some reason, my six year old daughter is particularly fond of shooting zingers at the back of my head as we travel down the road on the way to school in the mornings.  I'm usually rushing and trying to keep us from getting creamed on the road and consequently have precious little cognitive ability to spare.

Granted, I probably should have anticipated and planned a little better for this one.  How in the world do I describe what an attorney does to a first grader?  I mean, I want her to still like me when I get done. 

Of course,  we do have hedge fund administrators and corporate bankers to thank for replacing us at the tippy top of the "World's Most Hated List," but lawyer jokes are still plenty I am grudgingly reminded at all sorts of social gatherings.  Seriously, joking with a doctor about Medicare fraud would go over like a fart in church.  It cuts both ways, buddy!

I feverishly scrolled through the dusty files in my head as I tried to come up with some sort of example of my work that would instantly make my daughter see me as a super hero.  Zippo.  Nada.  Nothing. 

The things a person sees in and around Criminal District's stuff you couldn't make up no matter how hard you tried.  Folks will wear anything, say anything and do anything.  A gal could attend thousands of cotillions and achieve a veritable Ph.D. in white glove classes, but until Emily Post comes out with an etiquette book offering guidance as to acceptable deportment for hooker sting operations, we are all cast into the wind to simply fare the best we can.

The first week of my law career, I was sent into the firm library to review about two hundred porn tapes in order to determine whether or not a client was illicitly filmed on them.  Not exactly something you can look back on at the end of your day and say "job well done."  I don't remember how many showers I had to take to get over that very, very, very gross afternoon. 

Things haven't really improved all that much since then. 

So here I am, barreling down the road at the veritable crack of dawn trying to come up with something g-rated to tell my darling girl about what I do every day:  "Sugar, when folks get into trouble, lawyers try to help them."

"Ohhhhhhhh, like super heros...but where are your capes and tights and costumes?"

"Well my love, Mama is waiting on Emily Post to tell her what is acceptable."