Friday, April 29, 2011

A Letter to My Girls About Yucky 'Ol Boys

To my Precious Baby Belles:

I write to you today because your mama has some very important guidance to impart and it should therefore be memorialized in writing.  (I’m a lawyer, what do you expect?)  Although your daddy would like to pretend that the day will never come, two beautiful and engaging angels such as yourselves will certainly draw the attention of the opposite sex (yes, gross ol’ boys).  Rather than leave you completely unprepared for the inevitable onslaught, I’d like to give you a few guidelines to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

First and foremost, please remember at all times that you are Southern Belles and therefore well bred.  You act mannerly and gracious to everyone, so why in the world would you go for a man that that doesn’t act the same? 

Chivalry isn’t dead although it might need a couple of shocks with the paddles and an Epi injection.  A man should open the door for you, hold your seat for you, offer his coat if you’re freezing and look you in the eye when he’s talking to you.  Furthermore, he most certainly shouldn’t have to be told or guided to be polite.  A man who has to be told to act with respect isn’t worthy of your respect (although you’ll still be nice to him anyway because manners are in your DNA). 

This next part is a little tricky because the pendulum can swing too far one way or the other:  A fella needs to care about how he looks.  There’s no point in trying that My Fair Lady method of taking coal and turning it into a diamond.  Yeah, he might clean up good for a minute or two, but he will always find his way back to his “comfortable pants,” his ratty t-shirts, scruffy hair and—God forbid—he might even start smelling a little ripe.  Run, my child, run and don’t look back!

Conversely, you don’t want a man who cares too much about how he looks.  Just like the scruffy boys who carry a high risk of getting scruffier and scruffier, a lad who is too dapper could turn positively foppish.  I do so hate to throw around pop culture terms, but a metrosexual is something you want to avoid when looking for a mate in life.  Yes, he might smell better, but you run the risk of being the one tapping your foot in the hall and glancing at your watch as you wait for him to conclude his toilette.  Furthermore, someone that picky about his appearance could start to take issue with your appearance and he should then be shot.

It is important that the man you meet is his own person, but it matters equally if not more that you feel you can be your own person around him as well.  Relationships that start off with a lie quickly turn into relationships that have a great big elephant in the room.  For God’s sake, don’t pretend to like something just to fake common ground with him.  If you find football to be a glacially slow and confusing sport, fess up!  Otherwise, you will find yourself freezing your ass off on various bleachers throughout the land and/or nearly dying of boredom watching the Saturday/Sunday/Monday game on a couch infested with potato chips.  Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Also, if you like something, don’t be afraid to speak up for fear that it will turn a guy off.  You like historical documentaries?  Good for you!  He doesn’t have to watch them if he doesn’t want to, but he’d better gracefully leave you to it.  He’d best get used to your mind-boggling intelligence if he has any hope of tagging along behind you on the trails you blaze.  On that note, you want a man with enough mental capacity to at least get within sight of your brilliance...playing with the dumb ones gets boring after a fashion.

Jealousy.  Yes, jealousy is another touchy subject.  We’re only human and, on occasion, it is affirming to see the extent of your gentleman’s interest in you and ladies as fantastic as the two of you will most certainly garner the interest of more than one Y chromosome.  A little flare-up of a man’s passion is one thing, but there is a fine line between simple protectiveness and knuckle dragging chest banging.  Like I said, you’re drop dead gorgeous and a catch equivalent to Harry Potter’s golden snitch, so the man you are with had damned well better get used to others’ interest and trust you enough to deal with it appropriately.

Furthermore, you are my children, so I am certain that you have very strong beliefs and opinions about things (to be fair, you get a healthy dose of that from your daddy’s side as well).  You are entitled to believe what you believe and he’s entitled to believe what he believes.  The two of you don’t have to agree with each other (it actually makes things more interesting if you don’t), but you need to respect each other’s freedom to have your own opinions and, if he talks down to you or dismisses your beliefs, feel free to slap the shit out of him before you turn around and walk out of his life.

Of course, there is much, much more.  You will no doubt hear from me again.  I will leave you with something that you taught me.  We (Baby Belle 1 and I) were sitting on the playground watching some girls chase the boys around the slides. 

As we watched the fevered activity, you said, “I don’t chase boys.”

I asked, “Why?”

You answered very calmly and matter-of-factly, “Because I don’t have to.”

That, my dears, is how you should live your lives.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Haggis Fairy

**Note:  I realize that this entry may not be viewed as "timely," but I'm a rule flouting maverick.  Just Watch--I might even do a Christmas blog tomorrow or something crazy like that.

I am of Scottish ancestry.  I am from the Clan Galbraith (don’t think that I haven’t noticed the unmitigated irony of being related to one of the greatest economists of the 20th Century, but the distant relation to Stephen Colbert works as a balm).  We have a coat of arms with a bear on it.  We even have a family castle:  Castle Culcreuch near Dumbarten in southern Scotland...they rent it out for weddings and all sorts of things. 

I’m proud of being Scottish.  Scotland rocks. 

That being said, we Scots kind of gets the shaft when it comes to holidays and magical creatures and such.  Of course, we’re better off than Finland.  Hammaspeikko is a Finnish tooth troll who is attracted by all of the candy that little children eat.  He comes to the children at night and drills holes in their teeth.  Hell, I think I’m going to start warding against Hammaspeikko now and I’m not even Finnish.

As with all of our “deep” conversations, Baby Belle 1 asked me a question in the car as I was driving her to school one day (I really don’t think that child is going to be satisfied until she gets me into a wreck).  The discussion occurred around St. Patrick’s Day and—while doggedly kicking the back of my seat—she asked, “Mama, what’s St. Patrick’s Day about?”

“You go to Catholic school.  They haven’t told you?”

“I want to hear it from you.”

[Sigh] “Okay, St. Patrick lived in Ireland and the story goes that he led all the snakes out of Ireland.  Seeing as most folks don’t love snakes, they decided that what he did was a good thing and they celebrate him on the day that he allegedly drove them out.”



“ it true?”

[Drawing on my vast storehouse of useless trivia]  “Well, most people don’t think that there are any snakes in Europe—where Ireland is—but there is a poisonous snake known as the European Adder.  I don’t know if there are any in Ireland or not.”

“Did the leprechauns help St. Patrick?”

“Maybe.  We’re not Irish, so I don’t know all of the deets.  Maybe they’re like Santa’s Elves.  St. Patrick’s Leprechauns.”

“What are we if we aren’t Irish?”

“We’ll, I’m Scottish, so you’ve got that in you.  We don’t exactly know where your daddy’s people come from...although your Grandpa has suggested that they are descended from horse thieves.  I don’t know how serious he is about that.”

“Where is Scottish?”

“It’s called Scotland.  Scotland is actually right next to Ireland, but there’s an ocean in between.”

“They don’t have leprechauns in Scotland?”


“What do they have in Scotland?”


Well, like most conversations with Baby Belle 1, that set me to thinking.  Why don’t Scots get a cool day all to ourselves or some adorable, magical little creature? 

Okay, I’ll give you that we have the Loch Ness Monster and—although it’s certainly better than getting holes drilled in your teeth—one simply cannot escape the fact that a significant portion of its name is MONSTER.  How cute and cuddly can a water dinosaur be?  Not to mention that Nessie doesn’t do anything cool like leave pots of gold at the end of a just kind of swims around.

Additionally, it isn’t particularly cool that the majority of photos claiming to depict ol’ Nessie have been exposed as frauds.  (Who knew you could do such creative things with floating sticks?)  Whether or not you believe in the legend, all of the hoaxes kind of take the magic out of it.

Scots drink just as much as the Irish do—hell, they don’t call it “Scotch” for nothing.  God knows we keep up with them in the temper department—just ask any of my court appointed clients who screw around with me.  Ireland also isn’t alone when it comes to bucking under the yoke of the British crown, we’re just more polite about it (Scottish Nationalist Party, anyone?).  We even share more...dubious...characteristics:  They have bagpipes in Ireland just like they do in Scotland, so nyah. 

Heck, we even have our own patron saint and a holiday for his celebration:  St. Andrew’s Day on November 30th.  St. Andrew was believed to be the first disciple of Christ and—excuse me—but that certainly cuts the mustard over a bunch of snakes getting led off a rock.  St. Andrew’s Day is already a national holiday in Scotland, so it won’t even be that deal to just move it over to the other side of the Pond.

Accordingly, I would like to propose St. Andrew’s Day as a “Yay Scotland!” day in the United States.  The day should be associated with raucous partying and the liberal ingestion of Glenfiddich.  Nifty Scottish folk songs (Old MacDonald doesn’t count) should be sung drunkenly in the streets.  Instead of green, everyone should wear plaid and instead of a little girly pinch for failure to comply, a swift kick in the ass should be more the thing.  Furthermore, naughty little boys and girls will receive Scotch Eggs from the Haggis Fairy (look it up).

All in favor say “Aye!”

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Belle and the Unbreakable Rules

Children:  Precious little bundles of joy that learn and grow at an amazing rate.  I have to remind myself that part of the experience of being a child is to test boundaries lest I send my Baby Belles off to be the youngest boarding school students in the history of ever.

God knows, I was a five-star boundary tester when I was growing up (some would likely say that adulthood has not quelled that trait), second only to my brother who my mother freely admits she was utterly unsuccessful at disciplining.  I was a comparative walk in the park to my brother in that I did at least respond to some punishment.  I did and do have a keen survival instinct and there were lines that I knew well not to cross.

I tend to think that every child—no matter how ill-disciplined—has an instinct for knowing exactly which boundaries are not meant to be pushed no matter what.  It’s never clear exactly what punishment will await the crosser of the line—a parent isn’t keen to verbally admit to what could possibly be an illegal act—but most kids know their parents well enough to fill in the blanks.  It doesn’t even matter if the rules make sense or if they are viewed as arbitrary by the child—there is no crossing of the Rubicon.

What were “The Culbreth Rules?”  Well, one was pretty understandable and the other was somewhat arbitrary.

First Culbreth Rule:  Thou shall not rideth a motorcycle.

I suspect that there is some form of Motorcycle Rule in the majority of houses, but the Culbreth House had a unique twist.  One of my father’s many legal hats is that of a personal injury attorney.  When one is a personal injury attorney, one does have the occasion do deal with a motorcycle accident here and there.  As I’m sure you can imagine, motorcycle accidents can be catastrophic and Dad had pictures—ghastly, horrific and gory pictures that haunt my nightmares to this very day. 

How do I know about those pictures?  Well, Dad showed them to me and my brother.  We sat through prehistoric PowerPoint presentations on the evils of motorcycles and why we should never ever under any circumstances (including running from axe murderers, alien invasion or tsunamis) get on a motor cycle.  What was our punishment for failing to comply?  Well, it was one of those things that was left unspoken, but I had no doubt that my tail end would resemble those horrible pictures.

To say the least, my father’s admonishment remained in the forefront of my mind during even the most rebellious years of my youth.  I was presented with several opportunities to ride motorcycles on several occasions where there was no way that my father would catch me and I still said, “No thank you.”

Case in point:  When I was at Peace College, I met a lovely fellow!  Yeah, that’s it, church!  Anyway, he asked me out on a date.  The guy was very good looking and personable and I was at a loss to understand why in the world he would be interested in me.  Of course, I should have known that it was too perfect.

At the time and date of the appointed rendezvous, Mr. Perfect showed up to fetch me for dinner and a movie...on a BMW motorcycle.  Why couldn’t it have just been a regular BMW???  Why???  My heart sank.  This wee tiny little part of my brain tried the “Your Dad Will Never Know” argument and I certainly didn’t want to tell him that I couldn’t get on the motorcycle because my father said so.  On the other hand, the majority of my brain recalled those pictures and my dad’s tone of voice and I knew without a doubt that if I got on that blasted machine and had a wreck...well, if I managed to survive in the first place, Dad would finish the job.

What did I do?  Well, I told him that I was afraid of motorcycles (not completely off the mark) and I followed him to dinner and a movie in my car.  I never heard from him again...can’t imagine why.  Of course, if he thought taking a girl to dinner at Burger King was suitable for an outing, good riddance. 

The Culbreth Motorcycle Moratorium is so sacrosanct that it still applies.  As my mother often reminds me, I am never too old to beat:

You know how kids talk when they are first able to string sentences together?  They don’t even really know what they’re talking about and they can’t distinguish reality from make believe and they tell these crazy tall tales?  Yeah, kids can tell some real humdingers. 

When Baby Belle 1 was 2 or 3 years old, she spent the day with her Papa and Bonbon (grandfather and grandmother).  Baby Belle 1 proceeded to tell her Papa that her daddy had bought a big red motorcycle and that he had taken her for lots of rides and she didn’t even have to wear a helmet.  I have no idea where the child came up with all of that and of course not one word of it was true, but I had some fast talking to do when I explained all of that to Papa.  I was worried that I would have to tackle my own father in order to save the father of my children.

Second Culbreth Rule:  Thou shall not venture into the arcade at the mall.

For those of you not familiar with Wilmington, we’ve only ever had one mall and that is Independence Mall on Oleander Drive.  If you are used to the shopping options of Raleigh and Charlotte, then Independence is a sad little place that you want to avoid.  Nonetheless, when the mall opened in the early ‘80’s, it was the biggest hit since sliced bread and all of the potential mall rats scurried off to their Mecca. 

When the mall first opened, there was an arcade tucked in one of the smaller wings of the Mall and it was called Space Station or something like that.  The front was done up with a silver colored plastic mold with clear bubble windows which allegedly gave the impression of...wait for it...a spaceship!  From what I could see on the outside, the inside was pretty dark and filled with video games that are positively archaic in this day and age.   

As I am sure you can imagine, it was a big deal to get dropped off with a friend for an afternoon of havoc-wreaking at Independence.  I was over the moon when my mom allowed me to frolic in the mall with friends, but she gave one caveat:  Do not go into the arcade. 

Although I would normally have asked for an explanation, Mom’s tone brooked no argument and I wanted to go to the mall bad enough to comply with whatever cockamamie conditions she threw at me.  If I recall correctly, the penalty for venturing into the arcade was never being able to go to the mall again—or something drastic like that.  I stayed out of the arcade and my friends were cool with going elsewhere, but they did always ask “Why?” when I told them that my mother forbade me to enter and all I could tell them was, “Dunno.”

Yep, things were fine and dandy until I went to the mall with a girl who was new to our junior high school.  That chick was a born boundary tester.  She was actually more of a boundary obliterator.  We walked around the mall for a while and I tried to avoid the wing with the arcade because I really didn’t want to have “that” conversation again. 

Of course, this girl could smell trouble and she immediately skipped down to the “No Fly Zone.”  I took a fortifying breath and told her that I couldn’t go.  She asked why and I told her.  The very fact that I wasn’t supposed to go inside made her nearly rabid to get me across the threshold.  Again, there was a good chance that Mom would have never known that I’d gone in, but mothers have eyes everywhere.  For all I knew, Mom would swoop down from the rafters like a commando the second my toe crossed the line. 

Accordingly, I forfeited all of my cool points and resolutely refused to enter into the dark Sodom and she went without me.  It felt like she spent hours in the damned arcade while I sat outside nervously wringing my hands and breaking out into a cold sweat.  I was genuinely concerned that I was going to have to go in and get her and that was likely what she was trying to accomplish, but she didn’t have a mother like mine.  Eventually, she gave up and came out in disappointment.

Why wasn’t I allowed to go into the arcade?  I still don’t know.  I suspect that, if I asked my mother, she wouldn’t remember the reason either.  Video games were nothing like they are today (it’s all I can do to keep Baby Belle 1 from staring at that damned zombie killer game at the skating rink) and we had an Atari at home—Pac Man and Frogger didn’t offer much in the way of gore.  I don’t suppose that I would want my child going into a dark place like that without an adult to look out for the predators likely lurking in the shadows.

Either way, those are two rules that I never have and never will break.  Of course, the arcade is long gone, but I can assure you that you won’t see me on the back of a motorcycle.  You’re never too old to get whupped.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Poor 'Ol Uncle Ethan and the Fateful Hike

Bald Head Island is a magical place.  It is a very small island at the southernmost tip of North Carolina with the Cape Fear River running on the western side of the island and the Atlantic Ocean on the east side of the island.  The only way to get on or off the island is by ferry and you’re not allowed to drive a car once you get there.  As the result of various ecological concerns and human nerve conditions, guests and residents are only allowed to get around on golf carts—and there are some seriously pimped out ones at that. 

Bald Head is about six or so square miles and large portions of the island are preserved marshes, beaches and maritime forests.  Nothing is bulldozed to build a house—the houses are built around the nature.  It’s really quite cool having decks and walks built with holes in them for trees to sprout through.  BHI takes its nature very seriously and it really wouldn’t be a bad idea for the rest of the world to take heed.

The island is incorporated as the Village of Bald Head Island, so it isn’t a private island, but it is expensive as hell to own property there.  One can’t buy a lot for less than $500,000 and that’s on the conservative side.  It is mostly a spot for second homes and those on vacation, but there are about 173 lucky folks that live on the island full time.  Scott and I often desperately daydream about being able to call the place home.

When we were growing up, my parents took me and my brother for vacations at Bald Head Island.  Back in the days before too many accidents required golf cart drivers to have valid driver’s licenses, Ethan and I drove from one end of the island to the other and explored everywhere in between. 

Bald Head Island also holds a very special place in my heart because Scott and I spent our honeymoon there.  Adding bridal nerves to my already potent fear of flying would have been a nuclear combination and BHI’s knack for making a person feel like they are a million miles away even if they’re only really a hop, skip and a jump made it the perfect place to go for a week. 

We loved our time at Bald Head and I am ashamed to admit that we didn’t make it back to the island until 2008.  On that occasion, my parents rented a house for my grandmother’s birthday, so Scott and I, the Baby Belles and their Uncle Ethan went for the celebration weekend.  Baby Belle 2 was too tiny to remember it, but Baby Belle 1 loved it as I knew that any child of mine would.  We went back for Easter, 2009 as well as Easter, 2011 and we had a wonderful time every time.

Of course, that’s not to say that we don’t have a little adventure every now and again. 

During Easter, 2009 Ethan went for a walk.  The island is covered with a really beautiful maritime forest and about three or four trails have been cut so that visitors and residents can enjoy the trees and plants...and the ticks...and the snakes. (Have you guessed that the hiking isn’t really my cup of tea?)  Anyway, Ethan went into the woods. 

A few hours after Ethan went into the woods, Dad received a call on his cell phone.  Ethan was lost.  We all did our best to figure out where he was, but saying you’re standing between and oak tree and a palm tree in a maritime forest doesn’t really do much for narrowing down the possibilities.  After a rather distressing amount of time, Ethan managed to stumble out upon a road and was therefore able to tell us where he was.  True to my big sister duties, I snickered in the golf cart as we rode to retrieve him.

Flash forward:  Easter, 2011.  Uncle Ethan wants to take Baby Belle 1 for a walk.  Uncle Ethan is a very smart boy:  He scouts out the route before taking Baby Belle 1, he told us where they were going and he made sure his cell phone was charged up.  I wasn’t worried.  Off they went into the wild blue yonder...

About an hour or so later, I got a call on my cell phone: 

Ashley:  Hello?

Ethan:  Ashley, it’s Ethan.

Ashley:  What’s up?

Ethan:  Everything is fine.  We’re both fine—nothing to worry about.  Um...this is really—

Baby Belle 1(in her little singsong voice):  He got lost again!

Ethan (to BB1):  I didn’t get us lost.  I’m the one that said we needed to stop when we got to the bench, but noooooooo

Ashley:  Ethan!

Ethan:  Uh-huh, sorry...but she really did—never mind.  Can you take go to the first path off of Federal Point Road and just kind of follow the path for a bit?  I feel like we’re really close and maybe we can just listen out...

Baby Belle 1:  Uncle Ethan is so silly!

Ashley:  I’m on the way.

Baby Belle 2 was soundly sawing logs with her Bon Bon, so Scott and I headed out in the other golf cart to retrieve my other child and her uncle.  Of course, me being me, I only packed two pairs of shoes:  My casual flip-flops and my dress flip-flops.  Accordingly, I was tromping through the woods in my casual flip-flops, occasionally chatting with Ethan on the phone about difficult decisions such as whether to take the left or the right path at “the oak with the funky limb that looks like it’s giving you the bird.”  Baby Belle 1 was giggling the whole time...I often worry about her survival instincts. 

Such amazing technological feats have been accomplished in the 21st Century!  We’ve got GPS and satellite imagery that can pinpoint within a centimeter where someone is.  We’ve got trackers and bells and whistles and we even have the ol’ search dogs to fall back on if we really want to go old school.  In light of the brave new age, how did we locate my firstborn and my brother? 

“MARCO!”...wait a second and walk a little further...“MARCO!”...wait a second and walk a little further...“MARCO!”...wait a second and pull a stick the size of an adult iguana off of my flip-flop...”MAR—“

“Yeah!  POLO!”

A couple of Marco’s and a few Polo’s later, we laid eyes on our weary band of hikers and no one was worse for the wear...although Uncle Ethan did insist on stating for the record that Baby Belle 1 was the one who urged him past the scouted location.  Those 42 pound seven year-olds can really put the screws to you.  I do admit, however, that those trails don’t look the same going as they do coming.

What did we learn?  Well, since Baby Belle 1 went hiking with Uncle Ethan the very next day, not all that much.  However, Scott and I have come to a decision.  We both want to be cremated and have our ashes scattered at Bald Head Island, but we’re making express provisions in our Wills that Ethan is the one who has to carry us out into the forest and do the deed.

Poor Uncle Ethan.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Easter Rant

Lord knows I don’t want to be the Easter Pooper or the Bunny Humbug, but I simply cannot hold my tongue (go ahead, get your snorts and eye rolls over with).

Everyone complains that Christmas has gone commercial and that the holidays have lost the plot, but folks must be so worn out from their wintertime soap boxing, that they don’t have any wind and energy left for Easter.

I mean, have you been in a drugstore lately?  A gal has to wade through oceans of candy bunnies and chicks of all different makes and models, plastic eggs and that damned plastic grass that gets everywhere just to get to her allergy meds.  Don’t get me wrong, I flat love some Easter candy:  Cadbury Eggs, Peeps and those hollow chocolate bunnies with the candy eyes...yummmm...

Nonetheless, one hears even less about Jesus at Easter than one does at Christmas.  Pardon me, but do you think that Jesus would prefer a little more appreciation for his sacrifice and crucifixion over the day of his birth?  Just sayin’...

There’s also the issue of “Amateur Hour:”  Folks who don’t set foot in church all year except for Easter Day.  Really?  What exactly are they trying to achieve and who do they think they’re fooling?  The only thing they accomplish by showing up is to make it more crowded and unbearable for the rest of us that actually remember where the front door to the sanctuary is. 

The Easter crowds at our church have gotten completely out of hand.  You have to show up about an hour and a half early to even get a seat (good or take what you can get).  One year, the Culbreths were “running late” for Easter service (read that as thirty minutes before the start time) and we had to sit up in the choir loft.  Nothing good ever comes out of Ashley in the choir loft.  Need proof?  Okay:

  1. Case in Point One:  I was in the hand bell choir when I was in sixth or seventh grade.  We somehow managed to get all of our bells mixed up upon the transfer to their loft.  We sounded like some sort of abstract performance art.

  1. Case in Point Two:  Several of us were running late to a funeral service for a friend’s father.  We were so late that there weren’t any seats, but the usher did offer us some chairs with the choir.  Being the good little Catholics and Episcopalians that we are, we assumed that the choir was tucked away in a loft in the back of the sanctuary, so we said okay.  Imagine our surprise and mortification when he marched us up to the front of the church and sat us slap on stage.  God, we looked like dumbasses.

  1. See the earlier blog titled Easter Squirms.

Getting back to the point:

Those once-a-year parishioners take what is already a very long Easter service and make it completely interminable.  Communion alone takes an hour.  So—yes—I had a bit of a personal epiphany one Easter as I knelt sweatily and numb-kneed with a growl in my stomach that a Communion wafer and one sip of wine couldn’t quell:  This is nucking futs.

Deep, I know, but I’ve told you before that my waters run shallow in parts.

I love God and I love Jesus and I am immeasurably thankful for His sacrifice.  I furthermore know that I can never be thankful enough, but I choose to show my love, respect and appreciation by honoring Him in my daily actions as a Christian woman, not sandwiched next to some schlub who had to use a GPS to get to church.

Accordingly, you will find me this Easter where you normally find me every Easter:  Among the loving family that God blessed me with paying tribute to Him and His Son in the beautiful nature that He created.

Amen and see you Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Easter Squirms

Baby Belle 1 is in the children’s choir at church.  I never cease to be amazed at that fact seeing how I can’t carry a tune across the street.  Scott is quite a good singer, but I sing so poorly that I figured my tone deaf gene would cancel his singing gene out completely.

So, go figure—Baby Belle 1 loves choir.  The catch is that I am now a choir mother.  I did what I could considering that I’m still working when choir practice occurs:  I sent snacks, I stayed for a choir practice here and there but, up until this weekend, I’d managed to stay out of the choir loft during Sunday service.  By way of reference, we parents call the choir loft “the trenches.”

The best (and most honest) excuse for shirking chaperone duty came from another choir mother a couple of months back.  When the choir director approached her and asked if she would assist with the flock during the church service, the gal didn’t miss a beat.  With the most deadpan face and voice you can imagine, she simply said, “I’m out of Xanax,” and then turned around and walked away without another word.  That woman is my hero.

So, leave it to me to lose the Parental Chaperone Lottery on Palm Sunday.  I don’t know about your place of worship, but all services and functions get absurdly long at St. James Episcopal Church when Easter rolls around.  Not only was I going to be stuck in the choir loft overseeing thirteen squirming children, I was going to do it during the second longest service of the year.

Oh yeah, my joy runneth over.  Woo to the hoo.

How did this happen, you ask?  How did a reasonably intelligent individual with a keen survival instinct pull the tour of duty from hell?

Well, boys and belles, I could give you a dozen excuses, but the plain truth of the matter is that I wasn’t fast enough. 

As with all creatures of the wild kingdom, the one who is fastest is the one who avoids getting eaten.  When it comes to choir, parents are supposed to appear with their progeny at the appointed time, sift through the mass of red choir robes in order to find the one with their child’s name, dress the little booger, give said booger a good luck kiss and then turn around and bug out like their ass is on fire so they don’t get pressed into service.  Show, dress and go—it’s a simple formula.

The problem today was that many parents skipped the key protocol:  They showed and go-ed without any dressing in between.  Upon reflection, they were undoubtedly trying to avoid getting stuck with Palm Sunday service.  Buzzards.

Accordingly, I was left with about seven little choir orphans who needed dressing.  By the time I looked up from all of the fast and furious buttoning, the joint was a ghost town except for me and a choir father.  Of course, the choir director started a beeline over to us and before he asked the inevitable question, I sighed with defeat and said, “Yeah, sure.”

The other loser and I handed out the palm fronds for the munchkins to carry and then it was off to the races.  During the beginning of the service, I had a sudden epiphany as to why the children’s choir robes are red:  So you can see the little scamps as they dart all around the church aisles for processional.  We managed to wrangle and rope ‘em in after the walk down the aisle and we all went upstairs to the loft where the real fun began.  

I’m just gonna go ahead and lay it out there:  I’m not a big fan of heights.  I was okay with the choir loft so long as I didn’t have to sit near the edge, but it was clear that I was going to have to suck it up because the kids kept leaning over the railing.  I swear to you that railing was catnip for the little monkeys and the first half of the service consisted of me and choir father pulling the backs of robes to stop them from leaning over the edge. 

The palm fronds were another unexpected problem.  They seem harmless enough when on the trees from which they come or even being put to proper use during Palm Sunday, but leave it to kids.  There were palm frond jousts and tickles.  Several fronds were sent sailing over the railing to rain down on the hapless parishioners.  I could only imagine the reaction down below. 

Then...well, then a kid stuck one up his nose.

He was an adorable little thing who was all of four years old.  He had blond hair and big brown eyes that welled up with years as he came scooting over to me with a foot long plant strand hanging from his nasal passage.  I’ve got to hand it to him, he did good work and he also bore the aftermath quite manfully.  Both of my Baby Belles would have been screaming so loud as to bring down the rafters when I pulled the thing out.  For the rest of the service, he sat there wiping his then runny nose on the sleeve of his robe, refusing to either stand up or sing.

AN HOUR LATER, it was time for Communion, so we lined everyone up and trooped back downstairs.  They were happy for a chance to burn some of their vast energy reserves, so the chance to walk for a minute turned into skipping, giggling and general grab-assing.  I was particularly mortified to witness my Baby Belle 1 jumping up and down on the grave of a bishop who was buried beneath the floor.  Nonetheless, I am happy to report that I didn’t ask for a second gulp of wine when my turn rolled around.

After we made it back upstairs, the poor little things were completely done and I certainly couldn’t blame them seeing as I felt the same way.  For the remainder of the service, Choir Dad and I took the position that, if none of the kids jumped out of the balcony, we’d call it a successful second half. 

By the time the sweet blessed end was in our sights, one girl had taken off her choir robe in protest of the hot and uncomfortable polyester, three of them were rolling around on the floor, two of them were in a tickle fight so far gone that it would have been impossible to stop and the Nasal Horticulturist was sitting in my lap producing massive amounts of snot while my Baby Belle 1 got all teary that I had a child in my lap that was not her, but nobody fell off of the balcony.


Monday, April 18, 2011

A Mannerly Poker Face, Please

It is a rare thing when my two worlds collide enough to be able to glean similarities, but a parallel actually struck me just the other day.  Southern Belles are supposed to be unflappable in any circumstance and the same is required for attorneys. 

Although a Southern Belle may be nonplussed when an uninvited individual shows up to a party, all of that upset is firmly in check on the inside.  The only thing visible on the outside is grace and charm as the “guest” is provided with a drink and a seat at the table as though their presence had been expected all along.

Likewise, the late-in-the-case discovery that there is a security video of your professedly innocent client filming up ladies’ skirts in the library cannot appear to shake you.  Yes, on the inside, you are perfectly valid in your desire to throttle the little bastard and you may actually do just that once the door shuts in your office, but a nonchalant shrug and a “So what?  We’ll beat that, too,” approach is a critical show for all of the other parties. 

After viewing such a damning piece of evidence, it is my opinion that one of the worst things a defense attorney can do is turn immediately to the prosecution and say, “What kind of plea are we looking at, here?”  Just say, “Hmmmm.  Let me talk to my client and I’ll get back to you,” then go and perform the aforementioned throttling and enjoy every second of it.

Of course, in the world of the Southern Belle, some “oopses” can be real humdingers.  When I was little, there was some sort of children’s play that was put on by a ladies’ organization like the Junior League or the Friends of UNC-Wilmington.  Rest assured that any lady who was or is a member of such an organization is unequivocally a Southern Belle.

It’s been so long ago that I can’t recall the subject matter of the show, but a narrator was required to stand at a podium slightly to the side of the stage.  The lady narrator came out and the play started.  About three quarters of the way into the show, the narrator’s skirt quite suddenly fell to the floor.  I don’t know what caused the drop, but the lady stood there in her slip with her skirt piled around her feet and kept reading as if nothing had happened. 

Those of us in the audience didn’t know what to think.  Was this planned?  It didn’t really seem as though it would be a part of the show, but one never knows.  Considering that there were hundreds of children making up the majority of the audience, it’s quite impressive that no one laughed (or no one that I can recall, anyway).  

When her part was done, the half-clad lady smoothly stepped out of her skirt and walked off the stage, leaving the offending garment right where it fell.  The fact that she didn’t bend to pick it up or fuss with it quite frankly downplayed the “oops” to the point that it barely happened.  That’s a Southern Belle under pressure, ladies and gents.  Furthermore, the dear lady was able to stand there and carry on with her role because she was wearing a slip like every proper lady should, thankyouverymuch.

As I am sure you can imagine, “oopses” in the legal arena can be a touch colorful at times.  Early on in my District Court criminal practice, I was appointed to a gal who had been charged with two counts of Assault With a Deadly Weapon.  One thing about court appointed clients is that they rarely (like Halley’s Comet rare) speak to me before their court date and they never understand why I can’t mount a trial of the century in under half an hour. 

As usual, I first laid eyes on my client right outside of the courtroom on the morning of her court date.  She informed me that her victims where her fiancé and the lady she discovered him in bed with.  The Defendant further informed me that the “deadly weapon” was the duffel bag she was carrying her shoes in and she swung it at them.  When I expressed some confusion as to how in the world a bag of shoes would be a deadly weapon, she told me that they were very heavy platforms with sharp spiked heels (lovely).  I asked her where the shoes were and she told me that the police officer took them for evidence.

I asked her if she knew the woman that her fiancé was in bed with and she stated that she was a co-worker and that they both worked for her fiancé.  I met her fiancé a few minutes later and—although I was utterly floored that two women would see fit to fight over him—he seemed nice enough and he told me the golden words that every defense attorney wants to hear:  He wanted to drop the charges against my client.

All that was left was to try the case with the “other woman.”

The trial started and I began to realize that something might be amiss when the ADA introduced the “deadly shoes” into evidence.  One of the problems with being such a new attorney was that I didn’t ask to see them before the trial.  I cannot adequately describe the shoes to you.  I have no idea how the woman managed to walk in them, much less swing them like a mace.  I’ve never seen platforms that high and they had very pointy metal heels.  Not to pigeon-hole folks indiscriminately, but I started to wonder about my client’s line of work.

I was right to worry.

Shortly after the introduction of the shoes, it was discovered that both my client and the female victim were ladies of the evening and the hot catch—well, he was their pimp.  I was horrified at how little I knew and it was clear that the ADA didn’t know a whole lot more than I did.  Of course, I desperately tried to keep my cool and act like I expected everything seeing as I am a Southern Belle and all.

Suffice it to say that His Honor was not amused and he quickly called me and the ADA up to the bench to not-so-subtly suggest our collaboration on making the mess go away quickly and quietly.  After a rather desperate plea conference, we worked things out and sent everyone home.  Of course, our hard won peace accord unraveled the second all parties stepped outside of the courthouse and got ready to rumble, but that was a problem for another court day with another court appointed attorney.

See?  See the similarities?  See?  Hello?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tears: The Last Resort Weapon in the Arsenal

In spite of the great strides in gender equality over the last decades, there remains a common belief that doesn’t necessarily further the notion of Women’s Lib:  Most folks still think that men are stronger. 

Well, I believe that the “men are stronger” statement needs a little more qualification before it can be agreed upon or disagreed with.  Yes, there is a very good chance that men, as a gender, are physically stronger than women.  There’s the whole hunter/gatherer concept and I certainly don’t know nearly enough to call hundreds of years of apparently valid scientific hypotheses into question, so...

Man Stronger—Ooh, Ooh, Ooh!

Of course there is another facet to the argument of strength:  Are men mentally stronger than women?  Well, I would first submit to you that any female who qualifies under the rigorous strictures of Diamond Magnolia status is a damn sight smarter and tougher than anyone else that you would ever come across in your entire life.  That being said, I don’t really know about the intelligence of the genders.  At the risk of sounding like all of that Mars and Venus crap, I think that—at the very least—we operate in different ways. 

Men can certainly confound women.  Can I get an Amen???  Never, ever send a man to have a conversation with someone if you are interested in getting actual pertinent information.  If you want more than a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” you’d best go and do it yourself.  One also has to wonder about a gender that can’t seem to remember to put the toilet seat down and their dirty socks in the hamper.

Yes, men can most certainly make a woman want to tear her hair out, but women aren’t left without defense.  As a matter of fact, women have one round in their arsenal that is powerful and versatile enough to use as either an offense or defense:  Tears.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the “Y” chromosome is either completely incompatible with and/or allergic to female tears.  I’ve noticed that men tend to act one of two ways then presented with a crying female:  (1) Flap around in bewilderment like a chicken with its head cut off; or (2) Run for the hills and never look back. 

Now, I am in no way suggesting that crying should be used as a weapon except in very exceptional circumstances—such as raising a D to a B in a macro-economics class or getting out of a speeding ticket in the middle of the night when you are supposed to be home and snuggled into bed.  Still, little Belle’s don’t know all of the rules yet.

Poor, poor Scott.  As I’ve told you before, Scott is the only man in the Council household.  He has his wife, two daughters and two female dogs.  It can be sociologically fascinating to watch him tread water in the ocean of estrogen in his desperate bid to keep from drowning. 

There is no doubt that Baby Belle 1 in the worst offender.  My Lord, the girl cries when she when she can’t find her damned shoes.  We’re not talking about crocodile tears, either.  No, she has to take her glasses of so she “doesn’t get tears on them.”  There’s snot and the whole nine yards.  To be honest, Baby Belle’s drama makes all of us roll our eyes and/or shake our heads in defeat, but it really puts Scott at a loss.

Just this past weekend, we had another episode of the “Attack of the Tears.”  Baby Belle 1 had Field Day at her school on Friday, so she was more tired than usual and the stage was set.  That evening, we all piled in the car to head up to Raleigh for the weekend.  Scott’s car has DVD screens on the back headrests of both of the front seats and that God for them, but I find them to be a little too complicated at times.

Baby Belle 1 couldn’t get things to work to her satisfaction and the torrent started:  “I CAN’T GET IT TO WORK!  IT WON’T WORK AND I’M TRYING AND I DON’T!  KNOW!  WHAT!  TO!  DO!”

Scott:  What?


Scott:  Well, why in the world are you crying?


Scott:  Well, you don’t cry about it!


Scott:  But, don’t...well, there’s no crying about it! 

It was at this point that I could no longer contain my giggles.  Scott didn’t see the humor.  Go figure.

In spite of my laughter, I do feel sorry for Scott.  Of course, there are times when he knows he’s walking into a landmine and I don’t have a one lick of pity for him.  If one can’t foresee that a snowball fight with little girls has a high likelihood of ending in tears, get what you deserve.  Furthermore, if you don’t throw the occasional Wii game every now and again, you’re doing nothing more than poking a stick at a snake.

Scott can’t get any peace when it comes to Man’s Best Friend, either.  We have Desi (the psycho Chihuahua) and Lola (the dog of questionable lineage, but allegedly part German Shepherd).  Desdemona is six pounds of fire and fury and Lola is around forty pounds of hyperactivity.  Basically, that means that Desi can sit in Scott’s lap and Lola can’t.  So what happens when Desi hops up to snuggle down with Scott?  Lola sits by the two of them and literally whines and cries the entire time.

Poor Scott can’t win for losing.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Myth of the Exciting Legal Career and the Earth-Shattering Kaboom

In spite of the stigma of being a lawyer and those very, very, very tired lawyer/ambulance chaser jokes, a lot of folks want to go to law school.  Well, “a lot of folks” don’t know what in the hell they’re talking about. 

The people who think that they want to go to law school get their highfalutin’ ideas from the crap shows on television, John Grisham’s even crappier novels and the occasional engaging but inaccurate movie.  As one might expect, the entertainment media glosses over the fact that 98% of the practice of law is tedious drudgery, but the illusion is bigger than that.  The real problem with all of the lawyer shows and books is that they disregard a very present and soul-killing truth:  You lose.  A lot.

It takes a while to learn that, if you lose a motion or even an entire case, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad lawyer.  Hopefully, a young lawyer will catch onto this truth before flinging themselves off of a bridge in despair.  As one very wise attorney told me before I started my legal career:  “If you can’t take the ass whippings, you need to go and be a librarian.”

It’s a scenario all trial attorneys are familiar with:  Meet with a client, chat about their situation and take on the case.  Notify the necessary parties of representation and gather the necessary information with regard to the case.  An attorney can usually tell that all might not be rainbows and daffodils after reviewing information and speaking to other parties, but one expects differing points of view in situations where litigation might be necessary. 

Sometimes there are other warnings, such as when the client starts to act unreasonably (I’ve had perfectly sane individuals in an intake interview turn into Charles Manson and Kate Gosselin’s love child on Day 2) or very pertinent information that the client failed to tell you is discovered during evidence review (Really?  You didn’t think to tell me that the store had a security video of you stuffing the T-bone steaks in your pants?).  Yes, sometimes those little jewels get dropped in your lap and it’s not too late to abandon ship or—at the very least—rethink things and employ corrective measures, i.e. damage control.

Of course,’s too damn late.  Once an attorney files suit on behalf of the client, things get kind of complicated.  Many judges have a problem with letting an attorney withdraw from a case that is in active litigation unless there are exceptional circumstances.  The further you get into the case, the less likely it is that the judge will allow you to walk.

So, what do you do when you find out that your personal injury client was convicted of felony insurance fraud a in a different state?  What do you do when your client—on probation for a DWI and a wealth of other substance related charges—gets fired from her new job at the beauty salon because she drank all of the wine that they offer to their customers?  What do you do when private investigators get video footage of your down-in-the-back worker’s compensation client single handedly pulling his boat up onto the shore?  What do you do when your charming client is caught on film for a nationally broadcasted reality show as she bites and claws and pulls out the hair of the girlfriend of her baby’s daddy?

What do you do?  You do the best you can and you sail that Titanic to the bottom of the ocean with dignity and respect.

Part of our training in law school consisted of mock trials.  Teams of two students each were assigned to represent the plaintiff and defendant.  We were given a fact pattern and were told to be ready for court at the end of the week.  The problem was that the fact patterns were fairly obvious in that there was a clear winner and crystal clear loser.  I don’t know how it happened—maybe the professors had it out for me—but I managed to get on the side of the glorious losers every single time. 

I wasn’t alone in the constant mock representation of the underdog, there were a few of us who always got the short end of the stick and all we could do was joke about it.  Little did we know that the lessons we learned at the bottom of the pile and the coping strategies formed therefrom proved to be pretty darned valuable during our legal careers.

Lesson Number 1:  Remind yourself that you can’t make the facts and you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken shit.  (see When All Else Fails, Chant Chicken Sh*t and Sue ‘Em)  I cannot stress enough the importance of repeating this chant as often as possible.  Your ultimate goal is to dream the chant in your sleep.

Lesson Number 2:  Show up for court looking like a million dollars (or at least a convincing, but less expensive consignment version).  The hope is that the jury would think that a million dollar attorney wouldn’t waste their time on a case that had little or no value.  Little do they know.

Lesson Number 3:  Razzle and dazzle with high tech thingamabobs.  PowerPoint presentations, video reenactments, laser pointers, models and anything else you can think of that will make your side look sleek and professional.  Again, you’re lending to the myth of the million dollar attorney in Lesson Number 2 and it never hurts to look more put together than the opposition if you can help it.

Lesson Number 4:  Look and act like you know what you are doing at all times.  Sure, maybe you don’t have a plan and a chance in hell, but damned if you’re going to let the jury know that!  Get all rabid on cross examinations, never exhibit surprise if you are caught off guard by an answer, object with gusto at every opportunity, have bench conferences (even if you’re just getting together a lunch menu) and talk low and firm with lots of expansive hand gestures.  You believe in your case, dammit!  Dammit, dammit, dammit.

Lesson Number 5:  Bring a good pair of running shoes so you can haul ass out of that courtroom when the verdict comes down.

Yes, you must distract as much as possible from the other party’s annoyingly legal argument:

“Don’t listen to their valid logic!  I’m flapping my expensively manicured hands and employing dramatic inflection in my tone!”

“Sure, the Plaintiff’s doctor testified that he cleared Plaintiff for a return to work, but I’ve got color slides!”

“Yes, yes, the fact that the Defendant was caught and filmed in his car with his pants down and a thirty-time convicted hooker in the passenger seat is plum fascinating, but notice my 3D model of the intersection of the known prostitute area!  I even added little Matchbox cars for effect.  It’s super cool!”

Yeah, I often liken myself to the captain of the Titanic, but I sometimes thing that trial attorneys are more like Rocky Balboa:  We get the crap smacked out of us, fall over, get back up and wobble over for more of the same.  Either way, we’re a masochistic bunch of folks, but you need us.  When the chips are down, we’re the ones that saddle up on our donkeys and charge off for that windmill.