There may be folks out there who were raised by wolves, but I think it is otherwise safe to say that most folks were taught at least a teeny weeny little bit of manners in their childhood. (Of course, whether or not they choose to employ those manners in their adulthood is an entirely different kettle of grits.) I furthermore think it safe to say that children of the South are taught more manners than most, otherwise visiting Yankees wouldn’t get so annoyingly tickled about it when we are so courteous as to say “ma’am.” (Dear Lord, please give your servant Ashley, the strength not to introduce one to the business end of her fabulously high heel the next time a Yankee laughs condescendingly at her impeccable upbringing.)
I’ve written about the horribly awkward cotillions I endured. Additionally, my mother preferred to reference Amy Vanderbilt, but I am also quite familiar with the work of Emily Post. Furthermore, when writing responses or addresses and such on my plain ecru Crane’s cardstock, my motto is “When in doubt, write it out.” If any of you don’t know what in the hell I’m talking about, go forth and Google.
Here’s the thing, you’ve heard it before, but I do so love to beat a dead horse: The Misses Vanderbilt and Post weren’t familiar with this crazy notion called Women’s Lib. God bless ‘em. Certain situations come up in these “Modern Times” that would have the dear ladies reaching for the smelling salts before they could even begin to come up with a way to contrive a way out with manners and grace.
To make a long story short: What do you do when you are a mannerly female attorney and your client smells like they could knock a buzzard off a gut wagon?
Lord have mercy on my soul. Please understand that I’m not talking about the needy or homeless individual that doesn’t have access to a shower or toiletries. I’m talking about the dumbass who needed some liquid courage for their court date, so they started drinking the shelves dry at the ABC Store and/or smoking entire plants of weed sometime last month and just quit a couple of hours before they were supposed to answer District Court Calendar Call.
My first story is a cautionary tale to any new lawyers out there who I have failed to dissuade from changes their majors: It’s rather obvious that you should never show your weakness to other attorneys, but you really need to watch the bailiffs.
I don’t think I’d been practicing a month when I got my first really stinky client. Shockingly (dripping with sarcasm) he was charged with some sort of offense involving a mood altering substance and he had liberally indulged in said mood altering substance the night before. He didn’t appear to be inebriated for legal purposes, but I swear we all would have gone up in flames if someone lit a match in his vicinity. It was pure tee coming out of his pores.
Now, we all have certain smells that we can handle and certain smells that we can’t. I realize that it’s a handicap in my profession, but one of the smells that really gets me is that day-old stale-drunk-mixed-with-cigarettes smell. When we pled the guy up and the bench and,..well...I guess I didn’t do as good a job as I hoped about my complete aversion to the odor seeping from every single pore in his body. The bailiff at the bench delighted in telling me later that I crept about as far away from my client as I possibly could while still defending him.
And that’s when the word got out...
About a week later, I got a call from the Bailiff’s Office that a client of mine had shown up for Court lit as a firecracker and that they were holding him in the cell behind the courtroom. Let’s just say that I didn’t fall out of my chair from shock. Imagine my joy when I found myself locked in a cell with a man (most assuredly not my client) who smelled like George Jones went on a bender and died the week before, The bailiffs giggled outside while my faux client proceeded to barf all over the floor. There are no dignified exits from a scene like that, but I held my head high like a good Southern Belle.
A bit later in my career, I found myself trying a property damage case in civil court. I represented the Plaintiff (for once) and she was a perfectly nice gal, but she apparently needed a damn sight of liquid courage at night to make it to court in the morning. Sweet baby Jesus. She was a one-woman Alcoholics Anonymous newcomers meeting.
Did I mention that I was pregnant?
Oh yes, Baby Belle 1 had been partying hard with my innards for a good 4 months by that point and those of you who have lived the...um...experience of pregnancy know that smells you can’t handle when you’re not pregnant are smells you need to get the f**k away from when you are. (My post-mortem apologies to Ms. Vanderbilt and Ms. Post for my language, but if they were ever pregnant, I honestly feel that they would forgive me.)
To top it all off, my client really liked to add commentary to the testimony being presented at the time. She’d get right up to my face, cup her mouth and whisper. I tried. I offered her mints, but the booze was coming out of her pores. I suggested that she write her comments down for me, but that apparently wasn’t fast enough for her. I scooted my chair away from her in the hopes that she couldn’t reach me, but she would doggedly chase me around the plaintiff’s table if she had to.
Then it happened.
It was a particularly bad morning. My usual go-tos of Saltines and fizzy drinks weren’t getting the job done. My client whispered in my face way too vehemently and the cheap fruity cocktails had been on the menu the night before. I wasn’t going to make it. I asked for an emergency recess as I was already halfway out the door and the trashcan in the Bailiff’s Office was closest. Karma, you know.
These days, I don’t have time or patience for polite. I’m in court for a very limited amount of time and I’m in a hurry. A couple of weeks ago, I was in District Court for one case when I somehow caught the attention of a dude who looked like an extra in a George Romero movie and smelled even worse. There had been a deep love affair with Mad Dog 20/20 the night before and I’m not entirely sure that the breakup had actually occurred. Whatever—it wasn’t my problem because he wasn’t my client, but he suddenly seemed very convinced that I was his probation officer.
In his dream world, I violated him because he missed a couple of office visits and showed up drunk for a couple more. Shocking. Back in reality, he was trying to argue with me that I had screwed up and he was committing an egregious violation of my personal space rule while doing so. I told him that he was confused, he was drunk, he smelled like a still and he needed to go sleep it off.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that Mad Dog didn’t take my advice. Instead, he continued to follow me around and argue with me about the probation violation that I gave him. I already had the beginnings of a migraine and I was looking at a 2 hour drive back home. I turned around and violated his personal space with my pointy finger: “Look Slush Puppy, I’m not your probation officer. I’m pretty sure that P.O.’s get to carry guns and I would have so shot you by now. Go home. Sleep it off. BUY AN ASSLOAD OF BLEACH AND WASH IT OFF! If you don’t get the f**k off my back, I WILL FIND MYSELF A PROBATION OFFICER IN THIS DAMNED COURTHOUSE!”
Again, my apologies to Ms. Vanderbilt and Ms. Post.