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Law School

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scrivener View Drop Down

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    Posted: 29 Jul 2018 at 6:36pm

Sorry for the length. 

                                     THE GREEN DENTAL WAX SCHOOL OF JURISPRUDENCE

By Scrivener


 I graduated from college in 1972 with, of all weird things, a degree in philosophy. Thinking that it would be nice to be able to support myself and my wife Stina (a.k.a. The Finn),   I immediately began looking for a job.  This rapidly led to the discovery  that I had not been at all wise in taking my degree in philosophy.  Much to my great amazement, I was unable to find a single employer who was hiring philosophers.   I couldn’t even land a lowly apprentice philosopher position.  My lack of success  came as an enormous  shock, as I had always believed that philosophers would be in great demand in the marketplace.  Alas, I was wrong,  but I soon rallied and began casting about for something else to do with my life.
 Unfortunately, the country was in a recession at the time, and so I was unable to find any acceptable work.  I even went so far as to seek employment as a freelance Guru, but to no avail.  And, believe it or not, there were no openings for itinerant sages.    Desperate, I then did what tens of thousands of others with unmarketable degrees  have done before me— I applied for law school.

 My application was accepted,  and I entered law school in the Fall.  I quickly came to understand that simply because I had been admitted to the school was no guarantee that I would graduate from it.  Just before classes were scheduled to begin, the Dean conducted an orientation session.  He explained that our course of studies  would be demanding and that we needed to strenuously apply ourselves.  He informed  us that there would be no mandatory examinations until the very end of the school year.  He then stated that,  when our classes were over,  we would be tested for a period of two weeks on every subject we had studied throughout the year.  He emphasized that our final grade in each class depended solely on how we performed in the exams. 

 As a kicker, the Dean went on to tell us that one out of three of us would fail the exams and not be permitted to continue in school.  That certainly got my attention.  I sure didn’t want to embarrass myself by flunking out of school. Frankly, at that very moment,  I started running scared. And, my fear persisted  throughout my first year in law school.

 Many of my fellow students didn’t help.  They were confident in their abilities, and they appeared to be brilliant, much smarter than me.  They were very articulate, and they gave off an aura of poise and self-assurance.   This was extremely disturbing, as they were my competitors in avoiding the dreaded one-out-of-three failure statistic.  I concluded that my prospects, against such competition, were considerably worse than bleak. 

                                                                   Classes Start

 We began attending classes a couple of days after Orientation.  Instead of regular textbooks we were required to purchase enormous books that contained  numerous excerpts from appellate court opinions.  Appellate opinions are generated by higher courts when losing parties appeal their trial court losses.   When an appellate court decides an appeal, it writes an opinion setting out its decision and explaining how it came to its conclusion.
 Prior to every class our professors designated which appellate opinions should be studied.  We students were required to read and to be prepared to discuss the assigned material.  This meant that, prior to class, we had to be ready to recite the facts of the cases; the issues presented by the cases; and the rules of law that were  used by the higher courts to resolve the cases.      

 There was precious little explanatory material in our textbooks— just excerpts from  appellate opinions.  And, for the most part, our professors didn’t lecture about the subject being studied.  Instead, they employed the Socratic method of teaching by  posing  a series of questions to students about the appellate opinions. 

 Almost all classes followed  the same format.   The professor would select a victim de jure.  The designated victim would then be expected to “brief the case”.  That was the easy part, as the victim most likely had studied the opinion in preparation for class.  Then, after the poor, unfortunate soul had finished his recitation,  the professor would ask questions about the case.  This part was anything but easy.  The questions seemed to go on forever.  The professor would ask what the result would be if the facts were slightly varied.  Questions were posed as to the philosophical underpinnings of the rule of law being discussed.  The student was required to compare and contrast the opinion with other opinions that dealt with related matters.  And, so it went, sometimes for up to 30 minutes.  Then, the professor would select another victim to torment for the remainder of the class.

 My  very first class in law school was Contracts.  The professor walked into the room and coldly stared at us students.  Without saying a word, he slowly cast his eyes over the room to select his designated victim.     As luck would have it,   he settled on none other than Mr. Cornelius Alcott Fairchild IV.    Mr. Fairchild, a Boston Brahmin, was descended from a long line of wealthy, private-school educated, and elite members of Boston’s  high society.  He was quite taken with himself, and he was exceedingly proud of his aristocratic linage.  He was one of those individuals that I spoke of earlier, who believed that he was clearly superior to the rest of us ignorant rift raft.  We rift raft soon dubbed him “Fourth”, in recognition that he was the fourth in the line of probably equally obnoxious forebears. 
 “Fourth”  began briefing the case with confidence.  He easily recited the pertinent facts about the case, but when the professor began asking questions, Fourth started stuttering and his hands developed a marked tremor.  Even worse, he began sweating.  As the relentless grilling continued, what started as beads  of sweat on his brow quickly became tiny rivulets. Small  rivulets  made their way across his  face and  converged with other small rivulets and formed streams, which in turn merged with other streams.  It was a definite  deluge of sweat.  All the while, Fourth’s hands continued to shake, and he continued to stutter.  For good measure, he then developed a facial tic.  Before the professor was finished with him, Fourth, who previously presented himself as a calm, superior being,  was transformed into a quivering mass of befuddlement.

 All the rest of us found this to be highly amusing.  I was particularly fascinated by a single drop of sweat that clung tenaciously to the tip of Fourth’s long, aristocratic  nose and, against all odds, refused to drop.  Our amusement, though, was tempered by the realization that someday it would be our own turn to be grilled by the professor. We knew that the dreaded day would come, and probably too quickly.  Still, it was nice to see Fourth  get his comeuppance. 

                                                            Dealing With Fear

 The intensity of my fear of failure and humiliation was greatly heightened by witnessing Fourth’s downfall.  And, I was not alone in that regard.  Everyone was running scared, even those who previously affected an air of superiority and confidence.  Our fear and insecurity were so great that most of us devised various strategies for going unnoticed in class. 

 Some of us were quite creative.  A number of students became convinced that physical location in the classroom was the key to remaining unnoticed and therefore unmolested.  There were two schools of thought.  Some of my classmates were of the opinion that the professors,  after having spent a lifetime reading lengthy legal tomes, had ruined their eyes and become nearsighted.  Those students took up position in the rear of the classroom in the hopes that they would not be seen.
 Other students, like myself, astutely noticed that the professors wore glasses and therefore likely could see all the way to the back of the room.  Thus, we reasoned that the “Nearsighted Professors” theory was dangerously flawed and that, if you will pardon the expression, short sighted.  So, I and my fellow conspirators  went the opposite direction by crowding  into the very first row of seats. 
 Our reasoning was not based on the simplistic notion that the professors were farsighted and could not see students close at hand.  Rather, we had a much more sophisticated theory that was based on advanced psychological concepts related to sadism.    We believed that our professors enjoyed humiliating their victims.  We reasoned that if a potential victim  appeared confident and looked like he or she wanted to be noticed, then the professor  would skip over that student and go after the more timid students as easier prey.  And, all in all, this strategy seemed to work somewhat well.  There were a few incidents where our strategy tragically fell short, but I remain convinced, to this day, that we escaped the unwelcome attention of our professors more often than many others. 

 The only really foolproof stratagem for avoiding notice in class was developed by a friend of mine, who, in order to protect the guilty, I will refer to as “Bill”.  It employed camouflage, and it worked wonderfully. 

 Our classroom was not well designed, as it had a white supporting column situated towards the rear of the room that ran from floor to ceiling.  Bill habitually  positioned himself behind the column.  The column was not wide enough, though, to completely conceal him.  Bill brilliantly solved this problem by wearing white clothing.  His shirt was white.  His pants were white. Even his shoes and socks were white.  By attiring himself in this manner he completely blended in with the column. And, it worked.  He went totally unnoticed for most of the first year. 

 The only time that Bill’s strategy failed was late in the school year.  And, the failure was his own damn fault.  What happened was this.  One day he overslept and, running behind, he inadvertently put on a blue shirt.  By the time he noticed his mistake it was too late to go home to change.  Undaunted, he nevertheless decided to go to class and hope for the best.  It must be said that, after escaping professorial wrath all year, Bill was woefully overconfident.

 At any rate, Bill took his usual and accustomed seat behind the column and prepared to take notes.  At this point he demonstrated inadvertent genius.  He opened a packet of salted peanuts and popped one into  his mouth just before the professor walked into the room. 

 The professor looked up and got this really confused look on his face.  He spotted Bill behind the column and realized,  for the very first time,  that a student sat there.  Thinking that he had located fresh prey, he then pointed his finger at Bill and, in a voice dripping with doom,  ordered him to brief the assigned case.  Bill was startled, never having before drawn unwelcome professorial attention.  Frightened out of his wits, he involuntarily gasped, and this sudden intake of breath  caused  the peanut to be sucked down into his windpipe. In distress, and fearing for his life, his hands flew to his throat, and his face turned a bright, almost-florescent red.  Moreover, in his effort at dislodging the peanut, he started emitting  animal-like groans and growls.

 The professor thought that my friend had taken complete leave of his senses and was possibly homicidal.  This conclusion was not all that unreasonable.  Bill was behaving bizarrely.  So, the professor wisely moved on to a less dangerous victim.
 My friend survived, no thanks to any help from the rest of us.  This was before the Heimlich Maneuver had been invented, and besides, we all thought that he was only pretending distress in order to get out of briefing the case.  In fact, we were all quite impressed, and I started giving thought to adding the technique to  my own repertoire. 

 It was only later that Bill revealed that he had not been  feigning distress.  Still, even knowing this, everyone remained quite amazed.   The technique had worked, and thereafter it continued to work.  Even though my friend’s existence was now known to the professors, he was never again asked to brief a case.  Who can argue with success?

 One fundamental technique that everyone practiced to escape notice was to avoid, at all costs, making eye contact with the professors.  For some reason this worked reasonably well.  If a student saw that the professor was looking in his direction, the student would immediately shift his eyes.  Depending on where the professor was looking, whole rows of students would shift their eyes elsewhere.  It was almost as though the shifting was synchronized or choreographed.  This phenomenon must have seemed more than just a little weird to the professors.

 I am convinced that the widespread practice of the eye shifting technique over the years by countless law students resulted in lawyers being unfairly characterized  as “shifty”.  But, I’m not sorry we did it.  We students had to be pragmatic in order to survive. 

 The eye shifting technique worked with all our professors except for one.  The professor in question had what is known as a wandering eye.  His two eyes did not track together.  One eye could be looking in one direction and the other eye in a completely different direction.  That caused us students unending problems.  We had to determine which eye commanded the professor’s attention. Guessing wrong could occasion a fatal delay in shifting our own eyes.  Then, too, guessing wrong might cause us to unnecessarily shift our eyes, which,  after too many false alarms of this nature,  resulted in painful fatigue in our eye muscles. But, we did the best we could.  The alternative— excessive professorial attention— was unthinkable.    

 People dealt with mental pressure in a variety of ways.   I and many of my friends found an effective  way to relieve stress and anxiety.  The founders of my law school wisely located it a block away from the Bilge Water Tavern.  On Fridays,  after classes were over, we walked to the Bilge Water and imbibed beer.  We could do this only on Friday evenings, as all other evenings required study.  So, on non-Fridays we had to resort to other, less wholesome,  techniques for reducing  stress. 

 Many of my classmates became neurotic as a result of pressure.  Some claimed particular study desks  in the law library as their very own.  They decorated their desks with artwork and  posters.  They placed framed photographs of loved ones on their desks.  Some even equipped their desks with portable coffee makers.  And, they zealously guarded their rights to what they considered to be their own desks.  Sitting at the wrong desk could occasion a round of fisticuffs.  And, there is nothing more pathetic-looking than the sight of two scrawny law students  posturing, bumping chests,  and mixing it up. This is especially the case when one of the brawlers is a female.   

 Others dealt with stress in a less aggressive manner.  Some became morose and withdrawn and would not talk to others.  Others started chatting incessantly as though their very sanity depended on filling every moment with noise.  Some started eating too much,  and I confess that I was among that number. 

 As the year progressed, something strange happened to me that,  as it turned out,  had unforeseen and lasting consequences.  It had its origin in my boyhood.   Much of my youth was spent on a small farm in Iowa.  I,  along with all the other farm boys, habitually  wore blue overalls.  We lived in them; we did our chores  in them; and we even went to school in them.  Then, my family moved to California, and I cast aside my blue overalls and never gave them another  thought. 

 That was the case until I was about half way through my first year of law school.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, and probably as a result of stress and a desire to return to simpler times, I starting thinking about blue overalls again.  Actually, the truth be told, I did more than just think about overalls.  I started obsessing and even fantasizing about them.  It became all I could think about.  It was horrible.  When I should have been studying, my mind was consumed with thoughts of blue overalls.  No lover ever contemplated the beauty of his beloved with more passion than I brought to my thoughts  about overalls. 
 There was only one answer: Over The Finn’s vehement and repeated objections  (inexplicably, she can’t stand overalls),   I went out and bought my own pair of blue overalls.  It worked.  I was fulfilled and   happy, and I could again focus on my studies.  Even though The Finn remonstrated against it, I wore my overalls everywhere, even to school.      
 About halfway through the school year I became convinced that I needed a leg up on the competition.  I concluded that I vitally required  a secret weapon, an ace up my sleeve,  for taking the final exams.  And, I thought that I knew just the thing.  It had been announced that we had the option of typing our exam answers,  rather than writing them out longhand.  We were told that a separate room would be set aside for those who chose to type their exams so that the sound of our typewriters would not disturb the non-typing students. 

 Knowing that people can type faster than they can write in longhand,  I resolved to learn how to type.  I reasoned that typing my exams would give me more time to think about my answers before actually committing them to paper.  Plus, there was the added advantage that my answers could be longer than if I handwrote them; and,  as I concluded, the more words that I could get on paper the greater the chance would be that I would actually give the correct response.  After all, they say that if you put a chimpanzee in a room with a typewriter, and give him all of eternity, sooner or later he will accidentally type out a Shakespearian sonnet.  It’s simple logic.   
 I immediately went out and bought an electric typewriter.  I then enlisted my wife, The Finn, in teaching me how to type.  Parenthetically, years earlier, when we were in high school, she gave me typing lessons.  It was all to no avail, though, and I learned nothing.  Frankly, at that time, I couldn’t have cared less about typing, as the  lessons were just an excuse for me to spend time with her. 

 But now, things were different.  With the frightening prospect of taking my law exams breathing down my neck, I became highly motivated. Desperate for any advantage,  real or imagined, I became the poster child for motivation.  And, The Finn came through.  Every night, she ran me through drill after drill on the keyboard.  She was a hard taskmaster.  At first, my progress was slow.  But, The Finn was relentless, and after a while I started improving.   And,  as time went on, I got faster and faster.  Soon, I was just flat out fast.  I knew then that I could type my final exams.  I had my secret weapon in place, ready to be deployed, and this gave me no small measure of comfort. 


                                                                The Exams

 Day after day, week after week, and  month after month we attended classes, and all the while we were wracked with stress and fear.  Fall turned to Winter, and Winter turned to Spring.  As the school year came to an end, our fear was at a fevered pitch.  Final exams were looming, and we all believed that we were on the very cusp  of flunking out.  Everything, including our careers and our sense of self worth,  was riding on how well  we performed in the exams.  

 Final exams were administered  in late May, after the weather turned very hot. I slept very little the night before the first exam.  It was so hot that sleep was impossible, and besides,  I needed to cram.  So, that is what I did until the wee hours.  Finally, exhaustion overcame me,  and I again  attempted to sleep. Sleep still eluded me, though, so I got back up and tried to study some more.   This was extremely frustrating, as I knew that I needed sleep to be sharp for my exam.  So, that was my condition on the eve of my first final exam— mentally and physically exhausted, sleep deprived, and consumed by fear and stress. It was a deadly combination.  I’m ashamed to admit that I completely unraveled.  Whipping off my glasses, I violently threw them against the wall with as much force as I could muster.

 That was a big mistake.  They were my only pair of glasses, and I needed them to take the exam.  And, of course they broke— rather spectacularly.  The left lens utterly disintegrated into countless small shards of glass.  The frames also were  damaged beyond repair.   All that remained was my right lens, which fortunately was still in pristine condition.   After this latest setback I  went back to bed,  and, wonder of wonders, I managed to sleep. 

 I awakened five hours later and tried to figure out how I could take the exam without my glasses.  At this point, my ever-resourceful wife  came to my rescue.  She scotch taped my right lens over my right eye.  Then, to prevent double vision, she thoughtfully scotch taped a cardboard eyepatch over my left eye. Finally, because I feared that the racket of numerous typewriters in the typing room would be too distracting, The Finn, who was then employed as a Dental Assistant,  crammed a large amount of green dental wax into both of my ears in order to dampen the sound.  Just in case, she gave me two more strips of green dental wax to use in emergencies.  At last, I was ready to take my exam.  So, armed to the teeth with my electric typewriter, my secret weapon, I left for school to do battle.  

 Impeccably attired in my blue overalls, with a patch over my left eye and a lens taped over my right eye, and with both ears crammed to the hilt with green dental wax,  I entered the typing room to meet my fate.     The first thing I noticed was the overwhelming stench of body odor.  It felt like I had run into a brick wall, and it  seemed impenetrable.  Apparently,  many of my fellow students, worried and frightened about the exam, had foregone taking a shower that morning.  At that point in time, proper grooming probably just hadn’t seemed all that important to them.  And, in addition to normal body odor, there was yet another distinct and foul scent.  At first I couldn’t place it, but then I realized that it was the smell of fear.  It occurred to me that maybe I was not the only one that was scared. That thought gave me comfort and courage. 

 So, ever mindful of my bizarre appearance, and not wanting to make a spectacle of myself, I sat in the last row of seats and plugged in my typewriter.  For good or for bad I was ready to type my exam. 

 The proctor entered the room and gave us the signal to begin.  We were off and running.  I am pleased to report that I typed wonderfully, and my fingers fairly flew over the keys.   I clearly was the fastest typist  in the room.  I was so fast that I easily managed to regurgitate at least three times more material than would have been the case had I hand written the exam.
 I should mention at this point that the heat wave  hadn’t let up one little bit, and the exam room was not air conditioned.    The outside temperature was in the nineties, and the inside temperature, with no air conditioning, was even higher.  There were thirty or so students stuffed into that one room, and we all radiated body heat.  All  of the students were running  electric typewriters, each of which gave off heat.   Under those sauna-like conditions, we all perspired like stuck pigs.  This, in turn, ratcheted up the ambient odor level.  The foul  fumes we generated overcame some of the more sensitive and refined of my fellow students, and they started stepping outside the room for minutes at a time,  where they gulped copious amounts of fresh air before continuing with the exam. 

 I’m happy to report that I was immune to the near-crippling effects of the horrific stench that permeated the room.  Prior to going to college, I had spent several years serving aboard  a diesel submarine.  Due to restraints in water consumption, submarine sailors were often prohibited, for months at a time, from taking showers or washing their clothes.  As would be expected, the atmosphere was more than just a trifle  rank. It was not for nothing that diesel boat submariners were often called  sewer pipe sailors.  Little did I know at the time that my experience on subs was to work in my favor at law school. 

 As the exam progressed over the next three and one-half hours, I experienced two  almost-debilitating problems.  The first problem was of a technical nature.  My typewriter started to malfunction.  It was equipped with a carriage return key which, when pressed, returned the carriage so that I could start a new line of typing.  At first, it performed as intended.   But, as the exam continued, my typewriter  started emitting a soft,  wiffle-like sound every time the carriage was returned.  Over the course of the next hour, the soft wiffle evolved into a loud screech, which over time became a very loud SCREECH. 

  People started to notice.  I would be typing along and minding my own business, and about every ten  seconds my machine would return the carriage and emit a deafening SCREECH.  At first, I affected ignorance of the source of the noise.  I even went so far as to look behind me, pretending to look for the source.  But, that was foolish, as I was in the back row and there was no one behind me— just the wall.  I fooled no one, and  it soon became obvious that it was my machine that  was making the awful racket.  So, every time my machine would SCREECH my fellow test takers would turn around and stare.  And, believe me, their looks were not benign.  Had they been more charitable, I might have been tempted to give them some of my emergency ration of green dental wax.  

 And, that brings up the second problem, which was more of a personal nature.  As I said, the room was very, very hot. It was stifling.  Not surprisingly, the green dental wax that The Finn had stuffed up my ears began to soften and liquefy. And, like all substances, it expanded as it warmed.  That fact, coupled with the force of gravity, soon resulted in massive amounts of green,  viscous fluid bubbling out of both of my ears.  Soon, what began as a small trickle became a raging torrent of green liquid spewing  from my two  ears, like lava from twin volcanos, and running down my face and into my beard.

 For the remainder of the examination,   my typewriter continued to emit a loud SCREECH about every10 seconds.  And, every time that happened,  my fellow test takers turned around and stared daggers at me.  When they did, I grinned  maniacally  at them. What they observed had an obvious effect.  My taped-on lens; my eye patch; my hideous grin; and particularly the green fluid that gushed freely from my ears, were  enough to generate profound looks of revulsion on my classmates’ by now ashen faces. All the while, the room continued to get hotter, and its rank odor continued to intensify.  The stench of the room and my ghastly appearance were a lethal  combination.  Many of my classmates gave every appearance of getting sick.  I thought to myself that if even one of them lost control and vomited it would result in a chain reaction with everyone else doing the same.  I concluded that this would be a very bad thing, as the smell was already overpowering. 

 Mercifully, the proctor ultimately called time and we handed in our work.  Everyone, including the proctor, hastily fled the room.  I was the lone exception.  For obvious reasons, I tarried  for a very long time before venturing out. They say that discretion is the better part of valor.  Having observed the malice  in my long-suffering classmates’  faces as they left the room,  I feared violence and wisely decided to exercise a whole lot of discretion. 


 Suffice it to say that I survived my exams and ultimately graduated from law school.  Forty years later, I retired from the legal profession,  and I now spend every day, all day long,  with The Finn.  She is still a hard taskmaster, and she has put me to work.  She makes me do dishes, and sometimes, no matter how tired I am, I have to fix my own lunch.  As a result, I am again quite stressed, and I again find my mind wandering to the simple days of my boyhood.  And, once again, I find myself fantasizing about blue overalls.

 Despite my many hints that it would be nice to have a nice pair of blue overalls, The Finn adamantly  refused to buy me any.  Well, I decided that I would not put up with her stubborn, irrational  prejudice a moment longer, and I ordered myself a brand new pair of blue overalls.  A man has to do what a man has to do.  I’m no brute, though.   Out of consideration of The Finn’s  delicate sensibilities,  I requested that they be shipped in an unmarked, plain, brown wrapper.   

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