Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Never Judge a Book By Its Cover

Ash Wednesday brings back memories of my second year in law school. I was in the thick of a grueling schedule, tired of lifting books that felt like two tons, no longer phased by the young men on the subway, selling incense and "fine body oils," and bootlegged movies.

I was feeling like a slacker. The only extracurricular activities that I was involved in were Hangman, Tic Tac Toe, and M.A.S.H, which my buddy and I played on my notebook in every class, in between taking notes until our hands went numb.

Then, one day, a guy in class told me about some Irish Law Society, looking for new members to join. They hosted happy hours, networking activities, and even a professional mentorship program. They seemed all welcoming, so I signed up.

Weeks later, I received a letter in the mail, informing me that I was paired up with a state court judge, who was to become my mentor. I called my dad to tell him the exciting news.

He cautioned me, “Well, you’d better tell the judge that you’re Jewish.”

“Dad, WHAT are you talking about! You really think religion is going to come up in our conversation? Plus, it’s none of his business what I am!”

Wednesday came. As I walked five blocks to city hall, I passed many people with ashes on their foreheads. Ash Wednesday? Interesting timing, I thought.

I entered the judge’s office and was greeted by large Irish flags and a group of sweet young women, named Patty, Theresa, Sinead O'Connor. Patty led me into the judge’s chambers and within minutes a wild, ruddy-faced, white-haired, stocky, fifty-something judge cruised in and took his seat across from me, with Patty seated to my right.

“Judge, would you like some coffee?” Patty inquired. It was clearly their morning routine.

“Nope, givin’ it up for Lent!" he declared. That caffeine is just not good for you, you know?” Patty nodded sweetly.

I nodded too, shifting in my seat. The judge smiled and looked across the desk at me. “So, what are you giving up for Lent?”

He literally didn't even get my name or introduce himself.

What am I giving up for Lent? What am I giving up for Lent? What is Lent? I thought to myself, frantically.

Now, seriously, I'd be lying if I said I didn't think of all kinds of things that I could have pretended to be giving up for Lent: Lima beans, vegetables, pork. But I just couldn't bring myself to lie to the judge.

There was dead silence in his chambers. Patty and the judge stared at me, waiting for an answer. I took a deep breath.

“Well, my answer is . . . going to surprise you.”

Dead silence.

“I’m Irish . . . but I’m Jewish.” I smiled at the judge. Total confusion swept over his round face.

Dead silence.

Then the judge snapped back. “Well, what is your Irish side giving up?” He winked at Patty, feeling very wise and witty once again.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't think of all kinds of things that I could have pretended my "Irish side" to be giving up for Lent: soda bread, Guinness bear, sausage. I thought about telling him my "Irish side" was giving up Jesus, but I thought that would surely ruin my chances of securing him as a mentor.

I just couldn't bring myself to lie to the judge, nor myself.

"What's my Irish side giving up? Um . . . nothing.” I replied, somewhat apologetically.

He stared at me blankly. He just didn't get it.

The judge and Patty looked at me oddly, and then the judge broke the awkward silence, “So, where do you go to school?”

“Temple,” I exhaled, “and that’s as in law school, not synagogue!”

The judge kindly offered me a summer internship, but I already had a job at a plaintiff's firm, so I had to decline. He invited me to come watch the proceedings in his courtroom whenever I wanted to pop in. He was extremely generous with both his time and his advice once our awkward meeting hit its stride.

Unfortunately, I only saw my "mentor" one more time, when he was singing a spirited version of "That's What Friends Are For" at the Irish Society's holiday (or should I say, Christmas) party. But, I will never forget that judge and I wonder if he will ever forget the Irish Jew (who's still not giving up a damn thing for Lent). I certainly never expected that I would teach a judge a lesson about not prejudging other people. Leave it to the slacker . . .

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Keep the Beat

A few weeks ago, I sat among 5,000 people at the funeral for my friend's father, a music icon. The funeral was a spectacular tribute, complete with stirring gospel and R&B music, and no shortage of heart and soul to go around.

I had never in my life attended a funeral where I tapped my foot along to the music, smiled at the person sitting next to me, or felt so inspired. I sang along to "This Little Light of Mine" with two hundred joyful people in the church choir.

They had spunk.

Exuded spirit.

The congregation knew how to celebrate a life and how to give a proper send-off.

When the charismatic reverend reflected on the long successful career of the dearly departed, Teddy Pendergrass, he spoke of the early days, long before superstardom, when Teddy played drums for Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.

"He played the beat for someone else!" the reverend shouted. "Imagine that!" The reverend imitated a drummer tapping a drum with his sticks. There were several dozen 'Hallelujahs" and a couple hundred "Amens."

"Let me saaaaaaaaay it again! He kept the BEAT for SOMEONE ELSE!" The middle aged reverend jumped up and down wildly at the pulpit, while the crowd roared.

"Now let me ask you, how many of YOU keep the beat for someone else... so that THEY might shine?"

I thought about how many people in my life have kept the beat for me; all of the people who continue to keep the beat for me. And I thought about the people for whom I have kept the beat and for whom I continue to keep the beat.

On this day of love, and the days to come, I am going to remember Teddy Pendergrass and the incredible gifts he gave to the world.

And I'm going to remember to keep the beat. For my husband. For my son. For my parents. For my friends. For my lonely neighbor. For the child I have not yet met who needs an advocate. For children in Haiti. For people around the corner and around the world.

What could be a better Valentine's Day gift to the ones we love than simply to keep the beat?

Friday, February 5, 2010


There is a warrant out for my arrest.

I am so not kidding.

I received in the mail yesterday my "last notice before arrest."

What is my alleged offense?

Marrying a man who exceeded the parking meter limit in a car registered in my name. Shouldn't HIS name be on the warrant?

I told "Timmy Tickets," (AKA my husband) to deal with this matter immediately before I'm pulled over, handcuffed in front of my baby, and thrown into the back of a police car. I mean, seriously, i could wind up in the slammer.

To avoid this outcome, I am contemplating reviving one of my many aliases which I have acquired over the years.

Some viable options are:

1. Baby Boots - This was my "handle" or code name when my family had a CB radio in the late '70s. Every December, my parents, AKA Mr. Sunshine and Foxy Mama, would take my sister and I out of school for 2 weeks, promising our teachers that we would get an "educational experience" on our vacation. Oh yes, we got an education. While talking to truckers over the CB radio on our way down I-95 to Miami, we learned about "lot lizards" (hookers) and "latrine lips" (truckers with dirty mouths).

2. Stace Face - When I was a toddler, my mom's best friend from high school used to shriek this nickname for me at the top of her lungs when she'd see me, terrifying me, even though she was just 4 foot 11, even in her trademark 3 inch red spiked heels. I was so scared of her that I once cannonballed into her swimming pool before I knew how to swim, just to escape her hugs.

3. Mother Fish - When I was around 6 years old, this nickname used to make me so upset that I would tattle to my mom ever time my sister uttered the words, "You wish, Mother Fish!' My mom insisted that my sister stopped using such offensive taunts. My sister creatively changed it up to, "You wish, Potato Knish!"

4. Electric Rollerhead - Can you imagine an arrest warrant out for "Electric Rollerhead," parking meter limit violator, menace to society?

5. Fernanda Barrosa - My phenomenal fake ID that my sister's college roommate slipped to me when I was sixteen. The girl in the photo had black curly hair, bright blue eyes, and was a whopping 26 years old (the oldest possible age I could have ever imagined). It was PERFECT. Until I got busted with it in a bar at Cornell...and then again, at Dave and Busters in Philly. "No hablo Englais" did not work twice.

6. Brown Bear - This was my pregnant alias, according to my husband, who claimed that I was in hibernation the entire first trimester. I would sleep for approximately 15 hours a night and then wake up saying, "Well, I'm awake now...."

7. Wonder Woman - Just let the cops try to stop me once I put on my tiny wonder woman costume, cape and all, and run around outside in a season far from Halloween, which I have been known to do for the amusement of others.

8. Two Pound Ninety - This was my alias while I lived abroad in London for a semester in 1996. I used to scream this out in my best Cockney accent when my two roommates would call out "roll call." "4 pound 30" and '6 pound 70" were their aliases. Must have been the hash.

9. Senator Heenan - Very distinguished moniker given to me by my favorite law school professor every time he would call on me to inquire about mens rea. The LMPD wouldn't mess with a senator, would they?

10. Old Lady Jenkins - "But officer, you must be mistaken! Old Lady Jenkins is a law-abiding, early to bed, early to rise, model citizen. She would never be anything less than ultra vigilant about a parking meter expiration. You must be looking for Old MAN Jenkins, my husband, bad ass bandit to meter maids near and far. Yes, he's the outlaw who swore he would pay the minor violation months ago. He's a clever one, Officer, you need to know. He sometimes goes by the alias, Simcha, the name of our rabbi's husband, which he pronounces like "Simka" from the Lion King (because he's still working on his Hebrew "chah" sound). Officer, he's still getting speeding tickets in the mail from Rome from our honeymoon TWO and half years ago. Need I say more? He's your man!"

Here's hoping one of my aliases will work or that my baaaaaaad husband will resolve this matter asap. My next blog entry may be a letter from jail, much like MLK's Letter from Birmingham Jail. I'm sure the other inmates will come up with all kinds of new names for me behind bars. Wish me luck.