Friday, March 8, 2019

Speaking from the Bench

My main office on Longboat Key is a bench at Bayfront Park on Gulf of Mexico Drive overlooking Sarasota Bay. Though I thought I had overslept this morning I nonetheless removed myself from the virginal lair shortly after 7:00 am and immediately instituted my habitual morning performances.  The only difference this morning - well actually there were two - was, first, I had organic honey with my walnuts instead of the usual Savannah honeycomb (both equally tasty); and, second, I carried my new tiny Greadio to the dining table and used it to listen to a classical Florida FM station and one of my latest Apple Music library collections through Bluetooth (remarkable little device).

Today was another brilliantly sunny day, the temperature predicted to rise to 74℉.  I was on my bicycle at precisely 10:11 am (a strange time which naturally I remember for that reason). Within the hour I nosed into the Park, having had an agreeable jaunt along Gulf of Mexico Drive (on which I passed several other habitu├ęs whom I have seen on numerous occasions over the past five months). My usual perch was taken by someone so I shifted one degree to another nearby bench.  When I checked my email there was a business notification which I proceeded to forward. Otherwise my occupation  - or should I say my indolence - was confined to staring at the Bay and relishing the inestimable pleasure of the day.

A gentleman walked past in front of me and commented that it was a splendid day for getting a tan.  I recognized an appetite for communication so, after agreeing with his observation and reiterating it, I asked where he was from. Illinois I believe was his answer. He paused his progress and slowly turned in my direction. From the outset he appeared to be a man of deliberation and caution. He then asked where I was from.  When I told him Canada (a small town of 4,500 people that no one has even heard of in Canada), he paused again, then proceeded to tell me that he and his wife had taken a cruise on the St. Lawrence River last year to Boston.  I asked whether it was a commercial or tourist ship.  He recalled that it was Holland America Line. After sharing with me what he remembered of the itinerary he complained that the ship traveled at night and the weather was cold - both of which inhibited viewing of the seaway. He also confided that he and his wife became seasick along the Atlantic Coast.  Again he complained that because they had booked late, they had a lower deck cabin which was compact with no port hole and only a small television.  I noted that I had crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice by ship.  I assured him that from my experience - having gone First Class - when one was seasick it mattered not how spacious the state room. As a diversion I punctuated the observation by remarking that the only person other than my family traveling First Class was an Irish priest who knew how to order lobster.

This immediately opened a new avenue of discussion. The gentleman told me that when he was a young man his mother went out of her way to associate him with the Roman Catholic clergy.  The gentleman said he was involved socially with priests who he likewise observed knew about life.  Not knowing where to go with that statement I redirected the conversation by saying that many families considered it a necessity to have at least one of their number a priest.  To this the gentleman replied, "That has all changed now", continuing that he doesn't go to church regularly anymore. I echoed this by suggesting he was in good company with many others in that particular violation.  I also proceeded to contradict him for having attached only current objection to religion.  I repeated my stock comments regarding Thomas Paine (1776) and his "Age of Reason", how Paine advised Benjamin Franklin and had more than a passing knowledge of the French Revolution. As well I emphasized that the American government had only recently surmounted the pressure of the church to victimize Paine and to acknowledge the influence of Paine by ordering the construction of a statue in his memory. I blurted as well the erstwhile bent of the church to promote music as communication (and entertainment) to the masses to avoid the alternate of teaching them to read.

"These are the times that try men's souls."

This simple quotation from Founding Father Thomas Paine not only describes the beginnings of the American Revolution, but also the life of Paine himself. Throughout most of his life, his writings inspired passion, but also brought him great criticism. He communicated the ideas of the Revolution to common farmers as easily as to intellectuals, creating prose that stirred the hearts of the fledgling United States. He had a grand vision for society: he was staunchly anti-slavery, and he was one of the first to advocate a world peace organization and social security for the poor and elderly. But his radical views on religion would destroy his success, and by the end of his life, only a handful of people attended his funeral.

The gentleman shared with me that a close relative of his was a Southern Baptist who had fallen in love with a Roman Catholic woman whose family demanded the marriage be performed in the Roman Catholic church.  We concurred that this and similar details speak to the influence of the Church.

Around this juncture the gentleman told me he had been a distributor of industrial equipment.  On occasion he travelled to Mexico where he recalled that the Mexicans routinely made saints of their locals. When he later asked what I did, I told him I was a lawyer, at which he immediately sighed, "Ah-h-h!"  Familiar as I am with such reception I had some fun with him at his expense. I mockingly did what I could to embarrass him for having injured my feelings.  We both ended having a good chuckle; and agreed that being as I am a country lawyer made all the difference.  When however he regurgitated the usual surmise that as a country lawyer I did everything, I resolved to straighten him out somewhat by retorting that in fact my primary occupation was the perpetuation of wealth from one generation to another with the least impact of government and probate - what is customarily categorized as "trusts".  I embellished by adding that many of my clients were in fact judges and lawyers to whom assertion of the esoteric niceties of fiduciary matters was considerably more digestible.

To my surprise the gentleman asked who were the trustees.  I replied that many were family members (large enough in number to overcome the threat of disability or absence) but that sometimes the preference was for a corporate trustee (for perpetuity) - though I emphasized that annual corporate fixed fees were often trumped by the alternative of individual compensation based upon time, care and trouble. This interlude seemed to satisfy the gentleman as to my legitimacy though I suspect as well it strengthened his undisguised disdain for lawyers generally.

The gentleman felt the necessity to insert that the problem with America was there were too many lawyers.  He nourished this by adding that Donald Trump was a businessman and not contaminated by the law.  When I afterwards interjected that his opinion that the problem with America is that there are too many lawyers is akin to saying there are too many white people, his answer was, "America is white!" I hadn't the heart or inclination to dampen his gusto, particularly when he proclaimed with evident satisfaction that he was a "red neck". I interpreted his so-called comic admission as a latent disguise of shameless superiority.

As we drew near the end of our colloquy I advised that in thanks for his suggestion about a cruise on the St. Lawrence River I would propose in return the advantage of Apple Music.  The technical element of the matter evaporated rather speedily. What followed was a discussion of music generally. After I admitted that I could bear the deprivation of rock music and that instead I preferred classical music and opera, he mentioned his upcoming attendance at a performance of Turandot (which he had difficulty pronouncing and with which he confessed he was unfamiliar).

On the heels of this latest elevation of our conversation we agreed to conclude our banter but not before he invited me to meet his wife who had been resting on a nearby bench enjoying the sunshine. Following the customary pleasantries the gentleman asked by open enquiry whether we should continue our rally at another time to which I instantly replied, "No!"  I convinced him that I was curmudgeonly and anti-social.

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