I was among seventy five or so bright youngsters, many of the silver spoon, and a few older guys who seemed to be there to ogle the young and/or stay in school (which phrase has become quite fashionable). I felt a bit out of place, as if that drunken seventeen year old Cortland State adolescent had been awoken by a bad hangover to find himself at Harvard and still without a clue.
I immediately made acquaintance with Bob, an ogler who shamelessly played on the fact that I couldn't be too choosy about my friends. This was he of the, "He may be cripples, but he ain't dead" slogan. He was central to my three-year law school career and deserves more careful attention.
Bob was of medium height, about five foot eight, and of medium build, neither over nor under weight. He wore his rather thin, dark brown hair well above his shoulders. A close look at Bob's hair told a tale: he would be bald before his time.
He carried himself with an understated confidence, like an athlete sure of his talent. With good reason, he was the star of our class. His booming, deep voice and impeccable diction bespoke an orator of the highest order. His writing rendered the coveted Law Review available to him with little effort. His mind was sharp and very quick. He was the class wit. His observations and opinions were delivered in that endearing self depreciating style. His every word seemed to come forth of its own momentum, as if it were waiting to be spoken. Our sallies of wit were invariably punctuated with great good humor. I loved Bob and miss him still, twenty four years later.
His, "He may be crippled..." remark is typical of his brand of humor and our friendship. Bob would have given me a kidney while cracking wise about my inability to open a door in a snow storm. The VA hospital taught me to be serious about this injury; Bob helped show me how not to take myself, especially the wheelchair part, too seriously. Life's lightness is where you find it.
He sat near me in the auditorium-like first year classroom that had cream colored deep pile carpets, of course. Pushing my way over this was like a day at the beach, wet sand and all. The room was well-lit, harshly so, it seemed some days.
A raised, semi-circular area in front centered at the obligatory podium, behind which some professors hid and some simply taught. Most of these professors used the hated Socratic Method. One student at a time was mercilessly subjected to a series of rapid-fire questions, many of which had ambiguous answers, at best. The queries proved to be traps for the unwary, which was the point, after all. Many of these would-be Socrates', I eventually figured out, were little more than over-educated territorial egoists protecting their law school fiefdoms.
Most of these young students were bright, it is true, but not necessarily that bright. At first, I was worried that my years of ingesting STP, LSD, and mescaline and smoking plenty of pot and hash had left my brain too addled to keep up. I had, however spent years discussing and arguing over international politics, world history, and quantum mechanics with very smart and quick hippies, neurotic professors, and downright psychotic misfits to quail now.
Sill, I felt nervous, as if I were in the well known dream in which I was the only one naked in a room of fully dressed people I hardly knew. I tried to melt into the background, but Bob always had another crippled joke or observation meant to shine the spotlight on me. Every day, I feared a piss scene, tipping over, getting stuck, or spilling food on myself. If so, Bob would be in his glory, declaring so all could hear, "You know, watching you eat is excruciating, like watching the loser of a food fight he can never hope to win."
One one particular day, I was almost late for class, which was a venial sin that brought hard looks down on the malfeasant from the podium. I had barely enough time to get to the Men's Room, empty my urinary leg bag, which was full almost to overflowing, and hustle to class on time. If all went well, that is. I was wearing my beloved light blue, thin-soled cloth tennis sneakers and khaki pants.
In the men's Room, I got my chair into position sidesaddle to the commode and locked my brakes. I put the toilet seat up, lifted my right leg onto the toilet bowl, set my foot down on the rim, leaned forward and to my right, and unlocked the clamp that held the urine in the bag. That then let the quart of steamy piss pass without comment into its new environment in the plumbing system and eventually out to begin a new life somewhere else, far from me.
NOT SO FAST!
By what must have been an irrevocable order from Zeus himself, ordained to punish and humble me yet again, my foot slid ever so slowly along the rim and inevitably into the bowl.
[Digression: One day, I was driving to work on a cloudless and pristine early morning. The freeway was icy and trecherous in places. I was driving very slowly. In front of me at a distance of a few hundred yards, a pick-up truck skidded out of control. This truck was soon sliding across the roadway at a right angle to oncoming traffic. I watched spellbound as the car in front of me slid toward the truck in what appeared to be super slow motion. The accident occurred as expected.]
This law school piss situation was exactly like that. I watched my foot slide forward and to the right, also in slow motion. The entire event happened as if it were fated, as I say, to do just that on that day at that place at that time.
There was nothing I could do. I was alone. If I lunged or simply reached toward my foot that would only have served to hasten what could not be prevented. PLOP, SPLASH, into the bowl went my right foot, tennies, socks, khaki pants, ankle, and all.
Now what? Nothing for it but to pull my nasty, soaking wet, and formerly light blue sneaker out of the mess. I would have to go drip, drip, dripping onto that carpet and into that classroom right past Bob. 'Maybe I'll make it to my desk without being noticed', I thought. I might as well have been trying to sneak past security guarding the Mona Lisa. Sue enough, Bob sized up the situation in one quick look and announced to my seventy-some classmates what had happened and to have a look at me. Of course, every eye was on my foot instantly. Most of the males laughed unabashedly, some self consciously, some sympathetically. The majority of the women were kinder, yet definitely amused.
At that moment, I would have been fully justified under every law written, including but not limited to The Law of Hummurabi, Magna Carta, and the Geneva Accords if I had (1) killed Bob, (2) died right there and then, or (3) run away, never to be seen again.
But no. Bob's existence continues, such as it is, as does that of yours truly, and there was no place to go.
My position in the school as Bob's at-hand foil was cemented that day. If I had been wheeled into the classroom in an iron lung at Death's Door, Bob would have come up with a way to wring laughter out of the situation. He was a walking amusement park.
We had three great years together. Paraphrasing the Poet, "We longed for nothin', we were satisfied, laughin' and a-jokin'..."
Bob, old pal, this is for you:
"Law school was a very long shot,
Yet I made it there, no matter what,
With Bob as a friend,
I was mocked to the end,
whether sitting in urine or not."