July, 1995 + San Juan, Texas
I sat in my South Texas Project office on a typically hot and humid July day. The heat index had to be at least 106. The time was 1:15 PM. I was hurriedly preparing for a 2:30 PM Motion Day hearing in federal court in McAllen. I had plenty of time. I would leave in 15 or 20 minutes, take the half-hour drive to the federal courthouse at my accustomed 15 miles per hour, and be at the hearing 15 or 20 minutes early. I hated rushing around, especially on hot days. I was well aware that time consuming problems could happen no matter how early or late I was. Witness my life, a case study in the proposition, 'If it aint broke, don't use it'.
I was anxious as usual. Attorneys had to be prepared for this judge, especially on Motion Day. Your Honor demanded professionalism, and routinely dressed down lawyers before their peers, in open court, and on the record. He reserved reprimands for those who were late, were not ready, had not filed documents on time, or had exhibited disrespect of the Court.
I recall one such reprimand. The courtroom was full of paralegals, legal assistants, attorneys, witnesses, court officers, and hangers on. The judge berated a high priced, hot shot barrister. "Mr. Smith, in all my years on the bench, this submission of yours is the worst, most confusing, and poorly written example of incompetence I have ever seen."
That was the prelude to a five minute harangue during which the Judge waved in the air one sheet of paper. This document could not have contained a decent sized paragraph. That display of unrestrained anger left me breathless and quaking in my cheap polyester pants. When my turn came to face the fire that day, I wanted to say, 'Your Honor, I would first like to remind the court that I am NOT Mr. Smith."
I was ready. The matter in hand was another in a never ending line of injustices to farm workers. My homework had been done. The Judge liked these cases. 'Doing Essential Justice', he termed it (off the record, of course). He liked me, though that was subject to change without notice, like your phone bill.
I was nervous going over the case. About then, I got a whiff of urine. Always with the urine. I have sat in it, taken exams in it, lay in it, drove in it, and even drank it. This has happened more than a hundred times. That notwithstanding, I always initially deny the obvious.
Following that spurious denial, there are five to ten seconds of fighting it. Then, reality tells me 'tis I. I'm sitting in piss; it smells. It's hot. I don't have time to change clothes'. I'm revisiting the bar exam quandary and the dog poop AG job interview. What to do? I had to go. If not, I would have been on this judge's blacklist a long time. That prospect too closely resembled Miss White's list.
I had two options, neither of which I relished: (1) run home, hope my personal care guy Eduardo is there, available, and somehow able to fix this mess, or (2) go as I was. Two was perilous. I had to give (1) a shot, even if that meant I would be a little late. Mind, heart, and all racing, I flew home. Eduardo was there and available. He never looked so good.
Eduardo was, in Spanish, a 'Grandote', a tall, large man. He was thirty-eight and all angles, elbows, knees and joints. His hair was thick, black, and wavy. He had an offbeat sense of humor, slightly cynical. He moved like Charlie Chaplin and the young Bob Dylan, herky-jerky. He would wheel around 360 degrees on one heel and present what he held, like a combination mine, ballet dancer, and waiter. He was fast, a quick study.
I outlined my dilemma. We rushed to my room. He sized up the situation in an instant. He opened up my pants, hands and arms flying akimbo, with me in the chair. We see the inevitable: my condom catheter (called a 'Texas Catheter' no joke) was totally off. My pants, chair, and spongy cushion were soaked; piss was everywhere. In full emergency mode, Eduardo donned rubber gloves, removed the condom, grabbed a washcloth, towel, and soap, washed and dried me off. He then sprayed medical adhesive on my penis. This adhesive was like a combination model airplane and super glue. Eduardo sprayed this stuff all over my penis, nuts, pants, and himself. He then deftly put on another condom and rolled it down over the glue. Next, he poured on way too much sickeningly sweet cologne. And for good measure, he doused me with so much baby powder I could hardly breathe or see.
The room seemed to be filled with tear gas. Like an operating room doctor, Eduardo expertly finished and closed, and re-zipped my pants. He removed his gloves with the snap and flair of success. "Es muy bien, si or no?" (It is very good, yes or no?) This was a joke between us, 'si or no', when things were very bad.
Eduardo had a tough life in Mexico and the US. He was a good guy; we laughed a lot. We had a short, unrestrained belly laugh, as if Groucho had just removed a hammer from Harpo's stomach. I got back to business and dashed off.
I was squarely caught between the mess and the Motion. I could hardly remember what I was doing. I switched into auto pilot mode. I drove through congested McAllen traffic on this scorching hot day, got to the courthouse, and gathered up my briefcase and black bag. This ungainly bag, the black bag, held myriad documents, most of which were redundant and unnecessary.
I carried them into the Federal building on my urine-soaked lap and placed my briefcase on the conveyor. This ensured that everyone at hand would not miss the aroma. Next, I passed through the first run of security guard searches and metal detectors. I made small talk with the guards. I put the briefcase and black bag back on my lap and nervously waited for the elevator. "Those guys on the tenth floor are in for it", I imagined one guard saying to the other when I got off.
There was, of course, a gaggle of lawyers and acquaintances present. The ride in the that full-capacity elevator was like a bad dream. This nightmare resembled my law school dream, where i am the only one naked in a room full of angry people. I tried my best to appear nonchalant, but that was impossible.
There could be no doubt where the smell came from. Everyone, including your author, fidgeted and looked down. Anywhere but in each other's eyes, like Mr. Drudge's receptionist. I made my way through the second security check much like the first.
I finally made my way to the courtroom and parked away from the bench and fellow attorneys. I anxiously waited for my case to be called. I would then have to approach the bench, officially appear before the Court, and argue my motion. While sitting in uric acid.
I internally paced. Could i do this? Would it go OK? Would a lawyer or two come over for a visit? Would Julia, an attorney i was interested in dating, be there? Would she come over? Would she find out? Was this a replay of the Maine Governor's mansion escapade where I got away, no questions asked?
I remembered that U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas had spent his last days in a wheelchair, incontinent and smelling up the Court. His urinary leg bag would leak in the confines of that august assembly. I thought he whispered to me:
"Oh, I know that you know that you smell,
but sitting in piss is not hell,
the Judge may be kind, or pay no never mind,
and you will have some story to tell.
My heart lightened.
By the time the Judge called my case, I remembered why I was there and made my initial announcement, "Your Honor, Attorney Raymond Gill here for the Plaintiffs". I expected the he Judge to respond, "Mr. Gill, I am aware of your presence. I am taking judicial notice that you are sitting in urine, stinking up my Court, and demeaning the administration of justice thereby. Your Motion is denied, your case dismissed, and you'd better NOT BE DRIPPING PISS ON MY RUG!"
No. My Motion was granted. As far as I could tell there was no drip, drip, drip. I got out of there in a hurry. I mean to say, I hustled my ass out of there! There was no Julia, not then or ever. Woody Allen once said that 90 percent of life is showing up. He never mentioned piss in that context, but I saw what he meant.
On the way home I had another good belly laugh, as I gazed back over what had just occurred. Among all those $500 per hour, self-important attorneys chasing all those corporate dollars, I had successfully represented my low-income farm workers.