Harry and the Chase for Paper

The year before I started Law School I saw James Bridge’s film The Paper Chase. It chronicles the trials and tribulations of first year (or 1L in the law school nomenclature) law student  James Hart portrayed by Timothy Bottoms. The opening scene is the first day of class. Just after Professor Charles Kingsfield (John Housman) enters the room he calls on Hart to recite a brief of a case in Contracts. Hart is befuddled and admits he hasn’t read the case. Kingsfield snarls at Hart for being unprepared and chastises him for not looking at the notices on the bulletin board where assignments were posted. When class mercifully ends Hart bolts to the men’s room and loses his breakfast.

Sometimes life  does actually imitate art. Because of the movie I checked the bulletin board before my first class in Contracts at the Detroit College of Law. Sure enough there were reading assignments posted there. I also attended a meeting sponsored by the law fraternity where they showed us how to use the wide margin note paper and properly “brief” a case (IRAC; Issue, Rule, Application, Conclusion). I showed up for my first class prepared.

Professor Matthew McKinnon was a brilliant Detroit College of Law student who was offered a teaching position immediately after he graduated. He was younger than a lot of us but he did his very best to take on a Professor Kingsfield persona. He walked into class, flipped through a deck of 3×5 cards with our names on them and said, “Mr. Einheuser please tell the class about the case of Hawkins vs McGee.” It was one of those surreal moments. Did I just hear my named called and pronounced perfectly?

“Is Mr. Einheuser here?”

“Yes, I’m here. Um this is a contract case”

“Mr. Einheuser the name of the course is Contracts; they are all contract cases”.

I remember I spoke slowly and unevenly but managed to explain the facts of the case, the issue that confronted the court, what the rule of law was, how that rule was applied to these facts, and the court’s conclusion.  I remember he shot a few more questions at me which I muddled through. And then he called on someone else.

My tentative but adequate performance was not what he hoped for. The point of the first session of law school is to scare the shit out of everyone so they wouldn’t  even think about showing up unprepared. He was able to make his point with the next two or three victims he called on who apparently hadn’t seen the movie.

It’s always good advice not to peak too soon. You know –  not be that guy that starts out strong and then goes into a steady decline.  But that was my law school experience. I had a full time job as an Executive Assistant to the Mayor during the day and I didn’t always give my night classes the time and attention they demanded. I would not have graduated without the grace of God and the support of my Study Group.

I got word last Friday that Harry Dalsey was taken by Pancreatic Cancer. It’s the devil’s disease!  Harry was one of the wittiest people I’ve ever known. His was a Seinfeldian kind of observational humor.  He saw and made jokes about life’s simple absurdities.  He livened up our Study Group and made Law School more tolerable.

His acerbic wit almost got us all into a bar fight.  It was after the final class of our final year. Only exams stood between us an graduation. Around 9:00 PM we went to the neighborhood dive bar The Elwood. There was a great rivalry between the day students and the night students and several day students were already there having spent the afternoon enjoying their own celebration.  Harry opined as how the night students had a superior education and would make much better lawyers.

“Why?” asked one female day student.

“Because we have much more real world experience than you do”

“I have experience”

“Oh, have you ever………”

His salacious question had a similar suggestion as last week’s controversial joke by Stephen Colbert. Her boyfriend jumped up, his chair when crashing across the floor and now everyone jumped up and faced off. Cooler heads moved in between us. I’d like to think I’d rush to the defense of my Study Group member and fellow night student. But I’d have preferred that the cause have been a bit more noble.

Harry is the second member of our Study Group that we’ve lost.  Gerald Van Vliet collapsed and died while jogging on August 3, 2012.  As I contemplate what life will be in my Third Act I feel enormous gratitude toward Harry and Gerald and the others who made my career and livelihood possible.

Go gently on your journey, Harry.  You’ve profoundly touched many lives, including mine.

  רוך דיין אמת

Baruch dayan emet  (Blessed is the True Judge)

My Detroit College of Law Study Group and spouses celebrating our graduation in 1980. Gerald Van Vleit is in the back row left and Harry Dalsey is in the back row 3rd from the left.

The Last Hallelujah

One thing you can say about Christian fundamentalists; they possess a much greater degree of theological certainty than most of the rest of us.

In spite of my own spiritual ambiguity I practice the religion of my childhood, Roman Catholicism.  I’ve been part of a faith community (we used to call them parishes) for a couple of decades now where the preaching is Jesuit and the music is Gospel. Not a bad way to spend most Sunday mornings. And for what it’s worth it’s significant to note that even Mother Theresa had profound doubts about the existence of God.

In his closing remarks last Sunday the Pastor observed that we had heard the last Hallelujah. I’ve not been paying attention to the liturgical calendar. Only then did I realize that today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of the 40 day observance of Lent. “Hallelujah” and “Alleluia” become Voldemort – words not to be spoken aloud during Lent.

The Lenten tradition involves fasting, praying and alms giving.  As kids we were instructed to “give up” something. This usually involved abstaining from candy, movies or some other personal privation. When I was an undergraduate I teasingly asked a Jewish friend what he was giving up for lent. He didn’t miss a beat. “The Goyim”.

During Lent we also revert to the old Catholic tradition of not eating meat on Fridays. This was something observed year round when I was a kid. The old Friday standby was mac and cheese, a dish I didn’t particularly care for. Thank God for peanut butter. The idea of not eating meat was thought of as a form of penance. I questioned the value of this penance when in High School I heard that one of the bishops had a standing Friday reservation at venerable Joe Muir’s seafood restaurant on Gratiot just south of Eastern Market. 

Seafood, of course, is not meat whether it’s canned tuna or poached sea bass. Eating meat on Friday was a mortal sin. Meaning if you did it and died before making a confession you went right to Hell. As a teenager my reaction to the news that we could now eat meat on Friday foreshadowed my career as a lawyer. “If it’s not a sin anymore what about all those poor bastards in Hell?”

Our friends who live downriver have this curious practice of eating muskrat during Lent. Is muskrat meat or seafood? A priest friend once remarked, “as far as I’m concerned anyone who wants to eat muskrat during Lent is doing plenty of penance”.

I’m thinking I’m not going to be giving up anything in particular for Lent. I’m making an effort to eat healthier which involves abstinence from some favorite foods. But that has more to do with concerns of the flesh rather than the spirit. I am going to make an effort to reach out to friends and acquaintances I’ve not had contact with in a long time.

Like a good play, life’s Third Act should include characters we met in Acts One and Two.