Friday, May 6, 2011

Lawyers, Nuns & Money

My experience with the beloved Sisters of St. Ruth began when, while jogging through their ravine access to the Cuyahoga River valley, I found a large bone less than 50 feet from a cemetery for nuns on the property. I took the muddy bone to the Convent. I told the sister who greeted me exactly where I had found it, and it didn’t seem right to leave it there, especially if a forensic expert thought it was human. She asked for my name and number, and I gave it. A few weeks later, I got a call.

FRIDAY 8:25 a.m.
“Mr. Bloomsday?”
“Yes,” I said into my cell phone in the crick of my neck, as I fumbled for my office key with a Grande Mild in one hand and a dozen criminal files in the other.
“I have an update on the bone you found. It created some excitement around here, so we asked a butcher who told us it was from a large animal, probably something thrown in the trash and taken into the woods by raccoons, he said. He said it was sawed.”
“Ah, the mystery solved,” I said.
“Yes, mystery, indeed!” She sounded like Julie Andrews. Was this nun faking a British accent? “It caused quite a stir, thinking that it was lost, somehow. The bone, I mean. It is now filed in our archives, with your name and number, and a brief explanation of how it was found and what our resources have told us.”
“Resources?” I asked.
“The butcher, I mean,” she clarified.
“Yes,” I said. “Butchers are good resources. As are plumbers. And carpenters.”
“Definitely carpenters!! Ha-ha” she laughed.
“Well, I must tell you I very much enjoy your property and I hope my running through it to get down to the jogging path in the valley is o.k. It’s been a healthy habit. And I do love cemeteries.”
“We welcome the use of our land for enjoyment of its beauty, for recreation, and for prayer. We also have composting, our vehicles run on natural gas, we do paper recycling, and we have a wind turbine powered generator coming soon.”
“Very impressive, Sister.”
“You’re a lawyer, Mr. Bloomsday?”
“Yes, but I only work for people who don’t have money to hire a real lawyer. I’m an advocate for the poor.”
“Well, we don’t have money because we take a vow of poverty.”
“Are you saying you need a lawyer, Sister? You do qualify for my services.”
“No, not I. But perhaps you could stop in during one of your jogs and talk with someone here. They have legal questions.”
“I’ll jog over after work. Who shall I ask for?”
“Ask for Sister Beatrice or Bernice.”
We hung up. I went and took a piss, gathered files from my office and headed to the loony bin.

9:45 a.m.
I’m at the Cleveland loony bin, about to talk to a dangerous mental patient. I take a dump in a clean bathroom, thanks to the kindness of a shuffling, limping hospital staffer. A black man in his sixties. Morgan Freeman in the movie.
I pace behind him as he slowly keys through door after metal door until we reach the Cuckoo’s nest. “How is Mr. Zeppinger these days?” I ask. I know that he has threatened to kill judges and doctors and cops, that he has been wrestled to the ground in court by six thick-necked bailiffs. I know that he’s as high and drunk and crazy and violent and dumb as can be.
“Aw, he O.K. He’ll be happy to see you, though,” says Mulney as he turns another key down this corridor to my client.
“Oh, he doesn’t know I’m coming,” I say.
“Yeah, but you gettin’ him outta group. He’s in group right now and he’ll be all happy as a sissy in Boy’s Town to get a visitor during group.”
“Francis Assisi?”
We arrive at the end of the corridor in a wide ward with chairs around televisions and chalkboards. “Zeppinger! Got a visitor!” A man with his head down on his folded arms on the table looks up at Mulney. “Zeppinger. Lawyer’s here.”
Zeppinger speaks: “HE CAN SHA-ZIZZLE MY PUH-ZIZZLE!”
“I’m Bloomsday, from the public defender’s office. I have some important legal matters to discuss with you.” He caught my eyes and I smiled. He stood up and politely walked around the remaining group members toward me and Mulney. I shook his hand hard, like he’d just won an election. Mulney slowly, almost processional in his limp Kevin Spacey way, led us to a “media room,” stuffed with televisions on push carts, two computer terminals, DVD and stereo players, and even a digital camera on a tri-pod. We sat at ends of a small wooden table in the center of all this technology. Mulney left and locked us in.
“Good morning, Mr. Zeppinger. My name is Ulysses Bloomsday. I am the attorney assigned to defend those who cannot afford to hire counsel. I have now been appointed to your case. I want to, first, so that we are on the same page, explain where your case is at. You are at an unusual point in the context of criminal proceedings, and you may want to take advantage of that. You were arrested and charged with assault and aggravated disorderly conduct, each charge a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable up to six months in jail and a thousand dollar fine. Do you remember getting arrested?”
“Yeah, that was all bullshit, though. I talked back. I talked back and they pushed me around and arrested me. I ain’t do shit.”
“I have no reason to doubt you. I know cops can be assholes, even liars. But you are no stranger to aggressive behavior. Didn’t you threaten to kill the judge the last time you were in court?”
“Yeah, but that lady rub me the wrong way. She like an evil voodoo priestess.”
“O.K., that comment brings me to my next point. The judge ordered you be held to determine your competence to stand trial. Do you remember talking to a doctor about that?”
“And then, the doctor decided that you were not competent, but that they would try to restore you to competence here, at the Cleveland Behavioral Center. But then you threatened to kill the doctors and even pushed one up against a wall here. So the doctors now say that you are incompetent, non-restorable. They say you will never be competent enough to stand trial. That means they can’t prosecute you. The criminal charges will be dismissed and the county probate system will handle the matter. The law requires you reside in the least restrictive setting, which, given your past behavior, means Western Reserve Mental Hospital, where you’ll undergo 90-day reviews to determine when they cut you loose.
“You know, your momma’s out there, writing letters to the judge, begging her to get you help. You’re momma thinks you gonna get killed in here. She thinks this hospital is filled with crazy violent people who may threaten your safety.”
Zeppinger rolls his eyes. “My momma. She don’t understand shit. So you sayin’ I don’t ever have to see the voodoo priestess again?”
“You sayin’ I’m going to Western Reserve instead of city jail?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Then I just got moved from coach to first class. Thank you, Mr. Bloomsday.”
“My pleasure, but I hardly did anything. I’m just the messenger.”
“Don’t kill the messenger?” Zeppinger smiles.
“Correct. Do not, under any circumstances, kill the messenger.” I stand and shake his hand. “Any questions?”
He looks at the Styrofoam cup in my hand. “Can I have the rest of your coffee?”

10:45 a.m.
I leave the loony bin with time to spare before my 11:30 conference with The Birdlady of Archwood Avenue, so I decide to head to Tremont for a fresh cup of coffee. The Onion domes of St. Theodosius loom, sun soaked green, above the gallery/café, Kitchen Synchronicity. The wooden screen door cracks closed behind me as I enter.
“Mr. Bloomsday, medium-medium?”
“Yes, thank you, Sadie.” Sadie opens the place at 6:30 a.m., and cashes out at 2:30 p.m., a dentist’s favorite time.
“I was wondering if you were coming in this morning. You’re usually here much earlier.”
“Yes, well, I had a field interview or two scheduled today.”
“Ah, yes. I understand.” Her joyous almond eyes reflect the light from the under lit pastries. “I wanted to ask you a legal question about my dog.” She hands me my coffee and I take the first sip.
“Woof,” I say.

3:45 p.m.
I ring the buzzer of the 19th century Victorian mansion across the alley from the church. A pleasant female voice allows me in. I cross the threshold. “I’m here to see Tim?” I ask.
“Oh, one moment.” The sister turns and murmurs into an intercom, “Father Tim, you have a visitor.” A pause. “He’ll be with you in a moment.”
I gravitate to the veranda. “I’ll be outside, admiring the veranda, if you don’t mind.”
She looks at me in my Atticus suspenders, slightly puzzled. “O.K.”
The door closes behind me and I am on a wide, deep corridor that wraps around the outside of the house. Across the street is Lincoln Park, a civil war encampment turned urban oasis with chess tables. Bums and whores congregate for the daily lunches supplied by the church. I’m pinching the paw of a disinterested cat when Father Tim comes out. He looks more like a Manson worshipper than a priest. I hide my surprise at his dirty Michael Landon mane, his bony, leathery face, and his floods as I stick out my hand to shake his. “Ulysses Bloomsday.”
“Sister Beatrice or Bernice told me you were someone who could answer some questions I have about civil disobedience. Would you like to head to the park and talk?” I agree and we cross the street to the park and find a bench.
“Some friends of mine have this idea to protest the war and the administration. Labor Day. The air show, downtown. I’ll be talking with them about this in days to come and I hoped you could give some advice.”
“First of all, I can’t advise anyone to break the law. I can only advise you of the consequences of your decisions. What to expect. What your rights are. Possibilities and probabilities and potentialities.”
“That sounds rather mathy,” says Father Tim.
“Mathy?” I say.
“Possibilities, probabilities, potentialities: aren’t those calculus terms?”
“Oh, yes. There is a calculus to what I do. There is science in the law. But it is a heretical science, Father. Some call it alchemy.”
“Are you confessing that you are a heretic, Mr. Bloomsday?”
“I don’t have to confess, Father. I am in a state of perpetual absolution.”
“Oh, so you are a heretic.” A broad smile crossed his face.
“I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, Father.” I went on to advise the priest on the laws of civil disobedience, trespass, free speech, aggravated disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, as well as procedural matters relating to court appearances, pleas and bond. “Ultimately, whenever one of your friends winds up in court answering to a charge, I’ll know about it and I’ll be there.”
Father Tim studies me. He hesitates before asking, “Are all these stories about you true, Mr. Bloomsday? There seems to be quite a mythology about you.”
The church bells signal noon. As the dregs shuffle through the summer effluvium toward their free meals, I can’t seem to muster a response.
"Are you familiar with the concept of Sanctuary?" Father Tim asks.
"Victor Hugo, Hunchback, 'Sanctuary! Sanctuary!' Of course." I reply. "Not much legal bite to it. Churches get raided by the FBI often enough, I suppose. Remember the Branch Davidians? It's a nice idea, though: civil society grudgingly respecting the boundaries of ecclesiastical property."
"Do you know the last time police entered a church in Cleveland to execute a search warrant or arrest warrant, Mr. Bloomsday?"
"I confess I do not."
"Never. I know. I've checked." Father Tim lights a cigarette. "It's a topic of great interest to me, since I've been on the lamb for most of my life."
"...Sounds like you're about to confess a sin of your own, father. Perhaps you shouldn't."
"Oh, it's all very silly, really. No one got hurt. But perhaps you're right, Bloomsday."
"Listen, I've got someone in mind to help you with your situation. My intuition tells me that I can help you more if I don't know what you're talking about. May I arrange a meeting?"
"I'd love to talk to someone about this."
"Done," I say, standing and shaking his hand. "As in, 'In the name of the father, the done, and the holy spirit.'"
"That sounds more like stately, plumb Buck Milligan than Bloomsday," he laughs.
For the first time in a long time, Bloomsday feels his audience has fully understood his joke.

8:30 p.m.
Love of Chair, Bloomsday remembers. That was the name of the mock soap opera on the old PBS kids show, The Electric Company.

He scans the crowd of legal elites attending the gala. A newly annointed Supreme Court Justice is here tonight as the guest speaker for the annual banquet of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Hundreds of lawyers, dignitaries, rootily-poos. He sees no sign of his ersatz confidant, nor his arch-nemesis. "...And what about Naiomi," the mock announcer intoned in his drifting 70's memories.

He makes eye contact with a few key players, a humbled waive "hi." His boss is engaged with his labor problems. A politician not yet touched by scandal, but possibly worried, sits sifting through mashed potatoes. The grande dame of federal court escorts her legendary lawyer husband to the bar.

"Hey, Bloomsday!" his fellow advocate whispers from behind. He turns around to find Cherry Osgood, looking inebriated. "I just saw Judge Fuckitty-Fuck picking her nose in the ladies' room." Bloomsday happens to respect and admire Judge Fuckitty-Fuck, but knows that Cherry holds a grudge.

"I just straiffed past a prosecutors' table." Bloomsday confesses.

Us poverty advocates are lowly people, out of our element in high society. We have an even more peculiar affect around legal high society: the rich lawyers. They dismiss us as proletariat. I respond that they are bourgeoisie. There is certain common ground among us. The Constitution, for example. The rights of all citizens. "I ensured the rights of 37 citizens, today. How about you?" Bloomsday thinks.

We are both architects of society, I suppose. They clean up loose ends, ensure all parties have their ducks in a row. The fixers. The closers. "Michael Claytons, are we?" We're all dressed like him, tonight. At least I am.

"Status of operations?" Bloomsday asks Cherry.

"Well, no sign of The Problem, but Johnny Ipod Lawyer says he's coming." Higbee Gaines is The Problem. He is one of their deepest friends. Booze and pills used to be The Problem that we all talked about behind his back. Now, he, himself is known as The Problem, personified. He is scheduled to join us at our banquet table, clean and sober after a 30 day stint in rehab.

Just then, with Jungian verve, he spots Higbee entering the ballroom. He's fattened up a it, and looks well in the low light. They make a bee line for each other and hug. "Do you get conjugal visits in rehab?

"Sure," says Higbee. "Daily conjugal visits with my hand."

"Hourly, probably. With both hands. I know if I was in rehab, I'd just gloomily masturbate all day."

"Nah. They keep you busy. Try to help you put a positive spin on things."

"Have you been keeping up with the corruption scandal?" Bloomsday asks.

"Every fucking word." he says. "Priceless."

Bloomsday has not heard this verbal crutch of Higbee's for months. It sounds different when he's sober.

"By the way," Higbee continues. "They also had a Wii wth Netflix. I watched every episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. I also watched most of Dark Shadows, too."

"I'm impressed. And you weren't stoned or drunk for it? That sounds like progress. I presume you're prepared to rejoin the League of Extraordinary Lawyers, again? Your membership dues are paid in full."

"Ready. Prepared." This answer is a reference to an old joke about lawyers. Civil attorneys versus criminal attorneys. Civil attorneys are always prepared for trial but are never quite ready for trial. Criminal attorneys are always ready for trial, but never quite prepared.

"There are protocols for re-entry. You must submit to trial by fire. I have a case I need your help on."

"I'm in," he pledges.

I tell him about the renegade jesuit hobo sitting in sanctuary at the Convent of St. Ruth's. I don't tell him the outlaw priest who needs assistance is clean and sober, too.

"...and what about Naiomi?" Bloomsday poses the question.

SATURDAY 7:50 p.m.
I take the family out for "Sad Bookstore Night," which includes a trip, first, to a decent, stinky-carpeted used bookstore in a strip-mall, then to a garishly named, cavernous, big box mega-budget bookmart just down the road. I'm relieved to find a few comrades milling the aisles of the former, and a vast, empty parking lot moating the latter.

My hunt for a couple of specific short stories turns up cold, but I find several Cliffordian odysseys that will prove big, red and useful. As Amonymous meanders the empty aisles of the bookmart, and I follow in classic Kubrick steadycam tradition, I notice several displays that trouble me: new trade-sized editions of dozens of L. Ron Hubbard books, with inky, sexy, retro sci-fi comic covers; vast rows of milky white Ayn Rand reprints, austere art deco lettering and all.

Amonymous settles in on a bin display of Chinese-made toys, wind-up scuba divers, rubber balls with glitter, mooing cans...He picks up an item that is shaped like a microphone or an ice cream cone and presses a conveniently placed button with his thumb. Inside the plastic globe at its top, small gears whirl into motion and tiny lights spin in glorious patterns. Amonymous gazes.

A store worker tries to look busy nearby, and gives a benign "how cute" to the tableau of my son staring mindlessly into toy. "It's a time-travel machine!" I say to Amonymous. "It sends you several seconds into the future!" He looks up at me, then back to the whirring toy in his hand. "See? It works!"

The store worker chuckles. But I'm not interested in her commiserations. "It was invented by L. Ron Hubbard," I continue, "with help from his girlfriend Ayn Rand..." The store worker looks confused. "...before they invented the second half of the twentieth century and turned America into an Amway distributorship for decades."

The worker walks away nervously. I continue, louder, "Thank god we put them in a box together and sent them into space so they couldn't stick their hands in our pockets while we stared at little whirring Chinese made toys anymore!" Amonymous is still gazing at the stupid thing. He turns to me to ask if he can have it, but before a syllable comes out I boom, "NO." He puts it down without a fight.

As we leave the store, I pass a garish poster of the lipsticked whore, her eyes fixed on the future, like a propagandist photo, and another of that mental patient talkshow host dressed Francisco Franco? Really?

"Say goodbye to this place, Amonymous. We'll never come back." A Bloomsday pox upon thee.

MONDAY 9:05 a.m.
Bloomsday's gait is different now that each step is tinged with a short, sharp shock of pain, the product of a weekend home improvement injury. How could he have known that, with kitchen cupboards removed for the installation of new hinges, his opening of a waist high drawer would unleash an avalanche of pots and pans, beneath? His big toe, victimized. Such dubious cause and effect, this jostling of things beneath. There are hazards to nesting, too, I suppose, muses Bloomsday as he limps to work in odd syncopation. If there is a lesson it is this: Don't do chores in your bare feet, asshole.

Bloomsday feels the watery vibration of his cell phone against his crucifixion. He pulls the phone out of his breast pocket to see that he is already engaged in a call with his newly-sober friend, Higbee Gaines. "Hey, oops, I must have nipple dialed you..." Bloomsday apologizes.

"No, I called you, but I heard you call someone an asshole just now."

"Oh, yeah, me. I was talking to myself."

"Again? At any rate, I wanted to talk to you about that renegade priest you asked me to talk to. Do you know why he's a renegade?" asks Higbee.

"I'm on a need to know basis. No. I never thought to ask Sister Beatrice or Bernice."

"Well, you definitely need to know this: he blew up The Thinker."

This jostling of things beneath, indeed, Bloomsday muses. "I have know idea what you're talking about, but if I did, I certainly wouldn't be talking about it on my cell phone, sir. Meet me at the Rock Hall. Behind it, where the skate park was."

Bloomsday hates talking on the cell phone about anything important. He is inclined to face to face interactions. Much can be gained from face to face interactions. Much can be lost in a telephone call.

"Listen. It's not like that. They know where he is. They just haven't bothered arresting him. They want him underground. If they arrest him, he'll just be a martyr. So they leave him alone. But they won't let him preside over mass. That's his punishment. Handed down by the Cleveland Police and the Catholic church."

"You're suggesting he's on the Holy Lamb?"

"Yeah, since March 24, 1970."

Bloomsday was a gurgling babe, then. Borne amid the clamor of lunar landings and crazed hippie cult murders, The Thinker was desecrated with explosives the same Spring as shots rang out in the Kent State sky.

TUESDAY 9:08 a.m.
Bloomsday shuts the car door and checks his pockets. He fumbles with the ear bud wires of his music content delivery system, then walks briskly up the parking lot incline toward Cleveland Browns Stadium. The cheapest walking distance with a view.

The giant LED on its west side shows the time: 9:08. Technically late. Practically, not.

Bloomsday bisects the Jesse Owens/Police Memorial Plaza, at the northeast corner of Sheriff McPoodley-Roo's Way. As he approaches a cannon, aimed squarely at him in the center of the square, he see's something he hasn't before. Two men in European suits and sunglasses waiting for him.

"Dobry den," one says to him. "Are you not Bloomsday?"

Bloomsday recognizes that accent. "Dobry den. You'll have to follow me. I'm late." The two men suddenly spring into action, placing themselves on either side, tripping to keep up.

"We understand you are a man of the people."

"Sure," I say. "Aren't you?"

"Well, yes, but not the American People. I was born in Czechoslovakia. I now live in the Czech Republic. I never moved."

"That's funny." I say. The other man is suspiciously silent. I stop outside the doors of the justice center. "Gotta go, guys. What can I do for you?"

"We are here on behalf of the Government of the Czech Republic. We wish to make you an Honorary Ambassador to our country, and extend membership in our Order of the Finicky Eaters."

"Excuse me?"

"That's not it's real name. Only members know the real name."

"Why me?"

"Because you're on television, dummy."

"Oh, you know your Paddy Chayefsky."

"Actually, I know my Ned Beatty."

"So, I'm in. Great. What do I have to do?"

"You'll be invited to Prague for a ceremony. There is an award. You give a speech. We pay you."

"I feel that there's something you're not telling me. What's the catch?"

"Our government has taken great interest in the story of The Thinker. We think you are an excellent resource on the topic."

"Yeah, me and Sister Wendy."


"Nevermind. This is getting a little Kafkaesque."

"That's funny you should say that. Prague and all. Cleveland's a lot like Prague."

"Yes, but we have no Kafka."

"I wouldn't be so sure, Mr. Bloomsday." He lean's heavily into me, as if casting a spell. I recognize him. Years ago. The Stinky Puppeteer. It was a puppet production of Eurydice. Orpheus. Our second night in Prague. The tiny, cramped theater stunk of the unwashed. It was him above the tangle of strings.

"You're creepin' me out fellas. Gimme some time to think about this." He pushes his way through the revolving door of the justice center, leaving his new friends in the cold.

4:45 p.m.
Bloomsday drafts a closing argument on a treadmill at the Lakewood Y. His musical menu includes: Brand New Day by Sting with Stevie on harmonica (warm up); the album, Eraser, by Thom York (hard momentum running, intermittent hard walk); selected songs from Todd Rundgeren (cool down). For shits 'n giggles, he rocks out to Prince's When U Were Mine and I Feel 4 U on the way home and blasts Darking Nikki in the driveway.

Inside the stone colonial, Molly and Luna snuggle like hamsters, awaiting papa. He gathers his effects from the car and sees he has missed a phone call. The number is not familar, with an unknown area code. Suddenly, his hand vibrates as a new text message arrives. It's a tweet. "@BloomsdayDevice: How was U'r workout?"

Bloomsday's first thought is, Prince is tweeting me. But reason prevails. Another text arrives: "I'm in the cab down the street." Bloomsday turns and looks and sees a cab parked, lurking, suspicious. No one takes cabs in Cleveland.

He takes to the cab, walking tall. Two passengers emerge. The stinky puppeteer and his silent companion. "Dobry den," he says.

"Dobry den," Bloomsday replies. "Have you been waiting long?"

"No hurry. We had waffles at Gene's Place. Delicious, I'd say."

"I believe the technical term is delicioso."


"Nevermind. Look, I'd invite you in, but I got a new baby and a tired momma in the house. How about you take me in the cab to the destination of my choice."

"Excellent idea. We need just a half our of your time."

"Fuck that. Your taking me to bloodymaryville. You fly, you buy."

The stinky puppeteer surmises. "I think I understand."

"To the Park View, cabbie!" Bloomsday commands.