Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Vegas Baby!

We had just gotten back for the second semester of the first year, when one of my civilian friends called me to tell me he had a conference in Las Vegas, and if I were willing to meet him there, I could crash in his company-paid hotel room. I had never been to Vegas so I agreed to the plan without hesitation. But it’s a long drive to Vegas and my friend would have to do a certain bare minimum of actual work, so I thought it would be ideal if one of my law school friends could join me on the trip. Though that, of course, is easier said than done, since it’s hard enough to get a law student off campus for an evening, much less, leave the state for a weekend, and especially if the destination happens to be Sin City. Still, with high hopes, when I met up with my friends that afternoon, I announced,

“Vegas baby! This weekend. Who’s coming with me?”

The crickets sounded, and after the long silence, the excuses followed.

“I got a lot of reading to catch up on.”

“I wanted to start working on the law review write-in.”

“Come on,” I insisted, “It’s the second week of the semester. Exams are four months away. You can afford to take a weekend off.”

“Who cares? It’s a road trip. Anything’s better than staying here for the weekend.”

Then, one of my friends who was a bit older than the rest of us got this nostalgic look about him, and, staring off into space, began an ode to Las Vegas.

“I love Vegas. There’s nothing like her in the world. Driving up to it at night, with all the lights shining in the middle of the desert. All the people going crazy; nothing else matters to them but the next roll of the dice.”

With that sort of reverence, I figured he was a shoe-in to accompany me, but he continued.

“I would definitely go, but my girlfriend would never let me. But do me a favor. I’m giving you $100. Go to the roulette and bet it on black. Bring me back the winnings.”

“Okay. I’ll do it,” I said, disappointed he wouldn’t be coming, “But do you really think if you win I would bring you back the money? I would probably just spend it and then tell you it landed on red.”

“Well in that case, I’ll just give you $20.”

Hearing our older friend speak so passionately, another of my friends built up some nerve and said, “Oh hell. I’ll go with you. I’ve always wanted to go. Why not? Vegas baby!!!”

Any excitement about going to Las Vegas for the weekend withers away and dies during the interminable drive. It is unbelievable how far from the rest of civilization that place is. By the time we got there, we were exhausted. Plus, any excitement left over was drowned out by my friend’s guilt. He could not forgive himself for indulging in a weekend road trip. From the moment he stepped in the car, he regretted his decision.

“But it’s just the weekend,” I tried to comfort him. “We’ll be back on Sunday night. You won’t miss any class.”

“I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right. It feels irresponsible.”

For some inexplicable reason, law students feel that they are forbidden from indulging in anything. That by attending law school, you are agreeing to a sort of silent covenant where you won’t do anything that might give off the impression of lighthearted enjoyment. We inherit a supposed duty to suffer, and sacrifice our youth in the name of the Constitution. It is probably that very sense of repression that inevitably leads us to go crazy and lose control whenever an opportunity for fun arises.

And that’s precisely what happened in Vegas. But, of course, any details will be omitted here in observance of the old legal doctrine, Quis venio in Vegas subsist in Vegas, whereby a witness at trial cannot be compelled to testify to any events that may have occurred within the city limits of Las Vegas. Laymen affectionately refer to it by its English translation: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

Before we knew it, we were back in the car and on our way back home. My friend, now with the lights and excitement behind us, once again became racked with guilt.

“I can’t believe I didn’t do any reading at all this weekend. I’m going to be so behind this week. This might set me back for the entire semester.”

“Relax,” I tried in vain to reassure him as I nodded off in the passenger seat, “You’ll remember this weekend for the rest of your life. You have the rest of the semester to stay at home and study.”

Sure enough, the next morning, after a long weekend of neglecting the books, at my 9:00am Contracts class, the professor called on me, and I made an ass of myself. What are the odds that he would call on me on the Monday after a weekend in Las Vegas? I gambled and lost.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Law Student at Rest

Ahhhh winter break. . . Perhaps the best reason to go back to graduate school, and probably the only good reason to go to law school is that month or so of vacation around the holidays. Summer vacation of course would be even better, except that law students are not allowed to enjoy it. The summer break is completely lost on the pressures of finding clerkships, internships or summer associate positions – anything but the audacity of relaxation. But the winter break is too short to do any sort of meaningful apprenticeships, plus since most people take some time off during the holidays and the average professional office comes to a bit of a halt, there is really nothing for a law student to do, unless he wants to play Santa Claus at Macy’s.

Quite possibly the greatest sensation I knew during my three years at law school was the moment the proctor at my last exam of the semester announced, “Pencils down.” Even if I wasn’t confident in my performance, just the thought that my brain could finally rest would fill me with joy. That night, I would join some friends for celebration, where we could fill our bellies with alcohol, and not have to conscientiously ignore that little feeling of guilt that normally followed us everywhere; that annoying voice suggesting: “Slow down. Don’t drink too much tonight. You should probably get up early tomorrow and do a practice exam.”

During winter break, that little voice in your head has no standing. You can tell it to bugger off and leave you alone until the new year. But of course, that little voice, and the anxious, guilty feeling that you could be spending your time more productively becomes such a part of the law student’s anatomy, that it’s hard to just turn it off. Any time I would try to indulge in a nap on the couch by the fire and the twinkling lights of the Christmas tree, I would startle awake with a jump, and think, “Wait. Isn’t there something I’m supposed to be doing?” It would take me a few seconds to regroup myself and remember that I was on vacation and perfectly entitled to a nap, but the guilt would prevent me for falling back asleep.

Nightmares were common, particularly a recurring one where I had registered for a class and forgotten all about it, suddenly realizing at the end of the semester that I had never showed up to it nor taken the exam. When my grades came out, there was an F next to a ridiculous subject like Condo Association Law. “Oh dear god!! I completely forgot about Condo Association Law.” I would then wake up in a panic and have to count my classes on my fingers, adding up the total credit hours to make sure every course was accounted for.

One thing that can ruin the winter break in a heartbeat is the fact that first semester grades are released at this time, sort of like a diabolical anti-Christmas gift. What’s especially frustrating is that (at least at my school) each professor turned in their grades at their own time, so you had no idea when a grade would come up. So I inevitably adopted a routine of logging in to my student account and checking my grades every time I was near a computer. Before I even checked my email, I would check to see if a new grade had been posted. My mood each day would highly depend on what I found on my transcript, so my emotions were basically one of three: Joy (if a grade of B or higher had been posted); Sadness (if a grade of C+ or lower had been posted); or anxiety (if a grade for a particular class had not yet been posted – for the love of god how long does it take to grade a fucking exam?!!?).

I finally decided to stop worrying about grades. When it got to the point where I couldn’t even walk past the Mac store while out Christmas shopping, without wondering if I could use one of the display computers to log in to my student account and check my grades, I had to stop. I decided that I wouldn’t check my grades until the day before I was to return to school. This way, I could enjoy the holidays, and get the much deserved rest the winter break entitled me to.

Oh how I miss those long winter breaks as a full time student. It might even be worth considering an LLM just to have them back.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dude, Where's My Car?

It was the first week of exams. Two exams down, three to go. I had been studying non-stop for days, so I made up an unnecessary errand just to have an excuse to leave the house and think about something else for a while. I walked out to the parking lot, but my car wasn’t there. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought, ‘I could have sworn I parked in this spot.’ Even if I hadn’t parked in that spot, it was a pretty small parking lot, and my car was not in it. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought again, ‘I could’ve sworn I parked in this parking lot.’

I began to rack my brain, which was already discombobulated enough from all the studying. Did I lend my car to a friend? Did I leave it at the bar the other night and take a cab home? Did I maybe sleepwalk and drive it unconsciously off a pier into the Pacific Ocean? Is somebody – possibly Ashton Kutcher – messing with me and secretly filming my reaction?

After standing around and scratching my head for about 20 minutes, I knocked on the residential director's door and said, “I’m still not 100% sure, but I think my car’s been stolen.” We called campus security, and they sent perhaps the most unlikely security guard I’ve ever seen. He spoke at length about how I was to proceed, but I barely registered anything he said because I was so taken aback by the fact that he was wearing makeup, had a woman’s haircut, and wore two pearl earrings. The residential director and I stared at him and tried to pretend we didn’t see anything unusual about a trans-gender campus security officer. This was, after all, California, where such things are to be expected, and it’s not only rude, but the true mark of an outsider to act surprised.When the actual police officer arrived, he also had trouble concentrating on what the security guard was saying.

Finally, he said, “Ok. Thank you sir . . . uh . . . I mean . . . thank you . . . uh . . . thank you officer. If we need anything else from you, we’ll give you a call.”

Then he turned to me, shook his head, and exhaled loudly, with a what’s this world coming to look about him. He had me fill out a report, and was overly blunt and honest about the likelihood of me getting my car back.

“A car like that, they’ll just strip it and sell the parts. Or maybe it’s just kids, and they’ll joyride it till it brakes down.”

So my unnecessary errand would have to be postponed, and I sat down to study again, but the only thing going through my head was the slow realization of what life would now be like without a car. To live in the United States without a car comes awfully close to being denied the privileges and immunities of citizenship. I would have to buy a new car, but how would I even get to the car dealership? I was stuck immobile in law school, and the thought of that terrified me. But no use crying about it now, I had a Civil Procedure exam in two days.

The morning of my exam, I was awakened by a phone call at six in the morning. I was somewhat used to getting early calls by people in the East Coast, oblivious to the time difference, but this was a local call. It was the police department; they had located my car - or at least what was left of it. As happy as I was to hear the news, I had to forget about it for now since I would be spending the next three hours answering essay questions about the Eerie Doctrine.

After the exam, I convinced one of my friends to drive me to the impound lot where my car had ended up. The police department had a contract with a private towing company, and any stolen cars that were recovered, would end up there. The victim of the theft would then have to pay the towing company $250 to get the car back. Thus, the owner of the towing company has a lucrative incentive to hire a handful of goons to go around stealing cars and dropping them off a few blocks away from their original parking spots. And judging from the staff member who greeted me, I have no doubt that this was a criminal enterprise.

I paid the $250 and was shown to my car. I turned the ignition and nothing happened. Thinking the battery might need a jump, I popped the hood, and noticed that there was, in fact, no battery there at all. Along with the battery, the thieves had stripped the stereo, and a few little things – wind shield wipers, antenna – that couldn’t have garnered them more than a few cents in any sort of resale. In place of everything they took, they, for some entirely inexplicable reason, left a disgusting pair of cut-off denim shorts in the back seat.

My friend smiled and said, “At least they didn’t take your cut-offs.”

“They’re not mine. They must belong to the guy who stole the car.”

“Why would he take off his shorts and leave them in your back seat?”

“They’re not mine. I swear.”

“Sure. Whatever you say.”

We drove to the auto parts store and I bought a new battery for about $100. When we got back to my car, my friend and I had to embarrassingly admit to the emasculating truth that we had no idea how to install a car battery. The criminal tow truck driver, who had probably removed my battery in the first place, told us we were pathetic, and offered to do it for $20 cash. I whispered to my friend, trying to redeem our self-worth, “We may not know shit about cars, but I’d like to see this guy try his hand at that Civ Pro exam.”

After the battery was installed, I turned the car on, and was delighted to finally be able to drive again. Had my stereo not been stripped, I would have blasted Steppenwolf’s Born to be Wild. But as I threw the car into first gear and pulled away from the impound lot, I noticed that no matter how hard I pushed down on the gas pedal, the car was incapable of going any faster than 3 miles per hour. My friend, wondering why I was driving so slowly and cautiously, honked his horn furiously, and motioned for me to hurry up.

I went back to the criminal and tried to explain my new dilemma, but he told me, “Not my problem. I’m not a mechanic, I just tow cars. If you want, I can tow your car to a mechanic, but it’ll cost you another $250.” I told him thanks but no thanks, and if he hadn’t looked so menacing, I would have called him an asshole. I would drive myself to the mechanic, ever so slowly.

So I drove at 3mph down a busy city street with a 45mph speed limit, while my friend, regretting having ever befriending me, drove behind me, the two of us forming a ridiculous caravan, and one hell of a road hazard. We finally saw an auto mechanic, but the whole ordeal had taken so long that night had fallen and everything was closed. I left my car there with a note that read, “Please don’t tow. Needs to be fixed. Will call tomorrow morning.”

As promised on the note, I called the mechanic early the next morning, and explained why I had left my car on their parking lot overnight.

“Oh, that’s your car?” the mechanic said, “We were just about to have it towed out of here.”

“Didn’t you read the note I left?”

“We couldn’t make out what it said. The handwriting was pretty bad. And did you write it with a highlighter?”

“Never mind. Just please don’t tow it.”

Apparently, the car thieves had driven it so aggressively, that they destroyed the clutch kit. Their little joyride would now cost me $500, bringing the total of this whole experience to about $1,000 in monetary damages, not to mention all the hours of lost study time. But at least I was now mobile again, and it was reassuring to know that if I ever became too fed up with law school, I could always hop in my car, and exercise the freedom of the American road, leaving everything behind in my rear-view mirror. And with Torts and Property exams just around the corner, this was a very tempting option.

Monday, November 24, 2008

(Un)Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving during law school was always a wasted holiday, since the break was conveniently used as the reading period leading up to exams. Wednesday was the last day of class, and exams started the following week, so any sort of long distance travel or time spent with family seemed highly reckless and irresponsible. So as a 1L, for the first time ever, I had to tell my mom I would not be coming home for Thanksgiving.

The only thing worse than being alone on Thanksgiving, I thought, would have been having to spend the holiday with my roommate. We had recently gotten into a bit of a fight. It was your typical skirmish between roommates: He was trying to study for a Criminal Law midterm, and I was watching his DVD copy of Matrix 2 with the volume up a little too loud, so he couldn’t concentrate on classifying the different degrees of murder with all that gunfire coming from the living room. He waited patiently for the movie to end, and then he approached me:

“Did you know I was studying upstairs?”

“Oh sorry. Was it too loud?”

“Yes. And did you know that I just bought that DVD yesterday, and I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet?”

“Uhm. I didn’t think you would mind.”

And then he used the opportunity to bring up everything I had ever done since I had moved into the apartment that had bothered him. Obviously, he had not gotten much productive studying done in his room, because he was too busy brainstorming about all my faults. Since I had just watched one of the Matrix movies, I had an incredible urge to jump, hang in midair while the camera rotated around the room, and roundhouse kick him in the face, all in slow-motion. But I wisely decided against it, since I would have probably pulled my groin, quite possibly broken the coffee table, and hurt myself more than my opponent. I was so preoccupied envisioning my roundhouse kick, that I missed most of my roommate’s comments:

“You don’t clean the bathroom . . . blah blah . . . You leave the toilette seat up . . . blah blah . . . You don’t wipe the kitchen counter . . . blah blah . . . You dropped some popcorn kernels in the couch . . .blah blah blah."

But he mentioned one thing that immediately snapped me out of my daydream and made me realize that I was living with a mad person, as opposed to just an insanely clean one. He thought my recycling was too dirty.

“I don’t know how you people recycle in Indiana. But here, you’re supposed to rinse out your bottles and cans and make sure they’re clean before you recycle them.”

He was basically telling me that I had to clean my garbage before throwing it away. But I figured if that’s what it would take to keep peace in the house, I could take the extra effort to do it. So from that day on, I couldn’t just toss an empty beer bottle into the recycling bin, I had to first rinse it out thoroughly, and make sure it was spotless.

On Thanksgiving Day, the thing I was most grateful for was that my roommate would be out of town for a few days, leaving me with the apartment to myself, so I could get some studying done without having to worry about whether I had left the toilette seat up. I called up a few of my friends whom I knew were in town studying, and we got together at my place for our own Thanksgiving dinner. The supermarket had, by then, sold out of turkeys, so we bought some lamb instead. We had a lovely little Thanksgiving dinner, with a nice lamb and plenty of wine, and for a few hours we forgot that we were stuck in school, away from our families.

When we were finished, my friends – well aware that I lived with an obsessive compulsive Nazi – volunteered to help me clean up. I was grateful for the help, but I should have been more vigilant in their supervision, because I failed to notice one of my friends empty his plate of leftover lamb and mashed potatoes into the recycling bin. There were two trash cans next to each other – one was for garbage, and the other for recycling. My friend, didn’t notice a difference, and dumped his food all over the empty bottles of wine.

On Saturday, after my roommate returned, I walked into the living room and found him steaming with anger. He looked like he was about to turn into the Incredible Hulk.

“How was your Thanksgiving?” I asked.

But he ignored my question, and in turn asked me, “Did you have a party while I was gone?”

“I wouldn’t call it a party. Some of the guys came over for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Oh Yeah?” By this point, he was screaming, “Well, one of your buddies vomited all over my recycling.”

I took a look at it and concluded, “It’s not vomit. It’s lamb.”


“Yeah. We cooked a lamb.”

“Who the hell eats lamb on Thanksgiving?”

“They were sold out of turkeys.”

“I don’t care what it is. I want you to clean it up.”

I asked him to stop and think about what he was saying. That he was actually suggesting I clean the garbage. That a reasonable person would not request another human being to do such a thing. But he insisted with his request, so I told him f**k you, and suggested that instead of cleaning his garbage, how about I just roundhouse kick him in the face in slow-motion.

Even the Pilgrims and the Indians were able to put aside their differences during Thanksgiving. Why couldn’t we?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Moot (Basketball) Court

With the advent of the college basketball season, some proactive, athletic-minded law students organized an intramural basketball league for the law school. In the past, if law students wanted to play, they had to join the university-wide intramural league, but this meant going up against undergrads, who were almost always younger, stronger, faster, and generally better at sports. This newly created law school league offered a safe refuge for those of us who didn’t have time to lift weights every day, and who hadn’t shot a basket in a few years. In this league, you didn’t have to worry about getting dunked on and having your glasses fly off your face and shatter on the floor. It was supposed to be a nice escape from the classroom, an opportunity to blow off a little steam, have some friendly fun, and get some much needed exercise. It sounded great in theory, except that law students can’t seem to do something for the friendly fun of it. As everything else that surrounds the study of law, things got insanely competitive.

Some friends and I formed a team and joined the league. The requisite for being on the team was practically that you had to own a pair of gym shoes, because only about half of us had ever played any sort of competitive basketball. The other half, with any luck, might have shot mini-hoops at a sports bar at some point in their lives. That seemed to be a common trend throughout the league. There was only one team that looked somewhat competent. They had two black players, so they immediately intimidated everyone they went up against, and eventually blew everyone out and easily won the league championship. But even they would have probably been crushed by the last place team in the undergrad league.

As bad as the game-play was, it still didn’t prevent most participants from taking the tournament extremely seriously. With the way we are pitted against each other in the class ranks, law students can’t seem to help being competitive about anything and everything. This was evident on the basketball court, as not a single game went by without a severe argument breaking out. One player was kicked off the league – and nearly expelled from the school – for punching an opponent in the face during a game.

Not even the referees could keep their cool. During one of our games, a friend of mine had a problem with the referee, a 2L being paid $20 a game by the university. Every time the ref made a call, my friend would argue it, and anytime he didn’t make a call, my friend would yell at him for not doing so. This went on the entire game, and everyone was baffled as to why he wouldn’t just exercise is power as referee, give him two technical fouls, and send him to the showers. Instead, he put up with the harassment for two thirds of the game, until he finally snapped. He made a 3-seconds call against our center, a big fat guy who had no idea that he couldn't just stand underneath the basket all day and wait for an easy layup.

My friend went up to the ref and said, “Wow, I can’t believe you know what the 3-seconds rule is. Now if you could only learn what a foul is.”

At hearing this, the referee slammed the ball, and charged at my friend, grabbing him by the throat. He literally tried to strangle him. Everyone looked on, mouths wide open in shock. Our big fat center broke them up, and my friend let out a few coughs, regained his breath, and said to the ref, “You better learn to keep your cool, buddy. You can’t do that in the courtroom.”

The referee stared at him for a few seconds, but he didn’t say anything. He just turned around and walked off the court. You can’t very well have a trial without a judge, so the game was forfeited.

I’ve seen a lot of basketball in my lifetime. Prior to moving to California, I lived in North Carolina and Indiana, two states where basketball is an obsession. But for as long as I’ve played and followed the sport, I will always consider that unfinished game in our pathetic law school intramural league to be a milestone in the history of basketball. First of all, it’s the only time I’ve ever heard of a referee getting so upset at one of the players, that he attacks him and tries to strangle him. Second, it’s the only instance I’ve heard of a referee getting so upset that he quits, forcing the game to end abruptly. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the participants in that game heard the lamest piece of trash-talking ever spoken in a basketball court: “You better learn to keep your cool, buddy. You can’t do that in the courtroom.”

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Damn Undergrads!

For the first month of classes, since the law school starts in late August, and the rest of the university doesn’t pick up until mid September, the campus was virtually empty aside from the law students. It made for a surreal setting, where every person you saw was a future lawyer. Then, one Monday morning, as we routinely headed off to class, all of a sudden, the campus became packed with young, good looking undergrads. Guys with backward baseball caps, breezing by on elongated skateboards, and girls with short shorts, yapping on cell phones. They all looked tan, relaxed, and genuinely happy to be there, greeting the friends they hadn’t seen over the summer.

Once, on New Year’s Eve, I was out with a big group of friends, and having been priced out of all the fancy clubs with their $100 entry fees that include a glass of sparkling white wine at midnight, we ended up at a depressing local dive bar. The regulars were each sitting at their usual seats, which might as well have had their names on them, because you could tell that rarely did a night pass without them sitting at their respective barstools. Though it was New Year’s Eve, I guessed that the celebrations there were no different than any other night of the year – a bunch of old men staring at their drinks and waiting patiently for closing time. The only thing that varied on that December 31st was that a group of rowdy youngsters had stormed the place, and were ordering shots, toasting the new year, and having more fun than that bar had ever seen.

Not until that Monday morning, the first day of classes for the undergrads, did I stop to think how exactly those bar regulars must have felt. Their environment had been taken over by a group of people who would be able to enjoy it at an incomparably superior level. It was sad. Our campus, just as that bar on New Year’s Eve, had been taken over by fun-loving youngsters.

On Monday afternoon, after class, my friends and I sat by a central fountain and watched the undergrads pass by. We envied the males to the point of hatred. One of them stopped near us to talk on his cell phone. We overheard part of a conversation, and it went like this:

“So tomorrow we’re going golfing in the morning. Then, I’ll probably take a nap and start drinking in the early afternoon.”

That was his plan for Tuesday: golfing, sleeping, and drinking. No mention of class, of studying, or of any sort of worry or responsibility. And the son of a bitch had just come off a 3 month summer vacation. Oh to go back in time and be an undergrad again. We thought about the contrast of what our Tuesday looked like:

“I’m on call in Civ Pro.”

“I’ll be at the library all day working on that ridiculous legal writing project.”

While we envied the males, we admired the females. Law school girls are . . . very smart. But in terms of aesthetics, the undergrad girls at this university were impossible to compete with. You could not study five hours a night and look like that.

“Dude,” one of my friends suggested, “We have to start dating undergrads.”

I took a good look at him and then at some of the girls walking by, and I didn’t think it was a very realistic proposition. But he hypothesized:“They probably love law students. They see us as stable and mature, and they think we’re going to be rich one day.”

As nice a thought as that was, it didn’t exactly prove to be true. The undergrad girls always seemed much more interested in dating undergrad boys who could play golf on a Tuesday morning and get drunk on a Tuesday afternoon. Plus, we might eventually become rich lawyers one day, but those undergrad guys had rich, generous parents, and at this stage in a girl’s life, that’s much better.

Since the start of the school year, I had been taking advantage of the university pool, swimming laps most days after class. That afternoon, my friend who had proposed we date undergrads, asked me if he could join me. I was a little surprised since he had never shown any sort of interest in swimming, or any sort of physical activity, but I was happy to have the company, so I encouraged him to come along. When we got to the pool, I realized that he still had no interest in swimming. He didn’t even bring a pair of goggles. The pool, as the rest of the campus, had been taken over by undergrads. It used to be that I would usually be the only one swimming laps. Every once in a while an old white-haired professor would dive in and swim the slowest stroke I have ever seen. Today, however, it was packed, though nobody was at all interested in cardiovascular exercise. Girls were sunbathing and guys were tossing footballs and flirting. Only one lane seemed to be designated for laps, and as my luck would have it, the old white haired professor had beaten me to it. I would have to wait for him as he pushed his painfully slow stroke along and took thirty minutes to complete four laps.

I complained to my friend. “Damn undergrads think they own the place. If they want to play in the water, they should go to the beach.”

But he barely acknowledged me. He was in heaven, wading in the water, wearing his sunglasses so he could stare inconspicuously at the glistening, bikini-clad bodies around the pool. This was precisely what he had come for.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Elections on Campus

I took a stroll down the local university the other day, and lost count of how many Barack Obama signs I saw. There were a few defiant McCain/Palin posters, but they were the equivalent of a neon O’Doul’s non-alcoholic beer sign at a bar – a futile attempt to advertise a product where it doesn’t stand a chance.

Elections are rambunctiously felt in college campuses. However, I always get the impression that despite all the hype, on Election Day most college students forget to vote. Or they realize too late that they were supposed to register to vote; you can’t just show up and do it. Or they have no idea where their precinct is; they thought you could vote online. Or they realize too late that you’re supposed to vote in your home state, not the state where you go to college and by then, it’s too late to request an absentee ballot. So I don’t know just how reliable the college student vote is, but I do know that a university campus is an exciting place to be during an election. It’s like downtown Chicago around Christmas time, all the decorations, the aura, and the atmosphere really put you in the spirit of the season.

During my tenure at law school, I saw two exciting elections. The first one was the ridiculously entertaining gubernatorial recall election, starring Gray Davis (played by himself), the Governator (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger), and with cameo appearances by Gary Coleman and Larry Flynt. The recall election happened a few months after I moved to California, and I couldn’t believe how absurd the State actually was in real life. A few months before, I had met the governor of Indiana (the late Frank O’Bannon) and I remember being taken aback by how unremarkable he was. He looked and sounded like someone’s senile grandfather. Quite fitting for such an unremarkable State. On the other hand, the new governor of California would be the guy whom I had watched fanatically as a kid blowing people up in all my favorite action movies. I remember when Terminator 2 came out, I thought it was too much of a stretch that Schwarzenegger, after playing the evil Terminator in the original, would now play the good Terminator. Apparently, the majority of Californians did not think it was too much of a stretch for the man who had played any sort of Terminator – not to mention Danny Devito’s long lost twin – to hold the top executive position in the biggest, richest State in the Union.

The other election I witnessed as a law student was George W. Bush’s re-election. The campus obviously showed a general preference for John Kerry, though there were sufficient pockets of support for the incumbent. The same students who had flown “Join Arnold” flags during the recall were now sporting “W” t-shirts to class. You might normally refer to them as young republicans, or junior conservatives, but in California, we call them “kids from Orange County.”

But the politician who received the staunchest support on campus that year was neither of the two presidential candidates. It was actually former Vermont governor, Howard Dean, who made an impressive, though ultimately unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination during the primaries. For months, the slogan, “Dean for America” was displayed everywhere on posters, buttons, bumper stickers, t-shirts, you name it. Anyone confined to the boundaries of the campus would have thought the primaries were no contest, and that Bush would stand little chance for re-election. But when it came time for the actual voting, all those college kids in Iowa apparently stayed at home for the caucuses, because Howard Dean got crushed, not only by winner John Kerry, but also by the Southern trial lawyer turned senator, John Edwards.

And then came the tragically defining moment of Howard Dean’s political career. During an attempt to rally his troops and move on to New Hampshire, someone stuck a mouse trap into his pants and it shut violently on his testicles. He let out a high-pitched squeal of a scream, which all the news networks found to be hilarious and played on a loop pretty much until Dean dropped out of the race. And just like that, Howard Dean’s run at the presidency was over.

Back on campus, the Dean supporters had no idea what had happened. They didn’t understand what was so bad about a feverish, inarticulate scream during a public speech. What was the big deal? The only ones who understood the magnitude of his screw-up were law students. We had seen it happen on several occasions to our classmates on call. A slight slip of the tongue, or a minimal misunderstanding of a concept, vocalized in front of the whole class is the academic equivalent of the Dean Scream. It’s no wonder so many politicians are law grads. Getting grilled by a law professor is good preparation for running for office. Howard Dean went to med school.