Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | June 27, 2011

This is kind of it for a while…

Summertime, and the folks are dropping like flies here and there.

A mentor of mine passed away today. I’d been by to see him when he was still taking visitors. He was a Marine, and always a Marine. What you knew about him is that he always checked you out first to see if you were on the level, but once he had that figured, he’d stand with you anywhere. Uncle had sent him to college at the end of World War II, and then “asked” for payback in Korea. Not many newly minted lawyers find their first clients on an amphibious beach landing, but I guess if you can advocate for getting the heck outta there once the leadership falls to you, you can probably advocate for anything. And he did. Clients were always a calling and he never quit a case. Many a client quit on him, but he never quit on the client… once he agreed to take their case.

Needless to say, he wasn’t for everyone. I liked the way he gave folks his best advice and didn’t confuse them with choices. Too often folks today prefer to give or be given the spectrum, but it only results in inaction. Some of this is due to confusion in terms of what the real objectives are – like do I want to work on this now? or do I want to work with this guy? But more often than not, what’s really going on is that the technical details gum up the choices and sorting through those often obscures the real issues… and half the “choices” simply drop out as irrelevant for one reason or another. But if it looks “good” to give alternatives where “choice” is seen as more important than offering advice and counsel… then we go with it. Sadly… more often than not, most folks just need the latter: less choice and more advice. So the provision of choice where in fact there are none substitutes for advice and counsel… and supposedly we’re better off, or at least more amenable to our lot. Sounds like an election or two I’ve seen somewhere.

Sam used to say there were only two things that mattered: Folks who were willing to pay for advice, and among those, folks who were willing to follow the advice when offered. His advice might as easily follow a track he didn’t recommend, but he tried to understand first the motive behind the “less than optimal” choice. Then again, these days many folks prefer to do none of the above… and for these, false choices or the choice to go elsewhere seemed more attractive. Some of this was the ol’ marine’s style I’m sure… or his plain language… but some equally just don’t want any part of this. And as they say, “Success is a choice.” Sam was always clear that folks deserved to know what you think rather than what you could pull out of the catalog of options. “What kind of service is that?” Sam used to ask.

Typically… clients find themselves playing a game: “Let’s see: two extremes together with a middle option… hmmm, I’ll pick the deal in the middle. Gee… big surprise… did I do okay?” Sam’s route was harder and he knew it. He always had other choices he kept up his sleeve, but he really did want to hear what folks didn’t like about his recommendation before bothering to confuse the issue with more alternatives.

Lot’s didn’t care for this sort of advocacy and would simply vote with their feet. At first, I felt the same as well. But the more experience I gained, the more I followed a different track. I’d tell folks to talk back… and forcefully before quitting him. The method is intended to give you an optimal, tailored choice rather than three canned choices. Some would… and some wouldn’t. And plenty went to sort it out in the squishier, lower pressure way… or just step aside and do nothing.

I think we were all surprised to learn Sam never realized he was teaching… or that he had such an effect on so many different professionals in demanding their best work, their best ideas, and taking a step forward to put their necks on the line. He required it. And he seemed to enjoy working with younger folks. Some no doubt were the only ones who’d be patient with him… more I think learned to appreciate that under that tough marine exterior was a guy who really cared. And of course now he’s gone, and leaves a wide wake. He went peacefully enough and will be buried eventually at Arlington Cemetery.

My mom called with the news. Been a number of morts in the family, friends and relations pile lately… so while I don’t think it’s catching, you might want to wait a while before “friending” me on FB. And yes, and the dearest and oldest relative although one of those who went elsewhere was nevertheless one who was taking it hard. Friends do business with each other all the time, and just as easily… can choose not to follow through. For my part, I went with Sam’s advice when given a choice.

When mom mentioned she wasn’t a fan of awkward remembrances at funerals… thinking of a recent one in particular and an activity she thought outside the Miss Manners Zone, I responded something to the effect that “…if she didn’t want to be remembered for THAT, maybe she ought not to have done IT… but y’know… if it was part of her… and it was… it’d almost be wrong to leave it out!”

But yes, we all have a long list of those things… or at least a list that keeps lengthening if we go there. The mind literally races and lands on a bunch of these without going all that far! Yipes! Yet I suspect in the octogenarian crowd, either the list… if you can remember it… weighs a little more, or you just figure, “Hang it, I’ll just get buried with ear plugs in an asbestos suit!”

So I mentioned to her some of the Father’s Day remembrances I’d read.

“Sometimes, it takes folks time to give up the harder parts of their memories.  I remember one a couple of years ago where I’d read a dude where the memories were still a little raw, but more recent revision seems to have lifted some of the harder stuff… helps accent the good that was there. Nice to see.”
Mom said, “I know. I don’t know why they can’t do it earlier…”
“Yeah… like when it counts. But then, these things often happen faster than folks are prepared for. And … somethings are just harder to let go than others. But even when it’s hard, it’s good to see… whenever it happens.”

Then I told her, “Y’know when I get there, I figure I’ll do my best to help folks get over it… faster if I can.  See, I’m skipping the grass, the daisies, the whole bit. Instead, they’ll have a black-and-white Flamenco floor, maybe a chair… some hobnail boots… and definitely a jukebox. And maybe my stone will say something like:

“So I’m six foot under… and now you show up? Me? Nah… no plans for the weekend. Really… this is kind of it for awhile.”

Only since stones get kind of ‘spensive, I sure no one will bother with the rest of what’s gotta be there… unless we put it on the back… in small print:

“Y’know… I’d thought maybe a Tango or a Disco… but to get “The Works” with the Astaire-firecracker combo moves… nice… very nice. No seriously… I’m speechless. Such passion and artistry… why ya’ wasting it on a stiff like me? Get out there and let’em have it! Hey… thanks for dropping by!”


  1. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and mentor. May Sam rest in peace and his memory be eternal! I’ve had a lot of deaths this year too, it’s hard. I’m with your mom on the excessive funeral remembrances. The method I’ve seen most often is to have an open mic where anyone can stand up and say something about the deceased. I prefer an old-fashioned eulogy and that’s about it.

  2. It is a strange place to be in life that our friends and family are beginning to die. My kids find me reading the obits and think it is morbid, but they don’t see the reality of mortality and the loss of bits of yourself even if it someone you knew 40 years ago in high school much less someone who made you carve a new path in your life by their presence. Memory eternal, Sam.

    • I don’t normally tell people this but I’ve been reading obits for years. I’m strange like that. My kids have always thought I was morbid and weird.

      • Thanks! Not many 86 year-old guys who include you in their lives…and help you orient your thinking, too. But he did this with everyone… he cast a wide net. An inspiration… and admonition, truly: “If not now, when?”… “If not us, then who?”

        They used to call the Irish Sports pages… and it is morbid. Like you’re afraid you’ll find your own obit in there… like the episode from the Twilight Zone.

        My grandparents spent their Florida retirement outliving this guy and that… like it was some sort of prize. It got to be a joke: Almost any TV show, my Nana would say, “Paul Drake… he died and so did Della…” (Okay that was Perry Mason, but there were more),

  3. My condolences for your loss…..Memory Eternal.

  4. Elizabeth: Thank you both for the thought, the note and the visit.

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