The Moth: Persuasion

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In law school, my criminal procedure professor taught me, “if the law isn’t on your side, argue the facts. Appeal to people’s emotions.” Basically, bullshit.

I found myself doing this all the time for defendants, in tiny, windowless rooms with a screaming cop on one side of me and a prosecutor on the other. “I know my client was going 110 in a school zone … for disabled children, and that he has no driver’s license or insurance. And he had a bag of marijuana on the passenger seat. And I know that sounds bad. But the good news is that it was 10am, so all of the deaf and handicapped children were safely in class at the time.” Laugh. Plea deal. Pay a fine.

I never expected that one day these roles would be reversed.

The first week of January 2000, I was in a departure terminal at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana. If you’ve never flown a Cuban airline, I would describe the experience as Jamaican technology meets Soviet customer service.

It had all seemed like such a good idea months earlier. In late 1999, everyone was consumed with worry about the Y2K Virus. If computers couldn’t tell the difference between 2000 and 1900, I figured Cuba was safe from the looming apocalypse. At best, technologically they’d be ringing in 1960, right?

And then an omen came, in the form of a tiny Cuban boy riding on the backs of mythical Republican dolphins. Elian Gonzalez. The Helms-Burton Act already made it illegal for me to travel to Cuba. The Elian Gonzalez custody battle had now sparked the worst diplomatic dispute since the Bay of Pigs. I wasn’t comfortable being in the middle of all this – but I still went. My tickets were non-refundable.

I spent New Year’s Eve dancing to a live Cuban band on the rooftop of the Hotel Habana Libre. When I woke up on January 1, 2000, hungover from too much rum, the world hadn’t self-destructed. And it was time for me to pack to go home.

Unless you’re leaving Cuba by raft, you need an exit visa. I did not know this. Somehow the guards at the front of the airport let me through without one.

When I discovered my mistake, I searched out a flight attendant and found a Latina cougar who resembled one of the original Bond girls. Before I even opened my mouth, she told me “Ay, papi. Tengo un fetiche por los hombres con ojos azules.” (“I have a fetish for blue-eyed men.”) She assured me if I had made it through the entrance, I was fine. So I relaxed, had a seat, and waited for my plane.

But several minutes later my Bond girl returned, nervous. Behind her stood a stern-looking, dark-skinned woman in military fatigues. The stern woman snatched my passport and stomped away.

I was surrounded by guards with Kalashnikovs and led to the interrogation room. I was under arrest.

There is a scene in Kafka’s “The Trial” where the main character is arrested and detained in a room by 2 guards and a man at a desk. I was suddenly in the Spanish language edition.

The place was at once both foreign and familiar. It was full of Cuban soldiers and tobacco smoke. No windows, only cinder blocks and a metal door. The room went silent when the stern woman marched in and slammed my items on the desk.

Y2K came in without incident. I was supposed to be on my way home. Damn you, Elian Gonzalez, safe and sound in a Miami closet. Where was my mythical savior?

And then the metal door of the interrogation room swung open. She made a grand entrance with the flair of a telenovela heroine. My flight attendant. My Bond girl, Anita Abogado. She quickly dove in to her role as my interpreter and defense counsel. Kafka never provided his leading man with an actual trial, but mine had just commenced.

“I tell them, look at your face. Such an honest face.” And she was flirting with the soldiers. “Ay, papi. Tengo un fetiche por los hombres con uniforme.” (“I have a fetish for men in uniform.”) I recognized this style of legal argument. The law wasn’t on my side, so she was arguing the facts. She was bullshitting!

The soldiers were persuaded of her argument and ultimately backed down. Laugh. Plea deal. Pay a fine. I made it home safely.

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Haunted Nazi Hoarder House

The Moth – Haunted (Chicago, 10/23/2016)

The title of this story is “Haunted, Nazi Hoarder House.” Stop me if you’ve heard it before.

I’m Polish-American. I have some Jewish ancestry. I’m gay and OCD. So this is the scariest story I have.

I was a young attorney in Royal Oak, Michigan at the time. She wasn’t making any sense during the initial client interview. My new client had inherited a house with a foreclosing mortgage. She was worried that the auction price would be too low to cover the mortgage balance. That she’d be sued. But how could it be possible? This was before the housing crisis. I had never heard of a home selling at foreclosure for less than what was owed.

If you don’t know Royal Oak, it’s in metro Detroit. Even though Detroit has a bad reputation, Royal Oak is an upscale area. I mean, we have the world’s largest penguinairium. They don’t put those in bad neighborhoods.

She assured me the place should be condemned. The prior owner had trashed it in ways I could not imagine. And something else was wrong with it. It was haunted.

“I can take you now if you’d like. It’s not far from here. You have to see it to believe it. I can tell you don’t believe it.” It was the end of the day, so I figured why not?

During the drive, she told me more about the prior owner. How he emigrated from Germany in the late 1940’s. How he had been rumored to have worked in the Sobibor Nazi death camp. He had two hobbies: hoarding and schadenfreude. “Schadenfreude” is a German word for the act of taking pleasure from others’ misfortune.

It was a late autumn day. She parked her car on the street. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” I didn’t understand what she meant until I opened my door. I was expecting crisp, cool air and maybe a scent of burning leaves. But the smell hit hard. It smelled like … death. “Yeah, the neighbors hated him,” she said. The yard was overgrown with weeds. Through the chain-link fence to the backyard, I could see piles of metal and children’s toys peeking through thick weeds and bushes. “You didn’t mention that he had children,” I observed. “He didn’t.”

As we entered through the front door, we had to push our way through stacks of garbage. “That’s strange,” my new client said as she flipped a light switch. “The power has been shut off.” I’d seen enough horror movies to know this was a bad sign. It always starts with the power going out or cell phone reception not being any good. Before I could speak up and suggest that we leave, I was startled by the slam of a door upstairs. “Don’t worry, it’s probably just the wind. He only comes here at night.” As she said this, the sun was setting outside.

We pushed through the mess, and I asked “Why does the garbage smell so terrible?” “That’s the dead animals you’re smelling.” “What? Did he set traps to kill mice or something?” As I spoke, we could hear scurrying all around us in the walls and ceiling. “He set traps, yes. He wasn’t so concerned with killing animals as much as making them suffer.”

She slowly guided me, room by room on a tour through the house. Our feet stuck to the floor, which was covered in feces and urine. My client explained that it was as if he had kept every item he had ever acquired over the years. She was sure if she ever had the means to clean up the place, the last thing she’d likely find at the bottom of the piles would be his placenta.

“I’ve saved the best for last,” she said as we stood at the top of a long, dark staircase into the basement. The staircase was crooked and collapsing underneath us. The handrail broke and fell when she touched it. We each held onto the walls as we made our descent downward.

“What’s in the basement?” I asked as the smell grew more severe. “That’s where he keeps the dead animals he’s collected over the years. He keeps them in plastic bins, and they decay into something like soup.” And still I followed her down the steps.

As she reached the final step, my eyes adjusted to the dim light. You could see a dark gray cement floor at the bottom of the staircase. “You’re not going to believe this,” were her final words as she took the last step.

And then … time stood still. It was as though she hovered over the floor for a split second before … the floor swallowed her.

A moment later, she emerged, from the black water we both thought was a floor. The basement, that was full of decaying animals, had flooded. The rotted animal corpses were bobbing in the freezing cold water all around her as she gasped for air.

I’ve seen horror movies. I knew you’re supposed to get the hell out at this point. But against my better judgment, I went forward and struggled to pull her out. We both ran out of the house and through the piles of garbage that had slowed us earlier.

Well, the dead man got his moment of schadenfreude at our expense that night. But my client got her own moment of schadenfreude months later. The house did sell at auction. But, to our surprise, it sold far above the mortgage balance. A bank bought it, sight unseen, based on property values in the neighborhood. My client walked away from the property debt-free. But the new owners got much more than they imagined.

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Mexican road trip

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This is a story about my trip to the Sierra Madre mountain range of Mexico in 2014. (The photo above was taken in the daytime on my way back through the route where I was stopped at night). I wrote this story to tell at a Moth Story Slam event hosted by WDET in Detroit on 05/05/2016 (Cinco de Mayo). Although I was not one of the 10 names drawn randomly, the host was kind enough to let anyone who didn’t get selected to let the audience know what their story would have been about. The response was so great that the audience persuaded the host to let me tell a shortened version of my story as a bonus story for the night. Thank you so much, WDET & Marble Bar for letting me share my story & the stage with some incredibly talented storytellers. 

Obsession: Adventure travel

In hindsight, maybe my roadtrip across Mexico was jinxed by my car rental choice – Alamo. It probably also wasn’t so wise to venture to an area that was seeing serious political unrest. But the fact is I am obsessed with roadtrips and adventure travel.

I don’t care if it’s a roadtrip, a heroin addiction, or auto-erotic asphyxiation, with any obsession each time you crave a bigger risk than the last.

My journey began in Toluca, an industrial city north of the capital. My negotiations at the Toluca Alamo took longer than Santa Anna’s seize of the original one. I was going to get stuck in Mexico City rush hour traffic and never make it to my destination by sunset. And I had no idea how important it was to get there before dark.

There’s a word in Spanish, “desaparecido.” It means someone who disappeared, by force. In Argentina, in the ‘70’s, an estimated 30,000 political dissidents were “disappeared.” Something similar had just occurred in Mexico. 43 teachers college students in the State of Guerrero were believed to have been kidnapped at the order of a local politician.

Just to give you some background, Guerrero has this militant, separatist movement going on. The leaders are teachers and teaching students. Everyone is so upset about the Detroit Public School teachers’ sickout. But can you imagine if they were hijacking the People Mover? That would be awesome!

The State Department had issued a travel ban on any American federal workers going to Guerrero because “armed groups that are volatile and unpredictable have been responsible for various violent crimes including homicide, kidnapping and carjacking.” I was scheduled to arrive there around 1:00 a.m.

Driving through the Sierra Madre mountains in total darkness. No one else on the road, except for the occasional coyote darting across the highway in front of me. My cell phone had no signal. No GPS access, and no social media – terrifying, right?

I was wondering if I’d missed my exit. And then I saw lights ahead. It was such a relief. As I slowed to approach the toll station, I was annoyed. It was so late at night, but the roadside was crowded with vendors. They started to surround my car, and at first I argued with them to leave me alone. And then my eyes went into focus and I saw the toll booths ahead of me, burning.

I realized the crowd that was growing larger and larger around my car wasn’t trying to sell me anything. They were armed, and they were stopping me. There’s a Mexican phrase for this sort of situation, “Pinche madre!”

I was ordered out of the car by the young man who must have been their leader. My Spanish is very basic. What the books call “survival phrases.” It was time for survival, and no book had taught me phrases for this occasion.

I was exhausted from traveling all day. I was nervous about being held at gunpoint. I was confused by the circumstances, their intentions and their rapid-fire Spanish. But I heard one thing clearly, “cincuenta.”

“Ok, Scott. You can do this. Sound it out. You took French. Spanish is just French with a Mexican accent.”

“Cinq” means 5. “Cuenta,” “Cuenta”… “Oh my God! They want $5,000!”

I didn’t have $5,000! I was thumbing through my wallet nervously, as if maybe there was a $5,000 bill in there somewhere that got stuck between the 1’s that I had forgotten about. I had $20 US dollars and a bunch of Mexican pesos.

The leader grabbed my wallet. “Cincuenta!” He pulled a 50-peso note out, and handed me my wallet back.

50 pesos? That’s $2.50 American. I looked to the vandalized toll booth. The sign read “100 pesos.” My ransom was cheaper than the legitimate toll would have been!

I got back in my car, the leader waived the crowd to clear so I could pass. And all I could think was “Viva la revolucion.”

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Witness

 

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I was fortunate to be selected for the witness theme Moth Story Slam event, hosted by WDET-Detroit on March 3, 2016. I adapted a story I had blogged about earlier, but focused this time on the actual trial. Here is the written version. 

It was surreal, Kafkaesque. In my best suit, with my briefcase and exhibits under my arm, I climbed the steps to the menacing, courthouse tower before me.

Behind me, in the streets of Gotham, Batman and Superman were doing battle. Now in the elevator, I ascended to my faceoff with Luke Skywalker, Attorney at Law.

It was Detroit in 2014, and I found myself caught between a Hollywood film crew and an assistant prosecutor with an absurd name. Yes, we really do have an Attorney Skywalker in Detroit. He legally changed his name in the 1980’s.

My client was facing 15 years in prison for armed robbery.

Two phrases were repeating in my head: “Black man with a gun” and “Is it hard to represent guilty people?”

You may be innocent until proven guilty. But there is a specter over every criminal case from the start. In ours, the judge knew we had rejected a plea deal. We were reminded if we lost the trial and wasted the court’s time, the most severe penalties would be imposed at sentencing. My client’s wife, his mother and sister nervously watched me make opening statements in the courtroom, while his 5 children attended school.

Months earlier, my client, a black man, went to a gas station in a white suburb to purchase a $2.00 can of beer. There were two workers, multiple surveillance cameras and several customers. Not ideal circumstances for a $2.00 heist.

The video (there was no audio) shows the cashier shaking the first beer and arguing with my client. A second beer, more arguing, and then a bag handed to my client. He walks outside to his van.

But in the confusion, he hadn’t paid. And the workers hadn’t realized it. When the cashier did, he ran out of the store. A fight ensues. On camera, off camera. A car enters the lot. You see a large, black man fighting with a smaller, Middle Eastern guy in a gas station uniform. What is it that you think you have seen?

The little guy runs back inside. The larger man drives off. Inside the store, the police are called and that code is spoken. It was a “black man with a gun.”

As the trial begins, the first witness tells the courtroom about being threatened with a gun that can’t be seen in the video. Another about the harsh beating he saw in the parking lot. But one person from the prosecution’s witness list is missing at trial.

We found the missing witness, the second worker that inexplicably no longer worked for the gas station and who did not respond to the prosecutor’s subpoena sent to his last known address.

We found him with a bench warrant I got the judge to issue for his arrest. I wanted my client to have a fair trial. But had I just alienated the last identified witness by sending him to the worst jail in the state for a weekend?

If this were a Hollywood film like the one being made outside the courthouse, as a movie lawyer you would get an in-depth interview of each witness in the comfort of your luxurious law office. In reality, I was escorted by the bailiff through the cinder block hallways to a tiny holding cell. With the prosecutor beside me, I was given one minute to interview this witness, who stood on the other side of a metal door with a window the size of an iPhone.

A worse deal than the first is offered if I will instruct my client to plead guilty now and conclude the trial. We reject it. The prosecution’s last witness takes the stand, and I have no certainty of what he is going to say.

“I didn’t see anything.” My heart leaps. The prosecutor looks like he’s going to throw up. “Isn’t that you in this video, by the window, looking out at the fight in the parking lot?”

“Oh yes. I remember now.” The prosecutor turns to me with a smug grin. “That black guy was cool. My coworker started the fight. There wasn’t any gun. He made that up.”

Four witnesses, three video cameras, two weeks without sleep, and one verdict. My client was a free man.

Is it hard to represent a guilty criminal defendant? No, that’s easy. It’s hard to represent an innocent one.

 

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My Undocumented Life

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I do not discuss it often, but there was a time in my life when I lived in a border town. I was born on the other side, the foreign side. But as a small child, my parents brought my brother and I to live on the U.S. side, where my father worked. I did not understand at the time that these two neighboring cities – one where I lived and one where the rest of my extended family remained – were different countries. Nor would I probably have understood the ramifications of this difference if my parents had attempted to explain it to me.

I did not choose to grow up in the United States. My parents made that decision for me. I speak English with an American accent. I went to American schools. The Pledge of Allegiance was how I started each day, saluting the stars and stripes and reciting my loyalty to a nation with liberty and justice for all. My parents were adamant that we must drive American cars. We celebrated the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. (One year in elementary school, I actually rode an Independence Day parade float down Main Street.) Our town was so small and patriotic, that when we went to the local movie theater, instead of movie previews a waiving American flag was projected across the screen before each movie. And we would stand with the rest of the audience, put our hands to our hearts and sing The Star Spangled Banner.

As ’70’s kids, my brother and I rode dirt bikes down trails on vacant wooded lots near our home. We drove for hours with our parents to the nearest shopping mall to do back-to-school shopping each August at JC Penney’s. Mom hosted Tupperware parties and baked Chex mix in the oven for those sort of special events. We got our tacky family Christmas photos done at the Sears Portrait Studio. I went camping and canoeing. I won blue ribbons from 4H at the county fair for my produce and livestock entries.

In short, I was your typical, small town American. Except for one thing. I was undocumented.

My world changed in 1987, when my father died. At the time of his death, my father was a U.S. citizen, but my mother was not. Prior to his death, he did not take the proper steps with the federal government to effectively secure my American citizenship. My only proof of any nationality was my birth certificate, issued by a foreign country. But I was still young. I did not understand how the right to work or to travel could be affected by a birth record.

There is one more thing that does not make my undocumented circumstances typical, however. Although I share a familiar immigration story with Mexican kids, I am not Latino. I am fair-complected, tall, with blue eyes and blond hair. You see, I was born in Canada. And no one has ever questioned my status as “real” American. In fact, I got my driver’s license and even a Social Security card long before I ever held my certificate of U.S. citizenship in my hands.

Like so many others, I am a real American who loves his country. But I was once undocumented.

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I survived being left at sea. I can handle this.

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I have recently started to repeat a new mantra in my head: I survived being left at sea. I can handle this. Over the past month, my final one in my 30’s, I have been riding a litigation roller coaster.

A fight over protecting a client’s home found me embattled in an hour and a half oral argument with a representative from the US Justice Department before a federal judge. We won the battle, but the war is still raging. A second fight over a home is carrying simultaneously in state court for a different client. We’re opposing a major law firm and its big bank client. My client lost her job only a few months away from paying off her 30-year mortgage and is now at risk of losing everything. A third legal battle with another big bank and a legal team of adversaries from 3 of the biggest law firms in the area has advanced to the appellate stage now. These are not simple property disputes. These are people’s homes. And the emotions are raw.

My criminal practice is expanding too. A young black man who is the primary caregiver for his toddler son was targeted by a SWAT team with what we are arguing is an illegal search warrant. The warrant alleged he was selling large quantities of cocaine from his house in a predominantly white neighborhood. He is a barber and keeps a haircutting kit with him in his car. The police raid found a smoked marijuana cigarette in his bedroom and a razor with “white residue” that tested negative for drugs. My personal razors have white residue too. It’s called shaving cream. But this man has been charged with maintaining a drug house. His family lacks the means to pay the cash bond for his release pending trial. This is one of two pending, criminal trials I am handling where I firmly believe a client was treated differently because of his race.

And finally I have litigated a custody trial like none I have ever experienced. The circus that opposing counsel set into motion was nothing more than a tactic to attempt to humiliate my client’s family. It’s times like these I understand the deep resentment many people feel toward lawyers. We will learn the judge’s decision in about a month. I suspect we won. But the embarrassment and harassment of the public trial cannot be undone.

In the middle of these ordeals, I remind myself of an event that happened almost 15 years ago. It was New Year’s Eve Day, December 31, 1999. I was on a boat off the coast of Cuba, a few miles from the island of Cayo Largo. I was probably in the best physical shape of my life. I ran 10 miles per day and swam an additional hour afterwards. My mind and body were well-conditioned for endurance. I didn’t speak Spanish then, and I still don’t speak Spanish now. An announcement was made in Spanish to those of us on the small craft. I caught a few things, but not the important detail: stay close to the boat, because there is a strong current. I went swimming in the open water around a massive coral reef. No islands or other boats were in sight. I was such a strong swimmer at the time, I declined the flippers and snorkel that were offered to me.

And gradually, without realizing it, I was swept away from the boat. I lost track of time and looked around for the boat. It was gone. I looked for a landmark. Nothing but sea in every direction. I did not realize this at the time, but the captain of the boat counted the snorkels and flippers, raised anchor and headed back to land. I had been left at sea, and I had to swim to Cuba.

The current was strong, and there was no way to gage my progress as I swam my hardest. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was becoming dehydrated. The sun was beating down, and I was getting badly sunburnt. I did not even let the remote ideas of what may be watching me underneath the surface enter into my mind. I just observed where the sun was in the sky to guess which direction would be north. I stayed focused on the task at hand, and swam and swam and swam. When I finally cross the path of a boat, I had no idea that I may have narrowly avoided death. I was embarrassed at my stupidity, rather than pleased with my survival skills. It’s only years later that I can look back on the situation and realize: I survived being left at sea, I can do anything.

Today, the metaphorical ocean currents are pulling at me, and I am enduring. I just hope that when the next rescue boat arrives there’s a cocktail bar this time.

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In Loving Memory: Grace Evelyn Brown (1921-2014)

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Although she grew up without any siblings, Grandma made the world her extended family. She was always genuinely interested in others. Her compassionate personality shined through even at an early age, when, for one of her first playmates, she befriended a physically disabled boy who had  survived polio. And from then on, she firmly established herself as a future nurturer and caregiver.

If someone met Grandma for the first time, they would immediately notice she was a rather petite woman, standing only about 5 feet tall. Some people would say that’s tiny. I prefer to remember that she may have been small in stature but she unquestionably had a great, big … mouth.

When she felt passionately about something, she let you know it! In fact, as I feel her spirit with us today, some of us not getting along with each other like we used to, some of the family absent, I am reminded of something she always used to say. I can hear her looking down at all of us gathered around her grave and saying, “No. This won’t do. I told you … I wanted a booth! By the window. Not that window.” Ah, the words are as true today as the day she last spoke them. (This is a bit of an inside joke, but Grandma was perhaps the pickiest restaurant patron a hostess could be made to seat. I refuse to believe she would be content with her cemetery plot, since it’s clearly not a booth.)

I would be remiss to remember Grandma and not address her love life. Sadly, she was predeceased by her husband, Francis Allen Brown. I can envision them together in Heaven now. Grandpa is looking young and dapper in his crisp Army uniform. Grandma is youthful and slender, elegantly dressed and donning a classic hat from her glory days. As Grandma advances toward Grandpa, his arms are open wide for a welcoming embrace. Her determined stride is no longer hindered by age and infirmity. Grandma looks deeply into Grandpa’s eyes and exclaims, “Where’s my cat, Maggie?”

Come to think of it, I have no idea how Grandpa would know the answer to that question, seeing as he never met Maggie. Always the optimist, I remember Grandma wiping away tears and reflecting after her husband of several decades lost his battle with cancer and saying, “Well, I suppose now I can finally have a cat.”

Grandma was genuinely interested in all of our lives and was sincerely cherished by the people who were fortunate enough to know her. Even if it was at her own expense, she would joke around to put people at ease in a way that was infectious. 

She might not have been one to use the L-word gratuitously, but her love for her family was evident from her actions. For me personally, I remember as a child waking up so many times and hearing her voice coming from our kitchen. This was always a bittersweet moment. She didn’t live with us. Having her visit in the morning meant one thing for sure, my father’s health had failed again during the night.

But it also meant so many more important things to me. It meant I had my safety net of love, stability, and emotional support. That it was ok I was scared but that I didn’t have to be alone.

And so in remembering the important role Grandma played in my childhood, I feel I must share a story she told and re-told over the years. It’s possible you’ve already heard it. Forgive me for retelling it one last time, but it always makes me smile.

A great thing about your grandparents is that they have a much higher threshold for tolerating mischief than your own parents. Grandma was no exception to this rule when it came to me as a little boy. My favorite story she would tell about me as a toddler goes something like this…

When I was around 3 years old, Grandma would visit my house regularly. Each time, I would ask if we could hang out together, just one on one. We would sit together in the living room on the edge of the sofa. 

My little feet would dangle off the edge and not touch the floor… Her little feet would dangle off the edge and not touch the floor…

And I would confide in her my deepest, darkest little toddler secrets.

On one particular occasion, I came to greet her near the entrance of our home with my hands held behind my back. “Grandma, I have a secret,” I whispered. “Oh? What is it, Dear?” She replied.

My voice went low and grew deeply serious. “Don’t tell mom, ok?”

“Your secret’s safe with me, Dear.” She said, sealing her lips, making a locking gesture & then miming throwing the key away over her shoulder.

I sheepishly presented my contraband to her: scissors and a pair of tiny socks with the tops chopped off. “I shortened my socks!”

She erupted with laughter, which only called attention to the scene of the crime. My mom raced in, saw the mutilated socks, my expression of terror and Grandma’s tears from laughter.

“How am I going to punish him when you’re laughing like that???” She scolded.

Well, Grandma thought this was the funniest thing ever. So she shared it with her female co-workers, who all agreed there are few things more adorable than someone else’s toddler destroying anything of value.

She didn’t realize it at the time, but Grandma’s grumpy, old curmudgeon of a boss had overheard the story (which I guess warmed his heart a little bit). At the end of the day, he stormed up to her desk, looking quite sinister. Was she in trouble? Would he demand that she work late?

“Well, Evelyn” he bellowed, “I want you to know that I have had a terrible day. Just terrible.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” “Yes. I don’t see that I have much choice in the matter. Clearly, I’m going to have to … go home early … and shorten my socks!”

And to this day, it has been my natural impulse to want to share silly stories and life moments with Grandma. Many times, that meant dialing her phone repeatedly and getting a busy signal, since the rest of the family was probably doing the same thing.

When I would finally reach Grandma, I’d share a work story of how an odd-looking fellow with thick, Coke-bottle glasses took the witness stand that day. As soon as he was addressed by the Court as “Mr. Magoo” (true story), I had to race to the exit and scream with unprofessional laughter in the hallway.

She would reply with her own story of going to the doctor’s office and being placed on a treadmill for a stress test. As the machine warmed up, Grandma stood there puzzled. The treadmill began to move slowly and then flung her off like a conveyor belt, with the doctor ordering her to “stop fooling around!”

We would eventually calm ourselves down from fits of laughter, and I’d hear her say “Ok, goodnight, Dear.”

So now it’s sinking in that I can’t do that anymore. I guess I don’t have much choice. I’ll just have to go home … and shorten my socks.

I love you, Grandma!

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