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Thanks, and I mean it

By Arthur Gilbert Ben Armistead | Dec. 3, 2018

Law Practice,
Judges and Judiciary

Dec. 3, 2018

Thanks, and I mean it

This, my last column for the year, leans toward the sentimental, but I hope not the maudlin.

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This, my last column for the year, leans toward the sentimental, but I hope not the maudlin. Among other things, it is about thanks on this past Thanksgiving. This year I received several calls and messages from friends and colleagues about thanks, including thanks for our friendship. And I found myself doing the same thing. I think these poignant expressions may be occasioned by taking stock with advancing age.

Whatever one's age, this is the time of year many give thanks, though often the "thanks" are perfunctory. An example: saying prayers and thanking a higher being for Thanksgiving dinner, and then being the first to dig in with all deliberate speed to get the turkey leg on the platter.

I wouldn't know much about that because I like the white meat and do not say prayers before dinner. In fact, I don't believe I ever prayed. No, I take that back. I wrote about this in a column years back. I was sitting in court next to the now late Justice Mildred Lilly. We were scheduled speakers at a confirmation hearing for a newly appointed Court of Appeal justice. Justice Lilly was the first speaker. My foot was in the aisle, and, as she walked up to the lectern, she tripped on my foot. That was when I prayed with all my being to some indefinable higher power that she not fall. I even offered my life in exchange. I was in such a panic that I forgot to cross my fingers. The few seconds in which this transaction took place occurred in a dimension where time stopped.

Justice Lilly turned a subtle stumble into an elegant two-step as she approached the lectern. She began her encomium for the prospective appointee with these opening words. "I would like to speak on behalf of the candidate even though Justice Gilbert tried to trip me." So because that one prayer was answered, and my life was spared, I give thanks for still being alive, and thanks for many events in my life, but with a great deal of guilt. No schadenfreude here; the misfortunes of others close and far away cast a shadow on my thankfulness.

I am thankful that I did not get into a political discussion with my nephew's father-in-law at our convivial Thanksgiving dinner. But also regretful that political discourse these days is so contentious that I am in fact thankful.

I am thankful that California has a judiciary that reflects the vitality, diversity and intellect of our state and that I am fortunate to be part of that preeminent institution. I am thankful that, for better or worse, I, along with my distinguished colleagues, am a writer. And not a pseudo writer, like Tim Youd, who retypes novels by notable writers. I read about him in the New York Times this past April. "He is a performance artist who retypes famous novels word for word, with no spaces." If he were to type the preceding quote, it would read: "Heisaperformanceartistwhoretypesfamousnovelswordforwordwithnospaces." He retypes the novels on old typewriters, like a 1920 portable Remington, usually in the place where the author wrote his or her novel. For example, he retyped William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" in Oxford, Mississippi. Too bad that many of the young college students who have watched Youd perform have never read Hemingway, Faulkner or Mary McCarthy. Nor had they ever seen a typewriter. Wonder if Mr. Youd ever tackled Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake." Might be a piece of cake with so many words strung together.

I am thankful that I got a 100 percent on my driver's test written exam that I took a few days ago. I know that sounds trivial, but it was of great importance to me. Forty-two years ago I was the supervising judge of the Los Angeles Traffic Court. Do you know it is reputed to be the largest traffic court in the world? Can you imagine how humiliating it would have been had I flunked the test? Hate to admit this, but four years ago, when I took the test, I gave wrong answers to three questions. No consolation in getting a passing grade with three wrong answers. My wife Barbara got a perfect score. It's been a tough four years. This time the pressure was high, brought back memories of the bar exam, but at least I can breathe easy for the next four years.

I am thankful that I have renewed my acquaintance with the redoubtable Judge Learned Foote who I have neglected much to his chagrin. I expect him to be around now and then in the coming year. And I expect the same to occur with the enigmatic Miss Anne Thrope. She cannot see or hear well, and she sleeps a lot. Despite her dotage, she enlightens with her provocative and imaginative insights. I will pay more attention to her in the coming year.

And I am thankful to you readers, new and old, who have read this column over the months, years and decades. And because this is my last column of the year, I feel compelled to look at the past 12 months and take into account the current fashion -- an apology.

So if by chance at any time during the past year, including years prior thereto, should I have deliberately or inadvertently written something that could be interpreted by anyone, even those with paranoid delusions, that might in any way have offended, or even remotely suggested, however subtle, in a word, a phrase, a punctuation mark, whether it be a parentheses or comma, that could have or did hurt someone's feeling -- if I have done this so that it registered with you, even for a nanosecond, from the core of my being, I refuse to apologize. In the beginning sentence of this column, I stated my goal to eschew the maudlin.

And I refuse to apologize for adding my sincere wishes for Happy Holidays ... and, yes, a Merry Christmas ... and a tolerable New Year.

#350366

Ben Armistead


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