This is the fifth installment of my memoir: “The Imperfect Logic of the Heart.”(Four Chapters and a Prologue) The book is available on Amazon. I am reprinting it here chapter by chapter.
I am not sure what my life would have been like if I had not moved back to Cleveland. I am sure Katherine and I would not have stayed together. She would have eventually dumped me. I was too serious for her. Would I have gone on to Northwestern? Worked on Madison Avenue for an ad agency or possibly a small town newspaper? Found Lois Lane? In the quantum world maybe all those alternatives have occurred beyond my consciousness.
What I do know happened is that we had a backyard wedding the following summer at Betsy’s house complete with a few of our friends and many, many of Betsy’s and my parents’ friends. The actual ceremony was performed in her living room with 100 seated guests to hear me say:
“Harei at m’kudeshet li b’tabaat zo k’dat Moshe v’Yisrael”.
“Behold, you are consecrated for/to me, with this ring, according to the religion/tradition of Moses and Israel.
I would love to have had 10% of the money spent on the extravagance of that reality show. And then off we went to Bermuda for a honeymoon complete with an airline strike that added time to the event. One more pause before reality. There was hardly time to think. The wedding and then the immediate start of law school.
What motivates high school sweethearts to marry? They knew early on they had met their better half? They knew that their life would not be complete without the person they met in high school. They just happily accepted that marriage was the next level in their forever relationship? They were linked in a codependent relationship?
I loved Betsy then as I do now. But I wanted to be my own better half. I didn’t want anyone to complete me, to make me whole. I knew I had to do that myself. I had to be my own rock. And then there was that codependency thing that I knew I could fall back into. I feared reoccupying that role. So the happy couple moved into their first apartment, a new kind of dorm but this time as coed newlyweds. One car transported the law student to school and his wife to downtown Cleveland and the bank where she worked as a teller.
If there was another person in my law school class who was married I never met him. Lots of students were out partying and bar hopping. Lots playing softball on the law school team. None that I knew going home to their Mrs. I had no idea what to expect from law school. The only lawyer I knew was a friend of my father and he was my father’s boss. I wasn’t even sure what lawyers did who weren’t fighting for civil rights or keeping people from going to jail.
In 1966 Case Western Law was not the “A” law school it is now. It did have interesting, bright students and young, engaging teachers. Most of the new teachers were from Harvard, recruited by the new dean. The majority of the students were local from Ohio colleges. I realized quickly that if I was to become a lawyer, whatever that meant, I would have to work hard at school. To my surprise law school was well suited for how my brain worked. Memorization, essential for medical school, was useless in law school. You would never find a legal case that exactly fit the fact pattern of your new situation. You had to think and you had to reason from older situations to your new situation. Being clever was more rewarded than being smart. Whatever smart means. High IQ was not enough.
Most of what you learn in law school that is important you learn in the first year. How to think like a lawyer and how to use the library are most of it. My grades were good, I made law review and then decided I could miss a lot of classes and be a substitute teacher in the Cleveland inner city schools and make some money.
All you needed was a college degree and you could get a temporary teaching certificate and wait for the early morning call that they needed you. It helped if you were combat ready. Middle school or junior high was dangerous. The kids weren’t old enough to realize that there were consequences to outrageous behavior. Each morning you were issued a paddle and told to respond accordingly to aberrant behavior. Fearing for my dignity, if not my life, I stopped substitute teaching at the junior high schools and hoped to get called for the high schools where kids, particularly 12th graders, were close enough to their high school diploma to want to keep from being expelled.
I always ignored the teacher’s curriculum for the week and taught black history, which seemed to interest my temporary students and has always interested me. I kept away from the law, except constitutional law as it applied to civil rights, since these kids knew more about criminal law than I. Their families had a lot of hands on experience. I remember the spelling test I was supposed to administer and grade. I asked the kids if they knew the meaning of all the words on the list. Many did not.
The summer after my second year of law school I was a summer intern at one of the best Jewish law firms. This internship was normally a guarantee that you would be hired after graduation. When I graduated the economy was brutal and they hired no one. The summer experience was not that interesting and should have convinced me to give up the law, but I needed a job and a career and I was married. I saw no other alternative but to forge onward.
In April of my last year of school, shortly before graduation, my first son Steven David was born. I had not yet graduated, I had not yet passed the Bar which wouldn’t be offered until July, and I had not yet nailed down a job. And Lyndon still wanted me for Viet Nam. Just a little pressure. Steven also didn’t come with an instruction manual. I did hit four home runs at four at bats at the law school picnic, which was a bit of redemption for the guy who kept making excuses not to play on the law school softball team.
The draft thing got resolved when I managed to get classified as medically unfit for duty. My brother had been 4F so I guess it was a sibling thing to flunk out. I had assembled medical reports from my allergist, who confirmed that I was allergic to everything on earth. These were not persuasive. The medical officer asked if those were my real glasses. I said of course. He said: “What the fuck are you worried about?” It turned out if you had a refractive error worse than minus eight in one eye you were not going to cut it. I was worse in both eyes. I always had coke bottle lenses until contacts and finally cataract surgery, which restored my vision to 20/20.
Shortly thereafter I became employed courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson. The managing partner of the law firm that ultimately employed me owned radio stations. He was more entrepreneur than attorney. His newest project was to expand his media holdings by purchasing an outdoor billboard business. He mentioned this to me in my first interview, basically making conversation while eating easily a two pound bag of cashews. The company he was considering purchasing competed with the giant in the industry. In order to complete his due diligence he needed to know the locations of his competitor’s sites. And he needed it quickly.
I had an idea. I asked him, between his mouthfuls of nuts, if I got that information for him would that raise his interest in my employment prospects. He just smiled.
Two days later I had a meeting at the competitor’s office. The manager of the local office was very anxious to see me. I had told him on the phone that I was a law student writing a law review article on Lady Bird’s proposed Highway Beautification Act and wanted his comments on the proposed law. Of course the law horrified him and would play havoc with some of his installations. I asked him to give me the exact data on the impact. He did. As expected, the report included a print out of each of the competitor’s sites.
Deceitful? Yes. But it got me employed at the law firm. My boss was very impressed. I started work shortly after I took the bar exam with expected results from the test not due until months later. If I flunked I expected to be fired.
The bar exam was held in Columbus, Ohio, a few hour drive from Cleveland. Back then the exam was all essay and lasted three days with a morning and afternoon session. Everyone I knew went a few days early and made themselves crazy studying the last hours in the same local hotel, walking distance to the exam. I did not want to do that.
Instead I stayed at a married friend’s apartment in Columbus. He was an intern at a hospital there and I had known him since nursery school. We had a nice dinner the night before the exam and I was relaxed and happy to be in the apartment away from the crazy nervous schoolmates. The morning of the exam his wife was to take me while my friend slept from his all night work at the hospital. As we were leaving their cat shot out the door. We were not going to the exam until the cat was captured and returned. I finally arrived at the exam a wreck minutes before it started.
Flair pens had just become popular and as a lefty who printed I loved them. Since I arrived late, I missed the early do’s and don’ts of the exam preliminaries, where it was explained that you were not to use flair pens. They were not a proven writing instrument and the concern was that the ink would not dry properly and the exam book would become impossible to read.
Another option was to type your answers in a special typing room. There was a legendary story, probably not true, about someone who was typing his answers when his ribbon no longer printed. Instead of finishing with a pen, the test taker just sat there in shock.
I completed the three days of essays and knew in my heart that I had done really well. I knew what to say and how to say it. I love essay exams because you can always imply you know more than you actually do. I left very confident. As I was walking out the door the final day I learned for the first time about the flair pen ban. From July until October when the results were announced I had nightmares of an ink schmeared answer book. Thankfully I passed and in fact had placed in the top five in the state. Maybe neatness and the flare pen actually helped. My printing is very easy to read.
My new job was located in the Terminal Tower, Cleveland’s only skyscraper. Cleveland in the 70’s was not a happy place. By one account Cleveland had lost over 20% of its population. It had defaulted on its bonds and had become a mob town sometimes called Bomb City USA. The Cuyahoga river was dead and Lake Erie was dying as was the steel industry. Randy Newman described it sarcastically in a song he titled “Burn On:”
city of light, city of magic
Cleveland, city of light, you’re calling me
Cleveland, even now I can remember
‘Cause the Cuyahoga River
Goes smokin’ through my dreams
Burn on, big river, burn on
Burn on, big river, burn on
Now the Lord can make you tumble
And the Lord can make you turn
And the Lord can make you overflow
But the Lord can’t make you burn
I carried my new briefcase to work each day and wore my new suit and button down shirt with rep tie. I resisted the popular wingtip shoes. My early sign of rebellion. I wore the uniform reluctantly while the rest of the young people I knew, not yet married or even employed were wearing tie dye shirts and smoking weed.
I watched newsreels of the Woodstock festival that had attracted over 400,000 people guessing they were copulating in the rain while I was brief writing. Apparently there was a new understanding of what was important, an indoctrination into a new lifestyle while I was being indoctrinated into the old. The one where law firms were split along religious lines, private eating clubs excluded women, and the country club you belonged to played an important part in your future success, as did your golfing prowess.
The lack of modern technology made the pace of things in a law firm much slower than they are today. All documents were typed on a typewriter with several carbon copies. It was still pre affordable Xerox. Errors were fixed with “white out.” Word processing machines were not yet invented at least for office use. The entire top floor of the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh was a room full of giant IBM computers cooled with massive fans that together accomplished less than the current phone in my pocket. We did research in the library and disappeared for hours hunting down the right cases in a Shepardizing effort that would now take minutes on the computer.
I worked directly for one of the partners who was famous for not wanting any help and burning through first year associates. For reasons that probably had more to do with my relationship with some of the most attractive secretaries in downtown Cleveland than my abilities, he became comfortable with me. He actually liked me. And in a familiar pattern for me unloaded his personal issues to me and expected me to share my own. We fed off each other like good codependents do. I fixed his occasional mess and he promoted me, but not to the extent that he might lose me to another firm.
I was very good in court for surprising reasons. Most judges were not the brightest lights, and even if they were they were lazy. If you did their work for them you almost always won. This involved writing “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law” concisely in a manner that spelled out clearly why your client must win. If done well these “findings of fact” and “conclusions of law” more often than not would become the exact ruling of the judge.
After a year or two of wins I became confident enough to not be intimidated by some of the more prominent attorneys in town. One notable example occurred in a divorce case I was handling. It had as opposing counsel, a highly regarded but feared nasty New York Jew who loved to intimidate young lawyers. He requested a conference at his firm, attorney to attorney. When I got to his office his secretary told me to go in and I found him on his back on the couch half asleep with his pants undone for belly relief. He looked up but didn’t get up and just said he wasn’t in the mood anymore for our meeting.
“Come back some other day or better yet never.”
I looked him right in the eye and told him “Go fuck yourself.”
He immediately jumped up and I thought he was going to try and hit me or at least his pants would fall down. Instead he hugged me, loved my response (“You’ve got balls”) and asked me if I wanted to leave that ass you work for and join him.
“Boychik, I’ve heard good things.”
I was doing well in court but was probably disappointing my boss who expected I’d bring in more business. He wanted my father-in-law’s, the great Dr. Geller’s, friends as clients. That wasn’t going to happen. They would have to keep me for my skill not my connections. I was already beginning to resent them. I learned quickly that connections counted more than skills in the 70’s in Cleveland and ultimately it’s why I quit.
One of our clients operated landfills in several of the Cleveland suburbs. and every year they held a massive all day party at the opening day of the baseball season. Every judge and respected lawyer was invited, as well as every hooker in the city. The company’s newest landfill bucked up against the zoning laws. The affected suburban city always did their best to stop construction. I argued that the zoning laws didn’t cover a landfill because it actually was not a use of the land covered by zoning; we just dug a hole and then filled it up. When we were done you could finally use the land and only then would the zoning laws come to play. My novel argument won.
Later at the baseball party the big boss came over to congratulate me but said:
“Don’t get too cocky, it was fixed.”
I had, however, other moments that did made me proud to be a lawyer. I argued a case before the US Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. On the three judge panel was Anthony Joseph Celebrezze, Sr. who served as the 49th mayor of Cleveland and as a cabinet member in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. I won that case and months later Celebrezze came over to our firm’s lunch table in a restaurant we often frequented for weekly meetings. My boss was excited to have him acknowledge our firm with a hello. He shook some hands and then unexpectedly patted my shoulder and said:
“This young man did a fabulous job in my court. You found yourself a great young lawyer. We all should expect great things from him in the future.”
Be still my heart.
Meanwhile back at the home front. We had moved from our initial law school apartment to a townhouse in another part of town and finally to our first home one block from the house I was born in. Betsy was a new realtor and successfully figured a way for us to buy our “starter home.”
My youngest son was born just 18 months after Steven. Betsy had her hands full. I was gone every day and usually came home to controlled chaos. But things were good and although I was chasing the secretaries around downtown Cleveland and telling my share of lies about my activities, I was keeping my pants on. But that was becoming an effort. In my mind everyone was getting laid except me.
My boss and I were rewarded with a trip to New York for winning an important case. We went to dinner in a restaurant that involved navigating escargot. If you watched Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman you get the picture. I had no idea what to do with those little snails in the shell.
After dinner my boss took me to an apartment where I soon discovered two “ladies of the evening” ready to perform their prearranged duties. I could see my boss on his back through a half open door getting fellatio from a young pro. I told my “lady” that I was happily married and hoped she would allow me to just fake it. “Please play along.” No problem for her. Afterwards my boss was eager to know how it went for me.
“Did you come?”
“Because if you didn’t we’re going back right now.”
I wasn’t sure what the correct answer was.
Meanwhile, since it looked like my career was moving along smoothly and Betsy and I seemed to be settled with our completed family and elite country club status, Betsy said we should buy a new house in Shaker. I believe now, reminiscent of my earlier disastrous move to Shaker to start junior high school, that the purchase of the new house was the beginning of our marriage derailment.
The new house was bigger but to my eye a disjointed mess. It was on a main thoroughfare that separated University Height from Shaker Heights. The kids would go to one of the best elementary schools. The front yard was mostly dirt with virtually no landscaping. It was a good price but needed lots of work. I did not want to move but felt Betsy deserved this. She had the bulk of the stay at home work and the house had a bigger kitchen and a family room and lots to keep her busy in the future fixing it up. I reminded her that it was a “fixer upper” and it wouldn’t happen overnight. But frankly money was her department. I didn’t need any because I was never anywhere where I had a chance to spend. I was at home or at work.
I actually spent the summer painting the house myself with one ladder. A crazy stunt. The rabbi who liked to walk to temple on the Sabbath loved to stop by on his journey to watch me go at it. I also dug up the front yard and planted new grass. But the inside was still a mess. Unexpectedly Betsy announced that her parents had decided to pay for us to fix up the inside. We purchased new carpeting, some furniture and hired some major kitchen remodeling. We bought some furniture from the May Company at a dramatic discount based on Betsy’s grandfather’s prior status as an original member of the Board.
Could this gift be true? Actually it was not.
I was getting bored at the law firm and tired of the rapid transit ride to the Terminal Tower. As an occasional reward to myself I would drive down and enjoy the radio in transit and try to become familiar with the popular music now featured on Cleveland’s new FM radio. I still didn’t get it and discovered an early version of NPR which played mostly classical music. I did not like the Beatles or the Stones. I was a Miles Davis man.
If you drove to work you parked in the garage under the terminal tower. The parking fee for the day was two dollars, which at the time was excessive on a 10K a year salary. When you left the lot at the end of the day you would hand your ticket to the ticket guy and every day he would announce the same thing.
“It’s just two dollars.”
It was the “just” part that infuriated me. It was “just” to maybe a few of the people who parked here, but not to me. Every time I parked there it ate at me a little more until I finally said to myself if he says that one more time I’m never parking here again, and in fact, screw this job I’m never coming here again. He said it, and shortly thereafter I quit my job.
The firm tried to keep me from leaving by offering a little more money and appealing to my ego. Another firm also tried to recruit me, but I was interested in a complete change that didn’t involve downtown Cleveland. One of the partners in my current firm was a Doan Electric son and my hero. Herb’s family owned Doan, the largest electrical contracting company in the Midwest. Every time Adolph, Herb’s father and President of Doan, got angry with someone he would ask me to sue, so I knew him well. Herb was too busy having fun to deal with his father. He respected my legal ability and knew Adolph would be a great reference for me. Herb said that someone he knew well, a very successful real estate developer was looking for in house counsel. Was I interested? You bet.
I met Sidney Simon President of American Housing Systems, and was hired to become his in house counsel. I learned quickly that what an in house counsel actually did was reduce the costs of the outside law firm. Simon still relied on the big firm but now could argue that they should cut their fees since “if you don’t Richard will do it.” I was glad they were handling most of the work since I really was not qualified.
What Sydney needed was a new friend, and for that task I excelled. The boy who loved dependent relationships. If you saw Sophie’s Choice you heard a version of Sydney’s nightmare. I learned his story on one of our business trips. Sophie’s choice was to give up her son or daughter to the Germans on the way to the death camps. Sidney didn’t make a choice but his act of kindness got his brother killed.
Sidney’s entire family was in a concentration camp. When his brother fell ill and had the chills, Sydney gave his brother his coat to wear. Apparently because of the coat his brother was wearing he was picked for the gas chamber before Sydney, who managed to last until he was liberated. Being a “guilt survivor” loomed large in his behavior when I worked there. It was evident in his gambling trips to Vegas, where he usually lost, and his very risky business decisions. I learned a lot from Sydney and worked on an early syndication deal in Kissimmee, Florida when Disney first began its new venture there.
I heard Herb was leaving the firm, and he asked me if I wanted to join up with him in a new financial enterprise. I didn’t need details. It was Herb. I said yes and said goodbye to Sydney on good terms.
Eden Financial lasted three years, during which time I developed a strong personal friendship with Herb but learned I was better off on my own. Herb was supposed to be the safety net with his family’s scraps for us to work on. The only “bread and butter” work was the eviction business. Herb’s family owned some high rise apartment buildings in East Cleveland that housed a lot of minority residents on the edge of poverty and a lot who were not but who were engaged in less than legal enterprises. I was a large percentage of the municipal courts docket. But I was good to the tenants that were being evicted and did not put people on the street where their property would be quickly stolen by their former neighbors. The judge figured our party room was his to use as he chose and he’d throw his parties there and never clean up. That was better than charging for each eviction.
We also arranged a few syndicated deals that allowed us to purchase three shopping centers with investors. We would have done more but Herb spent most of his time with his office door shut and screaming at other members of his family. I loved Herb and he respected me, but I knew it was time to leave. I could do what we had been doing on my own. I respect the fact that Herb was not angry and wished me well.
So I was now unemployed. I was unattached from the working world. Why not complete the cycle and say goodbye to Betsy.