I hate Atticus Finch

I hate Atticus Finch.

I know, I know. I can’t really hate Atticus Finch. First of all, he’s not real, he’s just a character in To Kill A Mockingbird. Second, he’s a noble character — a paragon, really. A lawyer who fights against racism in a small southern town in the 1930s. A widower trying to bring up a couple of kids on his own.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

- Atticus Finch

Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

He was played in the movies by Gregory Freakin’ Peck, for god’s sake. As played by Peck, Atticus Finch was voted the greatest hero of American film by the American Film Institute. He has a goddam postage stamp!

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962 (Photo credit: mystuart)

Daniel Baldwin and Isabella Hoffman named their son Atticus. So did Summer Phoenix and Casey Affleck.

How could I hate Atticus Finch?

Because I work in the world of legal marketing, and in that world, everything is named Atticus.

There’s Atticus coaching, Atticus Digital Marketing, Atticus Rainmakers, Atticus Marketing in the U.K., Atticus Business Consulting, Atticus Management, Atticus Atticus Atticus. One of my friends in the business named his new firm Atticus and must have gotten a whole collection of cease-and-desist letters since he subsequently changed the name of his firm to Mockingbird Marketing (couldn’t get too far from Atticus).

I remember in Albert Brooks’s comedy album (if you are under age 30, feel free to contact me to find out what an “album” is) Comedy Minus One, he talks about what it’s like to visit San Antonio, Texas:

Alamo Rent-a-Car; Alamo Car Wash; Alamo Laundry (in by nine, out by five); Alamo Motel (hourly daytime rates); Alamo Diner (you’ll remember the Alamo); Alamo Quick Print; and on and on until you want to puke up the word “Alamo.”

My question to lawyers is: don’t you guys and gals have any other heroes? What about Abraham Lincoln Marketing? Or Clarence Darrow Coaching Program? Or the She-Hulk? Thomas Moore? Matisse? Julio Iglesias? Robert Kennedy? Gloria Allred? Alger Hiss? Nelson Mandela? Fidel Castro? Gandhi?

Somebody?

Anybody — but Atticus Finch.

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It’s a Different World

So, my grandfather came off the boat from Sicily. I still have relatives there (in and around Messina) and I can recognize and speak a fair amount of Sicilian dialect, mostly because my father would use it playfully with me when I was little. The Italian word for money is “soldi” while the Sicilian dialect is “zodi,” My father would say to me, in a comic Italian accent (think Disney cartoon) “You want-a some jingle-a-zodi?” Which meant, simply, do you want some jingle-money? The spare change in my dad’s pocket was a coveted prize and I always answered in the affirmative.

Naturally, with this kind of background, when I reached around five years old, I was dispatched to Sunday School and the nuns. The nuns were an interesting bunch, prone to asking me questions like, “When the communists come and tie you to a stake in the town square and get ready to rip your tongue out…will you renounce Jesus?” I assured them that I certainly would not, but suffered weeks, if not years, of nightmares thereafter.

Which is why my idea of Sicilian nuns did not, up ’til now, include the likes of this:

The Beatles: It Was 50 Years Ago Today

My brother Bruce called tonight. When you are close enough to someone for long enough, you know what they’re thinking. I saw his number on the Caller ID, picked up the phone and said “Yes, I have it on.” I knew he was calling about the CBS Special “The Night That Changed America” (Referring to the first time The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show). He immediately replied, “You have to write a blog post about going to see them in person.”

English: The Beatles wave to fans after arrivi...

English: The Beatles wave to fans after arriving at Kennedy Airport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like many people my age, I have vivid memories of sitting cross-legged on the floor of my parents’ den, watching a B&W TV as The Beatles were introduced. I had started reading about them in late 1963 — mostly about how hysterical girls in England threw “jelly babies” (whatever they were) at the band.

And, also like others, I was completely captivated. Soon the walls of my bedroom were covered with news clippings about The Beatles and I stopped getting haircuts, a development that did not please my father, whose ideas of masculinity mostly centered around Frank Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart, and most certainly not on wearing your hair like a girl. Later, in my 20s, my girlfriend Judy Whittingham, told me she started every single diary entry with “I love The Beatles!”

OK, I could go on, but here’s where my story is unlike most of my contemporaries. I saw The Beatles in concert, on Thursday night, August 18, 1966 at Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston.

I had a privileged childhood. My family had a beach house where I would spend every summer. One of my summer pals at the beach was Richie. And Richie’s uncle owned Tyson Ticket, the top agency in Boston. So Richie got the precious ducats for us. We were sitting in the third row with the Kennedy kids. The opening acts were The Cyrcle (“Red Rubber Ball”) and the vastly underrated Barry and The Remains (whom I knew a little bit from all their gigs at The Surf Nantasket). The screaming that began when The Beatles hit the stage felt like you had just stuck your head in a jet engine. Nonetheless, it was a great experience, and I’m certainly proud to say that I saw the Beatles in concert. I saw the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary; and Ike and Tina Turner; and Bruce Springsteen seven times; but I can always stop a conversation of musical reminisce by mentioning that I saw The Beatles. Not so bad, huh?

Eleven days later, The Beatles played in San Francisco. It was the last live public concert they would ever give.

You can’t go to the concert I attended, but if you’d like to get a ticket, you can still get one eBay for $650.

018509_med

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Letting Go…Or Not

I am a person who is not very good at letting go. I have never succeeded at “letting go” of my departed family members or lost loves, and I am currently having a problem letting go of the family dog, who is clearly on his way out of this world.

I understand that it is healthier — emotionally, spiritually, even physically — to “let go”, to move on, to make a new start. And yet, sometimes I see people who seem to recover far too quickly for my taste. Their spouse passes away and two weeks later, they’re dating. Or a situation seen all too often my clients, who are elder law attorneys: A parent dies and the kids are in the house dividing up the property before the corpse has been removed. It is unseemly, to say the very least. At worst, it’s disgusting.

And then, this past week, a man named Rocky Abalsamo died at age 97. Nothing famous about him. Just a guy. A guy who missed his wife and had a hard time letting go.

It feels just like yesterday that I thought tomorrow will soon be today

On Wednesday, Nov. 20, my younger brother Bruce turns 60.

This doesn’t seem possible to either of us (add it to the steadily growing list of things that don’t seem possible to me) and I can assure you that at Saturday night’s celebration, we will each do our best to prove that it is possible to reach your 60s without having achieved a maturity level beyond the age of 16.

My brother is an extraordinary designer and artist, and I offer the following portfolio as evidence: http://www.studiobinc.com/flash/gallery.php

He has designed museums, airports, Disney pavilions, restaurants, homes — you name it. Lately, he seems to do more hotels than anything else. Maybe it’s because of the cash.

Bruce Merenda

Bruce Merenda

We have a lot in common. We share the entrepreneurial gene inherited from our dad. We share a creative disposition. Leave us alone in a room for an hour and I’m sure we’d come out with something frightening. We share grief, having lost our beloved brother, Guy. (It probably can’t be explained, but for Bruce and me, there will always be an empty chair at the table.)

And we’re different too, of course. He expresses his creativity visually, while I ply my trade with the written word. Socially he tends to like being among lots of people (middle child syndrome) and I tend to be solitary.

In the Merenda family mythology, I am “the smart one” and he is “the good-looking one.” I know that he is both smart and good-looking, but the mythology amuses my employees who answer the phone only to hear Bruce say, “This is the good-looking one, calling for the smart one.”

In addition to his many gifts, my little brother Bruce is something of a character. When we went out to play golf, he would show up on the first tee (usually in front of a group of bleary-eyed men, clutching their Styrofoam cups of coffee, waiting anxiously to begin their Saturday morning rounds) in fuchsia shorts, a pink shirt, and a baseball cap with wings (a la Mercury), take a viscous but ineffective swipe at his teed-up golf ball and fall to the ground clutching his back.

When we would go out together in clubs, he was fond of confronting large, drunk, hostile men and telling them that his brother over there was “a killer” who would “kick your ass.” Sometimes he would threaten to do so himself, obliging me to explain to the offended party that my little brother’s furlough from the asylum was just for the day, and it was time for us to get him back.

In 1986 we spent a few weeks together tooling around Europe. I have vague memories of dancing on the bar at Harry’s in Paris (sank roo doe noo) ; watching the chorus line at the Crazy Horse; going to a “private club” called “Le Baron” (editor’s note: no other information about this visit is available, other than to say that yes, a certain type of girl will take American Express traveler’s checks); running up an offensive bill at the Hotel Negresco on the promenade in Nice; flying down the German autobahn at 140 miles-per-hour (and being passed by various Porsches and BMWs); and walking through the Englischer Garten in Munich only to discover that we were the only people in the park with any clothes on.

I am not sure that Europe has completely recovered from this visit.

But lest I tell all the funny stories and you get the wrong impression, let me show you another side of Bruce. I belong to a Facebook group comprised of people who grew up in Winchester, MA in a certain era. About a month ago, I had an inquiry from a woman named Kathy Durante. She asked if I had a cousin or brother named Bruce. I told her that indeed I did, and posted his current photo.

It turned out that some 45 years ago, Kathy and Bruce had been in the same junior high school art class. They had been given an overnight assignment, and the art teacher criticized Kathy’s project for not following instructions and going outside the lines. Bruce took on the art teacher, defending Kathy’s project and telling the teacher that real artists don’t stay inside the lines.

Here is Kathy’s response to the photo I posted on Facebook: That’s him! He stood up for me in mrs. hatchel’s art class at Lynch. Never forgot it. no peer had ever stood up for me like that especially to the teacher. I’m glad he’s doing well. Thanks for posting the pic.

Bruce had never told me the story, and barely remembered it himself. My brother is a brilliant artist, a terrific businessman, a fun guy, and has the character to stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves, even in the face of authority.

Not bad, huh?

Oh, and he’s the good-looking one.

Happy birthday, Brucie. Your smarter older brother loves you.

 

 

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When I Was Twenty-One

I spoke to my best friend Michael the other day about my son, Max.

“Max’s birthday is Monday,” I remarked.

“Wow,” he said. “He must be what, eight or nine by now.”

Right. No, wait. He’s going to be… twenty-one. A man. Able to sign a contract. Able to buy a drink. No longer, according to the government, my little boy.

“That’s not possible,” Michael said.

And I agree, it’s not. Except it is.

I remember when he was three and used to put his arms around my neck and call me daddy. Now he’s taller than me, has a deep voice and a beard and calls me “Dude.”

Yesterday he caught me gazing at him in that adoring way — the way I have always stared at him, with a big smile pasted across my face.

Max“Why are you smiling at me like that?” he asked.

“I’m smiling like that because you look like me,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he replied. “That’s why I’m not smiling.”

And so I thought of that night (3 a.m.) twenty-one years ago and all the emotions that you might imagine. But I also thought of Sept. 13, 1971, some 42 years ago, when I turned 21.

I had elected to go out to dinner with my father and Marshall Kincaid, a family friend, my dad’s age. We went to the Top of the Hub restaurant in Boston, one of those restaurants at the top of a skyscraper with breathtaking city views.

On the way in, we listened on the car radio as it pumped out news about the Attica prison riot.

I had asked for a special gift for my 21st. It was a boxed set of records (they were vinyl, also called LPs…oh, never mind): the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas on 14 discs played by Daniel Barenboim. Angel Records. The cost was something over $50, which my father thought was outrageous. (According to the inflation calendar, that would be $279.59 in today’s currency.)

My son asked for the following books and video games as birthday presents: the Human Division by John Scalzi; a couple of graphic novels by Jason (apparently no last name); and the Bandai Namco Mobil Suit Gundam Extreme Vs. for PS3 (if you have no idea what this is, don’t worry, no one over the age of 30 does). Now walking in my father’s shoes, I can tell you that the fact that this video game is only available from Japan and costs about $75 gave me pause. However, compared to my father, I got off cheap.

And, even though the medium hardly exists anymore, you might be wondering what happened to the birthday present from 42 years ago. Wonder no longer:

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MILOfest: I Wouldn’t Miss It

One of the pleasures of my job is that I speak at legal conferences around the country. I say “pleasures” because I am flattered to be asked, I get out of the office for a few days, I often get new clients, and, after all, who doesn’t like to hear themselves talk?

(Well, not everyone. I once made SmartMarketing events manager Sarah Marshall co-present with me. That was a couple of years ago, and I don’t think she has forgiven me yet.)

Anyway, I go to a fair amount of conferences. I enjoy them all, although it must be noted that lawyers are generally a conservative lot and the conferences tend to be pretty serious with lots of education on legal matters. Or, as one of my friends said, “I’d rather shoot myself.”

However, I have to say that there is one conference that is the opposite of these other events, and that I would not miss: That’s MILOfest, an annual event for attorneys who use Macs (Apple MacIntosh computers) in their law offices. (Thus Macs In the Law Office — MILO.)

If I may climb into Mr. Peabody’s way-back machine for a moment and revert to my 1960s self, I will tell you that MILOfest is a gas.

victorIt’s run by (full-disclosure) one of our clients, Victor Medina, estate planning attorney par excellence from Pennington, New Jersey, and noted Mac authority. By “noted” I mean that he speaks at big legal tech events internationally.

It is, I think, indisputable that Mac users tend to be a little “different” and I am quite sure that lawyers who use Macs fit into this category. If you come to this conference, which is in a couple of weeks at Disney World in Orlando, you are going to learn a lot, you are going to laugh at lot, you’re going to make new friends, and return with some super-valuable new tools for your practice. There will be an array of exhibitors showing off the latest stuff that Mac geeks love. You will also get to hear me speak about the elements of a killer website, but come anyway.

 

Get all the details here: www.MILOfest.com.

Jacques: A Love Story And Cautionary Tale

Okay, let’s get a couple of things clear at the beginning. First, I am not really an animal-lover. Other than a cat owned by my family fifty-plus years ago, I have passed my life mostly without a pet. Lest you think me a hard-hearted Scrooge, let me say that I have nothing particularly against animals, either. They just seemed to me to be a burden without much of a reward. Let me also admit that I am mostly disdainful of people who post on Facebook every day about what they’ve had for dinner, their children, and most of all, their pets. (I believe this covers about 90 percent of all Facebook posts.)

So, how is it that I have had a dog for the last 10 years or so?

It was a piece of very clever emotional blackmail on the part of my late mother. She owned this little black poodle named Jacques. One day, a decade ago, my then 10-year-old son and I were visiting her. And she chose to say, in front of my son, “I’m getting too old to take care of Jacques, I suppose I will have to take him down to the shelter and have him put to sleep.”

My son immediately turned to me with eyes as big as saucers. “Dad!” he cried. I knew I was screwed.

So, after the obligatory (useless) lectures on responsibility and how it would be his dog, and he would have to take care of everything, etc., we took possession of the dog and all the dog paraphernalia.

For several years, things went okay, although like all parents, I wound up taking care of the dog much more than my original agreement with my son, which was that I would not take care of the dog at all.

After a while, several annoying things began to happen. The first was that the damn dog started following me everywhere. Why, I don’t know, since I mostly said to him: beat it, go away, am-scray. This seemed to have no effect, perhaps because the dog does not speak English or Pig Latin.

When I came home at night, Jacques would leap three feet into the air, do a 360, land at my feet and do it again.

I couldn’t explain it, except to think that, through some sort of dog-radar, he knew who was buying the dog food.

Some years went by and my mother passed away and my son grew into adolescence. My sources of unconditional love were leaving me.

Except for Jacques.

He seemed to think, against all evidence, that I was the greatest thing since Kibbles and Bits.

He preferred to sleep on my bed. When I wouldn’t allow that, he would sleep on the floor at the foot of the bed. When I locked him out, he slept on the floor of the living room, up against the door to my bedroom. When I worked on my computer, he would position himself at my feet, and stay there, content for hours.

I’m sharing all this because if you don’t understand the devotion of this dog, and the effect it had on me, you won’t understand the difficulty of where we are today.

And so the years passed. Then I began to notice that one of his front feet was sort of splayed outward, and it was affecting his gait. He was turning somewhat gray, and no longer jumping in the air. He was getting old, not unlike myself. The legs, they say, are the first to go.

Jacques at the foot of my bed.

Jacques at the foot of my bed.

A visit to the vet produced the following news: Jacques had some sort of immune disease that was affecting his joints. An operation would cost $4,200 with no assurance that it would fix the problem. The operation would be risky, as well, since Jacques had a heart murmur. A good solution might be splints for his front legs, but the doctor warned that in most cases, the immune disease would spread to his other joints.

The splints seemed to work for a while, although of course, they itched and we had to take them off daily to wash his front legs. Pretty soon, just as the doctor predicted, his back legs started to go.

Now Jacques humps his way down the hall with his four legs splayed out, sort of like a seal on land. Generally, as soon as we see this, we pick him up and carry him to wherever we guess he is headed. That’s usually my room. He has a little bed at the foot of mine. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I hear him dragging himself across the carpet to the head of the bed to be closer to me. I have to be careful not to get out of bed and step on him.

What do we do now? Neither my son nor myself can find it in our hearts to euthanize Jacques. He’s not in any pain. He mostly sleeps all the time. It isn’t much fun carrying him around, cleaning up after him, giving him his meds, and so on, but it’s not intolerable either. It’s mostly inconvenient.

I look at Jacques and I see the future for you and me. What will become of us when we are no longer able to care for ourselves? Will someone we love take care of us? If so, how much of an inconvenience or burden will that be? Or will we end our days in a nursing home or assisted living facility, alone and sleeping all day among strangers?

The Female Lawyer Exodus

In my firm’s coaching program about half the participants are women attorneys — solo attorneys who have their own law practices. Often they are the main (or equal) bread-winners for their families, as well as the main child-care providers. The stress is clearly incredible and I don’t know how they do it. Some of them look like they haven’t slept in a month. Add in the fact that they have to be smart businesspeople, and all that goes with it — marketing, accounting, managing several employees, etc.. It’s a brutal formula and it’s often accompanied by intense guilt feelings that they are failing at (or short-changing) one of their many obligations — to children, to clients, to employees, to husband. This article from The Daily Beast entitled “The Female Lawyer Exodus” is focused more on female associates at big law firms. The syndrome it describes is bad enough, but not as challenging as it is for solo female attorneys, who also have to deal with the stress of not knowing where their next client (and next dollar) is coming from.