This column speaks, among other things, about matters of bodily functions. Reader discretion is advised.
“What goes around comes around.” To appreciate the significance of this well-known dictum, one must experience the “comes around” part. I recently did….
But first, the "goes around" part. It was back in the mid-1970’s when I was a municipal court judge. I took pride in handling a heavy calendar, trying and disposing of cases with dispatch, while, of course, assiduously protecting the defendants' constitutional rights, and according counsel, witnesses, and the jury every possible courtesy.
A city attorney assigned to my court ‑ let’s call her Pia ‑ was a good lawyer, and I was fond of her. But she had an annoying habit that drove me nuts. She constantly required breaks to visit the “restroom.” No matter that her urgencies often occurred at key moments during trial when a witness was providing crucial testimony. She would squirm in her seat, and stare at me with desperation in her eyes. This was not a ruse to sabotage opposing counsel. If I did not respond to her silent plea, she would ask for a recess, even while one of her own witnesses was testifying favorably.
What to do? I thought it inappropriate to suggest she consult a urologist. I discussed the problem with my colleagues, but their suggestions were less than helpful. One person suggested I drop a subtle hint by placing a catheter on the counsel table. I thought the idea indelicate, and, besides, I had no idea what size. Finally, one day after court, I broached the subject with her. “Are all these breaks really necessary?” “They are restroom breaks,” she replied. “You see,” she went on, “I have an extremely small bladder.” When she saw the color vanish from my face, she said, “Not to worry. I volunteered the information. But check your impatience,” she cautioned. “Some day you will know what I am talking about.”
When I was in my mid-60’s, and young and foolish, I ran or, to be more accurate, crawled the L.A. Marathon. I trained with a diverse group of like-minded people who also lacked judgment. We established strong bonds. One of my new friends with whom I trained was a young woman who did stand-up comedy. The week after our grueling race, our running group went see her perform at The Ice House in Pasadena. I wrote some jokes she used in her routine: “So folks, you might wonder, why would I get up at 5:00 in the morning and train for the punishing L.A. Marathon. I was looking for 'marathon man.' But all the men my age were in training groups that ran 8- and 7-minute miles, too fast for me to sustain for 26 miles, so I trained with a slower group that consisted mostly of older men. But there were compensating factors. From their sophistication and experience in the world, I learned about things I would never have known. Did you know that prostatic hyperplasia is a common ailment of men in their 60's and 70's?”
And this takes me to my problem, the “comes around” part. It reached its apogee during Verdi’s powerful, yet seldom performed, opera Simon Boccanegra. I always seem to get into trouble with Verdi's operas. I do recall seeing a performance of Il Trovatore. Or was it La Traviata? No matter. The program notes mentioned the passionate affair Verdi had with the incomparable soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. They eventually married. I was so moved by the music and the couple's illicit relationship that I composed a poem during the performance. The poem begins:
Loved Verdi and spumoni,
Was his lover, not a crony,
His muse, his rigatoni.
I read it to a lady who sat down next to me in the lounge during intermission. She got up and left without saying a word. No doubt she deduced that I had penned my lines during an important aria. I subsequently added a quatrain, keeping to the same rhyme scheme, but not the meter.
She, Verdi's love, his love only,
A love that's true, not phony,
They, an island, not Coney,
They were ham and cheese, not baloney.
So Verdi struck again with Simon Boccanegra. It is such a long opera that the geniuses at the Los Angeles Music Center decided to schedule just one intermission. Seems to me a long opera calls for two or maybe even three intermissions. So we get home a little later. What's the big deal?
The first and second acts go on and on with several scene changes, during which the curtain closes and the house lights go on, but in a dim mode. The screen on which the subtitles are written reads, "NOT AN INTERMISSION." The first time I read this disappointing message, my discomfort is in stage one alert. The second time, stage two alert, I grimace. I think to myself, "Surely the intermission will occur soon. We are not even into the second act." It is an eternal 15 or 20 minutes before the house lights dim a third time with the infuriating message, "NOT AN INTERMISSION." Stage three alert!!! I am in agony. I silently curse Verdi. I have to make my move. I get up and make my way to the aisle. Of course my wife and I are sitting in the middle of the row. Annoyed patrons mumble, "Not an intermission." "Quite true," I mumble back. One obnoxious SOB with large feet refuses to move them so I can pass by. "Not an intermission," he growls. "I can read," I say. "Please let me by. It is an emergency." "An emergency?" he asks sarcastically. "You will regret it if you do not let me by," I reply. Probably a dumb thing to say. But he does ever so slightly move his feet and I stumble over them. I finally get to the end of the aisle. There, I am met by a young attendant who says to me ‑‑ you know what. "Not an intermission," she intones with authority. "Let me by," I demand. "You will not be admitted back into the auditorium until after the intermission," she says. "Will that be an hour or so?" I ask.
She is blocking the door. I walk past her and push open the door. In doing so, my hand brushes against her sleeve. "You touched me," she says with alarm.
Just what I need. The front page story in the Daily Journal flashes before my eyes. "Judge Arrested for Assault at Music Center." At this time, I figure I have about 30 seconds left. A bright red flashing warning light goes off in my brain like the one you see in films in which the spacecraft or the massive structure that houses the death ray will blow up in seconds. I hear the recorded voice, implacable, crisp and certain, methodically ticking off the seconds to total annihilation. "29…28…27…"
I tell the young attendant who has followed me that I am ill. She panics and offers to call paramedics. I say "unnecessary," and bolt for my destination. I and several others in the same predicament make it to the restroom just in time. Yes, Pia, I get it. It had gone around, and 35 years later it came around. I watch the next scene on the television monitor in the lobby with a bunch of old guys. Then comes the intermission. None of us care. The third act is a piece of cake.
I am occasionally called for jury duty. I never get picked, but sometimes judges are selected to sit on a panel. I would love to sit on a jury but I worry about what could happen if I did. I fear that during trial I may squirm in my seat and stare at the judge with desperation in my eyes.