Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Garden Angel

When last I wrote, I was pleased to have such a lush display of wisteria blossoms, but secretly worried that the flowers were too heavy for the branch, or the bungalow, to bear. I've gotten a lot of suggestions for pruning and pergolas (thanks!), but there was nothing I could do until I got back to the beach for Memorial Day Weekend. Fortunately, my neighbor ACE had taken it upon himself to train the vine. Doesn't it look fantastic?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pergola Emergency

Can you almost smell it? I was trying to describe the smell of wisteria to someone last weekend . . . and all I could come up with was "floral." Later I thought, Candy? It's light, sweet, with just a whiff of decadence. My bumper crop is desperately in need of a little support—I had no idea that flowers could be so heavy.

The rosebush is a simple beach rose, kind of blowsy-looking (as well as out of focus), but pure in scent. The bush is covered with buds for the first time—I don't know what I did right.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I think it is permissible for even a modest gardener to boast when her wisteria blooms, after eight long years of vines vines vines. I'm not really taking credit for it, though I did prune this year. I made several people walk up the path to the outdoor shower and look back so that they could see the wisteria at its best. My neighbors and I are hoping that its perfume will be enough to overcome some less pleasant odors that are a feature of bungalow living.

It was Mother's Day, traditionally the day I turn the water on in Rockaway. I have it down to a science now. First, I lay out the tools. Then I go to the deli for beer. I clean up the area where you have to crawl under the house to screw the plugs into the pipes, and remove the cap from the pipe that gives access to the water line, and then—voilĂ !—my wonderful neighbor T. comes over and does all the work, assisted by me and a bottle or two of Budweiser. We were in luck: no leaks. I cleaned, put a fresh battery in the tide clock, which was still accurate for high tide during the full moon, and stayed to see the full moon rise over the ocean, yellow-orange, between clouds.

Next: the rosebush.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Jury Duty

I got picked for a jury my first day in Federal District Court. There were seven of us on a trial, and for days the only thing I could divulge about it was that it was about finance. During the time that we were sworn not to discuss the trial, even among ourselves, we the jury were just dying to talk about it. But we had to confine ourselves to deconstructing the various comb-over strategies of the several lawyers: one with lots of air for volume, another with a sort of tree line behind a white fringe that I believe had sprouted from plugs.

The trial was alternately stupefyingly boring and highly entertaining. The boring part was the financial statements of the plaintiffs, projected on a screen by the defense. I suffer from tinnitus, as you may remember, and most of the time I can screen it out by listening to surf or music or traffic or even a humming air-conditioner. In this case the testimony was so boring that sometimes I screened out the lawyers by listening to my tinnitus.

I liked the judge, who was visiting from Seattle, and my fellow-jurors, none of whom had been eager to serve on the jury. (In fact, anyone who seemed eager in the voir-dire was NOT chosen.) We were six women and one man, and included an architect, a teacher, someone who had sold advertising for Good Housekeeping, someone who had given her brother a kidney. I also liked being downtown, and prowled around in a different neighborhood every day: Chinatown, Little Italy, Tribeca, the South Street Seaport. Trees are such a rarity in downtown Manhattan that they have special privileges: one blossoming cherry tree was cordoned off behind a wrought-iron fence in a little triangular yard behind a Catholic church, St. Andrew’s, which itself gave me vibes of Rome, the way it was stuck in there among all the municipal buildings. Also, it had a Latin inscription at the top: Beati Qui Ambulant Lege Domini.

What it came down to was that there was a shark and a dupe, and the dupe had duped some other dupes, and those dupes were suing the shark and the dupe who had hired him. The defense dupe acted as his own lawyer. He was a nice-looking guy who never intended to commit fraud. He just hadn’t been willing to give up on this failing company that his partner had walked out on, so he hired the shark, who fingered the dupe, who invited a lot of his moneyed friends to meet the principles of the company at a party at his restaurant on the Upper East Side, and invest.

The best moment came near the end, when the defendant who was acting as his own lawyer had to testify for himself. How that works is that the defendant/lawyer wrote down some questions (on a legal pad, of course) and took the witness stand; then an extra lawyer who had been hanging around for no discernible reason read the questions to him. The oddest thing about this arrangement was that even though the defendant was answering his own questions, he felt obliged to be cagey, saying “I believe so” or "I don't believe so" instead of “Absolutely” or "Never." (At least he didn’t say "I don't recall.") By then, we had heard many descriptions of this “meeting” or “party” at the restaurant, at which there were anywhere from 8 to 60 guests, but the witness for his own defense was the first to register his astonishment at the presence of a woman eating a lobster in nothing but a lobster bib.

I entered the jury room with a single word written in my court-provided stenographer’s notebook: “lobster.” We’d already spent five days in Federal District Court, growing more and more horrified that our tax dollars were being spent like this. We threw around the subtleties of Security and Exchange law for a while. The clerk forgot to give us the evidence (thick books of financial statements), so we had to ask for it. The verdict sheet was very complicated, because there were three plaintiffs and four defendants and three charges, all of which had to be decided separately. It was funny that these extremely rich men (the shark had made $2 million on the deal, and one of the plaintiffs was said to be worth $300 million) were being judged by the likes of us, people who wonder if on their income-tax return they can deduct a $36 rubber alarm clock.

If we found the defendants guilty of violating federal law, we had to award compensatory damages, and if we found them guilty of violating state law, we could award punitive damages. We had lunch (catered from the courthouse cafeteria, from which jurors were excluded) and sent a note to the judge asking for a calculator, which, of course, tipped our hand. Then we nailed the bastards for fraud.