David Bruce: Law Anecdotes

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What will result in justice: for two disputants to go into a court of law with lawyers representing each side, or for two disputants to go before a rabbi? To answer this question, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua told this story: A wolf once killed a deer, but before it could eat the deer, a lion came along and took the deer from the wolf. Seeking justice, the wolf asked a fox to judge the dispute. The wolf claimed that he deserved the deer because he had killed it, but the lion claimed that he deserved the deer because he was the king of the jungle. The fox said that the only reasonable solution was to divide the deer, giving the wolf and the lion an equal share. However, when the fox divided the deer, it was not in equal halves, so the fox took a big bite of the larger half. Now the other half was bigger than the first half, so the fox took a big bite out of it, making the first half bigger than the second half. This continued until the fox had eaten the deer, leaving only bones for the wolf and the lion. A court of law is often like the fox: By the time the lawsuit is settled and the lawyers have received their payment, nothing is left for the disputants.

Pope John XXIII used to tell this joke about lawyers: St. Peter once noticed that there were some unsavory characters in Heaven, and after investigating, he discovered that a breach had been made in the wall separating Heaven from Hell. Therefore, he visited Satan, and the two agreed that they would take turns maintaining the wall. St. Peter would maintain the wall the first year, Satan the next, and so on. The two even signed a legal contract to that effect. The first year, things went fine; St. Peter maintained the wall, and no breaches were made in it. However, the second year, St. Peter again noticed some unsavory characters in Heaven, and he discovered that another breach had been made in the wall. Immediately, St. Peter visited Satan, denounced him for not living up to his part of the contract, and said that he was going to sue. Satan laughed, saying, “I’m not worried. Do you think you’ll find even one clever lawyer in Heaven?”

A case appeared before the Noda B’Yehudah in which an elegantly dressed man and a roughly dressed man pleaded. The roughly dressed man claimed that he was a rich man traveling far from home and friends and that the elegantly dressed man was his wagon driver, but that his wagon driver had robbed him and exchanged clothes with him. The elegantly dressed man denied ever having been a wagon driver. The Noda B’Yehudah said that he would think about the case, then he would give them his judgment the next morning. The next morning, the two men arrived at the Noda B’Yehudah’s house and sat outside as they waited for him, but they were ignored as the Noda B’Yehudah went about his business. Suddenly, the Noda B’Yehudah opened his door and ordered, “Wagon driver, come here!” The elegantly dressed man immediately stood up.

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan was reputed to be a saint. Once he was called to be a character witness at a trial for one of his students, who had been falsely accused. The lawyer for the defense stood up and began to tell the court a story that was told about Rabbi Kagan. He said that once a thief had been in the rabbi’s house when the rabbi came home early. The thief grabbed some of the rabbi’s property and ran away, but the rabbi said, “I hereby renounce all my property,” so that the thief would not be guilty of breaking one of God’s commandments. Hearing this, the judge skeptically asked, “And do you believe this story?” The lawyer replied, “I don’t know that I believe this story, but I do know that such stories are not told about you and me.”

At the Salem Witch Trials in 1692, much odd evidence was seriously and legally considered. For example, if an accused person was unable to correctly say the Lord’s Prayer, this was considered evidence that the accused person was a witch. Also, spectral evidence was seriously considered, as when men testified that the specter of an accused woman had visited them when they were home in bed. In addition, the accused persons were stripped and searched (by members of the same sex) for the mark of the devil — a small red circle, usually found near the genitals.

F.E. Smith, later Lord Birkenhead (1872-1930), once cross examined a boy who claimed that his arm had been crippled in an accident. He asked the boy, “Will you show me just how high you can lift your arm?” The boy raised his arm a little. F.E. then said, “Thank you, and now will you show me just how high you could lift it before the accident?” The boy then raised his arm high over his head. Case closed.

A Scottish judge named Lord Eskgrove once castigated in court the murderer of a soldier: “And not only did you murder him, whereby he was bereaved of his life, but you did thrust, or push, or pierce, or project, or propel the lethal weapon through the belly-band of his regimental breeches, which were His Majesty’s.”

Toler, who later became Chief Lord Justice in England, was once asked to contribute a shilling to the burial of a lawyer. Reaching into his pocket for some money, he gave it to the solicitor, saying, “Only a shilling to bury a lawyer? Here is a guinea; go and bury one and twenty of them.”

Art Linkletter occasionally ad-libbed during his career as a broadcaster. During an on-site radio program, the sound of sirens was heard, so Mr. Linkletter informed the audience, “There goes an ambulance — followed by a carload of lawyers.” The local bar association was not amused.

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David Bruce: Language Anecdotes

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Writer Ben Hecht hated pomposity. When he was writing for his own newspaper, the Chicago Literary Times, the Moscow Art Players came to Chicago and performed, entirely in Russian, The Brothers Karamazov. Approximately 3,800 people in the audience listened to Russian actors speak Russian for four hours, then they gave the actors a tremendous ovation. Now, of the 3,800 people in the audience, Mr. Hecht figured that no more than 20 people could understand enough Russian to follow the play, and so the tremendous ovation they gave the play annoyed him. Because the Chicago Literary Times was his own newspaper, Mr. Hecht could do with it what he wanted, so he decided to have the review of the play translated into Russian and to print it that way. However, after the review was all set in Russian type, the printer dropped the type and it scattered all over the floor. Unfortunately, no one there knew how to read Russian and since the paper had to go to press right away, they picked up the type and put it back anyway they could, knowing that the review no longer made sense. As it turned out, the mistake didn’t matter. After the paper was published, approximately 60 letters arrived, all praising the review written in Russian and saying that it was the best thing that the Chicago Literary Times had ever published.

The Teatro la Fenice in Venice, Italy, is the only opera house in the world that has an entrance for gondolas. (The theater is built oddly because the site it is on is shaped irregularly, partly due to the presence of canals.) It was built in 1836 to replace another theater that had burned down. Gianantonio Selva, who designed the building, had the word “Societas” written on the building’s facade. Witty Venetians made an acrostic of the word: “Sine Ordine Cum Irregularitate Erexit Theatrum Antonius Selva.” Translated, the phrase means: “Without Order, With Irregularity, This Theater was Built by Antonio Selva.”

When speaking with someone from another country, be sure to pronounce all words clearly. After a charity performance of Broadway at the Albert Hall in London, the stars of the play met the host of the charity event. First he met Tallulah Bankhead, whose voice was renowned for its huskiness, then he met Olive Blakeney, whose voice was as husky as Tallulah’s. Amused, the host turned to Ms. Blakeney’s husband and asked, “Are all American women hoarse?” Ms. Blakeney’s husband punched the host on the jaw, and the host woke up in a hospital.

Sometimes it hurts not to know local slang. When H. Allen Smith was working as a young reporter in Huntington, Indiana, he interviewed a hotel owner. The hotel owner’s wife was blonde, and because Mr. Smith had forgotten to get her name, he referred to her in his article as “Blondie.” After the article was published, he discovered that “Blondie” in that particular town meant the proprietor of a brothel. Fortunately, the hotel owner accepted Mr. Smith’s sincere apology and did not stomp him to death.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini once swore in Italian at the Metropolitan orchestra, saying that it played like a pig. After the rehearsal, the remark was translated and disseminated, and members of the orchestra demanded an apology; otherwise, they would not play for him. Toscanini refused on the grounds that his remark was true. However, he did say “Good morning” at the next rehearsal, and the members of the orchestra decided to play once more for him.

Andrew Tobias knows a couple of gay men who are raising a daughter who is trilingual. The gay men speak English and French around the house, and the babysitter speaks nothing but Spanish. Not allowing their daughter to watch TV, the gay men bought her instead a bunch of Disney videotapes — all in Spanish. For a long time, their daughter thought the TV set spoke only Spanish.

After Bob Denver graduated from college, the draft board called him because his deferment was over. At a meeting, Mr. Denver told the draft board that he was his mother’s sole support, but they didn’t believe him. This made Mr. Denver angry, so he called the head of the draft board a pragmatist. The head of the draft board didn’t know what the word meant, so he thought he had been called a dirty name.

Samuel Augustus Maverick was a businessman in San Antonio in the 1850s. Although he owned a ranch, he paid little attention to the raising of cattle, and his cattle were seldom branded. As a result, cowboys would say “That’s one of Maverick’s” whenever they saw a stray without a brand. Soon, the cowboys began to call any unbranded cattle “mavericks.”

Humorist Ellen Orleans writes about code words that lesbians use to identify other lesbians. For example, there’s “She goes to the same church we do” and “She’s family.” Some lesbians even use the code words “She’s a member of the committee” and “She’s advanced.” Others use “gay-dar” and say “Beep, beep” when they pass a lesbian.

Oscar Levant studied piano for several years under Sigismund Stojowski. Once Mr. Stojowski asked him what he was going to play for a certain program. Mr. Levant replied, I think I’ll play Debussy’s Reflets dans L’Eau or Poissons d’Or.” Mr. Stojowski then said, “Your piano playing is not improving, but your French is.”

Alicia Markova, born Alicia Marks, was an English ballerina who was given her name by Russian ballet producer Sergei Diaghilev because at that time, ballet was not prominent in England. The name — and her reluctance to make speeches — fooled some journalists, who reported that Ms. Markova could not speak English!

Ballet shoes are handmade, and the people who make them are called makers. Once, before going to London to dance with the New York City Ballet, Patricia McBride remarked, “I hope so much to meet my maker while I’m there.”

Ring Lardner once read through a newspaper column about the 10 most beautiful words in the English language — words such as “moonlight,” “melody,” and “tranquil.” Setting the newspaper down, he mused, “What’s wrong with ‘gangrene’?”

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David Bruce: Anecdotes About Illness And Injury

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Kazuko came from a very traditional Japanese family, but she ended up getting a Fulbright scholarship and moving to New York City. Once she returned home when both of her parents were ill and in the hospital. Being a dutiful daughter in many ways, she spent time with both parents. Because they were on different floors, she would spend time with one parent, then go to a different floor and spend time with the other parent. This, however, was something that the lady who shared a room with her mother did not know. This lady’s daughter was dutiful indeed, spending morning, afternoon, and evening with her. When Kazuko had to return to New York, this lady gave her a gift: a box of seaweed in a bag that had written on it traditional Japanese calligraphy. Kazuko thanked the lady for the gift, then carried it on board a train, where she fell asleep. When she woke up, she deciphered the calligraphy — and was horrified because it said, “Those who betray and do not take care of parents will be punished for not knowing the virtue of filial piety.” While Kazuko had been sleeping, other Japanese people on the train had been able to read the calligraphy and receive the clear message that she was a bad daughter!

When she was a teenager, children’s mystery writer Joan Lowery Nixon fell from a horse and suffered a fractured skull. Her sister, Pat, was attending a Catholic school and asked the nuns to pray for Joan. Shortly before the nuns were to begin praying for her, Joan fell into a deep sleep despite an incessant headache, and she dreamed that her late grandfather stroked her forehead. When she woke up, her headache was gone and she was very quickly well again. Later, Joan met one of the nuns who had prayed for her. The nun pointed out, “You were healed when we prayed for you.” This was true, and the nun speculated, “You received a message from God. You must listen and look within yourself. I believe that God wants you to become a nun.” However, Joan had recently discovered the wonderful world of cute boys, so she replied, “I’m not sure what message God gave me. Maybe he wants me to become the mother of a bishop.”

Early in her skating career, Sasha Cohen collided with another skater on a practice rink. Her leg didn’t feel right, so she went off the ice to examine the wound. Blood was present, and Sasha felt squeamish, but fortunately an older figure skater, Jenni Meno, came by and knew exactly what to do and say to reassure her: “It’s OK, you’re fine, it’s gonna be fine.” Unfortunately a younger figure skater, Naomi Nari Nam, came by, and she didn’t know what to say to reassure her: “OH, MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENED? THERE’S A HUGE HOLE IN YOUR LEG!” Sasha ended up at the hospital and got 21 stitches.

New York Giant linebacker Dan Lloyd battled injuries and illnesses, including a bout with a cancer called lymphocytic lymphoma, which he won. However, many of the other players didn’t want to be near him because his injuries and illnesses reminded them that the same things could happen to them. One day, he was sitting in the back of the team bus—alone, because no one wanted to sit near him. He loudly shouted, “What’s the matter? Have I got cancer or something?” His teammates laughed, and then several players moved to the back of the team bus to keep him company.

The mother of Sarah Hughes, the gold-winning medalist in women’s figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, overcame breast cancer. When she told Sarah and her other children about the breast cancer, Sarah was confident that her mother could overcome the disease. After all, Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton had overcome testicular cancer with chemotherapy. Sarah’s mother said, “I wanted to call up Scott Hamilton and just kiss him. Someone my daughter knew of and admired so much had been through cancer and beat it.”

Apparent setbacks may not be true setbacks. In the United States, Mary Anthony once danced some difficult steps well at a rehearsal for the musical Touch and Go, which was choreographed by Helen Tamiris. Ms. Anthony kept dancing the difficult steps and suddenly she heard a crack like a board being broken, but it was her foot that was broken—in two places. She was not able to dance in Touch and Go, but the musical’s director, George Abbott, witnessed her injury and was so impressed by her dedication that he asked her to stage the musical in London.

Stan and Jan Berenstain are the creators of the Berenstain Bears. As you would expect, they both liked to draw from an early age. When Jan was a little girl in elementary school, she broke her collarbone play-wrestling with another girl. The doctor put her arm in a sling and told not to use that arm for a while. Because Jan liked drawing, when it came time for art class she tried to take her arm out of the sling so she could draw, but her teacher made put her arm back in the sling. Jan read a book while everyone else drew.

Conductor Jeffrey Tate suffers from spina bifida and kypho-scoliosis, which have caused his curved spine. His mother, of course, had hoped for an entirely healthy baby, and after he was born, she wondered why God had allowed this to happen. Unfortunately, a local vicar told her, “You know, if your faith were strong enough, Jeffrey would be made whole.” Of course, she did not return to that church until years afterward.

Elsie De Wolfe was an excellent interior decorator. When she was dying, she went to the hospital, where she was appalled by the decor. How appalled was she? She redecorated — and billed the hospital for her services.

Heinrich Conried’s love of rich food did affect his life negatively in one way. He kept a box of bicarbonate of soda near him, and occasionally after dinner, he would reach for the box and say, “This is my lifesaver!”

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David Bruce: Anecdotes About Homosexuals

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Pratibha Parmar, the director of Nina’s Heavenly Delights and other movies, finds her content in subjects such as lesbians, women and South Asians. She has a happy relationship with her partner, and her movie Nina’s Heavenly Delights tells a positive lesbian love story. She says, “In my own life I have a very happy, full relationship with my partner. I’ve had that for many years, and I know many other lesbians who do, so why do we always have to be portrayed as psychos or dysfunctional women? Why [are we not portrayed] just like anyone else? We fall in love and yeah, we go through our struggles, but also we have a potential to live happily ever after.” By showing positive portrayals of lesbians, Nina’s Heavenly Delights reflects reality. For example, in the summer of 2006, Ms. Parmar and her partner attended a civil partnership ceremony for two lesbians they know. She says, “The two women were both Indian, and they’d had their outfits made and embroidered in India. Both their families were there, their uncles and their aunts and their mums and dads and their nephews, kids running around. It was like a typical Indian wedding except that there were two brides. Now that is progress. That is change. So my film [Nina’s Heavenly Delights] isn’t just complete fantasy; things like that do happen.”

NBC News Washington correspondent John Yang is highly respected, very traveled, and completely gay. He could pass as straight, but he chooses not to, saying, “There are certain things about myself that are immutable, and some of them are obvious. I’m Asian. I mean, anyone who sees me on the air or hears my last name knows that. And in a way, I felt that I can’t pass as not being Asian, so why should I pass as being straight?” Many conservative politicians really don’t care if someone is gay, although you may not be able to tell that from their public pronouncements. After a conservative Republican senator (unfortunately, not named) read an article in which Mr. Yang’s sexual orientation was mentioned, he called Mr. Yang and said, “John, I saw that thing about you in the magazine. I just want to tell you it doesn’t make any difference to me. You’re still the best damned reporter I’ve ever dealt with.” The senator then asked, “I haven’t said anything wrong, have I?” Mr. Yang replied, “No, Senator. You said just the right thing.”

The TV series Xena: Warrior Princess boasted not one, but two, lesbian icons. Lucy Lawless (Xena) and Renee O’Connor (Gabrielle) enjoyed a relationship with a serious lesbian subtext. Attending a convention of Xena fans, Ms. Lawless appeared and informed the crowd that Xena had recently been voted the number-two most-loved lesbian icon in the world. She then asked, “Would you like to meet number one?” No fools, the crowd—mostly composed of lesbians—screamed yes, and Ms. O’Connor walked on stage—to more screams. Of course, both Ms. Lawless and Ms. O’Connor have male fans. After Ms. O’Connor’s character was voted the number-one most-loved lesbian icon in the world, she posted a message on the WWW thanking all of her female fans for voting for her. A number of male fans wrote back, posting messages that said, “’Wait a minute, we voted for you, too!”

On June 1, 2007, William Sledd (of youtube.com “Ask a Gay Man” fame) posted a video on youtube.com to celebrate Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. As part of the celebration, he asked other gays and lesbians to post videos on youtube.com to tell other people that they are proud—and in some cases to come out of the closet. (When Mr. Sledd told his friends in high school that he was gay, their reaction was, “We know.”) His video resulted in an outpouring of videos from gays and lesbians—and from their straight supporters. One lesbian posted a video response in which she spoke about coming out—at age 12—to her mother. Her mother was OK with it and told her, “I still love you.” For a while, the 12-year-old was unaware that homophobia existed in this world. As an adult woman, she says today, “How wonderful is that!”

Air America Radio host Rachel Maddow decided to come out of the closet in a very public way when she was a student at Stanford. In every bathroom in her residence hall, she posted signs announcing that she was a lesbian—by the end of 24 hours everyone in her residence hall knew her sexual orientation. The school newspaper even published an article saying that she was one of the only two out lesbians in the freshman class. Ms. Maddow says, “Funnily enough, only one other person was out, and she was not one of the many girls I was sleeping with.”

Like heterosexual couples, gay couples have stories about how they got engaged. In 2004, on New Year’s Eve, Amber and Carol were playing Trivial Pursuit with two friends. When the clock struck midnight, Carol knelt and tried to propose—she tried because in the middle of the proposal, Amber yelled, “You’re doing it now? It’s happening now?” Yes, it was happening, and yes, Amber said yes. Today, Amber and Carol share the last name of Dennis after getting married on July 4, 2006.

Among the dumb beliefs many people have held about gays and lesbians (about as dumb as the belief in the secret handshake) is that gays and lesbians wear green on Thursdays, aka Fairy Day. In the 1960s, this belief amused Nancy Garden, the future author of the lesbian love story Annie on My Mind (it has a happy ending!). She wore green every day she attended school because her school uniform was green.

The first National Coming Out Day for homosexuals was held on October 11, 1988. This day was chosen because October 11 was the date on which the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt was first shown, and because it is the birthday of Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of human rights for all.

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David Bruce: Thanksgiving Anecdotes

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In 2014, lots of people asked Henry Rollins how he was going to celebrate Thanksgiving. According to Mr. Rollins, “My usual reply is, ‘Putting something frozen in the microwave and cursing the darkness,’ as I shake my fist.” In a column for the Los Angeles Weekly, he remembered his best Thanksgiving ever. It was 1980, and he convinced his boss at the ice cream store where he worked — this is before he became lead singer for Black Flag — to let him open the store on Thanksgiving for people who wanted vanilla ice cream for dessert. The boss tried to convince him to take the day off, but young Henry was persistent. Business was good that day, but Mr. Rollins remembers that “the best part was when the restaurant across the street brought me over a plate of food on orders from my boss. I ate it alone, standing up.” Another good year was 2014 because just before Thanksgiving his friend Linda Ramone, the widow of the late Johnny Ramone, gave him a gold record — after 40 years, the Ramones’ first album had finally achieved the gold-record status of 500,000 copies sold — in the United States. Mr. Rollins wrote, “I took it out of the plastic wrap and stared at the record, set in with Roberta Bayley’s excellent portrait of the band that was the album’s cover. There they were, Tommy, Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey, staring back. Complete and total originals, unable to be anything but this manifestation of perfect chemistry, this result of decades of rock and centuries of New York colliding at the right time and place.” By the way, Mr. Rollins believes in giving thanks — every day. He wrote, “For myself, I have found that the best thing is to be in a constant state of gratitude. It’s not difficult and allows me to get over most of the stones in my passway, to borrow from Robert Johnson. No matter how bad it gets, something good is also happening.”

On the eve of Thanksgiving in 2013, the insurance company of Frank Costantini, a 76-year-old who is battling stage-four gastric cancer in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, denied coverage for his daily pain medication — something he and his wife, Elisa, who have been married for 55 years, discovered when they went to Broomall Rite Aid in Broomall, Pennsylvania, to get his prescription filled. Pharmacist Kevin Leszega delivered the bad news. He said, “She was so upset and with very good reason. I felt absolutely horrible.” The Costantinis did not think that they had the money to pay to have the prescription filled. Elisa Costantini stated, “I said, ‘You have to give me medication because my husband is in pain.’” Together, Mr. Leszega and Elisa Costantini were able to get Frank Costantini enough pain medication to get him through the holiday. Mr. Leszega applied a discount card to the prescription to save the Costantinis money, and then he went above and beyond that. Elisa Costantini said, “I went to get money, and he got his own credit card, swiped [it,] and he paid for everything.” Fortunately, Elisa Costantini discovered that she had enough money to pay for the discounted prescription, so she left the money on the pharmacy counter. The Costantinis appreciate Mr. Leszega’s kind gesture. Elisa Costantini said, “When you’re so down and you have something like that to bring you back up, just like that, it was just a beautiful thing he did.” Mr. Leszega said, “I figured that would cheer them up and give them something to talk about.”

During Thanksgiving week in 2006, Rachel O’Neill, who lives in Trenton, Michigan, decided to make dresses and give them to little girls who live in the southeastern African nation of Malawi. She made and gave away many dresses, and in December 2010, NBC Nightly News aired a story about her, and then people began sending her dresses. From December 2010 to December 2011, she received over 400,000 dresses from people in all 50 states of the United States. She takes them personally to Malawi. Anthony Galloway of NBC Nightly News writes, “In a place like Thobola, a brand-new, handmade dress is not just a piece of clothing. It’s a symbol of hope and a gesture of friendship from women 8,000 miles away. It’s one small thing a girl can hold on to as the sun sets and Rachel O’Neill prepares to make the long journey back to Michigan, knowing her little idea brought happiness to thousands of little girls today.”

The day before Thanksgiving of 1987, brothers and real estate investors Gil and Troy Gillenwater decided to do something to help other people. They drove to Price Club (which is now Costco), where they bought $2,000 of groceries. They then drove south. They intention was to go to Nogales, Arizona, but they got lost and ended up in Agua Prieta, Mexico, where they saw an impoverished 22-year-old woman cooking tamales. Playing near the woman were eight children, whom she had started to care for after she found them eating garbage and sleeping in old cars. She lived in a cardboard shard, and she had no electricity and no running water. The Gillenwaters gave away the $2,000 of food, and a few weeks later they returned with materials to build a bathroom for the woman. They kept coming back, and they started the Rancho Feliz Charitable Foundation, which helps impoverished people.

Kitty Carlisle Hart, a panelist on the TV show To Tell the Truth, was not a cook, but once she agreed to cook Thanksgiving supper for her family during a trip. This meant that the family cook would do all the real work of prepping the food. All Ms. Hart would have to do was such things as popping the turkey in the oven, turning on the stove, and waiting the required amount of time. All seemed to be going well, but when she checked on the food, the vegetables and gravy were fine, but she discovered that she had forgotten to turn on the stove, so the turkey was raw. The Hart family ate Thanksgiving supper at a Howard Johnson’s, and they decided to tell their cook, Alma, that her turkey was the best that they had ever had.

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