March 2005


In my continuing effort to give you a tour of life as a new legislator (in all likelihood to be soon followed by my tour of life as an unemployed, unshaven, ex-legislator), I want to tell you a little about the wining and dining that goes on in Harrisburg. You see Pennsylvania has no laws prohibiting lobbyists from throwing big parties, taking us out to dinner, or having people we don’t like “whacked” (actually, that may be technically illegal, but is rarely enforced).

Freshmen in particular are invited to many things as we make what I like to call the “Who the Hell Elected You??” circuit. Last Tuesday was a typical day in Harrisburg, in that my social calendar was full, as opposed to a typical day for me in college, when my social commitments consisted mostly of yelling “People with dates suck!!” from my dorm window. Here is what last Tuesday looked like.

9:00 – Noon; Sleep

Noon – 5:00; Call the Democratic Whip to apologize profusely for missing votes on various issues relating to the Budget, Education, Crime, and other “matters of life and death” yada, yada yada. Leadership can be so melodramatic.

5:00 – 5:30 – PARTY TIME!! First, a reception sponsored by “The Pennsylvania Poverty Counsel.” Sad stories, but the lobster is fantastic!!

5:30 – 6:00 – I’m off to a “Fish Fry for Impotence” gala at the Hilton. Mostly men, and those purple pez made me feel strange.

6:00 – 8:00- Back to the capital for a reception in the rotunda with the “Texas Bar Mitzvah Society.” It seems with the middle east being so dangerous these days, this group is encouraging 13 year old Jewish kids who might otherwise go to the Wailing Wall, to “Torah in Texas” instead.

Being Jewish myself, I was skeptical at first. But after I spent some time speaking to Billy Bob Glickstein and Bobby Jo Rabinowitz myself, I was sold. Plus, I simply could not stop eating their delicious Kugel Nuevos Rancheros and Chicken-Fried Whitefish.

Just before I left, the big guy himself, Rabbi Harlan “Wild-Jackass” Goldberg stopped by in his Stetson-style yarmulke. I swore to him when my soon-to-be-born son turns 13, we’re packin’ up a “pork-free posse” and dovening in Amarillo.

8:00 – Midnight – Finally. Dinner. And I’m starving. Tonight, about 8 reps are being treated to sushi by a lobbyist for the truss industry. In between the unagi and the maguro, we are shown the latest in crotch-restraint wear. After a while, I’ve seen enough leather, and am ready to call it a night. But I am tempted to remain by the promise of cheesecake.

After a hard night like this, I’m ready for a light snack and a warm bed. Tomorrow morning I have a New Legislator Breakfast with the folks from Cottonelle. I want to be well rested, and of course, I want to be nice and hungry.

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Last Tuesday, I was acting as a tour guide. At least once a week some group from the district comes to Harrisburg to see their capital and learn about their government. I walk them around and tell them what I know about the building and Pennsylvania history. Since I don’t know anything about either, I make a lot of it up. Usually they don’t notice, although last Tuesday’s group seemed surprised to learn that the Supreme Court chamber was where most of the “Gidgit” movies had been filmed.

The tour was progressing nicely:

Me
Now as you step into the Rotunda you will
see the murals on the walls. These were painted by
famous chef Julia Child. This explains the French theme
and the prevalence of beef slabs surrounding William
Penn. As you can tell, Julia was suffering from the early
signs of dementia even then. Which is why we see
Hayawatha depicted as “making out” with James Earl
Jones.

Constituent
Excuse me. Are you telling me that we elected you as
our representative?

Me
Absolutely!! Now come follow me into the Senate Chamber,
which is officially known as “The Larry Flynt Nook”…

Suddenly, I received a page telling me I had to be on the house floor urgently. It was once again time to vote on resolutions. These are non-binding votes we cast declaring something “The Official State…” something or other, or declaring a certain date to be “Weasel Day,” so we can all earn big campaign contributions from the Weasel Husbandry lobby. Last week, the resolutions we voted on were as follows:

= “Unbearable Pain” Day
= “Leprechaun” Week
= “Disturbingly Flamboyant Son” day
= Thong Month
= Official State Cat – Fritz, the
= Official State Cheese – Wiz
= Official State Butter – I can’t believe it’s not…
= Official State Muskrat – Muskrat
= Official State Jackson – Tito
= Official State Toy – Kalishnikoff Assault Rifle (The NRA has a great lobby)
= Official State Cookie – Kalishnikoff Assault Rifle (I meant a really great lobby)
= Official State Gansta Rap Theme – “Passin’ lozz 4 U, Suckah!”
= Letter “P” Awareness Week
= “Obvious Things All Around Us” Awareness Week
= “Lordy Lordy, Good Gawd!!” – Official thing to say when seeing a recent picture of Delta Burke
= Eskimo Appreciation Day

Most of these passed 202-1. I voted “No” on everything except the Tito Jackson one. It’s hard to argue with that. After I earned my paycheck with that intellectual heavy lifting, I was off to find my tour group. By the time I found them, they had nominated someone else to lead the tour, and to run against me in ’04. I was having none of it however, and gathered them up to go see the Governor’s Office, which, I began to explain, was guarded round the clock by cross-dressing elves…

One of the things politicians worry about most is reelection. I’m an exception to that rule in that I worry about far more basic things, like whether my clothes match, or whether I even remembered to wear clothes. However, I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I should be doing. So I spoke to some of my colleagues.

I asked if it’s true that incumbents usually have a fairly easy time getting reelected. “For the most part, that’s true,” they said. “But there are a number of things you can do to screw it up.” They then suggested I go speak to the source of the greatest wisdom in Harrisburg: “The Olde Grizzled Politician.” So I did.

The Olde Grizzled Politician sits in a small, dark room in the basement of the capitol. No one remembers when he was first elected, or even what district he represents. All they know is that he insists on being paid by direct deposit. He has a long gray beard, and wears only a loincloth, which is both mysterious and nauseating at the same time. He is surrounded by the hoarded food of a thousand fundraising receptions. I approached him reverently:

ME
Oh great oracle of wisdom. Please accept my humble…

Olde Grizzled Politician
Care for a cheese cube?

ME
Uh…no, no thank you.

Olde Grizzled Politician
How about a chilled shrimp?

ME
I’m fine.

Olde Grizzled Politician
Stuffed Mushroom?

ME
Really.

Olde Grizzled Politician
Suit yourself.

ME
Actually, I just wanted some wisdom on how I avoid
being defeated when I run for reelection.

Olde Grizzled Politician
Oh! Why didn’t you say so. Sit down, I have a little song
for you.

At this point, the Olde Grizzled Politician picked up a banjo, but realizing that he didn’t know how to play, put it down. He then sang an a capella version of the following song:

To the tune of “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” by Paul Simon

The problem is common and it’s making you lose sleep
You want your pension and to keep your state-leased Jeep
I want to help you avoid trouble by the heap
There must be 50 ways to lose elections

Start wearing a dress, Les
Forget to file, Kyle
Run as a Green, Gene
Now listen to me.

Announce you’re a pagan, Megan
Ya know you’ll be beggin!
Vote the wrong day, Jay
It just wasn’t to be.

I know the voting both is a dangerous device
Being rejected by the people, well that isn’t very nice
So I’ll grab a Swedish Meatball and I’ll give you some advice,
There must be 50 ways to lose elections.

Ya get caught with a boy, Roy
Hit the Peyote, Cody
Call your self Saddam, Saddam
You’re tasting defeat.

Campaign in the nude, Jude
You’re gonna get killed dude!
Get thrown in the Pokey, Cokey
You’re gonna get beat.

ME
Well, that was very helpful. Thank you for…

Olde Grizzled Politician
Hold on kid. I got more.

Dye your hair blue, Abu
Join Al-Qiada, Ida
Vote for Peace, Cochees
You ain’t gonna boast

Start raising the tax, Max
You might as well not Acks!
Harpoon a seal, Neil
You’re gonna be toast.

At this point I left the wise old man. He continued to sing long after I had left his room and started walking back to my office. As I heard his voice fade away,

Piss off the gun lobby, Hammurabi…

his words continued to haunt me. So did his loincloth. I now know what I have to do.

Tomorrow: What I have to do.

My friend Amy’s daughter Athena said that her friend Lola would think I’m “the coolest guy in the world” if I mentioned her in the Vent. Assuming that is still a compliment in the ever-changing world of teenage lingo, it is an offer I can’t resist. So before I get to the substance of this Vent, let me say a few words to Lola.

I’ve never met you Lola, (unless I have, in which case OH YES!! I REMEMBER NOW!!!) but I’m sure you are a great person. In fact, I’m sure you are the best person on the planet, even better than Daryl Strawberry or Condeleeza Rice. I don’t know if they do “reverse Siamese twin attachment” surgery. There are the obvious ethical, insurance coverage, and in your case, parental consent issues to deal with. But putting those aside, there is no other person who I would rather be permanently stapled to, at the shoulder or the cranium, than you…Lola.

A few Vents ago I said I would shortly be moving my office to Bala Cynwyd after having an “Allentown Moment” (you don’t want to live there Lola). Well, I had another one this week, and I wanted to share it with you. See, I got a new case, a case that exudes Allentown the way that George Will exudes “Sexy” (hey, you have your taste, I have mine).

My client (who we’ll call “Bob”) went fishing in Fogelsville, a suburb of Schnecksville. After a couple of hours lazily casting his line and thinking “Man, that W is a sharp cookie,” he felt a big tug. On the end of his line he had the largest Trout ever caught in Pennsylvania (16 lbs 4 oz). Bob knew how fortunate he was. He thought, “good thing I caught him! He could be happily swimming somewhere else by now.”

Soon, his picture was on the front page of the local paper, just above the results of the Presidential election, and just below the big story of the day “DUTCH MILLER’S FRIDGE GOES ON THE FRITZ.” It’s big news in Allentown whenever something goes “On the Fritz.” The next day another local guy called the Allentown Police saying that Bob hadn’t caught the record trout in Fogelsville after all. Instead, this guy alleged that Bob caught the trout on his own private pond. Now, you might not know that a state record Fish can’t be caught in a private pond (if you’ve been living under a rock). However, even the dimmest among us (and you know who you are!) knows that you can’t actually steal a trout. Why, that’s “Trout Stealing” for God’s sake. And thus a scandal was born.

Now, hold up 4 fingers. Now count them. That’s how many Allentown cops became involved in the investigation. I’m guessing the conversation in the squad room went something like this:

SARGE
OK men. Time to get your assignments. We’ve got
a full plate today. First, we’ve got a murder.

COP #1
Murder, Schmurder.

SARGE
OK, well, we’ve got a rape.

COP #1
Rape, schmape.

SARGE
Well, lets see. We’ve got a “Filing a False Report
on an Official Fish and Wildlife Form.”

COP #1
Filing a False Report on an Official Fish and Wildlife
form…Schmiling a False Report on…a..Schmofficial…uh
….OK, I’ll take that one.

COP #2
Can I help him?

SARGE
Depends, are you sober today?

COP #2
No.

SARGE
OK then, your’e on the case. Hey, Cop #3, why are
you crying?

COP #3
Sorry, Sarge. It’s just that my father once had a Filing a
False Report on an Official Fish and Wildlife Report case.
He never caught that guy. He couldn’t let it go. He started
drinking, mostly Fresca, but still, it wore on him. Then he
quit caring about anything. He quit his job, he started going
to a different hooker every night, finally he blew his brains out.

SARGE
I’m so sorry, Cop #3.

COP #3
I just don’t want that to happen to me, except for the part
about the hookers.

SARGE
Of course not. We’re gonna catch that Filing a
False report on Fish and…well, you get the idea!

COP #4
Let’s get him boys!

All cheer and run out of room, but come back when they realize they forgot their pants–then run out again, still as enthusiastic as ever.

So I am going to trial on this case (eat your heart out David Boies). I do so wistfully, knowing that it may well be the last trout-related case I ever try. Although, you never know where life will take you: I may wind up loving this case so much that I develop an exclusively trout-based practice (like Clarence Thomas used to have). If you have any Trout related problems, or any problems at all relating to controversial Fish and Wildlife Commission filings, you know who to call. Half-price for you Lola.

I have always been a giving person. I give and I give and I give and I…you get the idea. Of course, what I give is limited by what I have. That’s why I’ve never donated my eggs. However, one thing I do have is vast knowledge, and I’ve never been reluctant to share it. For example, as a kid, when I set some other kid’s pants on fire, I was more than happy to say, “Hey, your pants are on fire.”

As an adult, this has translated into me conducting numerous seminars on topics of interest. As a lawyer, I started out doing legal seminars about the areas I knew best. I did one called “Facing Disbarment with Dignity.” Another popular one was “‘Oops, I lost your file:’ Thoughts on Trial Preparation.” I got the idea for my most popular seminar when I went to a seminar myself entitled “Allegations of Impotence in Annulment Cases.” I just expanded the topic in my seminar to “Allegations of Impotence in Commercial Transaction Cases.”

Eventually, my seminars became so popular, that I branched out into areas other than law, although admittedly sometimes I didn’t actually know much about the topic. I conducted a very successful accounting seminar entitled “‘Me no habla englais’ and Other Things to Say in an Audit.” However, both my math seminar (“How High Can you Count?”) and my physics seminar (“Lordy, dem planets is big!!”) were less well received.

All this is to say that I feel compelled to offer you, right here and now, my “on-line” seminar on “How to be a Good Witness.” I’ve recently had an unusually high number of trials, and before each one, I instruct each witness on the basic rules of witnesshood. But no one seems to listen. Below, are the rules to follow if you ever take the stand to testify, say in a traffic case, or maybe psychic malpractice litigation. Under each rule are shockingly accurate variations on ways my witnesses have violated these rules.

HOW TO BE A GOOD WITNESS

Rule # 1: Be specific in your answers. Frequently witnesses feel they should
“explain” their answer. This is a disaster. For example, in a criminal trial, do not do this:

Me
Sir, are you involved in any money
laundering?

Defendant
No.

Me
Thank you.

Defendant
I mean, sure I bounce a few checks now
and then.

Me
Uh…that will be all your hon…

Defendant
…and sometimes, I may stick my hand
into the mailbox and grab a little mail.

Me
I believe you’ve answered the question. That
will be all I…

Defendant
…once I stole a sweater, but that was years
ago. And once I stole a cop car. That was this
morning.

Me
…your honor, we would rest, and offer no further…

Defendant
…I like to set fires. Big ones, mostly in strip
malls. And I’ve certainly unzipped my share of
flies at my share of Junior High Schools. Oh,
and I shot a couple guys. But money laundering,
NEVER!!

Rule # 2: Keep your answers as short as possible. Not every question is an invitation to tell your life story. Here is an example of what I mean from a recent Zoning hearing.

Me
Please tell the judge your address.

Witness
I live on Birdsong Lane. Just by the river.
I used to live in Flatbush, but who the hell
wants to spend their life in a place named
Flatbush? Plus, it was like…a total dump.
I had a neighbor there, Rita, who used to raise
chickens. All day long, Cluck Cluck Cluck, do
you know how stressful that is? I was so stressed
that my infections flared up all the time. Did I
mention I had chronic yeast infections? So anyway,
my boyfriend at the time, Leo, was just getting
over his prostate troubles, and he never wanted
to…

Judge
Shut up.

Witness
…go out. So he’d stay in all day and watch
for girl scouts walking by on the street. And
when he’d see one, he’d take out his…

Judge
…I want to kill you.

Rule # 3: Don’t Guess! “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Don’t do this:

Me
So Mr. Marshmallow, you are charged with
burglary. Did you break into Mr. Barker’s house?

Mr. Marshmallow
No.

Me
So you have no idea who stole Mr. Barker’s
golf clubs.

Mr. Marshmallow
Well, I suppose it’s someone who likes Golf.
Boy I love Golf. And I guess the guy would have
to be about my height to fit into the window. He’d
likely be someone who didn’t work on Tuesdays,
like me. And finally, his name would probably be
Marshmallow.

Me
And why is that?

Mr. Marshmallow
I don’t know, just seems logical.

Rule # 4: Don’t get mad. Opposing counsel is just doing his job. He would be representing you now if you paid him first. So don’t do this:

Me
Why don’t you tell the jury your name sir?

Defendant
Why don’t you just kiss my Lithuanian
butt you yellow-bellied, underdressed hack?

Judge
Sir, Mr. Leach is your lawyer.

Defendant
Oh, I know.

I hope this has been helpful to you, whether you face impeachment proceedings or a simple, run-of-the-mill, routine demand for a paternity test from the baby-sitter. Please join me tomorrow for my next seminar “How Even Total Losers can have High Self-Esteem.”

Howdy!

Hierarchy – The classification of a group of people according to ability or to economic, social, or professional standing.

Every group has a hierarchy. Our government has a President (I said “Hierarchy,” not “Smartarchy”), any company has a CEO. Even the Shriners have a guy whose funny hat is different, and more important, than all the other funny hats.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is no different. As I have come to understand it, the Hierarchy of the House is roughly as follows:

= The Speaker
= The Majority Leader
= The Minority Leader
= The Majority Whip
= The rest of the members
= The Stenographers
= Dead people buried near the capitol
= Otto, the guy with the plate in his head who sells Keilbasa on the capitol steps
= Me

As you can imagine, this can be frustrating.

Frustration- A deep, chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs.

One of the ways being so low in the pecking order is annoying is the difficulty I have in getting my legislation considered. At first, when I brought up a bill, the Speaker would, with great solemnity, rule me out of order. Then, he would just giggle. Now, when I try to get my bills debated, he doubles over laughing, pulls down his pants and sets his socks on fire. As you can imagine, this can be an effective deterrent.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to be cool. I do all the things I did to be cool back in college. I wear “High Karate” Aftershave. I blast Leonard Nimoy records from my souped-up Pacer. I brandish photos of my Bar Mitzvah at all the parties. The usual stuff. But nothing seems to work.

I’d like to think my difficulties stem from the fact that I am actually trying to move legislation, whereas freshmen from the minority party are supposed to be reimbursed, but not heard. On the other hand it could be that my reputation just took a fatal hit when I drank too many Virgin Marys and tried to “neck” with the Secretary of Transportation.

In any event, I hope that if I ever move up the hierarchy chart (passing Otto, say), that I will be more open to the possibility that those below me may have a good idea. But by then, I’ll probably be completely cynical, and will join the long list of speakers who light their clothes on fire when freshmen try to say something.

Turtle Wax- (this dictionary stuff is fun!) An exterior car care product, usually given as a parting gift by Monty Hall to losers on “Lets Make a Deal.” Intended to provide some consolation to those who did not win the $55,000 Lexis. Always awarded in a “lifetime supply.” Any amount of Turtle Wax is a “lifetime supply.”

Love,
Dutch Larooo

Tomorrow: Why do birds suddenly appear every time I walk near?

Often I get ideas from my constituents on things I can do to relax. “Resign” is a common one, as is “Turn yourself in!” I appreciate these suggestions, but recently I’ve found myself leaning more towards “Rolfing.” Rolfing is apparently an extremely painful form of massage, invented by a woman named Ida Rolf, whose very name screams out “DISCIPLINE.” Ida Rolf sounds like the name of a woman you would meet on a blind date, in a dungeon. (Been there, done that…yada yada yada.)

The Rolfing suggestion comes from one of my favorite constituents, who I will call Georgette (because, well, that’s her name). I’ve known and adored Georgette for about 5 years. She has a heart of gold (that is what they make pacemakers out of, isn’t it?). Although she does tend to get involved in anything she does with great enthusiasm. First it was Yoga. Georgette started with the “Down Dog” and Pigeon poses, but soon was effortlessly folding herself into the very difficult “Nasty Drunken Doorman” and “Horned-up Terrier” poses.

Soon she dove into “Reiki,” a form a massage that involves the masseuse not actually touching you. You lie on the table and your Reiki healer moves their hands “near” your body. Georgette abandoned that when she discovered that her Reiki hadn’t even shown up for the last 5 sessions.

Then it was aromatherapy. The smell of rose petals eased muscle aches, and jasmine relieved congestion. I became skeptical when Georgette’s “Nose Master” told her that the scent of “long-dead oppossum” prevented goiters, and sniffing Nick Nolte made your stocks go up. I never bought into aromatherapy generally, but it was proven to me that sniffing week-old clams cures any craving for…well…clams.

More recently, Georgette became obsessed with Chinese Astrology, Tibetan Chanting, the hideously haunting warblings of Celine Dion, and the healing power of Bar Mitzvahs. All of this has led to Rolfing, which is supposed to bring relief through unbearable pain. So early next week I’m going to see a man who will stand on my throat until I feel better. But at least it’s only costing me $250.

I simply have to steer Georgette toward fads that have more obvious benefits to me. That’s why I’ve started evangelizing the miraculous, supernatural calming powers of washing my car.

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