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Ain't Nothing to Sneeze At

Do Ink Smears Make Me Look Old?




When I was young, I used to worry about grey roots, saggy jowls, those batwings that suddenly hang from upper arms,  and whether my left ankle would swell to twice it's size like my mother's. 

But I never dreamed in a million years that ink smears on my fingers would make me look old.

When did reading a newspaper mark me as someone who had to be born before 1980? 

I was sitting in court this morning and I was reading the Sunday New York Times. Yes, I said the Sunday edition. I was so looking forward to sitting in court this morning and reading the Times that I even bought the Wednesday edition, which has the Dining Out section, in case I read too quickly.

I should explain, first off, that I rarely have time to read the paper on the weekend. I don't know when that began, but it is a dismal state of affairs that I am trying to correct. Reading the Times with Mr. Pom in the morning at some cafe was something I looked forward to all week.  We've got to get back to that, and quickly.

So when I got an assignment this morning to cover a court part where I only had a few cases, I grabbed a bunch of sections of the paper and stuffed them into my bag. This is a conference part and the court won't conference the matter unless the attorneys for both sides are there. This involves a lot of waiting around until your adversary shows up or, if you are also covering a part on another floor, a lot of running around trying to get everywhere on time. 

Today was the former so I knew that there would be some downtime when I could just sit and read. What bliss! It's been very, very stressful month and this may have been the first time I had to sit and do nothing (other than wait for my cases to be called) and read the paper. 

Reading the newspaper in court is not always guaranteed or an easy thing to do. When the judge is on the bench, there is no reading of books or newspapers. And certainly no use of cell phones or Kindles. Or talking. It can be excruciatingly boring so some judges try to be very entertaining by excoriating whatever hapless attorney is before the bench, thereby capturing our attention and making the minutes fly by until it is our turn to get up and get lambasted and reduced to chewing gum under his or her feet. 

If you want to read the paper, without a court officer yelling at you to put it away, you have to master the "quarter fold".  You take the paper, open it to the page you want to read, fold it in half horizontally and then fold it vertically, thereby ensuring a perfect and invisible fit inside a file folder that you conveniently have opened on your lap at a 70 degree angle. Of course, when you have to turn the page you're screwed unless you leave the courtroom or wait until the court officer is busy harassing someone else or sleeping with his or her eyes open and then you can quietly lower your paper behind the bench in front of you and try to quickly turn the page, fold, fold, and put back in the folder on your lap

I remember getting busted by court officers and once even yelled at from the bench To Put That Paper Away. And forget about using a cell phone and by "using", I mean having it in the courthouse.  Can you imagine nowadays entering a courthouse and being told to put your cell phone in a big basket on the court officer's desk - no receipt, mind you - and then picking it up on the way out? All of this was to prevent you From Taking Photos in the Courtroom. It didn't last long because the court officers union had no intention of having their members liable for hundreds of phone being returned to the right owners. Things have changed but it is still forbidden to have one in your hand in a courtroom, even to check the time, if the judge is on the bench. 

 (Once a friend of mine HAD to call her office about a case she was up on next and she bent all the way down in the seat until her hair was scraping the floor and tried to mouth the words into her phone to her office because she had forgotten the motion papers and did not know what the case was about. I had to tap her on the shoulder so she would sit up and find the court office there with her hand out, and she surrendered her phone until the part closed for lunch. But I digress). 

Fast-forward ten years. I still can't make a phone call in a courtroom under any circumstances even if there is no judge on the bench. In some venues, I can't even take the cell phone out of my bag to check the time without an officer heading my way. But what I saw today made me realize that it is only a matter of time until we are dialing up our offices and clients right from the bench. As I sat in the courtroom where all the attorneys were waiting for their cases to be called, and I had the paper spread open with two hands in front of me, and I began to turn the page and the paper made that suddenly loud crinkly noise it does when you are wrestling with the width and height of New York Times size newsprint and I suddenly became aware of many eyes on me as THEY ALL LOOKED UP FROM THEIR CELL PHONES. 

Besides myself and a fellow reading a file, every single man and woman was looking at a phone.  Texting, facebooking, emailing, checking voicemail, surfing the web, or reading a book (that’s an age difference: I cannot read a book on a screen the size of a cell phone.) Their faces were down; their hands were raised. They were lost in their own silent, tiny world.  No one was doing the Wednesday crossword, which everyone knows (or knew) was the last one of the week that most of us could completely finish. 

I quickly turned the page and lowered my paper.  I couldn’t concentrate. I felt that itch in the palm of my hand. Why was this article was so long? Good grief, it’s continued on yet another page and I have to refold the paper!  Then the thought came to me: I can read it on my phone.  It will have a nicely lit background. It will be so artfully abridged, I’ll never notice what I as missing. I can ignore the advertising (though I enjoy looking at the outrageously expensive jewelry and leather bags) I get 10 free Times article a month, and the connection is actually quite strong in the courthouse. But I only have 20% battery power left.  Suppose I have to call about something on a file? Just then the clerk called one of my cases. 

I put the phone and paper away and went into a conference room. When I shook hands with my adversary, I realized that my hands were dirty. Newsprint. On my fingers. I hoped she didn’t notice. Her hands were spotless; her manicure perfect; and her cell phone case was covered with Swarovski crystals. She was probably 20 years younger than I was . I hid my hands, embarrassed just not that my hands were dirty, but that I was marked. Marked as a reader. A newspaper reader. I felt as though I had a big scarlet PR across my chest. I was old school. I was old. Really old. I Read The Paper in paper.  I kept my hands  in my lap.  Then I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. Then vibrate again.  A nice tingle against my side.  A little quiet, secret notice that someone was trying to get ahold of me.

The court referee was checking her computer for the status of the case. The phone tingled again. I casually put my hand in my pocket and palmed the phone and glided it out into my lap and looked down. Someone had "liked" my photo of my dog on Instagram. Someone else had invited me to like their Rainbow Spirals Facebook page. Amazon notified me that my order had been delivered. My town sent an alert that today was glass recycling.  Verizon wanted me to know that I had used 75% of my data plan.

The court attorney coughed. I turned red. Put the phone back in my pocket and looked up. Busted.  

When the conference was over, I got up with my hand in my pocket to make sure my phone was still there. As I stood up, my newspaper fell out of my bag and landed under the table. Instead of smartly and confidently placing my folded newspaper under my arm and striding out of the courtroom as lawyers have done for generations, I took out my phone and held it in my left hand and pretended that I was reading an important message from my office.  Looking at my phone, I clumsily bumped  \ into the courtroom door as someone opened it.  I looked up for a beat and made that “Oops, sorry, important business on my phone” face and pushed past the attorney coming in. He had a paper under his arm. He could wait while I walked out. He was old. He was weak. He was a Paper Reader.