Why these were the choices is unclear today, but I can recall the discussions I had with friends back in my school days. Which would you rather be, rich or famous? The options aren’t mutually exclusive, but for reasons unknown, it was one or the other, not both. If you’re of a similar age to me, perhaps you had these discussions as well. Perhaps not. But this was one of the recurring discussions among my peers.
My choice was rich. It may have something to do with the fact that I was poor. My mother used to joke, “I never knew I was poor growing up. Nobody told me.” She thought that was hysterically funny, a reflection of how my generation became aware of such things, and therefore concerned about it and motivated to escape it. Her humor masked the fact that it was a core value that she and my father sought to instill in me, to become educated, make something of myself and enjoy financial security.
Mom never went to college, and had never heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, so couldn’t use it to explain her desire for me to achieve financial success, which wasn’t really “rich” at all, but financially secure. My sister and I had to be educated, and educated in something that could be put to practical use. Majoring in art history was not what people like us did. That was for wealthy dilettantes.The only way for people like us to escape a future of struggling was to become a professional. My parents had enormous respect for professionals, doctors and lawyers and such, and believed that becoming a professional was a guaranteed financially secure middle class life. If my parents could give us that, they would have done their job. Of course, they knew nothing about being a professional, but from their distance, it looked shiny and wonderful.
Years later, when we talked about it, they simply couldn’t grasp that a lawyer had to get clients to pay the fee. People didn’t just show up at the door and throw money at professionals, as mom somehow assumed. It wasn’t that she didn’t grasp the concept of business, but that she had never connected the nastiness of business with the loftiness of professions. There was a big black hole in her understanding, and she had no inclination to fill it with unpleasant thoughts that would simultaneously taint her success as a parent by producing a lawyer offspring.
My plan of action in my youth was to become a timpanist and, someday, play for Herbert Von Karajan at the Berliner Philharmoniker. Yeah, he had Nazi issues, but no one did Beethoven better. In high school, I took the money I earned from one of my many jobs and bought a bust of Beethoven at Spencer Gifts at the mall. It still sits on the mantel at SJ World Headquarters today, reminding me of what I was so long ago. Mickey’s ears sit atop it this image, but they’ve since been removed, as it was disrespectful to Ludwig.
Why didn’t I end up a timpanist? Two problems: First, as my parents intentionally made clear to me, there was no assurance of earning a sufficient living at it even if I succeeded. Second, as the conductor for the New Jersey Symphony explained to me at the time*, I wasn’t that good. Sure, I was a decent high school drummer, but I was no Saul Goodman. Not that Saul Goodman. This Saul Goodman.
So I was told, “For a timpanist, you would make a good lawyer.” The die was cast. It was after this epiphany that following my passion might not work out for me that I engaged in these “rich or famous” discussions. My choice was rich. It wasn’t just that financial security was drilled into me, but that there was nothing particularly desirable about being famous. Who cared whether people I didn’t know knew my name, admired me from afar, thought of me at all? It meant nothing to me, and I had no expectation of it.
Yesterday, a twit came across my path that struck me as absurd.
Apparently, there was a conference held somewhere in flyover land called TwitterLaw, where twitter mavens were schooling others on the “proper” use of twitter. Yes, there are some people so official as to deem themselves the proprietors of the correct use of social media by law professors, judges and legal academics. One such lesson was of the wrongfulness of “pundits,” taught by Rachel Gurvich, who proffered four people, all white males ironically, as examples of being “pundits.”
Whether this was offered as an example of good or evil, I can’t say, as I wasn’t there and don’t know what Gurvich had to say about it. But I suspect it was not a positive light, and that “pundit” was meant as a derogatory term. What was striking, however, was that she included Larry Tribe and Alan Dershowitz, two renowned Harvard Law School professors, who have come under some scrutiny for their outspoken political views. There was Michael Avenatti, the current iteration of Icarus, who went from icon of the Resistance, sleeping in Rachel Maddow’s guest bedroom, to sizing curtains for Otisville. And me.
Jokingly, I responded, “Why do I feel oddly out of place in this group?” I had no clue what to make of this. The other three had courted fame, sought fame. What the heck was I doing in this company?
A couple decades ago, I did some regular television legal commentary, but so did many other lawyers. We weren’t “stars,” but suits who filled in the dead air between commercials. But that was a long time ago, and I rarely do such things anymore as they contribute little to people’s understanding of law or current events. Instead, I write this blawg, just as many other lawyers had blawgs. Big deal, right? And I twit, like a few million other people. Another big deal.
Some people care to see my twits, while others do not. There are many lawyers who have far more followers than I do, and I’m fairly sure I’ve never made a list of important lawyers to follow on twitter. I twit what I want, just as I write what I want, and don’t make a habit of pushing my twits into the timelines of more important people so as to ride the coattails of their fame and hope some rubs off on me. I just twit.
Yet, there was a conference held somewhere in Iowa where somebody was talking about my twit as an example of punditry. Probably bad punditry. And I didn’t make a dime off it.
*I owned white tie and tails, but because only my torso was visible to the audience, I wore jeans below. The conductor did not find me amusing.