Friday, January 15, 2016

Toy Soldiers and Tramp Stamps

One from the Lost File. From the days before Pope Francis ate the Bear's ephemeris.

Tattooed, toothless, obese or skeletal, lank hair and torn clothes. Dirty children are cuffed with curses. These are visitors to the jail the Bear sees when he pulls into the parking lot. They are mostly women, and look like they have been used hard, with most of what we would consider "feminine" wrung out of them by abuse, drugs, alcohol and poverty.

The Bear, on the other hand, is in a suit, with a crisply tied pink bow tie. He can't help but feel better than these people. In fact, he is mildly annoyed that they are even there. There is an entire underground civilization beneath mine and yours. The two are not supposed to meet, but do, in some places, like the emergency room, or the jail.

The Bear is well paid to visit to his client. This riff-raff is only here because they care about the people locked up. They are visiting the prisoners, and the prisoners will be mighty glad to see them.

Segue to something entirely different as the Bear continues to check in at the window to meet his client.

Goblins with a giant versus Dwarves with cannons.

The Bear's hobby used to be painting miniature soldiers. He was very good, when his eyesight was better and his hand steadier. They were fantasy warriors, like something out of Lord of the Rings. Elves, dwarves, orcs, humans and other warriors. The scale was 30 mm, or about half the length of your finger. Everything got painted, with very fine brushes: clothing, weapons, eyes. The pupils in the eyes, with a near-microscopic dot of white to suggest reflection. The Bear won many awards for his painting.

Later, he learned that he could paint more figures if he skimped on the details. This was important, because the Bear's cubs and he would play with an entire tabletop covered with them.

Mighty battles were fought according to the (sadly discontinued) Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules. The rule book is thick enough to knock your opponent out with if you get really upset.

Bears are hyper-competitive. If Patton and Rommel had sat in on one of our games for fifteen minutes, they would have looked at each other, shaken their heads and walked out. Too intenseJah. These battles filled our dining room as the cubs were growing up. They taught critical and analytical reading, fair play, self-control, pride in workmanship and acceptance of fate's last word. Dice added an element of chance, to represent those things out of our control as generals.

For what it's worth, it is his wargamer kids who have remained in the Church. They were also homeschooled, and are Eagle Scouts and served in the U.S. Army. They have inherited Papa Bear's ability to sniff out bunk. In a word: they have character. Getting ridiculed when you cry because your prized unit gets swept from the tabletop teaches you something, apparently.

They always accused dad of having an uncanny power over the dice. The Bear can now tell the truth: He does. Sorry, kids.

Anyway, the only way he could keep up with the domestic arms race was to skimp on the detail. So the Bear painted hordes of blind goblins without any eyes at all, much less a twinkle in them.

Skimping turned out to be fine, because the Bear learned that at the God-like distance between his eyeballs and a figure on the tabletop, all his careful work was obliterated. You could not tell the difference between a figure that he had spent two or three evenings on, and one that he had knocked out in as many hours. Details of appearance not only didn't matter, they were invisible.

Now back to the jail.

The Bear lumbers past a long window, behind which is the visiting room. The room is furnished with tiny, hard. uncomfortable  metal stools. Each stool is in front of a small window that separates the visiting room from the individual booths for the prisoners. Telephones allow communication through the solid glass between the room and the booths. There is a woman occupying each stool, her back to me, facing her little window. A prisoner on the other side talks with her via the telephone. They can see each other, but there is no possibility of contact. (Now some jails have attenuated the experience further by remote cameras and computer screens.)

Tramp Stamp

If there were eight stools, there were eight "tramp stamps" on display from where the Bear went by, the slang for tattoos apparently all women now have low on their backs. The Bear smiles at the scene in a superior sort of way.

Then he feels bad. These women are at least going to be able to hear, "When was I a prisoner, you visited me." Jesus might not count the Bear's visit since he gets paid for it. He has his reward. Then the Bear thinks how superficial the differences between these people and himself are.

God looks at the jail visitors with love. He expects the Bear to do the same, and not in some condescending way, either, but as a brother.

What does any of this have to do with painted soldiers?

They came to mind later. From God's perspective, the details, the crisply tied pink bow tie, the tattoo, the academic degree, the GED, don't matter. It is not a perfect analogy, but it was an insight. We're all on the tabletop, fighting our little battles, having our good rolls of the dice and our bad, now in the thick of the action, now on the shelf, then ultimately moved to the "dead pile" after the adventures that seemed so important are over.

God does not judge by appearances. Neither should we.

Finally, back to the jail.

The Bear's client says, "The lieutenant don't care much for you."

"Why is that?"

"He says you're arrogant."

He's right. Not the way he thinks he is, the Bear's professional persona, but in a way truer than he knows. When we think we're better than anyone, when we think we're special, that our opinion is the only one with value, that "my sort" of Catholicism makes me better, we're in trouble. There's nothing wrong with being right. It's what being right does to us that counts.

Humility is tough. Especially if you're a magnificent ursus arctos.

The details or appearance don't matter. It's not our paint job, it's how we perform in our battles that counts, and that doesn't always mean winning. Some of us get good rolls of the dice, and some of us get bad. It's what we do with our luck that counts. And beneath the paint, we're all made out of the same lead: soft, dense, dull and toxic. The same God melts us down and recasts us into the work of art we were always meant to be, and lovingly paints us. If, that is, we let him.

And He will even put a twinkle in our eye.


  1. There is a problem with English when we say things like "appearances don't matter"; most people seem to interpret this as "even though some of us look better than others, God sees us equally", which of course misses the entire point.

    I think a zoo analogy works well here. Were we all to go to a Gorilla exhibit and find them wearing clothing, I don't think we would see the gorilla in the rags as any less ridiculous than the gorilla in the suit, pink bow-tie notwithstanding.

    1. Nonetheless, we do judge people on appearances, and the reminder that God doesn't is a reminder to us that we shouldn't, either.

    2. True, we shouldn't automatically like someone less just because they're "well dressed".

      Such might be an error in opinion from that underground civilization beneath yours.

    3. Powerfully written, Bear. I empathize with you. Even so, a client has to have confidence in their representative and proper attire shows respect not only for one's client but the court. Even so, the "My Cousin Vinnie" approach occasionally works in the movies.

      In my undergraduate years in university those of us interested in 'the law' were encouraged to enrol in courses on theatre, debate, logic, etc.

      God will judge us all in the end surely, Bear, and we will be asked to account for how we used and honed our God-given talents to best serve others. And, serving others will include providing both for ourselves and our familial dependants for whom we have a duty of care before God.

      Never abandon the self-examination though. It purifies the soul.

    4. Perhaps the hardest part of being a trial lawyer is maintaining a tough, even somewhat aggressive persona. You can never let anyone see anything they can interpret for weakness. Not your client, not the judge, not opposing counsel, not the jury.

      Or let me rephrase that. The hardest part is putting that persona away when you don't need it at the moment. Or anymore.

      I can say this. I genuinely cared for most of my clients. Even when I knew the first thing they were going to do is allege ineffective assistance of counsel after they were sentenced. (That was actually those creeps in the Appellate Defender's Office, who are like people who go onto the field after a battle and shoot the wounded.)

      The Bear has even heard of a lawyer stopping at the deposit machine on the way out and putting twenty bucks in the commissary account of a prisoner who had no friends or family.

      The only time the Bear failed to develop a rapport with a client was when he yelled at him and said "F-you." Sadly, the Bear's nerves were frayed and he replied with his own "F-you," loudly enough to be heard by jail personnel, who got a chuckle. This was a known problem child, so the federal judge took it in a humorous spirit when the Bear moved to withdraw.

      Anyway, the Bear used to write much more little essays like this pre-Bergoglio. He is certain they would not be very popular.

  2. I met, this morning, a man who spoke kindly to me. True; he did so in the form of asking me for money, but when I replied--honestly, as it happened--that I didn't have any on me, he shrugged this information off and went on speaking to me kindly, as if the fact that he was a panhandler and I a tourist really had nothing to do with anything, in the end. Which, of course, it doesn't.

    You made me think of him, Bear, while I was reading your reflections about interacting with people at the jail.

    I spent the rest of this morning's walk wondering how God views the differences in detail between my world and his: how his clothes were grubby and torn, whereas I felt conspicuous because mine are merely not new; how he, who needed help, took the time to talk to someone who couldn't help him, while those of us in need of no help--for the moment-- didn't talk to one another at all.

    I am grateful, Bear, for your cogent reflections about the deficiencies of the Bergoglian pontificate, but you are right--there is more to life than analysis, howsoever salutary. Please post more of the "other kind" of essays, too, whenever you can.

    1. What a wonderful comment! You made the Bear's day!

  3. Ruling the science is the usual urgency but the religion, guilty of the great disasters of the history, the impregnable rampart appears. In her, people find the motivations to massacre each other or to die in absolute poverty, to pursue a presumed internal quality. It cannot be continued so. The Christian monotheism, born when in Europe and in Africa few million of people lived, it reveals inadequate in demography of billion of individuals. The critical dilemma are that unchangeable cults, considered as wines that more grow old more become good, that arrogate to depositaries of any philanthropic ethical, depriving the secular society to being legitimated in important moral merits. The Catholic church is the model of it. We are concrete: different from the Protestants that of “shepherds” don’t have, that Catholic one is a desperate flock! Let us talk on the happenings of our times, where the cults determine the behaviours of the people as never happened before and the urgency to adjourn the role of the mysticism, pursues us from near. Must consider the religion, before overwhelm us!


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