Prunes and Prism

RULES FOR YOUNG LADIES: Some arch advice on snagging a husband. Exercising the mouth into a pretty shape through repetition of certain words seems to have been an indoor sport for young nineteenth-century girls; in Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens' overly bred girl repeats, "papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism." (

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Nolo Contendere

The New York City Bar Association is at 42 W. 44th Street -- for those keeping score at home, an olive's throw from the Algonquin Hotel. Where is Dorothy Parker when you need her to meet you for a cocktail after your appointment at the Monday-night legal clinic?

The free lawyers had set up a table with Christmas cookies and Sprite, and the guy with the clipboard thanked me for coming -- really, card-carrying liberal New York at its best. I couldn't stop thinking about this quote from Annie Hall:

"You, you, you're like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y'know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper, stop me before I make a complete imbecile of myself."

My lawyer wore a natty winter scarf with his blazer; think Jack Albertson, circa 1965. I told him I needed a simple (!) divorce, and he told me I need not rush into anything, and I realized with a sinking feeling that he must be assuming I was a Wronged Woman. I also realized he was letting his gaze linger on my decolletage, which was admittedly straining against a shirt that fit before I cultivated this bumper crop of new fat. I decided to be flattered. (I have long found Jack Albertson charming, perhaps because he had the courage to love blubbery, blubbering Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure.)

I thought I could keep us away from the specifics of my situation, but as my 30 minutes of free legal advice wore on, I realized that was short-sighted and stupid. Would I go to be fitted for a brassiere and then refuse to show the saleslady my boobs? Because I didn't seem to mind showing them to my free lawyer!

And so I said, "I need to be frank with you. I'm actually the one at fault. I'm the guilty party. This is all of my own design."

And he said, "You have to stop thinking that way. Blaming yourself doesn't do anyone any good. These things are never one person's fault."

As I click-click-clicked out of the marble halls of justice, this felt less like absolution than empty moral relativism. It might have offered succor if I'd ditched Vacation Bible School for socialist summer camp.


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