-Art's Art-
Recollections of a Small Town Boy


Before I was old enough to know why my father was fuming he often talked about the awful loss of personal honor in society, perhaps along with the Civil War. As knowledge increased, if not commensurate wisdom, it appeared that Papa was thinking of days when a man’s word was his bond and a handshake was a pledge of life, fortune and sacred honor.

Then came the lawyers, not that there was ever a critical shortage of them. But now even tiny villages found them competing for the little business available. Many of the ambitious barristers had not attended law school, but had read a bit, listened to lawyerly rhetoric in courtrooms, looked at model contracts and felt quite confident as they hung out a shingle proclaiming ATTORNEY at LAW below Frank Lee Slease II, Esq.

Criminal fees was spotty, being mainly compressed to times when courts were in session. Commercial contracts became attractive because buying, selling and trading of land and livestock was lively in all seasons. Quite naturally the crafting of binding agreements could buy pork chops and flour for the kitchen.

The tortured convolutions of legalese increased exponentially as did expensive parchment whereon to inscribe such formidable clauses, whereas’es, to-wits and boiler plate wordage running to many pages. At fees for per page determined by assessed wallet thickness of clients at hand.

Thus assured by the sheer heft of the document and guarantee of an unassailable, suit-proof lawyerly effort as many as six folks would confidently sign the thing—in the presence of witnesses and a notary public to sign and date and ceremoniously press a SEAL into the parchment. Signed and sealed in my presence this xxxday of xxxx in the year of Our Lordxxxx. How mesmerizing can be thousands of years of The Law, robed in dreadful majesty. The notary collected his fee and trotted back to his general store job.

It was the first day of many fine ones after, so long as all parties lived up to their commitments faithfully and punctiliously. Ah, but a default of one minute would let the dogs loose. Too often that unbreakable contract turned out breakable indeed as more lawyers smelled fees to be assessed. The bluebirds of happiness became greedy carrion crows.

Papa was lucky not to have lived to be 132 in 2007. He hadn’t really imagined the modern tax return form or the reams of useless paper. The last time I financed a car there were 20 pages required. I asked what would happen to this.. The reply was stark and honest. It would be filed for a year then incinerated. Who would ever read it? No one. Why then? Corporate paid a Harvard MBA to simplify loan procedures.

Thanks, Papa. Your warning was prescient.

Art Darwin
March 13, 2007

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