"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Retirement Years Of A Washington Lawyer–Bringing Blood Sport To The Good Life

Finchley Booth was a lawyer who had litigated civil cases – breach of contract, discrimination, and the occasional wrongful death claim – for over forty years; but who now felt, once the exhilaration of Washington’s hyper-macho K Street battles began to fade, that it was time to let up on the gas and get off the express.

For the first month or so he was indeed happy.  Nothing could have been more pleasing than to wake up to the morning sun instead of the alarm clock, flapping about in his slippers and bathrobe, taking an hour to read the morning paper, and going about his routine of bank, post office, hardware store, and library. There was something pleasing about a day marked by nothing in particular, a life of quiet predictability. The lives of ordinary people, now that he was one of them, was not so bad after all.  There was no shame in shopping at Target, paying the bills, and calling the grandchildren.  Such activity, as far as it was from the Roman Circus of K Street, as devoid as it was of energy, will, desire, and purpose, was satisfying.  The way the world should  be, a Grover’s Corners of simplicity, good friendship, family, and quiet times.

Image result for images roman gladiators

As might be expected, this tranquil, disengaged phase of Finch’s retirement was short lived; and it wasn’t long before he was restive, impatient, and critical.  How could a man of his drive, ambition, brains, and ability have so misjudged life?  Magnitude – that indefinable sense of power, importance, and respect – should never have been given up so easily.  Even if the gladiatorial life of the law no longer appealed to him, there must be other ways to impose his will and exert his influence.  Many of his colleagues volunteered as teachers, docents, and resource persons on university-sponsored trips to Turkey and the Levant.  They had found seams of coal in what they had thought was a depleted mine. 

Yet these options seemed weak and flimsy excuses for filling time.  Such occupations were little more than accommodations to a life made longer through technology than ever intended or needed.  Why not fight in the trenches and take an honorable bullet rather than die in a chaise lounge after teaching poetry?  There was no retirement age at Parker, Hodge, and Lanier; and Finch could have gone on fighting the enemy.  More bodies hanging from the gibbet, fields laid waste, plunder and spoils.  As long as the bodies kept piling up and the gold in the treasury kept increasing, there was no reason for a lawyer to retire from the arena.  Far better was it to die in one’s traces.

Of course there were public interest lawyers – environmental defense fund, civil rights, and immigration attorneys – who after retirement easily made the transition to non-paid volunteer assistance to the same good causes they had defended for a living; but these were not Finch’s kind of lawyers.  They could not smell the scent of blood in the ring, or have license to kill.  They were faux lawyers, desk lawyers, indeterminate lawyers.

He made a few indirect inquiries about returning to Parker Hodge, but his colleagues demurred.  Life in the fast lane also meant that one was quickly passed by and lost in the dust.  Yes, Finchley Booth had been one of the firm’s best attorneys, but things change quickly in Washington, and in the nearly one year since his retirement, the firm had recruited some young bucks out of Harvard and Yale who were even more ambitious and bloodthirsty than he had been.

So shunned by his own profession, disaffected by the whiny do-goodism of his former colleagues, and yet full of energy and ready to ‘do some damage’, he decided to spend his money with as much of a vengeance as he had earned it.  Fuck ‘em, he said to K Street, global warming, and volunteerism.  Get me a first class ticket to Paris and reservations at La Rochefoucauld.  No one would know that he was retired, living off his investments.  Dressed in Armani, flying in the front of the plane, eating at the finest restaurants, he could well be taken for an international financier, a man of wealth and importance.  It mattered little that he had no taste for French cuisine nor aptitude for great wine, but with his usual confidence and command, his deference to the sommelier and the maître d’ were taken as signs of sophistication and culture, not ignorance. 

So he travelled through Europe like an American viscount, all arrangements made by a small personal service firm in Washington that catered to wealthy Americans who had little experience with the sophistication of Europe but a great desire not only to taste the best but to be treated no differently than their fey European counterparts.  The travel firm had been in business for years and knew the owners and headwaiters at all the best restaurants in Europe who knew that the company would not be sending over American bumpkins and rubes but men and women who, even if they did not understand European sophistication, cuisine, and culture, would never let it show.  In return the maître d’s got a generous compensation. 

Finchley was delighted at the elegance, décor, and attentive service of fine restaurants; and he never looked at the bill.  A $700 bottle of fine Burgundy was nothing to him, nor a $1500 tab.  In fact, so pleased was he with his new-found retirement life, that he photographed everything, and uploaded pictures of the Grands Echezeaux, Charmes Chambertin, and Lafitte Rothschild.  He sent around pictures of foie gras, fines de claires, the finest foraged sea grasses and periwinkles from the North Sea, and the hen breast with yellow wine, crayfishes, sweets of giblets and chanterelles, legs cooked in a broth of leek, potatoes and black truffle, the signature dish of Chef Eric Frechon at Epicure.  He wanted to be sure that not only his colleagues at Parker Hodge but his Yale classmates would see them as well.  It did no good for him alone to be served these elegant meals.  Everyone who mattered should either dine at Epicure in absentia, or more than likely, dine there only in their dreams.

He took suites at the Gritti Palace in Venice, the George V in Paris, and the Bulgari in London; and again took pictures from his windows of the Concorde, the canals, and Bond Street. 

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At home he was equally occupied.  He expanded and remodeled his kitchen, installed a multi-purpose, industrial Viking stove, high-intensity track lighting, butcher block counters and work space, and the most up-to-date food processors, thermometers, hygrometers, and Japanese tempered steel knives.  His most prized purchase was the Garth XL50-500 outdoor grill, a $9000 investment with wi-fi temperature monitoring and control, three sous-vide installations, two convection, forced air and one radiant heat oven, electronic sensory software designed to gauge temperature, porosity, and doneness through hyper-accurate visual recognition and 3-D imaging.  Once again, pictures of Finchley at the 500, in chef’s toque and Dehillerin apron. grilling lamb, duck, or Zimbabwean ostrich.  

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Despite the European fol-de-rol, the fancy restaurants, five-star cuisine, and his top-of-the-line kitchen and outdoor grill, Finchely’s taste never matured.  He had never been in it for the taste anyway.  His ambitious, demanding, and showy display of wealth and influence in the food game was no different from that in the courtroom.  Everything Finchley had ever done was to impress, to intimidate, and to demean.  He never was nor ever would be a gourmet.

He got desultory comments on his Facebook Group site.  “Nice….Looks delicious….Wow!”, all of which notes were more than enough for him.  Had anyone actually asked for details about the preparation of ‘Wild Montana Hare And Sorrel’, or the reduction and combination of the three sauces for ‘Pan Seared Sweetbreads In A Veloute de Fraises et Chataignes’ he would have been lost. 

He knew how the faux-foodies would react to his food-inspired retirement -  ‘fake news, a poseur, bourgeois, a man with money and no taste’, but he had no second thoughts.  He knew precisely why he did what he did, and was proud of it.  In fact he considered himself more American than those who criticized him.  Wasn’t the making, spending, and display of wealth part of the American ethos? Weren’t all these organic, locally-sourced, farm-fresh, pan-Asian-American inclusive, respectful restaurants; the Garth grills, the remodeled kitchens, and haute cuisine European tours only the latest expressions of middle-class upward mobility, Thorsten Veblen-esque displays of wealth, and expressions of success? Wasn’t the money the only point?

Retirement with a vengeance felt good, really good.  And wasn’t creating this worldly image of sophistication, little different from his magnificent theatrical performances in the courtroom, worth every penny?  In fact, it was worth even more.  Although he might not have cared much for the food, his fellow patrons were worth the price of the meal, especially the beautiful, elegant, slim, bejeweled, Dior- attired women seated around him.

Image result for images elegant Parisian women in Dior

His love affairs are another story altogether, but derived from the same ambitious impulse as from the law, international travel, or haute cuisine.  He was no more an arm-candy squiring, misogynist, women-as-playthings man than Donald Trump.  Both shared shameless ambition, theatrics, show, and confidence and were, as such true Americans.  The faux-foodies and docent-dependent appreciators of ‘fine’ anything had nothing on him.  He did it the right way.

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