Archive for June, 2011
You Want to Cook?
It was early 2006, and I had just moved into a new townhome in Raleigh, not far from Cameron Village. The place was owned by a friend of mine from college, whom I had met when I was a sophomore at Wake Forest, and she was a freshman from Raleigh. Susie, who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, has a twin sister Stella who lives now in Greensboro, North Carolina. The two of them, through a corporation set up by their late father, own the townhome, and knowing I was looking for some place new to live, offered it to me.
During the first visit, I turned on the lights to see if the power was on, and that everything worked. All was fine but the stove. I turned every knob and pushed every button…and nothing. So I emailed Susie and told her the stove didn’t work. Her response was immediate. “You want to cook? Jim, I have known you since I was seventeen years old, and I know you can’t cook. So why do you care if the stove doesn’t work”?
Of course, the problem was simple. The power switch was in a different location from all the others, and it was off. It took someone professional to tell me that.
Fast forward five years. I am still here and still learning how to cook. I have learned what vegetable oil is and where to find it at the grocery store. I have learned the word “sauté”, but wonder why they don’t just say “cook and stir quickly in a pan”? I have some successes, such as lemon chicken, a great recipe sent to me from California years ago by my daughter Stacy. Of course the only thing lemon about it is that you squirt some on it at the very end.
Then, there were the failures.
The first time I ever tried ribs on the grill that is what I did. No one ever said put them first in the oven. I still remember I had never seen that color of black when I took them off the grill. It is always awkward to eat something that looks bad, tastes the same way, and still try to pretend how good it is and only needs a bit of tweaking. What it needed was being thrown away.
So I bought a cook book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks. Even though I am no longer a small child, I still like books with lots of pictures in them, and this book has them every step of the way. Cook books with pictures will make you smile.
Then there was the movie “Julia & Julia”. Julia (the other one) kept making Boeuf Bourguignon like it was nothing. So I thought, how hard can this be? Well…it took most of Saturday to buy a Dutch oven that was less than $70.00. Then, after reading the recipe directions via Google, I saw there were 45 steps to it.
Step 1 read “First prepare the bacon: cut off the rind and reserve”. I had no idea what any of this meant. But then Step 2 said in part “Cut the bacon into lardons”. Step 3 called for “Simmer the rind and the lardons for ten minutes”, and Step 4 said “Drain and dry the lardons and rind and reserve”. Mercifully, Step 5 read “Pre-heat the oven to 450 F”.
There were still 40 steps left. One day later, it was done, and so was I. While this recipe is very good, I would not recommend it for the fainthearted.
I am still learning which is the real reason for this new blog. Last Sunday a friend of mine called mid afternoon and said she was thinking of having some folks to her house and cook vegetables and have some wine for a few friends. She specifically mentioned squash casserole. Just as I was getting ready to say “I can be there”, she told me she had decided not to do it at all.
Have you ever had some food idea on your mind and can’t get rid of it? That has been me all week. I have just been thinking how good squash casserole would be. But how to do it? Where can I find a recipe? The Pioneer Woman didn’t help too much but on Google, I found Paula Dean. But her recipe calls for both squash and zucchini. This troubled me, so at lunch on Sunday, I asked another friend, who was treating me at Winston’s, why would you use zucchini for squash casserole? “Jim, zucchini is squash…it just isn’t yellow. You can use zucchini. It will still be squash casserole”.
The adventure continues.
Thoughts on People Behaving Badly
Three years ago this Labor Day, John Drescher, the Senior Editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, called and said he wanted to write a Sunday newspaper column about me and asked specifically if I would be willing to give any personal advice on former Senator John Edwards. I was driving at the time and almost wrecked the car. As politely as I could, I declined his invitation. Mr. Drescher went on to write a column anyway, but it was sort of vanilla, because I did not directly answer his questions as to what John Edwards, or any person who has either fallen from grace or is in the process of doing so, should do.
Now, three years later, I still resist giving anyone specific advice, unless that person asks, and I can assure you, no one has asked. At the same time, as I have continued, probably like you, to watch public lives and careers implode, I am struck by how often these people do not understand the wisdom of Robert Frost’s great line, that “the best way out is always through”.
Please understand that I am a late follower of this advice, and indeed if I had personally followed such thoughts sooner in my own life, my career as a lawyer might very well have turned out differently. At the very least, it would not have been any worse.
1993 was my year of coming out. That is the year when my mistakes and real errors in judgment became public knowledge. While late January of that year saw many newspaper and television stories about me published, I made no public comments. I hunkered down, stayed at home went for long solitary walks, and talked often with my lawyers in Raleigh and psychiatrist in Durham. It took me almost the entire year to fully appreciate and accept the consequences of my own actions, so I know first – hand how difficult that is for anyone.
The best advice I ever got was made not by any lawyer or psychiatrist, but by Rick Gammon’s paralegal, who told all of us how dumb we were in not telling the entire story immediately and all at once. “Just get it out and do it now” is what she said. “And…tell the truth…all of it”
Finally, I did that and have always been glad I did. I only wish I had done it sooner. I wish it had not taken me almost the entire year. Still, I have always believed, and believe today, that it is tough for people to tell the truth, when that truth is adverse to what we want people to know about us, and we do not know the ultimate consequences of that truth telling. But here is the deal. The truth is likely to come out anyway, and it is far better to tell it yourself rather than have someone else do so.
You should not need a public relations person to tell you what to say. You are the only one who knows the real truth. Telling it just washes everything else away. Sure, there will be consequences, and some of them might not be pleasant. But as surely as night follows day, it is the only way out, and the only way back. You just have to have faith, and as one of my good friends has said, “Faith to let the flower bloom”.
Marketing 101 with Wade Smith
Earlier this week, I was at the 42nd Street Oyster Bar with some friends, and in walked Wade Smith, carrying a book, ready to eat dinner by himself at the Bar. Instead, he saw us and joined us for about an hour. Towards the end of the conversation, after hearing one of the participants tell him how much her daughter liked his nephew, Roger Smith, Jr., and what a good job he did in representing her, Wade told a story about marketing.
Some time ago, the State Bar asked him and nine other lawyers to make a six minute presentation at the Bar Center in Cary. It was to be a one hour CLE presentation on marketing. Wade was the last to speak.
While waiting his turn, he became alarmed as lawyer after lawyer stood up with a fancy video or power point presentation. Wade had none of those. Finally, it was his turn, and as he reached the podium, he decided to tell the audience the truth…that he really had not much to say and certainly no formal presentation by video.
Wade just leaned forward and said that the philosophy he and his firm had was to treat every client as though he or she was the most important one the firm had, and if the case went to court or a jury trial, to make sure that every person in the courtroom, including the members of the jury, would want to hire him or his law firm if that person ever needed legal representation. And…each member of the firm tried hard to return every phone call and every email as quickly as possible.
Finally, he told the story of his grandfather who had no formal education, and could neither read nor write. Before he made a closing argument to a judge or jury, Wade said he went somewhere by himself and sat quietly for a few minutes, gathering his thoughts, and telling his grandfather, this argument was for him. That way, he was sure he would be doing his best.
That is marketing.
Writing an Afterword
You would think it is not too tough to write a brief Afterword to a book you wrote some years ago. It doesn’t have to be too long. In fact, the representative of the printing company I use, Sheridan Printing Company, located in Michigan, said 3,000 words would be just about right. At approximately 300 words a page, that is only about 10 pages, and my book was just over 200 pages. So, I knew I could whip this out in no time.
I sat down at the computer and began to start…nothing came…nothing. I had not figured out what to say. My book, Flame-Out, From Prosecuting Jeffrey MacDonald to Serving Time to Serving Tables, was first published in 2000, and though it has been through a total of three printings, it still had been over ten years since I last put pen to paper and talked about the life changing events that had taken place in my life some years before.
I had no plan. So writing any words, much less 3,000 was going to be difficult. I got up from the computer, shut it down, and just tried to think what was the purpose of an Afterword any way. Why do people write them in books that are old? I knew the immediate answer to that. A new Afterword gives the book a new life, new relevancy, and maybe someone will buy it. But, still about what?
Slowly, it came to me that I needed to write about some of the people I have met these last years while making speeches and holding seminars about life, ethics, issues of mental health and just surviving adversity. I wanted to write about someone other than myself. I wanted to tell other peoples’ stories. As I started writing again, it came easily to me. I remembered a young lady, who is no longer here, and the ravages of depression and mental illness, the mother whose daughter was in a terrible car accident but lived, though she no longer speaks and has not done so since December, 1993, the young teenage boys, standing in front of a sentencing Judge on charges of under age drinking and stuggling to tell the truth, and of course the wisdom I learned not that long ago from the writings of Robert Frost, that “the shortest way out is through”.
I finished the Afterword. It soon will be printed and published. But it isn’t 3,000 words. It is over 4,000.