by Justice William W. Bedsworth
I get a lot of advice about retirement these days. I think it’s because my retirement date is now calculable without three computers and an astrolabe.
The prospect of this space being given over to something with redeeming social value is exciting to many readers, and that excitement is generally expressed in the form of encouraging noises about retirement.
Mostly, they tell me how great it is that I’ve survived long enough to retire and how much they’re looking forward to doing it themselves . . . someday. It’s all very congratulatory. And it’s nice at the outset of a conversation to know I have a nugget of news in my pocket that is almost certain to bring a smile to the listener’s face.
But there is still a hardy little band of flat-earthers who inveigh against it. They’re the little cartoon devil on my shoulder with the pitchfork saying, “Don’t listen to the retirement angel; you’ll go crazy in retirement. You won’t have anything to do.”1
Which strikes me as a valid concern. Cliff Roberts always said, “Don’t retire until you have at least five retired friends to do stuff with.” Others have said, “Don’t retire until you have something you’re passionate about to replace that time with.”2
My wife has been the most eloquent. Kelly knows me better than anyone else, and her insightful concern is, “I’m not sure I can—all by myself—provide you with enough ego strokes to get you through the day.”
To which I have no plausible rejoinder. I’ve been a judge for thirty-two years. I’ve grown accustomed to my jokes being funny, my insights brilliant, and my restaurant choices inspired. I will miss that.
After he left the White House, Dwight Eisenhower was asked if his golf game had improved now that he had more time to practice.3 His response was, “Actually, I think my game has gotten better . . . but more people beat me now that I’m no longer president.”
So I’ve been looking for productive things with which to fill my time—and my ego—once I descend from Mt. Olympus. And I think I’ve come up with one. I think I’ve found my next career.
I’m going to be a translator. Chinese to English.
Skeptics have pointed out that my Stygian ignorance of Chinese4 might be a handicap in this new enterprise. The point is well taken. I know a few words of German; I still retain some basic Russian from college; and four years of high school Latin and seventy-one years of California have filled out a pretty decent romance language lexicon for me.
But I know not a single character of Chinese. Until a few minutes ago, I thought an ideogram was a telegram from a Congressman. So the learning curve may be a little steep.
But apparently there are people doing this with no knowledge of English, so I should be able to do it without knowing Chinese.
I know this because my wife recently bought an item of apparel from the Guangzhou Yuan Trading Co. Ltd. It not only had a label, it had a warranty. At least I think it did.
The warranty is set out on a cardboard tag that lists the brand name of the Guangzhou Yuan Trading Co. Ltd.’s apparel division: Ochenta. That got my attention. Why would a Chinese apparel manufacturer have for its name the Spanish word for eighty?
Then I saw the Guangzhou Yuan Trading Co. Ltd.’s motto on the tag: “Risk Unique Art Young Effort.”5 Yep. That was the advice they gave their English-speaking customers. Risk Unique Art Young Effort.
That made me confident the rest of the tag would be an adventure far outstripping the fortune cookies I’ve tackled in my life. And I was not disappointed.
There were three paragraphs on the tag. At least I think that’s what they were. The punctuation and line-spacing was so . . . idiosyncratic . . . that it’s hard to be sure.
The first one said: “1. This product is OCHENTA brand is Product tags.”
Got it. Hard to argue with that.
But in the next paragraph the Guangzhou lawyers took over from the marketing people. The next paragraph said: “2. This product warranty date for sold Within 7 days have effective.”
Yep. The very first thing we learned about the product’s warranty was that it was limited. At least I think that’s what we learned.
On the other hand, I can’t remember the last time I bought a shirt that had any warranty at all, so I’m not sure I can cavil about this one only being seven days long.6
And, in fairness to the Guangzhou Yuan Trading Co. Ltd.’s translator, that is how I—were I a trier of fact—would interpret that language. After forty-seven years of practicing law, I would read that to say that if the shirt burst into flames eight days after purchase and blew up the ship transporting it across the Pacific, the Guangzhou Yuan Trading Co. Ltd. would not be liable on a warranty cause of action. So maybe they achieved their goal.
But I wouldn’t be entirely sure because here comes the third and final paragraph. This is the main event; this is where the Guangzhou lawyers sing “One More Day,” take to the barricades with little Gavroche, and dare the French army or anyone else to take them on.
Paragraph 3 said: “This product such as under war ranty appear quality Quantity problem, the companyresponsible for free maintenanceBecause the customer reasns, such as damage needsMaintenance, and can repair products. Appropriate charge a reasonablecosts.”
I just hardly know where to start.
I mean, this is sheer brilliance.
I’ve read a lot of warranties and guarantees in my time.7 I’ve picked nits out of some pretty complicated language. I’ve derived fine legal distinctions from impenetrable clauses and explained away seemingly inexplicable contradictions. I have taken on the Clintonian challenge of defining “what ‘is’ is.”
But I would no more attempt a warranty claim on this product than I would try to flap my arms and fly to Guangzhou. If this shirt explodes in Kelly’s closet and takes out half the neighborhood, I will not file a warranty claim.
I know when I’m overmatched, and this is what it looks like.
These are people who know “quality” is a lower-case noun but “Quantity” deserves a capital letter even when the two are side by side. These are people who manage to work “free maintenance” and “appropriate charges” into the same remedy.
And, most impressive of all, these are people who know where to put three commas in a complete word salad sentence.
You got some time on your hands? Try to figure out what the Guangzhou Yuan Trading Co. Ltd. promised my wife when she bought this shirt.
I now appreciate their motto. I think “Risk Unique Art Young Effort” is a warning that buying their “Unique Art” is a “Risk,” and only the “Young” and naïve would make an “Effort” to sue them on their warranty.
So they are the first people I am going to contact about my new profession translating Chinese into English. Not to offer my services. To ask for an externship.
This is a chance to learn diplomatic level doublespeak at the knee of the master. This is a chance to learn the secrets of the mysterious Orient. A couple of years studying with these people and I could probably write treaties.
I think my days of being “Your Honor” are numbered. I think they will probably call me “Grasshopper.”
William W. Bedsworth is an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. He writes this column to get it out of his system. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. And look for his new book, Lawyers, Gubs, and Monkeys, through Amazon and Vandeplas Publishing.