by Justice William W. Bedsworth
The aging process is a lot like cooking Chinese food: there are people who can handle it, but they’re mostly Chinese, and if you aren’t one of them, you really ought to leave it to the experts.
I am not an expert. I find myself fifteen years into the twenty-first century—through no fault of my own—trying every day to make mu shu pork and ending up with something that looks like I ran my lawn mower over a gopher.1 As tough as the process is, I’m reasonably comfortable with my geezerhood. I can operate the microwave and the TV,2 which is all people of my gender need. And I’m computer literate. I may not be ready for computerProust or computerJoyce, but I can manage computerHemingway.
So the fact they keep adding gadgets to my life, I can handle. My ability to relate to modern machinery is acceptable.3 And I really like being able to make paninis for lunch and choose which of the twelve satellite-projected baseball games I want to watch.
But twenty-first century humans are enough to drive me around the bend.
I feel like some kind of post-millennial Rip Van Winkle. I took my old-guy afternoon nap and woke up surrounded by wild-eyed pistol wavers, acrobatic greed weasels, and meth-addled Mad Hatters. Who are these people?
And how is the justice system—a system run largely by my fellow geezers—going to keep up with them?
One of the aspects of my own geezerhood is that I spend a lot of time lamenting the inability of sports officials to keep up with the games. Baseball, football, and hockey have all gone to instant replay because the modern game is so fast it defies human eyes and judgment. The modern athlete is so big, strong, and fast that referees and umpires can’t always keep up.
And the rest of society is so bat-shit crazy that judges and legislators are having the same problem. We keep trying to write and enforce laws based on an assumed baseline of intelligence and instinct slightly higher than that of an inebriated orangutan and people keep failing to rise to that baseline.
Every day I pick up a file and encounter either a law so complex it requires several readings to figure out or a crime so bizarre it requires several readings to believe it actually happened.
I wish I had a dollar for every time in the last five years I’ve said, “He did what??!!” “What were these people smoking?” or “What language is this written in?”4
Here, for example, is what was reported on one page of my favorite weekly news magazine:
As proof of which, I offer one last factoid.6 According to an NBC News item I found on the intertubes,7 “Funeral Strippers Are Focus of Crackdown in China.”
“China will crack down on strippers who perform at rural funerals, the Ministry of Culture said, taking aim at performances it described as illegal and which corrupt ‘social morals.’” Seems “burlesque shows at some funerals aim to draw more mourners and show off the family’s wealth.”
I just don’t know how to respond to that. I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen in the last century because I’ve gone to a lot more funerals in this century than I did in the last one, and that would not have been the case if there had been strippers prior to 2001.8
This is just nuts. And there’s nothing to indicate this was an unusual week.
I guess at some point, I’ll have to consider retiring. At some point all this hard-core dain bramage will get to be too much for me. Unlike baseball, football, and hockey, I can’t just go to the instant replay booth when things get too complicated. I am the instant replay booth. That’s the job description for an intermediate appellate court justice.
So, at some point I will just have to step aside and let a younger person—someone for whom this absolute madness has been a familiar part of the daily routine rather than a last-minute addition to the lineup—move into my chambers.
But not yet. Right now, I have to keep the job because its entertainment value is so high. Golf, movies, and the Inside Passage can’t hold a candle to the stuff that comes across my desk every day.9
Heck, if I can just negotiate that one dollar payoff for every time I say, “He did what??!!” I may never retire. They’ll have to take me out of here in a body bag. The funeral strippers will have to come to the courthouse.
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 email@example.com.