The Prof's Hat
- from 'Tales Out of Court'
by John Davis Collins.....© 2000 by John F. Clennan, All Rights Reserved
In the days when the Inditer first began to publish my short stories, my
office was locked in a life and death David and Goliath struggle over a case
so bizarre it touches the life of every Canadian and every American perhaps
not with the physical threat of the untold Hepatitis C scandal, but just as
intimately. The client said of it that he "felt like a character in a
Grisham novel." A colleague brave enough to whisper a warning commented
"you're living in the Truman show." I may not be able, inside the United
States to tell you the main body of the story in an unadulterated form, but I
can talk of some of the funny out-croppings.
In a sense, the story started over 30 years ago with Professor Mario
Ughetti's hat which he revered like the robes of an Oxford Don. Yet it was
only a simple flat topped narrow brimmed hat, more commonly seen today only
in Black or Irish neighborhoods. You could tell how drunk Mario was as soon
as he showed up for his late afternoon class: If Mario forgot to doff his
precious cap. When he did doff his beloved cap, Mario saluted it as "The
American Workman's cap."
Mario's class was supposed to be "The law of Drug Enforcement". Yet his
topic was rarely broached from an historical or case study basis. It was
more of a drunken monologue with himself as he puffed cigarette smoke into
the stuffy lecture hall. Back in the 1960s that vice was still acceptable.
Military Police Blotter
was published by the legendary
Inditer Dot Com
Against advancing illness and frustration which the legal system
imposed, Bill Loepkey promoted literature and culture on the
internet. It is no small recognition that his countrymen
have hono[u]red Bill in their Bibliotek Nationale.
Prof's Hat doesn't deal directly with military law but was felt
sufficiently related to the subject to warrant inclusion.
Mario once punished objecting students with a report on the status of
no smoking ordinances in all 50 US states and in the Canadian provinces.
"See if you can find something written by the Supreme Court of --- eh---
Alberta on no-smoking laws," Mario taunted his student critics as he flicked
"Blow-bag lawyers preach," Mario slurred waving a cigarette for emphasis,
"Trouble' is my middle name, Boy," Mario rolled his be-hatted head in a
drunken swagger, "You don't have any idea what kind of trouble you can wind
up in, taking on the wrong case or the wrong client."
Thirty years later when toasters sang and plants whistled in my office
and an old telephone hidden in the corner moaned a dull hum, and every other
visitor told an incredible tale, I had an idea.
I cannot recall all the strange complainers and I'm sure I didn't
identify everyone of them. Yet while the one who tried to use Mario's hat as
a lure, may not have been the best, he certainly was memorable.
"I speak to you of the freedom of our home land," the caller exclaimed in
frustration, "And you're not interested ! But you go around wearing that
"This hat," I removed the had and gently held its soft felt material in
my hands, "The hat my father wore !" When a quizzical look came over the
callers face, I laughed. "Your country, your problem."
Carefully placing his hat on the corner of a chair as he did when he was
sober, Mario made no secret of his radical sympathies at a time when most of
his old comrades repented their past. "The problem with Americans and
Communists is simple: Communists want to build a worker's republic and
American's don't want to work. Yet without our work in improving public
awareness and promoting popular culture and using the theater to teach...
history, where would the super patriots have come from ?" Mario leaned back
in his chair to puff smoke rings on air. "You can bleed only so much red
before you bleed white." Mario told the ascending rings.
Yet the last time I saw Mario I didn't feel particularly patriotic.
Students snickered at poor Mario. He was certainly past his glory days
when he had been a distinguished lawyer and scholar with a teaching post at a
major university. There was much dispute over Mario's fall from grace to a
poorly paid part time professorship in a denominational college. Some said
the drink; others said the Red Scare but the clump of Veterans returning from
Vietnam said it was probably the war.
"What war," I snorted, "Leftists sit in easy chairs and dream of
worlds never to be."
Upon Graduation I was lucky. I received a commission and stateside post.
Yet, luck did not hold. Within a year I had wrong client and the wrong
case; the old King James, orders for the combat zone soon followed.
On final leave home, I took to pub crawling in safe neighborhoods which
weren't infected by the tide of anti-war sentiment. In the Irish pubs and
taverns, a captain's epaulets still merited a few free drinks. They had
their own cause and were uninterested in ours, such as it was.
Not long after I crashed into a bar stool, a strawberry haired waitress
told me that a gentleman invited me to sup. And there was Professor
Ughettis, one cigarette in hand and one festering in the ash tray and one
burning out in a plate of food.
Mario was lecturing a semi-circle of blond and red haired waitresses on
his moments of glory. "And they called me in like all the rest: some
whimpered, some stood tall and went to jail. Me ? I answered the question:
"Do you believe in God ?'"
"And what did you tell them, Mr Professor?" a waitress prompted.
Mario reflected as a plume of smoke ascended toward the heavens.
" I didn't answer right away. I paused to think before I replied."
"Think, you say," Mario's chorus of white aproned admirers
teased, "not drink?"
Mario smiled as he guzzled his drink. "I said, "Glad you asked
that, Senator, I recall many long conversations with Him while I lay bleeding
my guts into the Forest of Ardennes.'" Mario laughed uncontrollably. "So
those pompous Senators whispered to each other and declared me a "Reformed
Communist !'" Mario rocked his head.
"Miraculous," chanted Mario's angelic chorus.
Mario added, "Now if they declared me a Reformed
Mario struggled to light another cigarette and turned to me, "So,
soldier, did you ever hear of the Battle of the Ardennes with tiger and
panzer tanks crashing on unprotected..." He stopped in mid-sentence.
"You're a former student ...And now," Mario leaned forward to touch the
branch tab on my lapels, "an Army Lawyer...I have a special treat for you..."
Mario turned and whispered to one of the waitresses who signaled the band
to stop. As the band filed away a small figure dressed in black with a black
beret crept out of the shadows and sat at the piano and pounded out a tune.
Chatting stopped. I'm sure I heard some say what a pretty melody.
With an evil smile and elbows on the table Mario leaned forward to ask if
I knew the song. "The Communist Internationale," I replied.
Mario crashed back in his chair with complete satisfaction. "Few
people," he waved his cigarette, "choreograph their own funeral."
As I sighed, a sad look came across Mario's face. "You've got the
old King James, orders for a combat zone: Vietnam." The very name sent a
shudder. "I can't wish you luck... I have no sympathy with your cause... But
indulge me in Bourgeois sentimentality. Take this hat..." Mario handed me
his prized cap. Slumping back in his chair in a swirl of smoke, he added, "I
don't think I'll need it much longer."