Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Day of Atonement

I have returned from my holiday weekend, which was spent in the D.C. area in relaxation and rejuvenation. For those who missed the news of my big Hofstra perk, we had Yom Kippur off. I hear it's a day for forgiveness and attending to one's mortal soul. Well, I certainly did give my mortal soul some thought this weekend. However, I spent more time reveling in Buddhist things as it turned out.

This trip was decidedly low-key, which on one hand was good, as I've been needing to Just. Sit. Still. for some time now, no offense to Marian Wright Edelman. (don't worry, fewer than a dozen people I know could reasonably be expected to get that allusion, you weren't the only one) On the other hand, I was far enough away from the city and did not do my usual D.C. friend-hopping so I missed seeing some people. But the real purpose of the trip was just to get out of Long Island for the three-day weekend (am I the only one who feels morally obligated to not stay home on a three-day weekend?)

On Saturday and Sunday I stayed with my friends in a place I like to call "The Bucolic Suburbs Past Manassas," or "Pleasantville" for short. We had fun and among the highlights was the fact
that we actually drove on a street called Frying Pan Road. That made me smile. It redeemed Virginia a little bit in my book, which Virginia needed because it has been on a slippery slope with me lately. On Monday morning after all the folk who don't go to Hofstra went back to business as usual, I went into D.C. and made a beeline for the Smithsonian. I was craving art, and art I got. The Freer and Sackler galleries were just bursting with Asian art, and I wandered from Buddha to Buddha in a nostalgic, wistful reverie. It is the first time since returning from Korea that I've been in a museum full of centuries-old Buddha and Bodhisattva sculpture. I think I kind of miss being in Asia. I spent so many weekends galavanting about Korea and saw museum after museum, temple after temple, Buddha after Buddha. Some of the expat English teachers adopted the "you've seen one Buddhist temple, you've seen them all" approach, but I never felt that way. It was fascinating seeing the places in their secluded mountain locales and just soaking up the history, beauty, spiritual presence. I actually rather enjoy religious architecture and art of many denominations in many places, but there's something particularly appealing to me about the mindfulness practice of the Dharma, as I've mentioned before. I was really happy with my Smithsonian choices on Monday.

The other exhibit I saw was Simryn Gill. Holy cow, this woman from Singapore who now lives in Australia has made amazing art out of the pages of books. There is a series of necklaces called "Pearls" -- the "beads" are pages from books rolled up tiny and strung. It's a bizarrely satisfying questioning of form and content and the distinction if any between them. Then there was a series of prints called "Forest" in which she put pages of books into nature, either placing them to mimic the leaves of trees or wrapping them around a tree trunk...it's hard to explain. Hmmm. Look here.

The point is, what a highly satisfying excursion to D.C./Virginia it was!

Now I'm back at school. After all, one can't spend all one's time reading The Washington Post on one's friends' deck and thinking about life, art, love, theatre, writing, books, old friends, and travel. (Or can one?) Today was Torts day. I think that Torts is fast becoming my favorite class. And not just because it exposes all the foibles of Wal-Mart. It is interesting and I find myself looking forward to it, looking forward to doing the reading for it, looking forward to hearing what the professor will say, and even looking forward to being called on. The exact opposite is true with Contracts.

One of my 3L(third-year) friends suggests that there are Contracts People and Civil Procedure People. I can see that. It's kind of like the Geometry People and the Algebra People. Even though I did fine in all my math classes, I am absolutely 100% an Algebra Person. I also like dogs, especially other people's, but at the end of the day reluctantly check the "cat person" box. I say "reluctantly" because I hate labels and false dichotomies and this entire "two kinds of people" conversation is meant facetiously so if you're taking it too seriously, I suggest you stop now. (Besides, everyone knows there are two kinds of people, those who say there are two kinds of people and those who do not...)

I think lots of "non-math" people like Geometry better. Here at law school, I am apparently a Civ Pro Person. I haven't yet determined if all of us Algebra People are also Civil Procedure People and the Geometry People correspond to the Contracts people. Contracts is a lot like the study of economics. I perceive it as -- well, besides a giant waste of time -- a place where the theorists are creating problems that aren't there, just to make solutions and make themselves feel smart. (Kind of like the Bush Administration does with war.) Instead of deducing what's happening, like in Criminal Law where we begin with a theory of punishment and apply it with, say, prisons vs. creative sentencing, in Contracts we are going from the practical to the quasi-philosophical. It doesn't feel right.

It's like, Joe sold Fred five million knives. Fred agreed to pay five dollars per knife but if they were defective Joe would owe Fred a million dollars in damages. Now, was that fair? Can we enforce this contract if it wasn't fair? If half the knives were defective should Joe actually owe Fred more than one million dollars? How do we restore Fred to where he was? Arrrrgh! It makes my head spin! Every single page we read in there has a simple answer: do what you say you're going to do, and don't say you're going to do something if you're not going to do it. And if, by the way, you change your mind, then just PAY THE PENALTY AND MOVE ON! Come on, people! ("Oh, but a penalty is not enforceable under the laws of contract it is an illegal forfeiture because only the stipulated damages blah blah blah blah...") I get outraged in that class. Seriously. Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon, there I am. Outraged.

I look at it like this: I mean, I went to Korea to teach English. I had a year contract with Ding Ding Dang. If I stayed for a year, I would receive a severance bonus and airfare and whatnot. If I left before then, I would not. That's the long and short of the English teacher contract, or the part of the four pages that mattered to most of us anyway. So. When I got offered a full tuition scholarship, it suddenly became worth it to me to break the contract. Full tuition to law school is a lot more than a month's teaching salary plus airfare, I'll tell you that right now. So, I gave notice (as was noted in the contract I may do) and returned to the U.S. and came to law school. End of story. (Well, the end for current purposes.) Do we really need to debate for hours about expectancy? and reliance damages? and what was intended by the parties? and whether it was unconscionable? No. I have eight hundred and fifty thousand complaints about Dingity Dingity Dang, but frankly my contract is not one of them.

I have less and less sympathy every day for people who don't read their contract/lease/agreement and then come crying when they are later dissatisfied by what they themselves have wrought. Simple choices. In black and white. But people with too much time on their hands want to go making it theoretical. I say, render unto theory that which is theory's!

There was one interesting thing I learned in Contracts this week. But it also made me feel old. Did you know what the C & the H stand for in in C & H Sugar? California and Hawaii! I did not know this! And I marvelled at in class, and my friends sitting around me were like, what? Why is that so fascinating? And I said, well, you know, because who didn't see that commercial a million times...? And I promptly began singing the jingle: "C & H/pure cane sugar/from Hawaii/sweetened by the sun/C & H/pure cane sugar/that's the one!" This was greeted with blank looks. "So they say 'from Hawaii,'" I pointed out, "but they don't mention California. Who knew?" More blank looks. "Oh, come on, you know, with the little kids picking their way through the sugar cane? I must have seen that thing EVERY DAY somewhere between Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch." Nothing. Sheesh. I was like, how young are you people?

It has since been posited that this C & H commercial was not a nationwide commercial because while Amy and I sang the jingle together this weekend her equally aged husband James who grew up in the eastern U.S. said he'd never heard it and maybe it was a west coast thing.

And if you're wondering, the lawsuit involved the shipper who failed to meet its contractual obligation to deliver the raw sugar from Hawaii to the processing plant in California in a timely fashion during the sugar harvest. But I'm sure the shipping company somehow got out of just admitting its wrongdoing and compensating C& H for what they lost. There's always a loophole.

I read that part of Yom Kippur is asking God (I mean G-d) to annul all of the vows you'll make in the next year, like if you say, "Lord, get me out of this one and I swear I'll quit drinking!" or whatever. Well, according to Judaism 101 this was used to "show" that Jews were not trustworthy, so in Reform Judaism they took it out of the liturgy for a little while. But it's really because vows are taken so seriously that even if they're made under duress, they should still be upheld unless God cancels them. Huh. Take that, Contracts class! (I'm still not sure where that leaves Dubya and the Warmongers.)

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