I often think about the good old days back in 1968 when I returned to Athens to practice law. It was a time of parking meters, weeds growing out of the sidewalks and businessmen wearing white socks.
And when decent folks didn’t drink in Athens, they’d sneaked off to Huntsville. Coffee was 10 cents a cup and downtown businesses closed on Wednesday afternoon. Only few years earlier, men had gathered around the square with shotguns and blasted away at pigeons roosting on the courthouse dome. It provided citizens an opportunity to improve their shooting skills, have fun and rid the city of pesky pigeons. And more important, it was a time when criminals were honest and respected the law.
My former law school classmate, Henry Blizzard and I set up practice late November 1968 in two small $30-a-month rooms in what had once been Booth’s Pool Hall on North Marion Street. At the front entrance was Donna Mae’s, home of strong coffee and delicious burgers dripping with grease.
Oh yeah! Henry and I needed a typewriter, office furniture and a part-time secretary. My share of the capital was $1,800, which I didn’t have. I went across the street to Limestone Bank (present location of Limestone Drug) and asked John Huber for a loan. Mr. Huber wore white socks and had never made a bad loan, and he wasn’t about to start. His test was simple: if you needed to borrow money you were a bad risk. Anyway, I was a lawyer and lawyers weren’t to be trusted.
“Hmm, that’s a lot of money,” he said.
After hemming and hawing awhile, he finally lent me the money, provided Mama co-signed the note. Mama was a sales clerk at Ben Jaffee’s Department store and earning about $30 a week. I was her only child who she still called “Punk’n,” and was happy to oblige.
Everyday, Athens policeman, Kenny Cooper rode a three-wheel motorcycle around town, checking for expired parking meters. The roar of the motorcycle sent people scurrying to feed pennies, nickels and dimes to the meter. No one wanted a parking ticket which cost more.
Most mid -mornings I walked across the street to the spudnut shop and joined several businessmen for coffee and donuts. Alex Markowitz, a Jewish businessman, was usually present. All wore white socks, and all had money. At first, I figured they had a bad case of athlete’s feet, but later discovered it was a mark of wealth, sort of like wearing monogrammed shirts and a diamond pinky ring.
One morning, Alex said to me, “You and Henry need your office down on Jefferson Street so you can be seen.”
We agreed. He showed us a vacant lot he owned and made us a deal we couldn’t refuse. The price was below market, and he agreed to finance it. I offered to draw up a sales contract. He looked stunned. And that’s when he taught me an important lesson.
“Young man, you can hire the best law firm on Wall Street to draft a contract, but if the parties don’t want to honor it, all you’ve done is bought yourself a lawsuit,” he said. “If you decide you don’t want the lot, tell me and I’ll sell it to someone else.”
As I was to learn over the years, he was correct. And he taught me something else about business: “Make a little bit on the deal, and leave a little for the other guy.” That’s why he wore white socks and I didn’t.
We constructed a law office on South Jefferson street and hung out our shingle. Parking meters were located up and down the street. Every hour Kenny Cooper rode by on his three-wheeler, checking for expired meters.
During this time, Henry was appointed by the court to represent a man accused of killing his wife.
He “allegedly” (a weasley lawyer word meaning guilty as sin) murdered her, then neatly and respectfully rolled her body in a rug and stuffed her under the bed. I can’t say why he killed her. He may have been tired of hearing her mouth but didn’t want her to leave home. The cops found her body putrifying beneath the bed.
While out on bond he came by our office to prepare for trial. He and Henry were deep in conference when Kenny Cooper’s motorcycle pulled up front and stopped. The defendant, without explaining, jumped up and ran out the front door. Shortly, he returned.
“Where did you go?” Henry asked.
“To feed the meter,” he said.
Now there was an honest, law-abiding criminal who respected the law.
I sure do miss the good old days.
Henry went on to serve as circuit judge and earned the right to wear white socks. As for me, I’m still paying alimony and wearing Walmart socks. But I do have good news to look forward to – when I die the alimony will end. Thank the Lord!