Social Justice Clients: “You can’t make this stuff up!”

While writing about social justice work I have been remiss in not including stories of the clients because they are what made all our efforts worthwhile.  Sure, you lose a lot when you represent poor people because the cards are stacked against them and the judges are disinclined to rule against the monied interests, but hanging out with the clients was always an adventure.

House Calls

I received a “While You Were out” message slip which was quite terse, “Meet Missy at the Dew Drop Inn Bar and Grill to discuss utility shutoff at her house, anytime after 4:00.”  Written in small letters across the top “Good luck with this one!”

Lawyers usually don’t do house calls, but I had passed the bar in both California and Iowa, so what was one more bar?  This particular hole in the wall was one I had overlooked in my bar hopping as it was located on the ‘the other side of the tracks.’  I parked my VW next to a line of motorcycles and sat there for a moment to reconsider. 


Eventually I was drawn inside by the promise of a cold beer and perhaps my not so latent death wish.

There was a long bar with several rough looking gentlemen in leather jackets checking out my reflection in the mirror as I walked in, and with the elegant timing of Hollywood, Steppenwolf started playing on the jukebox.  “Get your motor running!”  The bikers at the bar lost interest, apparently my scruffy appearance had passed some test of disheveled manhood.

I pulled up a bar stool, saw PBR on tap, ordered one, and asked for Missy.  The barkeep motioned with his chin toward a pool table where a young woman in tight jean shorts and a small leather vest was leaning over, lining up the eight ball, and displaying the bounty Mother Nature had bestowed on her.  She nimbly sank the shot and collected some bills from her opponent.  When she glanced at the bartender he tilted his head toward me.

She was an arresting vision as she glided toward me in a manner the people who rate movies would have labeled “unsuitable for younger viewers.”

She sat down on the stool next to me, placed a hand on my knee, smiled and said, “Would you like to go upstairs and get frisky?”

“That is certainly a charming invitation,” I said “But it appears I may be your lawyer regarding your utility problem.”

She straightened up like I had flashed a badge.  “Those sonsabitches!  My electricity was off for a week, and now they expect me to pay the whole bill, to hell with that, I was born at night, but not last night!  Let’s sue ‘em.”

I was able to resolve her dispute which earned me a reputation with the working women in town as a trusted member of the legal profession.  And I must say I did enjoy working with them because they may have been broken, most were struggling with drugs, carrying a history of sexual abuse as children, but they could be fierce and funny and liked me because I treated them with respect and never took advantage of them.

I represented them on everything except criminal issues which Legal Services could not do. 

I recall one intake which started this way. Office Manager Nancy Thompson calls my office.  “Bob-bob there is a young woman out here, dressed in leather, she reeks of gun oil, and she said something about a probation officer.  I am guessing you would want to meet her, would you mind doing the initial intake interview?  I think the new receptionist is terrified of her.”

Car Trouble

Over the next year I got to know most of the diamonds in the rough in town and since I lived just around the corner from the bar where they set up shop in the winter time, on particularly cold nights a few might stop by my apartment after last call and they would gather in my kitchen to warm up and unwind, making breakfast before they headed home.  They were polite enough to keep it quiet and let me sleep.  All my friends knew they could start my VW without the key, just stick anything vaguely resembling a key in the ignition, jiggle it around and it would turn and fire up the motor so they would use it for errands.  One day I had an emergency hearing pop up so I put on my suit and walked home, slipping on icy sidewalks and when I got to my apartment, my car was nowhere to be found.  I had to slide back downhill to the office and borrow Jim’s car.

When I got back to town in the late afternoon I marched over to the bar in search of Darleen who acted as mother protector for the younger women.

I was still annoyed when I spotted her in the back with several young ladies, one of whom waved and beamed when she saw me coming. I started to smile and wave back before I remembered I was mad.

“Darleen I needed my car this afternoon and I couldn’t find it.  I don’t mind you guys borrowing it but I wish you would park it close it enough to my apartment so I can find it!”

Darleen thought that over and nodded.  “And I wish that dicks tasted like licorice, but this does not seem to be the time of year when wishes are being granted, so sit down and I’ll buy you a beer for your trouble.”

And then there is this story

From time to time I would drop into Missy’s biker bar, probably when my PTSD-fueled suicide thoughts were in full bloom, and one evening I am sitting there minding my PBR and this guy in bare feet, with no shirt and blue jeans covered in grease steps up next to me and gives me a hard stare.

“Pick up your money and get the fuck out of here.”

I turned and just looked at him for a long beat before I spoke.

“Did you hear what just came out of your mouth?”

He started to pull himself up, stopped, then threw his head back, laughed, and slapped me on the back.

“You’re alright, partner!” and walked away.

I must admit, I may have peed my pants a little there.

And finally,

I have written about another utility shutoff client who had planned to throw a brick through the window of the electric company after they had cut her off in the wintertime.  She came to our office instead after she had noticed a sign advertising my services in all matters utility related.  As we chatted she seemed skeptical but I convinced her that I could get her lights back on, so she agreed to  give the legal system a try.  Then she reached into her big bag and drew something out.  “But I am keeping the brick, we’ll just call it Plan B.” 

Her name was Cynthia but went by “Ultraviolet” which she explained thusly.

“When I was in high school I decided people should call me Violent.  And when I discovered LSD, people started avoiding me and calling me “Ultraviolent.” 

I helped her become a community organizer and she always kept that brick on her desk.


The sound track from the Missy’s bar.

Published by Robert Lang

Social Justice lawyer and mentor, nurturing calmness, kindness, and adventure. Just trying to leave something good behind.

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