Paul M. Pruitt, Jr., Whangdoodle and the Golden Grit

Whangdoodle and the Golden Grit

Paul M. Pruitt, Jr.*

 

 

     Looking down the shelves—which had been keeping place since early in the past century, as can be seen by anyone willing to consult our collection of ever-more-tattered yearbooks—it was clear that someone—someone with not blessed with a proper reverence for the Library of Congress Classification System—had been using the materials. A scene of wanton research, it made me think immediately of Whangdoodle.

     Every library has a secret entrance, one hidden in plain sight. The alarm system, if any, is seldom activated for this door—the door I came through and the one Whangdoodle, the one professor with a practical knowledge of our building’s discreet features, had also used. Old Whang—you’ve read Whangdoodle on Torts, right? His Harms and the Man? And there’s Whangdoodle’s Past Praying For: The Present State of Future Interests—those are standard law school fare. But perhaps, Reader, you’ve looked into Whangdoodle on the Rule Against Perpetuities—in that work you get the measure-for-measure of the man’s approach to the profession.[1]

     Professor Whangdoodle has been teaching here for a long time—at least since our late misunderstanding with the Axis Powers, perhaps even earlier—“since,” as one of his colleagues put it, “God was a very small boy.” He’s always been a bit above himself with regard to the library, which he regards as his own—if not in f. simple, then as an estate for which he holds a life tenancy. Like some medieval warlord he can attack or defend, but he’s never been as bad as some of our legal educators—like, for example, Prof. Wellington Grudgebach, who in his younger days tore pages from pocket parts on the theory that “I’m the only one who’ll ever use this.” To be sure, two modern inventions—the photocopy machine and the student assistant—took a good deal of the pressure off Grudgebach. But as for Old Whang, I’ve been around him long enough now to know that most of the old boy’s lunar phases—his knack for being arrogant and inane all at once—are more or less calculated. In fact, they’re just so many clubs in his golf bag of legal pedagogy.

     He’s up to something, I thought as I walked past the scene of his late-late researches. Definitely up to something. But for that moment I could hardly be bothered to think what it might be.

     So on I went—past Gov. Docs., past Ready Ref., down the long hall where the ref-desk sits in splendid isolation, around the corner and past the gloomy offices of the Windowless Staff, into Tech. Services where work tables and in-process book trucks litter the landscape, and into my office. Later I may devote more attention to analyzing my office, which I believe has become a sentient life form. What I want to say now is that I switched on the lights—and performed a double-take of vaudevillian dimensions.

     Old Whang, of course. Sitting in his best Three Bears fashion in the one chair that was just right—my chair. True, he hadn’t broken anything yet, but his manner—particularly his foliated eyebrows—was far from reassuring. “Young man,” the eyebrows seemed to be saying, “you’re late.”

     In fact I was half an hour early and I told him so. Too much deference just encourages the old bull, you know. “That’s as may be,” he replied. “Now what I want to ask you, son, is whether you’d like to be on board in a simple scheme to gratify the RTF?”

     Triple A—Ambushed in Aid of an Acronym! Whang’s military service in the Good War had given him an unfortunate taste for them—acronyms, that is. For that matter, he should have been a librarian. He’d have loved going to GODORT meetings at the Mid-Winter ALA. But back on point: In one of our friendlier conversations I had rashly agreed with him that Right-Thinking-Folk were thin on the ground. I’d probably nodded my head when he observed that they were frequently in need of rescue and entertainment.

     Membership in the RTF shifted around somewhat in Old Whang’s opinion, but a few people were frozen out permanently, chained to a rock while vultures scrabbled over them in a futile search for redeeming qualities. I refer to folk like Grudgebach, now Whang’s colleague, once his law school classmate—his sworn enemy ever since one of them—I forget which one—beat the other out for Articles Editor of their law review. Ever since then, if one of them wanted something the other wanted it more.

     At issue now, it soon appeared, was a different sort of article—specifically the essay required in the Harmonization of Writs Competition. The latter, a production of the Union Society for Uniform Construction of Knowledge, was to be held in each state under the auspices of the State Bar Association; the fifty winners were to be honored at one of those self-congratulatory bashes for which the legal profession is justly famous. Each would receive an award in the shape of a golden sphere (representing uniformity) with a nubbly finish (representing diversity). In any event, since an itinerant administrator’s announcement of the contest in a voice flavored by his habitual consumption of biscuits, the whole endeavor had been known at our school as the Hominy Grits Competition—the prize as the Golden Grit.

     Whang had that glint in his eye. It was clear that (1) he had already cleared shelf space for the g. globule and (2) that he was looking forward to a triumph over Grudgebach, whom he predicted would throw something together at the last moment. Pulling a sheaf of papers from a folder, Whang said, “Here’s my rough draft. What I want is a quick read-through, and if you’re up to it, some sexy cites to beef up the footnotes—something that’ll get the judges to remembering what it used to feel like to have brains. And if you’ve got brains enough to suggest a title, fire when ready.”

     The sound of this last line trailed out of my office along with Whang, who had lurched to his feet after fitting the draft into one of the few open spaces on my desk. He didn’t want me to rewrite it. He didn’t need my ideas—he was happy enough with his own. Yet he had bought pretty thoroughly into the notion that citation is peon’s work. I was appointed. I wasn’t much surprised; I didn’t object.

     He was just that abrupt, I’ll grant you; but the mock-heroics were weirdly convincing. Whang couldn’t pull the cover off his manual typewriter—an Underwood Five, the kind I use myself—without vowing to serve the RTF. Besides, we shared (apart from the Underwood thing) a strange Boolean traction. He had meddled with the Library so long that he was more or less a librarian in his approach to bibliography—shoot, the fact that he had an approach to bibliography more or less proves the point. As for me, I’d worked with law books for less time than he, but long enough to claim benefit of clergy. No clergyman I; but you get my meaning. Assuming the bibliographic posture, I began to read the typescript.

     So on through the pages, and before I’d gotten too far I was sucked in by Old Whang’s ambitious approach. It is true that his technique was not so much eclecticism as exorcism—he was determined to cast out all his ideas or die trying. His opening gambit was an attempt (seemingly rhetorical) to deny the possibilities of harmony. Why should we concern ourselves with universality, he asked, when most individuals aren’t anything in particular? “How,” he wanted to know, can you be two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”[2] Having mulled over this notion a while, I remembered a Critical Legal Studies article that would provide some of Whang’s needed backup—at least, as I leafed through it, it seemed to be saying and saying and saying much the same thing.[3]

        Turning with the stubby grace of a Socratic assassin, Whang next noted that law is played out in confrontations—at least, he noted snidely, in the common law world. Even the most harmonized concepts of law, he argued, must be applied to disputes that are each, typically, the aftermath of harm, hatred, or both. That made me think of a perceptive piece written by one of Grudgebach’s disciples, Professor Malcolm E. Diction, and published last fall in that practice-oriented journal, Retort: The Best Defense Law Journal. [4]  The piece was literary and technical, certain to appeal to Whang. Better yet, his citing it would be certain to rub pure NaCl into Grudgebach’s wounded psyche.

     And so on and so forth, until Whangdoodle arrived at a proposition: Namely that since there can be no unified point of view, nothing truly “common” in the experience of law except the arena in which particles (or in the case of corporate law, great big corpuscles) collide, why not make the best of things? If we can’t make the conflicts stop, perhaps we should concentrate on the arena. And we should choose guidelines that seem to make the process seem to make sense. Here Whang had the good sense to cite a herdsworth of Legal Realist philosophers. As for me, I thought of an essay posted recently in an online journal, something that supported his argument and might remind him that some folks still had brains.[5]

     Finally, Whangdoodle came around to discussing law and religion. At first I thought this was odd since I had always assumed that law was his religion. And in a way I was right, because he urged his readers to get in touch with their “inward-dwelling linguistic reverence”—I swear that’s what he wrote, and he maintained that by such means, members of the RTF—assisted by an “enlightened and by-some-miracle-motivated legal profession”—could move toward harmonious writs, the only meaningful harmony they would experience under law. At this point I realized that Prof. Whangdoodle’s brand of jurisprudence might be crazy enough to seize the day. Icing the cake, I fed him a cite—of a sweetly obscure piece that had seen print under the aegis of the Vatican—through its Congregation of Contrapuntal Dogmatics.[6]

     So nothing remained but for me to clip the draft together with my notes and slip them under Whang’s office door—remembering when it was too late to do anything about it that I had forgotten to suggest a title. Oh well, I sighed, let the old geezer do his own entitlement![7]

     Still, it may have been due to some faint whiff of conscience that I decided to do something else for Whangdoodle’s cause. On a legal pad, after little research and less reflection I jotted down a series of cites—truly third-rate stuff, most of it having little to do with legal harmony but titled so as to mean, potentially, anything or nothing. All this I wrote under a heading intended to convey a definite suggestion—nothing like “Pre-Vetted Winners for Gobbling the Golden Grit,” but something in that direction. At the very bottom, I’m ashamed to say, I made up an article citation—a complete fabrication.[8] This latter was by the equally fictitious Horst Raddische; the title was along the lines of “From Bibliotheque to High-Tech: Lit. Crits, Brit. Writs, and the Music of the Biosphere.” I know what you’re thinking—it sounded like a great piece of work to me, too.

     Then, checking to see that I wasn’t observed, I set the list down in the law school’s mailroom—a place Whang seldom went but which Grudgebach—ever on the lookout for outside affirmations of his worth—visited several times a week.

     The days went by in the library’s routine of work, paperwork, bibliographic work, and close encounters with students and faculty. After some weeks, showing a new student assistant around the building, I passed by Whang’s open office. Hailing me, he showed me the letter announcing that he was the Hominy Grits winner for our state. An official announcement of his victory followed in due course, as did rumors of slight troubles that had fallen like the rain—you know, both on the just and Grudgebach alike. At the State Bar Association’s convention, Whang bagged the Grit. Thereafter his office glinted like mad.

     All of which was a source of quiet satisfaction to me. Right up to the moment that the Dean, not he of the biscuited accent but the Real Thing, stuck his head in my office door and asked me if I was familiar with the writings of one Horst Raddische.

 

Paul M. Pruitt, Jr., Bounds Law Library, Culverhouse School of Law, University of Alabama.

Copyright © 2019 Paul M. Pruitt, Jr.

 

 

Paul M. Pruitt, Jr., Bounds Law Library, Culverhouse School of Law.

[1] Payne C. Whangdoodle, Rusty Trusts: A Counterintuitive Theory of Wills and Estates (Oest Publishing Company, 1983).

[2] Though he was reluctant to do it, I forced Whangdoodle to admit that this line was not his. For an explanation, see the unsigned article titled “Firesign or Diresign? Plagiarize or Avert-Your-Eyes?” Past Participial, 4 (April 1986), 18.

[3] Michel Akimbo, “[Mis]Interpretation of [Dis]Information Hyperlinks by [Extra] Legal Jurisconsult[ant]s: Imag[in]ing the Concept of Conceptual Idea[l]s,” Rive Gauche Law Review, 5 (May 1991), 30 and passim.

[4] The title is “Tort D’Arthur: Hold-Harmless Clauses and Classic Quests.”

[5] Samuel Weller, “Tax and Syntax: Was Dickens, J., Guilty of Making a Jarndyced Judgment?” in The Journal of Literary Criticism and Taxation, www.ssrn.blogstyleresearch.

[6] Elle Apostrophe, “Interpunctio Congruens: Finding Natural law in the Linguistic Interstices,” Plenary Indulgences, 42 (Easter 1916), 3.14 ff.

[7] Whangdoodle’s eventual title was “Harmonium Mundi: A Progression of Writs.” I would have chosen better, I’m certain.

[8] Readers will please note with regard to this admission that I’m ashamed but not afraid, having carefully consulted the Statute of Limitations on Academic Fraud.