|This is merely the backstory. I'm saving ther best things I have to say about him until tomorow, or, at the very latest, before I head off to medical school on the 23rd.|
Under ordinary circumstances, I'm the absolute antithesis of a procrastinator. Whether it's dishes in the sink, material to be reviewed for a test, a composition that's due in four weeks, or piano accompaniment for a soloist that needs to be played through at least once prior to performance, it goes against everything in my nature to save the job to be done until later. I'd wash the dishes before they'd even been used if doing so would accomplish anything. I once went so far as to write an essay before the topic was assigned, making my best guess as to what the assigned topic might be, just in case I might be right and have a jump on the assignment.
Yet I'm guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of procrastination when it comes to writing my personal eulogy, for lack of a better word, to the TV program Judge Alex. I thank God and anyone else responsible for his continued well-being that it's only the TV show Judge Alex and not the star of the show himself, Alex Ferrer, that I'm eulogizing. Though the name of the show and the person hosting it have become synonymous in the minds of many, while the show is dead and gone [may it rest in peace] the man in the black robe
continues to turn up on my TV. This very night, in fact, I saw him discussing the Daniel Pistorius case with Megyn Kelly on Fox News Channel's The Kelly File.
It occurred to me today that one obstacle to starting this rather daunting project is the back story, which threatens to take up more space than the actual tribute to Judge Alex itself. (Note the italics, which indicate that I'm referring to the TV program as opposed to the person. I'm not calling Alex Ferrer himself an it. I'm rude, but not that rude. To the best of my knowledge, Judge Ferrer's gender has never been in question.) While how I came across Judge Alex, and, in perhaps a sense, to know the man Alex Ferrer himself, is a part of the story, I didn't want the prequel to overtake the main event. Additionally, there's that ever-present elephant in the room: we all know of the tendency with anything I write -- even something seemingly so unrelated as a research paper focusing upon sexual equality among pygmies dwelling in the Ituri rainforest, to be consumed by the inherent sub-theme of all my writings and, for that matter, of my life, which is the almost unfathomable weirdness of those to whom I am related.
The best way to keep such from happening, I decided, was to offer a preface or an introduction to the Judge Alex tribute. Perhaps doing such will allow me get through the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys, and hows of my relationship (I thought calling it a relationship might be a bit of a stretch, though the judge himself acknowledged it as such) with Judge Ferrer in order to proceed to the central theme in a more timely manner than might otherwise have happened . . .
I began watching Judge Alex as a fourteen-year-old high school junior. The circumstance by which I stumbled across the channel airing the show was of a most flukish nature.
It was winter vacation. Ninety-nine out of one hundred parents would have considered their fourteen-year-old twins to be old enough to be at home alone for the daytime while their parents worked, but my parents are of a different archetype than are most of their parenting peers. My mother, as an educator in our school district, should, theoretically have had the same days off that the students in the district had. She was, however, working through part of her vacation with two other administrators on writing a grant to fund our district's teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention program. The irony was not lost on her that simultaneously, as she was writing a document to prevent negative consequences associated with teen sex, the behaviors she was writing a grant to prevent could be occurring in her own home even as she wrote. It was unlikely that Matthew or I would have had anything too hot and heavy going on with members of the opposite sex (or, for that matter, with members of the same sex) since neither of us was anything resembling an early-bloomer, but had we each invited a few friends over, nature might have run its course, and God knows what the outcome might have been. For that matter, in my mother's paranoid version of events, one of us might have decided to throw a RAVE at 10:00 a.m on a Tuesday in our home, which, I'm sure, would have been terribly well-attended, and which would have negated the benefits of the anti-substance abuse education grant my mom planned to write during spring vacation. Regardless of the specificity of concerns my parents (mostly my mother; my father mostly did as he was told when it came to my mother's concerns about our potential bad-acting) might have had concerning what Matthew and I might have chosen to do with our spare time had we been unsupervised, it wasn't going to happen. We had a babysitter, who happened to be my dad. He did what little of his work he could do at home. The remainder of his time, he just harassed us.
TV time, which while school was in session was heavily restricted, was monitored considerably more leniently during vacation. At some point one afternoon in the days before Christmas, I flipped on the TV to see Maury Povich materialize on the screen. It was a rather bizarre episode [I believe it was a repeated episode, though that's neither here nor there] featuring a stage full of morbidly obese babies and toddlers. Every race, color, and creed appeared to be represented on the stage. Something about the macabre nature of the episode prevented me from changing the channel.
I recall there having been a child who was roughly two-and-one-half years old who was so overweight that she could neither sit up nor pull herself up. The only position she was capable of assuming was one of lying prone or supine on whatever surface upon she was placed unless she was propped. Her sole mode of locomotion was rolling from one place to another.
I also recall a baby who could not be lifted by his mother, a woman of normal build who did not appear to suffer from particular weakness, nor was it expressed that she suffered from any sort of a debilitating condition. The child's father didn't lift him with great ease. They put the kid on a scale right there on the stage, and he, at the ripe old age of six months, weighed in at seventy-five pounds.
Then they spoke to the parent of one of the rotund babies. This child was right around the twelve month mark. I think he was a fifty-five pounder, which was almost thin by the standards of many of the babies on the stage that day. A panel including Maury, a pediatrician, and a registered dietician questioned the mother of the one-year-old about the child's breakfast on an ordinary day. I have to give the mother credit for honesty, as I would never have admitted it had that been my child's typical breakfast [nor could I have afforded it without resorting to a life of crime]. (Note: I'm quoting the mother. Her syntax is indicative of a particular ethnicity. I'm not trying to poke fun at how she expressed herself. I am somewhat inappropriately poking fun, sad as it is, at what she thought was appropriate to feed her baby. Regarding my depiction of her dialect, however, it's not intended to be funny. I'm just restating her words as she spoke them.)
"I fix him a dozen eggs for breakfast." (It reminded me vaguely of the song Gaston sings in Beauty and the Beast except that what Gaston sang about eating paled in comparison to what this baby was fed.) "He usually have a half a loaf of bread for toast, and I don't put no more than a cube of butter on all his toast, which ain't that much with that much toast. He like to have that white Karo syrup on his toast. He have a half a gallon of chocolate milk. I keep pouring it in his bottle until the half gallon is empty. They make them baby bottles too small. Even if he want more, he don't get no more unless he take regular milk with Nestle Quik in it. He have frosted flakes," she began.
"How much frosted flakes?" a member of the panel asked.
"Just a box," the mother answered.
"One of those miniature boxes that comes in a variety pack?" the registered dietician asked hopefully, approximating the size of a miniature box with her hands.
"No, a regular box," the mother answered, motioning with her hands to indicated a box about a foot high. "And he have Hostess doughnuts -- the white powdered sugar ones."
"How many?" the pediatrician asked, sounding almost afraid to hear the answer.
"Just one," answered the mother.
"Just one doughnut?" queried the pediatrician.
"No," clarified the mother. "Just one box. And sometimes he eat cinnamon rolls too. Those Pillsbury Dough boy kind. If I don't have time to cook 'em for him, he eat 'em raw out of the can."
By this time my brother Matthew had wandered into the family room and was mesmerized by what he was seeing and hearing. Matthew himself was known for an ability to consume huge quantities of food without any evidence ever appearing on his body. "Jeez!" he said. "You all say I'm a pig, and it would take me a week to eat what this baby eats in a day!"
"That's just his breakfast, Matthew," I explained.
"Holy Mother of God!" he exclaimed. (Mom wasn't home, so such language wasn't an issue.)
The mother continued. "And he like to drink a jug or two of that Sunny Delight drink. I think it's just real orange juice, but he won't drink real orange juice. I don't know why." She had a puzzled look on her face.
"Probably because real orange juice is missing the 30% or whatever of high fructose corn syrup that's in Sunny Delight," the registered dietician commented, shaking her head.
The pediatrician spoke up. "Ma'am, do you realize what you're doing to your child's health by feeding him in this way?"
The mother became defensive. "If my baby want to eat," she said in clipped syllables and in a hostile tone, "my baby can eat." She punctuated her statement by folding her arms.
Meanwhile, Matthew scooped a large bowl of ice cream and covered it with so much chocolate syrup that a person who hadn't seen the concoction under construction could not have discerned that there was ice cream under the chocolate syrup. "Didn't you just have ice cream about an hour ago, Matthew?" my dad asked.
"Forty-five minutes, " Matthew corrected him as he shoved a spoonful of the ice cream / chocolate syrup mix into his mouth.
"It's like an hour until dinnertime," my dad complained.
"If your baby want to eat, " I told my dad, "your baby can eat."
"If your baby want to eat, " I told my dad, "your baby can eat."
My dad groaned.
"Alexis, either change the channel or turn the TV off," my dad ordered.
"Why?" Matthew and I responded in unison.
"It's just getting to the good part," Matthew added.
"Because just listening to it is making me sick," my dad answered. "You heard me. Turn it off or change the channel. Those are your two options."
I reached for the remote control and clicked up one channel, which landed me onto Judge Judy. "Great," my dad groaned again. "The lady with the shrill Brooklyn accent. I'll have a headache in five minutes."
"We'll turn it back to Maury," Matthew offfered.
"We wouldn't want you to get a headache," I added.
"No, I'll take the shrill Brooklyn lady over the morbidly obese babies who drink Sunny Delight by the jug," he conceded, thoroughly disappointing both of us.
I don't even remember the specifics of the case Judge Judy was adjudicating except that it involved an engagement ring. One party or the other brought the ring to court, and Judge Judy was examining it, twirling it around in her fingers and looking at it in the light. She looked pointedly at the young man who must have been the prospective groom. "It's not exactly the Hope Diamond, is it?" she asked in a most snarky tone. I felt bad for the young man, who had bought the ring he could afford. What did Judge Judy expect him to do? Go out and rob a bank so he could purchase a diamond that would have been considered minimally acceptable by her standards? Get someone to co-sign for him so he could access credit to buy a larger diamond, and then promise to pay the person back with his tax refund?
"Did you hear that?" I asked my dad. I thought of the diamond my own mom wore on her left hand. It wasn't very large, particularly by Judge Judy's standards. It was all my dad could afford at the time he proposed to her, while he was still in medical school. She now wears a much larger diamond on her right hand, but the small one on her left ring finger is the one that has the greater sentimental value if only a fraction of the extrinsic value of the one on her right ring finger.
"Pretty hard not to hear it at the volume she speaks," my dad answered.
"That wasn't very nice of her," I expressed my opinion.
"No, it wasn't," my dad answered. "I'm glad you caught that.
I'm not saying the shrill Brooklyn accent [I'm sure he knew her name, or at least the "Judge Judy" portion of it, but he refused to admit to it or to use it] is a bad person, but I don't think she has any clue as to how at least 90% of the world's population lives. Not everyone had a dentist father to pay her college and law school tuition. Either that, or she knows better but is playing a role she's being paid to play." he paused. "Either way it doesn't speak well for her." He paused again. "Alexis, you don't have to watch this show, either. If you have to watch TV, why don't you see what else is on."
I scrolled up the channels until I came across I man I hadn't seen before, a robe-clad man seated at a bench with a gavel in his right hand. Another TV court show, I thought to myself. It seemed that there were getting to be quite a few of the genre available for the public's viewing pleasure, particularly if one had cable, Direct TV, or satellite. The man's rather large face seemed to take up most of the TV screen, or perhaps it was just the camera angle. He did have flawless skin, though -- skin that even TV cosmetics couldn't make to appear THAT good. He had lovely pearly-white teeth as well -- the kind my aunt had paid five thousand dollars in endeavor to procure but still hadn't quite managed to obtain. (I know how much the procedure cost her because she "borrowed" the money from my dad eight years ago and had yet to repay a cent. My dad's philosophy on lending money to relatives, particularly to ones of which he is less than fond, is often to go ahead and let them have the money they ask for. Then they avoid you like the plague. It's a small price to pay, he says, not to have to deal with them.) The judge's flawless skin was slightly olive-toned, and his hair, depending upon the way the light shone upon it, was either very dark brown or black. The man looked oddly familiar, though I couldn't hazard a guess as to why.
"Dad, look at this guy. Have you seen him before?" I thought maybe he'd been on a TV series or perhaps had been a newscaster.
My dad looked up from his work at the kitchen counter and stared at the TV for a moent. "He looks a lot like Uncle Jerry. He's probably Cuban-American, too." Once my dad mentioned it, I could see the resemblance.
My Uncle Jerry is not my uncle either by biology or marriage but has been my dad's best friend since seventh grade, and I have always considered him my uncle. He was the obstetrician of record at my c-section delivery who signed my birth certificate, though my dad, also an MD, was the one who actually removed me from my mother's womb. Uncle Jerry took my brother Matthew out immediately afterward -- a fact I've never let my brother forget. My brother may be bigger and everyone who doesn't know us may assume he's at least three years older than I, but birth certificates don't usually lie (unless you're one of those birther people who refuse to believe that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii) and I am the older twin.
I started to scroll up to another channel. My dad stopped me. "Wait a minute" he requested. "Let's watch this for a sec."
I don't even remember that much about the case. I think it might have had something to do with whether or not a boy had permission to use his girlfriend's parents' ATV, and whose fault it was that it was wrecked when he was riding it. I can't even remember if the judge ruled in favor of the boy or the girl's parents, who were suing him for damages. What I remember was that the judge had a quick sense of humor and wasn't above taking an occasional verbal shot at a litigant who really opened himself or herself up to it, but, in general, tended to be self-deprecating in his humor and to far more often make jokes at his own expense than at anyone else's. He had an easy ongoing banter with his bailiff, who was at that time a Houston police officer named Victor. The show was at the time filmed in Houston because the judge, who lived in Miami, had children and didn't want to give up an entire day of being with them each direction on flights from Miami to the shooting location.
My dad had wanted to watch because he was trying to identify the judge's regional accent. (The judge has no foreign accent.) After a few moments, my dad had accomplished his goal of identifying the judge's place of origin, or at least where he had grown up. "He's from Miami or at least south Florida. You can change the channel now if you want, but not either to Maury Povich or to the shrill Brooklyn lady."
"That's OK," I said. "I'll watch this." I didn't realize it, but it was the very beginning of a nearly seven-year obsession.