Although Dad didn't get much from listening to Perry Mason's look-alike, Raymond Burr, or, even a few years later from his creator, Earle Stanley Gardner, there was one Bar Convention from which Dad came in a high state of excitement. This one was held in San Francisco and when Dad got back from it he announced to all of us that he had heard a speech that had given him an idea that was finally going to put us on Easy Street. He was finally going to be able to look his uncle, Wesley Merrill in the eye and say, "To bad about that case you lost, in fact, to bad about the last twenty cases you have lost. If you need a loan, or even a little bit of help with a handout, just drop on by." As I said, he was finally going to be able to say that to his uncle, instead of his uncle always saying that to him. Not that Dad ever really asked his uncle for a handout, or even a loan, but you could tell that he envied him. His uncle seldom lost a case and his clients were mostly big corporate types, or, at least, the biggest corporate types that you could find in Pocatello.
Well, it seems that the key to success so carefully, completely, and convincingly laid out by a speaker at the San Francisco Bar Convention can be summed up in a single word, "histrionics". Well, it could not be entirely summed up in one word, actually, it was three words. The other two words were "deep pockets". Now I must admit that anyone reading this is going to say, "Your dad went all the way to San Francisco to learn this? This is hardly Legal Rocket Science." But you have to remember that this was back in the days when those kinds of Legal Rockets were still in their infancy. The Bar was still struggling to try to prove that they were an honorable trade or profession. You could not advertise and you could not specialize and apparently this fellows presentation about using histrionics and going after "deep pockets" did not go by unprotested. But whatever, Dad was all excited about it. He gathered us around the dinner table to tell us all about the trip and how we were going to be rich.
"So what is histrionics?" Loni asked. I would have asked, but I assumed it was the study of Paul Revere and Lewis and Clark and I admit I was a little puzzled as to how that was going to help Dad in his law practice, I just assumed he knew what he was doing and anyway, anything coming out of San Francisco was bound to be a little bit weird, so maybe they had figured out a way to make knowing all about Paul Revere and such like pay off. If they had, I was sure to cash in in a big way having read complete books about those guys for Miss Biggerts 4th grade history class. But anyway, it was a good thing that Loni asked because it turns out that histrionics has absolutely nothing to do with Paul Revere or even Lewis and Clark. But, in another way, it turned out to be not such a good thing because of the example Dad used to explain it.
"For example," Dad said, obviously very very excited, " this guy who spoke to us in San Francisco has made millions of dollars by being very dramatic in court."
"You mean like doing a summersault?" I asked incredulously. " Mom did that after she promised us she would if we ate our oatmeal and it put her in the hospital (which by the way, actually happened), if you did it in court, you would be lucky to wind up in the hospital. More likely, we would be orphans, or, at least, half orphans."
"Of course not," Dad just laughed. "I wouldn't do a sommersault. What good would that do?" Well, of course, he had us there, so we just asked him what he did plan to do.
"Well, for example, this fellow when he was suing a doctor for a bungled operation on a fellows leg brought in an actual leg cut off a dead person and dropped it in the lap of the people of the jury!"
"Please Dad," Gavin protested. "We're eating dinner!"
"That's just it," Dad continued all excited. "You can't be sqeamish if you are going to be dramatic in court."
"And just who would you sue in Pocatello?" I think it was Mom who asked that, although it may have been Loni.
"Well, doctors, like Dr. Sharp, I suppose."
There was silence around the table. Dad knew he had made a terrible mistake. "Well, at least, maybe someone, I mean there are some bad doctors here in Pocatello."
Dad paused, and I think he was about to mention one of the doctors who we always said we couldn't go to because they charged big fees like Dr. Merkeley or Dr. Hegstead, but I guess he thought better of it. Dr. Merkeley went to our church and we were friends with his kids and, of course, Loni was Millie Hegstead's friend and I played ball with Ralph and besides, the idea of dropping a dead baby in the lap of the jury--well, he just said, "I don't know and we didn't hear anymore about the trip to San Francisco or even of becoming millionaires by using "histrionics" and going after "deep pockets".