Sad stories sometimes told, sometimes forgotten

Bob Buckley
Legal perspectives

Last Saturday was a perfect summer day and I spent the afternoon working on my deck while I listened to some of my favorite Harry Chapin tunes. I admit I had heard them so many times that I knew the words and sang along. Harry was a musical storyteller like none other.

In May1974, I attended my first Harry Chapin concert at the Midland Theater in Kansas City. We sat on the second row and enjoyed every minute of the show.

Bob Buckley

I was initially drawn to him after watching him perform his most well-known song, “Taxi”, on late night television. Taxi was the story of two people who had unsuccessfully attempted romance but met several years later when he picked up the lady in his taxi. The setting was in San Francisco and if you have heard the song, it was raining hard in Frisco.

Harry died in 1981 in a traffic accident in New York. I was able to attend another concert at the Uptown Theater before he died. I have most of his songs on my iPod.

Some of his songs were fun, such as "30,000 Pounds of Banana," about a truck crashing on the hill leading into Scranton, Pennsylvania. “Yes, there are no bananas.” Yet, most of his songs were stories full of sadness.

While singing and listening to my favorite songs I had an epiphany, an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Harry was a superb storyteller. My epiphany was that the stories of my clients, like Harry’s songs, were also filled with sadness. The only difference is that Harry’s characters were fictional, and my clients are not.

His stories were of the taxi driver who had dreams of being a pilot who picked up his old girlfriend on a rainy night in Frisco so he could transport her to the mansion she now lived in. She had wanted to be an actress and he wanted to learn to fly. Years ago, she took off for the footlights and he took off for the sky. Sadly, their dreams never came true. “She is in her handsome home acting happy and he is flying in his taxi, taking tips and getting stoned.”

Mr. Tanner was a cleaner from a small town in the Midwest who had a beautiful baritone voice “who sang while hanging clothes; he practiced scales while pressing tails and sang at local shows.” He sang in a concert hall in New York, but the reviews were not kind. “Fullt-ime consideration of another endeavor might be in order”. “He returned to his shop and sang when it was dark and closed. Music was his life, but it was not his livelihood. It may him feel happy and he sang from his heart and sang from his soul. It just made him whole.”

“A Better Place to Be” is the story of a midnight watchman and a barmaid who “had known all about loneliness and living all alone.”

And many will remember “Cat's in the Cradle,” the story of a man who neglected his son while he was growing up, and then his son as an adult had no time for his father. “And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me. He’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

As I sang along with Harry on my deck, hoping no one would hear me, I reflected on the many sad stories in my long career. No one sang songs about my sad stories. A 5-year boy who had the life crushed out of him by a heavy flagpole placed on some concrete blocks just feet from a playground where he played. A mother of four who had a stroke that left her paralyzed from the neck down that would have been prevented had a radiologist correctly read a CT scan on two occasions in the space of nine months.

The man who fell off his roof and was paralyzed and without feeling below the waist so that when he developed a huge pressure wound on his buttocks, he had no pain and no idea. The little lady who spent her life feeding the hungry who died because her doctor gave her a dye in her eye that that caused her to stop breathing. The 19-year-old son who went to the emergency room after his motorcycle inexplicably collided with a fire hydrant, rupturing his spleen; he bled to death while waiting for the doctor to see him. The family who learned from me for the first time after I had obtained medical records that that their father and husband died because he bled to death in recovery after open-heart surgery. The helicopter life flight nurse pursuing her dream job until the helicopter carrying a patient to a hospital in Kansas City crashed in a field, leaving her confined to a wheelchair and a life of pain and suffering.

There are so many more sad stories that I could tell. While some of them were told to a jury, most were not. My sad stories continue after the court case is over. No amount of money ends the sadness, the grief, the misery or the pain. Bernard Abrams, the best neurologist in Kansas City, reminded me as he entered the courtroom to testify that my client who was in intractable pain 24 hours a day was not going to get better after the case was over. His pain led him down a much darker path despite a successful verdict. He later got hooked on meth and died a few years ago. Money did not end his suffering.

I do take comfort in the songs that Harry Chapin sang years ago. And I can take solace in knowing that I was able to help many clients through times of sadness which gives me some comfort. Bad things happen to good people, but I wish it were not so.

Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence. Email him at bbuckley@wagblaw.com.