The Stones Are Back

I know I’ve not offered any new writing in a while, and I feel that I owe my Reader an apology. This is unreasonable of me, yet I feel the need to offer an explanation nevertheless.

Earlier tonight, Mrs. Likko wondered why it is that I was cranky and made an unkind remark. We’d had a very nice morning and a pleasant afternoon together. We’d been together, away from work, since Wednesday. The ailment that nearly felled me Wednesday and Thursday has been abated and will be treated hopefully soon, my schedule allowing. So what was wrong with me?

These two concerns are related. After all, how was I to tell my wife that a big part of what was making me anxious and unsettled was not just my anxiety about having to pass a kidney stone out of my back in the next several weeks, but much more so my inability to find some quiet time to myself to sit down and write about something?

You see, it’s been insanely busy at my meatworld job. It’s a combination of my eviction practice and my “big boy litigation” practice. All of these are converging to require trials and intense out-of-the-area depositions all at once. You may skip the next four paragraphs, Reader, if “work has been incredibly busy and stressful” is a sufficient summary.

The eviction trials keep on getting pushed back by the court. What ought to be short-cause, ten-minute trials are pumped up into four-day jury trial events due to a “public interest” law firm that invokes their clients’ jury trial rights so as to “negotiate” cash-for-keys money from my landlord clients, the merits of the case being irrelevant.* Well, as it turns out, a critical mass of my clients have decided that they’re tired of being extorted, and would rather pay me my hourly rate to fight these guys than to feed the monster. And the courts, surprisingly enough, think they have better things to do than jury trials for evictions, so we keep getting our trials continued because criminal courts keep poaching our juries at the last minute.

So I have half a dozen clients screaming at me that their tenants have been living in their houses for six months to (in one case) an entire year without paying any rent, wrecking the places and pissing off the neighbors, and no one in the legal system will do anything about it. And documents and trial dates and witnesses to wrangle, juggling each one every week as a new date approaches. Worse, my office’s infrastructure is not set up to handle all of this with anything approaching efficiency.

Then, I’ve got what would otherwise be a tasty and interesting case that I could sink my teeth into, only I haven’t the time to do it because of all the fishing evictions. This case will take me away from home for overnight, multiple-day depositions at least five times over the next six weeks. It’s a technical, complex, bet-the-company sort of case. And I haven’t been able to put in the time and intellectual energy that the case deserves.

All the other lawyers in my firm who litigate are also up to their eyebrows and crying for life vests as well, so I can’t count on them for a lot of support. With all of this going on, it’s been long hours at the office and a deep-fried stress McNugget functioning as my brain by the end of the day, which is why for about a week here at the best blog on the internet I was putting out “B” material, and then decided that if I couldn’t bring my “A” game I would be better off taking some time off and dealing with other stuff.

This is when a trip to the deep south to celebrate my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday, which has been planned for six months now, comes due. As of last week, my litigation schedule was working very, very hard to give me lots of incentives to cancel the trip, forfeit the airfare, and disappoint my family. But with an effort that felt truly Herculean, I managed to get away for three consecutive days. Now all of my PTO for the calendar year is gone, a situation which makes me not happy at all. After all, I might get sick.

Which is what I did, the very first day of my time away from the pressure-cooker. It didn’t help that I’d got very little sleep for the two days before leaving, but lack of sleep does not cause the symptoms I experienced upon landing in Birmingham, Alabama. These included a headache of an intensity I’d never known despite a history of migraines, and sudden-onset nausea along with other even less pleasant gastrointestinal disquietude. Other migraine symptoms, like floaters or blind spots, were absent. Thinking it might be food poisoning, I waited another functionally sleepless night to see if the symptoms persisted. They did with even tap water generating nausea, so I asked to be taken to see a doctor. An urgent-care clinic was found, where I spent five hours of my last days of vacation for the year waiting for a doctor to attend me.

The diagnosis came back “kidney stones,” complicated by a viral and a bacterial urinary tract infection. I have a history of kidney stones, so that’s hardly a surprise, and it’s not difficult to see how stones scraping around inside the organs could facilitate pathogens getting in there and breeding. I still can’t feel the stones pressing against my kidneys, so I know they’re large enough to obstruct my systems but not yet large enough to move on and pass. So I have that to look foward to in the near future, too. And upon our return, we had to spend nearly the whole day getting our household affairs in order, which in turn meant lots of more time spent on life’s myriad minutiae, eventually resulting in me taking ten fishing seconds to read an e-mail from a friend on my phone when I could have been folding my laundry when Mrs. Likko had the misfortune to ask “What are you doing?” and I snapped something less than gracious back.

And, I’ve received e-mails from more than one of my fellow Ordinaries who’ve been inquiring as to why I haven’t produced any new material. It’s gratifying to know that the community cares about its members enough for those sorts of inquiries to go out. So this is the public, long-form answer.

And the weirdest thing about it is that the exercise of sitting down and writing, expressing my thoughts and giving vent to my frustrations, is somewhat calming and palliative. Stephen King, at least apocroyphically, was once asked, “Why do you write at all?” and his answer was, “You assume I have a choice.” If the story isn’t true, it ought to be. I think to some degree that syndrome applies to everyone who writes for a blog and receives in return only the compensation of the pleasure of knowing they’ve been read. The act of writing is itself a pleasure, or at least a release.

So that’s my explanation for why I’m cranky. It seems downright silly to attribute a bad attitude to an inability to sit down and write. But now that I’m nearing a conclusion to the essay, I do feel some weight off my shoulders, a resolution of at least some tension. I’d like to think that I’ll have time over the next few weeks to think about a political, legal, or cultural issue and share those thoughts, offer something worthy of debate or at least thought by others. I’m not optimistic and I’m already stressed out even contemplating what awaits me at the office tomorrow. But at least I’ve been heard from.


* This is the part of their “public interest” practice that I find objectionable: they don’t care about their clients and they don’t care about the merits of their cases. They just care about money — their money, not their clients’ money. If they negotiated settlements with an eye towards approximating the merits of the cases, I wouldn’t have a problem with them. If the negotiated resolutions with an eye towards preventing their clients from being homeless, I could see that, too. But they’re entirely willing to browbeat their clients into agreeing to nearly any move-out date if the landlord pays enough “relocation assistance” and they’re careful to demand less of that than the fee they know I would quote for a four-day jury trial. And I have it on direct authority from several of their former clients that while they ostensibly take all their cases for no fee, their contract requires their clients to “donate” 40% of any “relocation assistance” to the firm that somehow got 501(c)(3) status from the IRS — proof enough that the Tea Party Republicans are wrong when they claim that the Federal government stifles economic activity through over-regulation. So these pirates “public interest lawyers” don’t really care if the premises are slums or not, they don’t care if there’s discrimination going on, they don’t care if their clients find a decent place to live, or indeed if they find any place to live at all, after the case is done. Particularly when coupled with the “public interest” label, I find their conduct incongruent with my standards of legal ethics. But I have no choice but to do business with them daily.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. That’s interesting.
    I wonder about this public interest group.
    I have had a bit of issue with a certain public interest group myself.
    I’ve been looking for an attorney to represent me in the matter. Still looking.
    The federal government is very segmented.

    Sorry about your stones, and hope it works out for you.

  2. Being asked to be accountable for that ten seconds that you’re not on task when you happen to be observed is absolutely the worst, I totally relate. I hope this stressful period, and the stones, pass as soon and with as limited an amount of pain, as is remotely possible.

  3. My brother went through hell with kidney stones; you have my sympathies. I am glad you did decide to go to your grandmother’s birthday, even though you had a horrible time. You won’t always have her around. I’m sure it meant a lot to her.

    Hang in there. We readers will be here when you get back.

  4. Not what I was expecting from the title and photo, but thanks for sharing. Get well soon!

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