Not a Drop to Drink


Louis Nizer was a very famous, very able New York lawyer. He wrote a book, My Life In Court, about his life as a trial lawyer. He recounted his many triumphs, his brilliant cross-examinations, staggering verdicts and soul-searing closing arguments. When I started out I wanted to learn how to be a successful lawyer. I read Nizer's book.

It didn't take. Rather than gaining insight into imaginative trial tactics, subtle strategies, and deft forensic ploys, the only thing I remembered is that whenever Nizer went to court he brought his own water glasses. He learned early on that flimsy Dixie cups are guaranteed to tip over and spill during trial. One cup doesn't hold a lot; just enough to get everything illegibly wet and to make the lawyer who knocks it over look like a jerk in front of the jury.

What I learned from the famous Louis Nizer, then, is bring water glasses to court. The right size glasses, however, are not easy to find. So now, whenever I go out of town to visit one of my progeny at an academic institution whose tuition bills make free HBO weekends the highlight of my social life, hotel water glasses find their way into my luggage only to later resurface on counsel tables in courtrooms I'm confined to whenever I'm unable to elude the long arm of a presiding criminal judge who believes that swift justice is the best justice.

Putting water glasses on counsel tables is, by my standards, acceptable. It's consistent, I think, with appropriate courtroom etiquette. The water's there. You're supposed to drink it. The paper cups do, in fact, always spill. And, the famous Louis Nizer (for younger lawyers, I suspect, the attorney-equivalent of buggy whips) did it, so it must be right.

This bottled water business - pardon me, this "natural spring bottled water" business -- though, is another thing. Who says it's permissible to chug-a-lug at will from a bottle in a courtroom in front of parched jurors and distracted judges. When did they change the rules to say that drinking in front of company - or jurors -- out of a bottle passes the Emily Post test? Anyway, most of the drinking from a bottle in public I'm familiar with involves a wrinkled brown paper bag, a doorstep, and a lot of sideways glances.

Apparently that's not the case anymore. Now it's de rigueur to carry around plastic bottles of drinking - er, natural spring - water. Wherever you look people are sporting those skinny clear plastic bottles with spiffy labels. What's more amazing, they actually pay good money for the privilege. These Gunga Dins of the new millennium sashay about, dramatically unscrewing the tops, tossing their heads back like cormorants, swilling a couple swallows and ostentatiously displaying the container as if it were a pass to the New York Yankee Clubhouse. It's like the kid in third grade who brings a big bag of peanuts to school, shucks the shells in front of the entire class and never offers a one to anyone else.

I'm not sure where this business all started, people paying good money for stuff they give out for free. Somebody has to explain it to me. And they should do it real slow.

As I think back, there was a time when Perrier was the bottled water with real cachet. Remember? It came in those small, green, kind of pear-shaped bottles you had to use an old-fashioned church key to open. At least that stuff fizzed and tickled your nose if you laughed too much. Hard on the heels of Perrier came others like it---Pelligrino etc -- all in fancy bottles evoking some kind of chi-chi in-crowd European image. Well, I could almost understand that. Paying money for fizzy water in funny bottles. Kind of like the Uncola without the Un or the cola.

But then this regular - ahem, natural spring - bottled water comes on the scene. I suppose it started out as a health thing promoted by the Birkenstock, nuts and berries crowd. So much H20 a day is good, they say, for "your system". These are the same people, I suspect, who have made cigar smoking a capital offense and for whom free range chicken and tofu have forever replaced Hummels hot dogs and onion rings.

Maybe we actually should drink more water. That's what drinking fountains are for. But do you have to buy it, lug it around and show it off? The troops in Desert Storm in full battle gear were less aquafied than some lawyers I see wandering the hallways of 235 Church Street. Now, in addition to the mandatory Rolex, Mont Blanc, Coach attaché, and a double latte from Willoughby's, they carry those skinny bottles with funky labels pretending to contain water from Maine or Vermont or Colorado. (I happen to know, by the way, that there's some guy with a pond in Meriden off Exit 16 about 200 yards behind Ocean State Job Lot who passes his stuff off as "natural spring" water, but I think you have to bring your own bottles.) Then they display the bottle in court advertising their ability to spend good money on stuff others get for free, disdaining the plastic pitchered offerings of the New Haven County Sheriff's Office.

Well they can do it their way if they want. Until someone convinces me that paying $1.50 for something I can get for free makes sense, I'm going to sit in court with my water glass on extended loan from the Syracuse Motel 6 and try to catch the eye of Dickie Gambardella, Gary Roth, Joe Mike Twohill or one of the other deputies whenever I run dry and the pitcher needs refilling.

Besides, from what I know, for all the blind tests they do on the "natural spring" stuff, it all comes out pretty much the same as New Haven tap water.