Presidents Crack Wise
By Pamela Buchmeyer
Our tickets to Hamilton were lost. Three hours before the performance at a theater an hour’s drive away. Somehow StubHub had mailed them several states away to an address where we’d lived eight years prior. Disaster! Did I mention that Hamilton tickets are scarcer than hen’s teeth and cost a king’s ransom? The proximate cause of this debacle was, of course, user error. Always check the default field on one’s mailing address, lesson learned.
Luckily, our long-lost address was an apartment building that employed the most talented concierge in the entire world. She saved the day! She answered our call, found the errant mail, and forwarded us scanned copies just in the nick of time!
Now, I can’t stop humming Hamilton show tunes—“The Room Where It Happens” is a particular favorite—and daydreaming about the early U.S. Presidents George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson.
The music and the performance made me miss my late father, Judge Jerry L. Buchmeyer, who for 28 years wrote a humor column for the Texas Bar Journal. Dad loved Broadway musicals—in fact, he was a real Guys and Dolls man. When I was growing up, Dad delighted in performing “Fugue for Tinhorns.”
“I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, and … if the weather’s clear, can do, can do. This guy says the horse can do.”
“I know all the words. I’ve got the drive and the ambition to be a star,” Dad would joke. “All I need now is talent.”
Our theme for this month’s column is President’s Day. We have a remarkable system of government, truly, and while some of our past commanders-in-chief have certainly excelled at tap-dancing, strictly speaking, song and dance aren’t actual presidential requirements.
Thanks to all for sending in contributions for this column. As Alexander Hamilton sang in the musical, “I have the honor to be your obedient servant.” firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. PRESIDENTS DROP THE MIC
The Oval Office doesn’t completely eliminate one’s sense of humor, evidently. American presidents have said some of the most amusing things. A few of the following remarks were scripted, but all embrace humor regardless of one’s party politics:
Abraham Lincoln: “If it were not for my little jokes, I couldn’t bear the burden of this office.”
Ronald Reagan, as he looked up at a crowd of ER doctors: “I hope you’re all Republicans.”
John Adams, lamenting his job as vice president: “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me, the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived, or his imagination conceived.”
Calvin Coolidge, after a young woman said she’d bet that she could get at least three words out of him: “You lose.”
John F. Kennedy, when asked how he became a war hero: “It was involuntary. They sank my boat.”
Gerald Ford, about longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas: “I got on the scale, put in a penny, a card came out that said, ‘You are handsome, debonair, sophisticated, a born leader of men, a silver-tongued orator, and some day you will make your own mark in history.’ Helen leaned over and said, ‘It has your weight wrong, too.’”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt upon hearing that his esteemed wife, the first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, then visiting a penitentiary, was “in prison”: “I’m not surprised. But for what?”
Jimmy Carter, after a guide in Egypt told him it only took 20 years to build the Great Pyramid of Giza: “I’m surprised that a government organization could do it that quickly.”
Lyndon B. Johnson, addressing a Marine who’d just said, “Mr. President, this is your helicopter over here”: “They’re all mine, son.”
Barack Obama, at the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner: “…in my final year, my approval ratings keep going up. The last time I was this high, I was trying to decide on my major.”
It did. I saw the actual transcript submitted by Jeff McKnight, of Wichita Falls, who redacted the names involved in order “to protect the embarrassed.” But as he said, they’ll probably still recognize themselves. In a case involving trespass across land used for agricultural purposes.
Attorney: … my knowledge of agricultural operations is gleaned very passingly, so you may have to educate me a little bit … the mother—the cow/calf operation, those are sold in pairs?
Witness: No. Just the offspring is sold….
Attorney: So, you do your own breeding and then you’re just selling the offspring?
Witness: We have bulls that handle that operation.
Attorney: Very nice … you get credit for that this morning.”
Judith Sweeney, a Texas lawyer now enjoying life in Oregon, remembers a discussion she overheard years ago in Houston. Two attorneys were commiserating after a long day in court, and one stated that he’d made an absolutely brilliant objection.
Attorney: I object!
Judge: On what basis?
Attorney: Judge, it just doesn’t sound right.
Judge: (rubbing his chin): It doesn’t sound right to me either. Sustained.
EVIDENCE OF HERESY IN COURT
Bill Ibbotson, of Austin, now a retired public defender, recalls that during his decades of both prosecution and criminal defense work, he had his share of unhappy clients, witnesses, and defendants. But one time truly stands out.
Post-trial and post-sentencing, Bill’s unhappy client wrote U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks a letter, which the judge then forwarded to Bill, requesting an immediate response. Bill’s disgruntled client alleged that Bill had failed to object to two types of evidence.
Evidence of heresy. And although Bill did not recall church doctrine being an issue at trial, he did reply that all hearsay objections had been properly made.
Evidence of an apparition. This claim was more troubling for poor Bill and had him quite stumped. Finally, he responded to Judge Sparks thusly, “If I had seen the apparition evidence that was proffered, I would have objected to it."
Bill concludes, “This was evidently satisfactory to the court, but I am not so certain about the client.”
PAUPER'S OATH ON WILDLIFE
This marvelous tidbit was submitted by Don Stevenson, the chief municipal judge in Plano. The defendant sought to be declared a pauper so that he could avoid the requirements of posting an appeal bond and paying for a trial transcript. The defendant answered a set of questions about his assets with the painful truth.
Item 11. I do have a little jewelry; my wife and I each have a wedding ring, I have a sentimental ring and she has inexpensive [costume] jewelry. She had a nice 7-year-old car but … an uninsured deer caused a wreck.
An uninsured deer! A woodland creature that hadn’t yet succumbed to sales pressure from Progressive, Allstate, or Travelers? Perhaps there’s a bill pending in the Texas Legislature to apply insurance requirements to wildlife? Stranger things have happened.TBJ
is an attorney and award-winning writer who lives in Dallas and Jupiter, Florida. Her work-in-progress is a humorous murder mystery, The Judge’s Daughter. She can be contacted at email@example.com.