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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Eccentric people I've known - Part One

You might wonder what the above picture is about. Well, you know I'm going to tell you.

I don't know why but at some point today the old adage "a pound of flesh" flashed in my head. That led to the memory of a man who I knew years ago that deserves to be in the upper echelon of the "Eccentric people I've known" category.

This man (we will call him Larry) was an architect AND an attorney back home in Memphis. His wife was an architect and an interior designer. His daughter was an attorney.

I met Larry when I worked for the first attorney I ever worked for way back in 1990 or 91. My attorney represented a stripper who fled the strip club in her car and was chased through the streets of Memphis by her boss in his car. She stopped at a light and he didn't causing him to crash his great big pimp mobile into her little bittie stripper car. Needless to say, she sustained injuries in the crash. He refused to pony up and she sought legal counsel (my boss).

One day, Larry walked into our office. He was an older man (in his late 50's or early 60's) with gray hair that hung down his back. He was gaunt and dressed as if he hadn't changed clothes since at least 1964. Our office was on the street level at the corner of Main street and Adams so we were accustomed to vagrants walking in the doors and begging or simply staggering in not knowing where the hell they were so when I saw Larry walk in the door, I thought he was a vagrant and got up from my desk to escort him back outside. But then he introduced himself to me and told me that he represented the strip club owner and that if we knew what was good for us, we'd drop this matter and mind our own business.

My boss, being the junk yard dog that he was, promptly called our client and fired her. Larry, being satisfied gave me his card and told me if I ever wanted to work for a real attorney to give him a call.

My boss and I sat in his office for a while after Larry left and he regaled me with stories and urban legends about Larry that had circulated Memphis for years. I thought them all too fantastical to be true so I made it my mission to find out. Below are my findings:

Legend number 1.
Larry owned a modest ranch style house on Mendenhall that he rented out to whomever had the cash in their hands to give to him. Needless to say, he kept the house full of destructive partying college students, drug dealers, crackers and the like. The neighbors would tolerate it just so far and then they would get together and petition the courts to force Larry to evict the offenders of the month.

A couple of years before I met him, Larry got into a very heated disagreement with the company from which he rented his office space and decided to turn the house on Mendenhall into his and his wife's offices since it was zoned both residential and commercial. It was in a very visible location on a very busy street with plenty of parking available (he had poured concrete over the front yard so he wouldn't have to make sure his tenants mowed the lawn which was another one of the neighbors complaints). However, the simple one level ranch house just didn't have the umph that was necessary to be his office space SO he set about re-designing the house to make it more suitable for their offices. Several years went by. He had taken the roof off the house and had framed in a massive upstairs addition complete with a turret-type thing on the roof (on a ranch house - what a sight!) but then for some unknown reason, he stopped working on it.

And for about 5 years the neighbors were faced with this topless monstrosity whenever they returned home from work. SO they again circulated a petition asking a Judge to either tear it down or force him to finish it in a style that behooved the rest of the neighborhood so as to not lower their property values.

Larry's solution was to buy all of their houses. He bought about 30 of the houses on and near that intersection and the neighbors moved away. End of problem for Larry. Then he let THEIR houses sit empty for a couple of years. I guess he didn't want to deal with renters?? For nearly 10 years whenever you would drive down Mendenhall you were greeted with a nice street filled with modest homes whose lawns were immaculate. It was a pleasant drive until you reached Larry's block. On the right side were nice houses that were well taken care of and then you turned to the left and there was Larry's block of empty houses with overgrown lawns and the last house on the left was Larry's never finished office/ranch house.

Finally the city took action and Larry finished his office space (picture above) and rented the houses around it out on a "lease to own" basis which made him even richer.

Lease to own was a very popular scam in Memphis for years and years. The owner would put a price on the house (we'll say $100,000) and he would demand 20% down and then would owner finance the rest of it at an enormous monthly amount with 20% of your payment (and the down payment of course) going towards the principal and you were responsible for all repairs and/or renovations. So if you stayed in the house for about 75 years, you just might get it paid off. Don't want that - there's no profit if they stay, so owners like Larry would get folks with the worst credit in the world (don't know where they got the $20K to put down) and sure enough he could turn the house over again and again. It should be noted that if you lost the house, you didn't get your down payment back. Nice gig.

The photo above shows you what the house looked like after he was finished with it. Today the house is actually for sale listed at $149,000. I have actually been inside it both before and after he finished with it and I have to say it is VERY nice inside. The atrium is to die for! Lovely inside.

Legend number 2:
When Larry's daughter passed the bar, she went to work for her dad. Now I have heard several different versions of why she and her father got into a very heated and protracted argument that eventually landed them both in court in adversarial positions but the end result was that she won and Larry lost.

Now it should be said that when the argument started Larry's weight had blossomed up to about 300 pounds but by the time the case went to trial, Larry had lost so much weight that rumors were rampant around town that he either had AIDS or he was on drugs because he lost all that weight in a flash!

As a side note, he later bought into the company that marketed the diet pill he used and again made a ton of money. Once the FDA started making noise about pulling it, he was quick and smart enough to see the proverbial writing on the wall and sold his shares so when the company went belly up - Larry was still sitting pretty.

Anyway, after he lost the case to his daughter (who, I might add, was still practising law with him) he decided to go to a plastic surgeon to have all the excess flab removed. He had the doctor save a pound of it.

After he had recuperated, he took the pound of his flesh and he Fed-exed it to her with a note that simply said "Here is your pound of flesh". Larry was very nearly disbarred over that one! Didn't phase him. He got a chuckle out of it and didn't take the whole possible disbarment thing too seriously since it wasn't the first (nor the last) time he had been threatened with that.

At some point, I got into the habit of dropping by to visit with Larry whenever I was in his neighborhood. He was just such fun to listen to and he loved an audience.

Legend number 3:
Larry represented a client in divorce proceedings. His client's spouse was murdered prior to the completion of the divorce. (Rumors flew all over town about that!) Larry's client was a suspect in the murder and Larry was aware of this. With the assistance of a lock company, Larry entered the deceased's home without the authorization of the court or the owner of the residence and removed certain personal property. During the criminal investigation, Larry did not initially admit taking certain property, but in a later deposition acknowledged doing so.

Another sanction by the Board of Professional Responsibility. He was banned from practicing law for a while but continued to do so and actually served a tiny bit of jail time as a result.

Legend number 4:
Rumor has it (and Larry did not refute this nor affirm it. When I asked him about it, he simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled at me) that Larry made his fortune representing local mob figures.

It should be noted that until probably the early part of the new millennium Memphis had a fair amount of mobsters who were very active and visable. There were a handful of attorneys in town (and we all knew who they were) that made their names and fortunes representing these guys. No one thought anything about it to my knowledge. Mobsters were something Memphis had always had and like Elvis and Beale Street, it was just part and parcel of life in Memphis. Everyone took it in stride and didn't give it another thought.

My daughters best friend all through school was the son of a prominent mobster lawyer. When "Aaron" turned 16 one of the mobsters delivered a brand new paid in full Jaguar to his house for him to drive. Of course before his dad would allow Aaron to drive it, he had a bomb expert sweep it to make certain it was safe. Doesn't everyone have to do that?

I know the above legends are true. There are other legends that are much more colorful and enticing about Larry but I think I'll stop with the ones above. The others could land me in some really hot water. As much as Larry likes me, he would have no qualms about taking swift action against me should I divulge any legends that weren't fluff.

I miss our chats and wish I got back home more often so I could sit in his office and listen to him for an afternoon.

But that's just me.

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