Pattis-Norm ()

I am not going to demonstrate to skeptics that there is such a thing as a sub-conscious, or unconscious, mind. Some of you won’t need convincing; you already harbor the belief that things, even seemingly random things, often happen for a reason. But for those of you who regard Sigmund Freud as a quack, I’m going to silence you once and for all.


First an elementary proposition I ask you to take on faith: I am a congenital goof-off, meaning, I like time off as much or more than anyone I know.

My wife and I have three adult children, two of whom live in Seattle; the third lives in New York City. Each year about this time, my wife and I fly out to Seattle for 10 days or so to rent a house. We fly the New Yorker out to join us. We then hang out with the kids, eating good food, going for walks, watching movies, playing games.

I love these trips. It’s as though the hands of time were reversed. Suddenly, we’re all a happy pack once again. The kids come and go as they please, but choose to spend all the time with us their schedules permit. As the vacation begins, I am filled with optimism and joy at the thought of one day after another with people I love.

Too soon and inevitably, however, the vacation ends. The last day is usually a moping sort of affair, at least for me. Going back to work after a break is brutal. What trial is next? What brief is due? What clients have reacted to my departure with crises real and imagined? These worries pale by comparison to the grief I’ve never learned to bear with any sort of grace – saying goodbye to the kids.

This year was no different. If anything, it was a little worse.

A nagging backache kept me at the back of the pack on our walks. I watched the kids glide by and past me with a sense that the future was theirs. Gravity, or at least pain, was claiming me in ways I hadn’t noticed before.

But I tried to be brave.

A box of transcripts was sitting in the house, unopened. The plan was to read them in off moments. I fully expected to return to Connecticut to resume jury selection in a criminal case, and then to move right to evidence. A brief is due in the Second Circuit near month’s end.

I was surprised when our client chose to plead guilty, thus freeing me up to goof off a little more than I had planned. I never opened the box, but I did need to get the transcripts back home. Rather than pay to ship them, an expense proposition, I decided to carry them in our luggage.

I cut the packing tape away with a kitchen knife.

On departure day, a security official scanned my bag and told me he needed to search it. No problem, I said. Did I have anything sharp or dangerous in it? No, I replied confidently.

Then he pulled the kitchen knife from my bag. I was sure I’d be arrested on some obscure federal charge. (Or was that a hope of arrest?)

Never a dull moment, said my wife, the saint.

On the flight home, I hammered away at a separate brief, nearly finishing it, working without interruption on my laptop.

We got home without incident, until I reached for the laptop. It was gone! Missing! My brief evaporated! I’d lost several days’ work.

What am I to make of trying to board a plane while armed with a kitchen knife and then losing my laptop? The answer is obvious: I wanted to avoid returning to work, either by way of arrest or loss of the project I was working on. It was the unconscious sabotaging my waking world’s aspirations.

My computer ultimately turned up the next day at the lost and found. I was not arrested. I returned to work.

But my heart? I left it in Seattle with my kids. It happens every year about this time.

Norm Pattis is a criminal defense attorne and civil rights lawyer in Bethany. Most days he blogs at