Back To Law Matters | Fall 2014

A View from the Bench

“So, how often do you wear that?”, asked one of my colleagues as we stood in the beverage queue at a recent conference banquet. It was evident he was referring to the tux I was wearing, and my first thought was that my work of the last 45 minutes before I left my room had come to naught, and bits and pieces were falling out as we stood there.  A quick look down at the shirt studs told me that all accessories were present and accounted for, and that this was just a general inquiry as to why I chose to look like a waiter.

Perhaps I should explain my initial wave of panic.

I had attended this judges’ conference without Gloria who views attending conferences as a spouse as an event ranking slightly below root canals on the “fun” scale.  I assume she means the phrase “as a spouse” to be a generic term, and that she does not mean specifically “as my spouse”.  I should ask... and maybe I should leave well enough alone.

In any event, there I was at this event, unsupervised, and faced with the task of getting into a tux for the formal dinner.  Generally, one would draw the inference that judges, who are entrusted with the awesome responsibility of deciding if people must go to gaol, are capable of dressing themselves.  The fact that we can get into judicial attire each day is credible evidence in support of the inference.  Indeed, one of my singular accomplishments after 24 years on the bench is that I can put on cuff links with one hand.  I am reasonably confident this fact alone would provide great comfort and confidence for the public appearing before me.

So, I rather thought that I could pull off putting on a tux (pull off…putting on…no wonder people find the English language a challenge to learn).  I had taken the appropriate precautions before I left the safety of home: (1)  I checked to see if the thing still fit... there is a shrinkage problem of endemic proportions with clothes in my closet... I blame global warming;  (2)  I ensured that the fancy shirt was back from the cleaners; and (3) I actually remembered to put the tux, shirt, and accompanying hardware into my suitcase. I thought this set the scene for success.

Cocktails were to commence at 6 p.m.  You will recall that “cocktails” is a term often used to describe that part of the evening when one stands in an ill-defined queue, which has all the class and ambience of a soup-kitchen for the indigent in the Great Depression of the 1930s, for the  purpose of purchasing a beverage of limited choice, the price of which seems to have been set by someone trained in the Russian black-market. I digress.

At what seemed an adequate and reasonable time before the designated hour, I commenced my campaign to get into my tux.  Cuff-links were a breeze (see above); suspenders were a bit of a challenge as I tried to keep all the straps from twisting (note to self:  do not take up the vocation of parachute packing); the cummerbund was fine save I can never determine when it is upside down or right side up; and the bow tie posed no great difficulty since I have never been such a purist as to actually tie my own.

No, all that was manageable.  It was the blessed shirt studs which threatened to be my Waterloo (with me playing the part of a non-French speaking Napoleon).  I start by observing that there were (and still are)  perfectly good, cooperative, and serviceable buttons on the shirt.  However, I had these three shirt studs which I am told are expected in polite society.  Each one has a spring operated, retractable arm which is supposed to fit through both button holes while retracted, and then be released so that it prevents the stud from falling to the floor.  Great theory.

I twisted  and turned the thing. I got it through one hole only to have the spring release before I was able to breach the second hole.  I got it through both holes only to have it come  back out because I did not get the arm turned perpendicularly to the hole fast enough. It perversely came out much easier than it went in.  Meanwhile, I was working up quite a sweat  with both my body temperature and blood pressure rising at a heady rate, while the civility of my language plummeted.  And that was just the first of these little darlings.

Twenty minutes later, the score was Shirt Studs: 3; Allan: 0.  My shirt front was now wrinkled and crushed from my increasingly frustrated efforts to accomplish what I recalled Gloria easily and quickly achieving on other occasions (that memory did nothing to improve my humour or dexterity). The perspiration-drenched shirt looked as though it had been used as a substitute for bubble wrap by someone shipping bone china.  

However, just as I was about to admit defeat and foreswear polite society, whatever force of Nature was tormenting me found my exertions no longer entertaining, and I was able to get all three studs in place by pushing their beady, insolent, little black heads up through the holes.  It wasn’t pretty, it probably wasn’t orthodox, but it worked, and off I marched, battered and wrinkled, but not defeated.

Consequently, when I was waiting for a well-earned drink and was asked how often I wore a tux, I was certain that the shame of my incompetence was written all over me, or that one or more of the studs had done a runner.  I was most relieved to learn that all he wanted to know was why I chose to look like a waiter…because it is so much fun, of course.

he Honourable Judge A.A. Fradsham is a Provincial Court Judge with the Criminal Court in Calgary. His column "A View From the Bench" has been a highlight in Canadian Bar Association newsletters for over 15 years.