After the Anna Nicole Smith burial hearings that grabbed the nation by its nethers were over, I needed a bath. Hell, after that spectacle, the whole town needed a bath. In a tub of lye. Sadly lacking any caustic chemicals, I settled for whiskey in the place where the famous corpse was born: the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
I sat down among the large-screen plasma TVs in the casino bar and ordered a double shot of Jack. CNN was showing highlights of the hearings, focusing on Broward Circuit Judge Larry Seidlin's weepfest at the end. I looked across the circular bar and imagined that Seidlin was sitting there. It was like I could see that unmistakable tanned dome, that face like the bastard son of Dick Vitale and Robert Duvall.
Wait a minute. This was no 24-hour cable news network mirage. It was Seidlin. He'd come, surely, to pay homage to Smith. There was no way I wasn't going to ask him some questions, so I walked over, sat down one chair from him, and ordered another drink.
Judge Larry Seidlin
"What brings you out here, Judge Seidlin?" was my rather lame opening.
"Marilyn Monroe, Camelot, Knights of the Round Table, one for all, all for one, loyalty," he answered as if in a haze. "Anna didn't realize that life is a roller coaster. As we all know, it's got its ups and downs, and you hold on tight. It's unfortunate she didn't have the strength to fight the currents." *
Yep, it was Seidlin all right.
"Well, I'll give you this: That was one hell of a gripping hearing," I said. "But did you really have to delve so deeply into the sleaze? It was obvious she needed to be buried in the Bahamas before it started."
"I'm always going beyond," he said. "I'm always marching on."
"Yeah, but it seemed like you were angling for the spotlight. On the first day, you referred to Anna Nicole's slowly decomposing corpse as 'that baby' and said, 'This body belongs to me now. '"
"Not to be corny, but this is the only country in the world where you can start with nothing and end with something."
"I know, I know. You came from humble roots in New York and drove a taxi to pay for night law school at Hunter College. The whole country knows that now. And you wound up controlling the remains of a gold-digging, drug-addicted reality-TV star. But did it have to become such a circus?"
Seidlin obviously didn't like that. With real anger in his voice, he said: "There is no circus here, my friend. Don't use that term. It turns me off. Sometimes we were a little casual."
"A little casual? You spent half a morning talking about Virgie Arthur's job as a female deputy in Texas. We now know more about Larry Birkhead's personal finances than his own accountant. What did any of that have to do with where the body was going to be buried?"
"Now we're getting a little nitty gritty."
"Yes, but seriously, it seemed like you were trying to delve into the sleaze of this story just to get attention. They said you were auditioning for a TV show and wanted to be the next Judge Judy."
"Let's face it, money is the root of all evil," he said. "Am I wrong? Is there an honest man among us?"
"Did you have to drag the whole country into this sordid story to satisfy your own ego?"
I was actually getting a little angry, and he could obviously sense it.
"Instead of fighting, you should join hands because it's only in this country that you can join hands," Seidlin answered. "We gotta look like a poker player... or, to make it more poetic, we gotta be as silent as a Sphinx on the river Nile. I got a little Shakespearean there."
"What the hell are you talking about? A lot of people think you're a lunatic, judge."
"If you were alone in my chambers, my blood pressure would go up. Thank God it's OK... I want to leave here standing erect. I wanted to walk out of here healthy."
"Don't worry, I don't want to fight you, judge. It's just that it was so ridiculous, the whole thing. And it made Broward County look idiotic, as usual."
"I did a lot of talking, and the more you talk in this business, the worse off you are," Seidlin explained. "I may have bored you, but I at least wanted you to know what I was thinking."
With that, he began to weep. I figured he'd put down a few too many drinks. In front of him was a frozen red drink that looked like a daiquiri. The bartender, who looked as if he'd walked out of a damned fashion magazine, came around.
"Give me another," I said. "But hold off on the judge here. Looks like he's had enough juice for now."
As the judge wept, the bartender told me, "He hasn't had a thing, old sport. That's virgin."
"Oh," I said dumbly.
"This is life," Seidlin said, trying mightily to control his emotions. "We all come with broken suitcases. Not everybody here is the devil, are they?"
"I don't think you're the devil, Larry. I just didn't need to get your life story during the hearings. I didn't need to know you got your teacher's first-ever A-plus, wore all white outfits when you played tennis, had your first child at 50, any of that stuff."
"I've been listening to you, Mama. I feel for you, Mama."
"Good, but I wish you'd listened to the law and stuck with it. She would have already had her funeral by now."
"I run away from services. I can't stand a funeral," Seidlin said. "I don't get into the death part of it. I'm trying to stay alive."
"You see, it's like that. What does that have to do with what we're talking about?"
"You always want to limit my scope... but you're not writing this book," he said, as if trumping me in a card game. "It's not who talks louder; it's who signs the report card in the end. I remember what Halderman told Erlichman: 'We're in the wind... We're just pushing in the wind. '"
"Are you talking about Watergate now?"
Seidlin leaned back in his chair.
"I think I'm starting to understand you, as I did Stern," he said.
"That's ridiculous. You don't know me at all."
"The wheels of justice aren't always round. Sometimes they're square, where it's a bumpy ride, like the Wild West. And I'm not always going to be there with you."
"Why am I even trying with you?"
"Let's get through this day, and tomorrow will be different. You came because you believed this judge may be eccentric enough to get this done."
"This all sounds familiar. Why don't you answer my questions?"
"You're assuming I know stuff. I want the heart. That's what I seek. I want the fire trucks out there, I want to start putting the water on this fire. This is my time to pontifi "
"Hold on "
"Don't tell me to hold on. We're a civilized country, America. We have a rule of law, and we have a rule of decency. The rules are the rules of decency and humanity."
There was a thick pause in the air. Then Seidlin smiled, mumbled something about clearing the air, and said, "Now let's give this poor country boy a chance to ask some questions. I have a love of students."
"I'm not a student. I'm a newspaper columnist."
"Don't get slippery with me!"
"Do you need professional help?"
"I don't know what the right answer is here... I want to be able to sleep like a baby tonight. I have to adjust my thinking as the case unfolds."
"Sorry if the questions disturb you, but they need answers. I'm looking for some substance, something that means something."
"I don't want to get into the dark meat of the chicken here," he said wistfully. "I want it soft."
"It's not that easy, judge. The whole legal process was subverted here."
"Who's the villain? Who's the hero? There's black, there's white, there's a lot of gray... Marilyn Monroe, Camelot, the Knights of the Round Table, all for one, one for all, loyalty... "
"This is hopeless. You're just babbling now. I have only one more question."
"Everybody always has one more question," he said with a note of determination. "This is the one you'll never ask."
It was over. I couldn't take it anymore or maybe one of us wouldn't have walked out of that bar erect.
"I'm never going to talk about this case again," he muttered, becoming emotional once more.
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I polished off the drink and started for the door.
"Stay loose as a goose!" Judge Seidlin yelled as I began to wend my way through the slot machines.
By all rights, those should be the last words I ever hear Seidlin speak. But I have a feeling we'll see more of Judge Larry. More than any of us ever wanted.
* This quote, like all the words attributed to Seidlin here, was actually uttered by the judge during the Anna Nicole Smith burial hearings at the Broward County Courthouse.