Vice Squad: Friday Night Lights

Vice Squad here. A lot of folks have been asking what the requirements are to join the Squad. There’s one: You’ve got to be willing to get your hands dirty. And if you want to be the Bureau Chief like yours truly, you’ve got to be willing to get your hands real dirty. Even if it means causing collateral damage to the ones you love.

Which leads me to this past Friday night. Just as quittin’ time rolled around, the Editor-in-Chief of Abnormal Use Jim Dedman — called. I swore under my breath. This was not going to be good.

“Buck, it’s Dedman. I need Vice Squad on assignment. Tonight.”

“I’ll bet you do, Dedman.”

“Listen, playboy,” he says. “I don’t want any attitude from you. This is on a short fuse, and so am I.”

I chuckle at his melodrama. “I’m listening.”

“I need you for a special assignment. I need you to go to the fair — the Upper South Carolina State Fair.”

“Yeah, I’m familiar with the fair, Jim. But I’ve got better things to do. Why don’t you send your sister’s kids or something?”

“Not a chance, Buckingham. First of all, I love my sister’s kids. Second, I need professional boots on the ground. Unfortunately, you’re all I’ve got.”

“If it’s so important, why don’t you go?”

“Buckingham, don’t test me! You know I’m afraid of clowns! Besides, I’ve got a wine-tasting at The Commerce Club in half an hour. You’re going.”

“I’d love to, Jim. I really would. But I’ve already got plans with my girlfriend. Maybe next year.” I felt good about this response. The girlfriend card usually worked.

“That’s just it, Buck. She’s going with you.”

“Ohhhh no,” I protested. “Catie’s a good girl. She’s got an innocent heart. She can’t handle this. She’s from Massachusetts! She’ll never be able to handle a Southern fair.”

“She’s got to grow up sooner or later. Turns out tonight’s the night.” My blood was boiling. “You probably want to get there around 7. Oh, and Buck?”

“What’s that, Jim?”

“Be careful out there, Buck,” Dedman laughed as he hung up the phone.

God, I hate him.

I headed back home to break the news to Catie. At first she thought I was kidding. But as I explained this wasn’t a joke, Catie broke down in tears. “Please don’t make me do this,” she pleaded. “I’m sorry, honey. Dedman says we have to go.” Her tears were pouring now. “God, I hate him!” she cried. I know, baby. I do, too.

I do, too.

We got to the fair around 7 pm. Catie and I immediately made our first pass through the attractions. It smelled like funnel cake and cow manure. I was instantly taken back to my days as a young man growing up in East Tennessee going to the Appalachian Fair. Back in those days, I would look forward to August with eager anxiety. Not for the beginning of school. But for the arrival of the fair. I could not be kept off the Pirate Ship, the Gravitron, the Tea Cups, or whatever new ride had been set up for the sole and express purpose of making me sick. I couldn’t get enough. And neither could the tens of thousands of people who showed up from the “metropolitan” area. I use the word metropolitan in quotation marks because there is very little metropolitan in the Upper East Tennessee / Southwest Virginia / Western North Carolina area. The only more inappropriate word choice for my homeland would be cosmopolitan. But I digress.

So I used to ride the rides with reckless abandon. It was not possible for me to care less about who was operating these rides, or more importantly, who was assembling them. Had they received training in proper operation and safety procedures? Who was responsible for inspecting the rides? Was this a drug-free work environment? It didn’t matter. The only questions I cared about were: (1) how long was the line; and (2) did I have enough tickets. Beyond that, the only training I required of my ride operators was the taking of tickets.

Flash forward to Friday night. There I stood in the middle of the thoroughfare grappling with the more safety-conscious questions I never bothered to ask in my youth. I decided very quickly that it would take a lot of money—a lot—for me to get back on those rides today. In fairness, it probably wouldn’t take that much money for me to get on the Pirate Ship. It was probably more dangerous for me to be standing on the ground looking at it than to actually ride. By contrast, if you want me to ride the county-fair knock-off version of the Tower of Terror, you had better bring your check book and a deed.

After 30 glorious minutes of carousing at the fair, we decided we’d had enough of that and headed over to the demolition derby. I know what you’re thinking, ladies. Yes, I am that classy. And no, I am taken.

The derby was everything I had hoped it would be, and more. Ten cars entered the event—bearing names like Widowmaker, Doom, Kat Dog, Family Tradition, Trailer Park Bandit, and (crowd favorite) Christine. One car made it out. Let me take this to Serious-Town for a minute: Winning a demolition derby is an impressive feat. Whether you believe it or not, there is strategy. The best drivers will charge at their opponents in reverse. That way, the charging drivers can cause damage to the engine blocks or frames of their opponents without risking damage to their own. Consequently, some of the best cars in the derby are ones with long frames and low profiles. This is almost certainly something that Cadillac designers in the 70s didn’t think about when they made a car with lots of trunk space, but now, in 2011, it’s an extremely useful feature.

More than winning, though, the most impressive feat from Friday night was avoiding arrest. Yes, arrest. It seems there was an altercation during the demolition derby. For an event where motor vehicle collisions are encouraged, it is almost inconceivable that a collision during the race could cause a fight. But cause a fight it did. I’m not entirely sure what happened, and not surprisingly, eyewitness accounts vary. But after the first round, the driver of “Doom” got out of his vehicle and sat in his window Bo Duke style pointing back at one of the other drivers. I immediately rose to my feet. Catie turned to ask what was going on. Oh, dear, sweet, innocent Catie. If you knew anything about racing, you would know that when a driver gets out of his vehicle during a race, there is going to be a fight. It’s a law as universal as gravity. This law is true whether we’re talking about NASCAR, indy car, go cart, or Mario kart. It’s especially true when there’s pointing involved.

Friday night was no different. The driver who got pointed at eased himself out of his car and extended his arms in a “You want a piece of me?” gesture. Turns out, the pointing driver did want a piece of the other guy and went charging at him across the arena.

Now here’s a practice pointer for any would-be race participants out there. If you are ever driving your car and you find yourself in a situation where you have asked another driver if they want a piece of you, and the other driver indicates that he does, do yourself a favor: Do Not Remove Your Helmet. I have no idea whether racing helmets are designed to withstand crushing fist blows from opponents. But I have a sneaking suspicion that racing helmets are better designed for absorbing such blows than, say, the human face.

This information would have been helpful for the guy who asked if anyone wanted a piece of him. Like a gentleman, he removed his helmet before the fight. He then promptly received a swinging punch to the left jaw, which he took like a gentleman—a gentleman that had just been shamed with a fist in front of a live studio audience. The 2,000 or so in attendance collectively groaned “Ooohhh,” affirming the everyone’s belief that the punch did, in fact, look like it hurt. Then the crowd erupted in cheers.

Somewhere in this mess, the pit crews charged into the arena. This is never a good sign, yet simultaneously, always a great sign. More punches were thrown. Then the cops ran in. Again, the crowd went wild. South Carolina’s finest subdued one of the punch-throwers by twisting his arm up his back. It is at this point that I witnessed one of the greatest acts of bravery / loyalty / stupidity I have ever had the privilege of seeing. One of the pit crew (I think) charged at the guy who had been subdued by the cops and delivered a punishing uppercut—while the cops were holding his victim back. I wanted to scream “Finish Him!” and start typing in a code for a fatality but couldn’t find a gaming controller anywhere. Fortunately, the cops read my mind, grabbed that guy, and before anyone knew it had him cuffed and stuffed, ready for intake.

After that, the race was pretty mundane. Sure, there was a crash that nearly took down a light pole. And there was an oil fire. But you know, no big deal.

After the race, I looked at Catie and asked, “Well, what did you think of your first Southern fair?” Her response was two words: “I’m horrified.” Fair enough.

Vice Squad out.

Vice Squad: On Assignment in the Gulf

Dateline: 12:36 pm, CST, Saturday, September 3, 2011, Pensacola, Florida

Vice Squad here, on location from Florida’s panhandle. I’m on assignment this weekend with a bachelor party for an old friend, conducting field research into the depraved and licentious behavior of young American men bound for holy matrimony. This has required me to go undercover, to blend in with my subjects, to become one of them. Do I do this willingly? Of course not. I do it all in the interests of academic integrity and for the benefit of you, my dear reader. Mostly.

To be certain, I am exposing myself to a certain amount of danger in submitting this field report. As I write, I am sitting outside under the swirling clouds of Tropical Depression Lee. It is gently spitting rain and generally punishing this part of the world with a force equivalent to the cooing of a newborn baby. This weather event, touted as causing a current state of emergency, has prompted local residents to look to the sky and casually proclaim, “Meh.”

The greater danger comes from the circumstances surrounding the preparation of this very post. I’m among five of my closest friends. For a bachelor party. At a beachfront Florida town. On Labor Day weekend. On the first college football Saturday of the season. I’m sure you can imagine how popular I am right now, as I sit here preparing this post. I would love to share with you the things that are being said about me. But I can’t, not unless they’re heavily edited, and even then, I don’t think they’d make grammatical sense. So trust me, I’m enduring a significant amount of personal ridicule to file this field report.

Oh, look. The first round of kickoffs just happened.

The trip so far has been filled with observations about the products we depend on in our daily lives. I’ve highlighted five of those observations for your consideration.

1. Google Maps. We’re staying at my buddy Matt’s house in Pensacola. I’ve never previously been to this city, and frankly, had no idea how to get here or how much time it would take. These problems were quickly solved courtesy of the Google machine. Almost instantaneously, we had alternate routes available and estimated times of arrival. For the most direct route, 7.7 hours from Abnormal Use headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina. No sooner had we gotten this information from Google, something funny happened. We turned on Google. In the blink of an eye, the information provided by Google became an enemy. It was questioning our manhood. “Google says it will take almost 8 hours. That’s [redacted]. I bet we can get there in six and a half. Probably six.” The entire car agreed without hesitation. Literally one minute earlier, none of us had any idea where we were going. One minute later, after Google had shown us the way, we had unanimously voted that Google didn’t know what it was talking about. In fact, we saw Google as challenging us. The machine was daring us to beat its time. Challenge accepted, Google. We left Greenville at 5:45 pm.

We pulled into my pal’s Pensacola driveway at 12:30 am–6.7 hours after departure. Unfortunately, Pensacola is a time zone behind Greenville. It was 1:30 back home. We had been on the road for exactly 7.7 hours. Touche, Google.

2. Chick-fil-A. We decided to stop for dinner on the far side of Atlanta, and we decided there was no better place to recharge our batteries than the Original Chick-fil-A location. The original restaurant is in the Atlanta suburb of Hapeville, which backs up to the far side of the Atlanta airport. If you’ve never been here, you need to go. It’s everything you love about Chick-Fil-A, multiplied by everything you love about Waffle House. There’s table service, a full menu of side items like sweet potato souffle and mac and cheese, and it’s open 24 hours. This raises two important points. First, when I say “full menu,” I mean full menu. Specifically, they serve beef. At a Chick-fil-A. Riddle me that. The second point is even more staggering: it’s open 24 hours. Everyone knows that Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. And we have found ourselves on more than a few Sunday mornings wishing that our Creator would make a special exception just one time so we could get a chicken biscuit. Our prayers have gone wholly unanswered. This blew our minds, so we asked our resident Chick-fil-A expert and waitress Tammy how this works. Apparently, the original is open until 4 am on Sunday mornings (almost certainly a prime business time) and then closes until Monday morning. However, Tammy has assured us that she is putting a proposal together to see that the original will also close promptly at midnight. We’re fine with this and we support her efforts. After all, if not everyone can get Chick-fil-A on Sunday, then no one shall get Chick-fil-A on Sunday.

3. Automatic Vehicle Collision Detectors. We took my car to Florida. My car does not have an automatic vehicle collision detector, but I had the next worst thing: my buddy Nick. Somewhere on a quiet stretch of I-65, Nick saw a car on my rear quarter (the only other car around for miles, mind you) start to merge into me. Rather than inform me in a clear, cohesive manner that we were about to be involved in a mass fatality situation, Nick releases an incomprehensible cry that can only be described as the mating call of a yeti. It had been dead quiet in my car before, making his cry that much more alarming. I nearly wrecked from the shock value alone. The merging car moved back in its lane before anything more serious happened. Nick collected himself and explained that the car, at its closest point, was a mere inch away from us. Reports from other parts of the vehicle indicated that while we had a close call, it was nowhere near as close as Nick’s freaking out suggested. Certainly, if we were in danger, a collision detector would be useful, and the risk makes me wish I had the capability in my vehicle. But the fact of the matter is that even if I had a collision detector, Nick’s caterwauling would have drowned it out. Maybe a better feature would have been a cone of silence around his seat. This would have been useful for most of the trip.

4. Cigars. I love a good cigar, especially when I’m driving. There are certain risks involved, though, that are not for the untrained aficianado. First, you’ve got to be careful of where you ash. Hot ash in the lap is not pleasant, not as bad as a boiling hot cup of coffee, sure, but still, not good. Second, you’ve got to be careful about checking your blind spot with a stogie in your mouth, unless you just really like a trail of hot ash streaked across your window. Finally, in particular regard to stick shifts, if you’re pushing into third or fifth while holding your cigar, you’re likely to end up with ash in your cd player. Not that I know first hand about any of these problems . . . .  Moving right along.

5. Matt’s TV. Let me begin by saying that I am grateful for Matt opening up his home to us. However, Matt’s TV is a problem. To be fair, it is a large, flat screen manufactured by a reputable company (which shall remain nameless). And it’s designed for 1080p HD picture quality. Unfortunately, Matt is in a service area that can’t deliver that picture quality, so everything you watch ends up looking like a Tim Burton movie–animated computer graphics. The limited amount of football I’ve been able to watch while writing this post looks like Madden ’12. I say all this for 2 reasons. First, technology is great if there’s the ability to use it. There’s no point in having a Porsche if all the roads are dirt. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t Matt’s fault. He was relocated to Pensacola from an area that had the ability to deliver high picture quality. But second: now that you’ve moved, Matt, you’ve got to get a TV that doesn’t make everything look like it was made by Pixar.

As an epilogue, I understand that Matt is working on getting a new TV. His flat screen is mounted on the wall with an assembly that is rated to support 30 pounds. Matt’s TV weighs 90. This problem may take care of itself in the very near future.  In related news, I predict my next post will consist of live-blogging a TV falling off a wall.  I’ll be sure to write it with a view toward the post becoming admissible evidence, either in regard to Matt’s insurance claim or his wife’s murder trial.

This is the report from the field. Vice Squad out.

Vice Squad: Dopamine Agonist Agony

It was a slow news day at the world headquarters of Abnormal Use. Oh sure, the global economy was in the process of melting down. Washington had just created a super-Congress. And Tiger Woods was making a triumphant, yet underwhelming, return to professional golf. Yawn. But as the bureau chief for Abnormal Use: Vice Squad, I was looking for some fresh, products-based inspiration that toed the thin gray line between entertainment and decency. It’s a dirty job down here in the trenches, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. So as I’m sitting at the Vice Squad desk, I happened across a pharmaceutical litigation discussion board. I’d thought I’d stop in, just to see what I could see. Happily, what I saw was my inspiration for this post . . . .

Let’s take a quick poll. Imagine you have a condition that requires you to take medication that may cause certain side-effects. How far down the following list of side-effects would you go before you declined the medication, knowing – obviously – that you can’t pick and choose which side-effects you want?

(1) May cause depression.
(2) May cause compulsory shopping.
(3) May cause compulsory eating.
(4) May cause pathological gambling.
(5) May cause hypersexuality or sexually risky behavior.

Based on this list, some folks may choose to stay away from the meds. Others may look at the list of side-effects and think, all things considered, it’s not so bad. Personally, I can name eight people off the top of my head that have more than half of these side-effects and don’t even take medication. I’ll bet you can too. (Feel free to post their names in the comments.)

The side-effects listed above are alleged to occur in connection with drugs that use “dopamine agonists.” To be honest, I don’t understand what a dopamine agonist is; I don’t know what they do; I certainly don’t know how they work; and frankly, I don’t care to know. If you want to know, the best I can do is give you a link to the Wikipedia page and wish you good luck.

Based on my otherwise extensive research, meds that include dopamine agonists are commonly used to treat Parkinson’s Disease and – of all things – Restless Leg Syndrome. If the critics of dopamine agonists are right, a person could go to the doctor to get treatment for his jimmy legs and walk out with an unhealthy sex addiction, an urge to eat at Golden Corral, and the need to let it all ride on 17 black. This, of course, has prompted litigation.

One plaintiff claims that as a result of dopamine agonists, he developed a shopping compulsion and an eating disorder, went to Vegas without telling his wife, began adulterous relationships, and forged checks from his wife’s account. Other plaintiffs have made similar allegations a la that they began using dopamine agonists, that they began committing adultery, and that they would go gambling for days without telling their spouses where they were. See, e.g., Sweet v. Pfizer, 232 F.R.D. 360 (C.D. Cal. 2005). Again, this sounds exactly like people we already know.

A class action involving dopamine agonists and compulsive behavior was filed in Minnesota in 2006. The first case to be tried out of that litigation resulted in a jury verdict of $8.2 million. Charbonneau v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharma., Inc., C.A. No. 0:06–CV–1215 (D. Minn. 2006) (Note: Since there was no written order regarding the verdict, I’ve included just the case name and docket number, if you want to do more research.  Or you can just take my word for it.). The other cases in the class were settled soon thereafter. Other litigation has sprung up around the country, and in many jurisdictions, is still pending.

As someone who normally practices corporate defense litigation, I began wondering what kinds of affirmative defenses were raised in these cases. I had a feeling they could be entertaining. I was right. I’ve set my favorite affirmative defenses out below:

(5) Proximity to Gambling Outlets. This defense is obviously designed to attack causation: “The drugs didn’t make your no-good father / husband / son / boyfriend gamble; it was the fact he lived next to Caesar’s Palace.” It’s at least plausible.

(4) Personal Susceptibility. “Plaintiff has always been depressed / been overweight / had a gambling problem / been a womanizer.” This seems to tread awfully close to inadmissible propensity evidence, but for an answer to the complaint, that’s a non-issue.

(3) Utility. “The benefits of using dopamine agonists outweigh any negative side-effects that may occur.” This seems like a hard sell when the condition is something like jimmy legs and the consequence is something like bankruptcy, adult-onset diabetes, and a no-expenses paid trip to a sexual rehabilitation clinic where the best you can hope for is sharing a lunch table with David Duchovny.

(2) Bad Gambler. There are no bad gamblers; only bad luck. Motion to strike this defense granted.

(1) Act of God. Act of God? Are you serious?  Isn’t this the same God that condemns avarice, lust, AND gluttony? Is this for real? Yes, this is for real. If you don’t believe me, check out this document: 2006 WL 1829496 (Affirmative Defense No. 5). I would pay to see this defense in action. “And therefore, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, it was not dopamine agonists that caused the plaintiff to have illicit, extramarital sex and to bet on horses; it was God!” Statistically, you’d have 90 percent of Americans ready to punish you for even suggesting that God was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. The other 10% would be ready to commit you for suggesting that a figment of humanity’s imagination was responsible. It’s a losing proposition. But it does remind me of the seminal case, United States ex rel. Mayo v. Satan and His Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282 (W.D. Pa. 1971), which I’ve linked here for your reading pleasure.

I have two last observations. A quick bit of research on Westlaw yielded a number of decisions involving dopamine agonists, none of which came out of Nevada, which of course has legalized gambling and prostitution. How, if at all, this would affect the usefulness of “proximity to temptation” as an affirmative defense, who knows? But I thought it was an interesting bit of trivia.

Finally, in a number of the cases I looked at in preparing for this article, I couldn’t help but notice an interesting trend. Many plaintiffs alleged that as a consequence of using drugs with dopamine agonists, they developed hypersexual compulsions. In those same cases, there would usually be a spouse claiming loss of consortium. Go figure.