by Jim Foreman
With the aid of a pair of genuine Army-issued crutches, Tom Davis hobbled out of the military hospital with a disability discharge in his pocket. Along with the discharge came a promise that he would receive a check for $320 from the Army each month for the rest of his life as payment for turning his feet into stumps. That fall, he enrolled as a graduate student in the Psychology Department at Berkeley, where his troubles had all begun a year before.
Tom no longer took part in the daily protest marches but he did allow his hair, beard and general appearance return to its original condition. He applied himself to his studies and two years later, received his Doctoral Degree in Psychology. He considered going into private practice, but since he had been associated with colleges for so long, he decided that he would rather teach.
Davis sent his resume, photo and application to a number of colleges across the nation but the only positive reply which he received was from a small, private college in San Francisco, known as the Golden Gate College. The college lacked the prestige of larger and better known colleges, however they paid better than average and catered to the more wealthy students. He accepted the offer and made his first appearance at a general meeting of the regents, officers of the school and faculty.
On a raised dais at the back of the stage sat the seven regents who controlled the purse strings, politics and policies of Golden Gate College. They were all wealthy businessmen from the San Francisco area, and all hand picked by T. Thornton Taylor, Sr. for their dedication to the preservation of wealth and the American way of life.
Seated in two rows of folding chairs, just below and in front of the regents sat the various officers of the college, each of whom answered to the President of the school and he, directly to the regents. Seated in the auditorium was the faculty, general administrative people and all other employees. Every person who drew a check from the college was there, even down to the janitors.
The President stood to welcome the people of the Golden Gate College to another academic year, after which he introduced the seven regents, followed by an introduction of the officers who were seated on the stage. When he returned to his seat, several of the officers took their turns to make speeches concerning their particular areas of interest.
While the Dean of Men was speaking, T. Thornton Taylor, Sr. leaned forward and tapped the President on the shoulder, "Who or what is that thing, next to the aisle about five rows back?"
The President looked at the seat indicated by T. Thornton and saw what appeared to be something which had escaped from a hippie drug raid in the Haight-Asbury section. From their vantage point, they could see that he was wearing army combat boots, blue jeans with holes in the knees and a faded T-Shirt which proclaimed, "Save The Whales". A pair of crutches lay on the floor beside his seat. There was no way to recognize the face under all of that hair.
"I don't know, perhaps a janitor," whispered the President, "But I'll certainly find out."
"Do that and get his ass off this campus before the sun goes down," replied T. Thornton. "I won't have something like that hanging around Golden Gate. He might become a bad influence on some of the students."
Half an hour after the meeting ended, Tom Davis leaned on his arm crutches in front of the President. "So you are the new Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department," he said more as a statement than a question, as he scanned the personnel file in front of him. "You certainly look nothing like the photo which you sent in with your application."
"Probably because that was taken just after I got out of the Army," replied Tom.
"Well, Doctor Davis, this is a very exclusive college. We accept only the highest caliber of young people as students and expect our faculty to maintain their personal attire and grooming habits in keeping with the standards of such an institution. Let me say that you certainly do not fit the image which we try to project."
"It isn't what a person looks like, but what he is that makes the difference," replied Tom.
"What one looks like certainly has a bearing on whether he will be allowed to teach at Golden Gate," said the President.
"Are you telling me that I have to put on a Sears Roebuck suit and look like an encyclopedia salesman if I want to teach here?" asked Tom.
"You were hired on a probational basis for the first year and you will be expected to conform to our standards, not only in appearance, but in lifestyle as well, if you plan to remain at Golden Gate," he replied.
"I don't know if you realize it or not," replied Tom, "But that demand is an invasion of my legal, constitutional and personal rights."
"Mister T. Thornton Taylor, the head regent here at Golden Gate told me to have you off this campus by the end of this day, but I decided that since you were new here and possibly didn't understand our strict standards, I would give you an opportunity to adjust. Since you do not seem inclined to do so, you leave me no alternative other than to inform you that your association with Golden Gate is terminated as of this moment and you will be considered to be trespassing if you remain on the campus or return to it. Good-bye, Mister Davis, this meeting is ended."
A few days later, the President of Golden Gate called T. Thornton on the phone, "We received a letter from a lawyer who is representing Tom Davis, that hippie-looking character who you told me to fire. He says that they are going to sue the school for ten million dollars."
"What's that lawyer's name and how long is his letter?" asked T. Thornton.
"His name is L. Bertrand Noland and his letter is five pages long. "Why do you ask about the length of his letter?" replied the President.
"Simple, the longer the letter that a lawyer writes, the less sure that he is of his case," replied T. Thornton. "I'll handle this matter for you."
The thin folder in a red cover arrived from the research department within half an hour. T. Thornton read its contents. "L. Bertrand Noland, Attorney. Graduate of International Correspondence School of Law. Failed bar examination eleven times before passing. Small office upstairs over a meat market on 3rd Street. Rent $300 per month, two months behind on rent. Represents mostly personal injury and slip-and-fall cases in department stores. Been in court twice, lost both times."
T. Thornton buzzed his secretary, "Get a lawyer by the name of L. Bertrand Noland on the phone, but keep him on hold for about five minutes before you buzz me."
The phone buzzed and he picked it up, "Noland, this is T. Thornton Taylor. I understand that you are representing a fellow by the name of Tom Davis in an action against Golden Gate College."
"Yes I am. Mister Davis is a crippled Viet Nam War hero with an impressive military record. The college violated his rights when they unjustly fired him, and I am going to see that he gets what he deserves," replied lawyer Noland.
"I see," said T. Thornton. "That's why I am calling you, to see if we can settle this case out of court and avoid a long and costly trial. Do you have any figure in mind?"
"I'll have to talk with my client, but I think that I can probably get him to agree to a quick, out of court settlement for somewhere around three million dollars."
"Tell you what, Noland. You tell your client that the college will pay him five thousand dollars for his trouble, plus another five hundred for your fee. I'll not have you clipping him for a third of his money for writing one insulting letter. If that isn't agreeable, then file your suit and I'll see you in court, which will be at least five years from now if it ever gets there. If the case should ever go before a judge, I'll be there to whip your ass nine ways to Sunday." He smiled as he hung up the phone, saying to himself, "Ten minutes is the longest that I will give him to call back."
Exactly seven minutes later, the phone rang, "How soon can we have our money?" asked lawyer L. Bertrand Noland.
T. Thornton buzzed his secretary, "Call the President of Golden Gate and tell him that I settled his ten million dollar lawsuit out of court for fifty-five hundred dollars. He is to write one check to Davis for five thousand dollars and another to his lawyer for five hundred. Then have our accounting department bill Golden Gate College for ten thousand dollars for my legal services," he said.
"What the hell," said Tom Davis. "Five thousand dollars is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick." He spent most of the money to buy a used pickup truck with an overhead camper mounted on it. He pointed the pickup southward on Interstate 5, saying, "I'm going to keep driving till I come to a place where the weather is warm, pot grows good, the Tequila is cheap and I can live on $320 a month."