Living with Rose constantly exposed us to an unflinching example of a person living his life without compromise. Trivial events that most people would let slide set Rose off on prolonged campaigns of protest. He boycotted Pepsi because they got a monopoly in the county schools through what Rose believed was a bribe. He withdrew all his business from a local bank because a teller tried to charge him a dollar to cash a check. When a book order he'd shipped was returned because of an improper zip code, he created such a stir it eventually took a personal apology from the Postmaster General in Washington to appease him.
Not all his protests were boycotts or letter campaigns. If someone insulted Rose or gave him any guff to his face, there was trouble. "You don't go looking for a fight," he once said, "but if someone is trying to make you into a horse's ass, you let 'em know where the line is by whatever means necessary."
One evening after dinner I began a story about a client who had come in that day. When I mentioned the man's name Rose raised his eyebrows in recognition.
"Brakeman for the B & O?" he asked.
"Yeah. Do you know him?"
"In a way. I tried to stuff him into a roaring wood stove once."
Needless to say my story was forgotten as all eyes turned to Rose for the details.
"This guy is one of these people who's overwhelmed by sex. They think that's their whole purpose in life, and every minute they're not knocking off a piece is a waste of time. You can hardly stand being around them. They think everyone's got nothing better to do than listen to the sordid details of their pitiful lives.
"Well, one day I was getting gas at the station that used to be down there where the four-lane crosses Marshall Street. There were a bunch of guys hanging out inside the service station and this brakeman from the B & O is in there going on and on about sex--all the different women he'd had and all the ways he'd had 'em.
"There were a lot of young guys there from the high school, and he was getting them worked up, so I said to the kids, 'Hey, relax. You don't need to be obsessed with chasing women. The number of sexual contacts you'll have is already decided before you're born.'
"Well, this degenerate doesn't like me taking his audience, I guess. He says, 'What's the matter, Rose, you a faggot or something?'
"I didn’t bother saying anything, I just charged the guy and jerked him head over heels. Literally. Both his feet scraped the ceiling."
We all laughed, but Rose continued very matter-of-factly.
"It was wintertime, and there was a wood stove going in the corner. I had a bear hug on this guy, and I was trying to get his head into the stove, but I couldn't figure out how to do it without burning my hands, so finally I let him go."
My life would have contained a lot less tension if I could have just dismissed Rose as paranoid or overly confrontational. But the longer I lived with him, the more I realized that by never giving in to bullying in any form, Rose maintained complete control over himself and his life. And because he was always ready to fight, and die if necessary, to defend his principles, a lot of potential confrontations were averted simply because most people preferred not to mess with him.
Rose's belligerent stance was in apparent contrast to his admonitions that egos were the single greatest block to spiritual progress. On the one hand he exhorted us to stand up and be men. On the other, to drop our rooster egos and get real. Don't take abuse from anyone and be of humble service to all. It was a razor's edge I had great difficulty walking, or even understanding.
On weekends I often went out to the farm to help with the maintenance and chores. Usually I stayed in the main house, but sometimes I’d sleep in someone’s cabin. Rose allowed group members to lease lots on his farm and to build their own meditation cabins if they wanted to. There were a dozen or so cabins scattered throughout the woods.
Not everyone who wanted to lease a lot was allowed to. To ensure harmonious living, unanimous concurrence of all the other lot owners was required. As long as you were not out of favor with Rose, however, approval was generally given. You also had to agree to the lot precepts. Non-group members were forbidden to visit or even know about your cabin. Farm taxes were pro-rated to reflect the value of what you had built. And if you turned out to be too big a pain to have around, you could be kicked off the farm whether you'd built a cabin or not.
Eventually, I felt sufficiently committed to request a cabin site of my own, and sufficiently confident that my request would be granted. The site I chose was about a half mile from the farm house--close enough for accessibility but far enough away for privacy. It was also close to an old logging road, so building supplies could be transported to the site without too much difficulty. And best of all the land sloped gracefully to a small creek that provided me with the sound of water almost year round. I was very pleased with my choice.
When the time came, Rose suggested I hire Chuck, one of the farm residents, to build my cabin. I readily agreed. Chuck was a meticulous craftsman who had taught shop in high school. It took awhile to complete, but when it was finished I had the nicest cabin on the place. I began spending more time at the farm. Occasionally I took a week off work to stay in isolation in my cabin. Later I would work my way up to longer isolations--two, then three, then four weeks alone.
Rose had always recommended short periods of isolation for anyone serious about spiritual work. As a young man he’d bought what he later called his "back" farm strictly as a meditation retreat for himself. The time he spent there--reading, meditating, fasting--he recalled as some of the happiest and most spiritually productive times of his life.
He warned against too much solitude, however. In his opinion one or two 30-day isolations a year was about right. He believed that maximum spiritual progress was achieved through a blend of silent introspection and worldly life.
In my worldly life--my law practice--it seemed somebody was always trying to push me and there was nothing to do really but push back and hope I was at least holding my ground. I had a few victories and many defeats. No matter how well or badly things were going for me Rose continually emphasized effort for the sake of effort.
"A person has to keep working without worrying about results," he said. "You work because futility is futile."
Rose's whole life was a testament to this philosophy. I tried to live the same way myself, but I was never sure of my motives, or my relative success. Being the kind of lawyer Rose would approve of made my dealings with the judges and other lawyers almost always confrontational.
As my practice grew I seemed to be continually involved in cases that were decided by friendship, political influence, or outright corruption, and unlike my colleagues I could not simply shrug it off as "the way of the world," and go blithely on my way. I spoke up, accused, sued and counter-sued. I began to actually believe I'd become some kind of white knight fighting for Truth and Justice. Of course, brandishing this self-image around the courtroom alienated me even more from the rest of the legal community. But in the midst of everything I still hungered for an occasional slap on the back and a little of the professional camaraderie the other attorneys shared. Rose would hear none of it.
"Those people are snakes," he reminded me one night after I'd related a rare incident of cooperation with another attorney.
"I'm only treating the man as a friend," I said. "You've often said, 'There's no religion greater than friendship.'"
He pointed his finger at me and used it to punctuate his words. "Genuine friendship requires true rapport," he said. "Otherwise it's only a pretense of friendship--a convenient alliance of people who agree to excuse each other's weaknesses. The only thing you have in common with the courthouse gang is that you're all trying to rob the same corpse."
The distance I tried to maintain from that "courthouse gang" was never enough for Rose. His criticism filtered back to me through the guys at the farm, who told me Rose was of the opinion that I was "selling out."
This bothered me immensely, and when it came up in my conversations with Rose I defended myself to him by itemizing how many cops I'd sued, how many lawyers and judges I'd angered, how many people I'd represented for nothing. But somehow my loyalty and integrity were always in question. Verbal arguments or assurances were useless. With Rose, only action had substance, and somehow my actions did not impress him. He was convinced that I conducted myself as I did, not out of selflessness or commitment to Truth, but to satisfy my own egotistical ends, and that I was driven by a variety of unsavory motives and insincerities I had successfully hidden from myself. One night when I tried to press him for details about why I aroused his suspicions, he just waved me off.
"Circumstances provide each man with an opportunity to express his being," was all he would say.
At work the next day his words kept going through my head. I absently looked through the stack of files on my desk, each one, presumably, an opportunity for me to "express my being." As I evaluated each case in this light, I also struggled with the realization that I had already been expressing my being all along. The problem was that Rose and I saw that being in entirely different ways.
I had to admit that I had lofty ambitions and dreams of success. To think that these inner drives would not show themselves in my actions was a bit naive. I wanted to be a good lawyer--no, I wanted to be a great lawyer. I wanted to be a lawyer other lawyers would point to in admiration. I also believed that the best lawyers had the biggest egos. Their belief in their own infallibility drove them towards perfection in their cases, and juries allowed themselves to be led along by an attorney's confidence and flair. I knew that when I became deflated after losing a case or receiving some particularly pointed confrontation from Rose, I had a hard time getting fired up for the next battle. Working with both dynamism and egoless-ness was a balancing act I was not very good at, and I wondered at times whether I truly wanted to learn it at all. Perhaps this is what Rose wondered about me, too.
As it happens, two of the files on my desk that morning ended up being cases that not only offered me opportunities to express my being, but were also major turning points in my career. One case concerned an inmate on a hunger strike who had gone to court to prevent the warden from force-feeding him. The other was a grisly Christmas-eve murder at a local fleabag hotel.
As these cases developed I discussed them with Rose, as I did with most of my cases. In addition to enjoying the attention, I'd come to rely on his opinion in legal matters, even though he never seemed concerned with the laws involved.
In the hunger strike case, for instance, he said I should only be interested in the man's motivation. The inmate said he was protesting prison conditions. It made no difference to Rose that he was in jail for a brutal murder committed during a bungled kidnapping. It was of no concern to Rose whether prison conditions really were bad or not. For him there was only one criteria. If he was truly ready to die for a selfless cause, Rose said, then this inmate was a man of character and deserved my support.
In the murder case Rose was less specific at first. After I'd described a long list of almost indisputable evidence against my client Rose simply said he had a "hunch" the man wasn't guilty.
The press picked up the story about the inmate at the penitentiary. "Hunger Strike to the Death" was the page-one headline. On the day the judge was scheduled to hand down his decision, the courtroom was packed with reporters. Microphones from TV and radio stations I'd never heard of were shoved in my face. A reporter from the Pittsburgh paper was there, and all thoughts of ego-control and Rose's philosophy went out the window as I basked in the fantasy of my hometown friends and law school classmates--who snickered when I moved to West Virginia--now reading about me over their morning coffee.
That evening as the dinnertime chaos swirled around me in Rose’s kitchen, I excitedly awaited the evening news. When the time finally arrived, I shouted for everyone to quiet down. Rose looked at me and shook his head. The lead story was about the hunger strike at the prison. As I'd hoped, a film clip came on, showing the starving penitentiary inmate weakly shuffling into court to demand his right to die, and at his side, his concerned and somber attorney--David Gold, Esq. I experienced a thrill seeing myself on TV again, but was not too pleased with the way I looked on camera. The angle accented my large nose. The lights glinted off my glasses and made my eyebrows appear bushy.
"Boy, that inmate must be hard up for an attorney," Rose said. "He's got Groucho Marx for his lawyer." It was too perfect. The kitchen crowd fell out of their seats laughing as I smiled and nodded my head. At the end of the film clip the station cut to a laxative commercial. Rose used the break to turn to me.
"You know, I've been seeing a lot of you on television, lately," he said. "You remind me of a trained seal. They live for an audience. As long as somebody's watching they just keep performing, until finally they drop dead from the strain."
Outside the confines of Rose's kitchen, however, I began to be treated by colleagues and media with newfound respect. The judge had ruled that the warden's duty to keep order in the penitentiary overrode my client's right to starve himself to death. But since my client was in no immediate danger of starvation, the judge delayed enforcement of his order for three days to give me a chance to appeal his decision to the West Virginia Supreme Court.
During that time I got phone calls from reporters, attorneys, and inmates' rights organizations from all over the country and even the world. It began to look like the case could well end up in the United States Supreme Court. It was heady stuff, and despite Rose's constant reminders about my hair-trigger ego, I reveled in it. That's where it ended, though. A few days later my ticket to the Big Time succumbed to a bacon and egg breakfast pushed into his cell. The "trained seal" was left without a spotlight--temporarily.
By this time I had a partner in my practice, Lou Khourey, an attorney I met in Columbus during the Chautauqua tour. Lou was the monitor of the Columbus chapter of the Pyramid Zen Society, and Augie and I stayed at his house while we prepared the Columbus Chautauqua. Now, in addition to being my partner, Lou had also moved into Rose's house. Though only two years older than me, Lou was a generation ahead in maturity and dependability, and provided a much needed balance to my impulsive, high-strung temperament. Our first big case together was what became known in the newspapers as the "Christmas Murder."
The victim was a seventy-three year-old woman who worked as the desk clerk in a cheap hotel. Her body was discovered in the early morning hours of Christmas eve laying in a pool of blood in the manual elevator she operated for the patrons. She had been stabbed over forty times and the cash register was empty. Our client was Charlie Gordon, a black, middle-aged ex-con who'd drifted into town a few weeks earlier and had been staying at the hotel.
When the police arrived they sealed off the hotel and began a room-to-room search. Charlie, an alcoholic, was sleeping off a vodka binge, but was finally roused by the officers' loud knocking. He opened the door, then sat back heavily on his bed and watched in a daze as police filled his room. Based on a pair of blood stained shoes they saw in a corner, the police obtained a search warrant. Charlie's belongings were seized and sent to the FBI for testing. The results added to a long list of evidence pointing to Charlie as the murderer.
The fresh blood on his shoes was positively that of the victim, as were the gray hairs found on Charlie's coat. Wool fibers found on Charlie's hat matched those of the victim's sweater. And fifty dollars--in the same combination of coins and bills as the fifty dollars that was placed in the hotel register at the beginning of each shift--was found on Charlie's nightstand.
The deeper we got into the case, the worse the evidence looked. The friends Charlie had been drinking with on the night of the murder were certain that they drank until their money ran out, and nobody could explain how Charlie might have gotten the fifty dollars found in his room. Our own blood expert not only confirmed that it was the victim's blood on Charlie's shoes, but added that the "splatter pattern" indicated that the blood fell from above, destroying our theory that Charlie may have drunkenly stumbled upon the body.
Charlie himself was no help. He said he'd been drunk for five days before it happened and that he recalled almost nothing about that night--although he was sure he didn't kill the hotel clerk. Rose, who inquired about the case every evening, offered to hypnotize Charlie to see if he could get him to remember more about the night of the murder. From the beginning, Rose was convinced of Charlie's innocence, and no amount of evidence swayed him.
"The guy could have been set up," Rose replied one evening, after I carefully explained again how Charlie's blood-soaked shoes unquestionably placed him at the murder scene. "That hotel is a nest of thieves and degenerates. I knew a guy who stayed there once and he said the whores kept him awake all night knocking on the door. Your client would be a perfect pigeon. He's probably prison-simple from all those years behind bars, and he's got no friends or family to go to bat for him. I saw his picture in the newspaper. He's the kind of drunk who might grab a purse if he got a chance, but he's not violent. He reminds me of a dog I once had at the farm."
No matter how damning the facts, a trial lawyer has to believe that his case can be won. First he envisions a scenario he can argue to the jury with a straight face. Then he works madly to develop evidence to support that position, until the momentum of his own effort convinces him that the case really isn't as bad as it looks. This self-hypnotism keeps the attorney moving and motivated for awhile, but inevitably there comes a point when the bubble bursts, the hard truth sinks in, and he knows he's stuck with a loser.
Lou and I bumped up against that point of truth, that realization of hopelessness, early in the Gordon case, but we could never quite surrender to it because of Rose's oft-stated opinion that Charlie was not the murderer. Eventually, we came around to the beginning again and Rose's conviction became our conviction. In the face of overwhelming physical evidence that no lawyer in his right mind could ignore, we both nevertheless began to believe Charlie was innocent, and we were able to prepare our case with the energy and zeal of the righteous. As always, Rose constantly reminded us of the link between our efforts in the mundane world, and our spiritual destinies.
"You people have no idea how much power there is in spiritual effort," he said one night. "You've got too much ego as it is, but even so, you still don't appreciate what you could have going for you. When a person is willing to persevere for what's right--whether it's looking for Ultimate Truth, or keeping a man from getting railroaded--there's no limit to what he can do."
No matter how long and hard you've worked getting ready for a trial, invariably there are critical loose ends that can only be tied up at the last minute. I poured over police reports, Lou contacted forensic chemists, and our private investigator checked out every suspicious character who had been in the Rogers Hotel on the night of the murder. Most nights I stayed at the office, grabbing a couple of hours sleep on the couch. At dawn I would awake with a start, then get up and go for a run along the narrow ridges above Moundsville, trying to think of what we might have overlooked.
The night before the trial I went home to sleep in Benwood. I had barely seen Rose for a week and I looked forward to discussing the case with him one last time.
"So tomorrow's the big day, eh?" Rose said. "How does it look?"
"Not too good," I began, trying to prepare Rose for the worst. "They have all that physical evidence, and Charlie still can't explain where the money came from, or how the blood got on his shoes. The main thing we've got going for us is that the police quit working once they arrested Charlie, so there are still other suspects. We've also got a doctor who’ll say that Charlie wasn't physically able to do all the things the police said he'd have had to do if he killed that old lady."
Rose leaned back in his chair. "Well, it sounds like you've done just about all you can do. It's time to relax and let what's supposed to happen, happen."
I studied him to see if he was serious.
"It's kind of hard to relax when you've got a man's life in your hands. That's why we've been kicking over every rock." I intentionally borrowed one of his phrases to be sure he understood that I took this case as seriously as he did. But Rose was in a different mood.
"You never know what a man's destiny might be. If this guy's meant to spend the rest of his life in jail, nothing you can do is going to change that."
"But you said..."
"You have to act as if you can change things. Act as if your actions make a difference. That's the only way you can be sure you've played your part out to the fullest. But once you've given it a hundred percent, relax and let the gods work their magic."
The next morning I arrived at the courthouse feeling more confident than I had in weeks. In criminal cases, as in Rose's spiritual philosophy, the key word is "doubt." A defense lawyer isn't required to prove that his client is innocent. He need only cast enough of a shadow on the state's case to create a "reasonable doubt" in the minds of the jury. By constantly pointing out factors we hadn't considered, Rose kept Lou and me in a state of perpetual doubt. Now it was our turn to pass it on.
We hammered on the weaknesses of the prosecutor's case. If Charlie Gordon was the murderer, where was the murder weapon? An exhaustive police search of the hotel turned up nothing. What about all the other suspects the police had questioned, then ignored after they arrested Charlie? Isn't that where the murder weapon disappeared, with the real murderer who fled the scene? How could Charlie, so crippled that he needs a walker to get around the courtroom, have committed this brutal and physically demanding murder? By the prosecution's own account, Charlie would have had to run down to the lobby from the third floor--where the bloody elevator ride had ended--hop over the counter, rob the cash register, then run back up six flights to his room. Our medical expert said he was not physically capable of this.
This last point was the strongest. Whenever the details of the murder came up, different members of the jury would glance at Charlie, and the walker he had been using since his arrest. After the entire case was presented and the jury was being led away to consider their verdict, Charlie, who was standing, slipped from his walker and fell to the floor. Several jurors looked at him sympathetically.
While the jury deliberated, the week-long drama of the trial was put on hold and the opposing courtroom actors mingled on the set. Lou and the prosecutor discussed their golf games, Charlie joked with the deputy who guarded him, and we all waited.
Jury rooms are equipped with buzzers that ring back to the courtroom. One ring means they want to ask the judge a question. Two rings means they've reached a verdict. At eight o'clock that evening the buzzer rang twice. Files were gathered together, pop cans were hidden, ties were straightened and faces were adjusted to reflect our respective roles. The jury filed in.
My heart pounded as the verdict form passed from foreman to bailiff to clerk to judge and then back again to the clerk for reading. Charlie stood quietly beside me leaning against his walker, showing no more emotion than if he were waiting for a bus.
"We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty as charged."
Lou and I put our hands on Charlie's stooped back as he slumped into his seat in relief. We were surrounded by handshakes and congratulations. The handcuffs were removed. Charlie was a free man.
A couple of hours later Lou and I were sitting in our office, calling people who had helped, thanking them, accepting their compliments and wondering what we should do to celebrate. Neither of us drank, and yet clearly something was called for.
The phone rang and Lou answered it. It was Mister Rose. Lou laughed and talked for awhile then handed me the phone.
"I just wanted to congratulate you guys," he said. "I saw on the news that you got that poor guy off. Good work."
As we drove to Pittsburgh that night to celebrate with a late dinner at an expensive restaurant, Lou and I replayed the trial with a sense of awe and disbelief. "I can't believe it!" we kept saying to each other. "I can't believe it!" It was exhilarating.
A few days later, I received a call from the deputy who guarded Charlie during the trial. "Next time you're down by the jail, stop by, I have something to show you," he said, refusing to provide more details. I was curious, but it was almost a month later before I had the opportunity to visit the jail, and by that time I’d forgotten the call. As I passed by the control booth, however, that same deputy was on duty. He called me over.
"Come on downstairs," he said with a grin. "I've got something I need you to take off my hands."
I followed him down to the jail storage room. There, sitting among the guns and marijuana stalks and other pieces of tagged evidence, was Charlie Gordon's walker.
"We brought him back to the jail after the trial to get his things and he left this behind. He told us he wouldn't be needing it any more."
The deputy was clearly enjoying the expression on my face. I mumbled something to him as I took the walker, then rushed back to the office.
"What do you make of this?" I said, setting the walker down in front of Lou's desk. I repeated what the deputy had told me.
"Maybe the verdict healed him," Lou said with a smile.
"I'm serious. We worked like hell to get him off because we really thought he wasn't guilty. We convinced ourselves..."
"You mean, Rose convinced us."
"Whatever. We used our belief to convince the jury."
We sat in silence for a while. I noticed that Lou looked thoughtful, but not depressed or even disappointed.
"So what do you think?" I asked.
Lou still didn't reply for a minute or so. He is a very private person and it takes a while for his thoughts to find their way to the surface. When he finally spoke it was in slow, deliberate tones.
"It's like Rose said, our job was to extend ourselves to the fullest and then let whatever was supposed to happen, happen. And we did that. We got caught up in the case, and for the first time pushed past what we thought our limits were. We went beyond them and now we have new limits to shoot for. I was prepared to accept the verdict if we won, or if we lost. Or even if we won when we should have lost."
"But we did it all so a guilty man could go free."
"We still don't know who killed that old lady. We played out our parts, and left the rest up to God."
The clarity and conviction with which Lou expressed his thoughts was reassuring, but I needed to talk to Rose. I cleared a few things off my desk then headed home.
Rose had been working on a new book the last few months, a compilation of his lectures eventually published as The Direct-Mind Experience, and when I got home that night he was listening to tapes of some of his talks. It was late in the evening before I got the chance to tell him about Charlie's walker.
"Yeah?" he said, almost absently, squinting at a small clock on a shelf at the other end of the room. "It doesn't really matter. I didn't like the way the cops were trying to railroad him anyway."
Then he got up, switched on the eleven o'clock news, and left me to my thoughts. That was the last we discussed it.
I didn't have much time to ponder the lessons, if any, of the Gordon case. "Success breeds success," Rose often said, and Charlie's acquittal had definitely taken our practice up a notch. More and better cases walked through the door. The local bar grudgingly accepted that we were in it for the long haul and began to leave us alone. And most surprisingly, the judges started appointing us to high profile cases, which kept us in the public eye.
I was, as usual, easily disposed to getting an inflated ego, to believing that "I" was responsible for our increasing success. Rose, as usual, did his best to control the swelling.
"I'm a firm believer in fattening up the head before you chop it off," he remarked one night as I stared overly-long at my picture in the evening paper, "but it's getting so we're not going to have an ax at the farm big enough to handle the job."
Lou and I moved into a new suite of offices with two secretaries, a well-stocked library, and separate bathrooms for men and women. We began to resemble successful lawyers, and the temptation was there to begin to act like them, too.
As for Rose, I doubted if anything could ever tempt him. His immunity to enticements wasn't so much a matter of will power as indifference. Watching him, I realized that his detachment was a major factor in his remarkable intuition, which was in turn the key to much of his power.
"Intuition won't develop as long as you're obsessed with something," he told me once.
Mister Rose desired nothing so he perceived what was really there, not what he wanted to see. And often, as in the Charlie Gordon case, he seemed to see beyond what was there, as well--beyond the "small-t" truths he so ardently urged us to value in our daily affairs, and into the great matrix of indifference from which all creation is formed.