Don’t ruin your reputation with cheap cologne.
May 3, 2016
I WAS ONCE APPOINTED to represent an habitual criminal in a criminal case. He stood charged with robbery and because of his prior convictions faced 5-99 years in the state penitentiary.
Let’s just call him Ralph.
I went to see Ralph in the jail. He was a man who wouldn’t harm a flea, but had a bad habit of shoplifting. On the occasion in question, he had visited a local Wal-Mart where he proceeded to the perfume aisle and stuffed bottles of cologne into his pants. He hoped to avoid detection, make it outside and then sell his purloined goods on the street.
Because Ralph had become somewhat notorious for this sort of caper, the folks at Wal-Mart had an eye out for him. A female security guard tried to stop him on his way out the door, and Ralph pushed her away and ran across a busy street into a wooded area. He was arrested a short time later. The police retrieved a large stash of cologne bottles from the woods and kept them for evidence.
The DA charged him with robbery because of the tussle he had with the security guard. Otherwise, it would have been simple misdemeanor theft.
So, I had an intake sheet with me that I always filled out in my initial client interview. I went through the basics about name, address, etc. Then I reached the last question on my sheet: Do you have a street name? I always thought it made sense to know what people called my clients, because often it wasn’t a person’s given name. This came in handy when I was looking for witnesses and character references.
Ralph looked at me, then down at his hands, before he answered.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Woodfin. They call me Cologne Man.”
I said to myself this case is going to be harder than I thought.
Let’s talk a minute about writing realistic courtroom scenes for fiction. This one almost writes itself. Give your characters a “street name” and somewhere along the way explain its origin. But I warn you, I doubt you can beat the moniker Cologne Man.
As a final note, it strikes me that there is another lesson here. As writers, people who use social media, or just plain old ordinary folks, we often don’t know our street names, the names people call us when they talk about us to other people, or when they run across us on Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, or any number of other places.
It takes us months and years to establish our reputations. Why squander all that time and effort over a bottle of cheap cologne?
Stephen Woodfin is the author of The Revelation Trilogy, all about squandered chances and ruined reputations.