In and Out

Oh my word. Oh my, oh my. I am looking at this. I don't want to see it. It just came in the mail. This is scary.

A couple weeks ago in the course of some reporting on Dallas County Judge Jim Foster, I asked his assistant, Bob Johnston, for a copy of the judge's appointment schedule for July. You probably think that's pretty nosy of me. It is. They pay me for my nose.

I had a reason for asking for it. Not important now. Johnston didn't give the schedule to me. My request had to go through the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. There is an explanation for that, sort of. Forget it. Not important now.

What's important now is this thing in front of me. I am looking at Dallas County Judge Jim Foster's appointment schedule for the entire month of July. Folks, it is empty. Except for a few little doodads here and there, his appointment schedule for the entire month of July is a white arctic waste. My eyes feel like they are trudging across the frozen tundra, searching for any sign of him.

I even hear that balalaika music from Dr. Zhivago, and I imagine that I am staggering through snow drifts with frozen tootsies and a big beard of icicles.

"Juuuudge Fooooster. Must find Juuuuudge Fooooster somewhere in this calendar."

You know about Judge Jim ("The Accident") Foster, right? He was elected to the top position in county government in November of last year in a Democratic Party sweep of county offices. Republicans were caught asleep at the switch by a tidal wave of Democratic voters, and many county officeholders were tossed out. One was County Judge Margaret Keliher, a young progressive Republican who had been considered popular.

Not popular enough. The wave swept over the county courthouse, and when the waters receded, a strange little man nobody had ever heard of, operator of a fire alarm company and far-peripheral political player, one Jim Foster, was sitting in the county judge's seat.

The immediate take on Foster, after he had presided over his first couple county Commissioners Court meetings, was of a man who did not know how to preside over county Commissioners Court meetings. When other commissioners attempted to explain niceties of parliamentary procedure to him, he stared back at them in numb furrowed brow befuddlement as if they were explaining quark-gluon plasma.

By now his reputation at the county courthouse has settled into that of a mysterious little man who is hardly ever there. As another commissioner put it to me last week, "He's in and out. In more ways than one."

Therefore I was much interested, when his work schedule finally arrived on my desk last week, to see what I could see. So now I'm looking at it. And I can't see anything.

Well that's not quite fair. A recurring entry on successive days throughout the month is for something called "Block." I e-mailed Bob Johnston and asked, "Is Block a person? If not, can you tell me what the term signifies?"

I was serious. How do I know? Maybe it's Dr. Block, his podiatrist. Or Rabbi Block. Or his clogging instructor, Chakka Block.

I didn't get an answer. In fact I asked Johnston several questions in a couple of e-mails and tried to follow up by phone but received no response whatsoever, which signals an even deeper retreat from the outside world by Judge Foster. Previously at least Johnston would e-mail me from the inner sanctum to say that the judge would have no response. Now apparently he's not even allowed to admit that he and the judge are in there.

I sure hope Johnston is in there and OK. I've known him for a long time, and he's a good guy. Eventually if this gets worse, I will insist that some kind of police agency go over there and drill holes in the wall.

"OK, Foster, we know you've got Johnston in there. Open the damn door!"

So on a Monday in this calendar, for example we have two entries: 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., "Block." Then noon to 1 p.m., "David Tessmer." From there on, it's a solid white-out.

Tuesday, 8:45 a.m. to 9 a.m., "Rev. Ted." From 9 a.m. to noon, "Commissioners Court." Glad that's on there. Then white space. Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., "Oak Cliff Lions Club." Balance of the day presumably devoted to rest and recovery.

Thursday, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., "Benefits Committee." Another tough day at the office.

Friday. From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., "Block."

You know, Block really could be anything, couldn't it? On the one hand, it could be special, intensive, sharp-pencil long-range planning sessions for county fiscal policy. On the other hand, it could be necrophilia orgies at the morgue. Or something between the two extremes. I just wish the judge would offer some precision.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze

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