Dershowitz Overexposed

My wife frowned. "What's wrong?" I asked. "He's so loud. I can't read," she said, tossing her book aside. She glanced over at the short man a few feet away. He was pacing back and forth and talking on his cellular phone. "Please! Who would bring a phone to the beach?" she said, shaking her head.. Alan Dershowitz, that's who, and let me tell you, it wasn't a pretty sight. There he was, America's most overexposed lawyer, parading before my wife in all his glory, wearing nothing but a Legionnaire's cap - the kind with the droopy flap in the back. We were sitting on a beach in Chilmark, Mass., where the Dershowitzes are regulars, so spotting the freckly defense attorney without his briefs wasn't cause for much fanfare. But the beach was crowded, and Dershowitz and his small entourage had set up camp at our feet. I didn't exactly pull out my notebook, but I was taking it all in. When they first arrived, the Dershowitzes spent the better part of an hour trying to assemble a goofy purple wind screen. Dershowitz's second wife, neuropsycologist Carolyn Cohen, a tall, slender woman in her early 40s, clearly has some mechanical aptitude; just as it seemed Alan was going to kick the damned thing into the ocean, Cohen sent him for a walk and quickly snapped the wind screen together. "I hope she forgot to pack his weenie cream," my friend John groaned as he watched Dershowitz striding confidently along the water's edge. He was referring to the purple-tinted sun block he'd seen the lawyer painting his privates with a few days earlier. "I hope she didn't get him a big tube -- he'll never use it all," John said, finding himself very amusing. I try to tell him it's not nice to stare at your fellow naturalists, but he gets a kick out of naked famous people. So do I.The Dershowitzes had company with them, a younger couple, possibly one of his kids from his first marriage and his or her spouse. They sat quietly and looked out at the water. But soon the famed attorney had been spotted, and it was tough for the rest of us to get much peace and quiet. All afternoon, a slow but steady parade of visitors -- some friends, others obviously star-struck gawkers -- stopped by to talk to Dershowitz. After thanking a middle-aged woman for her kind words about his autobiography, Chutzpah -- "It changed my life," she gushed -- Dershowitz pulled out his cellular phone and resumed his pacing. That's when my wife started to frown. "I mean, really. Who brings a phone to the beach," she said again. If Dershowitz didn't hear her, he must have felt her vibe, because he snapped down the phone's antenna, and walked back to his own blanket. "ABC's coming to interview me at four," he said loudly but to no one in particular. "And I'm not going to shave," he added, rubbing a hand over his reddish stubble. "That'll show them who they're dealing with," my friend John muttered under his breath. As Dershowitz shook off his blanket and Cohen disassembled the purple wind screen, the famous lawyer looked over at my wife. "I bet you won't be sorry to see us go," he said, smiling and sounding friendly. But my wife isn't so easily charmed. "You guys make a lot of noise," she said, stating it as a simple fact. "How will I fill the silence?" Dershowitz looked back. He was about to say something else, but stopped short. His grin faded and he turned back to his packing. As I watched Dershowitz and clan toddling off the beach, I realized that I was married to a woman who had just left a naked Alan Dershowitz speechless.That all happened a couple of summers ago, when my wife and I still lived in Boston and getting down to the little beach house my friends rent in Menemsha was only a three-hour ordeal. I haven't been to the beach once this summer, and besides dealing with the shame of not having an all-over tan, I'm kicking myself for not being there now that O.J. Simpson's defense is in full swing. Dershowitz-watching can be an exhausting endeavor. The guy just can't sit still. Every time you look up from your book, he's on the move, walking down the beach with his arms folded across his chest, his shoulders pulled back, eyes darting back and forth, or he's standing knee-deep in the surf, watching naked girls and boys playing in the waves. Occasionally, he plays one of those beach paddle ball games with his wife or one of his kids. In addition to the cellular phone, the Dershowitzes sometimes bring along a set of walkie-talkies. Dershowitz's handle is something cute, like "papa bear" or "big daddy." If Dershowitz is on most people's short list of top lawyers, he is also right up there as one of America's most shameless self-promoters. True enough, the man has great range, not only in his avocations -- lawyer to the stars, Harvard law professor, civil rights activist, novelist, deli owner -- but in the places he'll go for a little publicity. He's forever on the tube, from the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and Nightline to Donahue and Oprah. Last year he played himself on a segment of CBS's Picket Fences. He's as likely to be profiled in People as he is in the Times of London. While the papers in Boston tease him at every turn -- seeing the $100,000 excavation project going on in the back yard of Dershowitz's ultra-modern Cambridge home, Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam dubbed it "the O.J. Pool" - he has William F. Buckley going after him in The National Review.Over the years, the print media have gotten sort of nasty with Dersh. Once upon a time, he was introduced as an expert on Constitutional law. Today, the first references typically read, "legal motor-mouth," or the "mouthy Harvard law professor." Mostly it's a sign of the media's hypocrisy -- after all, reporters keep going back to the guy for comment, probably because he's famous. But Dershowitz has a heavy hand in his own public relations, threatening to sue publications that write profiles he doesn't like, calling editors prior to publication to exert whatever influence he can. This is odd coming from a vociferous defender of free speech. His books, especially his autobiography, groan under the weight of the author's enormous ego. Such self-stylizing inevitably backfires. As Stefan Kanfer put it in his book review of Chutzpah, for Time: "The man who does his own public relations has more than chutzpah; he has a schlemiel for a client." For some reason, Dershowitz doesn't want his nude sunbathing added to his public persona. A recent item in the Boston Herald's gossip column, Inside Track, where fawning over Vineyard celebrities has become a summer tradition, included a photo of Dershowitz in his Legionnaire's cap walking out of the salty brine. He denied it was him. Said he didn't have a hat like that. But I think he's missing a great opportunity, a chance to be a trend-setter, to add dimension to his self-conscious iconoclasm. I think he's missing the whole spirit of being a celebrity. In an interview with People, Dershowitz once rationalized his heavy publicity schedule this way: "we have to build a much deeper commitment to civil liberties. I don't think it's enough to persuade five [Supreme Court] justices. I have to persuade Joe Six-pack." For all of us beer-drinking slobs, Dersh, there's not much more riveting than seeing our favorite media stars prancing around in the buff. After the trial, maybe you could get Shapiro and company to join you in Chilmark, maybe invite Marsha Clark and her team. But don't tell F. Lee Baily about it. The world's not ready for that.

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