Birth of a Salesman

Salesman-bodyAmitava Kumar in Guernica:

So, sadly, the dreamers and the haters are not two groups. They are often one and the same persons. —Arjun Appadurai, Fear of Small Numbers

The U.S. government’s exhibit 1002 in United States of America v. Hemant Lakhani was a document from the commissary in the Corrections Bureau in Passaic County, New Jersey. It indicated that on March 16, 2005, in the “early afternoon hours the defendant went to the commissary and notwithstanding his medical condition ordered four bags of hot buffalo chips.” That same afternoon, the defendant also purchased one bag of crunchy cheese chips. Assistant U.S. Attorney Stuart Rabner flipped through the rest of the pages of exhibit 1002. On March 21, Rabner told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the defendant had received five bags of hot buffalo chips, five bags of salty peanuts, and five bags of crunchy cheese chips. On March 28, he received one cheese pizza, and again, five bags each of hot buffalo chips, salted peanuts, and crunchy cheese chips—and five apple pies. Turning to another page, Rabner said that on April 8 the defendant had ordered five bags of hot buffalo chips, five bags of salted peanuts, and two bags of crunchy cheese chips. And then on April 11, the food items ordered were five bags of hot buffalo chips, five bags of salted peanuts, three apple pies, two honey buns, and a cheese pizza.

“The defendant’s conduct,” the prosecutor argued, “can indeed be determined to be a contributing factor to the swollen legs that he now complains about and on which basis he seeks an adjournment of this trial. He should not be allowed.”

Hemant Lakhani’s diet was under scrutiny because he had undergone three surgeries in three weeks. The trial had begun in early January, but only ten days later the defendant had needed to be hospitalized. On the morning of January 14, a deputy marshal informed the court that the defendant had been admitted the previous evening at the St. Barnabas Medical Center in New Jersey with a variety of problems: a hernia, a congenital heart condition, and renal failure. Speaking on record four days later, Lakhani’s doctor reminded the court that his patient was nearly seventy. He was probably suffering from hypertension. And it was possible that his heart needed surgical treatment. Later that week, Lakhani underwent an angioplasty and a pacemaker was inserted into his body. He was having problems with one of his knees and a rheumatologist had been pressed into service. The court couldn’t meet for three weeks because the defendant had needed time to recuperate.

Henry Klingeman, the defendant’s lawyer, stated that his client had described the jail food as “inedible,” and had complained that he wasn’t given rice, which had “been a staple of his diet for his entire life.” The commissary food was used as a “supplement” and, because he had a “sweet tooth,” he used to order apple pies.

The judge in the case, Katharine Hayden, took a considered view of the medical opinion she had been provided about the defendant. She declared that Lakhani was “ready to go” and commented with some concern that the diet the defendant had chosen was “loaded with salt” and “loaded with sugar.” She noted that Lakhani had more than once refused nutritious meals consisting of salad, bread, beans, apples, cookies, and hard-boiled eggs. With adequate good reason, the appeal to adjourn was denied by the judge.

Judicial trials by their very nature are about acts. They concern themselves with what has actually been done by an individual or group. But the Lakhani trial from the very beginning had seemed to be about who he was rather than what he had done.