Then Al Weinstein Asked, “Did I Help You?” Chief Reporter, United Nations
By Monette Benoit
Copyright by Monette Benoit, All Rights Reserved.
Al wanted this story. Al asked for this story. My intent was to surprise Al Weinstein in this JCR, Journal of Court Reporting, July 1999 special collector’s edition. When Al died, I felt it. No one told me. I knew. I bowed my head and prayed.
In prayer, I apologized for the delay with my promise to share what Al had requested. I had been waiting for the special edition of NCRA’s JCR, Journal of Court Reporting, the special anniversary edition. I knew Al would want his story preserved in the historical publication.
Sadly, I must share: I waited too long. As I’ve written this article, I smell flowers — often. This ‘is’ Al’s article, per Al’s request.
One snowy day long ago, I attended my first convention. I drove a long distance; I didn’t know anyone — not one person.
As I picked up my handouts and registration, I still remember turning around in the large foyer bustling with activity and being a little overwhelmed by the large numbers of people — everyone seemed to be in groups, clusters — not alone, as I.
At noon, timidly, I entered the luncheon banquet. Approaching large round tables, I was promptly informed all seats were reserved, as people guarded empty chairs. After my fourth attempt, I started backing out of the room, too shy to stay. (After the fourth attempt, I made a plan: I would grab a bite to eat up the street; then return to the seminars after lunch. I would avoid the large round tables with formal plate settings.)
As I was backing up, someone firmly held my right elbow. A man in a gray suit, gray eyeglasses, gray hair said, “The lady will dine with me.” We walked to the front of the room. He started up the stairs to the dais.
I pulled back, he pulled forward.
Slowly he leaned over and said, “There are 600 people in this room. And they’re all watching you.”
I pleaded, whispered and begged, “no.”
He held my hand; we walked onto the podium to a round table. He pulled out a chair, pointed. He sat across from me at the large table. Each chair soon was occupied; a man approached the table where I sat, the only female. Al jumped up, threw his white napkin down, pointed to me, talking to the man. I tried to get up and to give him my chair. Al waved his hand in the air. That man left the podium.
Each person introduced himself. I was sitting with head court reporters of distinguished courts.
I lifted my water glass; the ice cubes shook. Buttering bread, the knife clinked against the plate. I remembered my granny used to say, “When in doubt, sit tall, hands folded, smile.”
My voice shook as I introduced myself, smiling. I whispered that I was a court reporter in Buffalo, New York, of just one year and sat tall. Al laughed, instructed me to speak up.
I looked across the table and finally inquired, “What is your name, sir?” He proclaimed, “I’m Al Weinstein, Chief Parliamentary Verbatim Reporter, United Nations.” I gasped. The men asked, “You didn’t know?” My gasp and big brown eyes answered each.
During lunch, attention was turned to me by Al. Where do you work? How do you like it? He pried until I opened up.
I had a job where we reported chemical/gas inhalations, medical testimony all day. The CDC, Center for Disease Control, arrived to record the correlation with Love Canal, the large factories and the many illnesses.
On many a day, I’d write 40 doctors each morning. (The doctors all wanted to be first and would line the walls, waiting to hurry in, hurry out.) My supervisor was tough.
The men at the round table on the dais were impressed that a court reporter straight out of college could do this. I told them: That’s my point — I was struggling. Tapes weren’t allowed. I had to type my own notes to prove I could write accurately. When I had problems, each day I was told I’d be fired by 4:00. On my first day, my supervisor pulled a chair next to me, watching my paper as it rolled out of my steno machine, while I wrote. She did this often, to see if I was ‘getting it’.
I softly, slowly shared with Al and the men at the table – now all focused on me- how I was so nervous during technical work that sweat appeared on the tips of my fingers and a few times my fingers had slipped between the keys on my steno machine, as my supervisor hovered next to me.
I spoke slowly, bright red, head down.
Their comments, conversations during that lunch changed my life. I didn’t eat. I couldn’t get the pasta around the fork or spoon; my hands shook. I listened to the mentoring, their wisdom.
After lunch, Al thanked me for joining them. Thanked me?
I left a new person. Someone believed in me. I made changes in my life, enrolled in paralegal school, moved to Miami, Florida. I reported in the federal and state courts, then relocated to San Antonio, Texas, continued my education.
I never forgot this man. I dedicated my second book, The Court Reporter Reference CSR, RPR, RMR, RDR Written Knowledge Test Workbook to Al Weinstein.
When I next attended an NCRA, National Court Reporters Association, convention I asked, “Where is the man who works in the U.N.”
Someone pointed to a petite man, white hair, white pants, white shoes, gold glasses.
“No. I want the U.N. man.”
I was firmly told, “That’s him!”
One hand holding his NCRA packet at his left hip, his right hand circled high above his head as he spoke. I waited until many had finished speaking to this important man. I waited by the elevator to introduce myself.
Softly, slowly I recounted how we met. Puzzled, he listened, head tilted.
I continued to fill in details – waiting for recognition. When we were done, tenderly this man, Al Weinstein, Chief Reporter of the United Nations, held my hands asking, “Did I help you?”
I gasped. I told him, “You changed my life. You don’t remember the incident? How many people do you drag up podiums?”
Al Weinstein’s eyes filled with tears. He hugged me like a long-lost friend.
Then I shared, I’d dedicated a book to him. Al smiled, holding my hands to his chest and said, “I still don’t remember you, but I did help you; right?”
Softly crying, Al’s eyes filled with tears; he asked me to write about this.
That moment and each thereafter, Al Weinstein would introduce me saying, “I don’t remember Monette, but see the difference someone can have!”
Thus began our friendship. Each year, he’d ask, “Do you have someone to sit with? Want to sit with us? Need a ticket? I’ll get you one.”
I did sit with Al. At every banquet, he’d tease me about getting us seats on the dais.
Across large convention rooms and restaurants, Al would yell, “If you need a ticket, just let me know …”
Oh, I enjoyed watching him. He never stood still. Approaching those who stood alone, always introducing himself, Al Weinstein was perfection in motion; our consummate diplomat.
The last time I saw him, Al moved slower. Still dressed as a golfer … right hand on his hip, the other grasping his forehead as Al talked and listened.
Al Weinstein, I’ve finally written your article. It is now preserved in the special anniversary edition of the National Court Reporters Association JCR, Journal of Court Reporting, under my column Beyond The Comfort Zone.
Al, my life is graced because of you. And yes, I will dine with you again … promise.
Monette Benoit, B. B.A.,
Certified Court Reporter, Certified Reporting Instructor, Certified Program Evaluator, Paralegal, Columnist
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