I met with the husband-and-wife team of Gregg Meath (full-time intellectual property lawyer, part-time rock band drummer) and Fernanda Pereira (full-time immigration lawyer, part-time beekeeper) at their office in downtown Stockton's Kress Building—the same building that houses the San Joaquin County Bar Association's office. We all sat down to interview over coffee and croissants.
Q. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A. Right out the gate Gregg yelled, "No!" jokingly suggesting it was his fortified answer to the inquiry. After Fernanda recovered from simultaneously laughing and scolding her husband, she adjusted her glasses and said, "My perfect idea of happiness? It would have to be a day where I had time to do EVERYTHING! Spend time with my bees, work…." "Notice how she didn't mention me in there!" Gregg teased. "Ok, well five minutes with him," she offered. "Ten!" he countered. "Ok, ten!" Fernanda laughed in agreement. "I guess that's the same for me as well," Gregg added. "I would love to get everything done and still have time to practice with my band." "Perhaps we are being too practical, but if I got everything done and I arrived at the end of the day without being tired, that would be heaven!"
Q. What is your greatest fear?
A. "Oh boy!" Fernanda sighed deep in thought. "Want a one word answer?" Gregg offered, "how about, 'destitute'?" "Or how about not being good enough?" Fernanda entreated. "I try to always be the best I can be, so not being good enough would not be good!"
Q. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
A. "Procrastinating," Fernanda offered. "And it's not that I am a big procrastinator, it's just everything seems to be a priority. I need to be more careful in prioritizing." Resting his head on his hand, Gregg responded, "Being overly critical. As an attorney, it's a blessing and a curse. It's a great analytical skill, but I can't turn it off. In general conversation or in conversations where it really just doesn't matter, I can't leave it alone!"
Q. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
A. With a sincere, puzzled look, Fernanda offered some insight. "I try to really not care. Honestly! I try to take people as they are." "Obstinance," Gregg interjected. "There's another one word answer! But people who will not move, who will not try to understand, who will not reason. They are just stubborn for the sake of it." Nodding, Fernanda agreed. "Unreasonableness. But as I get older I understand that people won't change for the most part." "But we do change if we want," Gregg suggested. "I personally try to be better for her," he added, motioning toward Fernanda. "I try to be a better person to make her proud."
Q. What is your greatest extravagance?
A. Giggling, Fernanda confessed, "Probably my bees." Gregg nodded without even having to glance her way. "They cost so much money," Fernanda admitted. "I could have bought enough honey to last me through the rest of my life!" "For me, it's probably travel," Gregg acknowledged. "And not because of the financial cost, but because of the time it demands. As a sole proprietor, time spent away from your practice is time spent NOT getting paid." Leaning across the table, shielding her mouth with her hand, Fernanda whispered, "And he's not a cheap man!"
Q. What is your favorite journey?
A. Fernanda was the first to break the silence. "When I came here. My life here is one hundred percent different than my life in Portugal. The opportunities, the experiences, even though I was an attorney there, too." Scratching his beard, Gregg interjected, "The philosophical journey to personal enlightenment!" Fernanda screamed in disbelief, "What!?" As if he didn't even hear his wife, Gregg continued without missing a beat. "But you know," he chuckled, "I do try to mess up every now and then to make it interesting." "And I could use a break right about now!" Fernanda confessed.
Q. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
A. "Hummm…" Fernanda pondered while Gregg fiddled with his napkin, "Ambition. I mean, it could be a virtue or a vice. I do believe you should always be trying to improve yourself, but you should also be lifting up others around you at the same time. Not pushing them down to your advantage." Nodding in agreement with his wife, Gregg began, "This is probably inappropriate." "No doubt!" I teased. "Well, I'm gonna say it anyway." He posed, and then spoke in a hillbilly accent, "Clean, sober livin'!" We laughed and he told me about a sign he had in his old barn that adorned that quote and how it made him laugh every time.
Q. What do you dislike most about your appearance?
A. "Oh that's easy! My hair!" Fernanda spat. "It's just, just, unmanageable, unruly and unyielding!" Tactfully planning his response, Gregg said, "I would have to say my girth. There's another five dollar word for you! I would have said my big feet, but then people would just laugh at me!"
Q. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
A. "We need to answer this one for each other!" Gregg suggested, and without giving Fernanda a change to dispute his proposition he quickly added, "Fernanda's is, 'Ya know?' She will be talking with a client in Spanish and all I hear from the other room is 'blah, blah, blah, ya know? Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, ya know?' She says it all the time!" "But often," Fernanda began to explain, "I am the first attorney my clients have ever spoken to. So I want to offer information which they may or may not know and present it in a way which does not come across as insulting or like I am lecturing them. You know?" "Ha!" Gregg joyously shouted in victory while pointed both hands at Fernanda. "See! She did it again!" After the laughter stopped, Gregg began, "I say 'exactly' and 'excellent' a lot." "He is really a positive person," Fernanda offered. "But maybe I could look up synonyms or read a thesaurus and spread it around a little bit," Gregg added.
Q What is your greatest accomplishment?
A. In rapid fire response, they began answering and finishing each other sentences as if this were a prepared skit, but one could easily tell it was genuine. "Gregg." Fernanda stated very matter of fact. Gregg immediately followed, "And I've said the same thing a millions times about Fernanda." "And it's still true," Fernanda continued. "Honestly," Gregg followed. "It's the best thing." "This has lasted twenty years," Gregg offered. "And it's corny," Fernanda confessed "Very corny," he agreed. "But just this one." "Just this corny little one," Gregg echoed.
Q. What is your greatest regret?
A. "This really revealing. But it's true. I once insulted one of Fernanda's uncles in Portugal. I was having a bad day, and he was making jabs at me, but when we left it tortured me. It tortured me for two years. Then when we went back to Portugal and one of the first thing I did was apologize to him and he probably had no clue what I was even talking about. But I knew. When I said those things, I that wasn't me, I don't deliberately insult people." Fernanda looked at me and admitted, "I don't really have any major regrets." With a serious tone, she concluded, "That's how dangerously I live!"
Q. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
A. "Oh you better say me!" Fernanda teased. "No question," Gregg said while dismissing Fernanda's threat. "Of course it's her." With joking relief Fernanda exclaimed, "Well, there is the drum kit. It is fighting for first place," she lured. In good form, Gregg took the bait. "I do love it!" "Of course," he quickly followed, "certainly not as much as [I love] Fernanda."
Q. When and where were you happiest?
A. "My wedding day," Gregg began. "I have a picture in my office so I can see it when I am working." "I am going to be selfish," Fernanda started, "and say the time I passed the bar, either here or in Portugal; take your pick. Both gave me that feeling of freedom. I am never going to have to do that again!"
Q. Which talent would you most like to have?
A. "Oh," Fernanda contemplated, "there are just so many! And I am thinking really hard. But," she held her hands up in the air, "there are just too many to say." Leaning in, Gregg shared in a quiet but intense tone, "I would really, really like to play guitar. I have five guitars and I can only play five chords! I would like to be good like Brett Jolley, I just really respect those who can play."
Q. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what would you like to be?
A. "Ah man," Fernanda gasped and pondered, "I would probably be a bee. Not a queen bee, I have no interest in sitting around laying eggs all day. But bees get to fly and travel. It's a short life, but intense." Gregg's wide splayed grin gave away the comedic tone of his answer, "I am going to say, maybe a koala bear." In the way a little girl squeals at the sight of a kitten, Fernanda exclaimed, "They're so huggable!" Not distracted by his wife's reaction, Gregg continued, "They eat leaves all day long, chill in the trees, and act like life is all good."
Q. What is your most treasured possession?
A. Gregg ordered, "Write this down. My nine piece, DW Collectors series Blue Silk Onyx drum kit. Make sure you get all that!" "If he were allowed to elaborate it would take the entire article to explain it!" Fernanda teased as Gregg spoke about her inanimate rival. Digging deep, Fernanda said, "I would have to say my rock, gem and mineral collection. But it sounds so much more special than what it really is."
Q. What is your favorite occupation?
A. Not wandering far from her interest in nature, Fernanda said with a nod, "gardening." "Lawyers in the law," Gregg decided. "Oh, I was trying to get away from that!" Fernanda retorted. "Well, I do think that pharmacists have a better life," Gregg offered. "I mean, they still get to help people like attorneys do, but when they are on their ride home they aren't thinking about this client or that client. They just leave."
Q. What is your most marked characteristic?
A. Almost jumping out his seat with eagerness Gregg exclaimed, "Tenacity! For Fernanda, of course," and he hammered rhetorically on the table. "Fernanda, don't give up! Print that!" "Well," Fernanda replied bashfully, "I try!" "And for me, pedanticism. And they can look it up!" Gregg concluded.
Q. What do you most value in your friends?
A. A second had not expired before Fernanda responded, "loyalty." Without losing his sense of humor, Gregg, puzzled, leaned over the table and with wide eyes he asked, "I have friends?" Laughter shook the room and disturbed the secretary two rooms over. "Most of them don't know they are my friends yet," he teased. "Seriously, I would have to agree with Fernanda; loyalty. Loyalty and humor."
Q. Who are your favorite writers?
A. Counting on her fingers as she focused on the ceiling. "William Somerset Maugham, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, ah! There are so many, but I read them in Portuguese and I can't translate the titles." We then discussed the less obvious components of being bilingual. "At first I couldn't pray in English, it was too difficult. But now I pray about half the time in English and I dream in both." Steering back towards the question, Gregg revealed his leisurely reading preference: "Steven Saylor. He writes historical fiction in the Roman Empire era. It's entertaining."
Q. Who are your heroes in real life?
A. "Oh man, another one," Fernanda exclaimed. "Probably my parents. My mom and dad went through a lot. They went through war and they raised us; it was a difficult life." "I have a loaded answer, but I am going to say it anyway," Gregg began. "Public Defenders and DAs. I really think they are the unsung heroes that keep our legal system going. They defend the constitution on both sides. It's true. And you never see their names in lights or anything."
Q. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
A. Smiling shyly, Fernanda confessed, "Starlord, from Guardians of the Galaxy." "Actually," she giggled, "probably all the characters." Unfazed by his wife's response, Gregg offered, "I would say Bernard Cornwell's character Richard Sharpe. The character is an officer in the Napoleonic wars."
Q. How would you like to die?
A. "Fast," Fernanda spoke with a clam reverence. "I'd say fast." Scratching his chin, Gregg responded with a tone which echoed his wife, "I would have to say, on an overdose of Ben and Jerry's."
Q. What is your motto?
A. "Be humble and grateful," Gregg offered. Shrugging her shoulders, Fernanda agreed, "Mine too." Shocked and feeling slightly robbed Gregg responded, "You can't steal mine!" "What? Fine. 'Let's get it done!'" Smiling at his wife Gregg concurred, "Yes, 'Let's do it!'"