I bought an iced coffee at Ritual Cafe and headed into the Pappajohn Sculpture Park to read “You Know Me Al,” Ring Lardner’s series of short stories about an early 20th-century baseball pitcher. The book was a birthday present from my son, who thought I’d enjoy the creative way Lardner framed the stories as a series of letters. 

I was about to sit down, when I noticed my old friend K.C. standing in front of Judith Shea’s “Post-Balzac,” a 1991 bronze sculpture of an empty robe. 

K.C.’s right hand slid under his eye, as I said: “Quite the monument.”

He paused a moment and said, “I’m always fascinated by this piece. It’s so simple, but so compelling. 

“You know it was created as a commentary on ‘Monument to Balzac,’” he said, referring to  Auguste Rodin’s controversial sculpture of the 19th-century French novelist Honore de Balzac. 

“After Balzac’s death,” K.C. continued, “Rodin was asked to finish a commission that had been awarded to another sculptor, but who had died. Rodin worked on his Balzac for years and created many models. His final effort cloaked Balzac in a long robe that conceals all but his face. 

“The work was rejected by the group that commissioned it, although a later critic called it the greatest piece of sculpture of the 19th century,” K.C. said.

“This,” he said, nodding toward Shea’s sculpture, “is Balzac’s robe without Balzac. 

“It seems too simple. But depending on the day, it can say a lot,” K.C. continued.  

“What is it saying today?” I asked.

“It speaks volumes today,” he replied.

“Today, we associate robes like this with judges. It could signify respect for the law and the idea that it’s the law that’s important, not the man or woman in the robe. 

“But today,” he continued, “ I have a different view. Today, the robe represents the empty logic of recent Supreme Court decisions.

“How so?” I asked. 

“For example,” he said, “where is the logic in overturning 50 years of precedent that says women have the right to control what happens to their own bodies?

“The robe who wrote the opinion,” K.C. said, referring to Justice Samuel Alito, “said that Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 decision that legalized abortion, “either ignored or misstated history.

“Well, I got news for Alito,” K.C. said. “History changes all the time, at least the way we interpret it does. 

“Exhibit A is slavery, and we can go down the list of most of the wars we’ve fought from the Indian wars through Vietnam and Afghanistan. Few of our wars are viewed today the same way they were when we fought them. 

“Alito pretends there was no such thing as abortion at the time of the founding,” K.C. added. 

“That’s not true,” he said. “Back in 1748, three decades before this country was founded, Ben Franklin published the equivalent of a home medical guide that included prescriptions for ending pregnancy. 

“By Alito’s definition, that would make Franklin, one of our most honored founders, an abortionist,” he said.

“I didn’t know that,” I said.

“There’s a lot you don’t know,” K.C. said. “And there’ll be more if Alito and his crowd have their way.

“For example?” I asked.

“It’s not just abortion that they want to turn back the clock on,” K.C. said. 

“Already they’ve turned it back on gun laws by denying New York the right to require permits to open-carry guns in public and throwing out other decisions that restrict assault rifles and large-capacity magazines. This at a time when new mass shootings are occurring every week.

“Plus, they are throwing out the book on divisions of church and state – at least when the church is one they approve of – and protecting the environment. Their ruling restricting the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to do its job is stunning.

“So you see,” he said as he began walking west along Grand Avenue, “Post-Balzac now represents the empty robes of the new majority on the Supreme Court.”