Saturday, August 24, 2013

Courthouse Blues

Listen or Read, but enjoy.

As a 28 year old black man, I go out of my way not to spend time in the halls of justice. I didn't even want to go into the courthouse to pick up a marriage license. It’s not that I've done something that should get me arrested. And, while I am always a tiny bit concerned with getting thrown in jail for contempt of court… and also, a little, for that parking ticket I never paid, and everything in the USA PATRIOT act, and the NDAA, mostly I hate the guard shack.

The guard shack is the worst. Full of bored and/or paranoid members of the law enforcement community, this is the place where bad things happen to good, albeit absentminded, people.
And, I am, very admittedly, absentminded. To date, I have lost three nail files, a handful of crappy lighters, one Zippo, a cheap knife, and one hunter green double hinged wine key at a series of guard shacks. Of course, by this point in my life I've stopped carrying a knife. Not out of any kind of principled stand, mind you, I just broke the clasp off my old one, lost, and then failed to replace it.

With that track record on guard shacks, I've taken to leaving my coat and all pocket contents, save ID and whatever money or paperwork are required for that specific trip, whenever I’m faced with the looming specter of confiscation. As a general rule, though, I have to plan ahead. Not just trips to the municipal palaces, I “pre-remember” as much of life as possible. Keys go in a certain place. Phone. Wallet. I once looked for my glasses for three days because I couldn't remember putting them three feet away and they got covered by a single sheet of paper… Stop laughing. So, if I didn't plan to go to the courthouse, my mind is still at the office… or the library… or at home… wherever.

I’m getting ready to leave for the office when the call buzzes from my brother. “Do you have a hundred bucks?”
     “Any chance you’d stop by the courthouse and pay my fine. I can’t get there before they close, and I could do without a bench warrant.”
     “Sure,” I responded, without hesitation. I knew he was good for the bill, and, we've always been those siblings. In the 10th grade, I forgot my work shirt, and my 10 year old brother rode his bike, the two and a half miles to bring it to me, “’cause [he] knew [I’d] need it.” So, yeah, I'd pay his fine.

I’ll spare you the details of my tooling around the one-way street filled labyrinth of over-priced metered parking that is Downtown. And, instead, cut to my stepping through the double-doors of the municipal building, and coming face-to-yellow rotating beacon light with my old enemy… the guard post. And then I realize that because this is my brother’s plan, I didn't “pre-remember” anything. I have stuff in every one of my nine pockets. And, as I begin the adventure which is excavating all the hidden folds of my winter coat, I have the next unpleasant revelation of the day.

A friend, Dave, was in a bit of a spot, when the dean at his school called him into the office to say, that because of an oversight by Dave’s advisor, and the registrar, he’d missed a prerequisite to nearly all of the classes from the previous three years. He had to finish the class that semester or he’d be kicked out of the program. This was especially bad news for Dave, because of the nature of the class. So, I tutored him through the semester, as a favor. During all of our sessions, I’d incessantly flick any one of his knives open and closed. At our last session Dave gifted me a Kershaw: Tanto Blur, an excellent knife retailing at about $80.00+. Which I gratefully and absentmindedly slipped into my pocket the day before my brother called me.

So, as I begin the mental exercise of preparing to fish coins, receipts, pens, and a veritable mountain of flotsam and jetsam from their hiding places, my hand comes first to rest on my brand new knife. And, as the first person in line I’m already face to face with the gate keeper. The guard hands me a basket, and I give him one of those pained looks of apology.
“I have a knife in my pocket,” I begin, in a quiet voice. “And, I’d rather not throw it away.”
What follows is a virtual masterwork of that, “you’re such an idiot” look; which he holds for what feels like hours.
     “Should I just go back to my car?” I sputter out, uncomfortably.
     “Give it to me,” the guard replies flatly.
     “I could just take it back to my car,” I try again.
He repeats himself with a similarly quasi-disdainful tone. And, smirking, says, he'll put in a little envelop, and I can retrieve it upon my return. Uncomfortable with this arrangement, but without much in terms of alternative, I hand over my knife and begin filling up the basket destined for the x-ray machine. The ever growing line behind me stirs, and now I'm just feeling scattered. On the other side of the machine, I begin ramming the contents of the basket back into my pockets with wanton disregard for organizational scheme. The sole focus? Getting away from the derisive gaze of the guard, and the impatient eyes of those trapped in line behind me.

The woman behind the ultra-thick Plexiglas payment window was pleasant enough, but she was definitely all business. My plan to explain that this was all on my brother’s behalf was preempted entirely by the instruction to type the “social of the person on file, into the keypad.” Then she asked how much I’d be paying. “$100,” I replied and began patting myself down to recover my money. As I smiled and dug once more, I realized that in the guard shack fiasco, my money got a bit moved around. A $20 here. A $20 there. After a minute or two, I’d reassembled eighty of the hundred I walked in with.
     “You could just pay the $80,” She said, doing a better than average job of, veiling her very likely growing impatience. In the midst of my delusion, I searched for at least another full minute, as another line grew behind me. “I guess I’m paying the eighty,” I sighed exasperatedly. As it dawns on me that, there’s a chance that I dropped the missing bill at the guard station while jamming errant papers into my pocket. Only by now, I don’t even want to make eye contact with the guards.

So, I shuffle back, hands in my pockets, standing-by for a second, ‘til the guard recognizes me. Handing me my knife, his, “Next time, leave it at home,” line convinces me to just give up on the money, and move on with my day.

Back in my car, the final $20 falls out of a fold in my jacket onto the seat beside me. For a split second, I consider going back in… Yeah, no.
Photo By: *Whitestarflower