Wednesday, December 9, 2009
So Help Me, God!
Years ago I wrote an ‘Observations’ column about my first foray into small claims court. I was attempting to collect a rather large debt resulting from a ‘bounced’ check. Innocent as to the procedural aspects of the courtroom, I made several blunders; the least of which was that I took a bottle of water into the room with me. I had a cold, you see…and I didn’t want to enter into a spastic round of coughing in such a solemn setting. I was doing the judge, the lawyers, and the protection officers a FAVOR! Or so I thought.
But at the very first sip--and much to my dismay--the bailiff ejected me and my Aquafina from the courtroom.
How embarrassing! How humiliating! How unnecessary, really! I mean, couldn’t she have simply asked me to hand the offending elixir to her? Was there any reason why she had to make me climb over the legs and across the laps of seven good men and women in my rush for the door? Did she not comprehend that it was HOT—stifling, in fact--and that my skirt was sticking to my butt? And that everyone else behind me in the room therefore KNEW I’d neglected to wear panty hose?
I wanted to tell her not to get her knickers in a twist (like mine were)…I really did! But…I was in awe of her uniform, her scowl…her very presence. And so, I skulked from the courtroom and went to the lavatory to dump the offending bottle of NOTHING BUT PURE WATER!
I was allowed back inside, and I won my case by default. However, the defendants declared bankruptcy just days later, and I never recouped my loss. It’s one of those lumps you take when you own a business, I suppose…and most times, I never even think about it.
But I DO remember the humiliation of being treated like a criminal for doing nothing more than entering a courtroom with a simple bottle of water in my pocketbook.
I’ve been back in those hallowed halls a time or two since then. And today I had occasion to go, again. I wasn’t on the docket, this time. I was simply accompanying a friend; lending a shoulder, a smile…and a bit of dental floss. (A word to the wise: It is never a good idea to eat a breakfast sandwich directly prior to appearing before a judge. Unless, of course, the stuff stuck in your teeth is color-coordinated with your courtroom duds.)
Anyway…my friend, her mother, and I waited on the hard wooden benches directly outside the courtroom door. As the hallway filled up with others who were listed on the eight-thirty docket, the portal opened. There, in all her glory, was the same bailiff who had thrown me so callously from the courtroom all those years before! I recognized her in an instant!
Because she was wearing a uniform, you see…
Seriously…she was easily identifiable, despite the fact that she was older, plumper, and a bit ruddier of complexion. It was the eyes…those stern, glaring, don’t-mess-with-me-you-WATER-DRINKER-you! eyes. I admit it; a chill ran up my spine.
Which was a good thing…for I didn’t relish the idea of another adventure into the realm of ‘sweaty-butt-wedgie’...
Yes, my old nemesis stepped into the hallway. The masses turned eagerly in her direction, anxious to have their day in court. As folks pressed in around her, she spoke. Loudly and clearly.
‘Turn all cell phones off before entering the courtroom! No food or liquids of any kind are allowed beyond this door!’
Oh, sure! Now she tells me! If only she had had the foresight to make that announcement back in 2002! I could have saved myself a world of humiliation!
I wondered if I had been the catalyst for this new policy. If the sight of my skirt molded around my bum all those years ago had prompted an emergency session regarding the announcements that should be made prior to letting the general public into Courtroom #1 in the Franklin County District Courthouse.
It pleases me to think so.
My friends and I joined the throng as it pushed its way into the room. I was determined not to make the same mistake twice, and so I planted myself close to the aisle. It worked for about twelve seconds. I was asked to ‘move down’ to make room for the rest of the occupants of the room.
Another note: Next time, be the LAST to enter the chamber, rather than the first…
Attendance was taken, cases were called, cases were dismissed, and judgments were entered. At last, it was my friend’s turn to speak with Her Honor. She walked to the front of the courtroom. She raised her hand and was sworn in. I noticed that the ‘so help me God’ was omitted from the swearing…like He’s been omitted from so many other things in this country, lately. My friend took a seat, and began answering the judge’s kind but pointed questions. At the very moment the judgment was entered in her favor, her mother leaned against me in relief. She began to talk excitedly. I began to respond in the same manner. And the bailiff?
Aw! The bailiff told us to ‘BE QUIET!’
That woman! That harridan! That purveyor of proper decorum! She’d had it in for me for years, I could tell! She’d spotted me in the lobby, and she’d bided her time…waiting for the perfect excuse—ANY excuse—to flay me with her tongue! To disgrace me in front of two dozen strangers, my friends, and a district judge! It wasn’t enough that I’d been forced to the wall, hemmed in by strangers…this claustrophobic woman who has a tendency to forget vital undergarments! It wasn’t enough that I’d arrived in her domain water-free, arid, lacking in any liquid refreshment. I hadn’t even BROUGHT my cell phone into the building, for crying out loud! Couldn’t she give me an ‘A’ for effort, and LET ME BE?!
My friend’s mother looked at me in horror. Like it was MY fault she’d just been publicly reprimanded by a fierce-looking woman in an official uniform! Like I had been the one to start the overloud and enthusiastic conversation! As if I would be the one to blame if the judge then decided to throw my friend’s case out of court due to the irrepressible nature of her ‘support system’! But it wasn’t MY fault. I wasn’t trying to be rude. I have respect for the protocol one must adhere to when taking part in the judicial system of this country, and this state of Maine! I do!
So help me, God.