Thursday, March 08, 2012

March Madness, and the Hall of Justice Social Club

(Saturday Night )

Well this is a barrel of ritalin-deprived monkeys if I’ve ever seen one, and in fact I have not, but every indication suggests that if I had it would be pretty much like this. I’m bringing work home on a nightly basis; we’re room parents organizing our share of a fundraiser we cant go to for the child development center both kids attend; we’re organizing Z’s 7th birthday and subsequent party; and if that’s not enough to keep me busy it turns out that Wednesday is Purim, bless our souls, and I had totally not scheduled time for my annual ‘tashen-baking festival.

So today, I managed to get Z to Korean school with J in tow, took J with me to Trader Joe’s and bought cookie fixin’s, then got him to a playground for playgroundification, followed by a trip to Royal Market for some fresh orange-blossom essence (for the cookies) and a fistful of puri bread (because you do *not* go to Royal Market and not get puri bread). Then home to unpack the groceries that needed refrigeration, and back down to the nether reaches of the city again to pick up Z and bring him home… a quick lunch of paejon and kim bap and then I spent 90 minutes slamming together two batches of cookie dough and three kinds of fruit filling (prune-cranberry-raisin, apricot-mango, and a TJ blend of blueberry, cherry and strawberry that seems a little light on the pectin so let’s see how that works out).

Then I read an application, closed my eyes for seven minutes (would have been ten but I got interrupted by kids in cowboy-spy dress-up gear hollering at and lasso’ing each other), went for a run in the park, showered briefly, and then whipped up a tasty load of peanut noodles with seared shrimp. Next came the nightly 90-minute putting-the-boys-to-bed routine, during which I read another application, and then - then! - I got to relax with a glass of vin ordinaire and a tivo’d Project Runway.

So it’s been a long day, but even so it’s not over yet.  I’m also doing my taxes, which is tricky this year - we upgraded from Quicken 2002 to the 2012 version, which is *awesome*, except the new version is too advanced to read the cyber-cuneiform of all our old records dating from the late ‘90s through 2011. So I had to install the free Q-2004 program, which uninstalled my hot-damn Q-2012 but allowed me access to my records from last year, so I could figure out my child-care and -education expenses.

And now I’m re-installing Q-2012, but it’s taking for-freaking-ever, because why should anything be easy for the love of all that’s holy. But at least I have a nice tumbler of whiskey to keep me company, and a tiny shard of good news to warm my heart: The City has seen fit to settle with me with regard to the towing of our car from outside Golden Gate Park, so that’s nearly $600 in tow charges, citation payments, and court costs back in our bank account. And with everything else going on, maybe that’s what I should dwell on tonight.

It’s the court costs that figure most significantly here. Not because they were so very costly - in fact, they were the smallest piece of it all, just $25 and about three hours of my time at the Hall of Justice, located at 7th and Bryant in San Francisco’s Garden District, famed for its plentiful bail bondsmanosity and McDonaldism.

The thing is, my time is valuable, holmes, and those three hours were not just donated to the public weal like all those obsolete printers and busted-up dining chairs we recently replaced. Nor do they represent the full extent of my time investment in this grand farce.  I’m glad to get the dollars back but there is still the matter of my freaking life, which has been negatively impacted by this whole shenanigan(s). After spending uncounted hours dealing with getting the family back home when we discovered our car NOT where we’d parked it for the awesome bluegrass festival, and then the glamor of retrieving it from the auto return facility, then typing up our appeal to Parking and Traffic to have them refund our tow charges, then appearing there for two hours to argue my case with a hearing officer, then following up repeatedly as the case dragged on for four months, then another lengthy call with my hearing officer who clearly telegraphed that he was not about to infuse any justice into this situation, and then waiting in an interminable line at the Hall of Justice to file my paperwork to appeal the damn thing in court… well, after all those hours, I want to get some credit for time served, as it were. And this is where that is going to happen. I mean, why waste time keeping a blog if you can’t use it to complain about the wasting of your time?

The HOJ is a prime example of urban brutalism, a 1940s-era temple to making you feel like a bent cog in a very powerful and unforgiving machine. I arrived at 8:30 when the doors opened, which is to say, half an hour too late to get a decent spot in line. By the time I cleared metal-detection, I was in a queue that was at least 100 yards long, stretching along a broad tiled hallway punctuated on either side by locked office doors that generally bore messages clearly telling you not to lean on, touch, or look too closely at them. Lighting was unflattering; decor was non-existent. However, something told me that I’d do better without my earbuds in, so I endured the line without the benefit of Dave Alvin, Johnny Cash, or any other jailhouse-appropriate songsmiths. Instead, I held my water, stood my ground (as it slowly, so slowly, slid toward the room where I needed to do my business), and listened to my fellow complainants. Two of them, in particular, or really, one plus her boyfriend. And now I get to share it all with you. I considered it my gift from the city. You may consider it as you deem fit.

They were about thirty feet in front of me in line, but their voices were easy to hear - they were loud, and no one else was speaking much. She had a round face, a big belly, and was short; she wore leopard-print leggings, a diaphanous white T, and a knit scarf. Her hair was long, chemically blonded and artificially kinky, and she accessorized with blue eyeshadow and rhinestone sandals. He wore richly-colored blue jeans, white court shoes, and a striped jersey; he was taller than average and square-jawed, with once-sculpted hair growing back in untidily, and gold rims around some of his front teeth. She was pink like an opossum; he was brown like oil-slicked beaches. Behind them a small latina had lined up; she had thick straight black hair, calf-high boots, jeans, and a black wool coat. Clearly she appeared here in a supporting role.

My attention was first drawn to them when they argued about her cellphone: she had announced loudly that she would go and get them both a bottle of water, and began stomping down the hall with impertinent jiggles. He let her get past me, maybe fifty feet down the hall, and then shouted after her for her phone. She stopped and shouted back, louder, hell no; he asked why, in a shout, and back and forth up and down the hall it went. Why didn’t you bring yours. Why you got to be like that. Eventually she stomped back to him in a dudgeon and handed over her small pink cellphone, after which she turned away again back down the hallway. He was already texting someone. When she finally returned with their Hawaiian Punch, they shared it without comment on their argument.

Then they started talking to the the woman behind them, and got into a lengthy explanation of why they were there at the HOJ in the first place. It seems they were stopped by the Highway Patrol in Truckee for expired tags, then apparently towed to Nevada where they were left on the roadside at night, their backpacks thrown by the po-po to the dark dirty blacktop. The cops did a drug search, ripping out the driver’s seat upholstery but finding nothing. Social services wound up buying them supper and a bus ticket home. Allegedly, and not surprisingly, it was all “some racial shit.” The conversation had turned tense, but then he said something in a low voice and started everyone laughing again.

She pridefully identified herself as his girlfriend, but not the kind he can push around: for example, “he can’t make me go to sleep.” He laughingly agreed: “Ha, I can’t make her sleep...” The thought of them late at night, her awake and him wishing she were not, took up uninvited and unwelcome residence in my mind.

In the next audible part of the discussion, the woman talked to the woman behind her about personal safety, describing an incident when she’d been walking through Oakland in a 2-piece and a wrap one summer evening, having gone clubbing with a friend. She was heading back to BART but got grabbed and thrown down in a garbage-can alcove, by a man who ripped her clothes off her - it was an attempted rape, but she fought too hard for it to be consummated, screaming and kicking till her assailant ran off with her clothes. She grabbed a box and pulled it on, then went looking for help. A nearby samaritan let her call her boyfriend but he wouldn’t answer because his phone didn’t recognize the number. He eventually learned what happened when she got her mother to call him; he drove across the bay to pick her up, then drove her back home without saying a single word. From what I’d seen of this garrulous guy so far that morning, that meant something. The woman made no mention of reporting anything to the cops. As she told this story, her boyfriend - whose expression had typically been cheerful - looked very grave and serious, and he made no joke afterwards to break the tension.

A little later, she gets a call - it’s for him. She asks with affected professionalism: “Who may I say is calling?” Her face darkens with what she hears. As she hands the telephone over she hisses at him, “Why you givin’ out my number to those bitches?” She hands him the phone, he takes it to the other side of the hallway, to a foyer for a locked side door, to conversate in private. The woman turns to the other woman and admits, in a voice that carries perhaps farther than she realizes: “He’s a player but I’m the only one he sleeps with.” A few minutes later she clarifies: “I mean, of course I know he sleeps with her, but it’s just that, nothing but sex; I’m the one he comes home to and loves.” And shortly later still, while he’s still on her phone to someone she doesn’t want him talking to: “It’s all there in the Book of Ruth, King James Version Old Testament, you can read the words of truth - men will fuck around, if you wanna keep yours you gotta let him do his thing but don’t let him push you around.” And later still: “She’s just a useless bitch, I got my cosmetology degree, I bring money into the house; she just lie around all day till he kick her off the foot of the bed...”

The line eventually leads us all into a modest room, its walls punctuated with barred windows behind which hunker clerks who already look exhausted at 10 am.  We shuffle back and forth between webbing straps as if waiting to ride Space Mountain.  There’s a flat-screen teevee on the wall, showing Dr Phil taking down an oxy-addicted mom who steals from her kids for drugs.  The weaving of the queue brings me into closer proximity with the people I’ve been watching from a distance all this time.  Suddenly, when I happen to be quite near them, the woman asks the latina behind her to take a picture of her and her man with her phone. They pose for several shots, grinning together and embracing. After the latina is done taking photos she hands back the phone. She and her man look at the photos, him bending over so they can press their heads together and view the tiny screen; they both grin unashamedly. Then they turn to each other, close their eyes, and embrace, standing very still, eyes closed against the crowd, until they are called to one of the several small barred windows and they settle down to the business at hand.


After all that, I finally got my settlement check back from the city, and it’s a decent piece of change - but in some ways, that image of those two holding each other while the noise around them went unheard was worth even more. It also bears mention that TONIGHT is purim, my ‘tashen turned out great, even the mixed berry ones, and all our myriad crazynesses are moving smoothly in the right direction. As may it be unto the generations. Later, Ahasheres.... 

that's just the way it seemed to me at 12:27 AM

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