Friday, September 12, 2003

Wrapped Up Like a Criminal Justice System, part II: The Long Douche of the Law
(Part I to be found here.) In our last episode, our hero had moved to California and begun a new life, full of magic and wonder and worlds away from Sheridan Square, the memory of that July day in 1996 buried deep in his random-access (or is it read-only?) memory...

However, one day last year my remote control happened to land on a rerun of NYPD Blue—the fat cop was questioning some doofus, and mentioned that “somebody wit your name and date a’ birt is wantet fer questionin’ en Da Moyne…” I had a sudden anxiety attack: it’s the bithdate and the name, that’s how they find you! See, as I’d gotten older I would occasionally think of my unanswered summons and wonder if I might have guessed incorrectly that I was off the hook—but when I left New York, I figured that even if there was a warrant, they’d never think it’d be me all the way in San Francisco. The logic wasn’t real strong, but it was easier to not think about it than to go to the courthouse and possibly be shot 19 times, as was occasionally happening in those days. But the date of birth! How many people with my name could've been born on my birthday? I quickly changed the channel but the seed had been planted in my mind that perhaps I had not emerged unblemished from the incident as I had assumed for years.

In an uncharacteristically assertive move, I decided to call the NYC Summons Information line and see what they’d have to say. I was prepared to hang up the phone suddenly and leave the country if necessary. The person I talked to was surprisingly cooperative for a New York public servant and listened to my whole stupid tale of woe. “Yeeeah... you prawbly got a wuarrant. Lemme look it up.” After taking my name and D.O.B., she informed me that yes, I was officially a Wanted Man.

—Well, is there anything I can do about it from here?
—You don’t live heah?
—No.
—Have you got a lawyeh heah?

I asked if I could just take care of it the next time I was in town, or if I had to worry about being hauled across the country if I got a speeding ticket. She told me it was just a New York thing, although I wasn’t sure I believed her, especially in the Big Brutha Law Enforcement climate of the post 9/11 age. I had visions of being carted down to Gitmo Bay with a sack over my head, forced to shave my beard and tell my story about the smelly French guy to a secret military tribunal. It did not feel like a good time to be on the wrong side of the law.

Nevertheless, time passed and I was not arrested. Which brings us to this spring, when I get a glittery invitation in the mail to the wedding of How√©—one of my best New York buddies and the reason I can say I’ve attended a Passover seder in a law office—and I decided that, in keeping with my new philosophy of dealing with problems rather than ignoring them until they became absolute emergencies, I would set aside some time on my trip to do a little sightseeing at 346 Broadway, home of the NYC Municipal Criminal Court.

Coming Soon: The thrilling conclusion to our story! Will our hero be forced to spend weeks rotting in solitary confinement on Rikers Island, living on dirty soap and food scraps discarded by rats? Or will he engineer a daring escape and begin a life on the run, with no one to trust but his own wits and his mastery of disguises and regional accents? Tune in Next Time...