Okay, look. The guy had seen me drive in. He had been standing right at the front of the parking lot as I pulled into the courthouse. He had been slagging pieces of ice around with his left foot. He had watched me drive down, stop hesitantly at a space that read, "Court parking only," then park my car. And he waited until I had made my way all the way back to the front to tell me this?
"But I'm here for court," I said. I didn't want to tell him I was fighting a criminal citation. Can you believe it? Me with a criminal citation? It borders on the absurd.
He shrugged and turned away, not saying another world. Somehow he must have known I had been branded one of the criminal unclean.
For those of you who may not recall, my birthday was December 4, and my license was due to be renewed at that time. Being the vain creature that I am, I had desperately been looking to change the photo on my license, which bears more than a passing resemblance to a rabbinical student on crack. But between work, and the kids, and everything else in my life, I had been a little slow in getting it done.
Two weeks after my birthday, I was getting McDonalds for Tiger, when I was pulled over after exiting the drive-through. For no other reason that the fact that the license was expired. I was cited for operating without a license, which is a criminal citation. "But fight it," the officer said. "I won't show up in court, and the judge will let you go."
So here I was, trying to show up for my court date. Well, it wasn't worth messing around with the ice pusher, so I walked back to the car and started to pull out. I could park in the library parking lot, as long as I had change. They were pretty strict about that stupid parking lot, for some reason, and I wasn't going to trade one ticket for another.
I pulled in and drove over to purchase my ticket for a quarter. I got out of the car and flicked a quarter into the machine. CHING! The coin clanged through and ended up in the coin return slot. Defective quarter? Canadian? I looked it over. No. Plain American homegrown. I tried it again. And again. And again. CHINGCHINGCHING
I fished around for two dimes. I found one, right away, but the other one didn't come easy. I could hear the traffic building up behind me. Dang. Finally, I located one, under my driver's seat. I flicked it in. SHOOP! A ticket shot out of the slot.
Finally. I parked the car, grabbed the citation, and started to head toward the courthouse.
It was a full house in the courthouse that day. I was absolutely in my element, mingling with the child abusers, drug peddlers and prostitutes. "What are you in for?" a shady looking character snarled my way. "Vanity," I replied.
Once inside, I looked around. Where was I supposed to go now? The court room? The electric chair? I looked over the ticket. It didn't really say. Hmmm, this was interesting. I started to walk down the hall, unsure of what to do or where to go.
Luck was with me, however. At the exact moment that I reached the end of the hall, a door opened. A burly man with thinning red hair and glasses called out my name.
"I'm here," I said. He ushered me into the Magistrate's office.
"That was good timing," I said, trying to be cheerful, and placed the ticket on his desk.
He shut the door and frowned. "Take of your hat and take your ticket off my desk. I don't need it. And sit down."
I thought about last night's adventures, and basically, all of my adventures these past six months. Wow. Had I somehow entered an alternative universe where everyone was just terminally mean?
I sat down and he started to go through the whole "tell the whole truth" routine. I said yes, politely.
At that point he motioned to two solemn-looking men standing next to him. Police officers. I started to feel a pit in the bottom of my stomach."
"We're here to determine probable cause for this criminal citation. Is your name Edward Slater?" I nodded. "Officer Schizback, is this the man you pulled over on December 18?"
Oh no, the Officer. He had lied. He was there. I was screwed. It was the slammer for me, fer sure.n This was it. I would have a criminal record, trade in my cell at work for a cell at the local jail, and never be able to work a crummy Public Relations job ever again. I'd be reduced to plying my trade on the street corner, offering to write press releases on candle safety to passers-by.
Officer Schizback nodded.
"So please tell me what occurred," said the Magistrate.
"I was on duty in the parking lot of the local McDonalds, said the officer (no, Rob, he wasn't hunky at all). "I noticed Mr. Slater in the drive through, ran a check, and determined that he was driving without a license, so I pulled him over. He acknowledged that he knew his license had expired."
The magistrate frowned. "Is this true?"
"Well, it is," I eplied. "But my birthday's December 4, and I really had been hoping to get a new license, because I look like a rabbinical student on crack in the picture, and I work in Rhode Island and I'm separated, so it was really hard to find the time but I really wasn't trying to do anything wrong but..."
The frown grew deeper. "Do you realize that he could have arrested you, there and then?"
"I do," I replied, trying to show the appropriate remourse.
"Did you renew your license?"
"I did. That night. Right after the citation."
"You didn't wait for a new picture license?"
"I didnt want to screw around with it any more," I replied.
"Show the officer," he said gruffly. I fished the new license out of my wallet and handed it over.
"Are you satisfied?" the magistrate asked Officer Schizback. He nodded and handed the license back to the Magistrate. "Denied," said the magistrate, and handed me back my license.
"That's it?" I asked. The magistrate nodded. It was clear that my time was up. I grabbed my hat and started to leave. No one said good-bye. I wasn't offered a cup of coffee for my efforts or anything.
As I made my way out and down the hll, I started to think about our conversation. "Denied." What did "denied" mean, anyway? Had the charge been denied? Or had my challenge been denied? Inquiring minds had to find out.
Or at least, I had to find out. I knocked on the door. No answer. Well, screw it. I opened up the door and barged in.
The magistrate looked over his glasses at me, not changing his expression an inch. "Yes?"
"Well, I was just wondering..umm...what does denied mean, anyway?"
The magistrate frowned. Perhaps he had a disease, and that was all he could do. "What do you think it means?"
"I think it means I don't have to worry about this."
"You're thinking correctly," he aid, and I almost detected a smile. "Goodbye."
I marched out of that office a free man. I had paid my debt to society, once and for all.
I'll just have to hide my license away from everyone until 2008, that's all.
Shit. I hope I look okay in 2008...