The whole thing turns my stomach and I’m thinking of bailing now. But I can do no such thing if I want any hope of getting paid. And I really need to get paid. My writing career is about as dead as that possum on the highway between lane two and lane three. Law is all I have right now, sad as it may seem. It’s my only source of cabbage at the moment.
This judge is a real hard-ass, a real stickler for the rules of civil procedure. I haven’t heard much about her reputation or otherwise, but I’ve been in front of her on one other occasion and she was unimpressed with me to say the least. I think she saw me as a punk with no real business as an attorney being in court. She looked at my punkish haircut, bangs in front of my eyes, and my lazy smile, my nihilistic charm and razor sharp sarcasm and decided immediately on the spot that I am nothing more than a cocky maverick, an immature, little smiling shithead with nothing but nonsense to spew in her courtroom. Now I’m just hoping she forgot about that incident and will receive me and my argument under the terms of a clean slate. It’s my only real hope of not crashing and burning in this place.
Dang, she’s really laying into this guy hard. This pathetic little balding forty-year-old attorney is trying to argue with her on every little point and she’s shooting him down mercilessly and making him wait for it. She’s having none of it. Respect. She looks like a younger, thinner version of Roseanne Arnold, and she wants to show how much smarter she is than everyone else. She wants to tell this guy what’s what; she wants to teach him the arbitrary rules of law that he has forgotten since he graduated from civil procedure back in law school. She even reminds me of a law professor with her general demeanor and relative impatience. I’m immediately regretting the choice to come here today. This won’t end well. It can’t.
I’m really not sure what to make of this entire situation. I nearly failed my first semester of civil procedure so I’m really not all that interested in trying to display enviable knowledge in front of her now. And I also recognize how soft my case is. This hearing will not be won by making her feel sorry for the client. She’s only interested in the law and the law on my side is shaky at best.
I tap my foot repeatedly and listen to the hearing going on in front of me. There’s an unopposed motion being heard; the responding attorney has submitted no response. The rules of civil procedure are clear; they require a response. I’ve submitted no response to my own motion, or rather the motion that has been brought against my client. It’s a demurrer, an unopposed one that I am most likely going to lose. And my unresponsiveness is actually and technically not my fault but this judge is unlikely to see it as such. They never do. Sometimes they will acknowledge special appearance attorneys for what they are but that provides little solace in my situation. Typically speaking, judges require you to fall on your sword no matter what the circumstances, even if it is not your sword. And I’m really a little too cavalier and irreverent for such unfanciful falls. They have never suited me well in the past.
I can only imagine the things that she’ll say to me when I stand up there and try to argue my case without a formal written response to present. It’s unheard of in this courtroom, NC-27. NC-29 is pretty hostile too. I’ve had some luck in NC-31 but I attribute that mostly to the beginners luck paradigm. Now I’m far from a beginner in this courtroom and I’m sure this Roseanne look-a-like is not going to forgive it.
I think about bailing once again. The door is right there, it is beckoning me to exit through it and successfully extricate myself from this hairy situation. But I shouldn’t be so rash. I should be brave in the face of certain failure, like all those who have come before me. So I start formulating my response, the only thing that I can say when she tells me that I cannot speak; when she claims that the court will not hear my argument. My response will be somewhat witty and clever. And don’t forget elegant. It will be something to the extent of, “What is the point of keeping the hearing on the calendar if we are not allowed to speak?” I will challenge her rules by asking, “Why not take it off calendar and make the tentative ruling the official one if I’m not allowed to speak?” I’ll say it in a way that connotes only minor antagonism. At the end I’ll shrug and offer up a charmingly curious smile.
Surely taking the whole thing off calendar would be in the interest of judicial economy but it would be flying in the face of substantial justice. I start to wonder which concept is more important to this particular judge. I feel like she wouldn’t care a ton about getting a writ of mandamus lodged against her. I feel like it happens more than she would ever care to admit.
Suddenly she tells this attorney dude to go fuck himself, only not in so many words. But it makes me sit up a little straighter in my chair and take note. He asks if he may say something more on the issue. The judge expressly disallows him the latitude. But he begins speaking anyway. I can tell she’s a little more than put off by his disrespect. I shake my head. He’s getting her in a really bad mood right before my case. I hate this guy for his unthoughtfulness.
It doesn’t matter what he says because she rules against him anyway. Each side mutters ‘thank you’ and gathers themselves to leave, like defeated little kamikazes looking for an opening to sail on through to their ultimate demise. They’ll head down the stairs and back up Melrose to search for the nearest bar to drink the sorrows and pressures of their lives to circumstantial oblivion. I share their spirit but not their poison.
Then the judge calls my case. It takes me a second or two to recognize the name but when I do, I realize it is game on and I have no idea how to play the game. I’ve never considered myself to be very good at this art of advocating. The politics and the deceitful stealth involved, while sexy, has never really been my forte. In fact, despite vilifications from my most outspoken critics, I am actually quite likeable, dare I even say charming at most times. As such, I’m rarely given to outbursts or streaks of meanness. That’s why this unsavory type of business doesn’t really suit me. I take most affronts with a cavalier smile born of self-confidence and an endless streak of seductive successes. But I digress here in my chair, waiting for the courtroom to unfill so I have the actual physical space to approach the bench and get on with this suicide mission.
I reluctantly stand and walk through the swinging doors to the podium and the side marked ‘plaintiff’. It’s the right side in this courtroom because the jury seats are off to the right. Luckily this is just a motion hearing so no jury sits in spectacle of me. I’m not sure how well I would be received by the overly conservative venire that makes up this county anyway.
Now that the judge has been sufficiently pissed off by the thoughtless lawyers that came before me, I have to go up here and present my stupid little argument that she will have absolutely no interest in hearing and absolutely no difficulty in dismissing. This might have had a shot of working if we had submitted an opposition to the demurrer like we were supposed to. But we didn’t and it won’t escape the attention of the judge, not this one with her impeccable memory of the rules of civil procedure. I’m not sure how I could possibly get a better outcome here than the ones that came before, the ones who just left with their metaphorical tails in between their legs. I’m fairly certain that I would have been better off staying home writing that dissertation than coming in here and stating my appearance. But I shouldn’t be so negative. People are always telling me that. So here goes nothing.
I have to wait for all of the telephonic appearances before I can state my own. It annoys me because I’m representing the plaintiff and should get to go first. I guess this judge cherry-picks the rules she wants to follow. Only when it suits her I suppose. Finally it’s my turn and I speak up. She pauses and looks at me so I don’t give her a chance to talk shit. I immediately proceed with my argument, the one that I am technically not even allowed to give, hoping against all hope that she will see it fit to listen and maybe grant my request accordingly.
It’s a sob story that I don’t quite believe in but I keep going because she doesn’t stop me. And I don’t care that it’s largely bullshit I’m spewing because I’ve never been all that concerned with being legally inspired. This is just a pastime until I can make it to New York under the guise of ambiguous storytelling. So I refrain from telling the judge that we didn’t know this and we didn’t know that because ignorance of the law is no excuse and she would clearly know that. They teach you that at orientation. I really hate doing this because I never know how it will be received but I always assume it will be received quite poorly. Still, I continue on with my pathetic argument because she appears to be listening and hasn’t tried to stop me yet.
Then I finish and wait for her to respond. She just stares back at me. She looks violently unimpressed. I don’t blame her; I’m not very impressive. I was a B student in law school and probably more like a C-style attorney. But I have a devil may care attitude and a smile that is hard to refute. She may think I’m a total moron but she still wants to be me because I’m twenty-six and she’s fifty-two. That’s mainly what gives me the confidence to stand tall and stare her down. She doesn’t intimidate me at all. Unlike her, I can walk into a bar and make guys turn their heads and that’s pretty much all any woman wants in life anyway. At least that’s what I’ve been taught by the American media and my peers. And I’m down to believe in it because it has more evidence supporting it than any other stupid theory that has been propounded over the years.
You know you came in here without a written response and I really shouldn’t have even let you speak at all, she tells me simply. I smile and nod. I explain the error, that we responded on a separate motion, but she shrugs indifferently. The plaintiffs are confident that they can cure any and all of the deficiencies in the complaint, I assure her even though that claim is tenuous at best. She snorts derisively and I feel a slight smirk creep onto my face. I can’t help it. I know I’m spewing nonsense and she knows it too. But I won’t admit it.
I’m going to assess sanctions in accordance with the tentative ruling, she announces plainly. I sigh and ask her if that is really necessary. She nods. I point out that if we had submitted an opposition to the demurrer she might have given us leave to amend the complaint, and that is the whole reason I have come here today. She responds that we’ll never know because we neglected to submit anything. I nod to concede her point and offer a small, sheepish smile. But we can cure the deficiencies and fairness dictates that all pleaders get any and all opportunity to litigate their grievances in a court of law, I whine ineffectually. It wasn’t really a whine because I’m not overly invested in this case but I wanted to make this judge aware of the protocol in case it might help. It doesn’t. She’s not at all impressed with me and I suddenly feel like I was set up specifically to fail. For some reason, I always feel that way.
I’m not giving the plaintiffs another bite at the apple, she responds firmly. Why not, I inquire boldly. It always takes me at least twenty bites to finish an apple, I tell her. She blinks at me and shakes her head. I smirk and offer another shrug. I realize that she is not given to appreciating my particular brand of humor but her clerk chuckles slightly so I consider it a small victory. But if you were going to give the plaintiffs another bite of the apple had they submitted an opposition to this demurrer, then how does that warrant the assessment of sanctions now, I counter back, becoming somewhat interested in her rationalization. After all, sanctions are punitive in nature and this is hardly deserving of punishment, I go on.
She nods and immediately instructs the attorney on the telephone to address the issue. I’m surprised that she didn’t outwardly dismiss my argument. I wonder if she is just patronizing me or if I actually made a good point. I always tend to think when judges are being nice and nodding their heads it is done as an attempt to patronize me. I can’t imagine that I have ever said anything terribly intelligent in court.
But I remain silent and listen to the reply broadcasted over the loudspeaker from some attorney sitting in the comfort of his Century City law office. Meanwhile I am standing here in court, the only one of this mess of attorneys who took the time to show up, and I’ll probably still lose. His argument is tired and unimpressive to say the least but it’s not my decision to call. The judge seems to have been sufficiently convinced because at the end she states once more that she will assess sanctions. I sigh loudly and shake my head. She states that it is her final decision and she motions for the hearing to come to an end. I shake my head but offer the obligatory ‘thank you, your honor’ as I gather my things and begin to leave. She cuts off the telephone and announces that the court is in recess.
As I’m walking through the double doors, I hear her shout at me. You gave it a valiant effort, she offers as I am retreating from the courtroom. I turn halfway around and give her a disbelieving ‘thank you’ because I disbelieve her sincerity. I feel like she is definitely patronizing me now but I don’t let on. It is not my position to call her out. I would rather just leave and get back to my life, the busy mess of shit that draws my attention away from the things that I should be accomplishing, the things that I need to accomplish in order to make one tiny one hundredth of my silly dreams come true.
Out in the hall I smile, not because I won -- I certainly lost -- but because it is over and it is the weekend and I can focus on other shit now. Of course I would feel much better if I had won but I knew going in that I was being set up for a losing battle. I just wish others could see it as rationally and realistically as I do. But that’s almost never the case.
I nod to the bailiff on the way out of the courthouse. He advises me to have a good weekend and I reciprocate the same sentiment to him as I cross the threshold next to the medal detectors. I hardly feel like my weekend could be qualified as good because I will have countless ridiculous stories to write for kids that will take credit for them in exchange for cash. But I will attempt to slip in a little time for myself nonetheless. It feels so few and far between these days and any progress being made seems minimal at very best. I’m still not in any sort of position to claim any modicum of success in this painfully cutthroat world. Really all I’m doing is suspending myself in an unendurable state of intoxication through the use of pleasant narcotics if and until something good happens. And I cannot qualify or quantify the word ‘good’ but it appears defined in my mind as something of a dream, something of a gigantic reach. I would like to say that the idea that something good might happen to me is possible but at this point it seems closer to improbable. The further I descend into disillusionment the further the concept of good feels from touching me, the further it seems from gracing me with its benign presence.
Not for nothing, as I walk back to my car to brave the congestion of highway 78, I think about the vast difference between how I pictured my life and what my life has become. It’s a grand canyon of difference and I am convinced that if I had literally fallen from such a height I would be dead by now, by all accounts content in my nonexistence. But I am not a wishful thinker and never have been. So I will get in my car and ignore the persistent daydreams of my fiery car crash and ultimate demise to head home and maybe write something immersed under the influence of narcotics and the blissful arrogance of my favorite Showtime show.
Under the spell of said narcotics, I might think that anything is possible (I usually do) and it will all be perfectly serene. I’ll think about how it might have been, how it could still be if I were actually recognized, not for my smile or my body but for my words and potential talent for arranging them into beautifully scripted sentences. That grip on reality that I will assert is mine in my darkest hours is actually quite tenuous and I’ve never been a well-wisher, not even for myself. I’ve always been painfully realistic, to a fault of sorts, wondering why I’ve never made it to any critical acclaim while knowing deep down it’s because of my laziness and total lack of ambition.
As I cross the street, I fantasize coolly of being struck by a car and meeting my nonnegotiable end. Oh how freeing it would be to not have to think about all of the ways that I could have been better, all of the ways that I could have made it to that point of actual critical acclaim. When you die at twenty-six, people mourn over all of your wasted potential and all of the stuff you could have accomplished if your life hadn’t been so devastatingly cut short. But when you die at forty-six, people just talk about how you were such a disappointment and how much of a loser you turned out to be and how much better your legacy would have been if you had died at twenty-six. They might not say it out loud but they think about how your death was probably a blessing in disguise.
I worry now about toeing that very fragile line between dying young and potentially wasted and dying old and being that never was. It makes me wonder every day if I’m not making a huge mistake by not banging a nice opiatic shot to my main vein. I’ve been told it might not be the most terrible idea in the world (by my father when President Obama was re-elected for a second term), and despite the double negative it might turn out to be my best shot for a contented future.
But then again, maybe futures are overrated in their entirety and maybe this discussion is one better had at thirty-six.
[If I butchered the title of this painfully melodramatic tale of an ordinary Friday afternoon, don’t blame me, blame google itranslate, a perfectly wonderful scapegoat.]