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Jul 11 2011

Criminal Court Take Two

Hi guys ~

So, today¬† was¬† court day¬† ‘numero¬† dos’¬† out of the three¬† summons I’ve been issued thus¬† far for singing in the NYC¬† Subways. This one was from three months or so ago and the reason it¬† was issued¬† was a random, “Blocking Pedestrian¬† Flow of¬† Traffic” This was¬† from¬† the cop,¬† Officer¬† Chin, who needed to give someones a¬† summons so he wouldn’t get his ‘hiney’¬† kicked¬† by that¬† same¬† Amazonian¬† supervisor¬† they all¬† seem to be terrified of. I’m¬† certainly saving a whole lotta cops¬† butts these days¬† with all these tickets!

I had to be at the 54th st¬† Precinct/Community Court¬† building at¬† the inhuman¬† (for a musician) hour of 9:oo AM. That felt like the toughest¬† part honestly. Well, it was the¬† toughest part until I¬† saw the line of¬† people, that snaked¬† down the block and I¬† was told to¬† stand in it in the 90¬† degree heat underneath the blazing sun ’till whenever…¬† I love the heat, but¬† I gotta say, we¬† were¬† hurting out there. It was¬† beyond¬† hot. Today was one of our first¬† ‘heat¬† advisory’ days in NYC and here were¬† 50 or so people¬† being told to stand in it indefinitely with no shade or cover or water whatsoever.¬† Every time¬† someone¬† would step out of¬† line to rest from¬† the sun in the shade of a building or parked¬† truck the cop in the doorway¬† would¬† yell out “Get back in line.¬† You all have to stay in line or else¬† we¬† wont’ know what order you all came in.¬† So stay in line and stop wandering off”¬† This¬† was¬† gonna be a long morning, I could¬† tell already.

After about 45 minutes of¬† the heat, the line and listening to a¬† gazillion¬† conversations¬† in¬† every language¬† except¬† English,¬† I¬† was¬† finally allowed in, I¬† assumed to go into the court room.¬† Ha, if life were¬† just that easy. I¬† went¬† to the security area¬† where¬† the¬† metal¬† detector¬† stood, the cop at the desk¬† took my¬† summons and said; “What are you here for?”

“Singing” I¬† replied

“Ok,¬† go¬† back¬† outside and we’ll¬† call you when we¬† have¬† room.¬† The¬† courtroom is¬† full right now” Seriously? Back outside to¬† stand in the heat again? Come on NYC, you jut have to stop issuing so many summons that you don’t have room to¬† deal¬† w/¬† us all.

I went back¬† outside and since I¬† was no longer required to be in ‘line formation’ I looked¬† around¬† for some¬† shade.¬† I¬† spotted a line of¬† shade¬† created by a small overhang on the courthouse,¬† stepped up to it and stood under it along¬† with four or five¬† other ‘offenders’ lined up like pigeons on a stoop.

A small raggedy white¬† guy, one of the few out there who spoke¬† English said; “So, what are you doing here? What¬† did they get you for?”

“Singing” I replied once again, feeling as we¬† should all just be¬† wearing¬† t-shirts¬† w/ our¬† accused¬† offense on it to make things¬† simpler. “How¬† about you?”

“Oh,¬† riding my bike” the¬† disheveled¬† guy¬† replied

“Riding your bike.¬† Really?¬† Where were you riding your¬† bike that they ticketed¬† you?”

“Riverside¬† Drive” the guy responded and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper that matched his ragged¬† style perfectly in it’s¬† disheveldness. “See, I¬† drew a map to show the judge. There’s no¬† reason you can’t¬† ride¬† there, see?” and he pointed to his hand drawn map on crumpled white¬† lined paper that was¬† surprisingly clear. I knew¬† exactly where he had gotten stopped and¬† it made no sense, it’s a park and he¬† was on a bike. “It’s just¬† money for the city”¬† the tousled¬† guy said¬† as¬† he wadded¬† his ‘ map’ back¬† up and stuffed it in his pocket. “I¬† don’t¬† get it. All this¬† time and¬† effort¬† ’cause I¬† was¬† riding my bike”

“Yeah, seems like a lot of nonsense¬† to me” I¬† agreed as I¬† looked¬† around at the crowd that had¬† grown and now included not only our¬† United Nations of¬† ‘offenders’¬† but now included¬† a¬† few mothers¬† with their¬† children,¬† old men and women in wheel chairs, a blind¬† man¬† with his¬† guide and¬† a woman with her wheelchair-bound son¬† who had¬† cerebral palsy.¬† For the life of me¬† I¬† couldn’t figure out what¬† some¬† of¬† these people could have possibly¬† done to¬† provoke¬† being¬† given a summons.¬† But what do I know about running a city…

Just¬† then one of the groups of people who had¬† gone in prior¬† to me¬† came out¬† en mass, all with matching¬† bright orange¬† plastic¬† vests on reading “NYC COMMUNITY CLEANUP” In their hands¬† they each¬† carried a¬† tool or a bucket full of¬† what I guess¬† was¬† paint.¬† Oh my God,¬† seriously they make¬† you¬† do manual labour¬† for city if you go in there?¬† I thought as I¬† watched¬† the group of men and women¬† lug¬† huge 5 gallon¬† buckets of paint, paint¬† rollers on long handles, street brooms and¬† buckets with cleaning supplies in them¬† down the courthouse¬† steps. They wandered out, slow¬† moving and¬† slightly stunned looking, parked their newly acquired accessories on the¬† sidewalk and waited in the sun.

Community Service NYC-Style

I¬† wondered as I looked at the group of about a dozen women and¬† men, what¬† they had done to be put to work like that¬† for the¬† city. I leaned¬† back on the¬† brick of the¬† building and tried to¬† stay cool¬† while I pondered¬† the possibilities and¬† prayed to God singing was¬† not one of the offenses included in the “Community Clean Up” program. Just then¬† I heard my name “Heidi Kole, Heidi Kole”

“Yes” I¬† perked up hoping this process might be¬† finally moving along.

“You can go in now and go through the metal detector”¬† Yay! I’ve never been so happy to have¬† someone¬† rummage¬† through my belongings and walk through a metal detector in my life. I was just so¬† grateful to be in the air conditioning and feel like things were moving.

I passed¬† the metal and ‘what’s in your bag’ test with flying¬† colours and took a seat¬† in the all-to-familiar¬† courtroom filled, per¬† usual, with every race, height, weight, gender…every type of person you an imagine. I sat there along¬† with everyone else for a¬† good¬† hour I guess, listening to case after¬† case; shop lifting,¬† aggressive panhandling, possession of drugs, prostitution, robbery etc.¬† As the people¬† went up one¬† by one I noticed¬† the judge¬† looked¬† oddly familiar. A relatively elderly man, not too¬† tall, white with wire-rimmed glasses with his judge robe haphazardly oddly slung on his somewhat small torso. He had a curiously centered air about him given¬† the rest of that energy in that room. I wondered to myself, have¬† I sung to him at¬† one point underground or was he the judge I saw¬† last time for the¬† summons¬† entitled “Unreasonable¬† Noise”?¬† Hmmmm…Either way I didn’t get a¬† bad¬† feeling from¬† the¬† guy, actually the opposite¬† wafted over me, like I knew him somehow. Odd, right? Just¬† then “Heidi Kole? Heidi Kole?”¬† my name¬† was¬† called again, followed by that tell¬† tale question-mark the pro-bono¬† lawyers always tack onto a name when¬† scanning a courtroom waiting area¬† for the next¬† client they have never¬† before seen in their lives and are about to represent.

“I’m here” I stood up and¬† inched my way out the rows of¬† wooden¬† benches we were¬† all sitting¬† on like¬† school children and¬† followed the thin,¬† super pale, almost¬† translucent¬† Jewish guy in¬† his¬† mid¬† thirties with a blue-black Yam-aka¬† perched atop his head, up¬† some¬† steps to a small landing that quickly¬† became¬† his ‘office’.

“So, Heidi”¬† he¬† started in, what’s probably going to happen is the judge will dismiss this but it will not¬† take effect for¬† 90¬† days and in that 90 days you’ll be asked to go to a day of”Quality Of Life Training”¬† at a later date.

“You mean this case will be open for another three months¬† and I’ll have to go to Quality of¬† Life Training¬† on top¬† of that?” Oh no no no¬† was¬† running¬† fast through my head. You¬† are not ruining another three months of¬† my life¬† with more¬† of this stuff and I piped up.¬† “But I didn’t do¬† anything…” I said as visions of the orange pinnies and 5¬† gallon paint buckets¬† flashed¬† through my head.¬† And I pulled out my stack of papers I’d¬† brought with me ‘just in case’. “First of all, the¬† cop, Officer Chin said he only gave me a summons because he had to give one to someone¬† or¬† else he would¬† get in trouble from his¬† supervisor,¬† see, here’s the complaint¬† I filed with the city, it’s all there in detail” And I handed my papers to the skinny, pale¬† lawyer¬† with the Yamaka perched on his head. “Also, I’m a MUNY member and¬† here, here’s the¬† rules, the law on music in the subway, I’m allowed to sing, see? ” and I pointed to the rules outlined by the group City Lore that support our First¬† Amendment¬† right to¬† make music in the NYC Subways.

“But you see…” The ghost-white almost-a-man,¬† who I swore¬† was gonna disappear any minute into a pile of¬† white¬† gossamer dust in front of my eyes,¬† said, “You see, you were not given a summons for singing but for blocking the¬† flow of …”

“I know, I know what he wrote it for, but look at why he wrote it…”¬† and I pointed to the detailed¬† letter of¬† complaint¬† I ‘d sent the prior month to the police¬† department about the incident. “See, he said to me he had to give me a summons but I could keep on playing. That it¬† was just bullshit and he¬† only did it¬† to save his job” Then there was a silence during which all I saw was the top of that Yam-aka as¬† the ghostly-white lawyer leaned over and¬† perused my documents.

“Ok,¬† I’ll bring this up to he judge then”¬† he said. Ok, that’s not sounding very convincing Casper, I thought¬† to myself , but¬† decided to deal with part one later.

“Oh, and one more thing…” I piped up¬† quickly fearing he’d vanish and I’d not be abler to locate him again

“What’s that?” Casper the friendly lawyer asked

“Well, see I have¬† another summons, it’s for the same¬† thing,¬† well not exactly the same thing, well it’s the same thing just with a different¬† name on it” And I pulled out the most recent¬† summons given to me for “Disorderly Conduct”. “See, this one’s¬† for August and I’m on¬† tour in¬† August¬† and I can’t be here and¬† there at the¬† same time, so¬† do you think the judge¬† could hear this today as well?”

“No, Heidi, he can’t hear it today because it’s not here yet.¬† The ticket, it’s not here –¬† it’s too early”

“But it might be written wrong and he can just¬† dismiss it.¬† The cop¬† said he might have written it¬† wrong, you know, to help me out ’cause he¬† didn’t want to write it. Can you at least¬† check for that and maybe the judge can throw it out today?”

“Sorry Heidi ,¬† see we need the back¬† part” and he pointed to the back, white portion of the ticket d’jour; “That’s the only way to tell if the ticket is written incorrectly and¬† without that we can’t tell a thing¬† so¬† you’ll have to ask the guard s on your way out and see if they can give you a postponment form and you can mail that in and see if they’ll postpone it for you”

“Ok” I agreed¬† reluctantly as the ethereal man ushered me¬† out of his ‘stair-office’ and¬† back to my seat on the school-days-wooden benches.

Somehow I didn’t feel safer in his hands at all. It was tough to see a spine through that opalescence of a man. I mulled over asking for another lawyer,¬† someone who¬† seemed less wishy – washy¬† but decided against it as I knew nothing of the¬† ramifications of that request.¬† All I knew is that I’d most likely, as it was with the last time in court, have to take¬† things into my own hands and be my own best¬† defense. I can do this, I told myself. sure, I can¬† do this. Just¬† then¬† my ‘friend’ the judge decided¬† to¬† take a recess.¬† Crap! I thought as the whole room of us sighed in unison at the thought of¬† being on those¬† benches any longer than necessary.

Ok – so the¬† judge was¬† off¬† having coffee so most of us did what we were prohibited from doing¬† when he was in the room,¬† drink from¬† water bottles, text and chat quietly amongst ourselves.¬† The man next to me, thin & slumped ove in his part of the wooden bench started chatting; “You know it makes no sense, I just asked a person to¬† swipe their metro card for me an’ here I am in court for panhandlin’ -makes no¬† sense, no sense at all…” then he paused; “What you in for?”

“Singing”¬† Again,¬† I thought the t-shirt idea would be a might handy thing right about now.

“Singin’? a mini shout came out of the mans little¬† frame, “Singin?¬† What they get you for¬† singin’ for?”

“I was¬† singing in the subways and they ticketed me for that.”

“See, see, that’s just reeee-diculous” the little elf of a man muttered. “You’d think they got¬† better things to do than to mess with a musician don’t ya?” At which point his cell phone rang and he transferred his attention elsewhere.

After almost 45 minutes of hearing about biking tickets, tickets for asking someone to swipe their metro card for them, tickets for urinating¬† in the streets,¬† tickets¬† for¬† walking¬† between train¬† cars,¬† sitting in¬† a park, tickets¬† for just¬† about everything you can imagine,¬† our freindly neighborhood judge returned.¬† At the¬† same¬† time,¬† from the opposite door¬† to the judge, in shuffled a smallish¬† black¬† man wearing pants and a top in bright primary colours sporting¬† hand and ankle cuffs¬† as accessories and surrounded by four¬† cops.¬† As the judge¬† slung his black robe back on in his usual ‘whatever’¬† way, the brightly clothed,¬† hand-cuffed¬† defendant was seated on the front row of the¬† benches¬† flanked on either side by a cop.

Man, I wonder what he did, I and probably everyone else  in the room  wondered.  Then some mumbo-jumbo was shared up there by the judge and  the cuffed  man  was brought up to  stand in front of the judge.

“Hey how¬† come he gits to¬† go up first?” my ‘bench-neighbor’ leaned over and asked me.

“I don’t know”

“Man, this is gonna take forever¬† if they keep doin’ this¬† shit” the metro¬† card¬† guy mumbled. “And I’m¬† thirsty, it don’t make no sense¬† at all after all that¬† time outside in that heat that we have to¬† sit here and¬† we¬† can’t even¬† drink our¬† water”

That part I agreed¬† with. None of us were allowed to drink water while in the courtroom,¬† even the woman with her young child was reprimanded for giving her little¬† girl something to drink.¬† That made no sense¬† at all.¬† I had to agree¬† with the accused ‘panhandler’¬† to my right.

Just  then the cuffed guy was  given his  private words  from the judge and was escorted out.

“Now were back in business”¬† the skinny metro card dude said under his¬† breath. “Let’s¬† get this show on the road” he followed as he nodded to a short Hispanic guy who had just come¬† from the lawyers¬† ‘office’ holding not one but¬† five summons in his hands.¬† “Woah,¬† dude you got a pile there,¬† don’t ya'”¬† as he grinned to his new buddy who remained¬† silent,¬† speaking only through his eyes.¬† Just then “Heidi, Heidi Kole”¬† Yay it’s my turn I thought. “Wish me¬† luck” I said as I turned to my temporary bench-neighbor’ “Good Luck” he¬† said softly as I¬† walked up¬† to the judge.

“Heidi Kole, docket number¬† one hundred and thirty seven, charged¬† with “Obstructing the Flow¬† of Pedestrian Traffic” – I almost gagged as a laugh suddenly surfaced from my stomach at¬† hearing out loud why I was there. I swallowed the erupting laugh not¬† desiring to crush my chances before¬† we¬† even got¬† started.

I approached the bench and layed my bright turquoise¬† blue¬† bag¬† down on the floor, hiding it¬† from view, not wanting to¬† appear too ‘loud’ in front of the¬† judge. As I looked up I caught the judges eyes for the first¬† time and saw he was grinning. He¬† remembered me! He¬† remembered me from last year and “Unreasonable Noise” . God, I hope it’s in a good way, please God, make it in a good way I chattered in my head. The¬† judge continued with his knowing grin,¬† the kind of grin you’d expect to see if¬† your best friend were sitting behind the bench and you were both going out for¬† drinks later on that night. The judge leaned over to his clerk and without even giving our gossamer lawyer a chance to¬† speak he¬† said; “Do you mind if I just¬† dismiss this?” I¬† guess the answer was yes¬† because he popped his head¬† back up, pushed his glasses back into their rightful place on his¬† nose and said; “Dismissed” Wow – super, I thought, dismissed!¬† I’m¬† sure my floaty friend of a lawyer¬† felt the¬† same way.¬† All was about to be a wrap¬† when I remembered, my other ticket.

“Excuse me” I spoke up and the judge¬† looked at me “Excuse me, may I ask a question?”

“You¬† want to ask a question?” the judge asked¬† surprised. I believe the subtext there would be something to the effect of; “You’re¬† serious, you want to¬† ask a question after I just gave you a huge break?”

“Yes, if I might, I’d like to ask a question”

“All right.¬† What’s¬† your question”

“Well, you see, I have this other ticket. It’s the for the¬† same¬† thing but it’s all the way in August and I am¬† supposed to be¬† touring on the day of the hearing, you know, above ground, not in the subways, and I wondered….” and here I¬† paused to gauge the judge’s¬† face, all was clear, he seemed¬† curious; “Well, I wondered if there is any way you could take care of this one today as well ’cause I¬† really don’t want to miss¬† my performance.” Then there¬† was a pause, of surprise I¬† think and the judge¬† once again leaned over to his¬† clerk…

“Is there anything I can do for her?”

Man, this is one rockin’ judge!

There was some more mumble,¬† whipser,¬† mumble and apparantly¬† this time¬† ‘Casper’ had been right; “If you¬† write¬† to me, or the clerk, get a form outside then I’ll postpone your date ’till a later time, all right?”

“So, I will come¬† back¬† right?” I said¬† wanting to make sure another visit was what he was talking about. Because if there was any way to¬† avoid another day here I surely wanted to¬† know.

“Yes” he¬† said, followed by “That’s all right,¬† right?”¬† Ok, I’d¬† reached the end of happy time¬† in court I¬† could tell.

“Oh, yes, yes,¬† that’s¬† fine, thank you” and I smiled as I grabbed my bright blue bag from it’s temporary hiding place.

“Oh, and Heidi…” I heard the judge say my name one more time…crap, is he gonna reprimand me for¬† something…I turned around; “Don’t miss your tour.” And he gave me once last friendly smile. I nodded an “Ok” , smiled¬† back and whisked¬† through the courtroom doors to freedom!

Even though it looks like I’ll have to go back for summons number¬† three I felt just¬† fine. I finally had someone on my side and¬† who better than the judge hearing my case!

As I walked up¬† Broadway to get some food as I was¬† starving, I noticed a smallish black man in oddly familiar¬† brightly coloured clothing walking here and there,¬† wandering in and out of¬† random store fronts along the street. Oh my God , it was ‘cuff¬† guy’ – the guy who h d been, not¬† ten minutes¬† earlier in the same court room as I, in hand and ankle cuffs. Wow, that judge is in some happy mood¬† today, I thought to myself¬† as I¬† watched the¬† newly freed man explore¬† Broadway in the¬† sunlight. Either that or the NYC cops are beyond bored and are picking up anyone and everyone they can just to¬† say they’re doing¬† something.

Most likely, it’s the latter¬† that’s the truth of the¬† matter.¬† Well, at least I know my friendly judge will¬† continue to have a job for a long while now & you know who I want sitting when I go in next month for “Disorderly Conduct”

Pray guys, ok?