Essays: On The Road And A Little Off

Sign Panama's Guestbook

More essays
at KindaMuzik:

Panama and the Live Sex Show

Soulful Trip Revealed:
Panama Red Plays Roosendaal

Welcome to Amsterdam, Buffy

   Long Letter from LaLaLand
Guest Writer: Marlan Warren

Our Day in Court

Part Two

As for the judge, he looks straight out of a Norman Rockwell-type painting entitled "The Judge" with looks so bland he almost blends into the back wall. Gray hair, wire frame glasses, and the obligatory stern face. He lacks the stage presence of the judge I saw when I was on jury duty last year, and looks more like a paper pushing bureaucrat.

The Deputy D.A. is a young woman with hair straight out of "Sex and the City." Yesterday Jack told me that when they spoke on the phone, this D.D.A. asked what the "T" stood for in his middle name. It stands for a Hebrew name, he replied. This made her mention that she's also Jewish and has relatives in Israel. Then Jack told her that he'd worked on a kibbutz before going to Law School, and pretty soon she was agreeing with him that the bail for his client was indeed too high.

Now he's saying to the judge:

"Your Honor, bail has been set at $750,000 for my client and we would like to request it be lowered to $200,000."

The judge looks at Sex in the City: "What says the D.A.?"

Her attitude is almost cordial: "We are agreeable if it pleases the Court." Looking at my boss like they're partners. Switch hitting.

The expression on the Judge's face does not change. He looks down at a paper and back at the attorney. "The Court sees no reason to lower bail based on the OR report I have in front of me."

"Your Honor, that is the worst OR I've ever read in my entire career." His voice is casual yet firm. Not overdone. Not outraged. As if he were talking to me across the desk in the office.

(Note for all you non-crimmies: "OR" means "Own Recognizance" as in "He was released on his own recognizance"...i.e. He's not a threat to society.)

"The worst?" the judge repeats. "Explain why."

I find that I'm praying. As if I'm on a plane about to go down. Jack has blithely assured his clients that he can probably get this man released from jail; the bail guy is ready to go; the wife has arranged for transfer of money. But what if he can't?

I think we're all holding our breath as my boss answers without a ten-second delay. He points out the "errors" in the report with the alacrity of someone who rehearsed ahead of time in front of a mirror. It states that this man was previously accused of similar crimes, which is not true. And it states that he's dangerous and mentally unstable.

"My client has been examined by the psychiatrist Dr. Sharma who found him stable and not at all a danger to himself or others."

The report by Dr. Sharma seems to be the straw that opens the door of the jailhouse. It was Jack's idea to have him examined by this particular "court" psychiatrist (it was done in the three days between Jack Steel being hired and coming to court today). And turns out to be excellent strategy.

"I have great respect for Dr. Sharma's opinion," says the Judge. And he lowers the bail to $200,000.

(Note: Several days later we get the bill from Dr. Sharma: $900.)

A wave of relief sweeps across the row where I'm sitting. Chickie's bail bond son jumps up and runs to the front. The girls next to me are whispering happily in Chinese. The expression on our client's face (he has managed to put his glasses on during the proceedings) has not changed, although I'm sure he's the most relieved.

I follow the bail guy, but head off in the opposite direction -- out of the damn courtroom -- suddenly aware that I can barely stand on my feet. Jack is right behind me (he moves fast), following: "So what d'ya think?"

"My legs are weak," I answer. I had no idea how much adrenalin must have been pumping through my body during that judge-attorney interrogation. But my legs feel like rubber and if I don't get out of there, I feel I might pass out.

Out in the hallway, Jack is quickly surrounded by the wife and company. I return to my post at the wall by the Exit sign. It dawns on me that I haven't eaten for a while, it's lunchtime and that could account for most of the spacey weakness I feel. I'm also contemplating the enormous triumph in the air. Watching my boss's genuine happiness as the girls congratulate and fawn over him.

"Okay," Jack is saying. "The dim sum's on YOU."

On our way to Jack's SUV, he tells me how nerve wracking it was for a "moment." We replay the incident for our own pleasure. "I figured he'd bring up the OR..."

What struck me was that his argument to the judge was the same as when he talks out loud to me about his defense strategy ("Cops didn't find the gun until after it was impounded, but they claimed it was during the stop..."). That must be his "rehearsal."

I tell him: "I can never be a lawyer. My rich relatives still won't talk to me because I refused to let them send me to law school. But now I know that I could never make it through a day in court."

"Well, there are other forms of law," Jack says. "It takes a special breed to be a trial attorney. You have to get off on the wrangling..."

My brother is a trial attorney, I tell him. Now I have an idea of what his life is like. Jack doesn't respond to this tidbit about my background.

I ask him to drop me off in Chinatown so I can get my car and go to work. "I thought you were taking the bus..." he says. When we get to the lot, he stops at a corner and says: "Come with us to dim sum...I'll take you back here after."

I thought they were kidding about the dim sum, but I say sure. Also it pleases me to be invited. He likes to chase things, so I'm glad I thought it was a joke -- made me look like I was running away.

Chinatown has been my stomping grounds for the last thirteen or fourteen years. It's where my friends live, where I've spent thousands of days and eaten at countless banquets. And now here I am with my boss who was married to a Chinese woman and has a couple of Chinese-Jewish kids.

Now we're parking at the Empress Restaurant where I performed the Plum Blossom fan dance in their plaza for Chinese New Year a month ago (wearing my red silk Chinese pajamas). I mention this to Jack, but again he doesn't respond. The only time he ever perks up is if he thinks I'm going to tell him something racy about my sex life.

The whole dim sum takes two hours. We have to wait for the girls to do the bail thing at the courthouse. Meanwhile, G's cell phone goes dead and he has to find a pay phone to check messages. I practice self-control and try not to eat even though I'm hungry.

I don't remember much about the wait (I was so damn hungry) except sitting next to Jack at this huge round table near a window. Trying to tell him about Chinatown and my experiences and feeling like it's falling on deaf ears. He keeps looking into my eyes and he's either thinking about how green they are or wondering if his eyes have bags under them today (a common worry of his).

I change my own subject with: "His wife is so pretty...She's made for a kimono. Western clothes don't do her justice."

"I know," Jack replies. "Did you notice her eyes have no flap of skin, you can't even see the eyelid...?"

It amazes me how much he takes in and what.

"I've decided to hit them up for an extra $23,000 on my bill," he tells me.

"You're worth it. And I think they can come up with it."

"Yeah, they'd agreed to pay the first lawyer $35,000 for pre-trial," he says. "Pre-trial!"

When the client's wife Hannah arrives, she sits next to him and I have a chance to really take in her features. Long hair pulled back, accentuating her heart shaped face. Her voice is that soprano singsong that is considered "feminine" in China. But she's intelligent, aware.

She won't know when he is released. They can't tell her. If they take him back to the County Men's Jail, it could be ten or eleven that night.

The next hour is full of thanking and laughter and dumplings. All three of the girls (they are all around 20 or younger) are artists. The youngest barely speaks (I think she's unsure about her English) and is a graphic designer who just quit her job. Suzy, the sister with the glitter lip gloss, used to work for a film production company. And the wife, reveals that her undergrad degree was in film production.

I talk to them about my own film background and about the Chinese adventures in my life. They ask questions, act interested -- without any of the condescension I'm used to getting in this type of Chinese-Caucasian conversation. And I know this is more information than my boss has ever known about me. But of course he doesn't add to the questions or remark on my answers. He's probably wondering why his cell phone doesn't work.

Near the end of the hour, he gets up to use the restroom which means crossing the huge room to the other side of this first class restaurant. He's gone for a while. When he returns and says: "You'll never guess who's eating dim sum on the other side..."

"The Deputy D.A.?" I ask.

"The Judge."

Seems looking at that Chinese lineup in the audience must have given the Judge a craving for dim sum. Jack said he sat down and schmoozed a bit with him.

This is how law gets done. God help you if you can't afford it.

The dim sum bill is $45.00. My boss scoops it up and waves his Platinum card over Hannah's protests ("I was going to pay!"), "No, no...this one's on me."

Yeah. Right.

On our way out, Jack waves to the judge who is sitting with some other lawyers from court. The judge manages a half smile and a nod.

Waiting at the elevator together (without the girls), G asks: "So do you think Suzy is a lesbian?"

"Why? Because she didn't sit in your lap and kiss you?"

"No. But she said she thought the waitresses were pretty at the Thai restaurant Chan Dara..."

"I told you that I thought Hannah was pretty...Does that make me a lesbian?"

"That's different."

The weather outside is the epitome of a beautiful spring day. I already said that I didn't feel like going to work, but he said oh are going.

So we drive back to my car and he's got this beautiful Latin jazz playing -- reminds me of the Almovadar film where the women are in comas and the men care for them. "Oh I saw that," he tells me. "If I had a CD burner, I'd burn you a copy."

When I first came to work for Jack, the primary issue between us was his inability to thank me for anything or show his gratitude. The day before this court day, he took me to a Four Star restaurant for lunch and said that he has given this case extra attention, "Because they are your friends."

So I drove an hour to work after that, found it impossible to think between the after-adrenalin effects and the MSG. Jack never showed up. Probably went to the gym. After a few hours, I gave up and went home.

The following day, my boss comes in and wants me to tell him again how scary the court was for me, so I do. "But you know something?" he says. "On a scale of one to ten for how hairy things can get with a judge...that ranks a half a point."

I don't tell him that later that night, I had a complete meltdown when my friend Tom came to visit and I recounted the day.

It finally hit me that the theme of being judged has run throughout my entire life. Often figuratively, but also literally. From the crime & punishment of my childhood (both parents were violent) to being locked in a closet once by older neighbor boys who put me on trial and found me "guilty" (I was about five) to being put literally on trial by other children who accused me of something their brother had done to being accused of "tampering with a vending machine" at college in Florida when someone found me trying to get a stuck pastry out with a clothes hanger (sentence suspended)...

And finally to having to deal with lawyers as a way to make money -- and my own brother who turned into a major asshole the day he started practicing.

"But instead of rejecting all this legal stuff," Tom said. "Why not accept it?"

"That's what I just realized," I said as I cried. "That I must accept judgment as part of life. I can't run from it, and I'm learning to co-exist with it."

Well, thanks for letting me share, Panama. Keep up the good fight and lemme know if you ever need a good bailout.



A couple days later, the clients invited us to a "celebration" dinner at their home. I didn't want to go, but my friend Adam insisted. And Jack said he either couldn't make it because he had custody of the kids that day, but if he did come, he would wear his Phantom of the Opera -- because the client said he was going to play "Phantom of the Opera" on his piano.

In the end, I went late -- just in time to find my boss saying bye on their doorstep. "Ah, there she is!" I thought I heard his regret at my not coming earlier, but I knew it was better. By then, I'd seen the evidence and was afraid I'd blurt out something confidential while talking to him there. Jack was wearing his ice cream suit with his "Ten Grand" mallard duck pin ("I had a client who couldn't pay me except in this pinky ring he had -- so I had it taken apart and redesigned into this pin...").

He hugged me a couple times and left.

I spent the evening talking to Adam. We talked about writing and Suzy joined us from time to time. She petted my neck and complimented my sparkling shawl. And the way she looked at me and kept touching me, I wondered if Jack was a sharper judge of people than I give him credit for.

The next day when Jack called me at the office to say he was going to be late, and he wanted to know what I did at the party. I told him that I thought Suzy might swing both ways (she had her boyfriend there).

"Oh, I see," he said. "If I say it, you tell me it's because she didn't sit in my lap, but now it's okay for you to say it."

"No, I'm saying it because she DID sit in my lap." Not really, but it's funnier this way. As someone once said: Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

Editor's note: The e-mail address of Ms Warren, whose somewhat dizzying misadventures have been recounted here before, is