March 31, 2006

Karma and Christ in Court

So clever I was to give myself half an hour this morning to get to the courthouse, which is probably a mile from my home. Unfortunately, the first time I went there was on my bike and when it came to the car I couldn’t exactly figure out the location. Fiftenn minutes before I was due in the courtroom I found the location but all the lots were full and I didn’t bring any money for a paid lot. How clever I was not to bring any money for the paid lot.

Searching around, as the clock ticked, I end up being forced onto the highway on-ramp and manage to exit just a few blocks from my house. Although I don’t believe in god I plead, “oh god, please help me, please, please, please." At this point anything has to help. Yes, I had to do the search for the courthouse all over again. Five minutes until I am due in court and I pull into a paid lot. The guy doesn’t take credit cards. I start to cry. He tells me that there is an ATM three buildings down. I am going to be late for court, go straight to jail, don’t pass go, and don’t pay $200.

Frenzied, I throw my fancy business shoes in the bushes and run in my socks in the direction the attendant points. I find the Police Officers Credit Union. Now sweating from the run, stress and return of humidity, I sprint into the building and ask for their ATM. “It is in the drive-thru”. I run around the building, followed by another parking lot patron who looks to be about the same age as me. She is also trying to get $10. No drive thru. Run back into the building and they nonchalantly tell me that the drive thru is down the street. No time. Very stressed. Going to jail. I ask if the tellers can give me a cash advance from my credit card and they say yes.

Waiting on line for a teller I breakdown and start to cry. I can’t help it. I’m going to jail and I’m totally frustrated and stressed. A soft, middle-aged black woman, who is being helped by one of the tellers, walks over to me and asks me if I am OK and why am I crying? “Just the stress of going to court,” I tell her. She says that it is not worth getting upset over, gives me a hug and asks me to pray. OK, I say thanks and proceed to the teller.

Get the cash, run to the parking lot, pick up my shoes from the bushes, run to the lot attendant and hand him my $10. He gives me my ticket. I ask if the other woman who was also looking for money was able to pay. “I haven’t seen her back yet,” he says. I pay for her space too. Run back to the cars, put the tickets under the windshield wipers and begin to run towards the courthouse. Two folks in the lot tell me I should put the parking ticket inside the car or someone will steel it and the car will be towed. I’ll take the chance I tell them, it is 8:10, I am late for court.

Get to the courthouse, through the metal detector, scurry upstairs and there are hundreds of cops and defendants roaming the halls. I ask someone what I am supposed to do next and they say, “go inside”. It feels like a scene out of Ellis Island. A cop opens the courtroom door and asks how I’m doing. I say not well. At this point I’m dripping sweat, really pissed at my lawyers for not telling me about the parking (ah yes, blame others) and am generally furious that I have to be there at all.

Sit down in the filled-to-capacity courtroom. Names are being called. Maybe I’m still okay. I ask the guy next to me and he says that they will run through the names again for latecomers. The judge tells us that we will be there the entire day, there will be a jury, and that we can only leave for ten minutes at a time. No newspapers, magazines, books, food or cell phones to be used, consumed or enjoyed in the courtroom. I predict a long, awful day and the onset of hunger as I realize that I still don’t have any cash because I paid for my space and the other woman’s with the $20 I liberated from the Police Credit Union.

8:20am and my name is called. My lawyer is in the room. Looks like I won’t go to jail, yet. I sit in silence with the 200 other folks as we await our fates. All very mysterious as cops, lawyers and defendants enter and exit in a constant stream. Now the judge says that she will call the names of people whose cases are being dismissed. I ask the guy next to me how cases get dismissed. He says that either the cop doesn’t show or you pay the judge. My neighbor’s name is called!

When he returns to his seat next to me on the cold, hard bench I say that he should be my lawyer. He pauses, turns to me and says, “no, but I’ll be your friend.” Two thoughts run through my mind. He wants a date or he’s going to give me the secret to getting my case dismissed. “Believe in Jesus Christ” he says. I tell him that I’m Jewish. He gets upset and says, “So what? We’re all people? Jesus helps us all. I’m black, she’s white, your Jewish but race doesn’t have to do with it. Jesus helps us all.” His stinky breath starts to freak me out and I realize that I shouldn’t be so extroverted and clever. “You’re correct,” I tell him. “Are you really listening to me?” Yes, I tell him that I am listening and he is correct, Jesus looks out for all of us. Now I’m starting to freak out because they’ll throw us in jail for disrupting the court.

But suddenly my name is called. It’s 8:40 and I’m called to the bench. My lawyer stands with me in front of the judge and he tells me that she is dismissing my case. Christ almighty! I’m free! When I return to my seat my neighbor, who is waiting for the court to process his dismissal papers, says “what did I tell you and what did you say? See, Jesus looks out for you and it doesn’t cost money. You can’t buy a favor. Because you said you believe he helped you.” You know what, I had to agree. We both determined that once ooutside we’d raise our hands to Jesus. I said I would even consider kissing the ground.

As we continue to wait for our papers to be processed the cold, hard bench, suddenly doesn’t feel so cold and hard. He periodically asks me if I believe. Yes, I tell him. I do believe. His paperwork is completed and as he leaves he taps me on the arm and gives me a knowing smile. Five minutes later I’m free too. As I walk down the same steps that I had run up just 45 minutes earlier the cop that had let me into the courtroom asks, “how are you doing?” I say, better now. “You were pretty stressed earlier.” He reminds me. “Life is too short to stress, it isn’t worth it.” I agree with him as I exit the building and walk towards the parking lot.

I arrive in the lot and the attendant walks along side me and asks, “I just have to ask you, did you know that lady?” I tell him no, I’ve never met her before. “That was a really good thing you did for her, paying for her space.” I tell him that my case was dismissed and he says that it is Karma, you have to believe in Karma. As I drive away I raise my hands and thank Jesus, reflect on my Karma and once again recognize that the people of Houston have touched me deep in the heart of Texas.