25 August 2005

somewhere in downtown brooklyn

Lately, I find myself doing things that I never, ever thought I would do. Like filing a lawsuit. Not only am I deathly afraid of any sort of legal action in general, I am a firm believer that everyone in this country is already suing everyone else in this country at a moronically rapid pace. That woman who spilled coffee over her dumbass self did not deserve money for being an idiot, she deserved to have her driver’s license revoked (but at least she took it from McDonald’s). I spill shit on myself all the time; if I’ve owned it more than 24 hours, it’s got a stain on it. But do you see me taking every street vendor, Mexican restaurant and spaghetti sauce manufacturer to court? No, because I respect the fact that lawsuits should be reserved for things that are not caused by your own damn stupidity, and I am just a messy, spilly person.

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary herein above, my business partners and I converged on 141 Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn to, well, file a lawsuit.

We are suing the New York International Fringe Festival for our box office proceeds from last year. Although I have nothing but contempt for the Fringe, I have to admit that the situation we are in is not entirely their fault. But owe us money they do, and give it to us (or even promise they will) they haven’t, and we’re pissed, broke and it’s hot. Basically, we’ve been politely asking Fringe to reissue a check, which was unsuccessfully deposited after it expired, since February. As a human being with a checking account (and as the “Financial Director” of our company), I have written quite a few checks in my lifetime, and it doesn’t take six months to write a check. I promise it doesn’t.

At first, I thought all we’d have to do was simply tell the Fringe we needed a new check, they would cut us one and we’d all go on with our lives. Obviously, I am rather naïve when it comes to such things, because what actually happened included a string of (mostly unanswered) communiqués and the final realization that these bastards are ignoring us. So after postponing it as long as we could, and writing as many strongly-worded letters as our vocabularies would allow, we caved and went to what I refer to as “Night Court”.

So there we were, about to embark on our first Commercial Claims Lawsuit at Brooklyn Civil Court. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat paranoid, but I have nothing on these people. You have to take all electronics out of your pockets or bag and give them to someone who turns them all on and off whilst you and your bag go through metal detectors. Please do not bring a camera of any kind to the Courthouse as it causes mass confusion and panic. I had to leave my phone (with its verboten camera) at the ceaselessly charming “voucher table”.

Although you walk directly out of the metal detector towards said table and instinctually queue in the logical direction of straight ahead, the imposed inefficiency of governmental agencies requires you to walk past the table and around the wall behind the table so you end up facing the very direction whence you came. Then, you may engage the two police officers (who are undoubtedly the bases for several characters on Reno 911!) in a conversation that will leave you befuddled for days. They have your phone and your driver’s license (or other form of ID), which they got from the three police officers running the metal detectors, and they fill out a voucher. Then they ever-so-pleasantly ask you to sign said voucher and give you the pink carbon copy and your license. They (because, remember, it takes two trained police officers to do this) then put your phone in a phone-sized manila envelope and staple it shut with the voucher attached. You are now released to make yet another inexplicable U-turn to get to the elevators. Getting through security was so damn complicated I started looking for a place to get local currency when I finally finished.

Please, do not get in an elevator in the Brooklyn Civil Court and expect the floor number to light up when you push the button. I could hear a soothing female voice: “We do not have the resources to have light-up buttons. We are too busy paying seven police officers to be cranky at the security checkpoints downstairs. 9th Floor: Small Claims Court, Commercial Claims Court”.

There is no way to describe the unspoken depression, frustration and quiet resignation which permeates the 9th Floor of 141 Livingston. When the elevator doors drew apart, I was pretty sure I was at the DMV in my hometown. It was the blandest vacant hallway in all the world, and every employee we passed looked sufficiently beat down from thanklessly working for the city government. But there is something hilarious about walking the length of a wide corridor into a smallish room with four clerk windows – only one of which is open for business – and one long “courthouse” bench, where the sunlight streams in through what must be government-issue blinds and the “Now Serving” sign faces the guy behind the window, not the people waiting.

We took our number, 18 (chai, so that’s kind of lucky, I guess), and waited for the guy in front of us to finish his business. Now, for all the idiocy that pervaded the rest of our time at the courthouse, the clerk at Small Claims Court is destined to be fired for efficiency and competence. He gave us a yellow form with a smile and we filled it out with knitted eyebrows.

Whilst we were filling out our yellow form, a gaggle of clearly irritated men in jean shorts came into the room. They were (we think) Polish, and they were not happy. I have no idea what they were doing there, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t suing the Fringe Festival. By this time the line had grown quite long, so we never were able to find out what their grievance might have been, but I am very glad it wasn’t with us. Meanwhile, our Artistic Director, who was physically filling out the forms, began to have some sort of panic attack. The only logical reaction, of course, was to laugh at her and ask what her freaking problem was; it’s only a yellow form. If you’re gonna panic about something, panic about those angry Eastern Europeans over there.

So we got her all calmed down, figured out what “date of transaction” meant and gave our $29.79 and our yellow form to the very nice clerk, who, because he is so nice, gave us our court date.

We descended in the freight elevator, significantly relieved to have at least part of this process over with. Clearly, our Artistic Director was still a bit shaken: when the elevator stopped at the fourth floor and I tried to step out (in my great haste to exit the premises), the only warning she was able to muster was a semi-autistic sounding repetition of the word “four”.

When we finally reached the promised land of the ground floor, we were faced with the challenge of retrieving my mobile phone. Somehow, even though I was coming at the line from the opposite direction this time, its inventive construction required me to again make two U-turns in order to queue. Officer McGruff used a nifty staple remover that looks more like a letter opener, but whose main function is evidently launching removed staples at the person opposite (i.e., me). Reunited with my phone, we turned to go, only the exit eluded us. Somehow, despite being extremely well signed, the exit was the most complicated part of the whole trip. There are tons of big red and green signs with arrows that say “Exit”, but it is such a counterintuitive flow that the three of us were slamming into each other like Larry, Curly and Moe in front of the voucher table before we finally got a grip and got the hell out.

All was not lost, though, we still managed to fit in a spot of shopping at Brooklyn Industries and dinner at Joya.

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