Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Sidewalk Smokers Club - Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-one

Jordan had no idea of Joya’s plot to save him (by sleeping with City Attorney, and more) so that he could be neither warmed by the gesture nor disappointed by the failure of the first attempt. Of course, like all of us, J. had more than one problem and the morning after the night of Joya’s date, he was in court for the arraignment of his Armenian nemeses.

And things were not going well. If American justice seemed to be functioning fine in its pursuit of him, it was not performing nearly half as well in nailing these obvious thugs to the criminal cross.

To say he had mixed feelings about seeing the man who’d beaten his face would be to understate the thing. Jordan tossed and turned over his decision to press charges.

Anyone who knew him was adamant on the point. “Don’t let them get away with it,” friends crowed, but they were not the ones who would have to see the thing through to the end, which was nowhere in sight really. Every horror story the American criminal justice system had ever produced seemed to run through his head the night before he was to tell the prosecutor whether he was predisposed to pursue a just outcome (or not). This wheel of recurring scenarios included the gang members going to jail, only to manipulate a violent taking of his life from the comforts of that very same prison. He envisioned himself walking up to his doorway a few years hence, someone stepping out from the shadows or bushes or whatever might conceal them in this future home in his mind, and stab Jordan deep in the stomach many times. Then, as he lay there, blood fast leaving his bluing body, the Armenian Power gang would taunt him for a while, laughing with knowledge that were any retribution to be visited upon them, Jordan would never have the pleasure of savoring it.

And he wasn’t being ridiculous. Such things happened a lot. For if the law’s arm was quite as long as legend had it, Jordan would never have been beaten up in the first place. In fact, there are gaps between the time something terrible begins to happen to someone at the hands of someone else and when (if) the police get there. Often, the gap is sufficient for the irreparable to occur.

The thing is that justice – naught but revenge with pretensions of civility – won’t let you sleep. Jordan was afraid of what might happen if he saw the idiots prosecuted to the fullest extent, but he thought he would never be able to look himself in the mirror if he did not. Because, although he was a fellow of happy disposition, J. had a hard time forgetting what had been done to him and when he remembered it, got mad. But at four a.m., when even the insomniac finds little left in the mind mill to churn, the morning paper was dropped on the stairway snapping him from the vicious cycle of frightful ruminations. “Fuck ‘em,” Jordan decided. “Off to jail.” And he closed his eyes to fall asleep for a mere two hours after which Carlos and the plastic chairs awaited.

Now, as he stood in the courtroom, J.'s anticipation level was set high. Two of the guys who had participated in his thrashing had been dropped from the case. The lady prosecutor explained, from a legal viewpoint, the technicalities that prevented their having to face music they had help compose and these were not satisfactory to Jordan. And anyhow it didn’t matter. They could do things her way or drop the case altogether. Justice, he thought, works in the same makeshift manner county hospital does. Everyone knew how busy and overworked the prosecutors were, which didn’t keep them from bringing it up all the time, and so Jordan acquiesced.

This being the situation, the only guy he had a real chance to get was the one who punched him in the face. That seemed, at least, to make some, if not complete, sense. When the lad in question entered, his eyes were demonic in the same way they had been that godawful day. The hair had grown in so as to avoid any associations between defendant and the anti-social organization through which he lived his life. He wore a suit and a tie, was accompanied by a lawyer, his dad, his sweet and suffering mom, and little sister.

But devil-eyes do not lie.

The lady prosecutor, a second-rate litigator purchased by the city’s low salary scale, opened the proceedings and did a serviceable job of enumerating and explaining the charges. The defendant’s attorney, polished and sharp as a platinum razor, rose slowly for effect, addressed the judge in collegial, almost intimate terms, and explained how his client had acted in self-defense and that it was Jordan who should be on trial. J. made a hiccupping kind of noise in response to the tactic’s pure audacity which, in fact, was standard criminal law fare. The lady prosecutor instinctively looked over her shoulder to hush him for the reaction, which was so common to those who did not spend their lives in court and could not understand the strange rules of the game played there. This is what defense attorneys do: point the finger back, try to blow some holes in the claimant’s recounting of the affair, as well as his character, make the judge weary, and successfully eke out a one-month sentence of community service cleaning graffiti.

But none of this was normal for Jordan and it infuriated him that he must needs be forced to sit and participate in the charade. Still, it was the best system anybody to date had been able to cook up and once the “not guilty” plea had been set and the contending parties escorted out through separate doors, the lady prosecutor explained that it was just as well. “This takes a long time and he’s scared to hell of returning to jail. It will be like being grilled slowly over a barbecue.”

Jordan thought a barbecue, a real one, not a metaphorical one, was just what the situation called for, but he went along with the metaphorical one. A second court date was set for some time much later in the future and he would try to be patient.

Meantime, the hearing had produced two negative responses in Jordan. The first was that it stirred up a lot of sediment lying loose at the bottom of his soul, sediment that made him fearful of things again. Second, it had renewed his utter detestation of all Armenians, young, old, or crippled. He saw them as savages from an ancient land who didn’t know how to behave and, instead, conformed to petrified traditions of family bonding regardless of whether one among them had done wrong or not.

Indulging in a time-honored American reaction, he purged from memory the fact of his own immigrant beginnings and wished that these Armenians would just all go straight back to where they came from.

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