Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This is Plaintiff Judi

If you have read my previous blogs, you might recall that I said that nothing negative happened in the making Stud Muffins. Confession time: Something occurred that could fairly be described as bad. Reeeeeeaaaaallllllyyyyy baaaaaaaaaaad. It seems I found myself entangled in a dispute involving that dirty subject of money which required an impartial third party to settle.

Money is a strange beast; it can be your best friend or your worst enemy, your neediest child or your most generous dead aunt, the thing you covet or the thing you loathe. Throw into the mix another person’s convoluted relationship with the stuff and you’ve got a potentially explosive situation that can destroy all that is good and decent in life.

Melodramatic, ain’t I.

I am not going into the gory details, such as who or why or dollar amounts. (You can read about this and all of my other whacky adventures in my autobiography one day. The working title is Muffins with Nuts.) But I would like to share with you some of my observations of my day in court.

First, please note that the only exposure I’ve ever had to the workings of small claims court is by viewing the awesome and wise Judge Judy on television. So I began watching the show avidly and taking copious notes. I vowed to be a Judge Judy success story by gleaning from every pearl of courtly wisdom she unleashes on hapless plaintiffs and defendants alike. For example:

1. “Where did you think you were coming today, a tea party?” She offers this phrase to those who stand in front of her with nary a receipt or proof to back up their claim. So I became uber-prepared. My notes were cross-referenced with my evidentiary papers and photos. Color coded labels were attached to like articles, which were then neatly clipped together. Pertinent information was highlighted with coordinating markers. Everything was stacked in the order of my presentation. And when I finished collating every last scrap of evidence, I asked myself, “Who the heck am I?” Organization is truly and sincerely not my forte. In fact, trying to be organized physically hurts my brain. Yet this neat stack of papers, binders, and envelopes became my organizational masterpiece, and it was joy to behold (if you enjoy that kind of thing).

2. “Are you going to a beach party?” This is Judge Judy’s snarky reference to the most absurd choices of clothing people have worn when appearing not only in her courtroom, but on national television. Therefore, for my day in court, I made a conscience decision not to wear my tube top/flip flops/leather mini skirt/fake fur jacket/ripped jeans/t-shirt that said, “Beer is the reason I get up every afternoon”. I opted for a classic skirt and sweater outfit in muted colors.

3. “What’s your point?!” In other words, her time is valuable and she has little patience for rambling. Figuring my judge would feel similarly, I honed my argument to a tight “just-the-facts” presentation and practiced it endlessly for weeks. I argued my case to the meatloaf I was making for dinner. I delineated my talking points in the shower. I sometimes rehearsed my closing argument in the pick-up lane at my daughter’s school where I would pretend I was speaking into my cell phone so I wouldn’t look like I was the crazy mom in the mini-van talking to herself.

4. “Put on your listening ears! God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason!” I kept making mental notes to NOT interrupt the judge or the defendant. I knew this one was probably going to the toughest one. I am just a bit overly passionate about my participation in Stud Muffins, and if I were to hear something remotely incorrect or false from the defendant, I was not sure I would be able to keep my one mouth shut.

The court date arrived, and armed with the infinite wisdom of Judge Judy, I felt ready to walk into that courtroom and have justice served. My court documents instructed me to arrive at 8:00 AM. I pulled into the parking structure by 7:30, fearing that had I’d been late I would be found in contempt of court and thrown into the pen with all the other hardened tardy people. I couldn’t let this happen, as I look bad in horizontal stripes.

I passed through the metal detector without incident and located my designated courtroom. There were quite a few people seated on the hard wooden benches that lined the hallway outside (noting that several must not have watched Judge Judy, as they were dressed like they really were going to the beach). I found a space and clunked down my ten-inch stack of evidence with a resounding thud. Looking up, I found myself directly across from the defendant. Awkward does not describe the moment. It turns out that small talk is not the order of the day in such a situation. But figuring that relocating might be construed as a sign of weakness, I stayed put.

I let my gaze shift to the left to avoid a staring contest with my nearby nemesis. At that moment, my emotions started to get the better of me. I wasn’t nervous; I was sad. Without going into detail, there really was no real reason that our dispute had to come to this extreme ending. Going to court, in my opinion, was the one tarnished note in a project that was essentially the most fun I ever had.

At 8:00 sharp, I gathered up my mountain of evidence and sat up straight and tall, ready for my first experience in a court of law. Ten minutes later, my poorly-developed core muscles gave out and I slouched back into the bench. Ten more minutes passed, and I put the bulky stack back on the bench. And as each minute of waiting passed, my heart became heavier than a platter of day-old muffins.

I shifted my gaze to the right this time and saw something I missed coming in. There was an emergency door that was blocked off by a short velvet rope that had been stretched loosely between two posts. It struck me as odd that a government entity would use something as plush as a velvet rope to barricade a door. But it triggered a memory of my favorite velvet rope story. At one of our first book signings, they had to put them up to direct the large group of people that had appeared. I remember thinking what an amazing thing that was. There was a need for crowd control because of an idea I had created. What a hoot!

More memories of that event began swirling in my head: Smiling faces, enthusiastic words of praise, flashing cameras, writer’s cramps, an intense sense of pride, and diminishing stacks of books. It was an incredible night, and it was just the beginning of so many amazing and fun experiences--more than a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom should ever have. (See past blogs!)

I looked at the short rope again, and I realized that it formed a smile. I don’t know if I believe in signs, but I was suddenly filled with joy. I just sat on that hard wooden bench and smiled like the velvet rope. I realized, with every fiber of my being that no matter what happened that day I would forever get to treasure all the good things that happened to me and all the wonderful people I have met as a result of Stud Muffins. I’m sure people, including the defendant, looked at me strangely, but I didn’t care. Like the Gershwin song goes, “No, no, they can’t take that away from me”.

When I finally walked into that courtroom, I did so with a sense of peace in my heart. I presented my side calmly and logically, keeping my Judge Judy tutelage in the forefront of my brain. Then it was the defendant’s turn, and I only interjected inappropriately once (I told you I would have trouble keeping my tongue when confronted with comments I believe to be falsehoods about my favorite subject). Within a half an hour, it was all over.

So here are the big questions: Did I win the case? I don’t know yet. The judge will decide after reviewing all the evidence and let me know within a week. Do I think I won? Yes, I think so. You see, the judge did something that, to be honest, I found frustrating at first. She allowed both the defendant and me to say whatever we wanted for as long as we wanted. I couldn’t figure out why she didn’t cut off any lengthy and/or extraneous testimony, a la the curt Judge Judy. Then I realized what she was doing: She was allowing both sides the opportunity to speak, as well as over-speak. And over-speak. And over-speak.

It brought to mind the old saying, “If you give a man enough rope, he will hang himself.” In this case, I believe the rope was plush red velvet.