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Punishment Guaranteed

July 22, 2013

Yesterday, when I added the final paragraph to Saturday’s entry (prior to which people may have been confused why I included “feminism” as a category for the post, since I’d plan to mention Alice Paul but published it without doing so), I mentioned that I would include an except of Misused Minds: Curse of the Educated Youth, my third stage play, depicting the failed contestation of a traffic ticket. That sequence appears at the end of this post.

I discovered last night that I have less than two dollars in my checking account. With last week’s $112, much of which needed to be saved for paying for my storage, $20 went into the savings account to pull it up to $1,701. Then another $25 was spent at Rite-Aid on such things that someone who wisely handles their money would eschew, such as batteries for my electric razor and a small bottle of contact lens solution (the worst value, but the cheapest up-front cost). I think the rest must have gone to food and beverages (there was a heat wave this week, causing me to spend an unusually high amount for this, even though as much as possible I bought 99¢ bottles of Nice! black raspberry sparkling water, because the recreational purchases ended.

The absence of this money means that, at least in part, I will have to draw from savings to pay for my storage, which will surely result in the punishment of a Next Step shelter unless the intervention of the executive director of Picture the Homeless, who said that she would “throw her weight around” for me, proves beneficial. The fair hearing for my SNAP benefits has been set for August 2, and the entitlements specialist at the shelter said that she plans to accompany me, if possible. That was prior to the announcement of the date, which I received on Saturday. It also means that I will have to go hungry any time I can’t go to a soup kitchen (none of which is practical to get to from Brooklyn College) because the money isn’t there to pay for food. I saved a muffin from breakfast today, and there is a really good soup kitchen tonight at All Souls Unitarian Church, and there is the premiere of a short film I crewed in 2005, Playing Doctor, tomorrow night.

I decided that the comicbooks I bought last week would be my last for the time being except for Demon Knights #23 next month, the final issue. It’s the only current series with which I’ve caught up and have to see what happens to Sarah, my favorite character (even though it was Etrigan and Madame Xanadu that made me want to buy it initially), who appeared to be healed on the final page of last issue, even though the series hasn’t been nearly as good since writer Paul Cornell left to do Wolverine as was replaced by Robert Venditti. Late and final issues are often notoriously difficult to obtain, both initially and in the future because of low print runs. When I was a teen, I bought the only copy of The Transformers #80 I could find, even though it has a big crease in the back cover. That issue is worth a fortune today, and I never saw another copy until several years after that purchase. (I have a complete set of Marvel G1 Transformers at my mom’s house.) More recently, it took several years for me to get a copy of Swamp Thing (vol. 1) #24 (the final issue), which seemed to be perpetually out of stock in online stores. I’m having similar trouble with the last year and a half of Swamp Thing (vol. 2), which ended with #171, and #19 and #20, the final issues of volume 3, are a bit difficult to find outside of very battered dollar bin copies. I have either single issues or trades of all of volume 4 (29 issues) and volume 5 complete up to the current issue (#22), but since I’m waiting to finish volume 2 before I read them, it shouldn’t be too big a nuisance to stop buying those.

Here is the promised excerpt of Misused Minds, which was based on a combination of an incident that happened to me as well as traffic court incidents I heard from other people. In the play, Ashleigh removes the obstructing branch with a chainsaw and illegally puts it in the police officer’s mailbox. In real life, I was driving up Boulevard Place, the least traffic plagued route from IUPUI to the house in which my mother now lives alone, late at night after having used the 24 hour lab. My parents hated to go that way during the day because it’s a lower class black neighborhood, but I didn’t mind, even though I was once offered “rock cocaine” by a guy on the street corner when I had my window open. I guess a white guy in that neighborhood that late looked suspicious to the white cop, as if I had come there for that purpose. He silently put on his flashers and said, “I had to chase you down for a bit” after he stopped me. He claimed that I had “sped right through” a stop sign and implied that I wasn’t familiar with the neighborhood, even though I drove the street on a daily basis and said so. When before the judge, he changed his story, very hesitatingly, to “a slow roll,” but I thought it was a To Kill a Mockingbird-style railroading–the word of a civilian could never be taken above that of a police officer. I had to pay the ticket and an additional $20 in court fees, at which I had initially smiled at the announcement of the sum before the sentence completed to show that it was not a reduction in the ticket fine but an additional charge. I did have an incident in which throwing my hands up in frustration knocked off the rear view mirror from a nudge and led to several days with it sitting on the dash and me occasionally grabbing for it like some nineteenth century device, but fortunately, that was a few weeks later. I combined the incidents for dramatic purposes, even though it might require stage magic to execute with the simple staging I suggest in the introduction of the play, which advises not to attempt to put either a real or fake (think Grease) car on the stage, but to use chairs and black boxes.

(The sound of the radio ascends with “Somebody Else’s Road,” written and performed by Jana Stanfield, metonymically indicating that Ashleigh will not get this job. As the song ends, chairs are set up facing SL, and Ashleigh, in effect, switches cars, Emily exiting. As Ashleigh is driving home, singing along with a tape of “You Don’t Know Why” from The Survival of St. Joan, music by Hank Ruffin, lyrics by James Lineberger [this was never released on CD, but the playwright can provide a copy and Lineberger can be contacted through a website for the rights]. She notices police lights in her rear view mirror. She thrusts up her hands and gasps in frustration. The rear view mirror is knocked off the windshield as she brushes it with her hand. She gets her driver’s license from her wallet, tosses it up on the dashboard, and puts her hands on the dash before the officer arrives.)

ASHLEIGH
Good day, sir. What seems to be the problem?

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
Well, for one thing you have no rear view mirror.

ASHLEIGH
It’s right here. It just fell off.

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
You mean it just fell off?

ASHLEIGH
Yes, it just fell off. I pulled over because I thought you needed to get through, and when you pulled over and stopped me I just–threw my hands up, and it knocked the rear view mirror right off the windshield.

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
Well, I’m going to have to ticket you for that, but since I was already going to ticket you, anyway–

ASHLEIGH
What for?

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
This is a school zone. The speed limit’s twenty-five. You were going forty.

ASHLEIGH
Really? I didn’t know it was a school zone. Where is the school?

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
It’s just–down that street, around the corner.

ASHLEIGH
Really? Because I didn’t see a sign. The only speed limit sign I saw said the speed limit was forty, so I just came through.

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER

Well, the speed limit’s twenty-five in this area, so I have to give you a ticket. You just sit tight, and I’ll have it ready for you.

(Exit Baumgartner and pause just long enough to give the audience
some impatience.)

ASHLEIGH
A hundred and thirty dollars? There was no sign!

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
Yes there was.

ASHLEIGH
Where is the school?

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
It’s around the corner down the street. Can’t you see it?
(Ashleigh looks around, contorting her upper body quite a bit and straining to see.)

ASHLEIGH
Uh, yeah, if I crane my neck around, I can sort of see it.

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
Yeah, well that’s what that sign’s there for.

ASHLEIGH
Well, I certainly didn’t see it, and I’ve been down this road many times, and I’ve never seen that sign before.

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
Well, that sign is there, and you’re paying for it. It’s ninety dollars, plus another forty for your windshield–for your rear view mirror

ASHLEIGH
Uh, because I don’t keep windshield mirror glue on me at all times I have to get a forty dollar fine? I didn’t know it was loose!

OFFICER KIRK BAUMGARTNER
Well, I’m not changing your ticket, so you have a good day, Miss.

(Exit Baumgartner.)

ASHLEIGH
(almost a growl)
God, I hate fucking cops! There was no god damn sign there. I’ll look around.
(pause) He’s gone. (continues looking) Wait, what the fuck?

(Ashleigh gets out of the car, observes that there is a sign, but that it is completely blocked by the branch of a tree and its extending twigs and leaves. A little yellow from the “SCHOOL” addition to the top of the sign is barely noticeable, and completely unnoticeable from a moving vehicle.)

ASHLEIGH (Continued)
How can he charge me a fine when they don’t have the decency to remove what’s blocking it? How can anyone possibly read that? It must be some sort of speed trap they’ve got set up in there to rip people off! And that cop–it was fucking Kirk!

(Ashleigh returns to her car. Lights fade out. When they fade up, Kara is in the passenger seat with a camera in her lap.)

ASHLEIGH (Continued)
Look at that. That is insane.

KARA
Well, what are you going to do?

ASHLEIGH
I’m going to contest the ticket. We’ve got the camera to prove I’m right. We’re going to take a bunch of pictures–

KARA
–from every conceivable angle.

ASHLEIGH
And that will be the proof that this cop was ripping me off. Remember Kirk Baumgartner, who was the cop who came and investigated the bum who broke into the apartment? He was the officer, and he did not seem the least bit eager to cut me any slack. I don’t know what his deal was. I swear he must have something against me, not to mention this being a speed trap.

KARA
(taking some pictures)
I think you’ve got a pretty good case here. If you look really closely, you can see there’s a sign, but you certainly can’t read it.

ASHLEIGH
Now let’s try to get a bunch of pictures in–make sure we get the school, make sure we can establish that this is the exact location where it occurred.

KARA
Good thing my parents bought me this Nikon. They use a mirror so the viewfinder shows exactly what’s in the lens, and it’s easier to prove you haven’t doctored it than it is with digital.

ASHLEIGH
I wish I had parents like yours.

KARA
It seems like your parents are more the exception than mine. Most people’s parents seem to want the best for them. I don’t know what the deal is about yours.

ASHLEIGH
Get the street signs. Make sure what we have is exactly whatit says on this ticket. I think we’ll have it made. This guy is going to look like an idiot in front of everybody.

KARA
Ashleigh, do you really want Kirk looking like an idiot?

ASHLEIGH
Why are you calling him by his first name? He is Officer Baumgartner to us. I don’t know why you’d–

KARA
Because I like to be friendly.

ASHLEIGH
I know you like to be friendly, but it’s not very friendly to pull someone over for speeding with something like this.

KARA
You’re right, it is absurd. I’ve just got to snap out of that friendly mode sometimes. Here, (hands Ashleigh the camera) Take some of me in front of it.

ASHLEIGH
See, I told you that you need someone like me.

KARA
And you need someone like me.

ASHLEIGH
Yeah, an attention hog.

KARA
It’s not my fault you’re camera shy.

ASHLEIGH
I respect the art of photography, I just don’t like being the subject. Next thing you know, they’ll be proudly displaying “artful nudes” of you at your church.

KARA
You’re always in this agitated state.

ASHLEIGH
Well, when things keep happening to agitate me, I’m in an agitated state. It’s not like I’m in an agitated state without stimuli. You know you’re considered depressed only if you’re depressed when they take of stimuli that make you depressed.

KARA
But if the stimuli are taken away and you’re not depressed anymore than you’re not clinically depressed. I know. I majored in psychology, remember.

ASHLEIGH
That’s the same thing you’re talking about with this agitation and me.

KARA
You definitely have a point, though.

ASHLEIGH
I know I’ve got a point, that’s why I made it.

KARA
Ashleigh, sometimes you sound really smug.

ASHLEIGH
I know. I think this lack of obsequity may be hurting me at getting a job.

KARA
That could well be.

ASHLEIGH
Why do they want obsequious people? Obsequious people are boring.

KARA
Because they want people who’ll work for them and not create for them.

ASHLEIGH
And why is it you get a job where you get to create, and I don’t?

KARA
I guess I’m just lucky.

ASHLEIGH
And how much of that is because you’re pretty?

KARA
Ash, you’re pretty.

ASHLEIGH
Yeah, but I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t doll myself up the way you often do.

KARA
Well, you did get me to stop wearing dresses, other than as costumes, and I don’t think it’s hurt me so far. Are you sure it’s not just you?

ASHLEIGH
Well, Lori can’t get work. Don’t you know a lot of people who can’t get work?

KARA
Actually, yeah.

ASHLEIGH
They want people to get experience, and how are you supposed to get experience when every company has a hiring freeze, or when they’re looking for entry-level candidates, the market’s so bad that they hire people with experience so the people who don’t have experience are completely shut out from getting the experience, and so they get older while employers want fresh young people and don’t pay attention to that they just skipped over a whole group of people who were prepared at a time when there wasn’t anything for them, and we were born in the seventies, so we always get the short shrift
because there are fewer of us, and if the market ever picks up, we’ll be glutted out by those born in the eighties, since there are a lot more of them. They call us “Generation X” or maybe it’s “Generation Y” so it’s obviously as in “why do you treat us like shit?”

KARA
(embracing Ashleigh)
Ashleigh, calm down. You’re ranting.

ASHLEIGH
Kara, don’t touch me in public.

(Kara breaks away.)

KARA
You’re sounding homophobic. There’s nothing gay about two straight girls hugging in public.

ASHLEIGH
I’m just not comfortable with it. It feels weird.

KARA
Maybe it wouldn’t if you weren’t shouting cuss words in a neighborhood where we’re the minority. There are probably people looking out their windows that we can’t see because they’re not backlit.

ASHLEIGH
Cops can get away with just about anything, you know? Have you ever seen a cop go through a red light, not because he’s chasing somebody or is racing to the scene of a crime, but because he’s sitting at a stoplight, he turns his lights on, runs the red light, and turns them off. That is an abuse of
power, and every time I see that, I want to smash the lights of that cop’s car, because he’s not using them the proper way, but then, he’s done something wrong, and I’ve done something wrong, but he can punish me, but I can’t punish him and not get in trouble. If I were to smash his lights, it wouldn’t even be a punishment for him because the department will pay for it. This is the evil of the system. There’s no accounting for these people, because they get out of the sight of their superiors and they can do anything they want in front of people who don’t have power over them, but they have power over us, so we can’t do anything to stop them from abusing their power, and that’s exactly what it is when a person is laid off so that the person in charge can make more money. They’re only there because they inherited it, or they came from wealth to begin with and started with a bunch of money to found a business on. If you don’t have money, you can never make your way up to that position. I mean, you’ve seen the community theatre around here, it’s great, but what does it take to get your talent recognized? It takes money, and some people’s talent is never going to be recognized because they don’t have the money to promote it. All the while the people with money can get away with legally stealing it from you.

KARA
Ashleigh, you haven’t lost the money yet. You’ve got the hearing.

ASHLEIGH
If you had to scrape up the money, you’d be worrying about it. Come on, I think we have enough.

(Music: “What We Don’t” by Jody Marie Gnant)

(The Judge hastily goes through the photographs, not really paying much attention, her mind already made up based on Baumgartner’s word. The images projected show the photographs with many iterations, Kara in some of them, all showing where the sign is almost completely obscured by the tree branch, and from various distances. The Judge says her next line immediately in response to Jody’s “Compelling, yes” line.)

JUDGE
(sounding bored)
These pictures don’t prove anything. They could have been taken anywhere at any time.

ASHLEIGH
Are you actually looking? That’s the same location. The street si–[gns prove it’s the same place.]

(The images continue while the Judge speaks. She looks at Ashleigh and not the photos.)

JUDGE
Don’t interrupt me or I’ll hold you in contempt. There’s no date on these photos. It could very well have grown that way subsequent to you being stopped for the ticket. That was several months ago. I don’t need pictures of your girlfriend mugging it up, either.

ASHLEIGH
Would you actually look instead of glance? The photos are dated the following day. It says so on the envelope. Are you calling Cord Camera liars, too?

JUDGE
From this evidence I believe that the speed limit sign was perfectly visible and that the defendant, Ashleigh Juran, was speeding fifteen miles over the limit and the fine stands with twenty dollars additional for court fees.

(Judge bangs gavel. Ashleigh smirks and starts to protest.)

ASHLEIGH
May I have my photos?

JUDGE
No.

(Ashleigh places a finger under her nose in imitation of Adolf Hitler’s mustache and raises her other arm in a heil.)

ASHLEIGH
Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler–

JUDGE
One more ‘Heil Hitler’ out of you, young lady, and I’ll have you for contempt of court.

ASHLEIGH
Well, that just shows you don’t understand why I was doing it.

JUDGE
Enough, young lady! I understand perfectly what you mean to say.

ASHLEIGH
If you did, you’d actually look at the photographs, or at least give them back to me.

JUDGE
Because I’m the judge, and the truth is what I say is the truth.

ASHLEIGH
May God have mercy on your soul. Well, I can either say you’re telling the truth and perjure myself, or say that you’re a liar and be in contempt of court, therefore, you are a fascist.

JUDGE
Don’t give me any more lip young lady. I’m the judge.

ASHLEIGH
You’re not even looking at what you’re judging!

JUDGE
Mizz Juran, contempt of court is much more serious than a fine. Now step over to the recorder to get your paperwork.

At one point in the play, Ashleigh, who reads comicbooks, even though she’s focused on Steve Gerber and Vertigo and not so much on superheroes, says that she has all the makings of a supervillain except the lack of ethics, so I thought I’d end with this song, which includes scenes set in a homeless shelter much nicer than the one in which I live, in which the main character has similar feelings, but knows that his ethics are going out the window because he could never be worse than society. I have rehearsed this song in David Friedman’s class, and the only way we could make it seem real was by having me sit down and imagine that Mike Bloomberg was across the table from me.

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