Observations in the Harrison Municipal Court

1. The majority of people in this courtroom are chewing gum. This includes the court secretaries and the judge.

2. Lawyers are permitted to keep their phones.

3. Everyone else allegedly does not have a phone on their person. I sincerely doubt that this is the case. The court bouncer — that is, the man outside who admits visitors — asked us: Do you have phones on you? And we said, Yes, but they are switched off. He made us put them in the car.

The summons letter, however, was unclear about the prohibition of electronic devices in the municipal building. It says,

“IMPORTANT: Absolutely no electronic devices are allowed in the Court/Municipal building! Please make all necessary arrangements to stow your belongings before appearing at the Courthouse.”

In today’s day and age, my guess is that most people, or at least most millennials, would interpret “no electronic devices are allowed” to mean “usage of electronic devices is prohibited.” On an airplane, for example, one must “stow” electronic devices in the overhead compartment or in the pocket of the seat in front of you. (One of the true maxims of the 21st century, along with “Please make way for the closing doors” and “No fatalities were reported at the scene.”)

The word “stow” is insufficient for the sentence’s intended meaning, that is “Leave all electronic devices physically outside the perimeter of the municipal building.” And, judging by the security, “When asked, do not reveal that you have not done so. Simply leave it in an inside pocket of your bag, where the officer examining it will not bother to look, because there are many people in line.”

4. For the above reason, I plan to contact the municipal court clerk to suggest an amendment to the court’s summons letter. I also recognize that in basic terms, the letter says what it needs to say. I just wish it were better. If I were really channeling my inner brat, I would feel irked. Alas.

Addendum to #3:

Indeed, “stow[ing]” does not imply a place, but only a state of being; one may “stow” an object anywhere. One may even “stow” intransitively, as when one “stows” away on a ship bound for the New World.

5. Which brings me to the large painting framed on the wall behind the municipal secretary’s desk.

The municipal secretary is not affiliated in any way with the court or with the many traffic offenders standing in the lobby in varying states of stress, idleness and/or indignation. The municipal secretary informed of her strident lack of affiliation when I approached her to determine whether I was guilty of LOITERING, an act prohibited in all caps on a sign posted near her desk.

Me: Hi, excuse me. I’m here accompanying someone who’s been, um, summoned.

The municipal secretary: I’m not affiliated with the court. You need to go talk to the clerk. [waves hand at the line of traffic offenders approaching the clerk, a kindly bird-like woman behind a card table]

Me: Oh OK. Well I haven’t been summoned so is there somewhere I can just stand?

The M.S. [rolling eyes]: Um, IN THE LOBBY?

Me: Okay! Thank you! [scuttles away in shame]

In the end, I did stand in line for the clerk, and asked her whether I could go into the courtroom, which of course I could, because municipal court is open to the public. I believe she also referred to me as “hon,” which I resent but understand. By this point, phoneless and IN THE LOBBY, I was regressing rapidly into nice-little-girl mode.

Before I got in line, however, I spent several minutes standing idly at the painting behind the M.S.’s desk. It showed a wintry scene, clearly a depiction of Harrison long ago. (If not, the person who hung it in the municipal building probably assumed it was.) It was the kind of painting that in the 1500s would have shown remarkable talent and potential and accuracy to the human form unseen since Roman times, but now seems drab. In the foreground, two leather-and-fur-clad white men discuss something promising with a leather-and-fur-clad Native American man. All three look out onto the Harrison valley, which is filled with dark rectangular buildings. In the distance, a red propeller airplane soars through the sky.

I had to admire the artist for his vision. Time and space are conflated; the liberal viewer’s discomfort at the idolization of white settlers is offset by the distant appearance of “progress”; perhaps the commission was for “Harrison, Then And Now.”

The M.S. sat beneath the painting. Her curly light-brown hair was inching backwards on her scalp, and it occurred to me for a brief moment that she might be balding. The line of traffic offenders moved slowly forward. Inside the courtroom, once I went in, it was nearly silent except for the traffic lawyers joking with the court secretaries. I sat and listened to the grumblings of gum-chewing and that was that.

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