by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
I did not want my wife, Mary Ann, to go to Small Claims Court with me. I’d seen three hundred episodes of Judge Judy and thought I knew everything about... Well, let’s face it: I just thought I knew everything.
I’ll tell it to you, just as I told it to Mary Ann. I was sitting there reading Anna Karenina in the original French and, right next to me, a pipe mysteriously opened up and water came streaming out.
In the book, Anna Karenina, the main character is waiting at a train station, and then she suddenly throws herself under the wheels. The station’s loud speaker keeps saying, “Clean-up on track three!”
A train ran over her; it’s hard to imagine that her guts didn’t get spewed. Anyway, while I was reading, that’s when the pipe opened up.
A lot of our stuff was ruined. I blamed the Condo Association. They blamed me.
We cleaned up.
We moved on.
For the next thirty days, while waiting for our time in Small Claims Court, I prepared my case. I scoured the Internet for information. Check out “pimp gets knocked out” and “characters from the movie Frozen meet The Thing.”
I made a very colorful booklet full of useful information: charts, maps, and one of the four existing exemplifications of the original Magna Carta, a rare document I borrowed from the David M. Rubenstein gallery.
And, for good measure, I added information about pipes. Like...
Did you know that nothing on a two-inch pipe ever measures two inches? I mean, none of the diameters involved is actually two inches across. That’s because a two-inch pipe used to be two inches in diameter on the inside, but with steel having been improved over the years, the thickness of the pipe wall got reduced with the outside diameter staying the same.
I was certain the judge would find that interesting.
I also had floor-plans and pictures of my cats.
Early that morning, entering the courtroom, I was relaxed. My wife was nervous.
Mary Ann and I waited, sitting on an uncomfortable bench in a civil courtroom. On one side of the room was the lawyer for the Condo Association, Mr. Daggett. He waved. “Hi Tom, nice to see you again,” he said.
After a ten-minute wait, the judge entered. She was around thirty and wore a tiny American flag pin on her robes. She nodded to the bailiff. He came over from his little area and had everyone raise their right hand.
* * *
BAILIFF: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth?
MARY ANN: Yes.
ME (simultaneously with MARY ANN): (Unintelligible)
JUDGE: Mr. Smith, “mostly” isn’t an answer.
MARY ANN: Just wait. You’ll see.
ME: Your honor, I’d like to make an opening statement.
JUDGE: Go on.
ME: Not since man was thrown from the Garden, not since the unlawful storming of the Bastille, has there been... Well, there’s been no similar rank discourtesy towards a humble lodger since Mary and Joseph were forced to sleep in a barn full of dirty straw and smelly wise-men.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: Mr. Smith, you claim that on the night of January 20th you heard a pipe burst open and then water came shooting out into your condo.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: I can see this is going to be like the last time we met. Mr. Smith, maybe we should start with some preliminary information. How many years have you lived at Forest Plains condominium?
ME: About seventeen.
MARY ANN (Holding up three fingers): Make that... three.
ME (to MARY ANN): Don’t undermine our case.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: Where did you live before that?
ME: Lansing, Michigan.
MARY ANN: We drove through Lansing, once, a long time ago. But we”ve always lived in St. Louis. Our previous residence was 2617 Belt Avenue.
Me (aside, muttering): (Unintelligible) undermine (Unintelligible).
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: Mr. Smith, how many times have you sued the Condo Association?
ME ( holding up three fingers.): Three times.
MARY ANN (sighing audibly): Seventeen.
JUDGE: So, you”re a troublemaker.
ME (Unbuckles and whips off belt, holds it forward in his hand. Speaks in a firm voice): Your honor, this belt contains the history of my people. Your honor, I come to you unarmed and in peace to unstop your ears. Let the children of the dead colonel Munroe go free and take fire out of the English anger over the murder of their helpless ones. The French fathers made peace... Magua broke it.
MARY ANN (Rolls her eyes and smacks her hand against her forehead. Looks at the judge.): He’s just nervous.
JUDGE: Well, I can appreciate his being nervous, and I can even understand an outburst, but this mess must have taken weeks to prepare. I mean, didn’t he think he was going a bit too far with all this nonsense? I know that very little of what he’s written is relevant. (Throws the papers down on her desk.) I mean, this one here mentions the Second Amendment.
BAILIFF (Stands up by his chair and unsnaps the latch over his pistol.)
JUDGE: I’m not looking at these stupid papers anymore. (Points at ME.) Do you have any questions for the defense attorney?
ME: May I ask to see Mr. Daggett’s birth certificate?
JUDGE: To what end?
ME: I intend to prove he was born in Kenya.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT (Spreading his hands): I’m white.
ME: Will the court reporter write down that Mr. Daggett has introduced race into these proceedings?
COURT RECORDER: I write everything down, but, Mr. Smith, you are making an ass of yourself.
ME: Will the court reporter read back the portion of the testimony that begins with “To what end”?.COURT RECORDER:
Defense counsel: “I’m white.”
Mr. Smith: “Will the court reporter write down that Mr. Daggett has introduced race into these proceedings?”
Court Recorder: “I write everything down, but, Mr. Smith, you are making an ass of yourself.”
ME: Thank you. We may proceed.
JUDGE: Does counsel for the condo wish to enter any more evidence?
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: We would like to ask Mr. Smith about a few things.
JUDGE: Go on.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: You say in your deposition that — quote — “A few days after the leak, I started experiencing strange lights, and I noticed the sun was wavering and newspapers were different.” Did you or did you not have cataract surgery on December 9th?
ME: Your honor, may I treat myself as a hostile witness?
MARY ANN: He did.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: Mr. Smith, have you ever driven a long nail through a thin wall and destroyed a special plate, one commemorating the action-filled life of a... (Looks down at a paper) Mister Hermann Goering?
ME: A lot of people have misjudged him. He was a hero before he was a Nazi. I think he’s just misunderstood by those effete eastern liberals who write history books. And what about “Common Core”, “O’Bama care,” people re-issuing Welcome Back, Cotter on Blu-Ray? And anyway, how the heck did you find out about that?
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: We found this on your wife’s Facebook page where she calls you “A professional pratfall.” She says you once made an ashtray out of Popsicle sticks and burned down a garage.
ME: An old garage. Many years ago.
MARY ANN: Our neighbor’s new garage, four months ago. And he had no business being in there.
JUDGE: What are you implying?
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: I think maybe Mr. Smith was doing some unauthorized repairs to his apartment and perhaps damaged the pipe involved. Could we look again at the picture Mr. Smith submitted? I believe it’s picture number 127. It’s the one after the picture of Deanna Troi.
(The picture is found after a few minutes.)
If your honor will look at the leak and then at the table in the background. Notice how small and circular is the whole in the wall. It’s hard to make it out, but if you look past the water spray you can see three items on that table. There’s a big picture on the table. I believe it’s a picture of Annika Hansen painted very badly on a three-foot by four-foot piece of plywood, there’s a long wooden level and there’s a cordless drill.
JUDGE: Annika Hansen?
ME: Seven of Nine.
JUDGE (Leaning forward and pointing right in ME’s face): You know, I haven’t understood you one time in this whole trial.
ME: Seven of Nine. Seven of Nine. She’s really Jeri Ryan, though in the TV series her name was Annika Hansen until she was assimilated by the Borg.
JUDGE: Mr. Smith, are you on any medications?
ME: I’m enrolled in a study about... (Rolls a hand in front of his face as if to conjure an answer out of thin air. Shrugs and turns to MARY ANN.)
MARY ANN: People who can’t concentrate.
LAWYER FOR THE CONDO, MR. DAGGETT: We believe Mr. Smith may have been attempting to hang that heavy picture and accidentally struck the pipe in the wall with his drill.
ME: I wasn’t even home.
JUDGE: You said you took this picture.
JUDGE: Will Mrs. Smith please stop strangling Mr. Smith?
ME: That painting was going to be a Christmas present for my wife. It was going to be a surprise. I was drilling a small hole, but that couldn’t have been why the water came out. I believe the leak was pre-existing and that, by drilling the hole, I produced a place where the water that was already flowing inside the walls was able to find its way out.
MARY ANN: You were giving me another freaking painting of Nine of Seven?!
ME: Seven of Nine.
(MARY ANN punches ME in the vicinity of where ME’s belt would be. ME doubles over in agony.)
BAILIFF: You really can’t be punching people in this courtroom. You need to wait till you are out in the hall.
ME: Will the court reporter read back everything starting with “Raise your right hand”?
(ME is dragged ignominiously from the courtroom, screaming over his shoulder): Cora! Cora! You may have to marry someone else. Submit. Stay alive, I will find you. No matter how long, no matter how far, even if I have to go to a galaxy far, far away! Stella!
BAILIFF: Sir, will you please get ahold of yourself.
(Scene change. ME is sitting on a bench outside the courtoom. MARY ANN enters.)
MARY ANN: Well, you did better than I thought you might.
ME: Did they give us any money?
MARY ANN: Fifty dollars.
ME: Only fifty?
MARY ANN: And she made me promise to use it to get you into therapy.
(ME and MARY ANN depart, hand in hand.)
* * *
And that’s when I knew I was destined to be the very last of a special tribe.
Copyright © 2015 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith