Being late puts you in courtroom A … or courtroom B

A while back my son was caught out after curfew and got his first citation. When we went to court with him, there was no indication of where to go in the building. There were windows with signs—traffic, small claims, courtroom A—and no hint of a source of information. The citation had said that it was not a traffic violation, so we went to the window that said “civil, small claims” to ask for help.

I explained that we were there for a curfew violation, and the woman behind the counter directed me to wait outside courtroom B, because juvenile matters were confidential and we’d be told when to come in. Fine.

Down at the end of the short hall where she pointed were a couple of unmarked doors, courtroom A, and two other families waiting on benches. No courtroom B.

When I went back and asked her where courtroom B was, she said, “Did I say B? It’s courtroom A.” So we waited outside courtroom A, the only courtroom.

After 10 minutes or so, a cop came out of courtroom A and asked if we had signed in. Had we filled out the proper form? No, we hadn’t, and where should we sign in? Where do we get the form? At the traffic window. The woman who’d told us to wait outside the courtroom apparently didn’t know that. Maybe she was new.

In the courtroom, we arrayed ourselves before the judge, who was, of course, sitting up high looking down on us for effect. My son admitted his guilt, and then the judge gave us his version of what had happened.

The judge seemed like a decent sort, rather avuncular if your uncle sits up on a ladder. He ran through what he thought went through my wife’s head when she answered the cop’s call. I could’ve told him that trying to guess what my wife was thinking was not recommended in the best of circumstances, but he didn’t ask my advice. Although he was dead wrong, my wife had sense enough not to say so.

The gist of the pitch was that getting a phone call from the police about a child inevitably increased a parent’s worry, at least until the cop got to the reason for the call, and it was my son’s fault. Of course, nobody was worried about anything until the police called.

Mostly, bad things happen at night—the boogeyman scenario. That’s when the bars are closing and the “dopers” are out, and young people are especially vulnerable. He didn’t say to what. As I hazily recall, daylight made my hallucinations easier to see. He never said anything about my son having broken the law, just that he had endangered himself and worried his mother.

The people we dealt with were obviously just working stiffs trying to make a living. All of us would rather be somewhere else, except maybe the judge.

“Twenty-five dollars and 10 hours of community service.”

Wait outside.