Old Dogs

LESSON UNLEARNED


the man told me
a thousand dollars
as I sat dejectedly
handcuffed to the long
wooden bench
with the rest
of the criminals
to be processed

$1,000
was his price
to take my case
and get me out
of jail that night
having no other options
I agreed and signed over
my final government check
as a down payment
received a lecture
from the booking officer
on my good fortune
and then was
finally
set
free

it was my third
drunk driving rap
in the last five years
a heinous transgression
in most jurisdictions
but luckily
mine were all
in different states
making them difficult
and damned inconvenient
for a busy and overloaded
district attorney's office
to track down
even if they
wanted

my first appearance
in a noisy and crowded
morning courtroom
a mere formality
all I had to do
was stand
and acknowledge
the judge's call
my case postponed
for a month and a half
to allow my lawyer
to explore
available avenues
of defense

in my mind
they had me cold
I was trashed that day
a Saturday
after a mean Friday
in alcoholic frenzy
I woke up hungover
and opened a bar
trading rattlesnake shots
with the morning
bartender

later
that afternoon
I blew a 0.21
on the breathalyzer
but by their report
I had violated no law
to warrant police intervention
other than to drive around
with out of state plates

a passer-through
on my twisted way
to cash my last check
from the Coast Guard
so that I could begin
some serious drinking
that day

as my second
court date approached
my attorney advised me
that he was in deliberation
with the DA's office
on the probable cause
of my inopportune arrest
necessitating another postponement
and added that
he would appreciate receiving
the remainder of the payment
for his efforts
even though
I had little hope
for a happy
outcome

I knew
the drill
as I stood again
in morning court
to have my case put off
for yet
another month

I turned to my lawyer
and handed him a check
for my outstanding balance
money I had just borrowed
reluctantly from my mother
preferring to owe her
rather than a man
who held my fate
in his briefcase

I had already
sold my car
and moved into a seedy
cockroach apartment
to cut expenses
and hardly cared
whether I went
to jail
or not

more than
three months
after my arrest
I appeared in court
for the third
and last time

scheduled
for the afternoon
a different feel indeed
considering that I
was the sole occupant
of the wood paneled room
the entire justice system
apparently had grown weary
of my bothersome case
leaving me alone
to ponder my
punishment

my appointed
time passed
ten
fifteen
twenty minutes
at half past the hour
the clerk opened the door
and peered into the room
inquiring of my business
with the court that day
then disappeared back
into the chambers
without a word
of explanation

insanity
no one seemed
to give a shit
whether or not
my case was
settled

I was only
a nuisance
to these self important folk
maybe my undisclosed sentence
would be to sit indefinitely
in this Hell of Justice
considering my crime
sweating my verdict
being slowly reduced
to a neurotic neuter
of a perfect citizen
once again

at fifteen till
the door opened again
and produced my smiling lawyer
who sat down beside me
and grasped my arm

"well that's it
the charge is dismissed
you're free to go"

he must have sensed
my confused disbelief
he patted my shoulder
and added conspiratorially

"don't worry
you got exactly
what you paid for
right?"

he winked
and departed
leaving me alone
in that court
of commerce

later I related
the story to a bartender
over my first drink
since the arrest
he shook his head
and mumbled

"you paid in
and that's
what's important
court costs
lawyer's fees
criminal fines
it's all the same
to those types
they got
their pound
of flesh"

I nodded
reluctantly
in resigned agreement
ordered another beer
and thought about
the long
walk
home