Scribble and Text

Lost and Found in New York (2009),

True stories from the Naked City―a tour of the subterranean psyche of New York. Acclaimed fiction writer Thomas Beller culls a new volume of essays, vignettes, and tales of the city. (Includes "Dead Rat Walking" a story by Jean Strong, Woman About Town, Bon Vivant, Raconteur)

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If you are too cheap, you can read the story here although I do not think this is the published version.


An Important Announcement

I am stepping aside from my work to commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listen to the women folk. It was a different time, when we called my behavior joking (what you call sexually harassing)and monkey business (what you might call raping) and I understand the culture and climate has changed. I regret that this has come to light now and how this may impact my friends and family and the women involved who misunderstood my intentions. Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is some truth in it although I don't appreciate the strong language used. I will be checking into rehab to pet horses and eating fresh locally sourced food for the foreseeable future.

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I just got tired of sending in rent checks every month, that's all. A combination of laziness, irresponsibility, and hatred of "The Man" was building up inside me and making it impossible for me to pay.

I started to send in my rent later and later in the month. The realty office located upstate never complained, just cashed my checks when they finally came in.

I wondered how far I could let it slide. I got behind two months. No one said a word. I thought maybe they were being magnanimous because of "the times," or perhaps had an understaffed operation.

The next month rolled around and I was technically three months late. I was gleeful. I boasted to my friends of my failure to pay. I bought a round of drinks for everyone. I was getting away with something. I am an idiot caught in suspended animation between fourteen and thirty-five.

The next morning a single sheet of paper was slipped under my door. It was a 5-Day Rent Demand. It stated that if I did not pay the full amount owed in five days, eviction proceedings would begin. It was signed by the super and some rinky-dink lawyer.

I immediately did as I was told. It was kind of idiotic that I hadn't paid. I ripped open the envelope that I had already prepared to send that month and stuck in another check, and in an inspired moment, stapled the envelope back together. I stapled it all around the envelope three or four more times for good measure. Stapling is fun.

A week later, I was served with a Petition of Non-Payment. This is a set of official looking documents the landlord's attorney must file with the NYC Housing Court to begin eviction proceedings, and they are required to serve the tenant (me) with a copy. The lawyer initials were here and there. It was about 10 pages long.

I tried paging the super. He didn't get back to me. I called the attorney. I got his voicemail. I never had a phone number for the realty office, just an address. I called information. They weren't listed.

I checked with the bank. The rental office had only cashed one of the checks.

This was bad. I had worked for the city before and I knew what this meant. I was in THE SYSTEM. My name was submitted. Once you get in the system you can never get out, no matter what agency, what department, what social service or program. I was now entering a process, a set of procedures and paperwork, with endless rules and protocols that would be endless. I was Case #45450 in the New York City Civil Court-Manhattan-Housing Court Division.

A couple days later after I was served with the petition, I received a yellow postcard in the mail. It said I had to report to the city clerk's office within one week to file a formal answer to the Non-Petition of Payment. At that time I would be given a court appearance date. I must bring the yellow postcard with me. It said if I didn't show, a default judgment would be levied against me and an eviction date would be assigned.

The Tentant/Landlord Clerk's Office

At lunch the next day, I take the 4 downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall stop. There is building after building, block after block of different courts. I finally find the Civil Court on 111 Centre Street. It's a big ugly unimaginative square of a building.

I go up to the Tentant/Landlord Clerk's Office on the second floor. There are two clerks at the counter. One is a tall skinny guy with round glasses, and the other is a short round woman with breasts that look like loaves of bread. Behind them are endless rows of huge manila envelopes. I am first in line. I am the only one in line. The two clerks begin to discuss who will take their break.

"No, you take your break."

"No, you!"

Where are you going to eat?"

"I don't know, where are you?"

This goes on for about ten minutes. Now, this is where less seasoned people would slip up. They would shift their weight from side to side. They would glance around impatiently and check their watches and make noises under their breath. What you should do is show complete subjugation. They have all the power. They could easily lose your manila envelope. Anyone who files anything, processes anything or enters anything into a computer for you should be treated with special care.

Fortunately, they decide that the skinny guy will go to lunch first and that he will have ham.

I am called and I thank her for helping me in advance and show my postcard. She glances at me to check my state of mind. I try to look ambivalent.

"I brought my answer to the petition with me. It basically says that I had already paid my rent. I also brought a copy of the cancelled checks and put it with my answer." I hand the papers to her. She stamps them.

She writes the date and time of my court date on my yellow postcard and hands it back to me.

"Thank you so much for your help."

The next week, I get a pink postcard in the mail. It says that I must arrive in court before 9:30 am to be counted present or they could rule in my absence. I must bring the pink postcard.

My Day in Housing Court

I'm back at 111 Centre Street. I go up to the court room on the 4th floor in an old elevator crammed with people. I had forgotten how crummy public buildings could be. The elevator jolts and squeaks. The lawyers chatting next to me are the comb-over, cheap shoe variety. Some of us push our way out for the Housing Court floor. The court is not open yet. I check the docket. I am 7th. I look around at the other people waiting. We are all women, holding onto our pink postcards and folders and documentation. I am the only white woman. An older Mexican woman keeps shuffling through a series of photos of rusted pipes and collapsed ceilings. I try to strike up a conversation with a woman next to me, but she doesn't speak English. She gives me a conciliatory pat on the back.

The bailiff ushers us into the courtroom bellowing instructions as we go. The bailiff checks us in by our postcard numbers.

The court reporter enters. He is short middle-aged white guy with an immense potbelly, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and chinos. The judge enters. She is young and lovely with beautiful caramel skin and shiny brown hair twisted into a bun low close to the back of her neck.

It's past 9:30 now but no one seems in a hurry to get things started.

A younger attorney, with the first non-wrinkly suit on I've seen, enters and asks to "approach the bench." The attorney then begins to kowtow and flirt, put his hands on his hips and coquettishly look away and smile. He asks the judge if she could recuse herself from something that was scheduled that afternoon. The judge beckons him to go around to the back of the bench. They begin to whisper. It crosses my mind that this seemed an awful like the set up to a soft-core porn scenario on late night cable. This would be where the music would come up. Shicky-chonk. Shicky-shicky chonk-chonk.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder. "Is this you?" a young guy asked and shoved some papers in my face. He pointed to my name.

"Yeah, that's me."

"Could you come outside the courtroom with me?" I followed him out the door and into the lobby.

"Yeah, um, OK, well, we are dismissing this case. Do you have any complaints about the apartment that you want to put down? No? OK. Well I will file these with the clerk and then the judge will call you first. OK? This will be over soon. He starts to walk back towards the door.

"How much did it cost them to do this, anyway?" I ask.

"500 dollars." He says.

I ask, "Why didn't they wait to see if I would pay?"

"I think they file on a fixed date. I have no idea. This same thing happened to me once with my landlord. They just want people out as quickly as possible if it looks as if they can't pay. And they have been doing this a lot lately. I just work for the lawyer. I don't know anything."

We go back in.

The young guy whisper to the clerk and then the clerk carries the dismissal papers over to the judge. The beautiful judge calls my name.

I stand up. "That's me."

"Please approach the bench." I walk over in front of the benches and stop.

She says, "Keep going."

I walk up to the little swinging doors and stop.

"Keep going."

Now, I am really nervous. I walk up in front of her desk. She is stunning. Behind her it says in huge gold letters, "In God" and from my vantage point that is all it says.

This seemed like an awful lot of hoo-ha for someone who was just too lazy and irresponsible to mail a check.
"Your case is being dismissed. Do you understand?"


She signs the dismissal. "OK. Here's your copy."

"Thank you, .uh..your honor." I say. I have no idea what I am doing. There is an awkward silence.

I turn and stumble my way out of the courtroom.
I clutch the green carbon copy of the dismissal and the pink postcard all the way home.


The Lost Letters of a Teenaged Girl (1984)

Poke through my personal letters. It's a calvacade of crazy.