Time of Delivery
At nine in the morning you write in your daily planner that after you convince the judge to drop your Section 10-125 by ten, you’ll have enough time to take the N to 42nd Street and get a coffee before your job interview with The New Yorker at eleven. While in commute, you’ll study a printout of recent articles from the magazine in preparation for your interview. You write with a medium, black crystal stick BiC that you’ll get a small medium roast coffee upon arrival, and then only drink one-third of it, before throwing it into a trashcan where maybe it will collide with some other piece of refuse and possibly splash back up and towards you. The splash of coffee will land on one of your calfskin shoes, you determine, but you know the problem will fix itself, because by the time you enter the Conde Nast building at 4 Times Square and let the elevator deliver you to the 20th floor, the coffee will have dried on the leather and, besides a slight color incongruence, for the most part be inconspicuous. It is a plan. And you can sacrifice the color consistency of a shoe for the plan if you have to.
In case of any inconsistencies, you leave your planner open, resting on your thigh, ready for even the most minor amendment while you sit among other misdemeanor offenders in Courtroom 3 at the New York City Criminal Courthouse.
The courtroom is reminiscent of a public schoolroom. White linoleum floors meet blue ceramic tile walls, as if the courtroom’s only design is based on a convenience for cleaning. After all us criminals receive our sentences, you write, and go home or back to jail, a large man covered from head to toe in a rubber suit will come into this courtroom and spray all the filth to hell with a giant pressure washer at exactly eleven tonight. The noise from the pressure washer will be deafening, but the tile and linoleum will shine. And the court will convene the next morning as if for the first time.
Rows of wooden pews face a judge’s bench made of particleboard and vinyl, in what looks like a temporary arrangement turned permanent. You sit in this arrangement, observing the men, and they are all men, who sit with you waiting for names to be pronounced incorrectly.
In civilized public buildings, public servants communicate through signed documents and carbon copies of signed documents, summoning names and dispensing terms of existence. You sit in amazement of the automatism behind every decision by the judge and her staff. Refusing to make eye contact with the subjects of the documents or even their fellow coworkers, they shuffle these decisive terms with the ease of a dealer at a hold’em table, and their dull expressions remind you of those you’ve paid at tollbooths.
Despite the court system’s efforts to maintain order, you take into account that even though your summons indicates a 9 AM hearing for your charge, it will most likely be held around ten. You admire the stenographer, if not for her determination, for allowing her unkempt black hair to keep asserting itself over her shoulder and into the machine’s keys. Despite her efforts to record the events of the day, her work will not be admitted in future proceedings, but thrown out for lack of relevance.
Your crime is minor but still a crime according to a numbered law, and there is a vague sense of guilt, and it makes you stare into one of the crud linoleum and tile corners of the courtroom, where you imprison yourself to beg forgiveness for your actions the other night, and other nights. It isn’t just dust and moisture from dirty shoe soles in that corner. You hope the corner serves as a landfill where you’ll leave your guilt, and that as soon as the judge dismisses the charge, your guilt will be exiled to that corner where it will rot until the man in the rubber body suit comes and washes it away with one thousand electric-powered PSIs of water and bleach.
A clerk, a curvy and provocatively dressed clerk, belches your name up as if she blames you for the indigestion that she suffers from the sausage biscuit she gorged that morning. Until then you’ve had no real sense of the impending penitence that would be dispensed by the Honorable Henrietta Tilley.
Until then, you have not been nervous. But as you ‘approach the bench,’ the reality of your situation makes your heart beat almost audibly, and the fine print, which denotes the maximum sentence for your offense, somehow becomes an actual possibility. Three Days in Jail and up to a $125 Fine.
This is all so unlike you, you hear your mother say. You’re lucky they didn’t rough you up, talking how you were. You know how bourgeois and childish you sound, telling officers they should be locking up drug dealers instead of wasting time with a casual drunk.
Sometimes you do drink too much, casually. And who are you to tell anybody how to do his or her job? You feel bad about that one. It isn’t the being drunk or walking around with a twenty-four-ounce can of Tecate that summons what guilt you feel.
It seems efficient to you that you would only once go through the trouble of dressing nice for two separate and semi-formal events. Although it was a scheduling coincidence, you feel you’ve accomplished something.
As the judge shuffles papers in order to distinguish your presence in her court, you refer to your planner quickly and remind yourself that this is when the judge would say, Obviously, your poor behavior the other night was just a slip up. I’m going to dismiss the charge. You’re free to go. And, for the record, you are definitely New Yorker material. You’re hired, by the power vested in me…
“You’re accused of violating Section 10-125 2b of the New York City Administrative Code on Sept. 1, 2009. How do you plead?” Signing documents, the judge does not look up from her desk. She does not look at you or admire your appearance.
“Your honor, I realize what I did was wrong, but, in my defense, I just moved here from a city where they don’t have open container laws,” you say, a bit too eager.
“The judge interrupts you. “You either plead guilty or not guilty,” she says. “If you plead not guilty we schedule another hearing where you then make your defense and confront testimony by the arresting officer.”
“I understand, ma’am, but I am really…
“Please don’t waste my time telling me something just because you think I want to hear it.”
“Guilty, your honor,” you say.
“Fine is twenty dollars.”
You’re unsteady knees suddenly turn sluggish. The clerk hands you the plea agreement and points you in the direction of a window where you can pay your fine with Visa.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, WE ARE BEING HELD MOMENTARILY BY THE TRAIN DISPATCHER. PLEASE BE PATIENT.
The N train holds you in your tenth minute of arrest, stuck in the vein that connects 34th Street to 42nd Street. You’ve heard the computer-generated voice attempt to calm your nerves exactly three times already in those last ten minutes. You look at your planner and try to discern the numerical significance of “momentarily.” Nothing from your printout of New Yorker material takes hold, and after furiously rereading the first page, you gaze outside the train’s windows – the tunnel innards vibrate with the traffic above and have a color and texture that resembles the corners of the courtroom.
Across from you, a new version of Bemelmans’ Madeline is being performed among the orange and cream-colored seats and consists of two black women enveloping the small hands and minds of twelve children wearing pea coats of fashionably and seasonably conscious bright colors – red, yellow, and blue.
The children yell about kissing boys or not kissing girls, their adult counterparts tell them to hold onto the railings, they all agree on hot chocolate by the ice rink. And then the transit system’s computer-generated representative comes again with, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN…
“WE ARE BEING HELD MOMENTARILY BY THE TRAIN DISPATCHER!” scream the Madeline children in unison. “PLEASE BE PATIENT!”
The two nannies laugh and reward their babies with congratulatory hugs and kisses. In an effort to ward off any further assault on your senses from the screaming children, or the stench from last night’s vomit that percolates through the train’s heating vents, you pull out your iPhone and plug your ears. The battery is dead. And the New Yorker material ends up on the train floor with the babies’ discarded Barnum‘s Animal Crackers.
“When will we get hot chocolate?” one of the little girls says in a charming whine.
“When we get there, silly love,” the nanny responds.
“If we ever get there,” you blurt out at the lit screen tracking the train’s progression through its route. “These screens are pointless. They have no concept of time. How am I supposed to amend my planner?”
A little boy walks over to you, wiping his nose with the blue sleeve of his pea coat. He looks at you and then at the lit route screen above the train window. “Are you late for something?” Snot dries into an adorable crust below the boy’s nostrils.
“I might be,” you answer quietly.
“You sound like my dad.”
“How old is your dad?”
“How should I know?” Pepito says.
And you feel a little foolish because, of course, why would Pepito know how old his dad is.
“Pepito, get your behind back here!” a nanny yells at the boy.
The boy turns and walks back to the troop of children.
“Pepito, at this rate, I won’t get my coffee and you and your friends aren’t gonna get your hot chocolate,” you say.
With this comment comes a chorus of whines from all the children. One of the nannies immediately stands up and corrals the children, moving them to the other end of the train car. The other nanny tugs down at her sweater as she stands up and walks toward you, staring at you with sure and angry eyes.
“Listen to me,” says the nanny. “You don’t mess with my kids. They’re too young to be ruined with your problems.”
The N train begins moving again towards 42nd Street, gradually picking up speed. Just as a sense of calm tries to come over you, the nanny grabs onto the overhead railing above you so that her large breasts loom ominously over your face and threaten to knock you with each jerk the train makes on the inconsistent track. An unquestionable sense of authority travels in the scent wafting from the wool of her sweater.
“You understand me?”
“Yes ma’am. I’m sorry,” you say and tilt your head back. There will be no time for coffee.
You haven’t been able to get a small cup of coffee but you did arrive five minutes early for the interview, providing just enough time to dwell on your lack of preparation and work yourself into a comfortable degree of paranoia as you look at a scattering of the publication’s recent issues on the lobby table and fail to recognize a single one. The best way to handle this kind of opportunity is to pretend it’s not a big deal, you tell yourself.
The secretary points to the left, her red polished nails vulgar against the tan slab of drywall constructed behind her for the office’s privacy. You follow the drywall, its artless drapery ushering you into what looks more like a drab accounting office than an institution of culture. Amidst the monochromatic wall-to-wall carpeting and vinyl-covered cubicles stands a young man in fitting jeans and a buttoned cardigan over a t-shirt.
“Please take a seat,” he says, adjusting his eyeglasses. He motions towards a conference room furnished with a bare wooden table and black-cushioned office chairs. “I’m glad you could schedule a meeting on such short notice.”
“It only required some minor adjustments,” you say.
The editor pauses for a moment and smiles expectantly at you, before taking his seat and adjusting it to the highest sitting.
“Yes. Well, we liked what you had to say about the two movies we asked you to review. First of all, though, I’m a bit confused about your present job. Could you explain it to me?”
“I write movie synopses for the NETFLIX online data bank. Unfortunately, the number of movies I have to summarize is so overwhelming that I can’t actually watch any of the movies I write about. So I read the industry treatments, and pull out the necessary details from those in order to summarize the movies.”
“That’s definitely an explanation. So you don’t actually watch any movies?”
“But you know the ending of every movie you’ve never seen?”
“In a way. The ones I’ve written about at least,” your respond a little too enthusiastically.
“That seems disappointing for someone who used to write movie reviews for a newspaper.”
“Well, working from home can be nice. I do things on my own schedule.”
“Yes, but you couldn’t do that here.”
“I like to think I could adapt.”
“So what have you read in The New Yorker lately that you liked, what stuck out in your mind?”
You’re sure you’ve read something from the magazine that interested you, at one time, but now you can’t remember one article, in fact, it’s as if you’ve never read the magazine.
The editor stops rocking back in his chair. He sits up slowly and rests his elbows on the conference table, pulling your resume out of a folder. He begins to scan over it, perhaps in hopes of reminding himself why you’re there.
“You do read our magazine?” the editor asks without looking up from the resume.
“It’s not something I do on purpose,” you say.
“It’s okay. We can’t expect everybody to be a fan. Can we?”
You almost answer his question. Instead you say, “It’s not that I’m not a fan.” You take a deep breath and exhale slowly into the palms of your hands and then rub the bridge of your nose, and in doing so, notice a small stain, marring the calfskin like a liver spot, on the toe of your right shoe.
“You know,” says the editor, somehow pulling a copy of the magazine from under the table, as if it had been resting on his lap during the entire interview. He brandishes it in front of you. “Since you’re here, it’s probably a good time for me to tell you. I can offer you a discount rate.”
“Yes, a full year, all forty seven issues at a discount. It’s a special, professional rate. Something we offer to other members of the media.”
“Yes. Just talk to the secretary on your way out,” says the editor, pounding his fist down on the conference table as he stands up. “Well, I’d say this interview is adjourned.”
“Until when?” you ask.
“Indefinitely. Just talk to the secretary on your way out. She’ll take care of everything. Give her this.”
The editor pulls from his pocket what looks like a stack of business cards and hands one card to you. Still sitting in the chair, you look at the card.
1-year subscription to New Yorker for $20.
There’s no reason why the secretary should have to end her phone call, so she continues talking into her headset. You’re perfectly fine waiting in silence as she finishes running your Visa through the credit card machine that rests on her desk, actually you’re pleasantly surprised that The New Yorker accepts credit cards in the office and you sign the receipt with a satisfying sense of closure.
In the elevator, you reach for the brass button imprinted with L. But then you pause for a second and look above the elevator doors at the small backlit signs designating the floors for other publications housed in the building. Each glows like a small marquee advertising a blockbuster you haven’t seen.