Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Book Sale [fiction]

“Your Honor, I have advised my client, Mr. Ferramonte, that he should not, I repeat, NOT, take advantage of his Constitutional right (he said these two words, CON-STI-TU-TIONAL rrrright!, as if he had had a clue what was in the constitution) to put a statement on the record before sentencing”.

That’s my attorney and friend, John T. Stuart, speaking for himself. He’s certainly not representing me now. He’s protecting his reputation. I don’t blame him. I’m acting like a prick. A sullen, spoiled, insane, prick.

Justice David Davis looks down from the bench benevolently. I’m glad he is the judge, because I know no matter how outrageous I am, he will find it in his sweet lovable three hundred pound nature, to let me have my say. He is probably the only judge on the bench I could count on. But I will test him. Not just because I’m a prick, but because I’m still angry at what happened to me.

I know this about Judge Davis because I had been in front of him many times before as an advocate. I didn’t expect him to know me well, or even recognize me. I had never had a big case in front of him and he sees a zillion attorneys every week. But he must have read in the pre-sentencing report from the probation department that I am a practicing attorney. I’m presuming that will not mean he will be going to go easy on me, out of some misplaced ideal of “courtesy” to a brother attorney. First of all, I hate that stuff. Second of all, he’s not going to like me very much.

I intended to go to jail for a fair amount of time.

“Mr. Ferramonte,” begins Davis, “before you speak, I must warn you that I have thoroughly read the entire pre-sentence report sent down by the probation department, and have some knowledge of the nature of your complaint, or, what you claim led you to commit an assault, and I am also aware that you have repeated this story over and over again to the probation department. It’s not going to help your situation any. In fact, it may hurt you to repeat it here, as I see business failure as no excuse for violence. Now, as I am about to sentence you, I would think that you would listen to your very experienced counsel . . . .”

Let me give you a break here, because Judge Davis, who in all honesty, is a great guy, is smiling at me like I was waving an ice cream sandwich in front of his face, and goes on in that vein for longer than you would like to hear. What he is trying to say was “Shut up, be a good boy, and things will go easier for you”. Sorry, judge. That’s not going to happen. I’ll cut to the end of his two minute speech.

“. . . if you take what I mean. That being said, do you now have anything you want to say?”

I place my hands behind my back. I’m going to let any of these court officers, all packing guns and handcuffs, say that I had made an aggressive motion towards His Honor when this gets hairy. I want to go to jail, not get beat up or shot.

“I surely fucking do, Your Honor,” I say.

“What?” That’s the judge, looking back and forth between my lawyer, the court reporter and the clerk like he is playing all three gunfighters in the climax to the “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” all by himself. There were about ten to twenty other defendants with their counsel and family members in the courtroom and about half of them say “What?” too. The rest of them were snickering. The security officer is turning beet red trying not to laugh out loud. The district attorney, who I think I went to law school with, was looking down. Little choked up bits of laughter are coming from his lips. Either that or he’s crying, and I can’t see why he would do that.

“I said ‘I surely fucking do’, Your Honor’”.

The judge, the nicest guy on the bench, really he is, looks as if he can’t decide whether to pass out or kill me. He waves franticly to the court reporter and says “That’s not on the record”.

“Oh, but Your Honor,” I add “this is a court of fucking record, and everything should be placed (I paused) on . . . the . . .fucking . . . record”. The courtroom totally loses it and the judge bangs his gavel down hard.

“Counsel,” he snaps, now standing up and bellowing, “approach the bench”.

John Stuart later told me that he was never in such pain from biting his lip, trying not to laugh, as he was when speaking to the judge up at the bench. Don’t get me wrong, he wanted to kill me too, but it was funny. Come on.

Judge Davis and Stuart, who I think is still my friend, are in furious argument, but at the end it is mostly His Honor snarling, and Stuart nodding his head. The district attorney is clenching and unclenching his hand behind his back, so he must be dying inside too. I hear Stuart say something about “a vow” and the “his wife” and “jail”. His Honor says something about contempt and beating the crap out of me himself, and that’s probably all you need to know.

Stuart comes back to my side. He’s not very happy. He whispers fiercely in my ear. “It’s not funny anymore, Ferramonte. He’s going to hold you and ME in contempt if you don’t cut it out now and apologize to the court”.

I nod, showing remorse. His Honor takes this as his cue. “Now, we can go back on the record, which shall reflect that counsel had a conference at the bench, and that we can now proceed in a more professional fashion. I would like to add, Mr. Ferramonte, that you have only pled guilty to a misdemeanor, not a felony. That means you would not automatically lose your license to practice . . .

I’ll spare you once again His Honor’s lengthy speech to me. He just means – now really shut up and behave or you’ll be in such trouble. We’ll jump in at the end of his lecture again.

“Now, I think you were going to say you were finished, and we should move on to sentencing”. He looks so self satisfied, almost happy.

“I certainly do apologize for my behavior, Your Honor, and I hope you recognize that other than my use of an intemperate word, I’ve been ever so fucking respectful, but you know now that I’ve taken a vow”.

That did it. His Honor explodes from his seat, not an insignificant movement for someone his size, and orders counsel to chambers. I can hear a lot of yelling coming from chambers – it’s just outside the courtroom doors – and the folks in the courtroom are smiling and laughing, thinking they could not be luckier to have gotten arrested and be in court on this wonderful day.

Now I told you that this judge is really a good fellow. I’ve never seen him lose his temper before. So, I’m not surprised when he enters the courtroom again with a smile on his face. That’s OK. It only means he will allow me to have my say, vent my spleen, as they say, and then clobber me with jail time. Good.

He picks up his gavel, flips it around in his hand, and looks at me. “Mr. Ferramonte. I understand from your counsel that you have taken a vow involving the use of a certain word, which I will not repeat here, in every sentence, for the indefinite future. I also understand that you have advised your counsel that you are standing on a constitutional right to use whatever words YOU feel are most beneficial to your defense. So, right or wrong, and I think you are very wrong, and very foolish, I will allow you to relate your story, if for no other reason, than to speed you out of my courtroom. But, before we do, I am going to clear the courtroom . . . .”

“If I may interrupt, Your Honor,” I say, interrupting, whether he likes it or not. “that’s just not fucking possible”.

He is looking at me blankly now and waits for me to go on. “I have, as every defendant does, a right to a hearing IN public, and I intend to stand on my fucking rights”. That was a tough one, as, in my excitement, I almost forgot to say “Fuck,” and just got it in at the end. I don’t want to break my vow so fast.

His Honor sits back, motions with his hand for my counsel and the D.A. to sit. I proceed in my most didactic fashion, hands still clasped behind my back, like a hobbit reciting poetry.

“May it please the court (that’s the way a lawyer starts an arguments in court and I just thought it funny to throw it in now – Davis seems to get the irony and smiles down at me, folding his hands on his belly), there is no way I can relate this fucking sad story in a brief fashion, so please bear with me a few minutes. I have lived in Suffolk County for about ten years now, and have decided it’s time to fucking move”.

“Well,” interjects His Honor, “I think I may be able to help you with that one as soon as you are through”. Fantastic. He was joining in on the fun, and I could already count the days in jail.

“Well, I thank you for understanding, Your Honor, but it is sadly because I am about to be sued for divorce by my fucking wife”.

This delights Judge Davis. “Oh, my. How awful, and how difficult to believe”. See, I told you this was a good guy. He was funny too.

“So,” I continue, “realizing that I owned an awful lot of fucking books, I decided to have a sale on my driveway, just like the way you see many people sell their old crappy furniture or knick knacks. I have never done anything even remotely fucking like this before, but it didn’t seem very difficult to sell a few books. The only thing hard about it was I that I love my fucking books, more than anything. But I was planning on traveling light and decided to just fucking do it”.

“All by my lonesome self, I took the fucking trouble to haul some book cases out to the front of my driveway where anyone passing by would see them. Now, keep in mind, I live right on a crossroads, so people are driving and walking by from every fucking direction. I painstakingly filled up those fucking book shelves with all my precious books. It took a good fucking hour”.

“Now, if you get my meaning, Your Honor, I am a fucking patient man, and also one of low expectations”.

“I imagine your wife must have those same good qualities,” cracks His Honor, which was a good one and breaks up the courtroom. Apparently, he is not intending to let a zinger go by unused.

“How fucking droll, Your Honor” I replied, which furrows his Honor’s judicial brow a little. “As I was saying before your witticism, I have rather low expectations, and as far as the book sale goes, I didn’t expect to sell fucking many of them”.

“In fact, I was hoping to sell just fucking enough to buy myself a steak at a restaurant down the road from my house. So, I put out a comfortable chair, picked up a good book to reread, and plopped my fucking ass down on the seat. I then proceeded to fucking wait for someone to buy a book. And what would a fucking book cost at my sale, Your Honor may be wondering?”

“I was just about to ask”.

“A quarter, a fucking quarter, Your Honor. Twenty five fucking cents”.

“Hmmm,” he says, “that sounds quite reasonable”.

“Some of these books cost up to thirty dollars, but most were paperbacks in very good shape, all great books and for just a fucking quarter”. I realized that was a run-on sentence, and a stickler might say I technically broke my vow, but fuck ‘em.

“Well, a lot of fucking time went by, and I started to get the fucking idea that people were just too busy or just too fucking disinterested to stop and buy for a quarter what would cost them at least twenty times as much at a fucking bookstore”.

His Honor interrupted me here. “Excuse me, but I think you had about three or four expletives in that sentence. I was given to understand by your esteemed counsel that you have taken a vow not to speak a sentence without using ONE certain expletive”.

“Yes, Your Honor has it ex-fucking-actly, but there is no upper limit”.

“Sorry. I will try not to f . . . ehh (cough) stop you again”. I knew from my interviews with the probation department that this would be contagious but I didn’t expect to catch him so fast.

“So, there I was, Your Honor, sitting out there on a beautiful fucking day, and no one wants to even look at a book, never mind buy one. Now, I’ve said that I am a patient man with low fucking expectations, but truth was, I was starting to get pissed. I mean, can it be possible, that I, who spend maybe a couple of hundred dollars a year on books, could somehow be single handedly fucking responsible for supporting the multi-fucking-billion dollar book industry in this ever-fucking-loving country? I couldn’t fucking believe it”.

“Well,” the judge offers timidly, “I read books. A lot, actually”.

“Well, then it’s just too fucking bad that you didn’t drive by when I was having this sale because you could have saved Mr. Logan’s nose, and spared us all this trouble”.

He looks down at the file. I think he’s trying to figure out who Logan is. Logan is the poor schnook who ended up getting punched in the nose by me, as a result of which, I was arrested.

I continue. “Eventually, I went inside, Your Honor, and I got on that fucking Craig’s List I imagine you’ve probably heard of”.

“Heard of it? I sold my car in just one day on it”.

“Ex-fucking-actly, again, Your Honor. That’s just what I was fucking thinking. So, I get on Craig’s List and put up an ad for people to come down and take a look at my fucking books. But you know, fucking what? Not one fucking computer junkie could take a fucking fifteen minute break and drive down to look at them. Too busy emailing their friends with witty comments like 'What are you doing' 'nothing' and 'wazzup?'"

“Excuse me, Mr. Ferramonte,” interrupts the judge, “could I ask you a question?”

“I’m all fucking ears”. He came close to getting me on this one. I almost just said “Yes”. But I don’t think he realizes it.

“Could you tell me what kind of books you were selling? I mean, were they obscure titles?”

“No fucking way, Your Honor, although an excellent point. I do have some fucking obscure books I am keeping, but these were all fucking best sellers, and they were mostly all in great fucking condition. These fucking people just couldn’t bother to stop and look”. The judge nods sagaciously. “So, I go back to my fucking computer and I edit my fucking ad on Craig’s List. This fucking time I say that the books are fucking free. Do you hear me, Your Honor, FUCKing free”.

“And still no bites, right?” he responds happily. See, once you resign yourself to something you think is going to be horrible, it can become fun.

“Ex-fucking-actly again. Not one fucking bite, Your Honor. So I decide not to wait more than an hour, because it’s two fucking o’clock in the afternoon already, and I’m getting seriously pissed that no one has even gotten out of their car or slowed down while walking by”. I pause.

“Wait a minute,” screams out the judge. “Got you. You didn’t say it . . . . you know, the word”. He’s all smiles.

I was just about to correct him when some women calls out from the audience “He said two fucking o’clock, Your Honor”.

The judge just looks over my shoulder at the women who called out, and then at the reporter, raising his eyebrows. The reporter looks at the paper coming out of her machine in front of her and says “’By the defendant -- So I decide not to wait more than an hour, because it’s two fucking o’clock in the afternoon now, and I’m getting seriously pissed . . . .’ Should I go on?”

His Honor puts up his hand. “No, sorry. Go on, Mr. Ferramonte”. He is leaning back in his chair with a great big grin now, and holds out an open palm, face up. “Please,” he says.

“Well, other than one or two drivers who had to slow down because of traffic, I’m getting fucking nothing. So, I go back on Craig’s List, and I edit it once again, this time threatening to brutally and irrevocably destroy the books if someone doesn’t at least stop and take a look. A fucking hour later and I’m back online, this time offering to pay people a quarter for each book they take away. I’m even fucking stopping people on the street like a maniac and asking them to just to look for one minute. And no one, not one fucking person will stop and even look at my fucking books”.

“Now, I know for a fucking fact that if I drove around in my fucking car, there’d be a traffic jam in front of any driveway where they put out some old dusty lamps and their kid’s twenty year old pajamas with jelly stains on it”.

“I sense you are coming to a close” Judge Davis says.

“Well, I had pretty much fucking had it around five o’clock, Your Honor, and I started bringing my fucking stuff back in the house. I brought in the first book case I had the books on, and I have a nice fucking sweat going, because it was heavy. The next thing I know, my wife walks by, and she’s got this fucking smirk on her face. I know ex-fucking-actly what she’s thinking – no one cares about books except you. Right then I wanted to rear back and punch her one, right in her fucking snoot”.

The judge’s eyes are squinting. He doesn’t like where this is going.

“Don’t worry, Your Honor, I wasn’t going to fucking hit her. I let her have her fucking joke. I go back outside to bring the last fucking table in when I see this old guy, maybe fifty-five or sixty fucking years old, standing right in front of my driveway looking about. I walked outside and put out my fucking hand, which he politely shakes. I said ‘I knew someone educated would stop by and look at a book’. He fucking smiles at me and says ‘Oh, I’m just waiting here for my granddaughter to come by on her bike. I don’t really bother with reading’”.

I stop here and look at the judge. He looks backs at me quizzically and says “That would be Logan, I presume?”

“Fucking Stephen Logan, Your Honor. Also known as the fucking complainant”.

“And . . . then you . . .?”

“Popped him right in his fucking nose”.

The courtroom is in stitches and the judge was trying hard not to smile at that. Poor Logan. “Is that it, Mr. Ferramonte?”

“That’s all she fucking wrote, Your Honor”.

He stands up and looks at me, no longer smiling. “Give me five minutes”. He goes into his chambers, I guess to think. I relax and turn around. I’m getting thumbs up from some of the younger defendants, winks from one or two lawyers and even nods from some older folks. I notice only one guy glaring at me, and suddenly I realize its Logan. The poor guy I punched in the nose. He still had a bandage right across it too. I had no idea he was going to be here, and now I’m feeling a little bad. I’m not a bad guy at heart, and didn’t mean to hurt him. It just happened. Frankly, he’s a lot bigger than I am and probably could have kicked my ass if he wasn’t so shocked. Instead, he walked away and called the cops.

Now he’s just glaring at me. I guess he didn’t find my performance very funny. Probably glared the whole time while everyone else was giggling. I’m not sure why, but I sort of nod to him in recognition and turn away.

I feel relieved. Now, the judge can put me in jail for a while and I can get past this nonsense. I may be crazy, but not toooo crazy. I know that he can give me max, one year. But, I will get out in a little more than eight months, getting four off for good behavior. By that time, of course, my job will be gone, my house in foreclosure and I will have defaulted on all our other debts. I won’t even declare bankruptcy. The house will be sold at auction, and I will have nothing left.

But neither will she.

That’s the plan. She can try and divorce me or just sue me, but I don’t care. The last time I see her, I am going to smirk too, just the way she smirked at me when she proved that no one else cares about books. Now she will pay.

The point is, if I have to spell it out for you (I personally hate stories where I have no idea what the point was) is that she thought it was so funny that no one else cared about what mattered to me in life. Books. So, now I was going to show her how much I cared about what matters to her. The house and our stupid furniture.

I know I could just move away, but I like this better. There isn’t much she can do legally while I’m in jail. Not even serve divorce papers on me. Won’t even be able to claim I abandoned her, abused her or sue me for support. What were they going to do, demand I pay while I’m doing time? I don’t think so. Things will spiral out of control for her fast.

And when I get out, I’m going to move fast. . . somewhere far away. She’ll never know where I’ve gone and good luck getting anything from me then. I like the plan even if it is irrational and wacky, and puts me in a cell. I can use a rest. The good citizens of New York should pay, at least with their taxes, as punishment for not even looking at one damn book.

You can logically quibble with me, argue that I could just put out a hit on her or something, but I wouldn’t do something that crazy. Only just this crazy. And emotionally speaking, it feels great.

Once the judge puts the hammer down on me, there is still one small problem left. My vow, which I take very seriously. I had vowed, after knocking down Logan and getting arrested, that I would not say one sentence out loud without using the word “fuck” until someone bought a book from me for a lousy quarter. Doing time, how was I going to accomplish that? I am still thinking about this problem when the bailiff, I think his name is Herndon, comes over to me. Me, not my counsel, John Stuart, who is sitting in a chair with his chin in his hand, wondering why he even talks to me, no doubt. Herndon hands me a piece of yellow note paper, and whispers to me that it’s from the judge. I look at it, look back at the bailiff and unwrap it. Something falls out, onto the floor and bounces. I pick it up and read the note. Now this is interesting.

About a minute later, the judge comes out of his chambers and takes the bench. Everyone stands, of course. When he takes his seat, everyone else sits but me, and my attorney, who is now at my side, for whatever it is worth.

The judge sits down, looks at his hands, and then up at me. “I suppose every judge gets a case as perplexing as this one once in his tenure, Mr. Ferramonte. Normally, this would be very difficult to decide (really, I’m thinking). But I believe I know of a precedent. Now, you know, your attorney has explained to me why you want to go to jail so badly. Not a bad plan, although I do have some moral qualms with it. And he also, as you well know, explained to me all about your vow, which I think you will agree I gave you quite a bit of leeway on”.

“That you did, Your Honor”. “No one has ever used that word in my court before, and you got away with it I don’t know how many times”.

“73. I counted 73 . . . Your Honor,” says some older woman in the back of the room.

His Honor nods in appreciation. “I could give you the max, you know. Despite the fact that you are a first timer, you show no remorse whatsoever”. He pauses again. “Or . . . or, I could do something worse, that will really make you sorry”. What could be worse? Is he going to have me tortured?

He resumes. “Have you ever seen Miracle on 34th Street?” “Huh? Me? Oh, yes. I’ve seen it a million times. It’s my favorite movie, Your Honor”.

“Well, then we have something else in common, other than reading, I mean. Do you remember what the last thing the judge says at the end of the trial? I’ve always wanted to say something like it in court, but I now give you that honor”. I had to think a minute. I had seen the movie a million times, but I had other things on my mind now. This was embarrassing. Then it came to me, and I said it out loud.

“’Since the United States government declares this man to be Santa Claus . . . this court will not dispute it. Case dismissed’”.

The judge looked at me and nodded. “Ex-fucking-actly, Mr. Ferramonte. Ex-fucking-actly. Case dismissed”.

As His Honor gets up and walks back to his chambers, we are all a bit stunned. He has screwed me but good, although no one else in the courtroom knows it except my own lawyer and the DA. My loving audience is actually cheering. Well, maybe not everyone. I can’t really see well, as people are pushing towards me and offering their hands, but I am pretty sure it is Logan shouting from the back of the court “What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck did he do?” John Stuart is just standing around looking at me as if I’m the devil. Maybe I am the devil, but if so, Daniel Webster just kicked my ass again, if you’re familiar with that story. If not, I have it in a book, and you can borrow it.

There’s nothing left to do. So, I walk out, hero of the hour, with everyone making a path before me and patting my back. They are thinking, “One of us made it”.

One last thing. You might have noticed that in my last conversation with the court, I never cursed once. I couldn’t. It would have been disrespectful. My vow was no longer in effect. You see, Judge Davis, who I told was a good guy, had paid for one book of my choice, to be delivered to his courtroom within 24 hours.

After all, they were only twenty five cents a piece. I pocket the quarter with the yellow note it came in and walk out into freedom, damn him, trying to figure out what to do about my wife.

[Author’s note: I really do hate it when I can’t understand a story. I want the point to jump out at me. That's one of the reasons I don’t understand or have much patience for poetry. So, I don’t mind giving you my inspiration and the back story.

I really did try and sell my old books this past week end, and I did it because I’m planning on moving. Just like in the story, not one person stopped or looked. This pleased my insignificant other (our affectionate little pet name for each other) to no end, as she had predicted that no one would buy a book, gleefully pointing out that, like her, no one cares about books (except, of course, me and readers of this blog).

I did place an ad on Craig’s List, but I didn’t make all those additions. I did think about adding them, though. And while I was sitting there thinking about it, this story sort of wrote itself.

Some inspirations: Well, of course, I’m a lawyer, so the backdrop came easy. The nuttiness of the proceeding, well, that came from that unbelievably silly Nicole Anna Smith hearing in Florida last week, of which I got to watch about an hour or two. I wish you could all see it, because it was just the craziest thing. The names, David Davis, John Stuart, Steven Logan and Herndon are all from President Lincoln’s life. David Davis was a judge, and an influential supporter of Lincoln’s, who in return, put him on the Supreme Court. He actually was rather fat. Stuart, Logan and Herndon were Lincoln’s law various law partners. I just threw their names in to amuse myself.

No, Ferramonte was not a stand in for Lincoln. Ferramonte is Italian for “Iron Mountain,” same as Eisenberg is in German. So, our foiled protagonist is just my alter ego, although a lot more prickly, I hope. I can’t even really take credit for the pseudonym, as Herman Hesse used it first as a stand in for his friend, Eisenberg (possibly his agent -- I forget), although I borrow it at times for fun. I imagine I will get a cease and desist letter from Herman Hesse's heirs' lawyer now, which may cause another story to erupt.

The inspiration for the repeated use of the word “Fuck,” which is my favorite curse word and stress reliever, came from my younger brother, who used to use the word so much (“I went to the fucking store to buy some fucking food . . .” being a typical sentence) that I used to make little marks on a piece of paper when we spoke on the phone to count how many times he would use it in a conversation, sort of like the lady in the back of the courtroom. I forget the record, but it was well over one hundred times in one call, I think 124. And Miracle on 34th Street really is my favorite movie, just edging out Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Outlaw Josey Wales. If you haven’t seen it, you must this Christmas (see my Christmas spectacular, posted this past December). But ONLY see the original.


  1. Dear idiot,
    next time pack your books up and take them to the Book Revue in Huntington. The used book section buys books (cheaply, of course), but a quarter apiece is about right. You can also donate them to the library or the local hospital... I can see it now, you huffing and puffing, lugging those books up and down your driveway... you crack me up.


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About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .