The Clarion Content hasn’t had an opportunity to run a piece of metafiction since Juan Huevos last melted screens with a true Hollywood confession of what Halloween used to be like on Franklin Street. The tradition of semi-fictional tall tales runs deep here at the Clarion Content. You might remember Cady Childs’ immortal Durham quest, “Searching for Ringside.” You may have been scarred by G.I. M’Rock’s treatment of his fellow creatures human and otherwise.
Today we have a bit more of a light-hearted, entertaining twist for you. A talented writer offered up their pseudonymous services and dropped this little delight in our laps.
Offense, Defense, and No Fence: Tall Tales from the Bench and Bar
STORY 1: My Honor, My Transmission
“My Honor!’, the victim bellows in a thick accent from the witness stand at the front of the courtroom..
“Yes?”, I ask from my perch on the bench, assuming he means ‘Your Honor.’
“My HONOR! My TRANSMISSION!” he roars, louder still, opening his brawny arms wide in front of me, cradling an invisible object against his faded denim overalls.
“What about your transmission?”
.“Was friend! Thief! My Honor!” he stands and, points to a man in a seat in the first row-the defendant: slender, wearing a clean, button-down shirt and black slacks.
“Sir, please, sit down,” I say.
Sinking into the seat, he folds and unfolds his hands, shaping thoughts into words. He is settling into a space that feels as barren as the driest patch of soil on earth. The Land of the Law.
My job, as an arbitrator, is to guide him over this terrain without steering him towards a destination. Small claims court is a place where the average Joe should feel free to speak his mind, while the rules of evidence vanish like mirages before his eyes. And small claims court attracts big personalities.
“Sir, go on,” I say. He straightens up and looks at me, his eyes watery, “Tell me your story. Take your time.”
“For many, many years, I share. With him. My neighbor, my friend! My honor, my transmission! His body…”
“Shop!” the defendant interrupts, “I own a body shop. He’s my neighbor. There’s no fence between our properties. We were friendly..” At this word, the victim’s hulking frame slumps. I decide to let the free-for-all continue, as long as it rings true.
“We have a straightforward business deal. When someone brings me a wreck, I check the transmission. If it doesn’t work, I sell it to him. Cheap. He calls me when he’s fixed it. I reinstall it. IF the car works, I buy back the transmission from him. He makes a good profit.”
“Is that true?” I ask the victim.
“Yes! Good transmission! Good for him! Good for me! Good for families! Good..” the victim adds, perking up.
“But short story short,” the defendant interrupts, “the last transmission, the one he keeps calling my transmission, didn’t work. So , I didn’t pay him. Case closed.”
“Sir, did you fix that transmission?” I ask, turning to the victim.
“My transmission work! He not pay me.! My honor! My neighbor! My friend!” the victim puffs out his chest, and pounds his heart with his fist.
“Man, if it worked, you know I’d pay you! Have I ever not paid you for a working transmission?”
“Lots and lots of work! No pay! AND he keep it! My Honor!”
“Is that true? Do you have it on your property, at this moment?” I ask the defendant.
“Yep,” he says.
“So, is the deal that if he doesn’t fix the transmission, you keep it on your property?”
“Yep, I keep it”, says the defendant.
“No! I keep it!” shouts the victim.
“For how many years have you two been neighbors?” I ask.
“Fifteen years,” says the defendant.
“Fifteen!” echoes the victim, who undoubtedly has the impression that whoever speaks last and loudest wins the contest. And although his English is broken, his comprehension is whole.
“And you’ve been friends- maybe not close friends, but friends-the entire time?”“
Like I said, we were friendly,” the defendant answers, glaring at the victim, “but never friends. The man is wasting my time.”
“Never friends.” the victim repeats, shaking his head, his voice trembling, soft.
I am beginning to feel desperate, not because an impasse exists between a victim and a defendant, to which I am accustomed, but because an obstacle far greater than a transmission lies in my path: The Law. Unknown to either man, my role doesn’t allow me to order “someone” to “do something”, as in: “give him the transmission” or “move to another neighborhood” or “take the transmission to another mechanic so he can install it and test drive it.” The Law only allows me to award money and, in Law as in Life, there are some things that money can’t buy.
I decide to go for broke and rely on ancient wisdom, a blend of Old Testament and New, King Solomon, with a twist of Jesus.
“Gentlemen, you’ll be glad to know I’ve made my decision!” I announce, trying to sound gleeful, “I will order that the transmission be cut in half! So, any advice on which way it should be cut? May I suggest a cross-section each?”
“No! You’ll destroy it!”
“No, don’t cut!”
“So, if no one wants half a transmission, who is willing to put aside his selfish desires for the life of the transmission?
“What about you, sir? Do you agree that if I cut the transmission in half, no one wins?” I aim my question at the defendant.
“And you sir? Do you agree that if I cut it in half, no one wins?”
“Yes,” the victim keeps pace.
“So, you want the transmission to stay whole?”
“I do! My honor!”
“Congratulations! I now pronounce that you have reached an agreement to keep the transmission whole. So, who will give it up? Make the noble sacrifice? Put the transmission first, yourself last? And remember, in the end, the last shall be first”
“I’ll start a countdown. If no one gives it up by the time I reach zero, I will be forced to order…to order that….drastic measures be taken! 10, 9, 8, 7, 6,5,4,3, 2, 1…”
A door slams in the back of the courtroom. Two females enter. One is taller, with hair woven on top of her head and gold post earrings, wearing tight slacks and pumps. The other is short and stocky, with a long braided ponytail, wearing a batiked dress of bright colors and layers of bracelets They walk arm in arm down the aisle and stop when they reach the bench in front of me, where the defendant is sitting.
“Two grown men, fighting over a piece of junk!” shrieks the taller of the two, pointing at the defendant, “That transmission ain’t nothing but trouble!”.
“Take it away! ,” booms the shorter woman, with a dramatic jangling gesture in the direction of the victim, “We all neighbors! Friends!”
“Were friends,” snaps the defendant.
“You may be my husband, but you don’t choose my friends! Maria and I are friends!” his wife retorts.
“No more friends,” moans the victim.
“Wrong!” the stout woman lashes out at him, “You my husband! LaToya my friend!”
“What kind of a judge are you, anyway? Is this a real courtroom?” the defendant’s wife practically spits at me.
“I’m an arbitrator, and in case you didn’t know, you interrupted an arbitration,” I reply
“Well, pardon me. All HE told me was that they were gonna settle this TODAY, once and for all, in front of a judge.”
“So, are you both witnesses?” I ask
“Don’t I get to choose my witnesses, you honor?” asks the defendant, “I mean, if I wanted my wife for a witness, I would have ASKED her to come.”
“Excuse me! This courtroom is PUBLIC! AND we are married! I don’t need your permission to talk about OUR transmission!”
“This transmission thing ain’t about us, ‘Toy,” the defendant replies, more gently.
“Oh, it’s about us, awright. You spend more time with your Boy Toy than your own Toy!.”
“Quiet, both of you! Ma’am, if you’re not his witness, you’ll have to leave or sit quietly in the audience,” I tell the victim’s wife.
“Oh, I’m his witness. I can tell you all about him.”
“In this case, you are NOT his witness. And you, ma’am?” I ask the other wife, “Are you a witness in this case?”
“Yes! You must look!” she shouts at her husband.
The victim’s wife walks to the back of the courtroom and out the door. In a moment, she returns wheeling a shopping cart with a white sheet draped over the top. She pushes it to the front of the room. The defendant’s wife lifts the sheet and unveils a long large metal object- a transmission.
“My Honor!” the victim jumps out of his chair and descends from the witness stand. Feeling that the truth is near at hand, I let him approach the transmission. He unscrews a cap and looks inside.
“Dry!” he shouts, “I fix gasket. You no add fluid!”
“Doesn’t surprise me. He’s an expert at letting the well run dry.” says the defendant’s wife.
“Did you add fluid before you did the test drive?’ I ask the defendant.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember,” he answers.
“He’ll add the fluid and pay the man, ” his wife interjects, “’cause if he don’t, he can kiss me and this piece of junk goodbye.”
“I’ll add the fucking fluid. IF you order her to bring it home, your Honor.”
“I have no power to order anyone to DO anything, “ I say, “ BUT, I hope that you take the transmission home, Ma’am, so your husband can satisfy his end of the bargain.”
“I’ll take it on home. But he better PAY UP and FILL UP TONIIGHT! Ready, Nyere?”
The defendant’s wife beams at victim’s wife.
“Ready, LaToya!” the victim’s wife beams back. She drapes the white sheet back over the transmission, then points to her husband.
“You! Make Peace!”
“I make Peace! Fix gasket!”
“Make MORE Peace! Or…”
“Thank you both for coming to the arbitration! Please exit now! ” I interrupt, trying to preserve a victory.
The wives push the shopping cart up the aisle and out the courtroom door. The victim and the defendant remain standing at the front of the courtroom, gazing at the door.
“My wife a good peacemaker!” the victim says, smiling.
“Yep,” the defendant replies, shaking his head, “Mine too. A good piece… of work.”
“Yes! My transmission work! My Honor!” He extends his hand to the defendant.
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