We’re talking about manic depression here, not the plain kind. War, the economy, societal sickness, fucked up families – all the things that cause epidemics of depression – these things have nothing to do with my kind.
It’s chemical, physiological. A certain percentage of the population is manically depressed, and destined to be so from birth – from generation to generation, in all societies, worldwide.
But what about the symptoms? Take some poor manic depressed guy in Africa or Siberia. How can he go on a buying spree and get into debt? How can he freak out and join a cult? How can he run for political office, or sell a shit load of fax machines in a one-month period?
Hell, how can he even spew out a novel? He might not be able to read. What the hell does that guy do?
And how can he get five speeding tickets in one month? He doesn’t have a car. His damages are limited.
So that explains that.
But, somehow, this is the guy who hurts my case. The rich really are different from you and me. And so are the poor.
The continuances were over.
I went to court early so I could talk to the D.A. privately. See if she would throw it out, dismiss it, tank it, give me a hug and pat me on the back, hold my hand while she walked me to the door – whatever they do.
“I’ve found out what the problem is,” I was going to tell her. “And there’s a solution. Medication makes you normal. I won’t be speeding any more. Drop this one, and you’ll never hear my name spoken around here again. Here, I’ve got a letter about it, written by doctors. Psychiatric explanations. Besides, the cop made a mistake. He wrote it worse than it was because he had already given me three tickets in two weeks – the same cop!”
“Tell it to the judge,” she said.
They really do say that.
“But, but, but.”
There was a pole there, in that room behind the courtroom. It rose right out of the middle of the floor, up to the ceiling and beyond. In this old, convoluted building, there’s no telling what this room used to be. She looked right at the pole when she spoke to me.
“The judge!” she said. Stern. Mean. “In court.”
I didn’t get a word in about my illness.
I waited all morning. Business was brisk in the courtroom. Lots of my colleagues, dressed like slobs, waiting their turn, filling the aisles, sitting shoulder to shoulder, had no case at all – just wasting Your Honor’s time. Decked out lawyers breezed by without a glance. No scraps of bread for the needy. Your Honor this, Your Honor that, and they were out of there in a jiffy. Not so jiffy for the rest of us. Your Honor was in a bad fucking mood when he got to me, but that didn’t keep him from laughing.
“Five hundred dollar fine, license revoked for one year,” he said.
Boom. Gavel. Next case. This guy was a quick decision-maker. I’ve always admired people who could chuckle and talk at the same time. For me, they’ve always been two separate activities. Your Honor did it quite well. A guy’s got to break the monotony.
Naturally, the Clerk of Court wanted his damn money right then. That’s why they had a jail attached to this place. Some people can’t pay it. I fucking could! But not right now. I needed a little time. The clerk whispered this to Your Honor, wasted a little more of his time.
Your Honor granted me five hours to come up with the five hundred.
“One hundred dollars per hour,” he said. “The going rate. Or forty-eight hours in jail.”
He announced this for all to hear, then whacked his gavel again.
My mother was there in fifteen minutes. The trouble was, they don’t take checks for this type of thing. So her trip to the bank took another hour. Your Honor was kind enough to let me wait on a bench inside the courtroom, where I could watch more drama unfold.
Not too dramatic though. Not like TV court. Whack. A little jail for you. Whack. A little jail for you. Whack. A little money from you. Whack. A little money from you. Oh, it’s you again? Whack. A little prison ought to take care of that. Don’t let me see you here again. Whack, whack, whack.
“I’m going to live within my budget from now on,” I told my mother. “And I’m going to get a job. This is the last speeding ticket I’ll get. I got those when I was manic. I wasn’t paying attention. My thoughts were racing.”
We were standing on the courthouse steps. It was a clear, cool afternoon. The cars on Main Street lazed along. People looked out their windows as they rode by – trying to catch a glimpse of a lawyer, or somebody in trouble.
“Need a ride?” she asked.
“I’ll walk,” I said.
“You could move home,” she said. “Save a lot of money.”
“No. Please no, Mom.”
I told her I was starting a whole new life now. I told her the doctor said I was doing well. “Be patient,” I said.
“Here,” she said. “Since I had to go to the bank for the other.” She gave me a hundred dollar bill. “I’ve got to go back to work. Call me if you need a ride.”
The rich are different. So are the poor. Take me, for example. I’m a hell of a lot different from those poor fuckers inside. Your Honor is locking up those sad souls left and right. My colleagues! Would-be mentally ill folks without a kind ear and a few pills. And Your Honor is throwing in a lecture here and there to go with it.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She started down the steps.
“Just glad you didn’t have to go to jail,” she said.
She swung around, angry. “Why didn’t you tell me about this? I could have gotten a lawyer.”
“I wanted to handle it,” I said. “I had a case. I have a letter from a doctor.” I showed her the paper. “But they wouldn’t let me present it.”
“That’s what lawyers are for,” she said. She gazed up at the large courthouse facade. The big stone triangle. Then she shook her head. “I think your grandmother had this,” she said. “I think she was depressed.” She glanced over at the sun and squinted. “And your father. You inherited it from his side.”
“Might have,” I said.
No driver’s license – again.
Again, dot dot dot.
Nope. This time, I’ll spare us both the dots.