Friday, September 19, 2008

Ink-stained blech

I filed a lawsuit today. It's my third in 12 years. Let me tell you about the other two first.

One was to recover a rent deposit from a landlord who just didn't see why he had to give Mrs. M and I our money back. We went to court and the landlord lost, of course, and subsequently sent me a check, but it took a contentious hearing during which time his wife told me, in front of the judge, "I never liked you from the start!"

I responded, "Gee, that's a shame, because I really liked you."

The judge thought that was funny, and I like to think it helped rule in our favor. ("Gee, that's a shame" was borrowed from "Midnight Run".)

The second lawsuit was involved a dispute over a paint job I had done with a crew in 1997. There is something known as a "punch list", a list of odds and ends which the contractor has the client assemble at the end of the job, and which the contractor addresses. My client didn't like a few things we'd done, but wouldn't let me come and fix them, and wouldn't pay. It was the equivalent of eating an entire Chinese meal, then refusing to pay the bill because you don't like the fortune cookie.

The client got served, immediately called me, I came and fixed, and was paid. What happens in cases like that is the case is called, neither party shows up, and it's dismissed.

Today, my suit was filed in New Jersey. A newly (re)launched magazine I won't name had contacted me and solicited three articles for a certain amount of money. I wrote all three---a car article, a travel article and a bicycle review---supplied photos, and submitted an invoice.

Yesterday, the editor, who on the phone had sounded as though she was about 12, sent me the following email:

Hi Josh,

How are you?

I regret to inform you that we will not be publishing ********* Magazine.

I hope you can find another publication that will accept your work.

I apologize for any inconvenience this might have caused.



It was actually a pleasure to just say nothing, to just pull out a gun and fire. No "I'll see you in court!" email. I've had a rough week, my friends, one full of surreal and earth-shattering events, even for me, and I'm afraid I have no room at all for understanding or even caring why some big, well-funded (trust me) company isn't going ahead with their plans and pleasantly tries to stiff its contributors without so much as an offer of a kill fee.

Despite what's happening on Wall Street.

I used to think there was something cosmically dangerous about suing, but I've come to see it as the big brothers I once had. I cannot call on Nick or Jed Max to go and work the head of the company over in the back alley, so off I go with my club (a pen) and brass knuckles (22 bucks to file.)

I also thought, "Maybe I shouldn't tell people about this on my blog," but why not? Am I to be ashamed? It is not I who reneged.

On the way back from the Hackensack Municipal Court near the George Washington Bridge, I came upon a traffic jam. Thinking the two cars who'd gone around some cones onto a side street perhaps knew something I didn't, I followed. The first car was stopped by a policeman, who gave the driver one of the worst bawlings-out I'd ever heard a cop deliver. He finally let the man go and started in on the second, giving him a piece of his policeman's cap.

I started thinking, "What shall I say when he gets to me?"

I had big, thick sunglasses on and decided to play dumb, be like a sponge, let the man do whatever his thing would be, take my medicine and be off.

He put his face close to mine, said, "Ahhhh" and waved me away.

Sometimes the system ain't so bad. Sometimes they can help you get your money, and sometimes their representative has a heart. Other times, just to be wise guys, they can show up and take everything you own. Such is democracy.

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