Normally, Greg didn’t mind Mondays, but today was different. His mood didn’t improve when he finally got inside the building and up to the metal detectors. He’d been waiting outside this damned building for 15 minutes in the rain, and before that he’d had to drive half a mile away to get parking.
When he arrived at the Nassau Family Court the postage stamp sized parking lot was full. So, he went across Old Country Road to Century 21’s parking lot. But, some rent-a-cop threatened to tow his car. He finally parked way on some side street in next village over and then walked back to Courthouse in Westbury.
At the metal detector there were three guys in some kind of blue uniform, laughing and joking. He didn’t see what was so funny. One of them made Greg go through it three times, and finally had him take off his belt.
Greg was seething by the time he got to the elevator. When the doors opened he was greeted by a 3 by 3 cubicle into which a horde of people tried to cram themselves. He let them pass. Fortunately, the stairs were nearby and was empty.
When he exited the stairway his senses were assaulted with a scene more resembling Penn Station at rush hour then a court house. The hallway was only ten feet wide, and maybe thirty feet long with swinging doors at either end. It was jammed to capacity with more people still trying to cram inside. There were a few benches along the walls, and every seat was taken. People were standing walking and milling. There were women with strollers, children running, crying and screaming. The din was loud as the crowd yammered in English, Spanish, Hindi, Chinese and God knows what other languages.
Posted on the wall opposite the stairs was sign indicating that Judge Callahan’s courtroom was to the right.
Pushing his way through the crowd, Greg made his way to the swinging doors on the right end of the hall. Once past the doors the hallway narrowed to about four feet across. People were lined up on both sides of the wall, leaving a narrow path down the center. The courtroom he was looking for was two thirds down.
The door to Judge Callahan’s courtroom was plain with frosted glass. Written on the door were the words “Court in Session. Do Not Knock. Wait for Court Officer.”
Greg looked at his watch, it was 9:45 am, the summons he’d been served with instructed him to be here at 9. Damn, he mumbled under his breath.
“Don’t sweat it. The court officer hasn’t checked any one in yet. Judge Callahan doesn’t get started until after 10 anyway.”
The person speaking was a large middle aged black man, with a receding hairline and a friendly smile. He was wearing dress slacks and a white button down shirt. He looked utterly relaxed and at home as he leaned against the wall.
“Thanks,” Greg muttered. The last thing he wanted was to be drawn into a conversation with a stranger.
“No problem,” the stranger smiled. “We’re all brothers here.”
Great, a religious fruit loop, Greg thought.
“First time in Family Court?” the stranger asked.
“Welcome the only place in America, no, the world, where all men are equal. Black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor, educated or illiterate – all are treated equally. We’re all treated like scum and criminals. Enter with balls and be prepared to get them cut off.”
Greg didn’t know which was more disturbing, what the man said or the genial tone he said it in. He thought maybe the guy was joking.
Reading his mind, the man said, “No joke. Ever hear of Doug Cooppersmith?”
Confused by the sudden change in direction, “Writer, isn’t he?”
“Guy wrote a string of bestsellers. Last year his new book tanked. Ex accused him of deliberately writing a bad book just to knock down his child support. I was here when they took him out in cuffs.”
“Jeez,” Greg breathed. He had remembered reading about that in Newsday
The man nodded. “If the court thinks that you vo-lun-tarily,” he enunciated every syllable,”reduced your income to avoid child support, they’ll give you a 90 day stay in East Meadow.”
“The jail is in East Meadow, next to the Hospital.”
Greg was starting to understand just how bad things were and could get.
“You sound like you’ve been here before,” Greg said.
“Courtesy of my ex this piece of hell is my home away from home. Old Dante didn’t know jack about hell. He should have come here.”
“Dante?” Greg was puzzled. He was disoriented by this place already and this guy was only making it worse.
“Italian fellow, wrote a book about hell, called Inferno. I read it in college. Anyway, he could have written a whole chapter about this place. Dre Allen, by the way.” He held out his hand.
Surprising himself, Greg took it. “Greg Garson.”
He was saved from making any further conversation, when he saw his lawyer wading through the throng. “My lawyer,” Greg said.
Allen smiled. “You need one here. It’s the difference between taking it with K-Y and without.”
Greg’s lawyer, John Fitzgerald was a short, compact man with a thick wavy head of brown hair and piercing blue eyes. He looked utterly unfazed as he navigated down the crowded hallway, as if he did it every day. He probably does, Greg realized.
As Fitzgerald pulled abreast of Greg and said, “Morning, brother.” He indicated with his head and said “Follow me.”
Fitz walked to the end of the hallway and turned right to push open a door which led to a small stairway. At the top on the landing five people were having an animated discussion. Three of the people were dressed in clothing that screamed lawyer. The other two were a Hispanic couple who were glaring at each other.
Fitz walked past the group sparing a nod to the lawyer that seemed to be mediating, a woman in her mid-thirties. “Your judge busy today?” He asked as he went down the stairs.
“Nah, Fitz, it’s a light day, we only have three trials and a full calendar of conferences,” she called to his retreating back.
“Wonderful,” Fitz muttered. “We’ll be lucky to get out of here before one.”
Fitz led Greg to the landing between the second and third floor and then took up position by the window. The rain had stopped and the sun was beating through the glass. The stairwell was hot and stuffy.
“Welcome to my office,” Fitz said sardonically.
“This place is a sewer,” Greg said heatedly.
Fitz nodded, “I did warn you. Anyway, how are you doing?”
“How am I doing? I’ve been sleeping on the couch in my office for the last week. She’s locked me out of the house. I don’t have my clothes and I haven’t seen my kids. How the hell do you think I’m doing?”
“About average for family court,” Fitz said sympathetically.
Greg felt the anger rising in him. He never had been a violent man. He never looked for fights, even when he was younger. But, now he felt an incredible urge to hit something.
Fitz put his hand on Greg’s arm. “Calm down. If you lose it, she wins.”
He pushed Fitz’s hand off. “She’s winning now.”
“In the short term, you’re right. But, in the end, it will even out. She may have the advantage in Family Court, but, I’ll be filing the divorce tomorrow and then we’ll be in supreme court. The balance is more even up there.”
“So, this order of protection will go away?”
Fitz looked uncomfortable. “No. The divorce court judge will allow this to go on. But, he’ll try to push the divorce along. Once we get the divorce going, there shouldn’t be any need for the order of protection.”
“And my kids?” demanded Greg.
“Greg, like I told you the primary caregiver gets the kids. You run a business, I know what that’s like. You work, what, 60, 70 hours a week? Don’t worry, you’ll get to see your kids. She can’t stop that.”
“She’s stopping it now,” Greg said. The anguish of being separated from his children was crushing him.
“Trust me, it will work out. Look, I got to run to another courtroom, when the court officer comes out, sign in, I’ll be back.” Fitz then rushed down the stairs.
Greg turned and stared out the window. He tried slowing his breathing to control his anger. She was taking everything from him that mattered. Tears of rage and loss ran down his face.
When he had himself under control he went back up the stairs to wait by the court room. His new friend had struck up a conversation with another person, so Greg was spared having to deal with him.
Staking out a section of the wall, Greg leaned against it, closed his eyes and tried to figure out how things gone so wrong.