This is part seven in my ongoing Friday feature to regale the story of how I came to live here and why I decided to stay. If you've just joined us, I've posted four links to the previous six parts below if you'd like to catch up. I have been asked if this is a true story or if there've been any embellishments, and I'd like to make it very clear that every part of this story is in fact true with the exception of some of the names.
Gary told me I had until after my court date to decide...
I couldn't just pick up and move to another country, could I? I had responsibilities here. My son Joshua had just turned seven years old after all. And even though he had a life with his mother and stepfather, me being close to him made a difference didn't it? At least he knew I was always there. No, I couldn't move to Costa Rica. It was too rash and impulsive to think that I could. So I resolved to not only decline his offer, but also resign my position (whatever that was) as his employee. Because after all, he was paying me to do nothing all this time, and wasn't fair to him or conducive to growth for me.
I had enough saved to keep me afloat until I found another job and resolved my transportation issues. Too bad. It probably would've been fun. But that's just not something I could ever do. I wasn't even sure where Costa Rica was for crying out loud, was in the Caribbean or South America? I remember a friend from college who used to always say that he would end up moving down there someday and spend his days surfing and smoking weed (we were 22). So for poops and giggles I decided to look the country up one night while cruising the Internet and watching the news.
It turns out that I was both wrong and right in my guesses as to where it was. It was a tiny little central American country no bigger than West Virginia that was bordered between Nicaragua and Panama. It had the Caribbean Sea on its eastern coast in the South Pacific on its western one, and the more I read about it the more fascinated and surprised I became. They were a neutral country without a military just like Switzerland, and the last time the country saw warfare was during World War II when it sent a huge amount of field medics to the European theater. They had the distinction of being the only country at war with Nazi Germany that Germany did was not also at war with. Hitler never declared war on Costa Rica, most likely due to a clerical error. But national legend down here says that Hitler never formally declared war on Costa Rica because he could not find it on the map. Whether that is true or not I have no idea.
After World War II they had a brief civil war between communist and capitalist factions which ended in a way I've never heard of the war ending. They literally just put down their weapons while conceding neither victory nor defeat on either side. They then wrote a Constitution that represented both sides’ interests and balanced them line for line as best they could. The result is a very vibrant and expressive democracy with many socialist elements. The closest example I could use would be the government of Sweden. Much like Costa Rica, individual freedom and equality are maintained in Sweden along with a very sturdy social net for the weaker members of their society and heavy investment in education and arts programs. They have less money to work with when doing this, but they make it work nonetheless. The fact that they were not paying a standing army anymore was what really helped.
I read about how they had 0.015% of the world's surface area, but incredibly had 5% of the total world's biodiversity. That meant 5% of all the animal and plant species in the world live in Costa Rica or its surrounding waters. Fascinating. Their primary industries were ecotourism and the manufacture of computer microchips, I had no idea that one of Intel's primary factories and calibration facilities was in San Jose, Costa Rica. And this fact coupled with the government's recent decision to privatize its telecommunication sector could very well launch of virtual IT wonderland down there.
My court date was on September 11 of all days so keeping the legal counsel that was provided to me seemed pretty important. If I said no to Gary now would he consider that biting the hand that feeds and fire my lawyer? I couldn't really risk that because according to my research I could spend up to a year to a year and a half in jail for my "crimes", and I am too much of a smartass to even think about defending myself in a court of law. This was a very peculiar position to be in, and I hated it. Even though I was working really hard on myself physically and mentally with the spare time I had, the idle time was beginning to drive me nuts.
One Friday while getting my check from the law firm, the attorney sat me down and we went over the game plan for the upcoming court date. He and I got along pretty well to the point where we could playfully jab at each other and not really cause insult. "So this should be pretty easy for us to beat, you weren't displaying the tag as a tag. And as far as not registering your license again on your birthday, I think there is a six-month grace period we can cite. Just don't speak unless spoken to directly by the judge, can you do that?"
"Yeah absolutely, and I hope that he does speak directly to me, because I have 2 metric asstons of shit I want to complain about. That so-called 'arrest' was the closest damn thing I've seen to a Gestapo shakedown this side of a black-and-white movie. Those assholes really need to answer for that and I say we..."
"See", he interrupted, "that's just what I'm talking about. The judge in your case is what you might call a 'good ol' boy', and if you start going off on tirades like that he's liable to give you the maximum sentence just for pissing him off. He's been known to charge people with contempt of court just for the clothes they wear in his courtroom."
"Okay, so iksnay on the Hawaiian shirt and plaid cargo shorts I planned to wear, gotcha. Anything else I should know about this guy's personality?" I asked thinking I pretty much knew the rest.
"Yeah, he's mean." He leaned forward to the table to emphasize the gravity of that. "If this were any other judge, we wouldn't even be having this meeting. Beauregard Jenkins is famous around here for..."
"Beauregard Jenkins?" It was my turn to interrupt, "You've gotta be fucking kidding me! His name is seriously Beauregard Jenkins? What? Buford T. Justice wasn't available on account he was out trying to catch 'The Bandit'? Jesus Christ..."
The lawyer chuckled a little bit, "The Bandit... man those movies where the best."
My attorney continued, "I really need you to just not talk at all, and if spoken directly to, I need you to not swear and look him straight in the eye when you respond. Do you think you can do that?"
"Is the alternative spending up to a year and a half in a cage full of men much larger than myself?", I asked.
"Pretty much", my lawyer responded.
"Then I don't really see where it's going to be an issue." I affirmed. I wasn't about to risk an enormous amount of time from my life by being a wise ass to the wrong redneck hanging judge.
The night before my court date I couldn't sleep, I had never faced a day in my life before that had so much at stake. My lawyer was confident that he could get the charges dropped based not only on the leverage that was squeezed on me, but the outlandish nature of the charges themselves. But I was still pretty worried. And then it hit me...
I had been doing this my entire life. Not necessarily sweating over a court date, but feeling an ever present anticipation of dread. The cards that have been dealt to me forced me to mark my life by tragic events that were out of my control, then the recovery from said tragic events, and then another crappy thing happening to me that caused the cycle to repeat. I felt as though I had no control over my life whatsoever, and the scope of that sunk into me on this troubled night like the manifestation of a bad sunburn. I was a working class cog in a machine that did not give a rats ass if I lived or not, let alone if I was happy. But I played by all of the rules, never took any serious risks, and always did my best to prove my loyalty to someone else, be it an employer or a girlfriend.
And here is where all that good behavior landed me. And it was very possible that I was going to be in a cage thinking those same thoughts in less than 24 hours. I was literally being smacked around by life, not living it. I wanted to take the wheel for once, determine my own destiny, make my own choices and if they landed me on the rocks, I know that I did it and not fate.
At about 2 AM, I turned on the television to catch up on the news. And there was Donald Rumsfeld, with those lizard eyes of his, making some kind of speech to a group of supporters. In that speech, he said that those who disagreed with the newly uncovered interrogation methods (torture) of terrorism suspects were guilty of the same crimes as Neville Chamberlain who capitulated to the Nazis before the start of World War II. He said this on national TV with a straight face. Maybe it was the time of evening, maybe it was all the stress piled up from what I was facing the next day, I don't know. But those words pissed me off.
I wasn't welcome here anymore. And I hadn't been since the first time a complete stranger looked me in the face and called me a traitor when I said the Iraq war was a dumb idea in 2003. The tide in my country had shifted so far to the right politically that people like myself, activists, environmentalists, humanists, and freethinkers were all placed in a box simply labeled "liberal" and kicked to the side to be pointed at and called traitor. If only there was a country where I could go to that appreciated smart people devoted to peace, compassion, and human rights. It would be great if there was a place that treasured the natural world as much as I did...wait a second...
The next morning I put on my sharpest suit and walked the 3 miles to the courthouse (riding a bike somehow seemed inappropriate) to meet my lawyer. I hadn't slept, and I had an epiphany that was still running through my mind detail by detail. My attorney thanked me for not dressing like Magnum PI, and reinforced the fact that I was not to say a word unless directly addressed by the Hon. Beauregard Jenkins himself. I agreed, and the two of us walked into the courtroom and had a seat at the table designated for defendants. The prosecuting attorney was a ridiculously cute redhaired woman who looked to be in her early 30s and was wearing a red and gray female version of a power suit complete with skirt that might've been considered a bit too short. I turned to my lawyer and asked him if she could get charged with contempt for that, but he simply snapped for me to be quiet.
The bailiff announced our case and the arrival of the judge who emerged from his chambers carrying several folders under his arm. He was a portly man with white hair and jowls that looked somewhat like a cross between Mr. Magoo and a Shar-Pei puppy. The glasses he wore were the old-style hornrimmed that you might remember from your parents yearbook photos, but they looked new. I couldn't help but think how this guy looked a bit like Col. Sanders after letting himself go for a few decades. He sat down in his chair, thumbed through the folders in front of him, and after about a minute and a half looked up and dismissively said, "ya'll can sit down now."
We all took our seats, and the prosecution detailed the two crimes which I was accused of. she then presented the evidence which consisted of my temporary tag with "fuck yeah!" scrawled on it inside a plastic baggie. She handed the judge the tag, and he adjusted his glasses on his nose as he peered at it very closely as though it had some other secret code written there as well. "Now son, didn't your momma teach you any better than to deface an official document? And don't you have any better way of expressing yourself than using these curse words right here?" he peered at me over the top of his glasses with a stern look on his face.
"Well your Majesty, I..."
"Your Honor!" my lawyer hissed through his smiling teeth.
"Well your Honor, I was only trying to commemorate finally getting a car that was new instead of used for once. I honestly didn't think I was breaking the law, and if you look at my record I..."
"You were driving around my county with the f word out there for all to see, how many schools did you drive by Mr. Gipson? Do you think those school children knew you were just 'expressing yourself'? Don't look at your eye-talian lawyer, answer ME boy." He honestly looked pissed enough to jump over his bench and hit me with his gavel, his face was turning beet red and he was nodding as though jamming out to a Metallica song only he could hear. This wasn't going so well.
"If I may, your Honor, I'd like to present the Defense's case before you reach your verdict?" my lawyer chimed in. "My client would like to plead No Contest to the charge of not re-registering his license and Guilty to the charge of..."
"What the HELL, dude!" I hadn't slept that night, and my internal restraint had obviously failed at an all too critical moment. The collective gasp of everyone in the courtroom told me that I had just screwed myself royally with that outburst. The millisecond the air left my vocal cords to create those five words, I watched every plan I had made the night before sprout wings and fly away.
The long silence was broken by Judge Jenkins. "Is there something you'd like to add, Mr. Gipson, before the bailiff takes you?" He was beginning to fill out a form in front of him that I could only assume was my incarceration order.
This was it. My life was about to end as I knew it. I was about to become a convicted criminal. And this wasn't a holding cell I was going to, it was real jail. Beauregard Jenkins was the last lion guarding the gate to what could have been my life, and he had beaten me. Unless I could pull something amazing in the next few seconds...
"Yes I do, your Honor. This is absolutely ridiculous, that tag was underneath my backseat and in no way visible from the outside of my car. My attorney and I agreed that we would plead NOT Guilty for this, but for some reason decided to change his mind the second you started getting angry. This is my freedom we are talking about here and it is non-negotiable to me. Especially if it's based on the bad temper of the presiding judge." Another collective gasp, and my lawyer now has his face in his palms.
The judge stopped writing, put down the pen, took off his glasses and locked eyes with mine. He studied me for what felt like ten minutes, but was actually only about 30 seconds before he pursed his lips and began speaking again. "You're telling me this tag was NOT displayed on the outside of your vehicle?" he asked while glancing over at the prosecuting attorney who responded with a half-shrug in acknowledgement.
"No." I said simply.
"Do you want to tell me why it is you ended up in my courtroom making a buffoon out of yourself then?" he leaned back in his chair and interlocked his fingers across his rotund belly. I then told him word for word, fact for fact everything that happened to me that morning. It turns out that they were given a completely different story by the arresting officers who were conveniently and notably absent from the court proceedings. The story seemed to have an effect on the judge as he was arching his eyebrows often when I got to the more abusive parts of the story. He cut me off when I got to the part where the arresting officer refused to hit a Wendy's drive through on the way to the jailhouse.
"I am going to ask you two simple questions, Mr. Gipson. And I want you to answer me as truthfully as you have been up to this point." This was actually a good judge who could separate BS from truth, and I was being truthful, and apparently he could tell. Maybe I was in luck after all. "One, did you give the officers permission to search your car? And two, were you driving your car at the time you were accosted by the federal agents?"
"No, on both counts, your Honor."
"Case dismissed, all charges are dropped" he slammed his gavel down and pointed it directly at me. "Now you listen here, son. This is the one time in your life your mouth got you OUT of trouble, but I better not ever see you here again. Because the next time, I am going to add a contempt charge before you even sit down for that outburst of yours. Do you understand me?"
"Not a problem your Honor, I'm moving to Costa Rica anyway!"
END OF CHAPTER ONE