Tempus Vuggin’ Fugit

A guy is playing a distorted electric guitar through a wah-wah pedal– some groovy rock and roll guitar, as the freaks used to say.  I remember doing that, over a simple three chord vamp highly conducive to every possible bluesy invention.   4-14-06 it says next to the title of the song.  Eleven years ago yesterday! Jesus, tempus really do fugit.  

I am walking up a long, steep hill from the Hudson River to a graduation party.   My mother, now dead almost seven years, was alive and I was talking to her on the phone as I walked.  It was June, sunny and humid, and I didn’t notice how hot, until I arrived at the party soaked to the skin.  My host gave me an iced drink, a mojito, maybe.  It was cold and delicious and I was dehydrated, it went down in a couple of draughts.  I had another.  I just about emptied the sun-room, walking in glistening as if just doused with a fire hose pumping sweat.   Two remained, a mother and her son.  The woman asked how I was doing.  As I began the third cold mojito it all flooded out. Talk about fire hoses.  

My mother was toward the end of her long death, my daily calls to her in Florida the highlight of her days, my visits even more so.   I’d just spent a solid month with her, every waking hour, the second two weeks in New York.  Towards the end of that month I had to take care of several court cases and an imperious young judge solemnly read me the redundant letter of the law, although I’d already done everything in anyone’s power to protect an old man from eviction, had, in fact, indefinitely put off the eighty year-old’s inevitable eviction.  

The young judge was performing for two law students he had on the bench with him, to show them what a judge’s day is like, how he conducts business.  As the law students looked on the young judge read our agreement and agreed I’d done everything anyone could have done in this case, that the stipulation was not only reasonable and well-drawn, but the terms where generous, under the circumstances of the $13,000 in rent arrears.   He refused to sign off on it, though, which is what I needed him to do so I could dash off to the NYCHA part and get out of court before it closed for the lunch recess.

“Judge, with all respect, I don’t have any other arrows here in my quiver.   The only thing APS can do for him is get him an Article 81 Guardian.  The guardianship application will stay the Housing Court proceeding until someone can place him in alternative housing.  I wish there was another plan, but he has no income, is not a U.S. citizen, owes over $13,000 in arrears.   We can’t get a grant to pay the arrears, Article 81 is, sadly, the only option.”


“Yet,” said the judge seriously, “you didn’t bother to ever meet with the tenant to find out what his preferences might be?”  

“Judge, again, with respect, this tenant is not a U.S. citizen and he has no income.  Technically, APS should not even be taking his case, which I should not mention on the record, except that Josh is a good man and won’t make an issue of it.   I didn’t meet him because his preferences are not at issue here.  If he said, for example, that he wants to move to Hawaii and have APS get him airfare and several months rent in Hawaii, how would I be able to do anything but what I am doing to protect his interests?”

“So, you refuse to meet with the tenant you are representing, or bother to even find out what he might want,” said the judge, for the record.

“Judge, again, how does what he wants enter this discussion?   He hasn’t paid rent in over a year and has no money.  The only way to prevent his immediate homelessness is by having APS apply for an Article 81 guardianship.  I will undoubtedly write an Order to Show Cause, maybe two, before they complete the Article 81, but when the time comes, I will do that.”   Josh nodded, told the judge the same thing.

The judge began digging through a pile of papers on his desk there on the bench.  He dug for a while, as I looked at Josh, and tried to keep my face as composed as possible.  The court room clock now read 12:20, if I didn’t wrap things up here soon I’d have to come back to court at 2 pm to adjourn my last case.

My mother was waiting for me in Queens for lunch.  I had five cases on the calendar and was done with all of them, but this case and one in the NYCHA part that could be quickly adjourned with a stip I’d sign and have the NYCHA attorney submit for us both.  I had one foot out the door as Josh and I wrapped up the stip, it was about 11:20, I was in good shape for getting to my mother in Queens by 1:15 or so to take her for lunch.  Not after an almost hour wait to have this important judge allocute the stipulation between two attorneys.

The stip Josh and I wrote could not have been improved by the most eloquent and exacting jurist.  The judge himself was not disputing that.  The agreement covered everything, the landlord was owed a tremendous and exact sum, and that, in light of the impossibility of the tenant ever paying (the only way to end a nonpayment eviction proceeding staying in the premises) a judgment of possession would issue to the landlord and a warrant of eviction would also issue forthwith, to be stayed thirty days, or maybe it was even 45 days, for APS to complete its application for the Article 81.   Everyone knew this sporting agreement meant my having to make at least one emergency application, two months from now, to stop the scheduled eviction.  

It was around 12:30 when the judge found what he was looking for, a memo from his boss.   The court officer took two copies from the judge and handed one to me and one to Josh.  The copies were so degraded it was hard to make out the words on them.   The judge struggled to read his own greyed out copy and finally found the language he read aloud.  The memo advised judges, in light of the vulnerability of tenants represented by Guardians ad Litem, particularly the crop of new GALs without legal expertise, to make sure their robe was extra long in the back.  

“To cover their asses,” I clarified to the college boy, when he raised his eyebrows quizzically.  His mother nodded, horrified but very interested in the jarring collision that was about to happen in Part A of the New York City Housing Court.

(to be continued, as tempus fucking fugit)


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