Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sweating before the judge to become who I am, Conclusion

[ Start with part 1 here ]

Once I found the Chase branch, things went pretty smoothly, so the rest of this story will be pretty fast.  The Chase people were easily able to print out my statement, and they were kind enough to xerox my driver's license.  I packed everything into my soggy manila envelope and trotted back through the steam to the courthouse. 

I was once again soaking wet when I got to 141 Livingston Street, which was good because Officer Dummkopf was on search duty and you know he would have busted my balls if the idea weren't so disgusting in this heat.   I went back up to the ninth floor, where the clerk handed me a piece of paper telling me to go to the third floor and pay $65.  After I paid, the third floor clerk gave me a piece of paper telling me to go back to the ninth floor. I figured this was finally where I'd be able to drop off the papers and go home.

The clerk made various stamps on my paperwork, stamped my receipt from the third floor, and then handed me a piece of paper telling me to go to the eleventh floor.  Ok, so maybe that was where I would finally be able to drop off my papers and go home. 

"Court convenes at 2:30, so you've got about five minutes before you see the judge."

See the judge???  "Why do I have to see the judge?"  I asked.  I figured that somehow I had been given the wrong paperwork, and instead of getting my name changed they were convicting me of a felony.  Stranger things have happened.

"You want your name changed, don't you?"  The typical bureaucratic passive-aggressive non-answer.

The building was very well climate controlled, so I was no longer soaked, though I was still damp.  "But the website didn't say I'd be meeting with the judge today!"  I could only imagine what kind of impression I would make.

The clerk rolled her eyes. "There is just so much wrong with that website. NEXT!"

True to form, the 2:30 court convened at 2:47.  The court officer took all our paperwork and made neat piles on his desk.  Then we waited.  And waited.  When you're in the court system, your time is theirs.   I could see the thunderstorms of a summer Friday afternoon through the courtroom windows.  Occasionally the court officer would call out a name.  People would shuffle or saunter up to the bench and inaudibly confer with the judge. Some people were there for small claims hearings, and the defendants sent or came with their lawyers. One of the lawyers looked exactly like the late Allen Funt of Candid Camera fame.  He might have been, for all I know.  The court officer occasionally would call the names of people who weren't there.  I wrote erotic stories on the back of the unused pages of my financial statement.

Finally at 4:17 the judge called my name.  Easiest way to suck up to a judge: stop about four feet away from the bench and wait for them to invite you to approach.  Judges just eat that stuff with a spoon.  In my statement I said I wanted to change my name in part because all my books and articles were bylined "Patrick DiJusto".  He asked if I wrote for the Park Slope Courier.  I said I didn't.  He smiled and said, "Oh well, now you will".  When the clerk handed me my papers I saw that that was where I had to place the legal notice of my name change.  Good, I thought.  No one will see it there.

I now have 60 days to get the legal notice printed and 90 days to return proof of the notice to the court.  As far as I'm concerned, however, my name now is legally Patrick DiJusto.

Sweating before the judge to become who I am, Part 2

[ Read part 1 here ]

"Ok, the clerk said. Here's what you do: you can go home and get those documents, but you'll have to be back here before 2PM."

It was 12:58.  Not going to happen.

"Or?" I said.

"Do you have a bank account?  Well, then, find the nearest branch and ask them to print out your last statement.  With your address.  We'll accept that. NEXT!"

I slinked to the elevators, where the Slavic woman was crying into her cell phone.  I just stood there, ashamed that I had ever thought she should look to me as an example of anything but hubris. 

But enough of that.  I had to find a bank.   Cell phones don't work in the courthouse elevators, so when we got to the lobby I dialed Chase's automated help line.

"HEY!" someone yelled.  I was sure it was Officer Dummkopf.  Years ago I trained myself not to respond when someone says HEY in that arrogant fashion.  I put the phone to my ear and walked toward the door.

"HEY!  No cell phones inna lobby!" Dummkopf screamed. "Take it outside."  Since I was already walking outside, Dummkopf had placed himself in a win-win situation: no matter what I did, I was obeying him.  I reminded myself yet again that if I am ever convicted of a crime I would have to kill myself before sentencing, since with this kind of attitude I would last maybe 15 seconds in prison.

"Chase Customer Service, may I help you?"  The rain had stopped and the air outside consisted of 80% nitrogen, 19% steam, and 1% oxygen.  MTA workers were building an anastamosis linking the nearby subway stations, so the streets around the courthouse were torn up, and multiple jackhammers pounded out of phase.  "BROOKLYN!" I shouted into the phone. "JAY STREET AND LIVINGSTON! NEAREST BRANCH!"  I could just barely hear the operator reply "Eighth street?" "NO!!!!  JAY STREET!  J-A-Y STREET!  AND LIVINGSTON!  BRANCH!"  I started walking down Jay Street to get away from the construction.

An ambulance tried to zoom around the corner, but their on-board navigation system didn't tell them that the street had been torn up.  The driver screeched to a stop and leaned on his siren, making deep "WOCKA-WOCKA-WOCKA" sounds  that in no way harmonized with the jackhammers.   "Avenue J in Brooklyn" the Chase Customer Service operator said faintly. 

"NOOOOOOO!  J-A-Y STREET AND... where am I now?  WILLOUGHBY STREET.  Oh crap! W-I-L-L-O-U-G-H-forget it, thanks!  Never mind!  Bye."  I didn't need her anymore.  I was approaching Metrotech Center.  Metrotech Center is the Brooklyn home of JP Morgan Chase.  There's a huge Chase logo atop 4 Metrotech Center -- you could see it for miles.  Surely they had to have a Chase branch.  Surely.

30 minutes later, "Surely"  had turned into "WHERE THE FUCK IS THE CHASE BRANCH ALREADY?????" There are 28 buildings in Metrotech Center, and I had been to each one, begging for a teller.  Each time, the security guard sent me to a different building, further from the courthouse.  I began to believe that there was no Chase branch, that JP Morgan Chase wasn't headquartered there, and that MetroTech center was merely a metaphor for the first layer of hell.

[more to come]

Sweating before the judge to become who I am

Patrick is not my real name. I actually have an incredibly ethnic name, in the style of Annunziato or Ermenegildo. (But neither of those. But just as bad.) And I've always hated it. I mean no disrespect to the grandfather for whom I was named, it's just that in the 1970s where I grew up, having a name like Zanibuono DiJusto (not my old name, but just as bad) simply wasn't healthy.

About 5 years ago I decided to legally change my name, to the point of getting the forms and obtaining a birth certificate. But back then, you also needed sworn statements from people who had known you as your new name for x number of years, and I got lazy and never collected them.

But since then the rules had changed. According to the website, all you needed now to change your name was to fill out some forms, drop them off at the courthouse, pay $65, and in about three weeks you could be a new person. The forms were on line and there was even an interactive program that assumed you were as intelligent as a third grader and would need a great deal of help and handholding to get everything right. It couldn't be this simple. Could it? I dug out my birth certificate from the aborted 2005 name change attempt, printed out the name change petition forms, and jumped on the subway.

At the Jay Street station, people were clustered at the bottom of the stairs. That means only one thing. New York had been having a horrendous heat wave for the entire month of July; one for the record books. I had spent the past week indoors sitting at the confluence of three fans, hoping for rain. Now I was out and about with places to go and things to do and ... rain! Sweet summer rain, pouring down the subway stairs. I arrived at the courthouse soaked to the skin.

I emptied my pockets into a filthy plastic bin, walked through the metal detector and asked the guard where I could drop off the forms for a name change petition. As soon as he heard me say "name" he said "ninth floor", but since I was still saying "change petition" I couldn't understand what he said, with the result that I had to ask him again where I could drop off the forms for a name change petition. Again, he said "ninth floor" as soon as he heard "name", but this time I was expecting it, and even though I still insisted on saying "change petition" I understood what he said. "Sounds like you said 'ninth floor'" I said. As soon as he heard me say "ninth", he said "yeah, ninth" as I was still saying "floor". I probably should have just strode up to him and yelled "NAME!", but Officer Dummkopf would probably have just tazed me.

There was a small line on the ninth floor. One woman with a thick Slavic was in despair as the clerk spoke in a low monotone. "No," the woman said "I didn't know you had to bring that.... No, they didn't say I needed that... Why can't you use this?... I don't have that with me...." and so on. Poor thing. If she had only used the idiot proof interactive website, as I had, she wouldn't be in this mess. The other clerk called my number and I strode up to her window.

"Hi!" I said cheerily. "I'm here to submit the forms for a name change petition. Here are the forms, all properly notarized. Here is my certified birth certificate. Here is my sixty-five dollars." I glanced over at the Slavic woman. Maybe I could serve as an inspiration to her on how to do things right.

"You used that website," the clerk said, looking over the forms with a frown.

"Yes ma'am," I said with a winning smile.

"Did it tell you the other things we need?" the clerk asked.

"N-no," I said. "Like what?"

The clerk sighed. "It never does. We need a photocopy of your government ID, like a drivers license, passport, military ID."

"I didn't know you had to bring that," I said.

"We also need proof of residence in Kings county, like a letter addressed to you. Do you have that?"

"No, they didn't say I needed that. Why can't you use this?" I said, handing over my driver's license.

"We're not permitted," the clerk said. "Did you bring a letter addressed to yourself?"

"I don't have one with me," I said.

"Ok, the clerk said. Here's what you do...."

[continued in Part II]