Thursday, November 21, 2013

Public Lewd Versus Private Lewd

Quite often during the course of a ride a taxi driver gets to learn - either by being a fly on the wall or through direct conversation - something about a passenger’s interesting story that is still in progress. But then the ride ends, the passenger departs, and the driver is left wondering how the hell it will all turn out.

But of course he never gets to know this.

Well, almost never.

Recently I had a fare with a passenger who had a wild story that she was right smack dab in the middle of. And I did find out how it all turned out…

It started on a Tuesday evening around 8 p.m. when a nice-looking, twenty-something female hailed me in the East Village and said she wanted to go to Garden City. Now, two things were good here: first, I know where that is. It’s a town on Long Island quite near to where I grew up, about a forty-minute ride from Manhattan. And secondly, since it’s an OT (“out-of-town”) job, it’s lucrative.


I did some math and came up with $100 as a fair price - mostly fair to me as it’s more than an hour and twenty minutes of my time is worth. She agreed and we were on our way.

“So where in Garden City are we going?” I inquired.

“It’s a lawyer’s office. They’re waiting for me.”

Wow - intriguing! Anyone would have been curious to know what this was all about, but it would have been inappropriate for me to ask. After all, it was none of my business. I was merely providing a service here. If she wanted to tell me about it, she would. If not, not. So we drove on in silence through the Midtown Tunnel and out onto the Long Island Expressway while she stared out the window and I looked the highway.

But it was sitting there in the air between us.

Five more minutes of silence and it was really bothering me. This was so unusual. Could she be a lawyer herself and was going all the way out there to sign some document or something? I suppose, but, looking at her in the mirror, she didn’t have that sort of cocky professional demeanor that lawyers often have, even the female ones. She seemed worried about something, which might be expected if one were in some kind of trouble and the urgency of the situation required a hundred dollar cab ride and lawyers waiting for you in Garden City.

And there was that other thing, too - there was the distinct possibility that I could drive her all the way out there, drop her off, and then realize that not only would I never find out how it had turned out, I would never even know what it had been about. And I knew it was something, and that it just had to be a good one. It just had to be!

So I decided to put aside my professionalism and delve. I told her I was a writer, that I had a blog, even a book, and I knew it was none of my business but I just couldn’t help but be curious to know what was going on, if she didn’t mind. Now she could have just said, sorry, it’s a personal matter that she couldn’t talk about, or some such, but instead she was quite forthright, perhaps even glad to get it off her chest, and told me the story.

It concerned lewd behavior.

Definition: lewd adj. obscene; bawdy; indecent.
(Macmillan Dictionary for Students)

She was a kid from Vermont, whom we shall call Gloria. Her journey to New York City had begun a couple of years earlier when she took a job at a tech start-up company in Vermont and got to know the owner of the company, whom we shall call Jeff. Jeff was a nice young man who owned a particularly cool dog, whom we shall call Arthur. Gloria took an avid interest in Arthur, often dog-sitting for him, and so, in addition to their relationship in the workplace, they had become friendly outside of that environment.

Eventually Gloria left Jeff and Arthur for greener pastures in the Big Apple, taking a new job in a similar tech start-up. Within a year, however, Jeff, seeking greener pastures himself, moved his company to New York City and the two of them began seeing each other again. One night at about 1 a.m. they were seeing each other in Jeff’s car, parked in the busy-at-night Meat Packing District. And as often happens when nice young men and women find themselves alone in a car, they were soon in each other’s arms.

And legs.

Or at least that’s what the cops who saw them thought. In actuality what they had seen was Gloria straddling Jeff in a passionate embrace while kissing. Due to their position, however, it looked like outright public fornication, even though both were fully clothed.

There was a time in New York City when such behavior, even when it really had been outright public fornication, would have been handled with a blast of a siren and some flashing red lights. And then some chuckles as the miscreants scrambled to put their clothes back on. But that was then and this was now, an era when even minor sins must be handled with the full weight of the law, lest the pillars of civilization come tumbling down.

They were ordered out of the car, placed under arrest, handcuffed, charged with “public lewdness”, and driven to the precinct on West 20th Street, about half a mile from the scene of the crime.

Gloria was already shocked and humiliated, but her ordeal had just begun. At the precinct, after being separated from Jeff, she was handcuffed to a pole for two hours. Then she was transferred in a van to another precinct on West 54th Street and placed in a cell by herself. This cell had no running water other than a toilet which, if she used it, would make her fully visible to anyone who walked by. She was spoken to rudely by the police personnel. She was not allowed to call anyone. And for breakfast she was fed an orange soda and a Happy Meal (a taste of station house irony, there). Finally she was arraigned and released the next afternoon at 2 p.m. So making out in Jeff’s car had resulted in thirteen hours of incarceration and a sample of what it’s like to lose one’s freedom and be at the mercy of the police department.

That had been five weeks ago. And now she was in a taxicab heading to Garden City. The reason for the trip, I learned, was that a hearing before a judge was to take place the next day and at the last minute Gloria decided it might be a good idea to hire a private attorney rather than take her chances with a free public defender. It had suddenly dawned on her that a conviction of Public Lewdness might not look great on her resume. Or on the internet. And that getting a dismissal was worth the expense. So she called a friend who recommended her own family’s attorney, but she would have to go out to Garden City immediately to pay $1,500 for the service in advance.

So that’s what it was all about.

We found the attorney’s place, an office building on the periphery of the Roosevelt Field Mall, without too much trouble. I was about to head back to the city when Gloria realized she might have a problem getting back to the city herself, so she asked me to wait. Half an hour later she emerged and off we went to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where she lived. The charge for the taxi ride came to $162, including the waiting time and the tip.

As she departed I told her I was dying to know how this story ended and gave her my card with my email address, asking her to drop me a line. She promised that she would, but I doubted I would ever hear from her. People who take your card rarely get back to you, even if they were sincere at the time. So I was delighted when her email arrived in my inbox a few weeks later.

What had happened? She and Jeff, who used a free public defender, were “put through the system” by their lawyers. Behind closed doors a deal was made by which they agreed to plead guilty to the charge of Public Lewdness and perform six hours of community service, picking up leaves and things in Tompkins Square Park on a Saturday at eight in the morning. They were given what’s called an “A.C.O.D.” (Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal), which means that after six months of “good behavior” the whole thing would be taken off their records, as if it never happened.

So it turned out to be a case of “all’s well that ends well”. No stocks or pillories in the town square. No rotten tomatoes being thrown at one by the outraged citizenry. No scarlet letters.

“Was it worth the expense of driving all the way out there and hiring your own attorney?” I asked.

“A complete waste of money,” Gloria replied. “But at least I get to feel that I’ve contributed to the economy.”

Indeed she did - my economy. That $162 certainly helped make my night.

But my night turned out to be not over regarding the subject of Lewd Behavior. As if being watched over by the gods of Lewd themselves on a break from a Bacchanalian ritual, I was shown that when it comes to this kind of activity there are right ways and there are wrong ways to go about it.

At three in the morning I was hailed by a young lady in tight clothing coming from the Penthouse Club at 45th Street and 11th Avenue who was heading out to Astoria in Queens. She was pleasant and conversational and I soon found out what I already knew: that she was a - what’s the right word? Dancer? Entertainer? Performer? Oh, all right, she was a stripper, okay? Which of course means that she’d just spent the entire evening strutting around naked, or almost naked, and sitting on men’s laps whom she didn’t even know in exchange for money.

Uh, I believe that would be defined as “lewd” according to Mr. Macmillan.

What I didn’t know, but found out from her, was that she didn’t live in Astoria. She was on her way to the apartment of one of the laps she’d been sitting on in the Penthouse Club where, I assumed, some further lewd behavior was about to take place.

So what have we learned? Sit on your lover’s lap in a car, you go to jail and pay a lawyer fifteen hundred bucks to get you off. Sit on a stranger’s lap in the Penthouse Club and he pays you fifteen hundred bucks to come over to his place to get him off.

It’s all about location.