Monday, July 16, 2012

I know the law and the law knows me

Illustration by Lucas Gordon

What is it with me and Authority figures?  Like who gets strip searched at the airport--especially when you are a blue eyed blonde? ( Well actually blonde was twenty years ago, I'd have to say white  since I am now sixty-four).  For a normal middle class woman I have had more than my share of  run-ins with the law in all of their glorified forms from airport security, to the FBI, to the RCMP to the Buffalo Police department--to school systems and everything in between.  I will relate my latest episode and perhaps you can enlighten me as to where I lost the plot. ( a phrase we used to use at Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital where I used to work.)

I was on my way from Toronto to my farm in Creemore, Ontario late at night.  There is a tiny town of about eight people and a few cows along the way where the speed suddenly goes from 80 to 50.  It was late so I just sped through.  I immediately got pulled over and was given a ticket for going 40 k over the  speed limit. Ok, I accept that and say nothing to the policeman. I know I was in the wrong.   He proceeds to inform  me that if you are going 40 miles over then you can lose your license. (Yikes.)

 Now I have just gotten a ticket a few months earlier in the U.S.  for not changing lanes when a policeman was giving a ticket to some one else.( I guess New York State is desperate for money.) If that policeman had been thinner I wouldn't have had to change lanes. That whole episode was  a lot of hooey but still it was on my record. My husband, is typical fashion, announced that my insurance was going to skyrocket so I have to fight the ticket.  As usual he was right. 

So off I went to the closest court in a city that was somewhere north of Creemore and south of the North Pole. My hearing was at noon but I arrived over an hour early as is my style. ( As Sister Immaculata used to say, 'Punctuality is a virtue' and since I had so few virtues I  have clung to  punctuality for dear life.  I was alone in a small 'cafe' as it was called in ''Province of Ontario' court lingo. It was really a 9' by 12' room with vending machines --one of which distributed instant coffee with no cup. It just ran into a trough. There was one dour Canadian male sitting at another table. He wore a curling jacket and sat with his arms crossed. I worked on my computer which seemed to annoy him.  Then a third man in a business suit came in with a brief case, sat at another table in this small room  and had a coke.

 Suddenly a man entered the room and looked like he came from south Asia .  He had one  wandering eye and looked a bit stunned or perhaps just traumatized. He was shaking and then stood immobilized.  I asked what court he belonged in. He shook his head in confusion.  I told him the court number was on his summons. When I said the word summons, he began ringing his hands and said he was too humiliated to bring in his summons. His English was very halting I had trouble understanding him. Finally I ascertained that his summons was in the trunk of his car so I sent him out to get it. When he came back he started explaining that he was terribly sorry for what he had done ( 14 miles over the speed limit) and  that if he went to Jail his family would have no support, etc. His hands were quivering as he held his summons. I could see that he had no idea what would happen to him, but where he was from if the police stopped you,  you could go to jail or get a finger cut off of something more dire. I sat him down, bought him a tea, and explained to him that I had  been to traffic court many times. All they did was lower the fine if you pleaded guilty with cause. Whenever I used the word  guilty he would jump and tears would fill his eyes. I assured him that in fact almost everyone in Canada had received a traffic ticket  and it was no big deal at all.  I said that if he was called before me, I would go up to the bench with him and act as an interpreter for him.  I said, 'Remember it is no big deal.' Just say 'guilty' and they will lower the fine.

 Finally the court was convened and the judge  called up 20 or thirty people before me and they all made lesser pleas, got fewer points on their license, which was the big issue, and paid less than half of their fine.   Mine was $275 plus four points. When I was called to the bench the kind, 'Father-Knows-Best judge' said , "Well the famous Catherine Gildiner. I was sitting in the coffee lounge when you regaled our new immigrant with how mundane  and unimportant our traffic court is.  I had no idea it was your job to tell new immigrants that they didn't have to worry about our court system and that you had mastered it.  Is this what we want new immigrants to think of our court system?" As he was at the height of his diatribe, I recognized him as the man with the brief case that was in the  cafe when I was there talking to the frightened man, or I would have said, Helping the new immigrant. He looked a lot more judicial in his robes than he did drinking a diet coke. 

I tried to explain my point of view saying that I was trying to be a good citizen and reach out to a new frightened  immigrant.  I explained that  the man  was literally  too frightened  and humiliated to let his summons see the light of day.  As I was speaking he said, "Mrs. Gildiner I have heard enough from you today. You will pay your whole fine and keep all of your points.  Maybe then you will not belittle my court to a new Canadian." 

Great. I wave good-bye to the now mollified immigrant and go to  the cashier to pay my full summons and to get the points hammered into my license. As I stood in the line the silent Canadian  who had done nothing to help the frightened man-- never even made eye contact--was in front of me. He had a reduced fine and only one point.  After he paid, he turned to me in  line right before he made a beeline to the door and said with a smirk on his face that I would like to had swept off  with a curling broom,  "Maybe next  time you'll say Mums the word. " 

Yeah maybe. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Birthing my last memoir

Well I have finally finished the last memoir of my career. I think this picture above where I am 21 and hitchhiking across Canada  will be the cover and the  title will be COMING ASHORE.  That is, of course, if I have anything to say about it. The publisher may want to use another picture and another title. Honestly, I have had it with Falls titles. The first volume of my memoir is called TOO CLOSE TO THE FALLS, the second is AFTER THE FALLS.  What could the third be? UNDER THE FALLS? MAID OF THE MIST? WHIRLPOOL? Enough already.

This memoir covers my life from the age of 21 to 25.  A lot happened. If someone asked my what has happened in the last three years of my life, I'd be hard pressed to come up a sentence, let alone an entire volume; but that's another story.  This volume is a combination of  memoir and travelogue.   It begins when I go to Oxford in England.  Of course there is my signature ill fated romance . This time it is with a British  aristocrat whose  relatives donated the chapel pews at Trinity College, Oxford.  ( Need I say more?)

It was a great time to be in England. It was the swinging 60's on Carnaby Street where we used to go to a basement pub to hear Jimi Hendrix live.  I make fun of England on every page, but honestly, if it weren't  for the class system  that categorized each and every person when he  said 'hello',  I would have stayed. It was a marvel to me to be at a college where one professor cares about you, has a tutorial with only you and actually listens to your stupid sophomoric ideas and then brings in books related to all of your jejune ramblings.  I doubt Oxford is like that now.  Probably those in England who read this volume that reflects Oxford almost 50 years ago, will think I am from the time of Oliver Cromwell. (One college girl who read my novel SEDUCTION, commented on a picture of Anna Freud standing next to her father in a floor length Dirndl  on the cover.  Believe it or not she said me, "Wow, that was a great picture of you and your dad."

The second part of the book takes place in Cleveland, Ohio where I was a student teacher. Since I have the patience of a gnat, you might ask -- Why did I teach? The reason was simple. My father, who was raised in the depression, wouldn't pay for university if I wasn't a teacher or a nurse. I look bad in white so I chose teaching-- but never taught.  This trait must run in my family because my mother  was a math teacher but only taught for one  day. When I asked her why she said  she had no idea she'd have to teach children.

It was an interesting time to be alive in America.   There was the  Kent State Massacre,  Martin Luther King had been assassinated  and  there were riots in the cities   The Hough area of Cleveland was burning and I taught in that ghetto. We had to be escorted by police into the High School every morning. My roommate in Cleveland married our police escort. She said she liked his boots.  There were  security men in  grey suits in the hallways to keep order with Stun Guns. They were called the mice.  The kids were wonderful to teach and I learned a lot from them.  I guess I never understood why, since I was having such a good time,  I almost got kicked out of the school. Who ever heard of a teacher who has to go not only to the principal's office  but to the Superintendent of schools'?

As the 70's dawned, I skipped out to Cleveland to go to graduate school in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I was now living in my third country in Five years. The first person I ran into in the hippie enclave called Yorkville was a guy I knew from High school in Buffalo  named Rick James.  He said he played in a band  with some guys called the Mynah Birds. They dressed as yellow birds with yellow feather shoes.  I later found out it was Steppenwolf and Neil Young and Rick went on to Superfreak fame.

My mother was thrilled that I was moving to Canada since she said that nothing bad ever happened in Canada. We had lived  in Lewiston, New York and spent the summers on the Canadian side of Lake Erie.   She said "Fabulous, even you  couldn't  cause a fuss there." She said  Canadians actually celebrate Queen Victoria's birthday and have a store called Dominion. When I was a kid Roy, the black delivery car driver, and I delivered medicine to Niagara Falls on both sides of the American-Canadain border.  I once  asked him why we never delivered any valium in Canada and his simple answer was "Canadian's don't need it."

I have always been good at proving my mother wrong. I moved into a rooming house on Huron Street in the fall of 1970 in Toronto where an enclave  of French Canadians lived. Within a month everyone in the house was arrested. Unbeknownst to me, they were members of the FLQ, a quebecois terrorist group  that were making headlines killing government ministers. The War Measures act was declared by Pierre Trudeau and we were all rounded in the night  as terrorists. I knew I had some rights, but I had no idea what they were. I told the RCMP that I would not be interrogated without a meal. ( I forgot it was a lawyer.) I must be the only person ever to be interrogated by the Police at Fran's restaurant.  If you don't confess, do you have to  eat the  Salisbury steak? Once the police realized their mistake, I was set free.  The landlord wound't  take me back, so I had to move three doors north in the middle of the night  to Rochdale College, the biggest drug den in Canada.  I was a pharmacist's daughter. How did I know the pills in the fridge were acid?

Anyway, now that I've told you most of the book, you won't have to buy it which seems to be publishing trend.  Unfortunately this is my last memoir. I say unfortunately  because I have loved compulsively chronicling my life. My family consisting of a husband and three sons  frowns upon me giving any interpretations of their lives.  I told my husband, who I met at a John Ford German Expressionist film festival  in 1970, that  he doesn't have to worry since  nothing happens after marriage anyway.