Leaving my black bowler in the car from not willing to assume the contemptuous role of a lawless derelict, I entered wearily into the hallowed halls of Cranston City’s downtown municipal-court building (not the exact name of the small metropolis).
Mike Slickster – 1979
Fortunately for me, East Tennessean elitists tolerated long-haired, straggly-bearded, Quasimodo-like, heathen, rock-‘n’-roll disc jockeys.
Although this rural city was ultraconservative, considered by many to be the “Silver Buckle of the Bible Belt,” the typically laid-back, extremely courteous, congenial and friendly nature of the majority of its colorful denizens made living in the tiny burg, a most gratifying experience.
The prosecutor was sitting in his office ahead of the courtroom as I passed by. One could usually make a deal with the court officer preliminarily, saving a lot of time and grievous anticipation while standing before the judge. I had nothing to lose by speaking to him and knocked on his open door.
“Ah, Mr. Slickster, I presume,” the wiry, black-and-gray-haired man with extremely bushy eyebrows—resembling Eugene Levy—said as he looked over his tortoiseshell, horn-rimmed glasses. “Please, do come in. My son listens to your program very loudly and late at night, especially while I’m trying to sleep. Now, sit down; make yourself comfortable.”
I wondered how he recognized me immediately but realized why when he pulled out my docket. A newspaper article about local radio personalities with my picture on it, representing WZAP-FM, was the first incriminating piece of evidence atop my illustrious file inside the trial folder.
“I hope you’re not losing too much rest, Sir,” I said, seating myself on the only other chair in the room, placed directly on the right side of the prosecuting attorney’s desk. His name plate was staring me in the face. The whole scenario seemed like an ugly preview of sitting in the courtroom’s hot seat. “Have you tried earplugs?”
“I shouldn’t have to wear earplugs in my own house; although, my wife wears blinders over her eyes at night. I do a lot of my court reviewing while laying in bed beside her.”
Too much information, I thought.
“What am I facing here today, Mr. Shyster (not his real name), should I be found guilty?” I saw my soiled, cancelled check in between the pile of papers my judicial adversary was shuffling.
“Let’s see, here. You’re charged with aggravated criminal littering, section 36-24-36c of Cranston City, TN, code. That’s for illegally disposing on public or private property, over ten pounds—fifteen cubic feet of garbage—the size of your average kitchen-trash bag,” Mr. Shyster said. “That’s a mighty grave offense, Mr. Slickster.”
“Is any jail time a possibility?”
“Only if it’s your third conviction, or you can’t pay your fine before leaving the courthouse.”
“How much is that?”
“One thousand dollars plus forty hours of community service, picking up trash on the highways.” The prosecutor raised his hellacious eyebrows and gazed poignantly at me, presumably waiting to see my reaction.
I knew I didn’t have enough money in my checking account to cover the fine and could end up in the county lockup for not being able to cover it.
“Tell you what: we can make this easier and less time-consuming simply by your pleading ‘No Contest,’ and I’ll drop the fine to five hundred dollars plus twenty hours of community service,” he offered while I was mulling things over. “I’ll even place the docket at the top of the pile, making it the first case of the day.”
“No, Sir, my plea is ‘Not Guilty.’ Thank you very much for your time.” Even though I had the five hundred bucks, I wasn’t guilty and this was a matter of pride. No way was I going to take the wrap without a fight.
“Suit yourself,” he said while placing my folder at the bottom of the large pile of dockets. “This is going to be a long day for you, Mr. Slickster. I’ll be seeing you in the courtroom.”
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