Literary Fines

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     This fall it seems that several of my literary endeavors have ended in padding the pockets ofNew York City’s Department of Parking Violations and wherever the money eventually ends up from there.  All I know is that NYC has my money; a considerable sum – for me anyway.

     In September I took a ride down to the other side of the world -Brooklyn.  This is my second time there in as many years and there is only one thing that is enticing enough to lure me there and that is…The Brooklyn Book Festival.  So many presses, so many books, and I had all the time in the world, and all the sunshine (last year it rained) to wander among the booths and talk to the publishers and the editors about their books and their philosophies on the writing life. I was truly in a writer’s paradise.

            Hanging Loose Press is a local press, based in Brooklyn and when I told Dawn, one of the associate editors that I was writing a coming-of-age memoir with a twist she encouraged me to send her two or three pieces. I told her the twist was that it had a sexual aspect to it.

            “Good,” she said, “We like edgy writing. Usually we find writers we like when they submit to our magazine.  If we like what we see, we ask to see more with the intent of publishing a book.”

            I was thrilled – could this be the break I was waiting for?  To further improve my chances, I bought their magazine, “Hanging Loose 98.”  The editor tried to talk me into buying several of their memoirs but I decided to purchase a book of poetry.  I’m not typically into poetry but when I browsed through Joan Larkin’s “My Body,” the dark, prose-like writing appealed to me.

            I got a free mini-journal from Granta – with the purchase of one of their back issues.  Their issues are themed – I chose the one on sex.  I figured I’m writing about it so it would behoove me to read about it.  What I learned about Granta is that they have no word limit on their prose, which is a benefit for me for I tend to be verbose.  However, the pieces have to be sent by snail mail to their London office, where it is read first, then sent to the New York office. It’s a good thing that postage is tax deductible.

            The day was a resounding success – until I was walking back to my car and saw the meter maid man writing me a ticket.  Tell me; in your city do they put little red cardboard insets inside the meter that say “NO STANDING?” They don’t in Westchester. All the expletives in the world don’t describe the intensity of my fury.  And hell, on Sundays, I don’t even look at the meter because all I know is I don’t have to feed it. I left the borough of Brooklyn bereft and a $115 poorer. However, I must say that if I do get a book deal out of this, it will have been worth it.

            Last week I went to my memoir class at the Westside YWCA on 63rd St off Central Park West.  Cruising CPW I spotted a car pulling out of a spot right on 63rd St.  Perfect. I couldn’t get much closer.  It was 5:30 PM and I went to my usual café, Breadsoul to buy an early dinner.  I had planned to take it up to classroom with me and do some work on my manuscript until class started at 6:45.

            When class ended at 9:00 PM, I offered to give a ride home to three of my friends who live on the Upper West Side.  I take the West Side Highway and enter on 96th Street, dropping my friends off on 91st and Amsterdam Ave.  When I walked out of class last Wednesday night, my car was gone. I stood dumfounded, almost in the middle of CPW, cars racing past me.

            “Are you sure that’s where you parked it? Let’s walk up one block,” Anne suggested. It wasn’t there.

            I knew right away that it hadn’t been stolen; who would want a Toyota Corolla when there were BMW’s and Mercedes to be had?  It had to have been towed. I looked up the block and confirmed my hunch – very far away from where I had parked – I saw a bus stop sign. What the hell did I do?  Why hadn’t I been more careful?  I had gotten caught up in the excitement of grabbing a prized parking spot in the jungle known as the streets of  Manhattan.

        I called 311 but it was an automated system; after 10 years I still only knew the first three letters of my license plate. Goddammit, why couldn’t I get a live person?  Madeline suggested I go back into the Y, where a kind manager took pity on me and gave me the number of the local precinct. Speaking to the officer, he asked me if the car was “relocated,” possibly for a special event.  I politely said, “No, I was parked in a bus stop.  I’m pretty sure it was towed.”

            Taking a cab ($10) down to the impound lot at 12th Ave and 38th St., I didn’t want to get out when the cabbie pulled up to the lot.  It was deserted at 10 PM, but when I walked into the office, where men and women stood behind Plexiglas windows, there was quite an assortment of sullen-faced impoundees slouched in hard plastic chairs.  One man was dressed in a shiny green soccer uniform.

            “This is the most expensive soccer game I’ve ever played,” I heard him say to any one who was listening.

            “Can I speak to you in private?” I heard one man at a window ask the woman who worked there.  I wondered what secret he was hiding.

            I paid the $185 charge with my American Express card. Thank God they accepted credit cards – I remember hearing horror stories from friends whose cars got towed that they only took cash.  On the outside I stayed calm, sliding my card through the slot in the window.  But inside I was seething. $185!  I got my receipt and showed it to an officer.  I made sure to be polite; “Good evening, Thank you very much – I didn’t want to be on this officer’s bad side. 

            A bored looking van driver drove me to my car in the impound lot; there are that many cars stored there.  There was a ticket still on my car.  At the final checkpoint the officer plucked the ticket from my car and presented it to me. 

            “Here’s your ticket.”

            “I already paid that, right?”

            “No.”

            “I have to pay that in addition to the $185?”

            “Yes. The $185 is only for the towing.”

            I didn’t look at the ticket until I got home close to midnight. I was afraid I might drive off the road. When I arrived home I saw the city’s favorite number; $115.

            I total up what I have already paid plus what I will have to pay the city. Between the book festival and my class it comes to $415.  Trying not to think about what else that money could have gone towards – now I can only dream – developing my website, a writing conference, paying my editor to edit my book – so many other more productive uses than just giving it away to the city. Paying those tickets on the NYC.gov/finance website over the Internet – and they have the audacity to add a $2.00 service fee (per ticket) – makes me want to throw up.

           Literary endeavors.  Literary fines. As Jane Austen said in Emma, “It is very difficult for the prosperous to be humble.” Far from prosperous I am very much the humble soul right now.

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