I LOOKED at the IBM printout.
The first name had beside it, "Armed Robbery."
The second, "Aggrav Asslt"
The third, "Dangerous Drugs"
Then came, "Kalenik, Sandra, Fire Code Regs."
There was one check mark on the page. It was by my name. I was crying into the remains of an orange napkin in a dreary room in the 2nd Precinct with the two policeman who arrested me for allegedly having trash in my backyard.
It was 10:30 a.m., a work-at-home day, and I was dressed accordingly: Junk blouse, jeans, bare feet and hair in rollers. Answering a knock at the door, I opened it to two cops. They asked if I were me, I nodded and they walked in.
"We have a bench warrant for you."
Being very cool, I started to cry. "What for?"
"I don't know," one of the cops said. "Fire code violations at your house on U Street. We have to take you in."
"Where? I don't want to go."
"You have to. We have a bench warrant for your arrest. you have to come with us."
Back in July, I had met a fire inspector named Khalil L. Hassan at my house, which was being renovated. He told me the chunks of plaster and lathing strips in my backyard constituted a fire hazard and had to be cleared in three weeks. They were. My backyard has since contained one thing: a quince tree. I never heard about Hassan again until the cops showed up.
Now, in April, my trembling body took on a life of its own as I pleaded with my lawyer on the telephone to do something about me being busted for plaster. He said that there was nothing he could do with a bench warrant, which slowly started assuming the powers of God. I would have to go with the cops and be processed.
I asked the cops what "processed" meant. They told me that they would bring me to a police station and then to the courts to see a judge. It sounded too simple. I was reading "War and Remembrance" at the time.
I asked if I would be fingerprinted. It depended on the precinct, they said. I have an almost violent fear of being fingerprinted, which I put in the same category as having one's head shaved.
The cops led me to their car and told me that they usually handcuff prisoners but that they would spare me because "I didn't look dangerous."
At the precinct I called my friend Lynn, explained my encounter with justice, and asked her if she could bring $50 bail to courtroom 17 at 3 p.m. She would be there.
A woman beckoned me to the fingerprinting desk and I stoically watched as she inked the metal surface and began to fill a clean card with the blackened surfaces of my fingers. My right index finger and pinkie wouldn't print and she angrily filled the back of my fingerprint card with the indistinguishable prints of those fingers. She was furious at my one and only small delight of this Kafkaesque day.
Then she clipped a sigh with numbers onto my blouse.
"Look straight ahead ." Click. I was indifferent. "Look to your left."
Click. I began planning my Supreme Court case. "She's through here," said the matron.
Back to the arresting officers and on to downtown. As we approached the court area, I asked the cops if I could stop to get a hot dog.
"Don't worry," they laughed, "they'll have food for you inside."
We entered a labyrinth garage before we stopped at an obscure door where one of the cops went in to have my fingerprints checked to ensure that I wasn't "wanted" for something else.
We drove to another door and the cops took me out, handed some papers over to a marshal or someone, and started to leave.
"What will happen to me?" I pleaded.
"Don't worry, you'll just go before a judge who will hear your case."
A matron of some sort took my purse and rummaged through it. She wore plastic gloves, like a gynecologist's. She counted $5 and told me to keep the money with me because it might get stolen "down there" but they would keep my purse because it might get stolen "up there."
She took me into an empty room and felt my breasts, even lifting her hands underneath my bra. I shuddered. I was petrified that she would give me a vaginal exam. I tried not to cry. She searched my empty jeans pockets. She searched my hair. I pulled away from her. I couldn't stand her touching me. She searched my sandals and the exam ended.
A bailiff or someone took me down a corridor surrounded by mesh cages holding a few men. I started to cry as we went up the elevator.
"Please, I don't want to go up there. I'm here for trash in my backyard."
"Shee . . . ," he said.
I asked handed over to a guard who took me down a corridor lined with cells and filled with prostitutes. He opened the door to one to let me in. The women blocked the entrance.
"We don't want to more in here," they yelled. "We got enough."
He took me to another cell with only three prostitutes. He opened the door, I walked in, he locked the door. I stood, arms behind my back, against the wall and we stared at each other.
"What are you in for?" one asked, straight out of movie dialogue.
"Trash in my backyard."
The cell, about 6 by 8 feet with white cinder block walls, had a green metal bench, an orange barred door and an aluminum toilet with a sink on top directly opposite the door -- in full view of everyone.
The prostitutes were talking. One, in an expensive yellow linen suit, four-inch ankle-strap heels and a gold star in her left nostril, was talking to one dressed in a white gauze see-through dress with no underwear.
"Georgetown is good," gauze said.
"Where's that?" star asked: "I'm from Baltimore."
I told her how to get there.
"Go in front of the ice cream parlor," gauze instructed.
A greasy-looking lawyer came to the door and gauze jumped up.
"There're two charges against you. Don't go anywhere," he joked.
"I've got the money," she said, holding up an envelope. In 15 minutes, she was gone.
Star complained that this was the first time she was caught. She was worried because her address was a hotel. I told her to say that she was living there temporarily while she was looking for a job and an apartment. The other one said that this was her first time too. Apparently that meant something. It wasn't the charge, it was the number of times caught.
In 20 minutes, they were gone and I was left alone.
A man down the hall yelled, "I should be in a hospital, not a jail. Give me a green pill. I'm sick."
My hands started shaking.
A speaker outside my cell was hooked up to the courtroom. The judge was disposing of cases. "How do you plead, guilty or not guilty?" I was determined to plead innocent. Burglary case, the speaker droned. "You're released on personal recognizance. Don't talk to any of the witnesses, do you understand?"
"Anyone could slap me and I'll fall down," the sick man yelled.
Lawyers flip-flapped back and forth picking up new clients. A bailiff told a lawyer that he could have two clients, but he only had five minutes to spend with each.
My hands were really trembling. I cried. I'm going to leave this damn city and move to St. Thomas.
It was 2:15, 2:30. I had been in jail for two hours. I paced. I cried. I smoked. I shook. I stopped anyone walking by my cell to check on my case. No one did.
Three o'clock. Lynn will be here, I thought. 3:15, 3:30 . . . I stopped another marshall whom I begged to help me. "If you don't do something soon," I said, "I'll go crazy."
He looked at me. "I'll be right back," he said.
Ten minutes later, he led me out of the cell and to a door which opened up to Courtroom 17. Until that moment, I had not even known where I was. I had been in a holding cell behind the court, I later learned.
I saw Lynn and our eyes met in an indescribable moment of total humiliation and despair.
I sat on a bench with five men, armed robbers, simple assaulters and what not. I cried into toilet paper.
My case was called. I did not want to look at Lynn as I stood up. I didn't want anyone to see the other half of The District of Columbia v. Sandra Kalenik.
I stood before Judge Luke Moore, so frightened that my jeans shook.
"I'm so scared," I said to the judge, "I don't know if I can talk."
Saying that calmed me a little. The judge was noticeably surprised by my case. He asked questions I don't remember, entered a "not guilty" plea for me, and released me on my personal recognizance. He than told me to appear for my trial date promptly at 9 a.m.
I was free to leave. I turned to face the courtroom. It was pin-drop silent with pity, which made me feel worse.
Lynn and I went for a drink. I ordered a stinger.
A week later, I learned what the case was about. "On or between June 15 and Aug. 15" my backyard contained "hazardous, flammable materials," in violation of certain regulations. Despite my backyard having been cleaned up promptly, on Sept. 21, a summons to appear in court mysteriously appeared, tacked to the door of the house. I didn't see it, because the house was empty. On Oct. 14, when I was out of the country, I did not appear for a trial I did not know about. Thus, the bench warrant.
The night before I was to return to court, I wrote seven pages of questions to ask of Fire Marshal Hassan, the originator of the summons. I was going to nail him. I learned that the fire inspector does not consider plaster a flammable material. I also learned that summons generally are not issued for houses being renovated, but that there are other ways of telling me I'm in trouble than nailing a notice to the door of an empty house. Looking up my name in the phone book, as the police who arrested me did, is one. At midnight, I called my friend Kathy, an attorney, who also has to go to court in the morning and would go with me.
At 9 a.m. I stood outside the door of Courtroom 17 and some of the old fear came back. The court wasn't open, but a sign said that Judge Joseph M. Ryan Jr. would be hearing cases. Some lawyers told me that Ryan was known as a touch, by-the-book judge. If I'm not there at the exact moment my case is called, he'll lock me up. But I was there and he wasn't.
He showed up at 10. I asked the assistant corporation counsel if I could see my case, my file. It was missing. She said she would send upstairs for it.
My case was called, Fire inspector Hassan wasn't there, nor was my file. The government asked for a pass on the case and the judge granted a temporary pass.
Kathy came and the case was called again.
Kathy snickered, "Your honor, if the government is not prepared to try the case, I move that the charges be dismissed."
"Granted," he said.
Kathy turned to leave. I stopped her. "Is that it?" I asked.
"That's it," she said.