Monday, April 9, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction

A few days ago I was summoned to court. It was the first time I entered a courtroom in this country, so of course, I came prepared to take mental notes for my writing. As an author, just about everything is fodder for my fiction. But even with an open mind, nothing is without preceoncieved expectations. My conception was one of total order: a judge in long black robe with a gavel keeping order, a bailiff who called the court to order and announced the next case and led the witnesses to the stand, people talking in hushed tones with everyone knowing exactly where to go and what to do. In short, it would be well organized like the stereotypical court scenes of the television shows and the books.
In reality, it was nothing short of chaotic. Once we entered the court, no one told the mass of people waiting for the gazillion cases to be called what to do. After standing in a long line and reporting to one courtroom, some of us were sent to another courtroom to see if the case was on another state attorney’s docket. And yes, we had to wait in line then. For a while no one knew which state attorney had that particular case, and I feared yet another long line in another courtroom. Then the case was called and in a few minutes, it was over, postponed yet again. Yes it was chaotic enough to merit some space in a fictional tale, preferably a comedy sketch.

As I left the court, I was reminded of the first and only other time I had ever visited a court. It was in St. Kitts and I was still in high school. My friend, whose aspirations were to become a lawyer, insisted that I accompany her to witness a court case. If you think the court scene described above was strange, this one took the cake. It involved an aged man (mid sixties to seventies) dressed in pajamas suing his much younger (early twenties) girlfriend and her current boyfriend for battery. As the case progressed we learned that the older man was not only married, but he and his wife unable to conceive had raised the young woman. That young woman in turn, with the consent of his wife became involved with him, bearing children for him and his wife to raise. The old man, his wife, the young woman and their children all lived together as a family, albeit dysfunctional. The young woman, tired of the older man, sought a lover closer to her age. The old man’s wife saw her sneaking around with the young man, and promptly reported to her husband that the young woman was cheating on them. He confronted the young couple and a fight broke out.

Despite the deeper issues of incest and surrogacy, the court case was hilarious. Even the magistrate and the lawyers had a difficult time keeping a straight face. The ruling was even more ridiculous than the case. The court ruled in favor of the old man and ordered the young woman to pay him reparations for his injuries. But since she had no means of financial support, both the men in her life, that is, the old man she was living with and her young boyfriend were ordered to provide the funds. In other words, the old man was paying himself in the suit he won against the woman. It was like a sketch from Saturday Night Live.

Sometimes reality is stranger than fiction. This case proves that point. I have never seen or read a comic strip that had such ridiculous outcome. I can easily see that scene ending up in some story, or as a slapstick comic sketch. And that is why as a writer, my eyes and ears are constantly opened for some new fodder for my fiction.
I know I'm not the only author who get my ideas from reality around me. So I'd like to hear some of your stranger than fiction real life observations.


Liane Spicer said...

That is a tough one to beat, Jewel. What a circus.

We've got a former prime minister who was convicted for failing to declare a bank account in London and imprisoned. He claimed he did not know about the existence of the large sum of money in the overseas account which was in his wife's name because women manage the budget in Hindu households.

His wife, who was not employed, said the money was a 'gift' from an insurance executive to assist with college expenses for the PM's children who were studying abroad.

The conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal. There's lots of fodder for farce in the local politics.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Sounds like the American congressman with the ninety thousand dollars in the freezer. Politics is a gold mine for fictional fodder.

Lynn Emery said...

I won't even try to talk about Louisiana politics, and our legislature is in session. You can watch it live online. Rich material.