In the grand hierarchy of crimes there are those that produce true villains: Iagos, Macbeths, and Claudiuses (Claudii?). There are those that produce middlemen (any character played by Steve Buscemi for example). And then there are those that produce the bulk of the people in the Midtown Courthouse.
"Public urination," the husky white guy says, thus completing our class role call.
We have two open containers and three public urinations. I am an open container person. Our teacher is a perky white girl with brown shoulder length hair in a white shirt and black pants. I am glad to be an open container person. It means I don't have to say 'public urination' to the perky girl, which is more embarrassing than the act itself.
"This is the Midtown District Courthouse," Ms. Perky says. "We tend to be more focused on community service than jail time or fines. You are lucky to be here."
I believe her. I was expecting to pay a fine. This was the first time I have ever been in court. I carried an open bottle of beer from Penn Station (where it is legal) to the subway system (where it is not). I am actually a big player here: I convinced the girl who was with me to do the same. I had a henchman. I am an open container Don.
"Do you guys know what the other quality of life crimes are?" she asks, sitting on the corner of the room's only table.
A muted grumbling... the other four tenants of the room are not happy to be here. This is common among the people in the courthouse. One man climbed the six flights of stairs to the classroom only to be told that his destination was the basement. "Last time I come to this fucking place!" he exclaimed as he turned around.
He apparently believes they want repeat business.
I am quite cheerful. Probably because I am definitely guilty. So I feel like I am in the right place.
She starts to list crimes:
"Noise violations, not cleaning up after your dog, honking unnecessarily, spitting, littering, public urination, and open containers."
Dear god. For the first time, I realize that I am living in a nest of criminals. There is not a one of these crimes that I haven't witnessed regularly. There are probably at least three I have committed. Giuliani must be foaming at the mouth.
"What do you think of these crimes?" She asks. "Do they stop other crime?"
I raise my hand. "Actually, the statistics are very dubious on that front," I say. "It's not out of the question, but the drop in crime that occurred in New York in the early nineties was paralleled nationwide, even in cities that had no tough 'quality of life' policing." I have read my Freakanomics.
There is another groan, but this one is more familiar from adolescence. I am the class nerd again. The class crime nerd.
Ms. Perky looks at me. "Is the city nicer?" she asks.
"There's less graffiti," I say. The correct line would have been "there's less urine." I didn't say that though because I don't want to say urine out loud in this room. It's a small victory.
Ms. Perky takes my response as a correct... or maybe she doesn't care. Either way she says "Alright. Sign in and out here. You are free to leave."