On January 9th, Carpario and another middle-aged woman descended the escalators at Trader Joe’s to peruse the frozen food section, making their ways among the frozen curry rice and naan. It was, however, the green bowls of microwaveable Vegan Pad Thai with Tofu – 600 calories and $2.29 each – that provoked an “incident.”
The details remain in dispute, but the general storyline was not: Caprario, an English-as-a-second-language teacher and professional (not amateur, she said, as the Post had described) opera singer went to the grocery store, as she does weekly, with her husband Bill Hobbs. Dr. Cathleen London, a family practitioner, was there also with her two sons, one of whom allegedly prevented Hobbs – a tall, sturdy man whom the defense lawyer described to be “as bald as bald could get” – from grabbing a container of tofu noodles.
There was plenty of the frozen food to be had, but still the skirmish escalated. Dr. London testified that she asked Hobbs to please leave her son alone, but the defense cited a slightly different statement, less likely to have been approved by Emily Post: “Get the pole out of your ass.”
Then, the defense added, Dr. London took a step forward, “moving her head aggressively” and making threatening gestures.
Perhaps, as the prosecutor described, Caprario did mutter, “Fuck you bitch, back the fuck up or I’ll hit you” and perhaps she screamed “like a banshee” but, regardless, Caprario then slapped Dr. London.
“That’s what this case has always been about,” the defense lawyer, Mark Bederow, said this morning, “A slap.”
There was redness and swelling — if only Dr. London had grabbed for some frozen peas — and a “ringing in her ears,” but as Bederow pointed out, the slap did not result in a need for outside medical treatment. Plus, Caprario was kind enough to slap with her left hand rather than her dominant right, and refrained from adding a second slap or throwing a punch.
The prosecution later countered that though Caprario should have walked away, at the very least she could have settled for a slap on the wrist.
(One of the Trader Joe’s managers at the store was surprised to hear of the incident. “This is a pretty friendly place,” he said when The Observer stopped in to buy a bowl of pad thai and tofu last night. “Everybody’s pretty happy here.” He added that the tofu in a box that they used to sell was better anyway. A spokesperson for Trader Joe’s declined to comment.)
After a full day of proceedings yesterday, Caprario, her husband and lawyer had arrived back to the fifth floor courtroom this morning at 9:50 a.m. to settle the skirmish. Caprario, clad in a purple shirt that matched her husband’s tie, finished her breakfast and sat with Bederow to pore over the yellow legal pad of notes.
A New York Post photographer walked by, and Caprario looked up to joke about the photo they had chosen to run the day before: “I was mortified!”
She later told the press that she was embarrassed about the whole affair, but after two additional hours this morning in a courtroom as cold as the frozen food aisle, she at least was found not guilty.
From the perspective of the defense, Bederow summarized, the intent of The Slap was to get Dr. London, who was “acting in a threatening manner” away from her. Bederow then added that London’s testimony was “implausible and absurd… her story is a bunch of nonsense.”
Apparently, the judge agreed.
“It was ridiculous on January 9 and it was ridiculous today,” Bederow said triumphantly on the steps of the courthouse. “It never should have happened. It’s unfortunate that it ever went this far… what she did was legally appropriate whether people like it or not.”
Alas, the mob of press afterword at least created a good photo-op for a pair of German tourists passing by. Welcome to America.