The Wee Hours: A Reporter Goes from Soft Openings to Hard Time

A tale of hanging in bars, and chilling out behind them.

Breakfast was dry Corn Flakes and it came and went. Around eleven in the morning—after snow, the wives and girlfriends said through the phone, had blanketed the city—the first group was called up to see the court-appointed lawyers. And then to the courtroom, which resided somewhere in this invisible city of cells. On one side, freedom; on the other, back to The Tombs with a ticket to The Island.

It was now five in the afternoon and we had been notched into a chain gang, led up a series of spiral staircases painted shit-yellow and placed in another cell, this one with access to the public defenders. The boxes into which these lawyers came were confessional booths. The men could admit their sins and hear the necessary penance.

“But we’re both set,” Felix said.

Our friend was sitting beside us as we waited to hear our names called to see the judge. It was now nearing 8:00 p.m., 26 hours under lock and key.

“We’ll get ‘time served’ and walk out of here,” he went on. “Will you wait for me? In the lobby or some shit? We’ll walk out of here and smoke a cigarette. I wanna give you my number.”

After a day of cinderblock and cornea-burning white light, the courtroom’s soft maroons were of another world. The judge slammed a gavel clearing both the subway violation and the open container citation from our record, just as we knew he would. We were free. We’d tell this tale at movie premieres and fashion parties.

We waited awhile for Felix, and then a bit longer, until it became clear which side of the courtroom had claimed him.

That night we attended a party in the East Village thrown by a reporter for a national daily newspaper. He was moving, and had decided against transporting his liquor cabinet. The guests spent a few hours solving his problem as the snow outside crusted to ice. After a nightcap at Welcome to the Johnson’s we walked up our stairs on Houston Street and unlocked the door. It never occurred to us before, but our apartment is about the same size as a cell in central booking.