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Satire Sketch

Chinese Anyone? ask Justice Scalia

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Blog by Richard Heagy

ISABEL was a nice looking woman in her fifties, until a large beer, delivery truck came out of nowhere, went through a stop sign, and totalled her small car. She was driving on a county road on her way to a schoolhouse, but she could not remember why; all she remembered was the crash. The schoolhouse was serving as a temporary courthouse while the official one was undergoing repairs. Because of a shortage of judges, initial motions on her case (a discrimination lawsuit for failure to hire ISABEL [also referred to as the PLAINTIFF] to teach Chinese, even though she spoke no Chinese) were to be re-scheduled.

Everything seemed cloudy to ISABEL, but slowly it all came into focus. Instead of being in a hospital room, she found herself walking slowly up a stairway that suddenly branched out towards five different entrances, actually arched gates with names above. The two on the left said ‘UK’ and ‘EU’, the two on the right ‘US’ and ‘CHINA’, respectively; the one in the middle, much larger, said ‘MAIN ENTRANCE TO HEAVEN’.

It suddenly occurred to ISABEL that she was dead; she had died in the car accident. What lousy timing; she had just commenced an important discrimination lawsuit against the city’s only school district.

ISABEL (looking around): Where am I?

VOICE (O.S.): What does it look like?

ISABEL: The Pearly Gates.

VOICE (O.S.): They don’t like people to call it that.

ISABEL: Sorry.

VOICE (O.S.): The name is Heaven.

ISABEL: I want to talk to God.

VOICE (O.S.): Walk up to the main entrance.

(ISABEL walks up to the main entrance and finds a short, old man smoking a cigar)

ISABEL: You are not God.

VOICE: Well, I played God in the movies.

OTHER VOICES (O.S.) – Richard Pryor and Charlton Heston: Me to.

VOICE: Ignore them. I played God in two movies. I am George Burns, or I used to be.

(ST. PETER returns from his break and looks at all the gates)

ST. PETER (to GEORGE BURNS): What have you done? Why are there so many gates?

GEORGE BURNS: It is April 1st; God took away my life but not my sense of humour.

(ST. PETER snaps his fingers; there is a loud clap of thunder and the four extra gates disappear)

ISABEL: I have a complaint. It’s about my Chinese …

ST. PETER: I handle admissions, not complaints. Go back down the stairs, exactly 40 steps, and turn left.

(ISABEL cautiously walks down the stairs, counting each step; then sees a path on the left, which she follows until she comes to a counter, which seems to be floating in the air. Behind the counter stands a pious-looking man (MAN) with a long beard and a strong resemblance to Confucius)

MAN (in Mandarin): Help you?

(They converse for a while, ISABEL in English and the MAN in Mandarin, their voices raising as they speak in frustration at their inability to understand each other)

ISABEL (yelling): I did not ask for someone who speaks Chinese. This is about a Chinese class, but it is a legal matter.  Doesn’t anyone here speak English?

(An angel—ST. IVES—appears next to the MAN and taps him on the shoulder. The MAN bows and in response ST. IVES nods his head, whereupon the MAN fades from sight)

ST. IVES: I speak English.

ISABEL: What about the Chinese man? I thought everyone in Heaven could speak all languages.

ST. IVES: Only the Saints have that ability.

ISABEL: Who are you?

ST. IVES: I am ST. IVES, the patron Saint of the legal profession.

ISABEL: I should not be here.

ST. IVES: How many times have I heard that?

ISABEL: I started legal proceedings that involve important issues concerning racial discrimination. I must return to earth, at least long enough to resolve the case.

ST. IVES: This is quite an unusual request.

ISABEL: I think it has happened many times before.

ST. IVES: That is only in the movies. God is the only one who can grant your request.

GEORGE BURNS (O.S.): Did someone call me?

ST. IVES: Another one of your April Fools pranks, I guess.

GEORGE BURNS (O.S.): There is not much else to do up here.

ST. IVES (to ISABEL): I will be right back.

ISABEL: You’re going to consult God?

ST. IVES: No, ST. PETER. You have to go through channels up here just like everywhere else.

(ST. IVES leaves for what seems to be a long time, although time is irrelevant in Heaven. ISABEL paces back and forth until ST. IVES returns)

ISABEL: Well?

ST. IVES: You are in luck. This has never happened before, but God is totally against discrimination.

ISABEL: Do you mean I can return?

ST. IVES: Yes.

ISABEL: It is a miracle.

ST. IVES: That is one of God’s specialties—miracles.

ISABEL: When do I leave?

ST. IVES: As soon as we discuss the terms and conditions.

ISABEL: You sound like a lawyer. Sorry, I forgot.

ST. IVES: You have 48 hours; then you must return. Whatever decision the court makes will be final. You may not stay longer to appeal if you receive an unfavourable decision.

ISABEL: There is a problem with the 48 hours.

ST. IVES: What would that be?

ISABEL: The trial is to be postponed because of a shortage of local judges. Two went to jail last week for corruption and three went on a hunting trip together. The rest have full calendars.

ST. IVES: No problem. We will send someone from here. I have a recent arrival in mind.

ISABEL: Wait; I can’t go back looking like this, not after a deadly car crash.

ST. IVES: You will appear just as you were before the accident.

(ST. IVES claps his hands, followed by a loud thunderbolt. ISABEL finds herself in the courtroom, in reality a school classroom. She looks round and sees several others, all seated in typical classroom chairs with writing tops. They include PLAINTFF’s ATTORNEY, DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY, as well as the JANITOR; up front behind a table sits a large man, the recently deceased JUSTICE SCALIA)

JUSTICE SCALIA: Where is the BALIFF?

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: We don’t have one.

JUSTICE SCALIA: We cannot proceed without one.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Why don’t we use the JANITOR.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: I will agree to that. I am sure he has seen enough TV programs to know what to do.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Very well, but we need a gavel.

JANITOR: I think there is one on the wall in the Principal’s office; he got is as some kind of award.

(He leaves and goes to the principal’s office, which is next door. There are sounds of pounding and breaking glass before the JANITOR returns, gavel in hand. He hands it to JUSTICE SCALIA, who places it on the table)

JANITOR: Sorry about the noise, but I had to break the glass case on the wall.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to the JANITOR): I hereby appoint you as BAILIFF of this court. Now, we may proceed.

BAILIFF: All rise. Court is in session.

(JUSTICE SCALIA nods his head to the BAILIFF in approval as the others rise, with some difficulty, from the small sized classroom chairs)

JUSTICE SCALIA:  BAILIFF, read the complaint.

BAILIFF: It is kind of long, and has some big words.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Just give us a summary.

(The BAILIFF reads over the complaint quickly)

BAILIFF: PLAINTIFF has filed a discrimination suit against the DEFENDANT for failure to hire her for some Chinese job; all the other applicants are all Chinese persons.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, you may make your opening statement.

(PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY is young and has been a member of the bar for just over a year. The lighting is poor in the room, and as he approaches the bench, he recognises the famous justice, but then he is unsure)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Is that really you? I just returned from being abroad for eight months and I heard that you had died. I have not seen any mention of you in the local papers since I returned. I guess rumours of your death are premature—like Mark Twain.

JUSTICE SCALIA:  Well, here I am, acting as a circuit judge. Please proceed.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: PLAINTIFF’s suit alleges employment discrimination based on race. She is white and all of the other applicants are Chinese.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Does this involve a Chinese restaurant?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: No. I am afraid the BAILIFF’s summary of the complaint was too brief. PLAINTIFF is suing the DEFENDANT school district for failing to hire her to teach classes in Chinese; I mean Mandarin. As the BAILIFF stated, the PLAINTIFF is white and the other applicants are all Chinese.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Is that it?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: This community has a large number of companies of various sizes that import products made in China to their specifications. Several of their employees need to learn Chinese. The DEFENDANT offers adult education classes, mostly at night, including Chinese, or more specifically Mandarin. All applicants are required to teach a minimum of two classes per week. There are only two unfilled positions; PLAINTIFF can teach the one in English and have someone else teach the Chinese class for her.

JUSTICE SCALIA: What damages are you seeking?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: In addition to a job, she is seeking damages for emotional distress, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, you may present your defence.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: The school district has a clear rule, applied to all persons equally: you must teach a minimum of two classes. PLAINTIFF works fulltime during the day and is only available to teach adult education classes at night. There are only two unfilled evening positions at this time: How to Write a Short Story, which PLAINTIFF is qualified to teach, and Mandarin, which she is not. Failure to hire PLAINTIFF has nothing to do with race.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Who are these other potential applicants?

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Chinese suppliers to some of our local companies have sent a few employees here to learn technology. They are also well educated and qualified to teach Mandarin, it being their native language. Employment is based on knowledge of Mandarin, not race or nationality.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Aren’t they also supposed to teach two classes, or are you making an exception for them—further discrimination.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Some of them are teaching Chinese cooking.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Oh.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: PLAINTIFF’s complaint fails to state a cause of action with respect to inconvenience and loss of enjoyment of life. Furthermore, we will introduce evidence to show that the latter claim is false and that the PLAINTIFF suffers no emotional distress or mental anguish.

JUSTICE SCALIA (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY): Counsellor, are you telling me that the PLAINTIFF does not speak Chinese; I mean Mandarin.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Yes, but she is willing to learn and has already started. I have a witness who will testify as to her progress. Let me make a call and he will be here in 15 minutes or less.

(They take a break until there is a knock on the door and a Chinese man enters with several bags of Chinese food)

JUSTICE SCALIA: What is this? I would have preferred Italian food.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: This is my witness, the owner (OWNER) of a Chinese restaurant nearby.

(JUSTICE SCALIA decides that they might as well eat before the witness testifies. When they finish, the OWNER is sworn in by the BAILIFF)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: If the court decides that PLAINTIFF must teach the Mandarin class herself, then, as I have already stated, PLAINTIFF is willing to learn Mandarin, and has already started. She eats Chinese food several times a week and always asks for a handful of extra fortune cookies so that she can learn new words.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Did you say that the PLAINTIFF is learning Mandarin from fortune cookies?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY:  Yes, and I will present testimony as to her progress.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY (to JUSTICE SCALIA): I believe last year in Obergefell vs Hodges you referred to the level of wisdom delivered to diners at the end of a Chinese meal. Your dissenting opinion stated, in part, ‘The Supreme Court of the United States has descended from the disciplined legal reasoning of John Marshall and Joseph Story to the mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie’.

JUSTICE SCALIA: The witness is excused; with our thanks for lunch.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I don’t understand.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Maybe you will find some wisdom in your fortune cookie, or maybe not. I was in Hong Kong recently for a conference; Chinese restaurants do not have fortune cookies there.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I would like to present an expert witness to testify as to the emotional distress and mental anguish that has caused PLAINTIFF’s loss of enjoyment of life. I will also call the PLAINTIFF to testify as to her emotional distress and mental suffering.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: First, PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY has given no notice that he would introduce an expert witness to testify about PLAINTIFF’s alleged emotional distress and mental anguish.

(PLAINTIFF, getting ready to go to the witness stand fluffs up her hair and takes out her makeup. She is horrified when she looks in a pocket mirror and sees no reflection; then remembers that she is dead)

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Second, such testimony is not necessary, as PLAINTIFF has not suffered any loss of enjoyment of life as will be established by the exhibits I wish to introduce into evidence. In addition, if you will look at PLAINTIFF’s attire you will see the results of her recent shopping spree at the mall the day after she was disqualified for the Mandarin teaching job: new shoes, nice dress, and an expensive Apple watch. We also have some Facebook posts of PLAINTIFF and her friends laughing and eating ice cream in the mall on the same day, and more later on in a bar, drinking Champagne, not the drink of a depressed person.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: I object to the admission of PLAINTIFF’s Facebook posts into evidence.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: Someone told me to save the best for last. Instead of offering the Facebook posts into evidence, I offer the following document.

(DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY approaches the bench and hands a formal looking document to JUSTICE SCALIA and points out that it has been notarised and authenticated)

JUSTICE SCALIA (to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY):  How much do you know about the PLAINTIFF?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: She was an English teacher in a small town in New Jersey for several years; then lost her job when the school burnt down and she moved here.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Did you know that her father was a sales representative abroad for an American company?

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY (looking worried): Where is this going?

JUSTICE SCALIA: Look at this.

(He hands the document to PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY and waits)

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: It is a birth certificate.

JUSTICE SCALIA: No Kidding. Read PLAINTIFF’s place of birth, for everyone to hear.

PLAINTIFF’s ATTORNEY: Shanghai.

DEFENDANT’s ATTORNEY: That makes the PLAINTIFF Chinese, so there is no discrimination in favour of Chinese.

JUSTICE SCALIA: Case dismissed, with prejudice.

(With that, he bangs the gavel and there is a crack of thunder, followed by a loud swishing sound. PLAINTIFF finds herself back in Heaven, in front of the Complaint desk)

ST. IVES: Back so soon?

THE END

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Humour Satire

Wrong Writing

Published by:

Blog by Bruce Costello

Even on sunny days, the former Sunday School Hall behind St Jebusiah’s Church seems to languish in shade. The community groups who rent it at fifty cents an hour complain about its airlessness and musty smell. A tradesman is said to be coming to open the windows, stuck shut when the building was painted years ago.

Inside, the carpet is threadbare, the wallpaper dangles in sad strips and the curtains are stained with mould. Hanging askew on one wall is a print in faded blue shades of a young Princess Elizabeth.

Against a lopsided bookcase leans a dust-covered brass plaque with a list of illegible names, and the inscription, barely discernible under green patina: “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.”

The Disciplinary Court of the Eastland Writers’ Group is in session. The Jury, made up of writing students and lecturers wearing berets and body piercings, sits on pews around the walls. Seated at the end of a long table, the Presiding Judge, Catriona von Loeven, opens proceedings. She is a bulky woman who looks like she’s wearing opportunity shop clothes, aged somewhere between thirty and fifty- five, with a mane of red hair and narrow green eyes.

She peers at an elderly gentleman in a pin-striped suit at the other end of the table. He is small, and looks cold, sitting with his shoulders screwed up.

“Victor John Watson,” Catriona says, frowning. “In accordance with the disciplinary procedures laid down in Section Two of the Constitution of the Eastland Writers’ Group, of which I am the duly elected President, you have been summoned to answer a serious allegation.”

She taps the table with the blunt end of a ballpoint pen. “Secretary Gary Carson will now read the charge.”

She turns to a white-faced young man wearing a decrepit mauve beret, seated at her right. He has a lengthy nose with a ring through it and insipid eyes.

Secretary Gary stands, clears his throat, casts a withering look towards the defendant, and begins to read in a high-pitched monotone, like a priest chanting some incantation.

“Victor John Watson! You are hereby charged with apostasy in that, in defiance of Group Teaching, you deny that Clever Style is the Supreme Element in writing and blasphemously ascribe primacy to meaning.”

Victor mutters something, not quite inaudibly, and Gary’s face turns bright red.

Catriona flings back her head, like a lioness, and roars at the defendant: “How dare you! These are serious matters involving heresy! As Presiding Judge, I remind you they are punishable by disfellowshipping or excommunication. Do you understand the charge?”

“No, Your Worship.”

“Do you plead guilty or not guilty?” Catriona continues, her voice growling with menace.

“How can I, if I don’t understand, Your Highness?” Victor raises a hand to his clean-cut face, as if to hide his expression.

Catriona slams her fist on the table, narrows her eyes and addresses the Jury.

“I ask members of the Jury to note that the mendacious defendant’s so called inability to understand was deemed passive-obstructivistical by the committee members appointed to counsel him towards literary contrition.”

The Jury nods.

“Objection, Your Honour!” cries the Counsel for the Defence, a whiskery individual looking somewhat like a leprechaun in a green corduroy jacket and bicycle-clipped trousers, perched on a stool beside the accused. “It stands to reason that the defendant must be either stupid, or mentally ill, or both, and his “inability to understand” should be acknowledged by the court as a genuine handicap.”

“Objection overruled! That’s bullshit.” Catriona turns to the Prosecuting Counsel, a woman with close-cropped hair wearing a stained denim jacket and boots that make her look like she’s about to go fox hunting. “Present the evidence, please, Lana.”

Lana rises from her seat at the President’s side, takes a magazine from the top of a large pile on the table before her and waves it at the Jury.

“This magazine bought in a supermarket,” she says, spitting out the words, “and numerous others of its ilk, collected as evidence, contains short stories written by a certain…a certain Sarah Gibbs!”

She clasps a hand to her mouth.

“Take your time,” soothes President Catriona. Lana slumps into her seat and dry retches into a paper bag while the courtroom waits. After a few minutes, she stands up, eyes lowered as if she can’t bear to look at the defendant, then runs from the room.

President Catriona rises. Hands clasped behind her back, she approaches the accused, lowers her face to his and rasps: “Is it not true that you have been writing furtively under the name of Sarah Gibbs?”

Victor looks away.

“And is not true that the stories of Sarah Gibbs, or should I say Victor Watson, are devoid of stylistic innovation, that they lack beauty and lyricism, that they are, in fact, completely devoid of those linguistic elements showing the Love of Words which is the hallmark of Clever Style, the pursuit and honouring of which constitutes the sole purpose of the Eastland Writers’ Group?”

“I don’t understand, Your Worship.”

“Don’t understand? How very, very convenient!” Catriona shakes her head, glancing towards the Jury. “What do you understand?”

“Well, it’s like this, Your Honour. I just write about ordinary folks with ordinary life problems. I write simply, so people can know what I mean.” He pauses and looks down, shyly. “I like to think my stories help people to think meaningfully about their lives.”

“Oh, you do, do you! Who do think you are? Anton Chekhov?”

The Jury members chuckle loudly.

“That old seagull!” someone calls out from the back of the room and the floorboards resound with the stomping of feet.

“What’ve you got to say for yourself?” Catriona shouts at Victor, as the din dies down.

“Nothing. I just think writing’s about people, not about words.”

“Excuse me, may it please the court,” butts in the Counsel for the Defence, stroking his whiskers down both sides towards a pointed chin. “In defence of the accused, I’d like to point out that he has, unfortunately, never been to a Clever Writing School and isn’t up with Latest Thinking.”

“Irrelevant!” cries Catriona. “And another thing! Do you get paid for these pathetic so called stories you’ve had published?”

“Yes, Your Honour. Eight hundred dollars each. That’s forty thousand dollars for the fifty I’ve had published so far.”

A hush falls upon the courtroom. A blowfly is heard, trapped in a spider’s web against a window pane. It extricates itself and careens around the hall, then crash lands, spinning upside down on the table in front of Catriona, who appears not to notice. Her mouth has dropped open and she is staring at Victor, wide-eyed.

A few minutes pass. Secretary Gary clears his throat twice, jolting Catriona back into the room. She looks around, a burgeoning smile on her face, then rises and bows towards Victor. “Thank you, Mr Watson, for giving freely of your time to assist the group to work through these misunderstandings. Now that they’ve all been nicely cleared up…”

Gary tugs at her sleeve and whispers: “You must address the Jury, Madam!”

“Do I have to?” she hisses back at him.

“Indeed.”

She turns to the Jury. “Members of the, um, Eastland Writers. In view of the fact that our esteemed colleague, Mr Watson, has raised the profile of the group through his recent successes, which he achieved despite never having been to a Clever Writing School, and in recognition of his devotion and compassion towards ordinary people, for whom he writes in a clear and helpful manner which, as he so modestly noted, assists them to think meaningfully about their lives, I propose that we award Mr Watson the great honour of Life Membership of the Eastland Writers’ Group in the sure confidence that he will continue to associate and share freely with us from his, ah, wealth of experience and knowledge.”

Victor buttons up his suit jacket with deliberation, and quietly puts on his hat. Saluting the courtroom with one finger, he leaves, slamming the door so hard behind him, it parts from its rusty hinges and crashes through the floorboards.

Outside, the sun beams down from the spring blue sky and a warm breeze rustles in the trees. Victor takes off his hat and jacket and walks home, whistling.

The following week, he buys the Sunday School Hall from the Church. With help from community agencies, local businesses and volunteers, he restores the building to its former glory and establishes New Zealand’s first free Neighbourhood Therapeutic Writing Drop-in Centre.

The Eastland Writers’ Group disintegrates and Catriona von Loeven absconds with the funds.

THE END 

PUBLICATION NOTE: Wrong Writing was previously published online in 2015 on Fiction on the Web.