Welcome to Popcopy (originally published April 26, 2008)


I saw a meltdown at Popcopy yesterday. It was hard to watch, mostly because I could really relate to this lady. She was a primly-dressed grandmotherly type with grey hair worn in a bun. Her son or brother (my radar tells me probably unhelpful grown son) lingered nearby pushing a cart back and forth while she removed staples from documents and tried to figure out how to put legal sized documents onto 8 1/2 x 11″ paper. Periodically the machine would run out of paper, or jam, or randomly start collating or copying in multicolor format.

I left my copy order with the employee and browsed around the store. From time to time I could hear the woman’s voice rise and fall in an angry shriek or sudden “muthafuckah!!!” aside to the unhelpful son, who was now snacking on a jumbo Snickers bar.

I looped back just in time to see her start an altercation with another customer over the last available working machine. He was a middle aged Asian man copying homeowner’s association documents. I had learned through strategic eavesdropping that the grandmotherly woman’s documents were for their trusts and estates attorney, and that they could have paid the attorney to copy them, but it would have been $0.49 a page, “Jacking!” as she called it.

Her bun was out and her grey hair hung scraggly and lose around her sweaty face. She had transformed in the fifteen minutes I’d been wandering around the store. “Hey, that’s my machine!” she screamed at the man.

So then he said, (Why? Why do people do this?) “I don’t see your name written on it.” Why? He said it with a smug smile that made me want to deck him on behalf of the lady, who by now was also swearing like a longshoreman at the employee.

“Hey, I was joking,” he said, arms upraised, as the woman actually advanced on him. I honestly think she would have hit him. I ducked behind an Anna Griffin stationery display to watch unobserved.

So then another man came up to the woman and told her to cool down. What she needed was a good joke. (Again, why? Why?) “Why did the chicken cross the road?” “Well, ma’am, I’m a retired schoolteacher, and at my school, they cross the road to get to the other slide.” (Why? Why?)

At that moment I thought of a phone call I’d just received. I love to hear about my old public defender cases. I remember a lot of them, especially the ones I actually took all the way to trial or the ones I’d prepared for trial.

I got a call from the daughter of Rhinestone Tucker* (his actual name) asking for my help with a Bar complaint against an attorney she’d hired to represent her dad. I’d post the attorney’s name here as a public service to the community since he’s a total hack who will not do anything but take your money and force your elderly crotchety father to plead guilty to all charges, except knowing him, he’d probably sue me.

Rhinestone Tucker was a crotchety black man of about sixty. He looked like he could have been anywhere from forty five to eighty, but he was around sixty. He had a thick head of wiry grey hair and a perpetually scowling expression on his face. He had a long record of minor offenses dating back to 1940s rural Texas. (Old timers often have what’s called a “manual rap” which means their rap sheet contains items hand written or typed and isn’t completely computerized. Waiting for the “manual rap” can be a good way to procrastinate on a case when you just can’t decide what to do, though that manual rap might contain lurking surprises you won’t want to find.) Rhinestone’s manual rap even contained some “pimping and pandering” charges from the 1960s, which was good for a laugh.

Rhinestone’s daughter wanted to get her money back from the lawyer she’d hired to represent her dad. She paid him $2,500, he showed up in court, he argued briefly with Rhinestone, and left. The attorney kept the $2,500. Rhinestone, meanwhile, had taken a shine to me, and wanted to keep me on as his attorney. I thought his case was great and told the judge and DA I’d try it immediately in front of the first twelve people to walk in the door.

I felt for Rhinestone because I really could relate to his alleged crime. Through what all parties now agreed was a paperwork error, his driver’s license was mistakenly suspended. He’d made multiple trips to the “bad DMV” (the super-slow one on Magnolia Avenue in Riverside; don’t go there! Anyone in the know goes to Norco, where you have to drive a little farther but it’s nice, clean, quiet, and fast.) On his most recent trip, they’d collected a fee from him, only to tell him moments later that they couldn’t help him. He wanted his fee back. They said no. It was the “processing fee.” Which they couldn’t “process” because two moments after collecting it they told them they couldn’t help him.

Rhinestone started to walk away. As he almost reached the door, he half-turned and yelled, “Someone oughta blow you all up.”

Who hasn’t been furious at the DMV? It’s classic. It’s iconic. I knew I’d win. The DA had charged him with a PC 422 felony: making terrorist threats. At the time the law was unclear but there was concern that this charge could be considered a “strike” offense. I negotiated with the DA and eventually Rhinestone pled to time served in jail plus a PC 415 infraction (ticket): disturbing the peace. That’s more like it. You should have seen the statements from these DMV employees. You’d think people don’t freak out at the DMV every day. I’m sure they’ve heard worse. He didn’t even use any profanity, which if you have ever talked to Rhinestone, you’ll know is an accomplishment.

So we’ve all been there. Grandmotherly bun lady copying the lawyer documents. Rhinestone with his lost fee at the DMV. Who hasn’t wanted to just kill the person behind the counter at Popcopy? You don’t do it, of course, but the sentiment is there all the same.

I think my time as a public defender gave me a greater empathy and understanding for these type of frustrations. Sure, you can say, “Hey, lady, you need to hear this great knock-knock joke to cheer you up,” but what good does that do?

*No, not his actual name. But I promise his actual name is just as funny.

**Watch the video in the title link. I promise it’s hilarious.


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