Saturday, August 07, 2004

How Nice for Me!

It was a busy Sunday afternoon, and the Cafe was packed. Customers with drinks and food were circling looking for a place to land. No dice. The Study Buddies had spread like a fungus to every table in the place.

It is time.

I make The Announcement. As is my habit, I walk slowly around the Cafe afterwards, eyeballing each offending table. I know that the Study Buddies will not immediately vacate the Cafe. It is a game we play. They will wait until I walk away before gathering their notebooks and backpacks and going next door to the neighboring restaurant where they will set up a satellite colony until it is safe to return to the Big Bookstore.

As I turn to leave the Cafe and return to making my rounds of the store, I am stopped by a woman. She is middle-aged, and has that sharp, pursed-mouth look of the perennially dissatisfied. For reasons that may become clear, let's just call her Cunty Cunterson.

Cunty: Excuse me.
Disgruntled Bookseller: Yes, ma'am?
Cunty: The announcement you just made -- where does that come from?
DB: Oh, we've been making similar announcements for years.
Cunty (sharply): That's not what I asked. Where does it come from?
DB: A manager requested that I make the announcement.
Cunty: I want you to know that your announcement is illegal. You can't tell people to leave here after an hour.
DB: Actually, ma'am, we can.
Cunty (voice rising in vehemence): That's against the law. This is a public place. You can't just tell people to leave if they've been here too long. Someone could sue you for that because it's illegal.
DB: Well, ma'am. I'm a lawyer, and I have to tell you that you're wrong about that. This is not a public place. It's a private establishment owned by Big Bookstore Corporation.
Cunty : It's a public place!
DB: No, ma'am. It's not a library. These are private premises, and it is well established that a proprietor can refuse service for any reason. Of course, Big Bookstore Corporation does operate in interstate commerce, and therefore the constitutional restriction against discrimination on the basis of race, color, creed, ethnicity, religion or national origin does apply, but so long as we apply the rule without discrimination we can certainly enforce our one hour seating limit.
Cunty (almost shouting now): You're wrong! I've been here with friends who are lawyers and they agree with me that you're wrong. You're going to get sued and you're going to lose.
DB: I don't think so, but reasonable legal minds could disagree.
Cunty: No! The law is the law!*
DB: Well, not really. That's why we have courts and judges. Let me give you an analogy, ma'am. Let's say you own a restaurant. A customer comes into your restaurant, buys one cup of coffee, pulls out a book and sits there for the next 12 hours until you close. There are other people waiting for tables, but you have to turn them away because you don't have any left. Do you think that's OK?
Cunty: That's a completely different situation! This is not a restaurant, it's a bookstore.
DB: No. It' s a restaurant within a bookstore, but it is a restaurant nonetheless.
Cunty (skeptically): You say you're a lawyer? What kind of law do you practice?
DB: It's really none of your business, ma'am, but I specialize in management of federal property.
Cunty: Well, I don't think you know anything about the law. You're a lawyer and you also work here?
DB: Yes, ma'am. I have a day job as a lawyer, and I've worked here as a part-time bookseller for seven years.
Cunty (sarcastically): How nice for you.

Now, you might be asking why I even engaged in such an inane conversation. I've been asking myself the same thing. I should have just handed her off to my manager, who would have told her, in so many words and very nicely, to fuck off somewhere else if she didn't like it. But I couldn't stand that someone was actually trying to tell me the law. God knows, I'm no Oliver Wendell Holmes. I'm not even Johnny Cochrane. I hate being a lawyer. I work at Big Bookstore so I can escape from being a lawyer. But non-discrimination in public accomodations is one of the few, tiny, little areas of legal expertise I have actually mastered, so I just could not back down.

I went back to the Cafe 10 minutes later, and a satisfyingly large swathe of tables had been liberated. Task accomplished.

*Does she not watch Court TV? If the "law was the law", we wouldn't need lawyers for Christ's sake.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliantly done. Ms Cunterson is clearly a cow with pap for a brain. IANAL and even I understand full-well that Big Bookstore Corporation does not provide its café as a public space. Sheesh.

9:49 AM  

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