Judge Koch

I live in New York City and I read the newspaper — sometimes even in actual newspaper form — so I’ve been taking in the retrospectives over the past week about the life and legacy of our former 3-term mayor, Ed Koch. For those not familiar with Mayor Koch, I’ll just summarize two items notable for me, which were that he was outspoken and iconoclastic in his statements; and that he directed city resources toward a huge and lasting investment in affordable housing. Of course the notion of “affordable housing” in NYC is kind of a joke for most of us struggling to pay the rent, but how much worse would it be if Koch had not committed us toward the building or rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of apartments across the five boroughs?

Important stuff, but for me the dominant image of Ed Koch was as Judge Koch, presiding over the esteemed court of law known as “The People’s Court” for a few years in the late ‘90s.

1997 again! Yeah, so I was living in a 3, then 4, then 5 bedroom duplex (we kept turning closets into sleeping quarters and putting up walls as rents rose) at 314 West 51st Street, or as a physicist friend of mine called it, “ Pi 51st Street.” (remember your high school math, everyone?) There are many stories to be told about my 4 years and 16 roommates there.. but in 1997 one of my roommates was Ranon, a charming young man fresh out of college with aspirations of becoming a sports broadcaster. Before graduating he’d secured a promising starter job offer, via fax, to call games courtside for the start-up semi-pro basketball team called “The Brooklyn Bounce.” Pay was to be $1000 a month.

Unfortunately, the reality was that Ranon’s talents were relegated to handing out flyers advertising the games across forlorn playgrounds, never calling a game, and never seeing a paycheck. It was not long before he filed a complaint with Small Claims Court, after having been told by an insider friend that this was the channel through which to get a case on the aforementioned TV show.

His case was selected, the taping was scheduled, and a small group of us showed up to cheer on our friend on one side of the courtroom. On the other side sat a small busload of pleasant grey-haired Midwestern ladies, in for a treat. It was indeed delicious.

Ranon’s nemesis, the defendant, was a true sleezebag, who clearly had no intention of ever running a legitimate sports franchise, nor in presenting himself as a reasonable person before the court. Ranon was handsome and so appealingly young in his un-tucked pink oxford shirt and barely-contained smile, presenting but not overselling his facts clearly and respectfully. The other dude was a mess, incoherent and belligerent, at one point prompting the bailiff to stand and direct him to move away from the bench.

Judge Koch had the defendant’s number right away, and when, after flailing for a defense of his behavior toward Ranon, he angrily mentioned rumors of Ranon smoking “marijuana cigarettes” (true irony, as Ranon was the only one in our often debaucherous apartment to stay clear of the stuff) Judge Koch righteously banged on the gavel and threatened charges of contempt and libel. Pure satisfaction! Koch declined to even pause before rendering his guilty verdict. The grey-haired ladies sighed to see such a clear-cut case of good vindicated against evil. Ranon smiled humbly. And we all went out for a celebratory lunch at Beefsteak Charlies. My then-boyfriend Mr. Crump recalls it being TGI Fridays.. either way, it was fit for a tourist stop in midtown Manhattan, which in our case just happened to be home..

Please join me in the making of my new album, Reckoning
http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/jenchapin

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