Except for its approximate location of being somewhere in Jamaica, I had no prior knowledge of the Queens Civil Court before visiting. The Civil Court is a moderate-sized building and looks nothing special in its humble contour resembling any typical public center, jammed in a street crowded with typical Jamaica Queens stores offering cell phones and ethnic cuisine. It has a grey glaze, leaving a modern, cold impression upon the viewers, as it appears somewhat unfriendly and stern, as if trying to intimidate passers-by and admonish them to abide by all its laws. I presumed there would be one small and cozy-looking room in the court, a stern judge and busy lawyers present, with a harried victim and a smug wrongdoer, or plaintiff and defendant, to be more precise. This imagined court room would be lit in warm-colored lights, illuminating the dais in a dark orange hue, harmonizing with the wooden walls and a dark brown dais. There seems to be an awkward disparity between my mental picture of a classic wood-burnished room with fierce lawyers passionately debating, and the stern, apathetic-looking exterior that reminds me of Mrs. Reed in Jane Eyre.
This building is no Mrs. Reed. The civil court rises neatly and firmly on the tiled ground, never proving sternly scary. It is grander than my initial assumption and tidy to the degree of making it look not too particular or immaculate, and big to the point of its not being gigantic, like some corporate edifice asserting dominance. Thus my flimsy prior conception was replaced with the solid and concrete mass of a handsome but quite casual-looking building, like an unhurried gentleman in his thirties nonchalantly reading a newspaper. A few people approach the main entrance of the court, grouped by ones and twos. The sculpted, big stainless letters, “CIVIL COURT,” rested above the main entrance of the building: informing all of the building’s function.
As its glassy revolving door rotate one-eighty degrees, the quite dim interior alerts the visitors we are transported to another world. Right away, within five meters of the gate, a security gate stands as a second entrance. Three security officers in black uniforms resembling those of police officers eye two people going through the narrow inspection gates. One man puts his jumper and watch into a shallow grey basket. The security officer in black picks it up and rolls it down through the inspecting machine. Without warning, the scanner swallows the unsavory materials, and the man, having passed the security gate, fidgets and waits for the scanner to spew out the examined materials.
Echoing off the massive front windows are continual sounds of visitors’ materials being checked as they are rolled into the scanning machine, the inarticulate mumblings of people in the hallway, and peoples’ footsteps. A woman briskly walking in her high heels is heard, heading somewhere around a corner. As auditory sensory experiences faded, my next concern is the inside of the court, the hallway where many court rooms are attached. In one area, there are heavy-looking stone chairs of pepperish granite, meticulously placed in front of the individual closed court rooms. Each of the chairs enables at most three people to leisurely sit on one side.
Two men occupy separate stone chairs, enjoying the chilled air. Both of them are in black suits with black leather suitcases beside them. One is occupied in a conversation over his phone and the other is engrossed in his smartphone. In the opposite hallway from the two men, are four people in total, scattered and sitting on longer wooden benches. As one court room opened, two people leisurely exit, one man in dark blue jeans, holding yellow and pink papers, casting his curious and friendly eyes upon an observer, as another girl tacitly observes him. I looked up to take in the partly open upper floors. The visual estimation of the skeleton of the entire building is difficult to imagine, and as it approaches closing time, the once-frequent walkers that headed toward the exit become very few in number.
Now there is only one lone visitor coming in and being checked. From five meters away, I can hear the visitor’s ghostly steps approach the other side of the security gate and the voice of one security guard announcing to the visitor that it was almost closing time. The grey basket containing her one black bag is being rolled in, while -- “ding!” -- the sound of an elevator cheerfully announces its door opening on first floor, where out pour the left-over people, probably the last ones that have been hiding in separate nooks of the building. Only three people walk toward the main gate, and two lumbering men’s plodding shoes quietly echo in the now-empty hallway. I feel hesitant to leave the place, as I have begun to like this people-friendly yet formal building. The floor on which the people stamp is made of polished stone-tiles, each tile a mosaic of small stone pieces, the walls a mixture of marbles and granite. The chill through the grayish granite wall pronounce it time to leave. The air smells neither warm nor cold.
The air seems to be stationary, caught in time’s very present moment. All of a sudden, momentarily, everything is dead-still; the security officers seem transfixed looking outside, and the two sole people look as if frozen in their spots, at one extreme end of the hallway. All the people on the floor can now be watched by me, one unknown stranger. I feel like a God. With one loud stamp of a foot on the floor, as if by magic, all the people are moving again, supposedly having forgotten their interim of inactivity. The fans have managed to stop without my noticing: there now is no single, gentle drift of wind.
I exit the main entrance and turn around: there it is again. Anyone would love to securely hold its image in her mind. The Civil Court stands as a neat and size-appropriate building: one cannot help but imagine one handsome intellectual leaning against one of its large window,enveloped in pallid winter light, casually reading an afternoon newspaper. Letting in ample natural light, the first floor of the court seems more of a people-friendly place than I imagined, and the echoing regeneration of civilians’ leisurely footsteps somehow proved comforting. However casual the atmosphere proved, the place is stern as could be, indicated by security gates and constant inspections, and the rigid arrays of chunks of heavy and precisely rectangular stone chairs. As I turn away for good, one lone and possibly last visitor slowly approaches the revolving door, presumably not knowing my "Mrs. Reed" is no longer accepting visitors.