He walked around as his greasy three-inch pony tail bopped with him. He talked to no one in particular and everyone in general.
His suit stretched tightly over his abdomen and his trouser legs pooled at his feet.
His hustle was rehearsed as he worked the crowd in the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Coney Island, Brooklyn.
Prowling for last-minute clients to represent for a “small fee,” he was practiced at his game. The Administrative Law Judges were ready to rule on cases quickly, meeting a quota set by the city. This meant he had to act quickly too; his card at the ready: “Harvey Millstein, Esquire.”
“Whatcha got there?” he asked pointing to the wad of paper clutched by small hunched over woman. “No habla Ingles,” she said.
Harvey found another potential client, a middle-aged truck driver, wearing a work jacket that read “Carnation.” He also had paperwork intended to fight a moving violation that carried a fine.
However, the man squatted at Harvey as if he was a mosquito.
Harvey circled his steps before the doors opened and the 10:30 a.m. sessions began. He put his clipboard under his armpit and proceeded inside.
The crowd was checked in at the door, handing over licenses as their forms of identification before they were shuffled inside, taking their seats among the hard-backed benches lining the courtroom.
Judge Jules Phister adjusted his robe and sat in the elevated chair. His lazy eye gave the impression he was looking at each defendant warily.
Harvey took the last licks of his Tootsie Pop. Game on. In his mind, he glided through his delivery…
“Court’s in session,” Judge Phister said, thumping his gavel.
The judge called a name and Harvey rose quickly. His client, Kendra Wilmes, took the oath to tell the truth, and the Police Officer stated his case.
“The motorist failed to come to a full stop at the intersection,” the officer said.
Harvey was biting his lower lip, eager to begin his cross examination. He fired questions in rapid succession.
“Where did you observe my client?”
“Were you parked at the northeast corner or southeast?”
“Was the sun obstructing your view?”
He was like a kid in a spelling bee, his mind in overdrive.
On and on, and with each answer, the officer was fidgeting more and more. Harvey was pleased. Kendra picked at her fingernails. Judge Phister stifled a yawn.
Five minutes into the questioning, Judge Phister raised his hand.
“Inconclusive. Case dismissed.”
The years passed like this for Harvey. The 10:30 a.m. session was followed by the 1 p.m. and lastly by the 4:15 p.m.
He remembered when the court benches were new, the wood gleaming with the manufacturer’s polished finish before the gum wads formed a stucco-like crust underneath. He worked before the advent of smart phones, when a line snaked around from the DMV to the deli with people trying to make a call on the pay phone.
His 5’ 6” frame felt big in the DMV’s cramped courtrooms.
Harvey walked home most days, to his rent-controlled studio. He rested on the pull-out in the living room, reviewing the day’s wins and losses, calling his bookie, and reading the dog-eared tabloids left behind by plaintiffs in the DMV.
Sometimes, when he put his clipboard on the table in his tiny vestibule, he picked up the dusty, framed photo of former Mayor Ed Koch. In the far corner was Harvey, who attended a Town Hall meeting in the Bronx where Hizzoner was speaking.
“How am I doing?” Harvey would ask, copying the former Mayor’s moniker. His question echoed off the walls of his small apartment.
Most nights he caught a bite at the greasy food cart around the corner. He considered the Pakistani food vendor a close friend.
“The usual, Mohammad,” Harvey said. “And don’t be skimpy with the onions.”
The vendor spoke in his cell phone’s headpiece, as Harvey shared his many triumphs of the day. He embellished – a little – in the retelling. He felt satisfied that he had made a difference. Mohammad nodded. Harvey ranted.
On May 5 there was a touch of spring in the air, the salty sea breeze from Surf Avenue created an almost balmy feel. Cinco de Mayo. Harvey thought maybe he would toss back a few margaritas after work. He might take the D train into the city.
Harvey felt optimistic, springing up the steps of the DMV, when a giant rubber bad felt like it was squeezing his chest. His clipboard hit the concrete before him.
“Check his identification,” the Paramedic said, as Harvey’s lifeless body was lifted onto the gurney and put into the ambulance. “We have to notify next of kin.”
The thin, plastic bi-fold in Harvey’s back pocket yielded few clues. “Nothing, here,” the Emergency Medical Technician said.
There were just cards that read, “Harvey Millstein, Esquire,” and outpatient identification from the Brooklyn Psychiatric Center.
“Does anyone know this man?” Paramedic Sanchez called out to the court personnel who paused momentarily to gaze at the commotion.
“Isn’t he the janitor?” someone in the crowd called out. “No, the security guard,” rang out another voice. “No, that was last week. This week I think he was the attorney again.”
Harvey Millstein was every man and no man in particular.
The author Andrea Della Monica is a Brooklyn native who grew up observing the characters who made up her tight-knit community. A journalist, a mom, a pet sitter: all describe the inquisitive Della Monica. She is working on a collection of personal essays for a memoir to be published in 2015. She enjoys spending time reading, and contemplating nature in her get away in Massachusetts. A worn copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s collected work is always in her handbag.