Process Served

One of the reasons I was ringing a stranger’s doorbell at 7 a.m. concerned a New Year’s resolution to “do something new each day.”

Another is that, as I’m currently on layoff, I could use the money.

My partner, Ann, has worked as a legal assistant for 25+ years (and is now working toward a career-changing BA). Occasionally her employer needs to serve process on someone (i.e., deliver the “We need you in court” papers), and if the regular guy isn’t around they ask someone else.

Today, I was the “someone else.”

Now, on the anti-authoritarian level I wasn’t too keen on the karmic consequences of hauling someone before The Man. But on the human level, knowing that my companion and her employer are ethical people acting on behalf of someone with a legitimate grievance against someone else which can’t otherwise be resolved, I didn’t mind that much.

What I did mind was not knowing what sort of situation I would be walking into. Back when I worked as a reporter, that was one of the things I dug most about covering breaking news — what was going on? Would there be someone to talk to? How would they respond to a nosy newsguy? Could I even find a place to park? But my instructions were clear: contact the defendant between 7 and 7:30, establish her identity, and hand her the papers.

My one concern was that if her new husband answered the door, he’d probably respond as I would to an early morning Ann-seeking interloper. (Let’s just say “unkindly.”) And I had to put the papers in her hand: “Could you please give these to Harriet (not her real name)?” wouldn’t quite suffice. Ann said I could wait until she entered her car, but tapping on a strange windshield in the pre-dawn hours seemed a bit … well, it just did, that’s all.

So there I was, parked around the corner from a nice middle-class (remember when there was a middle class?) split-level house in a nice suburban neighborhood at 6:49 pretending I wasn’t a suspicious character. When I began imagining the neighbors peeking through their shades and dialing 911, I got out and walked about. Down the street. Past her house, where a single light burned in the front kitchen window. Up an adjoining cul-de-sac.

It was 6:53.

Down the cul-de-sac. Glance at the house. Nobody visible. Further down the street. Up the next cul-de-sac.


Down the second cul-de-sac. Back toward the house. Car still parked out front. Up the first cul-de-sac. Stop to watch two Canada geese honk by overhead. Down the second cul-de-sac. Glance at the house. No change.


“F— it.”

Up the street. Up the walk. To the porch. Ignore the intruder light. Ring the doorbell.

Wait. Debate whether to ring again. Decide against it.


The door opens; a thirtyish woman in a big white bathrobe, hair still damp from the shower.


“Harriet Smith?”


Hand her the papers and, for some reason, say, “Thank you.”

“Ooookay,” she replies, knowing. “Thank you.”

Walk back to my car, key in ignition, vrooming off to the suddenly lightening day.

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