The black judge who is wry to the edge of his own boredom has become a real cliché of courtroom dramas and movies, but what do you do when a real life judge out-wrys every fake judge who has ever crossed both small and silver screens? Naturally you become a little taken with him. And then you make His Honor the Boyfriend of the Week.
It’s all in the way that Judge Perry rests his finger on his right temple. This is not the “hold on, I’m thinking” or the “fuck, it’s hard to be smart” finger-on-temple that you see so often in author photos. The judge’s finger actually supports some of the weight of his head, which threatens to tip with exhaustion whenever someone tries to hand him a steaming pile of bullshit. Sometimes that finger comes downward and makes a V with his thumb in order to brace his chin, as if he’s forcing his jaw shut because he just wants to tell everybody in that courtroom, “Enough with the circus, you animals.” And sometimes, if someone is really pissing him off, then he will lower that finger and he will give an eyeball so hairy that it could be entered into evidence at a trial about why that person he’s staring at is the greatest asshole the world’s ever known.
Last week I discussed how I have an extreme fondness for a southern accent, and this week I am here to tell you that you have not lived until you have heard Judge Perry say the word “hallway.” You can find it in YouTube clips in which he schools the defense team for asking him for file storage, then failing to use the ENTIRE SECURED hallway that he gave them specifically for this purpose (Jesus Christ, people! If Judge Perry gives you the gift of a hallway, then you’d better use the shit out of that hallway!) The word miraculously sounds like a hallway itself, long and lonely and three-dimensional, and “files” is actually pretty great too because it has a tiny bit of an extra syllable on it, as if, just at the end, you can hear the quiet act of opening a paper folder. But regardless of what the judge is saying, he says it slowly, his words falling like precious raindrops on a courtroom that has been baked in the glare of the hooplah. His cadence is a reminder that the trial is a search for gems of truth amidst the noise, that everybody involved would do better to lay meaning bare instead of mount a show.
Before you go thinking that this is just another judge obeying the decorum of his position, you can trust me when I say that Judge Perry is a rare bird because Brent and I watch a lot of true crime television. A lot. I’ve observed tons of judges of murder trials (and I’ve also seen enough 48 Hour Mystery episodes to know that if Brent ever suddenly becomes super attentive to my vitamin intake or super encouraging of Gatorade consumption, then our relationship has taken a very bad turn), and while many of them adopt that disaffected hipster thing— they seem over the proceedings before they’ve even begun— that is not what’s going on here with Judge Belvin Perry. His fatigue is very specific. It is not a fatigue for the job, but for inefficiency and insincerity and incivility. When he drawls to the lawyers, “Let’s get it done,” Perry’s not saying that he wants to get a move on because there’s a poolside chaise and an umbrella drink with his name on it. What he’s saying is essentially, “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s a line of questioning.”
Then he’ll turn toward the jury and, eyes softening behind his glasses, ask if they’re comfortable, even if they’ve been enjoying their meals; and not to get disrespectful toward His Honor, but you can kind of picture what it would be like if the two of you were to hit up a P.F. Changs on a Saturday night. You would be allowed to call him Belvin, which I believe is just as beautiful as the famously beautiful “cellar door,” and he would be the one to place the order— slowly and without complication. “Belvin,” you would say once the waiter had hustled to the computer to punch-in your lettuce wraps, “do you think I’m going to be able to finish this novel I’m writing by the fall?”And the judge would answer by placing his right finger against his temple, telling you everything you needed to know about getting your own shit together.