Saturday, May 24, 2008

Civic Duty

Wednesday, May 21, 2008: DAY ONE.
I type this on day one of my (hopefully only) two days of jury duty. It’s my third time being called for Hudson County, NJ, my second for Petit Jury, and last year I was called for (but didn’t serve) Grand Jury.

I don’t really mind it. As Americans, we really are asked to do so little: Vote. Pay taxes. And every once in a while serve as a peer. I can do peer. I do all three of those things with little complaint (yes, even the second) in grateful recognition of the sacrifices of our forefathers. Or something like that.

This is not to say I ENJOY jury duty. Of course, it’s a pain. Getting up at 6:30 to crawl here amid the gray masses for $5.00 is not pleasant, and there are other things I could be doing (although bringing the laptop is a big ol’ plus… if only I’d brought the power cord [31% battery power remaining]).

But sitting here in the holding pen, I am again confronted with a mélange of everyday American self-absorption that drives me insane. People are asked to silence their cell phones. They don’t (and buddy, that rooster ringer is annoying!!!). They’re asked to respond “Here” when their names are called. They don’t. They don’t throw their garbage away. They laugh at the witty repartee blaring (and I mean BLARING) from REGIS and RACHAEL RAY and THE VIEW. But what really astounds me is that about half the people sitting here brought nothing to read. It’s like that SEINFELD episode where Puddy sits on an airplane next to Elaine with nothing to do, staring into space, driving her to (again) break up with him.

“You sure you don’t want something to read?”
“Nah, I’m good.”

I had lunch today. I don’t normally eat lunch, but with an hour and a half to kill, and not wanting to remain the corral, I figured I’d go get a nosh. And I ended up at Burger King. I don’t really do a lot of fast food, and couldn’t tell you the last time I was in a Burger King, but it was there. I had an Angus Loaded Burger, which is slightly less of a perfect disc than the regular Whopper burgers and something called “cheesy tots.” A woman near me prayed before digging into her repast. I wondered if she was praying not to get Mad Cow.

I will not be returning to Burger King for lunch tomorrow.

Thursday, May 22, 2008: DAY TWO

I got called near the end of the day yesterday for a trial, but I didn’t pass the voir dire. It was a civil trial in which a woman was suing the owners of the two buildings that happened to both be in front of the piece of sidewalk on which she tripped in 2004, hurting her neck, back and ankle. My gut reaction was to smell Bullshit the way she may well have smelled jackpot, and whatever happened to watching where you walk? While I wasn’t about to say out loud that I’d already pre-judged the case, I did answer honestly when the judge asked if I had any opinion on tort reform. I answered (at sidebar) that I thought we were an overly litigious society that too often abdicated personal responsibility, but that I strongly agreed that the right to sue is an important one. I assured the court that I could be impartial, and I did mean it (being a bartender, I’ve learned that while books usually are defined by their covers, it’s wise to retain an open mind).

I returned to the jury box and really thought that I was going to have to spend the next week-plus getting up at 6:30 AM, but as the next juror was called for interview, I was thanked and sent on my way. Relieved, but feeling slightly guilty.

I arrived this morning a half hour early, giant coffee in hand and settled into my little cubicle near the window. After suffering through the requisite two videos about the importance of civic duty and spiel from the clerk, I cracked my book (THE PORTABLE ATHEIST, only half chosen to make people leave me alone) as the TV began again blaring the mind-warpingly annoying Regis and whoever the F.... But that bleating was nothing compared to what happened next.

At about 9:40, over an hour after reporting time, a woman walked in pushing a stroller. And holding her slightly older tot’s hand. Two kids. At jury duty. But no worry… within about ten minutes, the baby started screaming. I mean, SCREAMING. At which point Mom was excused. (Finally, I see a good reason to have kids!)

Okay, so I have some sympathy for the possibility that this woman cannot afford to hire a babysitter. But if she’s that destitute and bereft of friends or family capable of watching the kids, then why didn’t she indicate that in her questionnaire? Or call the court the night before and explain the situation? Was she perhaps that ignorant of the process that she thought she could bring her brats into the jury box with her?

Oh, well, at least I wasn’t alone in my disbelief. I turned the other way and the two enormous women sitting near me were both shaking their heads in disbelief, at which point we all bonded over the stellar parenting skills / social consciousness of this mother of the year.

Oboy, time for Rachael Ray to ring in my brain. Maybe the logic is that by blasting annoying morning television, they’ll make the jury pool BEG to be put on a trial…. Uh-oh…. Hold on…..

I lucked out. They pulled the jury for the last remaining trial, and my name did not randomly come up. The selection was completed, and I was freed, FREED, I TELL YOU, to go join Lysa for some well-earned margaritas at our favorite haunt.

I can only hope that I’m done with the legal system for a while…

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