I had jury duty last week. Once upon a time, being a stay-at-home parent excused you from this activity, but a year ago the courts decided that the twelve bucks they pay you for each day of service would pay for adequate childcare. Apparently, none of those people had children.
I wanted to get out of jury duty, but you can only be excused due to one of four reasons: you’re dead, you’re on active military duty, you’re over seventy-two years of age, or you’re incarcerated Even though I don’t feel like it on certain days, I am younger than seventy-two, so the only options I had were dying, enlisting, or committing a felony. None of these seemed like favorable alternatives to jury duty, so I was stuck.
The jury waiting room is an interesting place, a microcosm of society. It’s a large group of people gathered together that share only one or two common bonds: either they have driver’s licenses or they’re registered to vote. Once we signed in, were greeted by the clerk, had our parking validated, and watched the riveting informational video, we were left to our own devices with the understanding that we were not permitted to leave the two holding rooms.
One room was a magical place with comfy chairs and couches, but it also contained two televisions tuned to Cash Cab and The Maury Povich Show, so that was out. I stayed in the other room, the one with all the charm of a doctor’s waiting room, and started reading while waiting to be called. Around me, people were pairing off and conversing. It usually started with someone making a joke or a complaint or casting a statement into the jury pool, hoping a fish would hit his line. But since I’m a misanthrope, I kept to myself.
Eventually, I became bored and started taking note of what those who weren’t talking or sleeping were reading. Some had newspapers. Some were reading copies of Chicken Soup for their individualized souls. So I decided to play a rousing game of Judging A Person By His Book Cover. I felt sorry for the gray haired man next to me underlining meaningful passages in Retire On Less Than You Think. I envisioned him as a recently laid-off fifty-five-year-old businessman, too old to find another job at this previous salary, but too young to retire comfortably. I could picture the guy reading an issue of Model Aviation magazine as a forty-year-old virgin living in his mother’s basement and spending his free time building model airplanes, writing manifestos, and taking self-portraits while clad in women’s underwear and mustard while Mom was at the bingo parlor. I was reading The Curious Incident Of The Dog In Night-Time, if you’d like to turn the tables on me.
I watched people staring at their watches, huffing and puffing and sighing with each passing moment, jittery from a feeling of self-importance and several cups of free coffee. No one wanted to be there, save those who were over seventy-two years of age and opted not to be excused from jury duty in the hopes they could send a shoplifter to the gas chamber, but most of us kept our boredom to ourselves. Finally, even though we hadn’t done anything and no jurors’ names had been called, we were given a fifteen-minute recess because sitting in a crowded room for 2.5 hours, watching TV, reading, and bitching about the lack of activity can really wear a person out.
We crammed ourselves into three tiny elevators, packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes, eager for a fifteen-minute slice of freedom. Some smoked, some bought a snack from a hot dog vendor, but most of us just stood in the sunshine and watched the businessmen that were free to walk the streets, unshackled by the burdens of jury duty. It was our own little whitebread suburban prison yard, without the pickup basketball games and the homemade shivs.
We had been told at the beginning of the day that they would be filling four juries. At 12:15 PM, nearly four hours after we initially reported, they called back the first thirty people for jury selection. Your tax dollars in action, folks! The rest of us were given a ninety-minute lunch break.
I wandered through our downtown, past the bars, nightclubs, and dance spots I was too old or to un-hip to frequent, looking for something to eat. Rather than settle for one of the numerous soulless fabricated facsimiles, I settled on an old diner for lunch, the kind of place where the main ingredients were cheese and butter.
After eight hours, I was called back into the courtroom and was asked if I could serve on a five-day trial. Since I had prior engagements, I told them I couldn’t. So they deferred my service for three months.
I get to play this game again in ninety days. ROCK!