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"You'll be ten up for next time," the babysitter says when I hand her a fifty. She doesn't have change. "I have two dollars and seven cents to my name." Garrett, ever helpful, does math and corrects her: "Now you have FIFTY two dollars and seven cents to your name." Smartass.
I have jury duty today. I love jury duty. It's a great excuse to work on a project all day, or read a book, leaving my children in Kristi's care, knowing I'm operating at a loss and not caring, particularly, because, after all, I have to do my civic duty. But the early morning bit of it? Kind of a drag.
I race into the city, never touching the speed limit, applying cosmetics at traffic signals. Yes, when they're red. I feel I'm being watched. Look to my right, in a car, a black man with a big white grin winks at me. I finish with the mascara, preening a bit extra for his benefit, and continue with a smile when the light changes.
Almost by accident, I find a garage that valet parks my car at an early bird rate of seven dollars. I forget to ask if that's seven for the day, or seven per hour. At any rate, it's only two blocks from the courthouse, and I clatter along the sidewalk at a quick pace, thrilled that I can. I go to room 240, and am sent to the overflow area, the quiet room. The other jurors are watching the video that tells them what to expect, the one I have practically memorized, and so I am glad, glad to be late, sad that those who are prompt are punished. I feel badly. I hate jury duty.
The courthouse is a masterpiece of roccoco architecture, beautiful arches, striated marble walls, frescoes, paintings, granite staircases- we are warned that these are treacherous, two jurors taken away in ambulances last week- but with beauty, the power to kill, haven't I read that in a poem somewhere? I soak in gorgeous, revelling. I love jury duty.
Since there were people packed like cattle on a car in both of the "noisy" rooms at 240, I find myself in 219, which is library-like in its hushed nature, and has a rather comfy leather chair for me to sit in. I look around at the people, noticing that this one seems calm, that one jittery, this one neat, that one sloppy. After the termination of the inevitable droning, everyone settles in. A round bald man rattles items in his plastic grocery bag, the noise shocking against the quiet. A stylish blonde who used to have hair my color snaps gum and pulls magazines from a briefcase. The man beside me has no hair on his lovely brown head, and wears a sage colored jacket with wheat colored trousers and shoes that cost $300.00. He is Buddah-placid in his waiting, and has brought no form of entertainment. On a low-slung couch, a man wearing large-framed glasses snores intermittently. The room is quietly amused. He wakes when the announcment of cash payment is made.
I hate jury duty, the inconvinience of arranging child care, and in this case, for someone to pick the kids up and take them to their afternoon dance class, leaving them there for me to retrieve before the witching hour of 5:30 when Alaina's class of five year olds lets out and Garrett's begins, G. being older and trustworthy enough to sit quietly in the hall waiting. I hate coming out in the red, after parking and sitting. I hate looking for parking, paying for a lunch I won't like, finding and bringing all the elements for a project I can do sans phone, sans computer. Last year, I was still researching for Watergate! the Musical, and brought books and index cards. Today I have a couple of paperback novels but, as yesterday, the virus gnawing at me attacks my motivation.
I wish someone would bring me tea and hot buttered toast.
I watch people for great swatches of time, as they read, fidgit, snooze, write....their expressions at rest, in repose, relaxing so the deep furrows run away and their true faces are revealed. There is little about this process that encourages animation. I love jury duty.
I spot a news headline: From Fun Day To One Of Mourning. Who writes this crap, anyway? A simple restructuring would rescue that sentence from plebian clunkyness while retaining clarity of meaning: From Day Of Fun To One Of Mourning, creating parallels and internal rhyming. Don't these people learn Composition in journalism school? I hate jury duty. It makes me petty.
The sherrif who helps us line up is cheery and jovial. I remarked to the spiffy gentleman next to me that I thought it appalling to imagine we needed a sherrif to help us line up, as though we are a mass of dangerous kindergarteners. While I am in line, his number, 125, is called to a court room. The seat next to me will be vacant when I return.
The snoring man, revived by fifteen dollars, is talking much more loudly than is justified, considering the "quiet room" designation. More numbers are called, but not mine. Not yet. I hate jury duty. I take a recently vacant space at the table, and begin to write.
Near eleven, my number is called. I run up the marble stairs (because I can) to a beautiful court room, sprawling on one of the pew-like benches to study the ceilings, which are awash with plaster medallions and fancy frames creating segments. The recessed lighting does its level best to not be overly intrusive. The court clerk takes a call, then sends two attorneys and one defendant to "chambers." We are asked to wait. I pull out Bonfire of the Vanities and force myself to focus. I love jury duty. I've had this book for over a year and not touched it. Now I have an opportunity to begin, to engage, to be captured by Tom Wolfe. It doesn't happen right away.
The court clerk returns, tells us that the case has been settled out of court, but that they are going to bring in another case. Please wait. I hate jury duty.
A city police officer sits on the front bench. He is neither the quiet nor the self contained sort, having engaged in conversation with a man I thought he knew already, but I slowly realize that this is the sort of person who makes "best friends" with someone for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. I guess it's that or remain perpetually aloof. I love jury duty.
The court clerk returns again, with news that the case coming in next will require a larger pool of jurors to select from, so we are to return to the holding pen. I am aghast. Larger pool than these fifty or so? Twelve is twelve, right? Right?
I get some more work finished before heading off for a lunch which I retain a cockeyed optomism about. I want an avacado sandwich on whole grain bread with a smear of hummus and a handful of sprouts, with maybe some spinach salad on the side. I forget that I am in HonTown, and will not find such a sandwich outside of Fells Point or Federal Hill. I find instead a cafe that is uncrowded and atmospheric, and I call back the company I freelance for, taking notes for my next assignment as I slurp soup.
Returning from lunch, I claim a spot at the table, and settle to work. More numbers are called, not mine, so I participate in the game of Musical Chairs that alleviates stiffness among the jurors. Alternately reading and writing, I resist the urge to check my phone for the time. I gave up wearing a watch in October and am stunned by how little I miss it.
People shift in anticipation. I sneak a peek at the watch of the fellow next to me. It is five after four. We are to be dismissed in twenty five minutes. The loudspeaker comes on and blares numbers at us. Mine. God, I hate jury duty.
As I scoot down the stairs, out the door, to Courthouse East, which is less grand, having been in a former life a Post Office, I rumble through plans in my head, calculate distance and time, wonder if I can tell the judge I need to pick up my kids. We arrive in a small dingy court room, greeted by the soles of the judge's shoes. He's got his feet up on the bench, arms aloft, palms tucked behind his head. "We've seen ninety eight cases in this courtroom today," he tells us. A man with a poet's face sits beside me. He's probably a computer programmer. A professional student, a political activist, misanthrope, rapist, serial killer...no. He has a poet's face, and I'm sticking to that. I know I am tense, and try to relax.
I hate jury duty. I vent in a tiny way by speaking to Percy on my left, whatever his name is. We exchange idle banter for a few moments, until an attorney, wearing an Arrogant Attorney face, rushes in. "You're the reason these people are here," the judge chides. "They were ready to go home." We are still waiting on the other attorney and a defendant, evidently. Or perhaps a plaintif. The judge launches into a discourse of how we are doing our civic duty by being present for this process, how the cases he's seen today are minor matters, "misdemeanors, which can and sometimes will, request a trial by jury, which is their right under the law." How he and the other judges are on a rotation so that no one gets too awfully bored...except me, listening. "What is he DOING?" I whisper to Percy-the-Poet beside me. "Killing time," he whispers back. Finally, all the players are in place. It is twenty five past four. The judge calls everyone to the bench and turns on the machine that I have heard used before in voix dire that makes a whooshing noise througout the courtroom. He switches it off and dismisses us. They've settled the case. I love jury duty.
Out into the street, after having comforted a claustrophobic man on the elevator -my arm around his shoulder, his eyes squeezed tight shut- the Poet wishes me a good evening. "Have fun with your kids at dance class," he says. "You have a nice evening," I mean, have a nice life. I think he understood. The parking garage is even closer to Courthouse East, and the valet has my car in a jiffy. Seven for the day, plus two for tip. Is that enough?
Traffic is remarkably easy to navigate, and I arrive at the dance studio before Alaina has changed from ballet shoes to tap shoes. The world is good. I love jury duty.