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Friday February 14, 2003, 12:38

Further research will have to be made into the phone number mounted on the wall of the jury room at 100 Centre Street, the criminal court building. This building gives me hives, by the way, and I really can not stand being in it. Never the less, it is part of my civic duty to be a part of the waiting masses until such a time as I am called in to possibly be a part of a panel that will judge one of my "peers." Truth be told, I really did start to get into it: sitting in the courtroom, listening to the judge talk, watching the people's attorney, watching the defendant and his attorney. The only part of the situation that made it uncomfortable at all was the idea that I might get chosen to sit and have to actually be a part of the jury. But why? I think that I am actually quite enamored of this country and am actually moved when someone tells me that my being here is what makes America great1 .

Though I must admit that for a room that is designed for the expressed purpose of getting a whole bunch of unwilling people people into one room to just sit and sit and wait and wait for something they don't want to do anyway, this room is actually pretty nice. And of course by "nice" I mean "reminiscent of my elementary school" which was probably built around the same time as this building. I am fairly certain that there is a black and yellow "fallout shelter" sign in the hall, which would probably give me some peace of mind these days, if only I believed that they would have retrofitted the bomb-proof room with duct tape and plastic sheets2 . Beyond that, the fluorescent lighting gives me a headache the the blue vinyl chairs look like they've been specially designed to repel the drool of sleeping jurors. The wood paneling on the walls could have come right off of the proscenium to my elementary school gymatorium and flanking the clerk's desk are the flags of the country and the state.

There isn't really as much socializing as I would have expected in such a situation. I mean when else do you get tossed into a room with a bunch of strangers that you will never have to see again (well, unless you're called back the next day, but for the most part a three-day tour will be all you, as a civic-minded American, are called upon to serve) and are forced to do nothing for the better part of the day? Minor tittering is sort of par for the day, and there is some conversation happening in the back corner of the room, but for the most part, the only noise is the rustling of newspaper and the occasional buzz of a cell phone (though the calls themselves have to be taken out in the hall). The noise-level does rise to that of a low murmur at times, something more along the lines of hushed conversations during a school assembly, but that tends to die almost as quickly as it starts; either people run out of things to say, or they become self-conscious of saying it.

Where companionship is found, it tends to run fairly deep, however. Two people will meet on a particular day, talk and share stories, and move on, not talking again but to say "see you tomorrow" or "hope you get out of this case." Other times, however, a pair of chattering conspirators will emerge, and heaven forbid you get them in the same room together waiting to serve. The lawyer and the big-nosed girl met on our first day while waiting to enter the courtroom from which we would almost all be dismissed on the following day. They started talking and through a series of "where are you" and "when did you-s," finally hit upon the fact that they were, in fact, from the same town. Lord have mercy! From then on they were inseparable. He, a good ten years old than she, had known her old babysitter. She, his friend's kid sister. "...that house where..." "...she used to..."

Which was fun until we went into the court.

Surprisingly enough (most of all to myself, in the recent years), I have discovered that I am quite a stickler for things like "protocol" and "decorum" and seeing two people sitting in the court talking while the judge was talking just annoyed the hell out of me. Both of them were eventually dismissed, she for being a giggling fool on the stand (who said something to get dismissed) and he for knowing the defense attorney. Good riddance, I said, until I had to listen to them in the jury room again. I suppose this rooms tends to stay so quiet because nobody really wants to hear the beak-nosed woman smirking "oh, oh, that's so bad, oh that's horrible" as the lawyer (whose eyes and smirk do something disturbingly similar to what our President's eyes and smirk do) recounts the story of how one of his friends just committed suicide. "I thought he was just going to the Cayman Islands," said he. You just can't make this stuff up.

So now they pore over the New York Post as she squeals "Oh my god! I know that girl! I went to college with her. She was Crazy! Feathers in her hair. I have to steal this page to show my friend." They were checking out my laptop before so I know I'm cool.

I can't use my laptop in the courtroom though. I brought the machine in on the first and second days, only to be relegated to a courtroom for the bulk of the first and half of the second. Sitting in the courtroom itself was nerve-wracking, and I was supposed to be on the good side of the law. The truth is that I didn't want to be there and I was spending my entire time there trying to figure out how I was going to get out if it. In the end, I didn't excuse myself, really. After a full day of jury selection during which at least half of the potential jurors were excused, they still only had a panel of six. Six peers does not a jury make, and so the rest of us, twenty-seven in all, were called to the jury box to be questioned, first by the judge, then by the attorneys. So what did I tell them? I told them that I would not believe an informant. That I would not be able to weigh an informant's testimony at all with regards to the case. Of course I also spent the entire two day stretch twitching in seat 6 in the jury box and shot some serious glances at the defendant. These probably all contributed to my now sitting in the jury room, waiting to get called again for another fun day in criminal court.

I only take solace in the knowledge that if I make it through this day I'll be home free for another four years, at which point I may lose the ability to speak English, or become an Orthodox Jew, both traits that are pretty much guaranteed to remove a person from being a useful juror.

The phone number on the wall is 374-4973. There is no area code, and I wonder whether I would need to dial one, or if the court system has in place a special arrangement with the telephone company in which they have a special, no-code-needed type number. That would be pretty nifty indeed.

What time is lunch again?

[ed: I was released before lunch and do not have to serve again for another four years.]

1. As if the founding fathers had in mind a sort of "60 Minutes" meets elementary school film strip. I mean really, I guess I was sort of touched knowing that such a diverse group of people would enter courthouses all across the country today (or was it the State? The reach of such a PSA really was lost on me I suppose, even though, as a good citizen of the 21st century, I sat dutifully with my eyes glued to the television screen as they played the video that told me what it meant to be a juror) and at the same time, I'd imagine that they could have a) gotten some actors with a little more panache ("Why. Do. I. Have. To. Serve? I. Am. Very. Busy. At Work. I. Have. Dead. Lines.") and b) have replaced the television that looks like it's been sitting in the jury room since the early part of the 1980s. Comparing the images on the two television sets, one vintage Perry Mason era and one a bit more Law and Order, was like watching the same program through cheese-colored glasses. For some reason, watching a program on an old television makes it SEEM that much older, which makes it SEEM that much more disingenuous, as if the longer ago you go, the less people realized that a piece of propaganda was what it was. These days if a program tells you that it's a PSA, you'd better watch out because it's probably a commercial for beer. Back "then" (whenever you want to define "then") you had to watch out for something that looked like it couldn't possibly be taking itself seriously, because it probably was.

2. Have you heard this crazy thing? I suppose this is more for the historical record than anything else, though only, um, history will tell who bigger the fool, the fool who goes out to buy supplies to protect himself from the threat of biological attack, or the fool who mocks a gas mask on Fifth Avenue. I suppose that there is probably some benefit to purchasing plastic sheets and duct tape, bottled water and a battery powered radio, but for the life of me I can't imagine that these supplies would do any good in the event of a catastrophe (by which, of course, I mean that some wackjob who never uttered the words "can't we all just get a long" has gotten on far too much in insanity to finally do something that I, for one, don't even want to imagine). So until then I will be a bit more cautious in my daily life but will continue about my business with only passing attention paid to the nearest exist off this island that I call home.

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