Note: This is an ongoing story concerning my experience as a potential juror. You can find the beginning of the story here…
I join the Sad March of people trying to gain access to the building where Jack brought Lee a special house-warming gift. Once inside the doors, I am confronted with the lovely sight of security personnel screening all visitors, with beeping wands and radar monitors and military-types looking very stern and unimpressed. Great. We have to go through all that mess. My cup runneth over.
And, of course, the people immediately before me in the line have apparently never had people ask them to remove personal items and place them in a plastic tray. They are totally mystified by this request and just stand there. The line comes to a complete halt.
Security Guard: “Ma’am, please remove your jacket and place it on the conveyor.”
Idiot Woman: “Why? It’s cold in here.”
Guard: “Please take off you jacket.”
Idiot: “Why do I have to do that? I don’t have to do that.”
Guard: “Everyone has to take off their jacket. So take off your jacket. Now. Please.”
Idiot: “Is there a manager I can talk to?”
Good gawd. This isn’t Denny’s where somebody screwed up your omelet. I’m praying that Jack Bauer will drop from the ceiling and take this woman out with a vengeance, aided by Chloe chattering in his blue-tooth earpiece.
And thusly it goes, with each person not paying any attention to what’s happening to the people in front of them, and then whining and moaning when it’s their turn to be screened. This goes on forever. I now understand why it takes so long to convict criminals of their crimes. It’s not the lawyers and the judges and the ineptitude of bureaucracy. It’s the morons in the jury pool who take six months just to get from the parking lot to the courtroom because they are as useless as week-old bacon grease.
When it’s my turn to step up, I immediately take everything out of my pockets and hurl the load into the tray, rip off my jacket and add it to the mess, and top it off with the Stephen King book that I’ve dragged along. I glance at the sheep behind me (“THIS is how it’s done, people!”) and then I prance through the screening gate.
The alarm goes off.
What the hell?
Guard: “Sir, please take off your belt and try again.”
I back up, having to gently shove the woman behind me out of the way because she’s talking on her cell phone and probably doesn’t even realize she’s in a line. (Good luck with her, Mr. Security Guard.) I whip off the belt and try to place it in the bin, but instead the guard takes the belt and just holds it.
What’s up with that? Is he planning to beat me with it for some unknown infraction? This unnerves me. I don’t like strangers being too familiar with my accessories. It’s just a thing with me.
I walk through the screening gate with less attitude, and this time there are no beeps. Hallelujah. I gather up my things, and then I glance at the guard who is still holding my belt. Can I have that now? He hands it over, but slightly delays in letting go when I grasp the leather. He then smirks in what he thinks is a sexy manner.
You’re kidding me. Am I being hit on by a security guard in the same place where Lee Harvey Oswald took a bullet? This is surreal. He finally lets go and I scurry away from the station as fast as I can.
Then I slow down when I realize that I don’t know where the hell to go. As mentioned, I’ve been called for jury duty many times. But it was always at another building across town. I’m familiar with that place. I know where all the bathrooms are and I know which water fountain doesn’t taste like warm sewage. Here, I’m at a loss.
At this place, there aren’t any helpful directional signs like at the other courthouse, where they had huge billboards with arrows pointing the newbies to their destination. I whip out my jury summons to see if I overlooked some helpful detail, like what the hell one should do if one makes it past Leather Boy at the Security Disco. Nope. Just the address of the building. This is clearly an unprofessional piece of correspondence.
Just then, a woman darts in front of me clutching the same type of summons. Maybe she knows where to go. Let’s follow her!
And so I do, which proves to be something of a challenge because she walks very quickly for an old woman with a bad rinse job. Girl can move. I’m soon out of breath as I clatter across the marble and try to keep up. She suddenly ratchets off to the right in an unforeseen maneuver. I almost lose her in the crowd, but then get another glimpse of her rinse as she starts to ascend a stairwell.
I lunge after her, nearly breaking my neck as I leap up the steps two at a time. Halfway up the stairs she slams to a halt, her shoulders stiffen, and she whirls around to glare right at me. Her face is not a kind one and her eyes are wild.
Oh boy. Have I done something wrong? Is this considered stalking? Is she now going to scream for authorities to place me under arrest? (If so, please don’t let it be the security guard from downstairs. Things could get awkward.)
Instead, this comes out of her mouth: “Do you know where the Ladies Room is?”
What? Where did she come up with that? Why is she asking a total stranger who obviously doesn’t work here? And why is she asking a man? Is my gayness now so apparent that people can sense it without even looking in my direction?
My startled response. “Um… no, I don’t know where the-”
Her eyes instantly speak of bitter disappointment about the mess I’ve made out of my life, then she turns back around and races up the stairs, quickly vanishing in the hordes of people swarming the hallways of the next level. Fine. I still don’t know where I’m going, but maybe bitter Jane Hathaway has inadvertently pointed me in the right direction.
I reach the second level, and my stalking efforts are rewarded by a tiny sign bearing the words “Jury Room” and a faded, miniscule arrow pointing to the right. Good deal. However, there is another wisp of a sign explaining that the bathrooms are to the left. I glance at my phone to ensure that I still have plenty of time, and then head left. All this excitement has triggered my bladder and I must attend to primal functions, which is what most men do when faced with adversity.
This turns out to be a nearly fatal decision on my part.
I crash through the ancient door of the toilette (this place is really old, without the vintage charm that normally makes my people swoon) and I’m nearly killed when the door bounces off the wall and comes swinging back at me with the intensity of Bill Clinton looking for an intern. I manage to leap out of the way as the heavy slab of metal slams shut, possibly forever. I haven’t even unzipped and I’m regretting this satanic comfort station.
At first, I think the place is deserted. There’s no one in sight. Then I hear a startling grunt and realize that we do, indeed, have company. Two of the stalls on the left have doors that appear to be closed and presumably locked. The noises coming from one of the stalls indicates that someone or something is in the process of childbirth. I don’t want to be near any of that action.
Then the smell hits me. It’s beyond unreal, beyond anything imaginable. Did they forget to bury Lee Harvey after the incident in the basement? But I still need to pee, so I head to the urinals on the right. I just want to relieve myself. I don’t want to be an impromptu midwife.
I walk to the last urinal on the wall. (It’s a guy thing. When given an option, you minimize social interaction in the restrooms whenever possible. Most people don’t like to converse in the midst of recycling, but there are a few chatty whizzers who don’t understand this and will talk about anything, breaking your concentration. Selecting a urinal with a wall to one side helps thin the herd of obnoxious people.)
Once in position, I make the necessary preparations, and then wait for nature to take its course. At my age, it takes a bit longer for the pump to be primed, if you will. When you’re 17 years old, you can instantly get things started at any opportunity, even if your saintly grandmother is in the next room. As the body ages, you reach a point where patience and pleading come into play. It’s not like things don’t work, it’s just not instantaneous, no matter how badly you need to go.
As I’m standing there, waiting for all parts of my body to receive the signal that this is, indeed, a certified launch, I hear something extraordinary from one of the occupied stalls behind me.
I have no idea what can possibly be hot, or who this anonymous person is talking to, or if I even understood what was being said. Something is just not right with this picture, and I’m done. I squeeze out a minor contribution (paying on installment, if you will), then quickly lock things away, slap at the flush lever, and race over to the sinks.
Where I make another unintentional move that jeopardizes my status in society.
See, this building might be old, but there’s some serious water pressure going on in this place. I barely nudge the faucet handle and suddenly gallons of liquid are pouring out with tremendous force, ricocheting out of the basin, drenching the front of my pants and possibly the surrounding counties. (Weatherman on the local newscast: “Hoo boy, how about that cloudburst we had this morning? Several cows have been reported missing.”)
I slam the faucet off within milliseconds, but it’s too late. The damage is done. I now look like I’ve wet myself, and not in a minimalist “bit of leakage in his dotage” manner, but more of an “Apollo 23 just splashed down in the Indian Ocean” way. Just minutes before I enter a room where lawyers will eventually be making assessments concerning my suitability as a juror in particular and a decent human being in general. (Attorney: “I don’t want the wet one. Please make the wet one go away.” Judge: “Sustained.”)
This can’t be happening. What have I done to deserve this? I didn’t try to get out of jury duty like so many people do. I showed up willing to do my part, and now I have a wet crotch. How is this fair?
I quickly grab some paper towels out of the crumbling dispenser on the wall and I begin pawing at the wet spots. Based on past experience (I have an alarming history of issues with public sinks), if you rub hard and fast enough, you can dry things out and normalcy might return. So I go at it like a Boy Scout trying to make fire, rubbing away like the Apocalypse is on the horizon and I better get all my merit badges, just in case. My hand is a blur and the sound of agitated cotton-polyester blend fills the air.
Then I hear the odd phrase from the closed stalls once again: “That’s hot.”
I’m out of here, wet crotch or not. I throw the shredded paper towels into the over-flowing trashcan (is there a budget issue in this place?), wash my hands again in the evil sink (“cleanliness” is an important word in the Boy Scout pledge), throw more paper towels in the groaning can, and then I race out the exit, giving myself a hernia as I shove the metal door out of my way. (Examining Physician, later: “Exactly what were you doing when this happened?” Me: “Saving my soul.” Physician: “Oh, that’s not covered on your insurance plan. Sorry.”)
I thunder across the lobby and sprint toward the jury room on the other side, not caring who gets hurt or how many people might be felled in the process. As I approach the mystical sanctuary where jurors live until called upon, I glance down and realize that little tufts of paper towel are peppered all over the front of my trousers, like my nether regions are producing aggressive dandruff that can punch through pleated business-casual. Oh my GOD.
I skid to a halt and begin whacking away at the demon crop of whiteness. In the midst of this Fallen Harvest, I feel a hand grip the elbow of my right arm. I pause in my efforts, and I follow the hand up to the woman now standing before me. It’s Jane Hathaway, and she’s still on her mission. “Do you know where the Ladies Room is?”
My mind short-circuits and I have no response, staring at her blankly. There is just too much happening at one time and my processor is overheated. I can’t take any more and I haven’t even officially reported for jury duty. I need a mental-health break, stat. (Physician: “Oh, that’s not covered, either. But would you like a flu shot?”)
Click here to read the next installment…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 03/17/10. Considerable changes made, not that it did anything to diminish the shame…
Categories: My Life