Note: This is an ongoing story concerning my experience as a potential juror. You can find the beginning of the story here…
Jane Hathaway suddenly makes a squeak of discovery, releases my horrified arm, and races off to the comfort station that she has just spotted down the hall. I’m left standing there like Jethro, rope belt and all, trying to save what’s left of my dignity. Apparently, I fail to fully grasp what “dignity” really means, and I waddle into the Jury Room while pawing at my crotch, trying to whisk away the remaining tidbits of paper towel and the aura of failure. I’m a marvel of classiness.
Three steps into the room, and I realize that class is not part of the tableau greeting me. This place is a dump. My inappropriate fondling is the least of the tragedies taking place in the hell that I have just entered.
As mentioned previously, I’m used to serving jury duty at another building across town. They are very efficient over there. It’s a well-greased assembly line where they get the cattle moving through the chutes fairly quickly. Once you are processed and branded, you are then allowed to bide your time in a spacious waiting area with comfortable seats and lots of room to walk around when you get a little tired of sitting.
It’s a different world over here.
First off, there are no official representatives of the court system anywhere to be found. No one to tell me what to do or where to go. I’m on my own. And, judging by the confused looks of the people already in the holding area, none of us are sure that we’re even in the right place. This could be an STD clinic or a group-therapy meeting for sudoku addicts.
It’s an L-shaped room. You enter at the top of the L, and you immediately encounter a decaying folding table with a bin sitting on the end closest to the door. It’s right there when you walk in, bigger than Jesus, can’t miss it. (This becomes an important detail as the story progresses, so scribble an entry in your Nancy Drew Notebook.) Taped to the bin is a little sign which states “Place your Jury Summons here.”
Okay, that’s pretty clear. I get out my somewhat-wrinkled summons and gently lay it on the small stack. A very small stack. I glance back at the current occupants who are loosely gathered at the other end of the room, and something is off. There are way more people over there than there are jury summons over here.
What’s going on? Why doesn’t everybody in this room have a summons? Naturally, because I have issues, my neurotic mind that over-analyzes everything starts to wonder, ticking through everything that could possibly be wrong. It’s already obvious, due to the crappy condition of the room, that the operational budget is tight in this building. Are they possibly keeping the jurors and the defendants in the same holding area? Am I safe in here? Are there evil-doers lurking among us, intent on dark malfeasance and the brisk silencing of anyone who might have a hand in their future incarceration?
Someone clears their throat directly behind me. Oh my God, it might be a sociopath of some kind, ready to put a cap in my ass because I know what he did last summer behind Uncle Bucky’s Rib Shack! I gulp and turn around to face my executioner, ready to plead for my life and swear that I will sell my body on the streets and give all the profits to him, minus a small cut for a good moisturizer, because life on the streets is harsh on the skin.
And I find that I am facing a tiny, bird-like woman who is most likely a librarian that owns 47 cats and has never seen an R-rated movie. She smiles at me primly, just wanting me to move ahead a scootch so she can place her summons in the box like the little sign says.
I make a mental note that it’s probably time for me to start taking the anxiety pills again. Apparently that one doctor wasn’t lying when he said that I would need them forever.
I smile back at Sister Christian, make a gesture to indicate that I’m so sorry I’ve kept her waiting and possibly delayed her eventual return to the Little House on the Prairie, and then turn back around. But not, I might add, before noticing that her chaste eyes briefly dart downward to observe my soaked and confetti-covered crotch.
There’s no escaping it. I’m going to be defined by my wetness for the rest of the day.
I trudge forward to the part of the room where I’m supposed to sit and await my fate. I’m not pleased to see that the comfy chairs from the fancy courthouse across town are nowhere to be found in this discount judicial setting. Instead, we have these rickety red folding chairs jammed together in rows. Granted, they have cushions, but they are so stained and nasty that anything could be living in them, considering the humidity in this town. I’d have preferred plain metal. The bacteria die more easily on a non-porous surface.
I stagger past the first several rows, my journey made more difficult by seat occupants who apparently don’t have the strength to move their lazy legs out of the tiny aisle. It’s still early enough that most of the back rows are empty, so I hoof it down one of them and stake a claim as far from my fellow humans as I possibly can.
Once ensconced, on a seat that only has minimal stains that don’t look blood-like, I open my Stephen King book and try to give the appearance that I am so focused on Stevie’s latest literary effort that any attempt at conversation with me will prove pointless. I don’t want to talk to you. Don’t even try. Besides, I’m still wet in the nethers. I need people to stay away so the air can circulate and dry me out.
People continue to slowly trickle in, and those of us who arrived in plenty of time have to gradually cede real estate to the late-comers. I don’t think this is fair. There should be a special section for the stragglers. Let the competent people remain masters of their domain. Still, I manage to keep two empty seats on both sides of me. (Might have something to do with the look of horror I gave anyone who paused at the entrance to my row.)
Finally, the cut-off time arrives, and we have our first appearance of someone who possibly might have some actual authority in this place. A woman with a clipboard marches into the room and assumes a position in front of the imminent-death folding chairs where people are packed in like sardines. (I’m one of the few hold-outs, desperately doing the splits across five chairs in a pathetic attempt hang on to my kingdom. I’m not young anymore, and it hurts, but I tough it out.)
Clipboard Woman wants to make one thing very clear. “We are NOT associated with Dallas County in any way!” Then her hate-filled eyes scan the room, daring anyone to have a problem with this.
A ripple goes through the crowd. What is that all about? Why is she saying this? How does this affect us? Do we still get a lunch?
As the gossipy buzz circles the room, my eyes drop down and I notice for the first time that all of the crappy red chairs in here have “Dallas County Convention Center” stamped on the back of them. Clearly, there’s some kind of incest going on, because you wouldn’t have these chairs if it wasn’t for Dallas County. But I’m sure as hell not going to point that out.
“Secondly,” barks Clipboard Woman, “if you haven’t put your jury summons in the bin on this table over here, you need to do that right now.” Not surprisingly, a third of the room stands up and shuffles toward the battered folding table, in what I would call a march of shame and stupidity, although they would probably call it “just walking”. (How could you NOT see the sign on the table? It’s the only sign in the room. Okay, there are two signs, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
Then Clipboard Lady has some final housekeeping notes. There’s a TV over there that you can turn on if you wish. (My inner voice: I will cut you if you do.) The bathrooms are out the door and to the right. (Watch out for that sink. And the perverts in the stalls. If you hear the phrase “That’s Hot!”, run for your life.) There are magazines in this bookshelf that you can read. (Um, one of those magazines has a cover story that Jimmy Carter has just been elected president. Little Amy looks cute in the photo-op, though, with her freckles and bushy hair.)
And there’s more. If you need to smoke, then you have to go outside and then come back through Security. (Do you really expect people to come back if they do that?) There are NO vending machines in this building. (Was there an incident?) If you need some privacy, you can go into this little room over here and close the door. (I turn and glare at the woman behind me who has been on her cell phone since she walked through the door. She just looks at me blankly. Cleary, she has not seen the only other sign in this room, which states “Cell Phone Use is Prohibited During Orientation.” This is orientation, you backwoods wretch.)
Clipboard Hag ends with a final pronouncement. “The judge will be in shortly to speak with you.” Then she turns and marches off to attend another seminar wherein she can learn advanced techniques in how to use her personal bitterness as a means of career advancement.
Two seconds later, a police officer steps up to address the crowd. At least I assume he’s a police officer. He has a shiny badge of some kind, and that sure looks like a gun holstered on his hip. Either that, or it’s a really-aggressive cell phone.
“The judge will be in shortly to speak with you,” he mutters, then he wanders off as well.
What’s up with the repetition? I think we got it the first time. Then I glance over at the still significant line of people who are trying to put their jury summons in the box that they blithely wandered past the first time around. Okay, I get it. You have to repeat things around here or the world will go up in flames.
Fine. I open my Stephen King book once again and try to get through another chapter, one in which, presumably, a beloved minor character is killed off, because that’s just how he writes. Out of the corner of my eye I see someone attempting to take one of the chairs in my domain and I quickly bare my teeth. The startled woman gasps and then scurries other way, crossing herself.
Endless decades later, the judge finally enters the room.
She looks like the sister of the cat-woman librarian from my earlier brief encounter. There’s not a single cell in her entire body that appears to be the least bit intimidating. This room is going to chew her up and spit her out. Then go back for seconds.
Judge Puny smiles timidly, adjusts her glasses that she’s been wearing since the seventh grade when she was elected secretary of the science club by a slim margin, and then explains that she is here to make sure that we are all qualified to serve as jurors.
Hmm. Well, if you need to do that, I suppose it’s okay. But that jury summons thing had little boxes for you to check in case you weren’t qualified or required to serve. Can’t you just look at those pieces of paper?
Science Club Gal opens the bartering floor. Anybody have a child that they need to care for instead of doing their civic duty, despite the month-long heads up you’ve been given? Well, yes, we have two claimants. One is a relative youngster who gives the impression that she doesn’t have a sense of identity unless she’s pregnant. The other is a sixty-year-old woman who obviously hasn’t given birth since the Jimmy Carter magazine was placed in the jury library. The judge lets both of them go.
Next, is anybody blind? We have an older gentleman on the right who has “the diabetes” and sometimes he can’t see. (Well, he found his way here, doesn’t that make him qualified?) I guess not. He joins the growing exodus.
Then the judge stupidly throws it open for any excuses. There’s a guy on the front row who complains that he “has the sniffles”. Seriously, that’s his out, he’s just a bit drippy. And the judge lets him go. Are you kidding me?
But none of that mess compares with what happens next.
As the crowd starts to get excited about the apparent fact that this judge will let you go home for any reason, there’s a commotion in the back of the room and a woman leaps to her feet in a frenzy of revelation.
“I have an arrest warrant out on me!”
All conversation in the room screeches to a halt, as heads swivel in the direction of the amazing individual that would actually march into a damn courthouse when she’s wanted by the law. Even the people on the theoretically-banned cell phones decide this might be fun and quickly hang up. (“Girl, I’ll call you back.”)
The judge’s face pales. The nearby police officer looks startled as he realizes that he might be called upon to do something for the first time in his career. Folks shift in their seats so they can better see how this is going to play out. What has she done? Who did she kill? Will they tackle her? Are we going to be on the news? Where did she get that cute pair of jeans?
Judge Puny begins her impromptu analysis. “Was this warrant issued in Dallas County?” (What, so she’d be aces if the warrant was issued in Kumquat Kounty, Oklahoma? Is this what they mean when they say justice is blind?)
Woman: “Oh. Well, I don’t know. I didn’t really read it all.” (Honey, really? Somebody wants to lock your ass up and you can’t be bothered to finish the official invitation?)
Judge Puny: “Was the warrant for a felony or a misdemeanor?” (Again, why are we making a distinction. Klueless Kathy has apparently done something that somebody didn’t appreciate, which means she shouldn’t be on the review panel for others who might also have done something they shouldn’t have. I’m not a lawyer, but I did take basic math.)
Woman: “I don’t know what that question means. But I didn’t do it. It was my sister.”
I quietly set my book on the floor and discreetly nudge the volume under my chair. I love me some Stephen King, but the dude ain’t got nothin on this. We just twisted off into a whole other realm of reality….
Click here to read the next installment…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 03/18/10. Considerable changes made in an effort to reduce my writerly malfeasance from a felony to a mere misdemeanor. Not that Kathy would know the difference…
Categories: My Life