Alley, downtown Mpls

Jury Week, con't.

I might as well stand up during voir dire and shout “he damn well looks guilty to me!” and save everyone time, since I’m about as likely to get on a jury as PETA is likely to endorse a line of slaughterhouse implements called Krule-Kil Pig-Stickers. What is it? My vitae? My spouse’s profession as a lawyer? My tie? The little American flag I clutch in my hand? My Judge Judy mask? It has to be something. Let’s recount.

Day one. I have no idea what to expect; no one does. We all convene in the Jury Assembly room, a windowless tomb under the street in the Hennepin County Government Building. (The street runs under the building; we are under the street. The view above shows what's overhead my favorite chair.) We all sign in, which means a long queue of people in various moods from sullen to disengaged to temporarily-not-knitting-but-happy-to-know-that-knitting-will-soon-be-resumed. I am the last in line. I am joined by some other guy who comes in late. He’s one of those guys who’s always smiling in a manner his mother might find ingratiating, but grates on you at 8:47 AM – particularly since he is chatty. I do not want a camp buddy, so I am not all that responsive to his remarks.

“Are we supposed to bring something?” he says, noting how everyone gives the clerk a piece of paper.

“The summons,” I tell him. “It has a barcode on it.”

“I don’t have that.”

I don’t know what to tell him. Well, then you will be clapped in irons and sent to labor in the spice mines or Rura Pente. I shrug, and say “I’m sure it happens.” I’m more interested in the kiosks placed around the room: National Public Radio has placed four listening stations with multiple headphones; you can while away the hours hearing debates about the Cuban Embargo or Stem Cell Research. (We are later informed that if the kiosks are all in use, you can request a portable CD player and headphones. Because someone at NPR actually thought that all four kiosks could possibly be in use, something that probably happens with the frequency of the planets lining up in a straight line. By size. Alphabetically.)

I get beeped in, and take my seat. First, some words of instruction. The clerk has said them many times before. Not a wasted word. The PA system works intermittently, but no one complains, and we all get the idea. Basic point: we own your arses for the next two weeks. It’s that simple. You can check out for five minutes to use the head or the vending machines, but if the red card – the dreaded red card – goes up, the room is frozen, and Thou Shalt Not Bolt. When the red card goes up, they’re “pulling a panel,” and you must stay in your place to see if said panel contains your name. If it does, another world shall open up before ye; otherwise, you stay here. Your entertainment options consist of the book stack – which, so help me God, included a 1992 Macintosh Shareware guide complete with floppy disks sealed in a pouch on the back cover – or the puzzles rack, or the magazines, or the TV room. There’s a “business center” with phones and computers, which would make an adequate business center circa 1993 in a Cedar Rapids Holiday Inn. There are two computers but they are not connected to the Internet because some skeezer was viewing marmoset porn in full view of everyone else, and that was the end of that. There is no WiFi, but there are dial-up modems, if you want to download “Glider” from a Macintosh User Group.

Then we watch a video, in which a group of people carefully balanced for ethnic and demographic representation have a wonderful experience with the judicial system. Our instructions concluded, we are bade to wait.

I look around. I’m the only one wearing a tie, and one of a half-dozen who brought a book. It’s about painting of the Sistine Chapel, the the politics and culture of Pope Julius 2’s reign, Michelangelo’s interminable surliness, etc. Also the history of pigments. The book is insufficiently illustrated, and the pictures are tiny, and I have this twitchy need to jump up and hit the internet and call up post-restoration pictures NOW ! PLEASE! JUST ONE MINUTE ON LINE, I CAN’T TAKE IT!

We settle in. The guy who showed up late and didn’t have his barcode takes out a laptop, puts in a DVD and watches a TV show, laughing. Grinny McOblivious. And so it goes. At one point the Dreaded Red Card goes up: we are pulling a panel! And the panel, thus pulled, leaves the room, passing down a hall from which the gentle beeps of metal-detecting wands can be heard. Now we are 50. The TV monitor tells us not to put our feet up on chairs, advises us on the number of cases on the calendar today, reminds us to recycle. And there’s a “thought for the day”:

For some people, the train of thought never leave the station.

This bothers me so much I wander back to the office. At the risk of sounding like Ted Baxter, the head clerk Knows Who I Am; we went through this little dance when I deferred jury duty six months ago, when she gave me genial grief about my column. She’s cool, as the kids say. Or don’t. I explain how the Thought of the Day is wrong – should be “never leaves.” Corrections are made. I return to my chair. Note: the women who run the Jury Assembly Room are top-notch A-class public servants, smart and efficient and engaged. On day two I will make another correction to the TV monitor messages, and the head Assembler and Dreaded Red Card Wrangler thanked me. "For what?" I said. "Being a busybody anal-retentive control freak?" "Yes!" she said.

Gabba gabba hey! One of us! One of us!

The day ends at 4:30. I have not been called. See you tomorrow!

Day Two

Sit; wait. I am sitting in the same place I sat on Monday; it is now My Place. Others seem fluid in their choice of seats; others have staked out domains. A card game starts up at Grinny’s table; others drift off to the TV room for sedation. A retired fellow who looks destined to reluctantly assume the Foreman job eventually is discussing 1960s computer coding with a younger guy. Tape, punch cards, drums. One of those ancient unsung engineers, perhaps. Old school nerd. The fellow next to me tilts his head back and softly snores. It’s 10:15 AM.

DREADED RED CARD! This time I’m called. Well. A new experience. After a brusque wanding we queue in a back hallway, then take a freight elevator to the 18th floor. We file into a courtroom, and to my surprise I recognize the defense attorney. Don’t know him personally, but he has written pieces for local publications. It’s a civil case, and it promises to be brisk; I want to be on this jury. Please oh please, this will do it for the week. Voir Dire: the judge asks us all to describe ourselves and our professions, and it’s quite a mix. Lighting designer, Quest tech, divorced homemaker, former CUNY physics prof (the aforementioned computer guy, as it turns out) an unemployed mechanic, a retired fellow with dark glasses and a cane who gives his profession as “day laborer.” I give my profession as “writer,” but the attorney I recognized isn’t fooled; he notes that the Star-Tribune probably isn’t happy that I might be gone for a week (hah! As if) and hopes that I will not let my opinion of his columns influence his case. I smile broadly and say that it won’t, because of course it wouldn’t one way or the other. We recess. When called back, I am released.

There’s a stunner. Back downstairs. To wait. I am not called for the rest of the day.

I go home, make dinner, write a column, sleep.

Day Three

The DRC goes up as soon as we’re convened. I am called. Back upstairs. This time it’s a criminal case. A nasty one, too. We are given a questionnaire to complete, and it’s quite detailed – my favorite TV shows, main source of news (talk radio, newspapers, internet) and so forth. One question asks my opinion of the legal system in general.

“An adequate representation of the flaws and aspirations of its participants,” I write, and finding this unbearably twee, I add “It’s not perfect, but what is?”

When we are done with the questionnaires we are bade to sit in hallway and wait. One person is called in for additional questioning; apparently they like the cut of her jib, for she is added to the jury. This completes the jury for this trial. The rest of us are released. I return downstairs, a two-time loser.

Lunch. I have finished my book; I go to B&N, and buy a thin treatise on Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and the latest Tom Wolfe novel. For a while I listen to some talk radio, and it’s like a dispatch from an alternative universe where people are talking about, you know, stuff, instead of sitting like moldy potatoes in a basement waiting to be pitchforked into another bin.

After lunch two hours pass. I’m called again. Up the elevator. We sit in the hall for 30 minutes while lawyers spar beyond the door. I realize I am acquainted with the judge's spouse's brother. Sigh.

They had requested a jury, but betwixt the time when the jury was called and the jury arrived, something changed; perhaps the defendant realized that these dudes were serious about this. In any case, the clerk comes out after half an hour and dismisses us. I am 0 for 3. Meanwhile, Grinny and the old guy with the black glasses and cane are on juries. What’s wrong with me?

And now it’s evening. We have guests coming tomorrow, so I have a house to clean, lunches to make, tomorrow’s shirt to iron, and another column to write. I expect I will not have anything on Friday, so bear with me if you would. New Fence today; see you Monday, for WEEK TWO of this jiggery-pokery. Besides, if I get on a jury, it's radio silence about this whole procedure.

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