Friday, March 31, 2006

waiting-for-judgment day

"You'll be out by noon," Kayla said, "12:30 at the latest."

By 3:00 my eyes are bleary from reading without glasses (which I left on my desk, where they belong, right?), my earbuds and the contents of my iPod are irritating my head, my hand has cramped into a useless claw from scribbling this post in a notebook, and I have done all the napping one can do in a jury lounge chair. People-watching ceased to be entertaining hours ago; now the District citizens seated around me, dozens of rows in front and in back, are simply getting on my nerves.

To my right, a plump woman in leopard silk pours half a bag of peanut M&Ms into her right fist, where she hides the candies, transfers them one by one to her other hand and slides them deftly into her mouth -- like a student sneaking contraband snackfood every time the teacher turns around. Only nobody's watching, and no one cares.

An elderly man shuffles around and tips backward into the seat in front of me, landing with a quiet groan. He's clean-cut and dressed in a tailored brown herringbone blazer, but he smells terrible. Crossword Guy next to me sniffs the air, looks at me as if to say, 'You smell it too, right?' and mutters out of the corner of his mouth, "I think I can identify the source..." We grin at one another. He's nice-looking, young, shoes too Euro and polished to belong to a straight man. I make a mental note for the next time I'm called to this day-long purgatory: Fire up the gaydar and plant yourself next to a well-dressed homosexual. A bit of queer snark is a fantastic pick-me-up in the mid-afternoon slump, or at any time of day. The old stinker is hunched over a paperback novel, his poor posture a reminder to check my own; I instinctively sit up straight and tall in my chair. Crossword does the same. With a silent sideward glance, we are bonded in that moment by our common vanity, and an old man's B.O.

Another row forward is a thirtysomething man built like a small mountain; from the base of his small, shaved skull he widens steadily at about 45 degrees right down to his seat, over which he spills onto the next chair. The young woman next to him seems not to notice that someone else's ass is occupying half her seat; she's busy examining the sparkler at the center of her engagement ring, a diamond roughly the same size and shape as one of her enormous front teeth. I wonder what talents one might be able to hone with choppers like those. Rip the tags off new clothes? Consume a lobster unaided by tools? Open beer? That would explain the Hope Diamond on her hand; a girl who can pop the top off a brewsky isn't likely to stay single for long.

Since I arrived this morning and probably for some time before, each of the room's six TVs has been tuned to a snowy channel that plays a ghost of "The People's Court" on screen and an unrelenting stream of grating static through the speakers. Eventually -- at 11:55 a.m. -- one of the jury handlers darts in and starts a DVD. Twelve minutes later we're released for lunch, returning just in time to catch the final (now completely out of context) scene of "A Beautiful Mind," followed by the DVD menu (Watch Director's Commentary; Watch Producer's Commentary; Watch Russell Crowe's Mother's Commentary). It's accompanied by a short musical theme that is charming for no more than 120 seconds. After 15 minutes of that accursed sound I turn to Crossword Guy and announce that I'm going to kill myself now. He asks if he can have my iPod. I giggle; a bitch after my own heart.

I imagine jury duty is a lot like being an animal in a shelter: We're penned in, supervised more to ensure our presence than our well-being, never mistreated but far from free. Once in a while someone wearing a bored expression and a jangling keyring wanders in to pluck a few poor souls from the cage and refresh the "entertainment," but just as quickly he is gone, the rest of us left behind without a thought. No one notices that the litter box is full; the water dish is empty; the same infernal strings-and-voices melody is wafting from the TV speakers over and over and over again -- three bars of music strung together in a hideous, mocking loop, repeating for all eternity or until someone sits on the remote control and inadvertently releases us from our pain.

By 3:00 I am still in the lounge waiting, and not once have they called my name. I pace the hallway for a while. Make a couple phone calls. Kick myself for leaving my computer at home. Stupid girl! The courthouse halls are quiet but never empty. Lotta suits here. Everyone seems to be playing a role -- The Law, in uniform or suit; and The Citizens, in all manner of casual dress. It takes me back to my days with S, when I was a category unto myself -- 'Prosecutor's Girlfriend' -- and enjoyed privileged access I probably shouldn't detail here because most of it surely wasn't kosher. I will say that I've been on the inside of a murder trial, seen the crime scene photos, heard 911 recordings, watched grown men weep on the stand, confessing that they're still unable to sleep six months after they witnessed the bloody scene that changed the way they see the world. Few people in this jurors' lounge understand, truly, why they're here. The gravity of the role they could play. The responsibility to judge. The power to give freedom or take it away. The pressure to be sure, and to be right. I comprehend the weight; I'd be scared but proud. Right now, I'm ready to go home.

Around 4:00, after languishing in the courthouse for the duration of an absolutely stunning, cloudless day, we're released back into the wild with a cheer (and a few balled-up papers chucked at the televisions). It's too late to hit the office but early enough to Metro to Tenleytown and stroll the long way home, enjoying the sunshine, and an ice cream cone, and sweet freedom.

19 comments:

I-66 said...

It's always so pleasant when it's over, isn't it? I hope my dealings with the court system today are brief and painless.

East-West Girl said...

Its nice to hear that you actually get how important and serious jury duty is. Not that I love it, but I don't think enough people really get what it's all about. I mean, if I were in court for something, I'd certainly hope that I didn't have a jury full of people who cared more about being home in time for the early re-run of the Daily Show than the welfare of the victim/accused, actually achieving justice, etc.

Anyhow, next time, I highly recommend the quiet reading room in the back. No tvs there! Glad the day wasn't toooo painful :)

Janet said...

But... what happened with the guy with the fancy Euro shoes? Every girl needs at least two gay friends... it gives us fashion courage. Don't tell me he got away!

Oh yes: I feel for you. And ice cream always makes everything better.

Anonymous said...

As ever, I kvell with pride at your writing prowess.

Loved this one. Wish I had been there for the ice cream and the snark.

Reya Mellicker said...

Jury duty, Always Write style??

Thank you!

Kayla said...

well, if you hadn't abruptly hung up the phone, you might have gotten more play by play on Jury Duty. ;) Hope you liked your $4 government check!

On a lighter note, you had to be there at 10/10:30 and you were out by 4:00. Shorter than a day of work... and it gave you blog material.

Shannon said...

There's a special padded room for those who aren't able to endure the unending boredom. I've heard they never return. Glad you made it out!

Dennis! said...

I got called to jury duty for the beginning of May. I am, strangely enough, looking forward to it, and hope I get onto a jury. But yeah, I hope to come away from it with some cool blog entries. :)

PS: I also intend to turn on my gaydar when I get there, so that I can sit next to the one I find and flirt.

Washington Cube said...

It would seem a lot of bloggers have been called to jury duty lately. Interesting.

Phil said...

Great post - I had to endure jury duty about a year ago.

I was fascinated (in a sense) by the people who refused to bring any sort of reading material, or 'time-passing' activities at all. Because, unless you wanted to peruse throught the 1989 Golf Digest magazines they had, you had nothing.

There was also a woman 8 1/2 months pregnant who was there the entire day. Her exemption was coming up right after her baby was to be born, so she decided to get it over with, but Lord was she miserable.

Berry-licious said...

feeling left out. i've never been called for jury duty. lately it seems to be the "in" thing to do

El Guapo in DC said...

Did you bring pupusas for lunch?

East-West Girl said...

someone on NPR reporting on Tom Delay's latest antics was on Jury Duty in DC but was reporting on the story from the hall. How funny is that timing?! Thought of you first thing!

East-West Girl said...

the story was this morning (tue), that is.

smallpricklyfruit said...

New post soon? Monday maybe?

Anonymous said...

we miss you! where'd you go? everything okay?

always write said...

I'm working through something, my sweeties. I'm sorry to be absent. Coming back real soon, I promise. I miss you too.

Sweet said...

'The People's Court' while on jury duty? Priceless. Thanks for providing a sense of what it's like for those of us who haven't experienced it yet.

doc-t said...

being a vegeholic woudln't be such a bad thing. Vegetables are a good vice. I suspect.

You sound like my friend Diana. Who CLAIMS to be 5'4" and over 100 pounds... She SCARFS!!!! I'm not small. I'm a 6'2" 2%# pounds... I can eat... too much... but i could NEVER keep up with diana when it comes to fruits or vegetables.

She is in excellent shape as far as I can tell. You and she must be a special breed of human kind...

if you're healthy and you want to scar veggies then I say scarf! Scarf like there was no tomorrow...

food should be enjoyed... scarf and smile...