You can’t avoid the envelope. It has that unmistakable crimson ink branded on jaundiced yet official looking “Penalty by Law” speckled government surplus paper. The kind of sad paper they use in prison bathrooms.
Oh, joy! It’s your annual “Howdy Duty Time” invite from the Superior Court.
“Happy Birthday! Here is your Summons for Jury Service. May your work schedule, social life and special travel plans be disrupted for the foreseeable future. Any slacker who blows off this summons, pretends to be dead or fakes a highly contagious disease will be fined $1500 (Penal Code FU-505.)”
“You may postpone your service for up to 90 days, but then we’ll really nail you on a long gruesome criminal case so why not just go ahead, march in step and eat the nasty frog? After all, jury ‘duty’ is a privilege, not a punishment from God or the government.”
They’ve got you licked… so you buck up like a good citizen, put your life on hold and head down to the courthouse on the assigned date. A jury summons is essentially a chain letter.
After an hour and a half commute in rush hour traffic, you play a twenty-five minute musical chairs game of “Find the last open parking spot and beat the other fifteen desperadoes to it.”
You don’t breathe as you suffer through a slow, sarcasm packed elevator ride in which the burly guy with gang tattoos plastered across his billboard-size head presses inappropriately close to you then wipes his nose on your freshly pressed linen jacket.
The jury room (termed “the pool”- short for cesspool?) is located in the bowels of the courthouse and is depressingly reminiscent of detention hall in your recurring nightmare of high school hell.
The prospective jurors (“detainees”) are not happy campers. Most feel as if they have just been arrested themselves. Mournful sighs and expressions of “I never thought I’d miss my (insert job, kids, unemployment) so much.” ripple through the bereaved bunch like a wave at a baseball game.
At some point (you’ve lost track of time) you’re sent to a courtroom hallway to wait – standing up – for a few more hours with a group of 12 x 3 angry men and women.
In the “Voir Dire” (French for “say something totally crazy and you get to go home,”) the judge will ask if anyone has any significant reason not to serve on a trial. This is a highly entertaining opportunity to see just how creative (and desperate) your fellow detainees are – and how friggin’ far they will go to be sprung from this joint.
A mousy woman peeps up, “I was arrested for an axe murder and it was a bad experience for me. I carry a buzz saw in my underpants.” (Bingo. Bye honey!)
“I hate all cops. They all lie. I wouldn’t believe any cop who told me anything, even if they just saved my twin babies from a burning car crash.” (Ding! You won the freezer. Adios, dude!)
“I hate all (insert the race, gender, religion, political party of your choice.) The #!#@!#s are all #!#@!# crooks and should all be executed. Let me flip the #!#@!# switch.” (Don’t let the door hit your walker on the way out, granny!)
“I hit and run for a hobby. Helps me vent my road rage. Got a texting teen on the way here.” (Hmm, were you charged with that? If not, you can serve.)
And so it drags on, a tedious game of twenty dumb bunny questions in excruciatingly slow motion. There is a note taped to the jury box facing our seats.
It says: “No gum chewing. No flip-flops. No alcoholic beverages allowed. DO NOT SLEEP!”
As hours and days drag by at a sadistic pace, you may bond inappropriately with total strangers who have been similarly randomly targeted. Affairs are not uncommon as there are more long bathroom and lunch breaks than any preschooler could imagine.
Call it Stockholm Syndrome, but you may find yourself falling madly for the handsome judge who looks so sharp in those slimming black robes. Nobody apologizes incessantly for delays the way “Hugh” does.
Then, for no seemingly rational reason at all, it ends abruptly. You are excused. Free to go. Justice has been served. Ode to Joy! Never will you see mentally stable, cold sober folks act so ebullient in public. You’d think they just won fifty grand and a red Corvette on a game show. “Yippee! I’m free! Now I can make my root canal appointment!”
Don’t be surprised if one pathetic soul actually falls to her knees and kisses the filthy, fetid gray linoleum floor – or is it carpet? Who would do that? (It wasn’t too bad – I found some chewing gum.)
“Free at Last! Thank God Almighty I’m free at last!” Yup… until next year, that is.
I Feel Your Pain by Barb Best is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License