Jury Duty

a work in progress

Day One
I seldom come downtown where the government buildings are, especially so early in the day. Squirrels jump about bushes. A church with its motto written in Latin on the frontispiece, “Beati Qvi Ambvalant In Lege Domini.” That is, “Blessed are those who walk in God's law.” Thank you very much. We speak English here. Buildings with a date in Latin figures, MCMXXXIII, which is 1933, another one MCMXXXVII which is1937, and so on… Cumbersome to the skies. A court house with another motto: “The pillar of true justice is…” something, something…
A car coming out from between big buildings. A guard in a booth presses a button, the metal shield lowers over a track or wires, diagonals of warning yellow, and the car slides out, having the green light, while I stop.
Two young guys and a woman sandwiched between them under a sleazy sleeping bag. The guard takes aside police fences with Property of U.S. Government written on them, and shushes passersby smiling as to not wake up the young ones in the sleeping bag.
A cake eaten by birds lies on a staircase edge.
A food truck made of shiny steel sheet.
Huge buildings, only later on when I went on the 11th floor I could see the elaborate decorations, with turrets, otherwise in the street you don't notice them, your gaze hits just immense marble walls.
I find my building. Inside the entrance hall is a 9/11 mural.
Just one man ahead of me in the security line. More fences bar the hallway to the elevators. I ask a guard if the court is still closed, he looks at my jury duty summons, says I should go to the 11th floor. Okay. When I get off the elevator and walk towards my courtroom, a bathroom door stays open blocked by a door stop. I enter. There’s blue water in the loo. It matters because a British sitcom dame said it's vulgar to have blue water in the loo, exactly when for the first time ever I put a blue water container in the toilet reservoir this month, only to find it’s not cool. I grew up reading British novelists, imagining how nobility lives. Eating Golden Delicious apples and reading novels. And now I don’t measure up. Toilet blue water.
I am so very pale in the mirror. Small, black straw hat, black leather jacket, purple scarf, purple camisole, purple velvet trousers, black suede boots.
Out of the bathroom. I turn the corner only to find 5 jurors already sitting on the wooden benches. ‘Oh,’ I laugh, ‘I thought I’d be all alone here.’ It's only 8:15, I wanted to make sure I’m not late, but others beat me to it. Two Czechs, an elderly mother and daughter, a black guy with white sneakers . Another aging woman with dyed hair in what I call menopausal red. Another colored gentleman, elderly, with white hair. Maybe I was chosen as juror of peers for some senior citizen trial? Some retiree who killed his wife?! An immigrant Eastern European wife? The Czechs whisper in Polish, definitely Polish, Pshe… pshe… nakopane… Polish.
Let's see if there's free WiFi. There is.
More jurors trickle in. All arrive carrying their tubs of coffee.
Another girl, also red hair, but with a better hair cut, she resembles Yoko Ono with her round eyeglasses, her jeans rolled up above her ankles in heavy boots. Three younger women with long straight hair, one reads on Kindle. Next to me an elderly gentleman reads a book.
Heavy heels gun-machine on the deserted corridor, ratatatata, ratatatata, a powdered woman trots by us, and as she trots away her noise fades out, and fades in as she comes back walking by us again.
More people arrive. They try to open the locked room door, since it’s 8:53 now. A variety of jurors. One young guy sort of a Bob Dylan, tight stretch pans with lowered butt, pointed leather shoes. More iPads, more iPhones, the ratatatata high heels has a pink one.
‘Good morning folks,’ says a clerk opening the door. Also hair of menopausal red, but the roots are white. ‘Won't you come in and have a seat.’ On a TV we’re shown a video about jury duty rules, presented by Diane Sawyer. By the end she says, ‘Come support democracy! Tell your friends and family to participate in it.’
More or less she says a trial has a dramatic structure, with conflict and resolution, and a show down.
In the past they had what they called trial by ordeal. They made a wound in your body and if the wound healed, you were not guilty, if it didn’t, you were condemned. Or made you stick your hand in boiling water, or boiling oil, and take a stone out of the boiling pot. Or during the witch-hunting age, they tied you up and threw you into the water. If you sank, you were innocent, if you floated you were guilty of witchcraft. Well, some odd justice. Then this divine justice, trial by ordeal, was replaced by human justice, in which the verdict was made by a judge. But when it came out judges were often corrupt, we switched to jury of your peer trials.
She’d ask us from the video, ‘If you’d be on trial wouldn’t you like to be judged by an impartial jury of peers rather than only by one person?’
After the video ended various people lined up to the desk and asked the clerks questions and got their answers, such as, ‘Bronx is not in Manhattan. Only if you live in Manhattan you can serve in Manhattan.’ ‘You must be a U.S. citizen to serve.’ ‘You must not have a felony conviction.’ Busy mothers with toddlers in tow, full-time students, citizens with problems with English, ‘Go to 60 Center Street.’
Then the cattle call started, ‘If your name starts with A-D, come on up!’
A laughing, bottle-blonde clerk, threw at each of us approaching the desk a cheerful, ‘Good morning!’
They don't even check your ID. ‘Thank you so much. Gooooood moooooooorning!’ she said 50 times, neighing like a horse. Too much coffee probably. She had long lime-green fingernails. ‘Names E-K, come on up, please!’
They cheered us up with more announcements, ‘Use the soft drink machines at your own risk. We won’t come and shake them for you.’ and ‘The TV set was very popular so of course they took it away and they put a computer like screen, showing only the news. Please don't try to change the channel because this is the only one, and we'll have to come to reset it.’
‘Being a juror is an exercise in patience.’
646 was my allotted potential-juror number.
Then I waited and waited. I struggled not to doze off.
I went on the internet and browsed about. Interesting tidbits from links in my Twitter:
Honey is nothing more than dehydrated bee vomit. Bees dry it by flapping their wings.
There’s a tiny animal that can survive in such extreme environments that it could stay alive in space. They’re called tardigrades, but are more commonly known as moss piglets or waterbears. They can survive temperatures close to absolute zero and as high as 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
They can endure over 1,000 times more radiation than other animals and go over a decade without water.
These creatures are so amazing that recent studies have found that even when sent into the vacuum of space they returned alive!
The platypus doesn't breastfeed. It doesn't have nipples. Milk is secreted through pores and scraped by the babies.
Mark Twain
When angry, count to four; when very angry, swear.
RT @Obama2012: “We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. I will not accept an energy strategy that traps us in the past.”—President Obama speaking in Ohio today.
Urine can be more sterile than water from the kitchen faucet. If you're healthy, pee only gets contaminated when it touches your skin.
There are approximately 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bacteria in the world.
At 11:20 a policeman came and the happy lady asked us to shut down our electronic devices and so we did. Then she proceeded to read names from a lottery tumbler. People said, ‘Yeah!’ or ‘Yes!’, got up, and they all left the room with the officer who took a batch of cardboard cards with the potential jurors’ names and info.
Now I’m back on the internet. Fighting not to fall asleep.
I delete old emails by the hundreds, catching up with my work while I get paid $40 a day to wait to be a juror. Weird.
From my seat I can see inside the clerks’ office. A shabby bouquet of paper flowers made of dahlias, wheat whiskers, red roses. I look at the American flag in front of me. On the clerk’s counter a box with an inscription, ‘Tell us what do you think about jury duty. We want to know.’
A shelf on wheels carries ledgers tied in brown leather or plastic, there's no money for leather, my friend. Gold lettering on their spines.
The red-menopause, white-root hair announces, ‘21 is coming now.’ I guess 21 is another court room.
She reads gleeful the names of all those that are still seated on the cushiony seats in the hall. We head to the elevator and go to the 9th floor.
‘Is there time for me to go to the toilet?’ I ask a guy in a polo shirt walking in sync with me. ‘Sure, look!’ he points to a ladies’ room sign on the right hand. ‘No, I’d rather stick with the group; she didn’t say which room we go on the 9th floor. I can hold it until the 9th floor, they have bathroom there too, don't they?’
They did. Then I joined the rest of our group seated on more uncomfortable wooden benches. Again waiting.
God, I have to sleep. My bones, my flesh aches. I fist-clench onto these memories, so I don't forget them by the time I’ll wake up.
We entered the court room guided by the court officer in an impeccable white shirt. He had various tresses, green and red, topped by a 9/11 inscription.
‘It’s the easiest case ever,’ he clued us in mumbling. ‘They don’t get easier than this. Gents take your hats off.’ I asked him, fearful of being called upon and embarrassed in front of everybody, ‘Should I take mine off?’ ‘No,’ he smiled gently.
The judge seemed to have a good time. We sat down on wooden benches again and then a raffle was conducted again. 14 people were called and they sat in the jurors’ box.
The judge was benevolent, though he could have spoken louder. He apologized for the acoustics of the hall being rotten.
On the wooden paneled wall above the judge was written in brass letters In God We Trust. That made me distrustful. Made me think about criminals, especially rich people who can get away with it if they have a clever lawyer. It made me think about false humility.
It was so interesting, though a woman next to me was reading a book and others seemed bored. I was riveted by how those 14 potential jurors sat in the jurors’ box and had to talk about their lives in front of everybody.
My mother warned me it can be dangerous. The felon might etch in his memory who was on the jury. I watched once a TV story on a crime show how the defendant killed all jurors 10 years later. No, it was more complicated, not the defendant, the defendant was innocent, the real murderer killed the jurors because he realized one of them had seen a finger, or the whole cadaver, in a freezer. Now the corpse was buried under a porch they’d built to hide it under, and so jurors were dying one by one.
But my mother is afraid of anything. Still, we were to state our name, and where we lived. Not the exact address, just if it was Manhattan, Upper West Side, Lower East Side, Village. It was so exciting to see the juror candidates, and I thought of Mr. Khan of course, how he’ll never get to be a juror with the exciting people of Manhattan. They are the coolest, I think. They were of all ages, all social backgrounds, all sexes, all ethnic backgrounds, so astonishing. Mr. Khan’s Long Island seems uniform. Oh, I’m again judgmental.
The judge asked a blonde girl who grew up in Rochester, now working and living in the city with her fiancé, raising her toddler, he asked her to specify if she or he, meaning her fiancé, worked. I don’t know why they asked that. The girl said, ‘He, my fiancé.’
Question: a lawyer should tell me if I am to really, really tell my history to a judge when inquired. Is keeping silent committing perjury? The other potential jurors seemed to say everything. Muggings, burglaries, shop lifting, murders, child abuse. Am I to say it all? And does it matter if it happened in the old country or if it was here? And then if I do say it all, like at a confession, the ledger of wrongs done to me, the tally, then does that automatically disqualify me from being on a jury? I can’t be part of this experience of justice now because I’m tainted by my bad experience with the justice system, since unjust deeds were perpetrated on me and were never punished?
I don’t know, am I to take this really seriously?!
Because then I’m to say I was a victim of child abuse, not sexual abuse, just beatings. My father beat the crap out of me when I was late for curfew because I went to dance at disco and my mom incited him that I belonged to some religious cult and father was tipsy so he took the belt and beat me with the belt buckle to a bleeding pulp. Does that count? Then when I was 19 I was gang raped. Was police involved? No, no police. I was hidden away, in shame. Then when I was pregnant my husband went mad and in his psycho outburst beat me, boots in my belly, and my mother-in-law and father-in-law didn’t move a finger. No, no police was involved. Then here I was assaulted and robbed and harassed by a boyfriend. Was police involved? Oh, yeah. Order of protection. The system worked. Then my son was mugged twice, and beaten once. Was police involved? Yes, but they were not caught.
Am I to confess all this?
The others seemed to say it all, while going down the set of questions that was handed to us. One guy said he shoplifted when he was 15! A woman, so Botoxed and face lifted, it was hideous, said her husband was arraigned for a white-collar crime, something related to fishing. His trial was 2 years long. But she said she was sure none of that influenced her present judgment. How should one know for certain? Besides we all want to go home as soon as possible. She said she worked in the past as a clothing store manager, 50 stores, and now lived in two countries.
There were so many psychiatrists in the booth. One, a grandpa with long white hair, said his clients were narcotic addicts and he would be surprised if his clients had not been experiencing jail. Most of them had, he said.
They elected him to stay on the juror panel.
Imagine, after all that autobiographical storytelling, they told off half of them, and we started all over again with the raffle and more storytelling at 3:30. But at 4:30 we were excused because of budget cuts, said the judge. In the past they’d stay till 5, 5:30. Now 400 court employees were fired because they didn’t keep their expenses low. Also we all had to go on lunch break because it would be costly with so many officers not to. It sounded funny. This judge seemed a chatter box, as if we were in a Civics class. He said how in the past they had like a retainer juror pool, every second year whomever was on that list got called. His father who was a mailman prayed to be a juror. It was the only time he got to sleep late, and sit about all day long and get paid. Though I don’t know if the psychiatrist is happy about the pay. It’s just $40 a day. That would be nothing to him…
There were others curious looking folks.
A freelance designer who made a face without realizing, he pushed out his lower lip and curled its ends down. He had a mane of hair, a square jaw and eyeglasses. His face was ruddy.
How unaware he was of his grimace…
There was a lady with beautiful white hair dressed in a long, gray Confederate coat, with golden buttons and cape. She wore black stockings and black, old fashioned shoes. I thought she was eccentric, from the Tea Party I thought, but the sanitation worker with whom I ended up having lunch in Chinatown, we sort of a walked out of the building together, past the Tai Chi people park, some at tables were gambling, or playing chess, we wondered. We saw a noodle soup joint but it was crammed, then we walked more, an empty restaurant on a corner, too pricey, and then we found one with a lunch special menu in the window. The food was delicious, chicken and sweet peas and straw mushrooms and hot and sour soup for five bucks! He didn’t let me pay. I didn’t expect him to do that, but I wrote it off as one of the miracles of jury duty. Grand. In Chinatown. Sunny but cold outside. We were captive for hours inside the courthouse. There were many guys in suits on the benches around the large buildings. Oh, how I savored the experience.
The sanitation guy said he had been on jury duty three times before. He looked a bit like Robert De Niro, and the way he talked. He was modest. He wasn’t a garbage man, or maybe he was, he had a degree in PE, but said he didn’t like teaching, but his son who was a lawyer, preferred teaching English and History, at a high school.
On one jury duty he got sequestrated, put up in a hotel in Mid-Manhattan. They took the jurors with a van. The hotel was awful, he said. It was a murder case, a bum who never used money, his parents died when he was 9 years old and he ever since lived on the streets. He would eat from the garbage. He was foraging behind a supermarket and these two college white boys—he was black, the bum—high and boozed, taunted him. The man had a pocket knife to chop the rot out of his food, vegetables, so on, and in the scuffle his knife slid into one of the attackers. A man across the street came to testify, took a day off, and told the jury the bum never harmed any one. He was acquitted, but they had to hash it out the next day too, so they were put in a hotel over night.
Then he was on another case, with a drug dealer. He said, ‘There were very bad years before, very, very bad here in New York City. Drugs. So this guy was a drug dealer, he was young. And the problem was that there were several elderly black women on that jury and they pitied the boy. But see, they didn’t know how many and what other crimes he had committed because for each of his crimes he was on a different trial. For all they knew the drug dealer could have murdered six people and we were judging him just for possession. See, at that time the police would plant evidence. We didn’t know then, but it came out later. You see, the drug dealers would be like these Tai Chi folks, huddled in a group, and the policemen would be just two, and they couldn’t do anything to them. They knew the drug dealers were doing it but couldn’t prove it, so they planted evidence. And the old ladies pitied the drug dealer.’
Unbelievable! Well, our case we were told, and the prosecutor wanted to make sure we understood, I mean those in the juror box, that this was not like on TV. ‘There will be no drama, no eye witnesses.’ The guy on trial didn’t show up in court when he was supposed to. The judge said, ‘It will be a very simple case; the trial will be shorter than the preliminary procedures.’
Well, then, if they already knew the guy would be found guilty, then why did we go thru all this, making sure we were impartial? I took it for my miracle, a unique occasion for me to experience American justice, so soon after I became an American citizen. I’d be proud as a button if I get to serve on a jury. Unimaginable. Buoyant to be part of the justice process. To give an opinion in a public matter. I was never asked that before. I was never supposed to have an opinion. I hope they elect me. I was the only woman with a hat. The prosecutor was staring at me.
I don’t know, I really want to give a speech it seems, how, humble me, here I am experiencing democracy first hand. In my old country there was no justice. Crime went unpunished. I want to ask a lawyer, somebody, I don’t seem to have lawyer friends. I should check the neighborhood organizations. I don’ even know how to put into words what I want to ask: If under communism, the government was corrupt and I suffered because of this corruption, my life was put on hold because of their corrupt system for 8 years. They controlled the arts, and curtailed the seat numbers in the art departments at universities, so it was a lot of bribery, inside trading, how would you call it? I don’t know! The Ministry of Education cut the seats to 4 spots for an entire country, and even those were given to the inner circles of communist power, how would you call it? Political corruption? Political discrimination? Institutionalized corruption? Put a name to it… They never apologized, no restitution, nothing for the victims of those times. But how to put on trial a state, a government, an educational institution, its faculty?! So nothing was done after the fall of communism.
Would this be the right place to ask my questions?
Anyway, the schmuck on trial is an idiot. He didn’t come to court when he was scheduled. Duh. You’ll get arrested. Slam bang. He looks at us, with his dreads weaved into a bun. Thick eyeglasses. Acne marks. We are about 50 people tending to his ass to get a fair trial.
Unbelievable what waste of time and energy.
Anyway, among the interviewed potential jurors there was a computer guy. He said his sister’s baby was abused by her babysitter and he was disappointed, but not surprised, that nothing was done in the end. He was displeased with the entire court proceedings. He was sour. So they didn’t let him on the jury.
There was a Chinese lady, also a psychiatrist. She said she’s happily retired now. She worked for 40 years, it’s a long time, she said amused when the judge asked her to tell him where she had been employed. She had worked in so many places she couldn’t remember them all. She said softly she had never been chosen to be on a jury though. But this time they chose her, though she said her entire family had been submitted to crime: her husband mugged and robbed at gun point, her father, a knife in his cheek in his own building, but she had never experienced that herself.
Then another woman, she got burglarized several times. The judge asked her, ‘And you didn’t move?’ No, she didn’t. Also her son was arrested in a graffiti case, with stickers. They were in a group, but he ran and they caught him.
Whatever the jurors said, the judge and the stenographer would type into their machines.
There was a beautiful Chinese girl, her hair braided in a long ponytail. She was born in Jamaica Queens. Her parents had a laundry. She was a financial adviser or something, same like another young woman who was from Israel. There was a software guy from Ukraine. And a guy from Mexico City who worked with museums who asked me about my self-made leather bag, since he needed some leather for one of his machines. We got to talk while waiting on the bench outside the court room after the break. He was slim, dressed in black. He asked me if I was from Romania. How did he know?! There was this shopkeeper on 79th Street, he said, she was always happy to see him, and she taught him a few words in Romanian. He uttered them for me and I thought he was saying, ‘Lasă-mă în pace,’ which means, ‘Leave me alone.’ But we figured she couldn’t have said that to a client, she probably asked him, ‘How are you?’ which is, ‘Ce mai faci?’
By 3:30 many of us were talking to each other, not like in the morning, when they were quite pushing one another, almost like cattle, to get thru the door into the waiting room.
The Confederate woman—who was actually wearing her teacher uniform. She told me, when I complimented her on her looks and outfit, she was working at some military school—she was chatting with a red head who when she told her story to the judge—the first one in our second 14 potential juror batch in which I was included, proud to report! The judge asked how to pronounce my name, ‘Veres?’ ‘Yes, Veresh, Veres, doesn’t matter,’ I pranced towards the box, I put my leather coat and tablet bag behind me, then after I caught the prosecutor watching me intently, I made myself comfortable, placed the computer in my other bag resting on the floor. I wanted to make a stable person, a wise person impression, so they’d choose me.—The first woman, the red head was so very nervous, not paying attention to the questionnaire we had to answer line by line, or to the judge who had to repeat almost every question as she constantly stumbled and misunderstood him. A nervous wreck. From Ireland. ‘God knows what she’s been thru,’ I thought afterwards, but then in court I wasn’t pleased with her. I wanted to make a good impression. I am nervous at times too, but I am a solid citizen.
The judge was smiling as she fudged her answers.
He asked us at the begging how many of us were American by choice. I raised my hand, together with about a dozen of us. American by choice. Yes, by choice I am an American. Definitely. I don’t even feel like traveling anymore, I, who before was darting all over the map. An incredible transformation. I was thinking, ‘Why should I miss even a second from my life in Manhattan? What a waste of summer I had in Europe. What aggravation. My truth tossed onto un-listening ears. No, no, I will stay in my new life here, in my American life. Good bye nostalgia, good bye uncomfortable transcontinental flights, good bye old country of evil. Why this need for the approval or disapproval of the tribe? How I can contribute without giving up on who I am, being me? Authentic? I have to create a platform for myself from which I can be heard.’
I know, I know, there were good things, there were good things.
I printed last night a beautiful landscape from Transylvania, with a field with bushes in flower, soc, elder, I think. The grass was leaning in the wind, and there were lavender flower patches in that field. Then I printed a whiskery grain field, so delicate, and I said to myself, ‘Yes, it was lovely in my old country. Some was lovely. Well, wasn’t it? Still, you can find wheat fields here too. Find them here. Enough of back and forth, enough of not belonging deeply here.’
Anyway, have I finished the jurors’ stories? I guess I’ve covered them all.
Oh, there was a black woman, two of her nephews were murdered, drugs, gang related. Yes. Her father was murdered, assaulted, ‘Two guys and a female,’ she said. ‘I am sorry you’ve been thru these horrendous experiences,’ said the judge.
Horrendous experiences.
No one till now put a sympathetic name on my own experiences.
The woman seemed to take it in stride. We can be blank slates.
Or maybe not.
And why should it sway us one way or the other if we’ve been thru horror, judge? We actually appreciate even more justice. Let me be a juror, please, pretty please.
Though I am dying to find out more, talk about it more, I am not to. He asked me not to watch TV, or read newspapers, or investigate, or go to the neighborhood where the crime was committed, or Google it, or talk about the case with fellow jurors in private.
Well, it’s kinda late for that, Sir, we already hashed things out over lunch! Why didn’t you tell us this first thing in the morning?!
I already stated my opinion: The guy is an idiot. How can you do such things? They are all idiots to engage in unlawful activities! Drug dealing, stupid fuck ups! Bragging they are the Man! Idiots. I’ll never associate with people who do illegal stuff. No, Siree, no.
We are not to be influenced. We are not to influence others. Well, the garbage man didn’t get selected to be a juror, and he didn’t comment back on my opinion about the schmuck, so I haven’t perjured. We are to bestow unbiased judgment on the shmuck. Can I do that? I guess. Perhaps. Maybe. I’ll do my best. No, Miss, yes or no? Please, Miss, don’t worry me. Yes or no?
Yes, Sir. Yes.
We were finally dismissed. You’re not allowed to talk to the lawyers involved in the case, just pass by them on the corridor, grunting and grumbling.
The elevator was filled with black suits and a young woman came chatting with one other suit, pulling a file box on wheels.
In the street correctional shuttles, vans, cars, buses filled with convicts.
Picking up convicts from court.
I came home. When I walked in my neighborhood I was struck by the congress woman Viverito’s sour smile, as I said hello to her passing by in the street. She doesn’t remember me, though we met at various community functions she was mighty cheerful. Politician. Turns on the charm only for crowds.
I drank a hot cup of milk and lit my faith candle and sat in my kitchen without turning on the NPR. The father in the Guardian TV series called the NPR journalists socialists and I thought, ‘Hmm, he is right. No more socialism for me.’ Sat in the silence of the kitchen sipping hot milk.
‘You came to America, to live a new life, well, live it now. Don’t run to another new place; don’t be caught in the old mode of struggling, waiting for your new life. You now have it, so live it.’
I crashed and slept till midnight.
It’s 3 a.m. now. I hope I can sleep again. No more hefty flashbacks. New life. Democracy. My democracy. New life. Strong. New life on the avenues of America. On the highways of America.
Stop at times by fields of grass. They are beautiful here too.
Day Two
There are mail trucks all around the block at the post office when I go to the subway stop entrance. No one getting up on the subway train so I can sit down. I read the paper: Bloomberg doesn't want to live in the Gracie Mansion. Hooded senators in solidarity with a guy accused unjustly due to racial profiling. Subway passengers fallen on the tracks. Not much news. A pilot went berserk.
In front of the Supreme Court tents and pipes and loads of people waiting around, a film crew. Many people looking up the stairs, waiting for what I don't know, to be open? Walkie-talkies, markers, colorful plastic vines to tie up things.
Back in court I am. Roll call. ‘Anastasia? Anastasia? She is not present.’ People reading the New York Times, solving puzzles, crosswords.
So sleepy again. A plump officer, ‘She's here.’ No more looking for the missing juror. ‘Aspasia is my name,’ the juror corrects her. Comes out she's half Greek but was born in Romania.
I said my piece, calm and smiling, when the judge asked my history with the justice system, ‘I had to get an order of protection for an ex-boyfriend.’ ‘Where was that?’ ‘In Brooklyn. He showed up at one of my shows and raised hell. Then my son was mugged twice.’ ‘Where and when?’ ‘In Brooklyn, 2006, and in East Harlem, 2008. Both reported, the police gave us a neighborhood tour in the police car in East Harlem, so that helped him a bit.’
My neighbor to my right, with hollow eyes, is an artist that does things in boxes, she said. The guy to my left was farting stinky ones. Even now, as I sit waiting for us to go back inside the court room, he let out a stinky one. Can't contain his farts, incontinent, when we grow old, pampers.
It's coming, it's coming, it's coming along soon, any time now.
He said he lived with his same-sex partner for 21 years now, why he said that I don't know, just to be heard he’s a proud gay man and he has rights. He's working in schools, or his partner works in school, they have no children. And farts stinky ones thru his loosened asshole.
How shall I survive his farts if they choose both me and him?
Well, the next one not memorable, then the Romanian girl.
She was late and when we were on the morning break she was ahead of me in the bathroom, and I entered her stall after her. A long hair was across the toilet seat and also she sprinkled droplets of pee on it. I guess she won't clean after herself, that’s how it was in Romania, dirty public toilets. Well, do I sound bitter or what? She is working towards a BA.
Then there was an actor between gigs, and a lawyer's wife chatting happily with the judge about the oncoming trip to Buffalo, I think, where they will speechify. Lawyers have their expenses reimbursed, the judges don't, he pointed out.
Well, out of 14 only 7 stayed, and I was the 10th juror. Proud as a button.
The judge instructed us again to be unbiased as promised, then told us what's gonna happen and it happened exactly like he told us. The prosecutor went on clarifying that this is a criminal case as opposed to civil.
I vaguely understand what's the difference.
But I forgot to tell you about me, what got me elected. I think my likability. I told the judge I lived in East Harlem, and I was a writer. ‘What kind of writer?’ he asked. ‘The Bomb Literary Magazine kind. I specialize in interviews with writers and film directors, such...’ He went on asking what other writing. ‘Theater, fiction.’ And what kind of theater? ‘Funny stories, since being from Transylvania, Romania people can't have enough of vampire stories, and I tend to please.’ Then came the education, ‘MA in American Studies, MFA in Creative Writing.’ ‘Both in America?’ ‘No, first from Budapest University, that's in Hungary, and second from Louisiana State University.’
So far so good.
Was I in the Armed Forces? ‘Obviously not.’ Do the adults in my family work? ‘Well, my son is a full-time student.’ Then came the trickier ones about my dealings with the law. ‘Well, I had to get an order of protection for an erratic ex-boyfriend.’ ‘When?’ ‘2006.’ ‘Where?’ ‘Brooklyn.’ ‘Did you live there?’ ‘No, but the event he showed up was in Brooklyn.’ Did I go to a district attorney? ‘Well, I went to an organization, Safe Horizons, and then the DA went to court on my behalf, and I just went to a window to pick the order of protection up.’ ‘Nothing else happened after that?’ ‘Never seen him again.’ And family members? ‘Well, my son was mugged twice. Once in 2006, Brooklyn, by another kid, he was coming home late from the subway and he was talking to me on the phone and he got mugged. Then in 2008 in East Harlem at the subway, he was with his girlfriend, and other kids…’ I didn't say they were Latino, but that's what it was, his girl was black so the four hoodlums showed him not to mess with their women. I didn't say that because I wanted to get on the jury.
And I did. I did. Oh, if only I had known what it entailed.
So… ‘We reported both muggings, the one in Harlem they punched him in the face, and in East Harlem the police gave us a neighborhood tour and it helped my son a bit.’ Will I be able to be impartial regarding Mr. Dodges on trial here? ‘Sure.’ Will I be able to be impartial regarding the judicial system? ‘Oh, sure, they were excellent!’ Maybe I shouldn't have said that, but it didn't raise a red flag since I got in.
We took a break. 15 minutes. Back we came, with the other 7 jurors chosen yesterday. The psychiatrist had a red tote and the psychologist too! There was a red shirt, a peasant red skirt, like Austrians, Tyrolese, and a court clerk trotted by in red suede high heel boots, and red blouse, and another one in a red dress. Sexy seems to be cool in court. The general attire is gray and black, but here they are, red, deep décolletage, bosomy.
So the trial goes on, brief indeed. A court employee, previously our doorman, now registers documentations and activities, mailings. Then they give a reading of the previous trial minutes in which Mr. Dodges says that he asks to be sent to the Grand Jury because he hasn't done nothing and they just keep him without him having done anything and that's why he missed coming to court. To which his lawyer tells him to shut up—his lawyer back then in November 8th being Mr. Katz. Then they talk some more and the judge tells Mr. Dodges to stand up, and that he is let go on his own cognizance, that is without bail, but he should be back on 9th of December, if that suits Mr. Katz. Mr. Katz says he has another trial on the 9th, but 8th would be perfect.
And that's it. End of story.
Well, Mr. Dodges doesn’t show up on December 9th, neither later on, voluntarily, for the next 30 days, nor for another four months when they finally arrest him and here he is now accused with jumping the bail second degree.
The prosecutor tells us, ‘Obviously Mr. Dodges had no intention of showing up ever back in court.’ Then Mr. Dodges' lawyer comes onto us motherly with teary eyes that, ‘Mr. Dodges doesn’t dispute anything else but that he didn't know he had to come back in court, or when should he come.’
The judge, true to his word, ends the trial in no time. Like my friend Maria said, ‘Több volt a leves mint a hús.’ That is,It was more water in that soup than meat/Much ado about nothing/All bark and no bite.’ The judge again wants us to be impartial and not empathic, that is not soften up about what poor Mr. Dodges would suffer if we find him guilty. Just the facts. The evidence. That's all. Also each of us is equal with the other jurors. And we should not consider questions without answers, or answers without questions, as being evidence. That is: only the question and answer together make the evidence. He went on and on about this, sounding in the end absurd, like a story I read, in the shape of a letter, by a Russian absurdist writer, that went like, ‘Dear Ivan Nicolaevics, I received your letter. At first I couldn't believe you wrote me a letter, but when I opened it, it was indeed you who wrote the letter. I am so very happy, Mr. Nikolayevich. I haven't written you in a while a letter, but this morning here was a letter. I stood wondering whose was it, should it be from you? It's only you who writes me letters. And I open it and indeed it's from you.’
And it goes on and on about the surprise of receiving the letter for four pages.
Anyway, I’m all hopeful we'll finish in 5 minutes, since what could be clearer than this case?! We get up and go in the conference room after we give the policeman our phones and laptops and tablets.
I am dead tired. Later….
Midnight here. I had an apprehensive sleep that someone broke into the apartment burglarizing, or at least stealing my laptops and my external hard drive and wallets with credit cards and my jewelry treasure chest. Yes, there is a treasure chest, a tin cookie box.
An erratic homeless female writer who sneaked into my shower.
No one, of course. Peace and quiet and I am resolute that I will just read the traffic regulation booklet, damn it if I try to sway or persuade any of the five who clamor Dodges is not guilty, just because they have problems with the system.
Well, we went into the conference room. We were debating if it is enough to be just told verbally in court to your lawyer when your next court meeting is, when someone said, ‘Shouldn’t we go around the room find out who thinks what before we write on pieces of paper for the judge any of that dilemma? Saves time…’ And we went around the table and the two black guys and three other white guys found him not guilty! Benign as they were the black guys I still blamed it on their skin color that they stick with the brother no matter what, their argument being that the guy didn't know, he was not told personally by the judge. I hate stereotypes, I am decidedly open-minded, but this open-mindedness has given me much pain here in America. Were I to listen to stereotypes, pay heed to them, and act upon them, I’d have been better off.
Anyway, the actor between gigs with a Mickey Mouse logo on his T-shirt, the industrial designer, and the gay fart said the same, more or less. Especially the gay fart went on that the poor Mr. Dodges might have been too emotional right then, confused, we don't know what's in his head, so if no one said it straight to his face, then the poor baby, how should he know…
I argued that, ‘Mr. Dodges knew too well that the lawyer represented him in court and that it was enough that his lawyer was told December 8th was his next court arraignment. He can't play games like this, for this is what Mr. Dodges does. First of all, he knows too well that he was let to go on his cognizance and not put in prison. The concept of bail implies you are to come back; otherwise Mr. Dodges would have sat a month in prison. So when his lawyer tells him to shut up and stop incriminating himself, as it is stated in the minutes, that he didn't come to court because they keep him for nothing, Mr. Dodges, by shutting up, indicates he knows the lawyer represents him in front of the judge, it's a court, isn’t it? So what if the judge didn't speak directly to him?! And so, when the lawyer acknowledges they will be back in court on December 8th, it is implied this is said to Mr. Dodges and it's a favor. To me Mr. Dodges is just playing games. He doesn’t behave like a mature person, who’d come in court and litigate, clarify and prove he is not guilty, but he just gives the justice system the finger and doesn’t show up. Neither on December 8th, nor later, until they arrested him again.’
I said my piece several times, with growing aggravation, especially to the farty gay who started to bicker, ‘What kind of court is this? They don't even have good microphones! And poor Mr. Dodges is confused, like anyone could be confused in this courtroom! It’s not even necessary to be retarded! A foreigner who doesn’t understand the words can be confused, or anyone can be confused and not know he has to be back in court on December 8th.’
The actor, the black guys, the smarty-pants designer with his tousled hair and yellow shirt, they were all clamoring, ‘Why Mr. Dodges was not told in person or given in written to come back on December 8th?!’
Well, we somehow came to an agreement we should then ask the judge if it’s enough to be told verbally thru your lawyer, not directly to you. So the forewoman, a blonde, I think the one on maternity leave, wrote down the question and also asked for the written evidence pieces. The evidence pieces were promptly brought in by a court officer lady.
I forgot to say that at the beginning she told us we are not to debate when some of us used the bathroom. Promptly two guys open the bathroom doors, so I lined up to go to the toilet too. I commented we should have maybe 12 bathrooms, all bathroom doors around the room to speed up. They laughed.
I was fond of the psychiatrist who called his wife before we entered the court after our lunch break, to tell her he ate at Popeye’s. He asked me if I had a good lunch. I did, I went to a Chinese restaurant, same food as yesterday. Then I bought myself ¢80 pastries, an apple pie, a lemon cookie, and a sesame ball. The sesame ball was not fresh, chewy, but the lemon cookie was delicious. I devoured it and I left the apple pie for later. At the security check point the screening guard didn't pass it thru the scanner. I was joking with the other guard who smiled so appealing, a big black guy, that thankfully they didn't nuke my lunch.
I was also joking when I sat next to the Ukrainian guy in the jury room that in the North of Romania I saw people crossing the Ukrainian border by bike, going shopping to Ukraine where the chocolate was cheaper. I was with a group of engineers who took care of the bridge over the river that constituted the border, and there was a yellow line in the middle of the bridge and I stepped over it as I was taking pictures and they said I should come back because I was in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian laughed. I sat next to him, since the black people sat in their corner, flocking together too, the psychiatrists sat next to each other too. Huddling we were. The Eastern European caucus.
Well, as we were still waiting, the forewoman said that her boyfriend was in court once and he had no word in it either, the lawyer was told when to come next and that was it. No written letters, nothing.
Come to think of it, why was she saying that? Did she discuss Mr. Dodges with her boyfriend? She did! She did! Must have!
Then the actor said he was used to follow up emails from his agent, they communicate, but in Mr. Dodges case there was no communication. For sure his previous lawyer, Mr. Katz, was not a good lawyer. ‘The evidence is very skimpy. Why doesn't he come to court to protect Mr. Dodges and tell us what really happened then?’
‘Because he doesn't need to!’ I told them. ‘That's why the judge here said the trial will be very short. Because it's self-evident.’ ‘Oh, no,’ they went on, ‘that judge who didn't even talk to Mr. Dodges personally didn't do his job properly. Our judge here would have never done such a mistake, he would have made sure Mr. Dodges understood he is to come back on December 8th. He is meticulous our judge is, whereas Mr. Dodges’ judge and Mr. Katz didn't bother to give him a letter, make him sign he understood he is to be back on December 8th.’
‘Well, we shall wait and see,’ I replied in disbelief. After awhile I asked the forewoman if she was sure the written questions didn't get lost or unnoticed in the shuffle of the evidence. No, they smiled, they didn't get ignored. ‘Okay, we shall wait then.’
The judge calls us back. He says verbal notification is enough to announce a court date. And he said further on he can't tell us if talking to the lawyer and not straight to Mr. Dodges is enough. To me the first bit was enough. ‘To be sure now they'll all be persuaded and switch from 5 not guilty, 7 guilty, to all 12 guilty.’ Well, it did not. ‘Where's Mr. Katz?’ ‘Why was Mr. Dodges not given written notice?’ And why it seemed we women were all for not guilty, sniggered the smarty pants technical designer. I simmered. Someone pointed out it's not just the women, also two guys. ‘Well,’ he sniggered, ‘we know what kind of guys are they.’ Meaning?!
Farty said how he hadn't known that no signed paper was apparently enough, still what a botched system.
I vehemently pointed out, ‘Sir, why are you here in the first place if you don't like the system? You should have pointed out this to the judge when he asked you squarely if you can be impartial regarding the legal procedure? You said yes, but now you bitch and moan about the microphones and everything. You should have told this to the judge. We gonna be here forever. They gonna take us in a correctional bus and put us up in a shitty hotel overnight.’
They laughed, ‘We’re small potatoes! They gonna do no such thing.’
‘Listen, they gonna do it, I hope you brought your pajamas.’ They laughed and the black guys went very calmly, only one of them with a glint in his eyes, how, ‘Mr. Dodges was let down by the system.’ ‘What are you talking about? Mr. Dodges is a felon behaving foolishly.’ ‘No, he is not a felon. He was acquitted in June, but he didn't know back then in December.’ ‘What are you talking about?! He is a felon and now he is accused on double jumping the bail. If he is a retard and doesn’t understand, there is on that paper we saw as evidence, a list of check boxes and one of them says Psychiatric Evaluation. If you are a retard you bring a paper in court saying you are a retard. And who knows, let’s say he is illiterate and then what's even the use of giving him a letter with the appointment date? That’s why people have lawyers in court, to be represented. But he wants to be represented only when it suits him. He knows the lawyer is representing him when he shuts up when the lawyer stops him from self-incriminating himself, but two minutes later when the lawyer talks with the judge and they decide upon December 8th, Mr. Dodges turns a deaf ear, and the lawyer is not representing him anymore? Come on!’
The smarty-pants industrial says, ‘You’ve stayed for too long in Romania. My father-in-law was a German judge. We quarrel a lot.’
‘What?! Well, if it comes to that, let me say that from what I’ve observed in this room, it’s not about women finding Dodges guilty, but it’s about men having issues.’ They all laughed or heaved. I sat there pissed off, dismayed.
Here is democracy in action for you! God, how it fails!
And these men were not stupid people! Imagine if you get stupid folks on the juror bench, how can they decide anything if they are simply stupid? But these guys are not stupid, they just have ill will. The result is disaster. Then, what would be the alternative? Have a judge decide, like in Romania, a judge who knows every detail of the law, who is versed in lawyerly tricks? But what if he is corrupt? Not good either.
But to see these fools at it, it is dismal.
‘Mark my words: We gonna end up in a shitty hotel with bed bugs. Shouldn’t we ask the judge what is going to happen, when we can't unanimously agree on a verdict, because obviously these guys won't budge, and it's 4:15.’ They agreed it's a hung-up jury. ‘The what's the procedure?’ ‘Oh,’ they clamored, ‘we can't be persuaded to finish the deliberation just because we’d like to go home!’ ‘Indeed, we are to take our sweet time going in circles. Well, now I know why people don't want to be on jury duty,’ I spouted miserable.
They roared with laughter.
The forewoman wrote the judge a note. He called us in. He said the lawyers, and himself, think we need more time to deliberate. We should come back tomorrow at 9:45. Class dismissed. We should not talk among themselves or other people, or watch TV or read articles in the media about the case.
Sleep on it.
I was so pissed off I scurried thru the court without looking at any of them, without saying nicely goodbye. I though that's what they wanted me to do, but I was extra pissed off. Democracy in action, nothing more foolish than that! And what's the alternative? There's no better alternative.
I texted my son alarmed, ‘We should never end up in court! It’s terrible to be at the hand of stupid people who can decide upon your life. Uneducated people in power are a disaster.’
He said I should try and feel better. He just read something regarding stupidity in action and democracy in that vein. That Churchill said, ‘Democracy is the worst kind of government we came up with and the very best form of it.’

I went straight to my writers’ group meeting and told the members how being on jury duty was an emotional process, not that they otherwise would find me passionless. They said I made them realize how they take for granted they can vote, and think of jury duty as an annoyance. ‘Yes, but that's how things get fucked up! The bright ones don't want to deal with the matter, and the fuck-ups gain ground, and soon you have a mess on your hands. Unbelievable. And to see that jurors think nothing about committing perjury. Nothing.’
I kept my word and didn't tell them the details of Mr. Dodges’s case, when they insisted excitedly I should write about it. I will, I am, but that's not my point.
Behaving like everything is just fodder for my writing is not my point anymore.
I walked back home as I ate the apple pie, delicious, and thought maybe I should tell the jurors, ‘Okay, I vote guilty, so I avoid having the blood of the brother on my hands. Satisfied now?’ But then I thought, we were told to be impartial, disregarding any feelings of sympathy for Mr. Dodges ending up in jail.
Yes, but in the larger scheme of things, I pity the brother.
No, no, no. The black woman didn't pity the brother either. There are brothers and brothers. This Mr. Dodges brother should grow up. He behaves foolishly, so let him have it.
But he is not a felon, he has been acquitted in June. It's Kafka for Mr. Dodges. You are not impartial. You are biased, Ella! You are the perjurer.
Day Three, and Four, God Damn It!
Well, it's been a week now since I finished my juror stint. But I’ve been so disgusted with the proceedings and their outcome, that I couldn't pull myself together and finish the account of the splendiferous jury duty. Let alone that overall I’m not reliable. I start things, experiences, and they fizzle out. I’m disappointed in myself, slumping, sliding down on the toboggan, I do. I’m good at beginnings, not endings.
Anyway: Day Three.
The same guys kept on saying not guilty: the two brothers, the unemployed actor, the gay guy, and the knucklehead industrial designer. I was in disbelief. I then tried to change my ways and present my point dispassionately, but to no avail.
We asked the judge from time to time inane questions, like, ‘What does it mean ‘to know’? Does it mean Mr. Dodges has to fully, philosophically understand that he is due in court on December 8th, or is it enough to inform him, to utter ‘December 8th’ in his presence?’ The judge, serene and taking us seriously, instead of yelling at us that we behaved like a bunch of fools, a disgrace! Instead of throwing the gavel at us, like Judge Judy would do, didn’t even blink and after reading us back the question and have the forewoman confirm this was indeed our question, said, ‘To know means to be aware.’
Well, that won't help, Mr. Judge.
Another discussion ensued about what it means ‘to be aware’.
Also I had bluffed the actor by saying prior to our inquiry that, ‘If the judge says to know means to inform, then I’ll be swayed to say Mr. Dodges was not guilty.’ But I didn't come thru in the end. I wanted to be on the fence but I wasn't. I wasn’t anarchistic enough, like the Occupy Wall Street folks were right at that moment out in the streets, a few blocks from the courthouse. I hoped that if they want to mess up the justice system, then let them have it, I could be anarchistic too. But in the end I couldn't.
The day started weird. Well, the gay, AIDS-faced man, his bones prominent, his fatty tissue eaten away by the disease, went on and on how Mr. Dodges might have been confused, the acoustics being so bad, the microphones weird. Plus being agitated, emotionally involved, poor Mr. Dodges might have not understood. plus no one addressed Mr. Dodges directly. The judge said, ‘Stand up,’ but not to him in particular, then the lawyer discussed with the judge, but no one said to Mr. Dodges, ‘Sir, you are to come in person on December 8th!’ and no one asked Mr. Dodges if he understood. And above all why didn't they make Mr. Dodges sign a paper, or give him a letter. We have a case of sloppy, fudged court proceedings. We should ask the judge if it's enough to be just verbally informed, as the blonde young mother yoga mat toting said her husband was in court and he just stood there while the lawyer and the judge conversed, and that was good enough. But we had asked the judge, and he had said that just verbal informing was enough. Alright. He had asked us to further deliberate, and we had filed back to our chambers.
‘Are you persuaded then?’ No, they were not persuaded.
My God, I was fuming! We’re back to square one. ‘Okay, let's say again that Mr. Dodges is mentally retarded and couldn’t comprehend he is to go home from court on his own recognizance and show up on December 8th and not rot in jail, but then there are squares to check on this court form, psychological examination, were he to be a retard he'd present papers he is an idiot and doesn't understand a thing. But there is no paper. Plus he has a lawyer. That's why lawyers are for, to represent us in court, to translate the legal jargon, that’s why we pay them an arm and a leg.’
Someone said, ‘I find it hard to believe that the lawyer just took off without further communicating to Mr. Dodges he has to show up in court on December 8th.’ The gay guy said, ‘You never know with these lawyers. Mr. Katz might have been yet another sloppy, good-for-nothing lawyer. And the confusion, the acoustics! I mean look at them, the ceiling is falling down on us, the jurors!’
A square from the ceiling cover had been hanging above a table corner. But no one had seemed worried about it until I asked the policeman if it was safe to deliberate under that gap in the ceiling, since electric wires were showing and the square was half out of its socket. The officer immediately pushed the table and pulled the square out, bemoaning it was not even a middle-of-the-ceiling square, but a misplaced, by-the-wall square, and its bevels would not fit in, that’s why it fell out.
And he sniggered and bitched about the construction workers.
Such a general propensity towards bitching and moaning disgusted me. It's alright to have that under communism, but here in a democracy?! If you don't like it, change it, get up your lazy ass and do something, don't draw a salary and then bad mouth your employer. Go join the Occupy Wall Street crowd around the corner.
Anyway, the gay guy was going on and on, and I figured we wouldn't move towards a unanimous verdict unless something new happened, so I asked the forewoman what was the procedure if someone proved unfit to be on jury duty? She shrugged. She didn't like me much. She had parental conversations with the serene Ukrainian about the wonders of math schools in Brooklyn. When after a few hours we were asked by the court officer to change seats, I found myself next to her, and she simply sat with her back at me for the rest of the day. When I asked her to please, ask the judge what is the meaning of knowing, she simply refused to write it down. I guess she thought she was the wholesome, all-American girl way above furious immigrant women with colorful head wraps such as I.
So I ask her, ‘What is the rule regarding unfit jurors?’ No one knows. Well, I go on, ‘Because you, Sir, though you swore in front of the judge to be impartial you won't stop attacking the justice system and the mic and the acoustics and the sloppy lawyers. You are guilty of perjury.’
Well, that took the cake. The room oohed and aahed, and the skeletal guy blabbered, 'That's a bold statement, that's a very bold statement, such a very bold statement, that's a bold statement, a very very bold statement. That's a very bold statement.' ‘So?!' ‘That's a bold statement you just made, a very bold statement. A bold...' 'I heard you. You don't need to say it 6 times more.' The grand industrial designer deigned to jump in, that we should be respectful, that is me respectful of the butt head, not the other way around. That I lived too long in Romania. Right.
Lloyd, my friend, warned me they’d pick on that. He said I should tell them I speak four languages. I shrugged, ‘Is it relevant that I speak four languages, Lloyd?! It's not. If I can't make them say guilty in unison it doesn’t matter how many languages. I have to speak their knucklehead language. But I don't know that language.’
I felt I should tell the big black guy, the brother, as he was scratching his head in anguish, ‘Man, you are not helping a brother. This is a criminal, he has nothing to do with your family. He would rob you and swindle you without blinking.’
That's what Shawn, a friend who owns a coffee house in my neighborhood, said to me when a black guy came in his cafe, asked for the menu and then left. He said this very guy had come in his place on the West Side a year ago. ‘He ordered take out and wanted to pay with a $50 bill. I saw it was a fake bill and told him, ‘I don’t have change.’ The guy went then to a friend, in a nearby restaurant and ordered a take out there too and paid with his $50 and never came back to pick up the food. When he showed up again in my cafe and tried his trick, I showed him my Federal Marshal shield. I told him to stop what was doing. The guy thought I was one of those marshals that stick papers on doors. ‘No, man, I’m one of those that take people.’ That was a year ago. Now the guy shows up on the East Side still doing his trick, preying on his own people.’ And you are helping the brother?! Wake up man. I’m your sister, not this Dodges asshole.
Anyway, we went on splitting hairs for the rest of the afternoon about Mr. Dodges and asked the judge idiotic questions from time to time to no avail. We should go on deliberating, he kept on saying. We were fed up. Some read the paper, some their novels, and we left promptly at 4:30 because of the budget cuts. We were to come back on Monday. I could not believe it. Mr. Dodges was playing us, and the justice system, big time. I texted my son again, he should be careful, never find himself in court at the hands of inane jurors, never.
Over the weekend I called my trusted councils.
First, Maria. Her daughter has a breast cancer relapse. She asked me to pray for her. Three children. A life of anger.
I told about my wheat field landscape photo. ‘There are here more beautiful wheat lands,’ she said. ‘This country is marvelous. Down in Idaho they have wheat lands,’ she said. ‘They don’t call me on jury duty anymore. I used to go often before. Since I’m old, no more.’
She then said in Roseland, her municipality, an interesting issue was going on. ‘They want to build a sports arena in Roseland and the railroad company is protesting, the citizenry is protesting. There was a large plot of wetland, and the zoning committee declared it unfit for building. Suddenly, years later, was declared fit to build condominiums. Why? The builders pénzelik/feed money to the zoning committees.’
Then I talked to Mark. He insisted I should always tell the truth in court. ‘If you commit perjury, the defense lawyer, when they see they lose the trial, they are cornered like dogs, and they’ll look it up. So if you checked a box and said No when the answer was Yes, then they will declare mistrial. Even worse, they’ll put you on trial as a perjurer, so just say the truth.’
He thinks that anyway when you remember the past, it’s distorted. You remember it in the flashlight of terror.
He told me how people, some of his friends, are stuck in the past. They adopted two orphans of friends who died in September 11. They go to a summer camp for orphans of September 11.
The parents, the widows, are still stuck in the past, 10 years ago, couldn’t move on, but the children grew up. They don’t want to hear about that anymore, so they’ll close the camp now, only have it for one last day in August.
I told him how I felt a bit scared about the logo in court, In God We Trust. He laughed, ‘It’s voodoo.’ ‘My God, the country is going to the dogs!’ ‘I always say: race cars drivers have the sponsors’ logos on their uniform, so should the presidency candidates. The one with no logos is the most honest man.’ ‘Unless he’s piss rich like Bloomberg.’ ‘Then he will be forwarding his friends’ agenda. Either way, it’s a crap shoot.’
Either way I lost hope in my America. If this is justice, I can go hang myself. Such hateful knuckleheads. Larry, a friend from California, said he found jury duty fascinating. He thought too some people lie they will be impartial to get on the jury. I told him how I had told the other jurors, ‘Now I understand why people don't want to be on jury duty!’ and they laughed. I didn't mean it as a joke.
What a waste of our time, of resources, as the judge put it, that we should not concern ourselves with criticizing the misuse, the squandering of resources. Alright.
We deliberated.
Monday, the actor was getting hollery, how he had thought hard the entire weekend. He couldn’t sleep, so hard he thought about it all, and still he could not say beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Dodges was guilty.
Now the psychologist was also undecided. And someone else too, I forgot who. But we were 5 guilty, 5 not guilty and 2 undecided.
Again I said, ‘The fact that the lawyer understood Mr. Dodges was to be in court on December 8th sufficed, because in the court system Mr. Dodges' lawyer stood for Mr. Dodges. And that's that.’
No, the gay skeleton went on that he was not convinced that Mr. Dodges understood profoundly, he might have been in the room, the judge might have said in the air contained in the room ‘December 8th’ but he was not convinced Mr. Dodges understood, fully understood. The blonde snapped at him that she had enough of his annoying repetitions. Mr. Farty said, ‘So what? I’m annoying, so what?! You have to be in the same room with me, so what if I’m the most annoying person?!’ I had to give it to him. He didn't care a fart he was a knucklehead, or that he was a farty asshole. No man. Unswayable.
Well, the actor went on hollering, but the Ukrainian told him to calm down and be civil and nice. I don't know if I wrote already how the actor said how his agent always followed up with emails and they clarified and sent reminders if an appointment date was unclear. Whereas poor Mr. Dodges he was left to his own meager devices. My ass. And we should stop talking about Mr. Dodges as if he was some kind of idiot. It was upsetting him.
I told them that if they subversively wanted to occupy the courtrooms after they were done with occupying Wall Street, disguising themselves as jurors, so be it. But why on my time?!
The Chinese lady with pixie hairdo and warts sticking out from her ears said calmly we should let the judge know that we were nowhere near reaching a unanimous verdict. She was convinced we did our best.
And so we asked the judge and miracle, he excused us.
I wondered if they would start the trial all over with another juror pool.
He said we could ask questions after we fetched our things, our phones from the plastic bin they were sequestered so we shouldn't communicate our Mr. Dodges’ case secretive decisions to the world eagerly waiting for our twits and blogs and declarations to the press.
Some of the jurors boasted they were eager to write about this unforgettable situation. ‘I’ll never forget Mr. Dodges,’ one said. The actor said I should write a play. ‘Nah,’ I replied, ‘perhaps a murder case would make me write a play. But this case is like they say in Romania, Un nebun aruncă o piatră în apă şi zece deştepţi nu pot s-o scoată, which is more or less, ‘A knucklehead throws a stone in the lake and ten wise men can’t get it out.’ The big guy enjoyed that. He said he'd very much want to read what I had to say. ‘Why?!’ ‘Because of your peculiar sense of humor.’
I menaced, ‘I’ll write, definitely I will,’ I menaced. But didn't.
I asked the officer as he was holding the bin for us, what he thought. ‘Oh,’ he said ashen-faced with disgust, ‘he knew too well when he had to be in court. All in all he had 43 misdemeanors and 6 felonies.’ ‘Ugh, how he played us! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.’
We walked out thru the courtroom, the judge busy, working on his computer, the prosecutor sitting at his desk. You'd think I should have jumped at the occasion, and ask them my questions about my suffering thru Romanian injustices, but they ignored us in disgust, and I walked sheepishly away to the elevators.
Going down I told the big brother, ‘43 misdemeanors! He played you.’ ‘It doesn’t matter,’ he said smilingly serene but pained. ‘The only thing that matters is that I will go home and my children will smile and hug me. That's all that matters.’
Well done, my friend, you ensure a fine future for your kids. Let the criminals swarm untouched out of the courtrooms. Well done.
Out in the street it was early in the day. Cold and windy.
I looked at the logo, "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government" written on top of marble columns of the New York State Supreme Courthouse. I checked on the internet and comes out it’s a typo from a quote from George Washington. It should read ‘due’ not ‘true’. Etched in stone now.
I went to my bank to inquire about retirement plans, since clearly I was on my own. America doesn’t work, doesn't work at all if they let players like Mr. Dodges scot free. I’d better get my shit together. Open wide my eyes.
Well, I opened them only to rest them on this Indian banker with beautiful fingers like Mr. Khan’s, but endowed with repulsive jowls.
‘Let's say,’ I proposed, ‘I would like to maintain a $23,000-a-year lifestyle during my retirement. Let's say.’ ‘Well, the Social Security will dry out by then,’ he casually informed me. ‘So how much would you like to save from now on a month?’ ‘$300, let's say?’ ‘Let's say.’
He types some stuff and out comes a graph with orange towers. He explains to me based on my $300-a-month saving rate I’ll be able to maintain a $2,424-a-month lifestyle until I’ll be 89 years old. If I go for a $23,000 lifestyle, 2 years after retiring I’ll run out of money. So he understands I enjoyed making art, but better look into getting a steady job. ‘Sir, I didn't come here for career advice. I just wanted to look into IRAs and whatnots, see my options. Like what I noticed you have on that paper in front of you.’ Oh, those papers are just for internal use. ‘Alright. Well, thank you, I’ll go my merry way.’ Don't I want his business card? ‘What for?! Bye.’
Oh, I cried my eyes that night. I decided to have an early check out.
I’ll be no one's burden.
But my son said we gonna gamble and everything would be fine.
Carl, an engineer friend, says that's what these banker guys do, scare you out of your wits. His son hired a useless guy and after two years they fired him. They can do their investments alone.
And José, yet another surveyed friend, said Social Security won't vanish, it's all politics.
Lately, when I walk the neighborhood about my business, I’ve developed a running eye for empty bottles.
I shall pick and recycle bottles when I’m 80 years old.
Oh, dear.


The first part of this story will be broadcast on Wednesday, May 8th, 2:00 p.m. and archived thereafter at this link:

Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy and engineering social change being one of them, I’d be grateful.

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