Jury Duty

So, jury duty. I found out Friday due to the stupid dial-up phone system (does anyone ever NOT get picked?) that I had to report bright and early at 9 AM to the Borough Hall in Kew Gardens, Queens, which is far enough away that it doesn’t appear on regular maps of New York City and you’ve got to get an atlas to look it up. On Sunday, I woke up past noon, so I knew waking up five hours early would be a near-impossibility. I went to a bodega and got some Tylenol-PM two-packs on my way to get some tacos for dinner last night, and took one gelcap before I settled into bed at eleven. I drifted off to a drug-induced sleep after browsing a book on educational vacations that I found in a stack of books by the curb on my post-lunch walk. (The book mostly discussed writer’s workshops and archaeology digs and other things I largely found too snooty to take seriously.)

I woke up almost every hour to get some water or take a pee or both, but slept remarkably well considering. At seven, the alarm clock armada went off, and I got into the shower by seven, and dressed in a pair of khakis and a neutral shirt by eight. I really wanted some breakfast, but instead sprinted to the not-my-usual subway stop down on Steinway to catch a ride in. The middle of June (almost), and I had to wear my army jacket. I knew I’d end up carrying it for the rest of the day, but it was 57 when I left the house, and it looked like a storm would hit at any minute. I didn’t bring a walkman, because I figured it would get confiscated or the guards would give me some shit. I did bring the Sidekick, and a Peter Farrelly book I’d read a few years back, along with a draft of something I’m doing for work. I knew that most of jury duty is the endless waiting game, and unfortunately, I can’t bring in a portable DVD player and a cooler of beer to kill that.

The train ride wasn’t bad at all. Kew Gardens is deceptively close and far from everything else, mostly because of the E express train. I can probably get from Kew Gardens to my job in NoHo faster than I can from Astoria, and it’s twice as far away. And this is a real, honest-to-god suburb, with trees and lots of low buildings and roads with speed limits and highways and lots of space between all of the above. People out there actually have CARS, and not just ones that they move from the left to the right side of the street three times a week. I honestly think I should go out there on a weekend and research this, find out if there are apartments with parking spaces and giant grocery stores and everything else that I miss about living anywhere but here.

I got to the Hall with a few minutes to spare, and dodged in to face the security guards. This is the full-on, airport, homeland-patriot-act drill, with the metal detectors and empty-your-pockets x-ray conveyor. However, at an airport, at least half of the fliers know the drill, and the fact that a metal detector detects METAL, and not cigarettes, plastic pens, paper money, hard rubber combs, and who knows what else. In front of me, I saw a million-year-old guy dump an entire Farm and Fleet store into the plastic bins and still fail the stupid detector. Meanwhile, I throw in my keys, jump through, no buzz, two seconds flat. That would be the theme of the day.

After the metal detectors, we got herded into a giant room with chairs that resembled the basement of a church. It smelled like the basement of a church, that weird smell that’s probably some kind of mold and a hundred coats of lead paint in battleship colors. I sat down and started reading. At about 9:15, someone came out and started to rattle off all of the various exceptions. People would try to ask their own personal questions in the breaths between her explanations and she told them to shut the fuck up and sit down. The whole thing reminded me of the beginning of Cool Hand Luke, when the boss rattles off the rules. I expected her to say “If you are not a US Citizen and you have alien registration papers, a work permit, or a passport, one day in the box. If you are over 75, one day in the box.” and so on.

None of those rules applied to me, as I triple-checked for any sort of exception to get me out, and there were none. I sat, kept reading, and waited for the lineup. After some initial confusion, they had everyone get into four lines at a little ticket counter-like structure, and we all queued up with our little blue and white papers. True to the theme of the day, every person in front of me arrived at the window and told their entire life story, starting back with when they were a soldier in the war of northern aggression. It wasn’t “I’m an alien and I want to leave now” or “I have kids at home and I’d like an exemption.” It was the kind of stuff that required 17 minutes of deliberation and a call to the governor. Finally, I got to the head of the line, with no questions, got my thing stamped, and went back to chairs.

Maybe 20% of our pack had now left. I scanned the room, and I couldn’t find any real demographic or funny trend in anyone there. A lot of older folks were there, and as a caucasian, I was probably a minority – but that’s Queens. I got busy on the book, The Comedy Writer, which isn’t Dumb and Dumber-type stuff, like you’d expect from Farrelly, but it’s more of a story of a writer coming to LA and trying to struggle to make it. I like that angle, but the guy is sort of a prick, and the events were just a little bit off. But it went down easy, and reading other people’s trials in this area always makes me think about my own writing, which was the goal of reading the book.

Shortly after we got settled in, a cop (or court worker or whatever – he had a badge, no gun) came in with a stack of tickets. He then rattled off names of people in his choppy Brooklyn accent, and told them to line up. After the group – maybe 30 or 40 people – assembled, he gave them a jury number (K7) and another cop (or whatever, this one had a gun) marched them outside and to the courthouse building across the street.

In the waiting area, some TV sets turned on with an old rerun of Dawson’s Creek, which we were forced to watch. I know it was just UPN9 or whatever, but I also wondered if it was some kind of psychological experiment to fuck with us. Probably not, as someone else was bitching about how last week, they were forced to watch the US Open for hours on end. The room echoed with two or three groups of old people talking about tumors and bursitis or whatever, and a male and female of about college age who talked and talked and talked and talked and FUCKING TALKED NONSTOP. Ok, I tried to tune them out, and kept reading.

At about 10:30, we got a 15-minute break, which most of the people used as a smoking break. I ran across Queens Boulevard to the little strip of stores and restaurants where I found a Dunkin Donuts. My stomach was still rattling, and I really wanted a hash browns from McDonald’s on the way in. I got a donut and a Pepsi (no Coke!) and headed back to the room. I saw a woman sitting on the bench in front of the Hall who really reminded me of a character in Summer Rain, and her general body language made her look like she was bored and looking for someone to talk to. But because I’m a genius, I just stuffed the donut into my face and went back inside.

We had a lunch at one, but just before that, the cop (or whatever) came back in with another stack of tickets. He read them off, and actually got my name right (he horribly mangled every other name). I got in line, and we were given the name of K25 before we went outside and to the other building. We all walked together in a sort of sloppy military group or something, following behind this cop and crossing the street to the much more modern-looking concrete and steel courthouse. Inside, we all went past the metal detectors through a special door, and into a faux art deco hallway.

While everyone else moped around the benches outside the courtrooms, I looked at the pieces of paper hanging up to see if I could deduce what was going on. One roster or schedule or whatever listed a Murder-2 and a breaking and entering, but didn’t say anything about what jury numbers went to what cases, unless it was in some lawyer code. While nosing around, I saw this woman come into a courtroom who looked like she was a defense attorney. Maybe Falli can tell me otherwise on how to tell what lawyers are what, but that was my guess. Maybe I should have written “Fast-neat-average” on a napkin and gave it to her. (Look it up on google.)

Anyway, we eventually got herded into a smaller room, about as big as a classroom, where they said they’d get to us in 10 or 15 minutes. The room seemed way too much like a classroom, except there was no stage or dais at the front of the room. I kept looking up to see if a teacher was coming in or something, and the whole thing was disorienting. But it didn’t smell in there, and it even had some sort of air conditioning. So I read and read and read. Finally at about 12:30, someone came in and told us to go to lunch and return at two.

An hour and a half – too bad there was almost no place to eat around there. I went to a Pizza Hut, sat in a booth, and spent too much money on one of those personal pan things that I didn’t even finish because I felt sick from the early morning and lack of real food. It was no place to kill an hour and a half, and I got out of there and went for a short walk before coming back in, scoping out the restroom facility, and then making a quick call on the cell to kill more time.

So I read. And read. And an hour and a half later, when I thought we would get a case, they came in and told us that the guy took a plea, and we had to cross the street (and go through fucking security for the third time) and go back to the pool. I sprinted back while everyone else moaned and smoked and got there fast enough to get through the metal detector before the “is my pencil metal?” crowd got there. I sat around for another 15 minutes, and got well into act 3 of the book, and then they told me to go home and come back at 9:30 the next day. So I came home and took a long cold shower to get the court funk off of me, and here I am.

Now, I need to find another book to re-read, and it’s 8:00 and I want to go to bed.