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.



I’d hate to think this has become a weekly journal, but it seems like it’s been going that way lately. During the week, I never really have any events to discuss, and I lack any kind of focus I could use to look beyond the sleep-work-food cycle that makes up most of my life these days. I have been in a weird holding period when it comes to any writing, and it’s hard to explain it, because it seems like explaining it also prolongs it. I hope I’ll eventually jump in on a writing project, but I haven’t lately. You’d actually be amazed how much energy it takes to not write sometimes. There’s a certain boredom in shuffling between TV and web browsing and video games without doing anything productive, and even when I don’t have the energy to do any work, it’s a huge drain. I’ve been reading a bit more lately, which does feel more productive, so hopefully that will sidestep into some actual writing.

It’s been another crappy weekend here, even though the weather got fairly decent all week. It has been pouring rain all day, and I’ve been on the couch, assembling a motorized RC 1/35 scale Tiger Panzer. I’ve discovered that my painting ability is much worse than I remember, or maybe it’s my lack of a good work surface. Either way, I’ve made good progress, and I have most of the hull together. I’m not very happy with the paint job, but the motors are installed and the tracks are in and it can now crawl around on its own. I built this small tank as a possible precursor to either a larger RC car or one of the Tamiya 1/16 scale tanks, but I’m not sure which I will do. I’m finding myself less interested in scale details and more interested in the mechanicals, so it might be a car.

Not much else is up. It was a very depressing week, and I spent a lot of time dealing with that and trying to avoid it. The summer is barely started, and I’m counting paychecks and trying to figure out travel, and I know it will vanish at the blink of an eye. I still remember the summers when I was a kid in school, the vacations that seemed to last an eternity, and now summer is just the time when I have to set up my army of fans to keep the apartment cool. I’ll have to find some cool stuff to do in the next few months.

Blah. Time to watch some ER reruns…


Hobby shop nostalgia

It rained all weekend. Poured. It’s always good to have the two days off, but I get a bit restless when I can’t go to a store or a movie or whatever without dressing in a scuba suit. While I was dodging to get some lunch on Saturday, I decided to duck into this hobby store that’s about a block away from me. Like a lot of other businesses in Astoria, it’s run more like a hobby than a regular place with regular hours, and pretty much every time I walk past it, the gate is down and lights are off. But I saw the doors open for business, so I decided to duck in there.

I’m no stranger to hobby shops. As a kid, my interests ran from trains to planes to cars to pretty much anything else you put together with plastic cement and little glass jars of paint. I built military airplanes, 1/48 scale plastic kits with way too much detail, at an age much later than I’d probably like to admit. When most kids were off trying to chase after girls for the first time or sneak into their parents liquor cabinet, I was in my parents’ basement, sitting at an old card table, listening to a Rush cassette and painting each individual dial on the instrument panel of a 1/32 scale F-15. My room had two walls of shelves filled with planes, and I had a workbench in the basement filled with half-built kits, tools, and supplies. I don’t entirely remember when I stopped or why, although I’m sure a lot of it had to do with a driver’s license and the desire to fit in. I don’t regret the time I spent doing this, although there is a certain shame factor, thinking about the geekiness of it. I mean, working on a computer – at least that could eventually lead to a job and money. But model airplanes don’t have any analog.

Walking into the old shop was like a flashback to me. It was a narrow, run-down little spot, but the walls were filled with shrink-wrapped cardboard boxes of many different areas and scales. Even the toy stores have the typical stuff, the half-dozen Testor’s kits that are made for kids with little patience. But when you get to a REAL hobby shop, they have the Pacta paints and the Tamiya kits and the sheets of custom metal foil detail pieces that cost more than some models. And this place had all of this – some older, almost vintage kits, and all of the heavy duty planes: the 1:48 B-1 and B-52 models, the 1/32 MRC planes, the Hellers from France, the DML armor kits from Hong Kong, the Paula and Antares resin kits from the Czech republic. It was all there, and I spent an endless amount of time looking at all of the kits, looking at the revised versions that had been re-released in the almost 20 years I’d been away from the hobby, and the new kits with generations of improvements in details, and technology. It made me really think about a lot of things, about life.

I’ll admit – I don’t really know where I’m going with my life these days. I’m punching the clock, eating the meals, sleeping when I can, but that’s about it. I haven’t been writing, and I haven’t been thinking about other projects. But I’m always hit with the whole “what am I doing?” volley of simultaneous and confusing emotions. I look at the people around me, the people my age, and they’re married, with kids, working, saving, buying houses, and in the conventional sense, they are DOING something. And then I look at what I’ve accomplished (which isn’t NOTHING, but…) and I look at my apartment full of toys and computers and DVDs, and I think I am not a grownup. And I think that if I was grown up, I would buy a new suit instead of buying a Slayer box set, or something. That I’d get my priorities straight. And maybe that would start the domino effect, of respect in my career, and meeting new people, and settling down, and everything else.

But then I also think that all of this is bullshit. I can’t – I don’t know, I can’t get up on a building and shout THIS IS BULLSHIT! and really fly my freak flag and… whatever. It’s more like a soft decision. But the decision is that I don’t really care. I don’t want to be a “grown up,” whatever that means. I can’t write the sequel to Rumored while I’m changing diapers, or busily shopping at The Gap, or whatever else. I care about eventually meeting someone, but I don’t care enough to ignore the opportunities around me that I’d rather pursue. I’d rather travel alone, and buy lots of DVDs, and stay up late at night playing video games. I don’t need to defend that against any other standard.

So I bought a model airplane. It’s a B-25, in 1/32 scale, and it’s a balsa kit, which I’ve never tried before. You actually cut out all of these balsa pieces, strigners and keel pieces and formers and stuff, and pin them to this big blueprint and glue it all together, so you get a skeleton of balsa. Then it is covered with a tissue paper and glue, and plastic pieces like windows and engine nacelles are included. It’s designed to fly with engines or be a static model. I’d like to build an RC plane, but I decided this would be my “learn from my mistakes” model, before I sink any money into a bigger plane.

I bought glue and knives and sandpaper and some other small tools, and also got a big piece of foamboard to use as my “table.” While it poured outside, I sat on the couch with the board in my lap and pinned down my pieces, cut out rib holes for stringers, and had the TV on in the background. It reminded me of what I really missed about building models, which is the almost hypnotic effect of working with your hands, going through the steps, trimming and eyeballing and test-fitting and inspecting, and actually building something that passes the time in such a different and more fulfilling way than just sitting on the couch and watching SuperStation reruns.

So that was my weekend. I mean, I went to dinner at Kiev on Saturday night in a short break of the rain, but I came back and kept gluing and cutting. I mostly finished the fuselage frame, then took a long walk to Home Depot and bought a Dremel MotoTool so I could cut things up a bit faster. But it was a good weekend overall, despite the shitty weather.

[2020 update: never finished that model. And I still have the same internal conversation about being an adult.]