Jury Life: The Trial

It has been a while since I wrote that title, and I’m wondering just what to say. There’s the small version: an insecure kid — both emotionally and economically insecure — crossed a line more than once, trying to keep his mildly awful suburban girlfriend close by so he could talk her out of dumping him.

We saw, at the start of the trial, during the testimony of the girlfriend’s dad, a video of the kid in front of the girlfriend’s house. He is obviously angry. At the end, he scoops up the family cat and walks away. I seriously questioned my ability to be objective after that.

Dad said the cat was gone for days, but finally came back. The first lie of the trial. Turns out The Kid and Max were besties, and Max is choosy about his pals. Dad also denied threatening to shoot The Kid.

Complicating things: Awful Girlfriend’s mother became a lifeline for the kid. He was unwelcome in his own home, but she had his back. Even after everything, she tutored him up to get his GED. Her husband is not aware of this. But from her delivery of testimony it’s easy to see where Awful Girlfriend learned her ways.

Reflecting on all the questions about abuse during voir dire, it turns out the girlfriend was not above pummeling her physically-smaller beau. At least, according to her mother.

If you haven’t guessed already, I was (still am) sympathetic to the defendant. But there was simply no getting around the fact he did two of the three things he was accused of. The third just smelled like the DA going for broke, and was just silly.

Apparently we’re on the fast version of this story, so I’ll just say I was elected jury foreman because I’d been on a jury before, Juror 4 did a great job challenging everything, and I wish I’d challenged Juror 10’s desire to get the fuck out of there to make sure he was actually voting his conscious.

Guilty on two out of three.

If I were the judge, I would put this smart, emotional kid into community service, caring for people. I can see him in a nursing home, doting over the residents. I think The Kid could shine in a role where caring too much is a good thing. Losing a friend will be brutal for him, but this is what he was built to do.

There’s a lot more I can say; observations during the trial, the fidgety and annoying habits of Juror 2 (had I written this three weeks ago, that would have been its own episode), the friendly bailiff — but ultimately we did our job. I’m disappointed that we were asked to do our job in this case; this seems like something that didn’t really need to go to trial. Perhaps Miss Li, the defense attorney, felt that the witness testimony would affect sentencing. She might be right. It’s not her fault jury trials are really fucking expensive, and she is obligated to do what is best for her client.

Justice is a slippery thing, my friends, and the law is not always about right and wrong. But this time the law was clear and I have to trust the judge to do the right thing.

2

What Have We Become?

Today on the radio I heard an ad from McDonalds. It went like this: slow down from your hectic life and take a few minutes to wolf down a breakfast at our fast food chain.

To emphasize, we have the flag bearer of food with speed realizing that people aren’t slowing down enough to eat their breakfasts. So now they’re saying, “Hey, slow down, bud! Cut twelve minutes out of your day to have a McGriddle!”

51 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

I was poking around in the musty, poorly-lit tunnels beneath the smooth and glitzy blog you are reading, and I discovered a rather unsettling fact: I have 51 episodes I started but didn’t finish, yet still haven’t deleted. For the next week or three, I’ll be pulling up the ones that deserve to see the blinding light of the public eye.

So if you see some references that are clearly dated, welp, that’s why. If you see episodes that start to develop but then suddenly stop, it’s because I liked the episode, but at this stage I’m not gong to finish it (in all likelihood because I can’t remember the incidents described any longer). Some episodes might still have cobwebs, or spots of rust. Some might be full zombie now, shambling out of the past, hoping to find relevance by eating your brain.

We will start with a marketing campaign by McDonalds that ended a while back. I had meant to explore the idea a little more, but I stopped mid-sentence. Probably scrabbling for the right word. Or just distracted by something shiny.

I will mark the episodes from the archives with the tag “bottle of beer”.

Note that actual current episodes might appear as well, like the one that just landed in the Jury Life series. Crazy times at MR&HBI!

3

I CAN Hear Them

I’m at a bar that plays its music loud. I haven’t found a place like this since Tiki House down San Diego way. That bar is gone now, lamented by many. Tiki Dave was looking to hang up his spurs many years ago.

Anyway, I’m in a place called The Office in San Jose, and they keep the tunes cranked up. When I came in, there was some pretty serious hip-hop playing, confirming I’m an old white guy and I don’t really get it. But if I tuned out just enough to let the music happen to me, it worked out all right.

While I’ve been here the playlist has evolved, through some pretty sweet rock that I heard without hearing, until someone asked, loudly but in a sweet voice, “Can you hear the guns, Fernando?”

I could hear the fuckin’ guns. BOOM! When I was a kid I turned ABBA up loud. Especially this song. When was the last time you cranked up a purportedly easy-listening band like this, to make the listening not-so-easy? I was not the only person in this place singing along.

On a side note, this is a song an American could not write.

___

During the typing of this episode, I’ve heard John Denver loud and now it’s Bay City Rollers! S! A! T-U-R! D-A-Y! Night!

2

Bucket List Item 418

Go to the North Pole just to ask, “What time is it?”

1

My Sweetie Knows Me

When Valentine’s Day hit, I got up in the morning and, before The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas rose from her slumber, I paused just a moment to appreciate just how lucky I am. The Official Sweetie does not need me to make gestures on days like this to know I love her.

But it turns out she wanted to make a gesture for me. And it was magnificent. Here’s what I got from the Bronx Zoo:

I suspect that if I went to the Bronx Zoo tomorrow and demanded to be introduced to my namesake, I would be met with dithering and obfuscation. “It’s in there somewhere,” they would say, as if, should my namesake emerge, the zookeepers could say, “that’s Jerry Seeger the Roach and Stuff right there!”

But seriously, it’s this kind of thing that makes me love the Official Sweetie so much.

3

Jury Life: Voir Dire Day 2 — I am Given a Voice

This is the overdue installment about my experience as a Juror. In particular, you might want to read Voir Dire Day 1.

Overnight I stewed on the things potential jurors had said on the first day. I found myself hoping my name would be called just so I could say my piece about the things people had said. Domestic abuse is a mess.

After another round of attrition my name was called, and I occupied seat 13. First alternate, if nothing changed. Logistically, the closest seat to the lawyers. I would be a juror, unless I said something to get me booted. As an honest and thoughtful human being, I knew I was a juror.

The attorneys found me well-defined enough that I had to volunteer to bless the assemblage with my thoughts. They would interrogate the others, then ask, does anyone else want to comment on that? I always had something to say, and I occasionally raised my hand. I tried to choose my spots.

There was the guy now in seat sixteen, and man, that dude was a domestic violence magnet. Two cases going on right now. Back in the day he spent a fortune to bring in experts to bust his sister, who was making false domestic violence charges and almost got a guy sent to jail for a long time. Sixteen used to live next to a shelter, and they would ask him to come over and convince angry men to walk away. I’m not sure I’ll have space in the Muddleverse to tell his story well, but damg, that cat has a story.

Sixteen disqualified himself when he mentioned that he had discussed abuse with his wife last night. “I kept it abstract!” he insisted, but his wife (who, I learned in conversation during a break, once played basketball at Stanford) surely could put two and two together, and even if she didn’t, things she said were sure to influence him. But Sixteen was the first to use the word “bully”.

The defense lawyer was working hard on the theme that women commit domestic abuse, and there was a growing consensus that women abuse men as often as men abuse women in this country, but in different ways.

I don’t think that’s true, and I volunteered to say so. I believe we strive to be a nation where abuse is 50-50, but we are not there yet. The word I used that day was “leverage”. Leverage can come from many sources, but without leverage there is no serial abuse. For men, leverage is often physical strength or money, for women the leverage is (in my uneducated world) more often emotional. But nothing stops a man from using emotional leverage, too.

These days, men still have more leverage. Maybe things are evening out, but that’s how it is right now.

Later I pointed out that all the data any of the jury had to work with came from the media, and so we only hear about the most interesting (salacious) stories. “So you are saying you are willing to overlook the biased information you have received and judge this case impartially?” I was asked.

My response was not nearly as pithy as “If you want to distill my observation on social injustice down to a salient fact relevant to jury selection, then yes.” My actual response was only the last word of that.

But my big speech came after at-that-time Juror 12 was interviewed. I might have mentioned him before. His father physically abused his mother and him. They didn’t call the police, instead they “handled it in the family.” They handled it by getting rid of the bum. All’s well that end’s well, right?

“How would you feel if your mother started dating him again?” one of the lawyers asked. But that was not the big question.

When I had my chance, I asked, rhetorically, “How would Twelve feel if his dad started dating a complete stranger? Does he have a responsibility, having not reported his father’s behavior, if someone else gets hurt or killed?”

“What do you mean?” Miss Hawkins, assistant district attorney, asked.

“I keep hearing these people say they handled the situation, but what the really did was pass the problem on to some new unsuspecting victim.” I was getting a little riled up. “If you don’t bring in outsiders, then you are complicit in his next violence.” I wondered how people would react to my accusation of Twelve being guilty of assault. If anyone took my statements that far, they didn’t respond.

Another question to a different juror, got my volunteer spirit on high alert again. “Did you call the police?” The lawyer asked a witness to abuse. “No,” was the answer, as it ALWAYS IS.

I’m getting riled up again, just thinking about it.

Here’s the thing about involving the authorities in cases of domestic abuse: there is no positive outcome. Remember leverage? When the authorities come in, that power is realized. Loss of income, loss of home, loss of access to children. Sure if the system works right some of that can be restored, eventually. But eventually is not a choice for a lot of abuse victims.

This is why abused families don’t call the cops until it’s life and death. No good outcome. You just survive and maybe hope to push the monster onto a new victim.

There was another culling and suddenly I was Juror Three, the position I would hold for the trial.

Sixteen was gone, of course, but Twelve sat tight.

For the next and final batch of potential jurors the defense lawyer Miss Li proposed a hypothetical, seemingly to test us against sexism but actually, I suspect, to introduce bias into those selected. “If you saw a man head-slap a woman, would you call the police?” And to follow, “What if the woman head-slapped the man?”

Her goal at this stage of the voir dire was not to learn about the jurors as much as to remind those already comfortably seated that abuse goes both ways. But interviewee after interviewee answered that they would call the police no matter the gender. The jurors answered with what they now knew they should do, rather than what they would actually do.

I was no longer being interviewed, but I wanted to raise my hand, and maybe I should have.

Here’s the thing: None of the people in that room, judge included, would have called the police if any human had head-slapped any other human, unless the slapped was an infant or (maybe) if the slapped was knocked down. Yet juror after juror said they would call the cops. Bullshit. Our society has a built-in tolerance for some kinds of violence. And head-slaps are often affectionate.

There was a time, a long time ago, when I was at the beach with my friends. Maybe Cardiff, back when it had sand. A party just down the beach turned ugly, shouting and whatnot, and eventually a buff kid was sitting on top of a girl, fist drawn back, ready to do harm. I started walking that way, covering the space between our parties, hoping to be seen. I am not an imposing physical specimen, but in cases like this that’s not important.

He rose off her, and things calmed. I returned to our party, and no police were involved. If he hurt someone later, am I complicit? My choice was to intervene personally, in that moment. Granted, when that happened we did not have phones you could carry around, but even if we had phones I’m pretty sure we would not have dialed 911. We would have done exactly what we did that night: Present a witness and breathe a sigh of relief when violence didn’t happen. And enjoy the beach.

So now, as the actual trial is about to begin, I’m fizzing with an urge to call out many of my fellow jurors as liars, if well-intentioned. I did not. The fate of a kid was at stake.

Leader of a Golden Age, and Points for Good Penmanship

I spent too much time playing the latest game in the series known as Civilization. It is the flagship of a game genre known as 4X: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate. You play the leader of a civilization and you must raise your civilization to be the greatest one in the world.

At the start of each game, you choose which historic culture to base your civilization on. This has been eye-opening for me, because I discovered I was much more familiar with Philip of Spain and Peter of Russia than I was with Poundmaker, a great leader indigenous to my own continent.

So as I adopt the cultures of these great leaders in the game, I take a little time to read up on the actual historical figures. I recently totally crushed the world as Tamar of Georgia. I had not heard of her before, but she was king of that country and presided over a golden age, after a perilous political dance in part because no one had ever ruled that country who didn’t also have a penis.

Her timing was good; when the fourth western crusade smashed itself against the muslim states to her south, Tamar was able to expand her nation significantly. Her second husband was a capable and savvy guy, and went out to kick ass while Tamar kept things running at home. (The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas and I are a very similar team.)

Tamar’s first husband, was, apparently, a pretty-boy asshole, and her shucking him marked a major turning point in Tamar’s independence from the families that meant to control her.

Here is Tamar’s signature:

If I hadn’t already been convinced that she was awesome, that would have done it. Just even try to follow the pen strokes. And the dots! The dots! It’s not so much a signature as abstract art. Even when we write letters with our hands anymore, they don’t look like that.

We have that document, but we’re not exactly when she died or where she was buried. But in Georgia, they remember her. And now I do, too.

What Makes Me a Liberal

I am against hunger. I am appalled that in this land where obesity is a major problem, we have smart kids getting washed out because they can’t concentrate because they haven’t had food since yesterday. It hurts all of us when this happens, and it wouldn’t be that hard to stop, except the rich people only want their children shaping the future.

I think we should take care of each other. Sometimes I am ashamed to be a citizen of this country when that simple precept is disputed. We should take care of each other. If your neighbor needs help, you offer help. This is not some giant socialist scheme, this is just a simple rule that Jesus (among others) made a point of emphasizing. We should take care of each other. That is all.

I believe in freedom. I believe that it is patriotic to speak the truth, and that the citizens of this country are obligated to speak up against injustice. Obligated. Ob-li-ga-ted. We crucify people for speaking up, when the real sin is keeping silent.

I believe a code of ethics applies to everyone who would choose to lead us, but morals cannot be legislated.

I am in favor of wealth redistribution. Workers are more productive now than they ever have been, yet none of the benefit of that productivity goes to the worker. Jane the Magnificent Spot Welder produces more, and the boss gets richer, while her wage stagnates. When Trump appeals to blue-collar voters about the good ol’ days, when a MAN could go to work at the FACTORY and make enough to have a house and a car and to send his ingrate kids to COLLEGE, Trump forgets that those good days were the product of labor unions.

I am against dynasties. If a kid can’t make it with the best education money can buy (“education”, in this context, actually means “making connections”), and with only $50 million of the family estate, rather than $150 million, I don’t think that kid should succeed. Inherited wealth has been the backbone of a ruling class since money existed. Let’s break that. Sorry, Kennedys and Roosevelts, liberalism has left you behind.

If the Bill of Rights were to be written today, it would include a right to privacy. What’s amazing is that right now privacy is a liberal cause, when it should be a cornerstone of conservative politics. This is the obvious indicator that in this country “conservative” is actually a code word for “authoritarian”. There are no conservatives left in mainstream politics, and that’s a shame.

And that’s what really brings me to being a liberal. There is no longer a conservative voice. You are either liberal or a supporter of the state.

3

Jury Life Pt. 2: Voir Dire Day 1

We were gathered, the citizens of group 45A, filling the gallery of a courtroom. In front of us there were three people — two lawyers and the defendant.

The prosecuting attorney, who I would soon learn was an Assistant District Attorney, was a tall woman, brown-skinned, with short, tightly-curled hair parted on the left side. Ms Hawkins wore a businesslike skirt and jacket in neutral browns and grays. The skirt stopped short of her knees, which I expect was intentional, but the sleeves of her suit were too short for her long arms. Her hands were also long, with long, expressive fingers. If she plays basketball, I bet she’s pretty good at it. Or piano. She mentioned later (in one of those calculated asides to make her likable to the jury) that she was almost 40 years old. I would not have guessed that.

To her right the defense attorney stood with the defendant. Ms Li also wore a skirt and suit, but was much more willing to embrace color, coming to court in blue with colorful accents. She didn’t have any physical traits that jumped out at me on that first impression; it wasn’t until she spoke that we learned her true superpower.

The defendant. Shit, just a kid. Brown-skinned, short, skinny, close-cropped black hair. Clearly coached by Ms Li to be respectful and friendly. Nice smile, shirt and tie over slacks.

The courtroom was laid out much like any other; there was the gallery occupying half the space, then the tables for the defense and the prosecution, and the jury box to the left. Some time after the original design of the courtroom half of the space between the counsel and the judge’s bench had been usurped by a large clerical area. The loss of this space to the demands of rigor and documentation led to some awkward logistics during testimony.

There was a small stuffed pig overlooking the clerical zone. It was a human touch I found encouraging.

“All Rise!”

We rose, except the defense, who made a habit of standing long before the call to rise came. Enter the judge, Nahal Iravani-Sani. “You may be seated, thank you for the courtesy,” she said. Her voice was gentle and friendly. Her wavy dark hair and olive complexion confirmed what I had assumed she would look like, based only on her name. She wore long black robes, of course.

From the first words she spoke, I could tell she appreciated the potential jurors packed into her courtroom. She recognized that the most annoying part of the process is the waiting. But before we could go any farther, we would all have to leave the room while she heard members of 45A ask to be released for reasons of hardship. “Hardship to your employer is not adequate,” she admonished.

We all left. The jury waiting room was fairly empty now; I found a seat and read some terrible space opera on my phone. That first day I didn’t want to bring anything extra — I had the nightmare scenario of having a backpack of stuff an no place to put it. Which was silly, in retrospect, but I’d rather not assume. So on my phone I was scrolling through a story that put sailing ships in space, while I and the rest of 45A that were not asking for hardship excuses cooled our heels.

Finally we were called back and there were several empty chairs in the gallery. Now it was time to get down to business. Eighteen names were called. I was not one of them. Those called filled the seats in the jury box, then a row of six chairs in front. From here on, jurors in those seats were not referred to by name, but rather by the number of the seat they occupied. Judge Iravani-Sani apologized for the impersonal nature of that policy, but told us that it was to protect the anonymity of the jurors.

Judge Iravani-Sani addressed all of us. “This case involves domestic violence,” she informed us. “While we all have strong feelings about that — of course we do — what we’re asking of you is to judge this case impartially, and to presume the defendant is innocent until proven guilty.” *

Each juror found a list of eleven questions to answer waiting on their chair. “Juror number one,” the judge said, “Please read each question out loud for the record, then your answer. The rest of the jurors need only give their answers.”

The first few questions were ordinary. “Do you have friends or family in law enforcement?” would lead to extra follow-up by the judge if the juror answered “yes”, to establish whether that relationship would lead to the juror giving automatic preference to the testimony of cops. Through this process the judge was carefully and skillfully preventing people from disqualifying themselves. “Knowing you feel that way, do you think you can still listen to the facts of the case?”

But then there was the question that asked, (something like) “have you ever been witness to, or a victim of domestic abuse?”

“No,” said Juror one. There were follow-up questions about a couple of his answers, but then it was on to the next juror. “Yes,” said Juror two when he reached the Big Question. He had seen domestic abuse. Discussion with the judge followed. It was Dad, maybe, the stories have all blurred. Can he remain impartial in this case? He said he thought he could.

On we went “No,” said juror three to the Big Question. “No,” said juror four. “Yes,” said juror five. The judge followed up as before. “Yes,” said Juror six.

I looked over to the person sitting closest to me in the gallery. He looked back at me, also wide-eyed. Six random people, three of them have directly experienced domestic abuse. By the time we got through all eighteen jury candidates, there were probably ten who had direct experience with domestic abuse.

Think about that. Remember that this courthouse is in one of the most prosperous cities in the world.

After the judge took them through the questionnaire, it was time for the lawyers to interview the initial eighteen. Whereas before it had simply been disturbing, now it got both fascinating and even more disturbing.

The prosecutor wanted to make sure that jurors didn’t hold it against the people that a domestic issue was being decided in the courts. Ms Hawkins asked each juror whether domestic violence should be reported to the police, or whether it should be handled by the family.

Holy crap. I don’t have hard numbers, but almost every person who had witnessed domestic abuse, when asked, “did you call the police?” said “No.”

“Why not?”

The answers to that were universally tentative.

Why not? There was a camp that said that domestic abuse should be handled inside the family, and that there was no cause to involve outside authority. Then there were others who said that domestic abuse was obviously a crime but even they didn’t call the cops. People who know their friends are getting beat up don’t call the cops.

It’s understandable at one level; your friend’s life is shitty enough already, and if they want the cops they’ll call for them, right? Who are you to escalate someone else’s issues?

She was sitting somewhere around seat 16 when she was first interviewed. In her fifties, or perhaps a hard forties, or even a brutal thirties. She has not had a soft life. “Oh, I have a lot to say about this,” she said. And she did. Family members on the giving and receiving end of domestic abuse, including a sister who has a tongue as sharp as shark’s teeth, and uses it to hurt. Plenty of interaction with law enforcement in her family, but none of that (as far as I could tell) was related to the domestic abuse.

The woman in seat seven, an older woman, thought that the family should handle things unless it got really serious. How serious? her questioners persisted. “Cuts and bruises, that’s OK,” she said. “Maybe broken bones? Definitely if she dies.”

Another guy, both he and his mother were beaten by his father. “But it’s OK now, they’re divorced.”

It was somewhere around then that the lawyers and the judge met to eliminate some of the first eighteen. Several were dismissed with cause; the jurors in the lower seats were shifted to fill the holes.

Soon after that, the day was over and I found a crowded bus home. I found myself with a lot to say about the events of the day, and a fierce desire to talk about what I had heard and learned with my sweetie. Alas, my lips were sealed.

The next day, I had my chance to speak.

Tune in next time for Voir Dire: Jerry Speaks his Mind!

____

* Not all quotes here are exact.

Jury Life pt. 1: The Gathering of 45A

Monday morning two weeks ago, I, along with about fifty other shuffling citizens in group 45A, made the bleary trek to report to the Hall of Justice at the ungodly hour of 9 am. I chose to take the bus to town, as the Web site implied that parking was a hassle.

I tromped down to the bus stop in a light rain (the weather lingered an ENTIRE HOUR longer than my phone said it would), loaded up the transit app that gives real-time bus updates, loaded the other app to purchase my bus tickets, and then stood in the rain wearing a sweater and cargo shorts.

While I waited two men all bundled up in brightly-colored foul-weather gear, hoods pulled up over their heads, walked by. They both smiled at me, and when I smiled back one gestured at the clouds overhead and said, “Something something Amigo! Something something something!” and laughed.

I laughed also, shook my head sadly and said, “Yeah…” Even though I understood only one word he spoke, I knew exactly what he was saying. We parted friends. Or at least, amigos.

But honestly, unless hypothermia is an issue, getting wet doesn’t bother me that much. It’s an attitude I consciously adopted from a good friend of mine who went to college in Washington and didn’t carry an umbrella during gentle rains, to the bemusement of his peers. That attitude was reinforced when I started biking to work, and I realized that rain was not a big deal except for the mess — and that’s what fenders are for.

But I digress. The bus ride was uneventful. After I had I reached the Hall of Justice, set off the metal detector with my belt buckle, nearly mooned the people in line behind me when I took my belt off, and finally got through and regathered, I went up to the second floor to discover a long line of new jurors.

The line moved quickly; when I reached the front the barcode on my jury-summons postcard was scanned and I was handed a piece of paper and instructed where to go to do my next bit of waiting. I was not asked for any sort of identification. I guess Jury Imposters are not a prevalent problem. Or are they? How would we know? Is someone out there searching mailboxes for jury summons so that they can go and decide the fates of strangers? Or perhaps there’s an underground industry of Jury-Substitutes that people hire so they don’t have to report themselves.

I found my way to the Jury waiting room, which was already overfilled and people were still coming in. Department 45 was not the only courtroom seating a new jury that day, it appeared. It was warm in that room, and there weren’t enough seats, but I am still healthy enough to stand for a little while at least. But you know what happens when you pack a bunch of people from different communities into a room like that? I’ll tell you in a future episode. (Hint: that episode may or may not be called “Jury Plague”.)

After a while the announcement came for group 45A to proceed from the waiting room, down the stairs, across a walkway to the brown elevators, and back up to the second floor in the other wing to Department 45.

Yeah, the courtrooms are called “departments” at the Hall of Justice. I think that’s odd, too.

So all the people in group 45A stood and filed from the waiting room. I just went with the flow, and when the flow bypassed the brown elevators to find the stairs, I was good with that. It would have taken half the morning to get us all up in the elevator — one of the two brown elevators was in use to move prisoners.

When I say “all the people in Group 45”, I actually mean “all but one.” As we filed into Department 45 we checked in and then the bailiff had us fill the seats in the gallery in an orderly fashion. When that exercise was over, there was an empty seat. One potential juror was missing. So we waited. And waited.

After a couple of phone calls it was established that our erstwhile peer had got lost on the way from the waiting room to the courtroom, and had gone back to the waiting room without telling anyone about it. He was given new instructions and sent on his way once more. “He’ll be right here,” the bailiff said. The bailiff was a nice guy, but this time he was wrong.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a seat that was low to start with, and had a squishy seat. Next to me is a woman (who would become Juror #1) who was almost a foot taller than I was when we were standing up, and now the top of my head didn’t even reach her shoulder. I am not a tall man, but I don’t need to be reminded of that quite so forcefully.

Another call. More paging. Once more the stray juror was tracked down. The jury-handlers, already struggling with the surge of new jurors that day, found someone to walk 45A’s last member right to the door of Department 45.

Finally we were all assembled, and we were ready to begin. What followed was a discussion that was as disturbing as it was interesting.

Tune in next time for Jury Life Pt. 2: Voir dire!

3

This One’s for Mom

A few weeks ago I was in a fabric store with the Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas. My mission was to select the fabric for my holiday shirts. While I was poring over the seasonal offerings, and surprising OS with my sparkly decisions, there was a woman in the same section with her kid installed in her shopping cart.

That kid never stopped talking, and I’d guess that 90% of all utterances were questions. Mom tried to answer most of them, but deflected many.

I was in a time warp, looking at me and my mother, possibly on the shopping trip where I picked out the double-breasted suit pattern, the busy blue/purple pinstripe fabric for the jacket, and the fuchsia double-knit for the trousers of my Easter outfit when I was eight years old, give or take.

OSoMR&HBI has seen pictures of that outfit, so sparkly reindeer shirts should not have surprised her quite so much, my normal attire notwithstanding. You gotta sparkle for the holidays.

Anyway, while I was poking through the fabric options, the kid was offering up a never-ending stream of questions. Based on some of the questions, I got the feeling that we were on similar missions. While I can’t specifically remember any of his fabric-related questions, they were in the vein of “Why is it snowing on the dog?” Questions that really don’t have an answer.

Then for a while he asked simple mathematical questions, which his mother answered easily. “What is five plus fifteen?” “What is five plus twenty?”

Then he dropped the bomb. “What number do you get when you add up all the numbers?”

Getting no swift answer from his mother, the kid grappled with the question himself for a little while, naming a couple of very large numbers, quieter now as he realized that those were numbers too, and part of all the numbers, sensing rather than knowing that he was touching on a deeper sort of mathematics. He had asked a question it took mankind almost our entire history so far to even know how to ask, let alone how to answer.

I did not go over and accost mother and son and congratulate the kid on asking a massively awesome question, and tell the frazzled mom that her child was destined to grow up to be like me. She’ll find out soon enough, for better or for worse.

But I got to climb into a time machine that day, and see myself and my patient mother from the point of view of an aging man who still likes to sparkle now and then. It made me irrationally happy to know that in fabric stores, the impossible questions were still being asked.

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The Guy on the Corner

I grew up in a small town, but one of my first visits to a large city carries with it an enduring memory. A man, skinny and bedraggled, on a street corner, shouting obscenities into his hat. I was just a kid back then, and didn’t understand the tragedy that man represented. I was just perplexed. I learned, somehow, later, to be afraid of people like that — maybe the reaction of the people around me that day informed that fear. Which is awful.

Yesterday, walking down the street in San Jose, there was another man standing on a corner shouting into the air, a stream of profanity. I just assumed he was on the phone.

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I am a Juror

I have been asked by my community to sit in judgement of a neighbor. Neighbor in this usage is a broad term; the plaintiff is accused of crimes that happened in Santa Clara County, and that is where I live. But Neighbor here is not geographical. Neighbor in this case means someone who shares values similar to mine. If the dude down the street sacrifices virgins to the Great Lord of Darkness, he is not my neighbor, proximity notwithstanding.

When I sent notice to the folks who work around me that I would be out of circulation for a while, one response I got was “High five for doing your civic duty.”

I wrote back, “I actually feel strongly about that; juries are in fact a bulwark against tyranny.”

And I believe that. I believe that jury duty is a sacred trust, a bond between citizens, the last line of the law in a society governed by law. I am proud to be selected as a juror, vetted by both the people and the defense, and each has entrusted me with keeping an open mind.

Maybe this case is not one that defines our democracy. But maybe every decision by every jury does define who we are. I want to explore this more, but out of respect for the process, I’ll shut up now.

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Two Things I Learned Today

  1. MapQuest still exists!
  2. MapQuest really sucks.

I learned the former when using the Web site to report for jury duty in Santa Clara County. Links to the locations of the courthouses take you to MapQuest.

For a brief explanation of the latter, MapQuest is overrun with intrusive advertising, and the “get directions to a place” feature does not include public transportation.

My next post is likely to be observations on the Wheels of Justice. Oh boy!

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