Everyone (living here legally) knows that sick feeling one gets when a certain white multi-layered cardboard “envelope” sporting a red slash above the addressee’s name appears in the mailbox. You know what it is even before you read the dreaded words “Important: Jury Summons Enclosed”. Argh!
Mine summoned me during a really busy time here at the PMc studio, so I immediately requested a postponement for August. Alas…along came August and along came my new summons. The gig was up. Nowadays, we are only allowed one extension and outright dismissal from one’s civic duty has gone the way of those cell phones that were the size of baby whales.
I still get misty-eyed over those halcyon days of yore. I was free and clear for YEARS because I had dragged my ass over to the County Clerk… or somebody like that… directly from working in a nightclub all night. I ended up being interviewed by an elderly Black man who got such a kick out of my appearance (which included a floor length gown from some past era, plus three shades of glitter stuck into the grease paint on my eye lids) and was so dazzled by the fact that I was a nightclub DJ, he gave me a big giant pass of 5 years. “You need your beauty sleep, young lady!” He laughed, signing and stamping whatever I needed for my emancipation.
I then started to just ignore the summons after that. That seemed to work until they got all hard-assed about it and we ended up where we are now. The first time I had to adhere to the rules, it wasn’t so bad because between my natural tendency to be very opinionated, my many years of experiences that included either being the victim of crimes or knowing someone who had been (Jeez! We’re New Yorkers!), plus having gone to law school for a year (No lawyer wants a former or present law student sitting on their jury), I was always sent packing after being interviewed. In addition, I was a columnist and writer for “Paper” during those years and their office was within walking distance, so I could stop by for some editing or visiting… usually the latter. Finally, I discovered how great the restaurants had become around the courthouses, which completely changed my mind about Chinatown’s culinary offerings.
But, back to the present…
As instructed by the summons, I phoned the day before to make sure that my presence was still required. A cheery recorded voice told all of us who were to report for the next day that we were to do exactly that. Drats!
I had to be there at 8:45 AM, so I tried to go to bed early the night before. I hardly got any sleep because the Mod Cousin was flopping around like an electrocuted trout all night. He suffers from, what I’ve dubbed, Restless Body Syndrome. I assume that RBS will be the next big thing in commercials about remedies for ailments nobody ever gave a shit about, let alone put a label on, then had you convinced by the commercial’s finish that this ailment was so prevalent that you could actually just refer to the ailment by initials.
When I woke up from not sleeping, I didn’t have enough time to drink my coffee, so I was essentially in a state of jetlag. Luckily, the courthouse was a minute from the #6 train’s Canal St. stop, so I didn’t have to do any heavy thinking.
Up to floor 11 I went and into the proper room. There were very few people. I sat and read my “Post”. More people appeared. Finally, a woman got on a mic in front of us. She introduced a movie about the history of jury duty that was narrated by Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer. It was really boring after the Medieval Trial by Ordeal dramatizations. I mean, how are you going to follow people being thrown into lakes and hands being thrust into boiling water?
Some woman behind me was assuring another woman that jurors are now given a pass of 6 years instead of 4 years between being called. I looked around the room and was surprised at how few Blacks, Asians and Latins there were. Then, the clock hit 10 AM and the room became packed and many more Black, Asian and Latin people dotted the space. This seemed a BIT more rational, considering the make-up of the populace of Manhattan.
I was fading fast. I had already finished the “Post” and I hadn’t taken the “time out”, as offered by the lady on the mic, where we could sign out and disappear for 20 minutes.
I began to obsess over being unlucky enough to most likely end up on the jury of some upcoming trial of the century. Being that this was the criminal supreme court’s holding room, it was not like this was an impossibility or deluded conceit. I was hoping that having written “journalist/writer” as my occupations, no lawyer would want to pick me. I had also written “DJ”, but I crossed it out because it didn’t seem loaded enough in my favor this time around. I thought about my certain financial ruination as a result of being a sequestered member of the trial of the century’s jury. The pay is $40 a day, which was laughable. Of course, they used to pay around $12, which was only made worse the time that they never sent me any payment at all. They will only let you claim financial hardship if you were literally going to starve, not if it was “only” a financial hardship. How thoughtful; how totally insane. Then, I beat myself up over not wearing that garish Paris Hilton t-shirt acquired from a long-ago Heatherette fashion show goody bag. Who would ever pick some crazy old lady in a t-shirt emblazed with a full-length Paris Hilton? I was so stupid!
A policeman appeared at the mic and began to call out names to meet at the elevator and go to another floor for jury consideration. Mine was the third name called. Shit!
The area by the elevators was soon packed. They had called 60 people. We went to the 7th floor and sat on benches. It was absolutely FREEZING. I was shivering and I had worn a jean jacket. A really jacked up woman rattled on to another, in between sips of coffee. I began to fall asleep as I listened to her explain that she had been at the courthouse already for 1 ½ days, that she was originally from Kentucky and that her sister ended up on a Grand Jury that took 4 weeks over Christmas and New Years and she didn’t go home for the holidays because she had stayed to keep her sister company. Great.
Finally, an officer appeared. He told us that, “…due to scheduling conflicts…” (AKA: the judge and lawyers have vacation plans and no one wants to cancel them), we were all to return to the 11th floor. “So, we’re out of consideration here?” I asked him. “Yes.” He replied. “We’ll return your cards to the pile.”
Back on the 11th, I sat next to a woman who had been there the day before. She had been called in for voir dire, which is the fancy name for the interview process. She told me that they asked if anyone had either been a victim of a crime or knew someone who had. If the answer was positive, they were automatically released. “Didn’t they ask for specifics?” I asked. “No,” She said. “Just excused”. Hmmm…this was easier than the civil trials I had been interviewed for in past years. You actually had to give an example and swear you couldn’t be impartial. Of course, if I ever noticed that the lawyer or judge was not buying my rigidity, I would mention the law school year. Out I went!
We were told to go for lunch until 2 PM. It was 12:30 PM. I went wandering the nearby streets of Chinatown and settled on a Malaysian restaurant named Jaya. I ordered some sort of puffed veggie fried thing for an appetizer and something called Sassy Shrimp in Red Sauce for the main course. How can you turn down something so deliciously named?
Unfortunately, the appetizer turned out to be rather tasteless samosas. The Sassy Shrimp WERE delicious, despite being over-whelmed with onions. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when I saw a huge handtruck filled with giant onions being wheeled in as I ate. I guess it was the onions that provided the “sassiness”. It all went down really well. I also felt somewhat awakened by the two Malaysian sweet and milky iced coffees I greedily sucked up.
With a lot of time to waste, I went shopping. Unfortunately, I not only got really lost, but that shrimp was getting unbearably sassy with my intestinal tract. Happily, I made it back to the 11th floor just in time.
The roll call had not even been taken by 2:15. I went to the computer room and checked on my email and if there were any events that had appeared on the PMc site that I would have to copy edit. There were two. I didn’t have enough time to do anything about them because the time limit given for one’s time on the computers was very short and there were many anxious people waiting.
On my way back to my seat, I saw a magazine rack I hadn’t seen before. I was trying to decide between an “InStyle” and “Marie Claire”, when I noticed that both were a year old. I settled for “Marie Claire” and their promise to tell us how grown up and “fab” Sarah Michelle Geller had become. After being educated on that riveting subject, I amused myself by looking at the “must-have” fashions and reading what trends were predicted to become HUGE. “The wider the trouser leg, the bigger the career move!” We were promised. Yeah…not only did wide-legged slacks never catch on, but I would actually eat a pair if they ever had anything to do with me getting a huge career boost. This inane hilarity was only topped by the interview with the model wearing these lucky power pants. She (allegedly) said that if she had not become a model, she would be a Forensic Accountant. “I’m such a nerd and I love it!” She supposedly trilled. Right…
Isn’t “Marie Claire” supposed to be the “smart” women’s magazine?
At 3PM, we were let go.
The next day we were allowed to come in at 10 AM. Because I was there fairly early, I was able to score one of the single chairs along the wall. These seats are a great choice, not only for legroom, but also if you have a notebook, because there are plugs next to each.
I was also able to score recent reading material. Grabbing the Fall fashion supplement of the “Times” meant that I would be covered after the “Post” had been consumed.
In addition, I got a lot of work done in the computer room because I was able to hop around on different computers when my times were up because there were hardly any other people in the room. Because it was a Friday, we had lost the holdover potential jurors from Wednesday and no more had been added because of the weekend.
By 12:30, they still had not called any names. They let us out for lunch, but said we had to return because there were still cases floating around. “At least, that’s what they’re saying.” Explained the woman at the mic, sounding really apologetic. So, off I went to Chinatown.
This time I thought I’d eat Chinese. Big mistake. I instantly departed two restaurants I had entered; one because I was presented with a really boring lunch menu, despite the interesting dinner menu that had drawn me in and, the second, because they only took credit cards for an amount way over what I knew I would eat. Unfortunately, I finally found one that seemed to answer my needs. I was immediately seated, then immediately attacked by a Lumber Jill-ish woman pushing a Dim Sum cart. She was very abrupt and insistent that I choose from among her wares. I settled on two fried veggie plates, both horribly greasy and tepid. Ugh! Then came the hot sour soup I didn’t want, but was part of the lunch special. I was really not in the mood for the predominantly vinegary taste for which the soup is renown, so I fished out the tofu and mushrooms. My main course of orange beef, unfortunately, was also overwhelmed by the taste of vinegar. And the sauce was thick enough to be a good substitute for glue.
The people next to me were also going through hell. Even though the male was Chinese, he couldn’t get the Dim Sum thuggette to back off. Despite his protests, she slammed a bowl of liquid on their table, in which some pudding-like white slime floated. They each took a taste and made a face. “I THINK it’s soup.” The man said to his disgusted companion. They both looked like they were going to be sick.
After my lunch by ordeal, I returned to the 11th floor. At 3 PM we were set free. How nice of these people to have wasted an entire day for all of us. And that know-it-all woman was wrong: We were now out of the jury pool for four years, not SIX. Harrumph!
I decided to take my time going home, so I went over to a little bubble tea place I had seen on Mott St. I had joined the line in there earlier, but it was moving too slowly for me to safely return to the court house by 2 PM, so I left. It’s called TenRen’s Tea Time and it is excellent. I highly recommend the cold Vanilla Chai milk. The cost is $4.50 for a huge double. In fact, I liked it so much, I returned the following day.
I am so glad that this experience turned out as it did. And, remember, if you get that horrid little “envelope”, arrange your appearance to coincide with holidays Of course, there IS the possibility of that Grand Jury nightmare that Kentucky woman’s sister went through…