In Which Our Hero Does His Civic Duty

Jury Duty. Duty, they call it.

Oddly enough I had never been called in for it before despite the fact that I have voted since I was able to, and despite the fact that I have only voted for a winning candidate for President once, which means most people don't agree with me. I don't know if that shows that I am out of step with everyone else, or if they just aren't bright enough to know how to vote properly. Looking at how much we complain about who is in charge, I would tend to think the latter. But that doesn't have anything to do with this edition of Dronings.

I want to talk about my day serving my country in a manner that is highly important, or so I was told. They know it was an inconvenience, and that they would do their best to make it a pleasant experience for me, or so I was told. I've been told a lot of things that aren't true, such as that I will like my job, that the nice man is here to help you and that the light at the end of the tunnel is not a bomb blast. Most of what I was told there fell along those lines.

I got a letter telling me that I would be needed sometime during the month of September and October, and if I could be so kind as to set aside those two months in case I am called at anytime during those two months, they would really appreciate it. Now, at the time, I thought I might have something worth doing during those two months, and tried to think up a number of ways to weasel out of it.

Since then, it turns out that the only thing worth doing in my life is finishing up Final Fantasy VII and thinking ways to make other people uncomfortable.

I sent in every excuse I could think of. I work in corrections part-time, my full-time job needs me for the annual enrollment period, I'm allergic to beige, I'll be swinging from a rafter slowly in the basement, or I might be the one on trial. These were some of the printable excuses that I tried. However, none of them worked, and I got another friendly letter saying that my presence was required on September 7th at the Federal Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis at 8 A.M. sharp.

Don't be late. Don't blow this off. Dress nice. Look presentable. Wear clean underwear. Bring stuff in your car in case you have to stay for a few days. Show the hell up or we'll sent federal marshals to your house to drag you down to the courthouse, which I should be used to by now. I'm used to staying in my car, since it reminds me of those wonderful times my parents and I would have out little disagreements, so having stuff in my car if I have to stay for a few days is not a big issue. But that's a different trauma to be discussed at some future point. One in a series of 14,037. Collect them all, I did!

The letter also said that I was to call the courthouse some time after business hours the Friday before to see if I would be needed. Which is a great way to do it, since by then, you can't tell your work that you have to take the next workday off until that next workday. Whoever came up with that idea deserves their own little island in Hell where they have to win an argument with Pat Buchanan in order to go to a more humane torture like rivers of fire or movies that start with the phrase "Oprah Winfrey Presents."

I told my boss at my full time job, who had no idea what I was to do to let the Powers That Be know that I was going to be away performing my duty, so we just both sort of shrugged and I told him I would call when I knew something. He's still waiting for that call.

He'll be waiting for it for the rest of my life at least.

I called Saturday morning and found that while five of the letter groups had been dismissed and wouldn't be needed, mine was one of the two that were needed. Now, I normally get downtown at 7 A.M., so having to get downtown at 8 A.M. isn't much more of a hassle. It's still a monumental annoyance, since I'd rather stay in bed and dream about pretty much anything than get up and face another day. 4.5 billion years of evolution have brought us to this point and I wake up every day curing that fact along with many, many others far too numerous to list here. If you like, e-mail me and I will give you a list of things that piss me off, but make sure you have a big hard drive. Heh heh heh.

I got on a later bus than I am used to, and the people there are a little more scary than the ones on the buses at 6 and 6:30 A.M.. The people on those early buses are business folk, tired, who either read the paper or sleep. The ones who ride the 7 A.M. bus are people who are actually glad to be awake since they got more sleep than me. They talk. They wanted to talk to me. They would introduce themselves and ask what I did for a living.

I hated them instantly.

I put my head against the window and tried to sleep with all the shiny happy people all around me and already knew that even if I had to go downtown later, and could sleep in an extra hour, I wouldn't. No amount of sleep was worth this.

The courthouse had a metal detector, and I had to walk through, put my briefcase through a x-ray machine and answer a few questions. No one else had to answer questions, which made me think that they must not have liked the length of my hair and thought I might be a troublemaker. Maybe that would count for me as I began my quest to be struck from the jury.

I made it up to the jury room, which had nice, helpful handwritten signs and big black arrows in thick black marker, showing me that our government has a lot of money for computers, printers and word processing programs that no one knows how to use. At least everything was spelled right, but it's hard to misspell "Jury, this way". Although, given enough time, I probably could have done it.

There was a line there, and the woman at the desk dutifully repeated the same phrases over and over with practiced cheerfulness. "Do you have a picture ID? How far did you drive to get here? Do you need something to take to your job to let them know you were here?" There were about 75 of us, so I had to grudgingly admire her, but I know that we she gets home, she kicks her dog through the hedge and tortures her kids to make up for the big smile and endless perkiness she had to give us.

I sign in, get my papers and my little "So, you couldn't think of a decent excuse" Jury Duty book and am told to sit down and that we would be starting sometime around 8:30. What about showing up promptly, dammit, at 8 A.M. or before? It seems I'm the only one who got that letter, and everyone else got a letter that said, show up sometime in the morning, as people came straggling in until around 9 A.M.

Not that I didn't appreciate the women's magazines for our reading. Not that I didn't appreciate the $1.00 cans of soda we could buy. Not that I didn't appreciate the coffee that the Geneva Convention wouldn't allow the Serbs to give to prisoners of war.

I slumped in my chair and read one of decent magazines that I had brought. When I was done I tried to find something worth reading in the big tub of magazines to "help you pass the time as we get ready for you." OK, jurors are supposed to be of voting age and all, so I still can't figure out why there were copies of Cosmo Girl and Teen Beat mixed in with the Redbooks and McCall's. Maybe the case will have to do with the merits of "nSynch vs The Backstreet Boys, and if I read the article I'll be tainted. Then I remind myself the fact that I even know the names of those groups aimed at 12 year old girls taints me anyway. As I reminded myself to scrub off with SOS pads when I get home, I returned to my chair and waited for something to happen. Thankfully, the room of people far older than me and lumpen housefraus didn't see fit to want to talk to me.

One of my curses is that people see me, think I'm interesting and want to "get to know me," not knowing that I don't want them to get to know me. If you see me sitting and reading somewhere, or otherwise not looking at you, please do me a favor and don't assume that I want to have a long conversation about your latest trip to Menards or how you had the greatest time at "TG Applebee Bennigans" or some other big chain with a lot of crap on the walls and watered down drinks Friday night with your friends. I don't like conversations like that, and it's why I AM avoiding eye contact with you. OK? Got that Shallow-boy? Talk about shopping with people in your IQ bracket.

Eventually we are shown a video about what is going to be done to us that reminds me of the industrial films I had to watch as a small child in school. The acting wasn't much better but the voice over was by a deep voiced sonorous woman instead of a deep voiced sonorous man, so I guess that shows that there's been progress. Problem was there weren't any car wrecks or animals eating each other, and that's what I look for in educational films. I consider raising my hand and ask if they have a copy of "Blood On The Asphalt," but I know that when they would just say no. I also know that if I were to offer to bring mine, all I would get in return for my helpfulness would be a dirty look. If I wanted dirty looks I would have kept trying to meet women.

After the video, we're told about where the bathrooms are and how to find the vending machines that we weren't told about when we showed up an hour previous. Then we are told that the judges are still busy and that we will be called up to the courtroom at about 9:30.

I pass the time by writing a sequel to War and Peace, thinking up new and exciting ways to use ketchup in the public library, and counting how many minutes of my life that have been stolen by this process that I will never ever get back. Not that I have done much of anything with the minutes of my life so far that doesn't reinforce the opinion my father had of me when I was 8. Still, I miss those moments, because they could have been used for throwing sharp things at my neighbor's car or dog.

Finally, at 10:20, we are called up to the courtroom. Now, many of you have an image of a courtroom from watching TV. I have to say that you are right on all counts about it. It's not as big as they show, with only two rows of pews for observers, witnesses and potential jurors. The judge was as old as you would expect and seemed like he would rather have been teaching third grade.

I could go on about how the judge spent time telling us what was going to happen, getting to do call and respond, and how I felt like I was back in Church, except Church has music before they pass some sort of judgement on you, but I've already gone on for almost 2000 words, and the average attention span of my audience was used up when I pass the second paragraph, so what I'm writing from now on is just for me.

So, since I'm the only one reading at this point, I would like to say that I have the best hair of anyone I know. You may not care, but it's all I've got and I have to find some way to boost my flagging ego. So, I'll take a break here, stretch my legs and get a nice cool beverage and have you read the second part to see how it all works out.

On To Part 2