Thursday, July 21, 2016

Snark Serves Jury Duty

Recently, I was summoned to serve as a proud cog in the American judicial machine. I had mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I feared taking time out from my hard-driving professional life of making puppets talk in silly voices. On the other hand, I was a little intrigued, because I had wondered since childhood what the jury process might entail. (You might infer from this that I was a disturbed child. But that would be reductive. In fact, I was disturbed and weird.)

To wit: when I was eleven, with a penchant for writing stories that contained not one shred of actual sense, I wrote a story called “Ted Serves Jury Duty.” I do not know why. But I do know that I asked my mother where they put the jurors, and she must have said “in a box,” because I went on to describe the judicial process as follows:

"Jury Duty," said Tim, "Is where you sit in a cardboard box with a bunch of dolts who do not know anything about law and you watch a judge bang a hammer on a table and say things you do not understand.  There will be someone in handcuffs there.  The judge will ask this person questions...and then ask you if you agree...and if you do not agree you will be handcuffed too."

"Cool," said Ted.  "So, what do I do to get out of it?"

Disappointingly, it turns out this is not 100% accurate. For one thing, there is no cardboard box. Instead, there is the Bronx Superior Courthouse, kept at a brisk 852 degrees below zero for your comfort and cryogenic preservation. And though the people there may know nothing about law, they are far from dolts. One fellow juror observed that she’d rather go to jail. “It’s probably warmer there,” was her logic.

It’s probably warmer in hell, too, or so you’d think. But in fact I was half-convinced we were already there, and I can tell you why in one word: coffee. Indeed, one vitally important issue with jury duty that I must raise – and as a proud cog, I take this VERY seriously – is the coffee. Courthouse coffee is not coffee. It is vile swamp scum of death. Maybe no one ever actually died from drinking it, but I assure you they wish they had.

All of this got me thinking, in my resourceful way, of other ways to be let off the hook. One approach would be simply to plead your stupidity:

LAWYER: Ms. McEldowney, you –
ME: Can I bang your gavel?
LAWYER: I’m not the j—

But this lacks nuance, and besides, I had time on my hands in the cryogenic chamber. It was the perfect time to compose this


  •       “Okay, if you don’t mind that I have a squid disorder. On the half-hour I spurt ink. Like clockwork.”
  •       “Just so you know, my religion mandates the death penalty for anyone found guilty of writing musical theatre. AT MINIMUM.”
  •       “Bear in mind I’m prone to explosive diarrhea when you least expect it.”
  •       “I really really really really reeeeeeeeeeallyyyyy wanna serve jury duty please please please please pleeeeeeeeeeeease OHHH WHY WON’T YOU LET ME.”
  •     “I’m sorry; I’ve decided to sentence you to death.” (Beat.) “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
  •       “Okay, but I won’t be able to restrain myself from passionately fondling everyone else in the room.” (NOTE: This might actually get you selected.)
  •       “I recuse myself from jury duty on account of I’m ovulating.” (Long beat.) “Pterodactyl eggs.” (Burst forth demonic-looking puppets, apparently from groin, and make everybody scream.)
Meanwhile they kept calling names, but never mine. I was left to make my own fun. On which note, here are just a few of the exciting things you can do to pass time at the Bronx Superior Courthouse:
  •       Wander back and forth 9,649 times
  •       Visit restrooms featuring the most violently flushing toilets known to man
  •       Watch instructional video featuring stirring patriotic music, really bad acting, and the statement – actually delivered by the narrator with a straight face – that you will want to go home and tell your friends all about it.
  •       Wander back and forth 8,372 more times
  •       Attempt to remember all names of trains on Thomas the Tank Engine
  •       Write snotty blog post about how boring it is not serving while knowing full well other people have it worse than you and are actually serving

You may think this story has no point, but I’ll have you know that finally, at the end of the second day of not serving jury duty, my name was called. And then… AND THEN…

Well, and then I was sent home with a certificate stating I had served. That was literally it. It was somehow bittersweet because now I would never, ever – despite my prognostications at age 11 – get to experience the following dramatic court scene:

"Manly McTestosterone,” [said the judge, Bob], “You are being tried for cutting photographs of a woman's breasts out of Playboy magazine and pasting them on your nose so it looked like some boobs were hanging out your nostrils.  Do you plead guilty or not guilty?"
"Which is cheaper?" replied Manly.
Bob's face flamed.  "Both of them will cost you a lot.  Do you plead..."
Manly interrupted.  "Um...not guilty.  I didn't do it, OK? Now will you let me go?"
"And now," said Bob, "a question for the jurors!" [He addressed the question to Ted.] "Is Mr. McTestosterone telling the truth?"
"Ask him," said Ted.
"Are you telling the truth?" asked Bob.
"Yes," said Manly.
"Okay, then, case dismissed.  You may go."

I missed out on this. Instead, my own story has a more humdrum ending, wherein I returned to my cherished daily routine of (a) avoiding writing and (b) getting bitten by a criminally insane cat. But the judicial experience has stayed with me. So, you ask, would I recommend jury duty? The answer is sure, for a lark. Why not? Assuming that the lark can stand the temperature.

But I would NOT recommend the coffee. No courthouse offering up that substance has any business calling itself “superior."

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