A few months ago, an anonymous delivery person uniformed in royal blue shorts trotted up on horseback as if out of some magical nowehere and delivered to me a very special little red and black envelope sealed on three sides. I turned it over once, twice, and before three times, maybe, the mysterious delivery person had vanished into the sunset. Hands trembling, maybe with anxiety, maybe from the weight of my two bags of groceries, I carefully opened the letter on my way up in the elevetor of my apartment building, for it must have been a delicate matter to have such explicit instructions: 1) fold along dotted line here, then 2) tear along perforation.
It was a letter requesting the pleasure of my company at the Los Angeles Superior Court. *Gasp!* The Superior Court was inviting me! Little Delicious me! How flattering that out of the thousands and thousands of voting-registered, driving-licensed California residents, they had chosen me to attend the Grand Judicial Ball. What had I done to deserve this? Silly Sarah! Cereal is for kids, but that prankster, California, tricks you into registering to vote and licensing yourself to drive, only to snatch up your name, hurl it into a wonderfully random pool of potential jurors and rescue you right back from the boredom of your un-jurored life when you least expect it. I was so utterly emotional I wanted to throw up. Instead, I heaved a huge sigh and gagged myself into convulsions.
Let’s be serious here. A letter from the Superior Court is not an invitation to Prince Charming’s Ball. It is a Jury Summons, which sucks you into a dark, twisted, reality-draining tangle of judicial drama that is nowhere near as pretty as Ally McBeal or LA Law (wow, I am old).
All postponements and attempts at being excused aside (and yes, I postponed my “date”), the big day arrived, and how wonderfully appropriate that it would be just three days after I was released from being confined within a two-foot-by-two-foot cell that someone in HR was trying to pass off as a cubicle. I went from a bi-weekly salary in corporate marketing to 15 taxable dollars a day for jury service! And who said being “self-employed” was going to be a financial strain?
If you have never had the pleasure of being summoned for jury duty, then I can blame you, you non-voter you! And pay attention, because your first day of service goes something as follows. Maybe worse, only because if your dog dies, you develop dysentery and you lose all four limbs in some freakish highway accident on the day that you’re supposed to report for jury duty, you are probably still expected to show up. Seriously.
Tuesday (night before I am required to report):
Set alarm by working backwards from the appointed 8:00 am, and count, count, count, accounting for (in reverse order now) parking at the courthouse, navigating the labyrinth that is downtown LA, rush hour traffic on 10 freeway, cussing on the 405, starting car, and showering. Scratch showering. Yes. I get to wake up at 6:15 am, which is so much better than the 4:30 am I thought it was going to be! Jury Duty, I am too harsh; you’re not so bad after all.
6:45 am – Roll out of bed half an hour late but still way too early for a now funemployed blogger who normally doesn’t see the light of day until…tomorrow. Throw on closest things to the bed that appear to be “clothes,” only to find out out later that afternoon that said “clothes” are actually the pajamas I wore to bed last week. Note to self: use hamper in the future to avoid this kind of mishap again. Then again, this is jury duty, not the prom.
6:49 am – Jump into car and start driving toward freeway.
6:50 am – While on the way to a very legal activity, bust a totally illegal U-turn to go back and get the “invitation” that had clearly stated “Please bring this summons with you, Idiot.” Oh, you caught me in hyperbole. It didn’t really say “please.”
6:55 am – Just call me Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jr. because I am speeding along the 10 East freeway at a record breaking 12 mph. Growl at the “amber” board that says 405 to Downtown is 10 minutes. That’s 10 minutes if every driver doesn’t slam on their brakes to read the board, otherwise, it’s 45. F–k you, Amber! Take swig of coffee from cup in cup holder. Spit it out because that was yesterday’s coffee. F–k you again, Amber, and f–k your entire amber neon Caltrans family! Now where are those “emergency” cigarettes that I hid in my car four months ago?
7:45 am – Pull into parking lot, only to be shooed out because this is the entrance for Benzes and Beemers, and the plebeian entrance is a half-block down. Flash red and black “papers” that have marked my fate, pull into a space, and take some time to pull hair back because you know, it’s only 7:45 and the “papers” say to report by 8 am.
7:59 am – No one told me that the “court” to which I was to report was actually five very cruel and unusally punishing uphill blocks from the parking lot. I was hauling my laptop bag, sweating, panting, my knees about to buckle since I haven’t had this much exercise in over six months. As I stood at the final intersection at Broadway and Temple, I noticed the colorful patchwork of triple X porn flyers and loose pages of local publications carpeting the sidewalk. That made me much less worried about possibly soiling my running shoes in a puddle of homeless urine laced with crack. I could smell the urine, but the crack wasn’t that noticeable.
8:02 am – The security line in the lobby of the court building makes LAX look like a drive through window. It made me a little nervous that the metal detectors were beeping and lighting up like the nickel slots at Circus Circus. From what part of the spectrum of LA’s society did the Superior Court summon these potential jurors?!
8:10 am – I am 10 minutes late. That’s fashionable. Unfortunately, of six elevators that serve 15 or so floors, only one works, and when it lands on the ground floor and “dings” with the up arrow, it’s like a Southwest Airlines free-for-all cattle call as 150 people in the elevetor lobby try to squeeze into a tiny box with a maximum capacity of less than half that.
The elevator, by the way, stops on every floor, and inevitably, the one person who is getting off on that floor is at the back of the elevator. Every floor. There should be a law about lining up inside the elevator in order of planned exit. It’s a courthouse, for God’s sake. Make a law or something.
8:14 am > – The girl at the window directs me to “take a place quietly in the assembly room.” The room is packed and the ringleader has long since launched into her orientation spiel about “being excused from service,” (if you weren’t excused when you first received the Summons in teh mail, you can try now, but in a nutshell, unless you can prove that you’re deceased, you won’t be excused) how the day will unfold, what to fill out, where to tear off your Juror ID “badge” from the rest of the papers, when you can go to the bathroom, etc. The came the dreaded “Are there any questions?” *pause* A hand shot up from the sea of sleepy-eyed, caffeine-hasn’t-kicked-in-yet cranky potential jurors that received hateful stares from everyone in the room. Why? Why is there always always always no matter where I am, why is there always one idiot who has to ask a stupid question? “This might be a stupid question, but…” Yes, McEinstein, it most certainly is a stupid question, and your stupid question is detaining a whole mob of Angelenos for an additional two minutes in this sweaty, crowded, uncomfortable, claustrophobic “assembly” room. It is clearly marked on your paper to tear the badge off at the perforation! Someone’s going to get lynched at lunch time.
8:45 am – Begin “the wait.” You see, the first day you report to jury duty is not really the beginning of your participation in a trial. Your first day of jury duty is the beginning of a series of strangely, emotionally bi-polar lotteries in which you hope to get called from the assembly room for the actual jury selection process so you can, for one day, be totally prejudiced against all other races and religions, and presumably be “excused” from service altogether; at the same time, you hope you don’t get called into a court for the jury selection so you avoid the risk of being selected for a trial anyway.
If you are not called, then it also sucks because you have to come back the next day and wait again. So all this malarkey about “one-day service” is…malarkey because the first day doesn’t count for anything. You don’t even get paid for the first day.
9:15 am – My ears perk up and I look up from my laptop. The first round of two dozen or so potential jurors is being called to court for jury selection. Concentrate, and listen for your name, and any possible mispronunciations of it. Damn. My last name, and any non-Korean butchering of it, wasn’t called. I wanted to run up to the Ringleader and ask her if she might have missed me? Delicious? Delicioso? D-luscious? Wait. Why the heck do I care if I am called or not? Our human nature has us always wanting to to “be picked.” It’s a throwback, I think, to our childhoods on elementary school playgrounds and choosing teams for kickball. There must be some deep-seated scarring somewhere in my psyche from those days when I wasn’t even picked last. I wasn’t picked at all and would go sit in the tunnel and read books. I hang my head in nostalgic shame over my laptop.
12:00 pm – It’s lunch time. We get an hour and a half for lunch! Now, an hour and a half is generous amount of time to go exploring the local lunch-time spots around the northern parts of downtown LA, namely J-town. However, given the way I was dressed, and the fact that I would be eating alone, I didn’t want to risk being drop-kicked out of an establishment as a vagrant. Did you not watch Pretty Woman? I wasn’t dressed like a hooker, but in my pajamas-now-juror-wear, I didn’t look like your typical courthouse power luncher. I called Johnnie and asked him to meet me on a street corner. Again, “Johnnie” is not a pet name for my pimp. Johnnie is a tax accountant who works in one of those tall shiny buildings downtown.
Johnnie, I think, was somewhat shocked to see me in my current state, and I think, was racking his brain for a place to go for lunch where our grossly mismatched selves wouldn’t scream out for disdainful stares. A soup kitchen maybe? No, better. We headed to the food court in California Plaza, to sit amongst the pigeons and power lunchers that descend down upon the fountains and sunny seating from noon to 1 pm.
12:25 pm – Walking along Hope or Flower or one of those street in downtown LA, I hear someone shout “Sarah!” I ignore it because on the street, I only normally answer to “Hey, Stupid Ho!” I look up anyway. It’s Angela, whom I haven’t seen or talked to in almost five years. *Gasp!* Oh my Sweet Mother of holy f–king fu—k! Of course, that was what I was hissing in my head, but what I actually said out loud through a curt little *kiss kiss* was “Oh my god! Angela? How are you?! You look great!” and all the while, praying, “Please, please, please, any God that is listening, please let Angela think that the “leggings” I am wearing are “trendy,” since leggings have made a weird retro-80s comeback, and not the “leggings” I used to wear 15 years ago but forgot to give to Goodwill.” Those holes in the seams are supposed to be there. Just like jeans. And hopefully this oversized hooded sweatshirt is doing a good job of hiding some of those other holes that would get me arrested for indecent exposure.
Angela and I spent the obligatory moments giving each other the 30-second soundbites of our lives, then parted ways, she on her way to her business casual lunch with a co-worker and I on my way to eat myself back to comfort from shame. Of all days, of all places, of all the possible permuations of lives intersecting, did I have to run into someone today, looking like this?!?!
1:00 pm – All I could do was mope over my combination from Salads 2000, not really tasting how lukewarm and watery bland the vegetable soup was, and not really registering the rusty-brown edges of the wilted lettuce in my salad. Johnnie and I were seated in the shadows of the plaza, and though his words were something like “protect your fair skin from the sun,” I think what he really meant was “hope to God that no one discovers me sitting here with you, pale-faced, greasy hair pulled back into a tangled knot, dressed in haute hamper.” We finished lunch, and I spared him any further embarrassment by simply trotting back to the courthouse.
1:30 pm – Start waiting expectantly (but not really) again. My POS laptop is running out of battery power, and AC outlets are being monopolized by the pinstriped dweebs who freakishly reported back to the assembly room before the lunch break was over. I sidle up to one of the court-provided computer stations in the back of the herding room. It costs $5 to surf the web for an hour, but only $12 to surf the web for the whole day. $5 or $12? Do I bow down before the legal gods and pray for mercy, swearing that I’ll never again ignore another Jury Summons as long as they “call me” in the next hour so I can air my prejudices and get the hell out of there? Or do I bite the bullet and click the radio button that will s
end electronic piranhas into my bank account to pillage me of $12, confident that in the grand game of roulette known as jury selection, I won’t get called, and will have narrowly escaped the jury selection process?
Oh the suspense! Oh the drama of jury duty! And that was only the first morning!
Stay tuned for scenes from the next “The Chosen One.”