Jury duty is not a chore. It is an important part of our society. It is so not a chore that, in much the same way Sugar Pops have been renamed "Corn Pops," jury duty is now called "jury service." Still, when that summons (er, invitation?) comes in the mail, one can't help but experience a creeping sense of dread.
Part of the problem is that waiting to see if you're picked for a jury is excruciating, worse even than standing in line at the DMV.
I got the call from Montgomery County last week. As this stream-of-consciousness excerpt from my notebook shows, all that sitting can turn your mind to mush:
Waiting . . . Waiting . . . Been here an hour already and apparently no closer to finding out if they'll actually need me for a trial.
There are several hundred of us, sitting in a long room with chairs bolted to the floor like in a movie theater. We have numbers; have to listen for when our number's called. I'm No. 241A.
Thirty or so jurors already have been called and sent to the sixth floor, Courtroom 15. Or was it 15th floor, Courtroom 6? Need to sharpen up if I'm going to serve this important civic role . . .
Boring . . . Boringino . . . Boringissimo . . .
Anyone here I wanna be empaneled with? There's a tan, athletic blonde in a tank top. And a woman who looks a little like Sigourney Weaver. No one near me has obvious BO. That's good, in case we're sequestered.
We're all wearing red tags that say "Juror." That's so witnesses and lawyers will clam up if they see us on the elevator or in line at the cafeteria: That's right, juror coming through. Watch out, step aside, Juror 241A, on the move.
Of course, name tag could make wearer obvious target for psychopathic defendant just found guilty in marlin-spike murder who has sudden antipathy toward American legal system and all who represent it. Decide to partially obscure label under jacket lapel.
Realization: We potential jurors are like office supplies, human ingredients for the legal system. We're stocked here in the jury lounge, waiting for a judge to call down and order us up, as if we were a ream of Xerox paper or a tray of Danish. "Send me 30 fresh jurors! Piping hot!"
Should have gotten a Danish myself when the snack food guy was set up at the back of the lounge, but was afraid my number would be called just as I was about to take a bite. No food allowed in courtrooms.
Am I really hungry or am I just bored?
Allowed to use cell phones in back of room, so listen to others' conversations. Lady in orange shirt: "She's not that bright, but she's not totally stupid, either."
Balding man with moustache: "I'm not nice today. You're lucky you're not here. I'm not nice today." Feel sorry for defendant in whatever case he gets.
Dare I go to the bathroom? Or will I miss my number being called?
If I do get called for a trial, I hope it's a good one, interesting. If it's a murder trial would prefer a relatively bloodless murder: poisoning, perhaps. Nothing too gruesome in the crime scene photos.
If crime scene photos necessary, would prefer something like a public nudity case involving beach volleyball team.
Jury commissioner is back at microphone. Strain to hear. Nope, she's just testing the PA system.
Decide, yes, I am hungry. Wander over to vending machine to see what they have: Jumbo Honey Bun . . . Texas cinnamon roll . . . bag of caramels . . . Mega-crunch cheese crackers. Decide to pass.
Why don't the chairs in the jury lounge have little video screens in their seatbacks, like they do on trans-Atlantic flights, so jurors can play Pong or Grand Theft Auto while they're waiting? Or, with hundreds of people waiting here in this room every day, why not offer continuing education? The Juror Pool Lecture Series: "Jade Carvings of the Ming Dynasty." "Early Roman Aqueducts." Or allow someone to set up a table and offer deep tissue massage? I'd sign over my $15 juror expense check for a bit of shiatsu . . .
A man walks by holding a ladder, a brief respite from the monotony.
I brought a book: collection of essays by S. J. Perelman. Wonderful stuff, but can only read two or three stories at a time before starting to overdose. Wish I had crossword puzzle.
One and a half hours until lunch. Brain cells starting to die. Can feel them popping, like champagne grapes between the fingers of a naughty toddler.
"Naughty toddler." That sounds funny.
Wish we had a large beach ball to bat around the jury lounge, like at the ballpark.
Wait: an announcement! "Okay, jurors, here we go. Would the following jurors report to the ninth floor and Courtroom 2." She reads off numbers from 46 to 131. Our ranks are thinning, but still a long way till 241A.
I call voice mail at work to see if there are any interesting messages to relieve the tedium. Nope . . .
Can feel adipose tissue starting to congeal. Would like to rise and look out window but suddenly overwhelmed with ennui.
"Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do . . ."
Jury commissioner back at mic, calling numbers like ball-picker at a bingo hall: "189 . . . 232, 233, 234 . . . 241, 241A."
That's it! My number's up. I take stairs to seventh floor, where a court official tells jury pool to have a seat and . . . wait.
In the end, I didn't get selected for a jury. I'm eligible again for service in three years.