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Truths, Myths, Misconceptions, Malodor, and Consequences at New York City Civil Court Jury Duty
I’d of course forgotten to set my alarm the night before. But, luckily, the weather was nice so the all-male Orthodox Jewish preschool housed directly underneath my bedroom window had allowed its pupils to play outside on this fine morning and several dozen giggling and shouting yarmulked and fringe-clothed little pischers woke me at 7:09, the earliest I’d been up that didn’t involve impending air travel or the tail end of a bender in at least three years. I had to be downtown by 8:00 for my first career stint at jury duty.
111 Centre Street is quite the hike from the Vice Blogger’s fortified drinking compound, but I wasn’t concerned, I had no plans to shower, to even look presentable. My few friends who’d had jury duty assured me it was an in-and-out procedure. “A normal guy like you, eh, you’ll be dismissed before noon,” was the boilerplate refrain I’d oft-heard to my probing questions. Fantastic. My friends thought I was normal! I already had plans to meet an unemployed pal at a super-early happy hour by 3 PM that day.
I threw on the previous night’s stinky drinking clothes and topped my bedhead off with a backwards Syracuse cap. Gangsta. I passed on a swipe of my pits with the Speed Stick and a brush of my pearlies with the Crest. I was on the 2 train headed south a mere six minutes after the Jew-kids had woke me up with their four-square playing.
Getting off at the Chambers Street stop I felt like I was in a new city as this was not a part of Manhattan I find myself in more than once a year. I mean, the bar scene stinks down there! I was running late and somewhat lost and by the time I got to the court building, I was at the tail-end of a long snaking line of potential jurors all angrily staring at the same red and white dot matrixed card I’d received in the mail a few weeks previous. As I waited to go through the metal detectors, my first myth of jury duty service was immediately dispelled: people at jury duty are not the rag-tag rough-and-tumble bunch I’d expected. I was prepared to, even in my filthy state, be one of the best-dressed, least-foreboding, and most put-together of the entire lot but that was far from the truth. In fact, I was arguably the worst of the worst. I was what I expected everyone else to look like. What’s that quote from “Rounders?” “If you can’t spot the sucker in the first half hour at the (poker) table, then you ARE the sucker.” Well, if you can’t spot the scumbag while waiting in line for jury duty, then you are that scumbag.
The people around me were a sophisticated bunch of businessmen and women dressed to, at least the eights, perhaps even the nines I would dare say, praying they could quickly get out of service to actually go to work. To actually go to work! What a revelation. And now it hit me, of course jury duty wasn’t going to be populated with the layabouts and idlers and profligates and bones, thugs, and harmony who I had expected to see. Those are the exact kind of people that could never in a million years handle getting something in the mail, reading that something, remembering that something, waking up at 7-something AM, and getting their something in gear down to the court house. Shit, I was just a few percentile points of laziness, disrespectability, and irresponsibility from being one of those aforementioned something or others. The kind of person that would actually promptly and correctly respond to a government call for mandated service would of course be the same kind that has their shit together enough to have a job and to shower and to not drink til 3 AM on weeknights.
The line was overflowing with men in Ferragamo lace-ups and women in the whatever kinda pumps Carrie Bradshaw got clitoral erections over, all trying to figure out where that terrible smell was emitting from, all eventually honing it’s epicenter down to the brow-sweating man in beat-up jeans and Nike Shox, the only sneaker- and denim-clad person in the line, oozing booze from every pore in his body not already clogged by pizza and cheeseburger grease.
I still had a wicked hangover from the previous night. Though I’d typical avoid Mexican St. Patty’s Day because I hate bullshit fratboyified drinking holidays, I’d had a date and started my Cinco de Mayo drinking early at the Ginger Man, excited to see The Bruery’s Saison De Lente there on tap. I’d found their flagship Orchard White a mild disappointment but could still tell this was a creative brewery–still just in its first year of existence–to look out for. And this motherfucking saison floored me! Incredibly floral and citrusy with an earthy spiciness and a sourdough bready maltiness. A mild funky Brettness, this is one of the hoppier saisons I’ve ever had but still silky smooth. It just slides down your throat like a kid on a Slip ‘n’ Slide. Like you’re drinking some KY jelly. (Wait, that sounded more perverse than I wanted it to and inferred things that I have no interest in inferring.) Saison De Lente is incredibly interesting and delicious. Instantly becoming one of my top saisons. Well done, The Bruery!
On a typical day the longest I go without caffeine entering my system is maybe like fifteen minutes after rising. A hungover, miserable day like this was no time to break any records as I neared a full hour of uncaffeination. Passing through the out-of-date metal detector, I was praying that the courthouse had a food court or something en route to my jury room. Luckily, I stumbled upon a Middle-Eastern chap selling cardboard pastries, donuts, bagels, and coffee too, but unluckily what he had to offer was some of the hottest, most acrid coffee I’d ever had in my life. I needed the caffeine but it was terrible tasting and I could also tell it would have remarkable laxative qualities and, what with a 2 AM styrofoam Hallal street meat still in my belly from just several hours earlier, I didn’t want to find myself on the public court house can. I shuddered to think of that. I shuddered more to think of sitting there as the head of the jury room called my name, “Goldfarb? Goldfarb? Has he skipped out?! Contempt of court!”
I entered the massive jury room, similiar to the kind of facilities fly-by-night churches have to rent for weekly services and took my seat at the unfortunate front of the room. The smarter kids had some how known to arrive early so they could get the cherished seats in the way back where they could goof and doze off without any repercussions*. The head of the jury room came out to welcome us and yet another myth was dispelled–the workers here were some of the most upbeat and kind people I’d ever met in my life. Incredibly helpful and good humored, and willing to answer the ad nauseum dumb questions asked of him by my fellow jurors.
These folks may have been better-dressed and ostensibly more respectable looking than me but goddamn were they dumb. An infilade of daft and dopey queries exploded from these dunderheads’ pieholes like the retards in your college lecture hall classes who hectored the prof with the most asinine inanities. “Will this be on the final?,” “Should I keep notes?,” and “Do we have to read every book on the syllabus?” were replaced by shit like “Do we get a lunch break?,” “Will we ever be sequestered?,” and “Is this just like ‘Law & Order?’”
We watched an instructional video on “how” to be a juror and though I wanted to not pay attention, it was hard to ignore this 1980s VHS tape hosted by Diane Sawyer and featuring Don Johnson in jury room dramatizations as it offered such helpful bon mots as: “…if you get excused from duty, do not worry, it is not a judgment of your intelligence.” Oh, don’t worry Diane, I wasn’t worried.
Afterward, we had to line up to submit our pay forms in order to be remitted $40 for our service, where yet another kind courthouse employee, a most gregarious man, cheerfully read each person’s occupation aloud as he accepted forms.
“Ah, a professor, whadaya teach?”
“Looky there, a firefighter! Thanks for your service!”
“Cool, a lawyer! What firm?”
I started playing a little game, guessing what each person did, anything to keep me busy. This group of jurors was like an Ivy League class reunion. Some serious heavyweights in the room. But not completely…
For about every fourth person or so, the gregarious fella would look at the card and excitedly say:
“Well you’re not today! Today, you’re making forty bucks!”
Wow, the unemployment rate was high.
And then, we sat and waited. And waited and waited and waited. The room had wifi and I had brought my laptop, but leaving in such a rush I had forgotten my power cord and arrived with only an hour of battery life left. By 10:00 that was completely sapped. I tried to read a novel, but all I’d packed was a heady Thomas Wolfe work I couldn’t focus on. I tried to amuse myself by reading the NYC Juror Weekly newsletter–this seriously exists–but it sounds more humorous that it actually is.
So all that left me to do for the interminable hours was to observe those around me.
To my right, an obese gentleman slept, snoring loudly, and leaning so far back in his cheap plastic chair that I was certain it would soon snap. Behind me, a sassy Jamaican lady kept telling any one that would listen that Judge Judy wouldn’t allow no snoring in her court. She also implored the gregarious man to change the single juror room television from CNN to one of her soaps, but her wish was not granted. To my left, a Jewish gent who conspiratorially informed me that he could not seem to access “lewd and lascivious” websites via the jury room’s wifi. Testing him, I entered “JILF amateur porn” into Google and clicked on the first link it gave me. One such JILF–juror I’d like to…know biblically–was sitting directly in front of me, her blonde hair cascading down over her chair and nearly tickling the tips of my knees. The hot piece of work dressed ever so smartly, she had listed her occupation on her jury card as “archaeologist.” (Gregarious man: “Wow, cool stuff! Any ‘Jurassic Park’ stories you can tell me?”) I wanted to know her in the worst way but I don’t think she had any interest in digging up my bone.
Come to think of it, there were more hot women in my jury room than in any bar I’d been in this year. Gorgeous, statuesque, modelesque women listing their jobs as doctors and lawyers and just ambiguously as “CEO.” Wow, what a catwalk the center aisle of the jury room was.
Lunch time in that deplorable part of town full of lawyers in cheap suits and oldass Chinese people selling crustaceans that you thought extinct but had somehow just died within the past minute, and I only had one choice for dining in my mind. I high-tailed it up to Katz’s on Houston for a pastrami on rye, a knish, and a beer to even me out. I think being drunk at jury duty is a class A felony but going postal and killing everyone in the room is probably worse.
After lunch I found myself surrounded by an all new crew: two old biddies who apparently became friends in the morning session now loudly working a NY Post crossword together (”1 ACROSS: ‘Line before ‘Twist and Shout.” “Hmmmm…’Shape it on babe?!’” “It fits, Joyce! Perfect!”). A Jeffrey Steingarten lookalike reading an RL Stine book. Go figure. A bespectacled gray-haired chap rocking nonstop in his chair ala Leo Mazzone in the dugout. Very annoying. A sexy school-teacher with a high hemline grading elementary schools essays and affixing gold stars to every other one.
And me, the hungover, stinky, smelly, pissed-off Jew, amusing himself by lampooning those around him.
Many people have said to me, “Ah, I’d LOVE to have jury duty once!” What? You think it’s some awesome “Law & Order” shit? You think you’re gonna be Henry Fonda and heroically and correctly sway the hearts and minds of eleven other angry men with your brilliant rhetoric? You really think you’re going to work some awesome quadruple homicide or drug-running case or something involving terrorism? Naw. With jury duty you are simply being sentenced to the adult version of detention. I’m a wiseass so I of course had detention a time or two in junior high and high school and the adult version of it is much worse. MUCH worse. At least you kinda felt like a badass, a rebel, when you had high school detention. Adult detention just makes you want to be a former felon so that you will never ever never be eligible for this shitty service again.
At least I got a respite for another six years.
*I remember being five or six or so and first hearing the story of Rosa Parks. “But why would she WANT to sit in the front of the bus?! You can’t goof off in the front of the bus! The bus driver can see you! Didn’t she realize the best seat is in the back of that bus?!” Hush that fuss.