Friday, October 12, 2012

12 Angry Men and A Baby

It's all Dansons, all the way down.

Recently I got a jury summons.

I was out of excuses. I had no way to get out of appearing. I briefly contemplated faking my death, but realized I didn't want to be the asshole who starts one of those annoying celebrity death rumors that spreads like wildfire and makes people worry about someone who's actually fine.

So it was off to the courthouse, too far removed from toe surgery to use it as an excuse to not appear, but just near enough that I got to limp and lurch across the 943,000 square feet of the justice building that looks like some of the more exorbitant architectural photography to come out of Dubai.

Pictured: the San Marcos Justice Center.
I don't have to tell you that jury duty sucks raw ass through a straw. It's inconvenient, it's vaguely insulting and condescending, and it makes one question the validity of a system wherein someone's freedom or incarceration rests on the whims of a dozen people who weren't savvy enough to get out of jury duty.

Some will tell you that it's an honor to be selected to serve on a jury. A civic duty which doubles as a privilege.

These people are wrong, and probably old.
My only hope was in looking weird.  Being a creepy-looking intimidating bear has its perks, and one is that no one wants to be around you ever. I'm bringing to the table a massive body that's been called "a corpulent meat sculpture" and "a shambling monument to ham" by today's top critics, topped by a shaved head with a bizarre beard. Also, I showed up shirtless and completely painted blue and orange like I was a crazed fan in a football stadium.

I was there four minutes before noticing two other dudes with ridiculous facial hair which would scare children. The nerve of these fuckers. Advantage gone.

"Good, I'm not the only one. Hey, is that Drew Carey?"
I sat down and adopted the strategy of approximately 99.78% of all prospective jurors in the history of mankind, which was to scowl and look displeased with the whole situation, evidently banking on the attorneys for each side taking one look at me and thinking, "Whoa, I don't think I want someone who isn't delighted to be here. They might be bad at jury! Dismissed!"

Now began the most prominent theme of the morning, which was sitting around waiting for people to get their shit together. This was not limited to civic employees. Indeed, despite that the jury summons goes to great pains to point out that YOU MUST BRING THIS COMPLETED FORM WITH YOU TO THE COURTHOUSE, and how SERIOUSLY, YOU MUST, DON'T FUCK THIS UP, there were nearly two dozen people standing around asking clerks for pens so they could fill out their card in the doorway of the courtroom at 8:45, the appointed time we were all supposed to be seated and ready to begin. I was at the front of a large group of these halfwits, so at least I didn't have to stand there behind them all or wade my way through them, but it left a gigantic chunk of time for me to sit in the courtroom, practicing my displeased scowl and desperately wishing I'd remembered to bring a book.

Finally the lawyers for both sides were present, and the judge entered. He was a pleasant-enough fellow, attempting to lighten the mood a bit with comments about how we all know what an inconvenience jury duty is, and explaining a few of the procedures and rules with small jokey comments occasionally mixed in. These met with what I felt was slightly overappreciative laughter from the room, though my opinion may have been tainted by my determination to stay completely still and silent in the hope of being overlooked, just in case the lawyers' visual acuity was based on movement.

"Your Honor, may I approach the bench and, later, eat an entire cow in one gulp?"
Now the judge instructed people with grievances to form a line in the aisle to tell the judge and lawyers why they can't be here. I was stunned by the number of people in the line, and how many of them were promptly excused within five seconds of walking up to the bench to speak.  There were disconcertingly few people left in the courtroom once the exceptions and exemptions were all doled out. My chances of being selected had gone up exponentially.

"Don't there need to be at least twelve of us?"
At this point we were shepherded out of the courtroom to awkwardly lurk in the hallway, where upward of three benches were available for the sixty people who just clogged the area, and we all just... waited. I have no idea for what. Were the lawyers and the judge playing pinochle in there? Again I silently bemoaned by forgetfulness in not bringing something, anything, to do.

Other than imagining the more awesome things that could be happening in the courtroom at that moment.
You're going to think I'm making this next part up. I promise you I'm not. A clerk then finally came out to the hallway with a list of our names and called us each into the courtroom one at a time, in order of our summons (meaning I got to stand there for nearly the entire time, being fourth-to-last on the list of unexcused names). We were seated very carefully, row by row, so we were in an exact order based on our summons numbers.

Then we were sent back into the hallway so we could do it all again, in a random order this time, because one of the attorneys had exercised their right to request a "shuffle." I haven't seen that much effort and time put into something that everyone involved knew was a pointless, peevish, disposable endeavor from the onset in a long time.

So we were now deep into the jury selection process, and even deeper into the most elaborate taxpayer-funded game of Musical Chairs on record. And now it was time to get down to brass tacks, as the lawyers would now deign to address us directly and separate the wheat from the chaff.

The lucky, non-jury-serving chaff.
Internet research tells me this process is called voir dire. The judge had a slight Southern accent, further confusing me every time he said it and I heard "we'll get into the more dire area of the selection process in a moment."  How dire were things going to get, Judge? Those who don't qualify still get to go home, right?

Turns out the lawyers have spent some time studying us already, well before voir dire kicked in. They already had some idea who they wanted and who they didn't, and just had to ask some questions to affirm their early selections.  Strangely, they had loads of questions for the dude with the Rollie Fingers mustache; evidently he looked like prime jury material for these guys, and it had me sweating whether one of the lawyers was looking for a jury that could empathize with insane facial hair decisions.

Following the precedent of State of Texas v. Fucking Dipshit, 2003.
I've never made it this far into a jury selection process, so I had no idea what to expect, but little of my ideas corresponded with how it actually went down.

First of all, we were introduced to the defendant, a heavyset young guy whose efforts to appear in court well-dressed and presentable were undercut somewhat by the giant gang tattoo spread across the entirety of the back of his shaved head.

Secondly, my attempts to look sulky and misanthropic were being severely undermined by the guy seated next to me, who looked eerily like Nigel Lythgoe and who spent the entirety of the voir dire muttering bitterly to himself about how fucking stupid all of this was, from the lawyers to the defendant to the case. There was no way I could look more unfit for duty than this guy. I looked like a model citizen by comparison, solely by not appearing to have Tourette's.

"...bunch of bullshit... well, of course not, you fucking idiot..."
Speaking of the case, the prosecutor began the voir dire by telling us that he was going to ask questions of us both individually and as a group, but that the law prohibited them from talking about specifics of the case until the actual trial.

They then proceeded to essentially try the case, in the form of carefully worded questions to test how receptive we were to the things they were planning to say in court on the big day. It'd be like my saying "I can't teach you how to drive yet, but how would you feel about the idea of pressing this pedal to go faster and this one to slow down? And, for that matter, how would you react if I said a car's direction could be re-directed, or "steered" from side to side by turning this wheel?"

It was insane. From just sitting here in jury selection I knew that this guy had been arrested for possession of a firearm while on felony probation, and that the defense planned to claim that a friend of the defendant owned the gun and had just left it at the defendant's home. I know this because of how the prosecutor asked about forty questions about gun ownership and safety, and how bizarre we'd find it if a friend came over and just took out a gun to lay on the kitchen table, and whether we'd ever go into someone's home and casually take out a gun and leave it there.  I know because of how long he spent clicking away on his little Powerpoint presentation for us to carefully define what constituted "possessing" something, and illustrating how we each possess our cars without actually sitting in them at this exact moment, for example. I know because he took time to point out that the defendant had no intention to testify during the trial, on advice of his counsel, mainly to keep the prosecutor from asking the one question ("is this gun yours?") that would close the loophole of possession that the defense was planning to exploit.

I also know that the judge had told us that this case was somewhat unusual, in that normally we aren't privy to any information about the defendant prior to the exact events that brought about his arrest, but since the charge was Possession of a Firearm By a Felon, we had to be told that the defendant had a felony conviction on his record.  The judge went on to tell us that this should hold no sway in our decision on this case, as the prior conviction is another crime and another case, already tried, and unrelated to this alleged offense.

And yet the prosecutor kept falling over himself to remind us of the prior felony conviction we weren't supposed to have in mind. Of course he did. He's a prosecuting attorney, and it does nothing but benefit and strengthen his case to remind us that this guy's a criminal, and criminals do criminal things, y'know? Just play the recidivist angle until we're certain that the defendant was annoyed by his arrest mainly because it was keeping him from each of the other crimes he was planning to commit before lunch.

Which disgusted Nigel Lythgoe to no end.
A surprising amount of time was given to things like reading a list of names of possible witnesses for the defense, then asking for a show of hands by anyone who might potentially know those people; having the defendant stand up for us so we could look at him to see if he looked familiar to any of us; and asking if any of us recognized any of the legal team on either side. Each of these was followed by an obligatory "Do you feel this would hurt your chances of being fair and listening to all the evidence of the case without making up your mind first?" to anyone who raised a hand.  Astonishingly, not one person took the easy way out by yelling, "FUCK YEAH, I CAN'T DO JURY GOOD NOW THAT I REKKONIZE THAT ONE LAWYER, I'D JURY REALLY BAD IF YOU MADE ME DO JURY!" and being instantly excused, although one guy did so in a roundabout way that was either crazy-like-a-fox or borderline retarded.  He recognized the defendant as a possible customer at the bar where the guy worked, but the guy couldn't be sure. When asked if possibly having seen the defendant in public once would impugn his ability to serve as a jury member on the case, he began a strange and winding diatribe that showed he clearly misunderstood why we were all here.  Speaking directly to the defendant, this clown began to lecture him about how you're not just responsible for your own actions, but the actions of the company you keep.

He got as far as "If you know people who are going to make those kinds of bad decisions, you need to stay away from those types of people. In other words-" before the judge jumped in with a curt "I think we get your point, please move on, counsel."

I don't know what lesson this guy thought he was going to impart, but "impress upon this kid that he shouldn't be in a situation where he'd get in legal trouble" seemed a bit late.

"...and goddamned fucking stupid, if you ask me..."
It soon became apparent that our "shuffle" didn't exactly leave us in a random order. We'd been filed into the courtroom unevenly, with forty people on the right side of the aisle and just twenty on the left. I was in this smaller group, and the prosecutor began his portion of voir dire by talking to the woman next to me about speaking up so the stenographer could hear us, and how we should speak up if he suddenly walks away from us while we're answering one of his questions.

We were then ignored for the next fifteen or twenty minutes entirely, as the prosecutor rifled questions at the right side of the room and addressed many of them by name. These were clearly the head of the class. At one point he turned to us and said not to be offended that he didn't have any questions for us, adding, "The bright side is that you're probably gonna get to go home, and they [the right side of the room] aren't."

We responded by sitting in tomb-like silence for the remainder of voir dire, knowing how blessedly close we were to slipping out the door.

The defense attorney followed with his portion of the rigmarole, and any concerns we had that the legal teams had different ideas of what made good jurors was quickly laid to rest as he didn't so much as glance in our direction for his questioning. I'm reasonably sure we weren't legally recognized as human beings for about twenty minutes.
As opposed to the decades some must endure.
Voir dire concluded, and the judge once again dismissed the sixty-five of us into the hallway with its nine seats, as likely final decisions were made. I knew they wanted to have this wrapped up before noon, as the logistics of sending just twelve selected jurors to lunch were far more favorable than trying to manage the same with five dozen of us.

So, in keeping with that spirit of hurry, we were all stranded in the hallway for another half hour.  Having nothing at all with me to do, I spent much of my time just staring out a nearby window, watching buzzards rip apart and eat something dead in a field nearby. Sounds grim, but the alternative was listening to the Rollie Fingers mustache guy and Nigel Lythgoe already entering into deliberations on the case, eight feet from me. I was once again reminded that, were it me up there as the defendant, I'd already be halfway to a lengthy jail sentence once the jury laid eyes on me. These guys, even the one with the most outlandish mustache in the county, couldn't get past the kid's tattoo and how it meant "he's obviously still living the life" in a gang, irrespective of the fact that tattoos are notorious for not going away even if you got them during a bad time in your life that you've long since left behind.

We were all young once, right?
And just walking away down the packed hallway didn't look appealing, either, as I could see Teach-A-Lesson at the far end engaging in wild gesticulating conversation with several other prospective jurors who looked significantly less interested in the chat they now found themselves in.

Besides the window, I was having my own hallway adventure thanks to a pretty young girl who kept making eye contact with me and smiling. She was seated on one of the few benches available, and were it not for the fact that we were all here for jury duty which required one to be at least eighteen years old, I would never have pegged her as being an adult.

And every time I looked around at all, I found her looking at me, and quickly flashing me a friendly, inviting smile every time we made eye contact. Maybe flirting. I wasn't sure.

For one tiny moment I foolishly thought I must look good today.

Then the courtroom doors opened and the principals of the case walked out for restroom or smoke breaks. Among them was the defendant, who smiled as he walked over to this girl and they kissed and quietly exchanged encouragements.

The defendant's girlfriend was making eyes at me. A heavyset guy with a shaved head. The gal definitely has a "type."  Or maybe she was just softening up a potential juror, hoping to appear sympathetic. Or, most likely, I made for better eye contact than the two dudes standing nearby loudly discussing what a criminal scumbag her boyfriend is and how he's definitely on his way to prison if they have any say in it.

"Hey, her boyfriend might be about to go to prison. She's gotta keep her options open," was my lady's take on this anecdote.

At the very least it was an activity to pass the time. This jury summons had turned into such a lengthy adventure that, even with a giant window right next to me, I was half-convinced I'd emerge from the building into a post-nuclear wasteland. I'd spent much of the morning fervently wishing for one of these old ladies with nowhere to sit to fall down solely for the entertainment value, even as I knew that she'd be immediately dismissed and thus hurt my chances of escaping jury duty ever more.

At last they called us back into the courtroom, and the judge thanked us for the 29th time for our time and patience and for showing up in the first place, even though it was quite compulsory and none of us would be here otherwise. Then they called out twelve names, and roughly nine of those people approached the jury box as if it was going to give them a rectal exam. One dude even hissed "Awww, gawd..." as his name was called.

All twelve of the jurors were picked from the right side of the room. Nigel Lythgoe, Rollie Fingers, Teach-A-Lesson and I were each spared. And the rest of us filed out at exactly noon, recognizing how the proceedings noticeably sped up once we'd been brought back into the courtroom, as if it was imperative for the jury selection to be done before adjourning for lunch.  Called it!

So You Think You Can Make Six Dollars For Four Hours of Civic Duty?, Mondays on ABC!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How To End A Date In Four Words

A simple guide for all you lovers out there, to help you put a ring* on it.

(*wherein a "ring" is what we're calling a cloud of human-shaped dust left behind by an especially speedy exeunt)

"Check me for ticks?"
"Kids are just sexier."
"...James Van Der Beek."
" favorite film, Armageddon..."
"Women can vote? Why!?"

"The Holocaust seemed fun..."
"Shouldn't we both menstruate?"

"You're chunkier in person."
"Ya think Asians dream?"
"My pee's THICK today!"
"My jacket? Beagle pelt."
"...saltier than my boogers!"
"...stored in my foreskin."

"I find wiping unnecessary."
"Seen my Screech tattoo?"
"My first? Coma patient."

"Whew, meat-filled fart!"
"Mind holding my merkin?"

"Cannibalism's a narrow interpretation..."
"I pooped in her."

" grandmother's wet dildo."

"Your nostril looks... tasty."

"Infanticide, under certain circumstances..."
"Is your daughter single?"
"Hitchhiker dies, every time."
"There's precome in this."
"...ate those raisins twice."

"Preschool's a meat market."
"My underwear's all slick."
"Goats make gentle lovers."
"My whole hand fit!"
"My poop's mostly granola."
"That urinal tasted off."