Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Curse of Civic Duty

In my mail was the only thing I dread more than my post Christmas credit card bill, a jury summons. It was for a period of time when I would be visiting friends in Texas. I called and got a 3 month delay. When the new summons came it was for a courthouse whose location would require me to travel 2 plus hours EACH WAY!!!The other problem was that the courthouse is located in a dangerous, crime ridden area. It was also not outside the realm of possibility that I would be the only person of, well, shall we say Western European ancestry for miles in any direction. I called and got a change of venue. That was why, on an overcast Wednesday, when I would normally be attired in my black suit, dress shirt and tie, I was comfortably dressed in jeans, G star tennis shoes, a Christmas gift from my partner after I had to throw out an over worn favorite pair of foot gear and a fleece jacket picked up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Although the bus line from the train to the courthouse has a stop by my workplace, so I travel it regularly, I had never taken it past that stop. I was therefore going to head into what, for me, was virgin territory. It was  a nightmare of a public transit trip which proved Murphy's Law and took much longer than it should have. I passed by a bit of forest preserve I never knew existed and the headquarters of PEAPOD, the online grocery delivery service, finally arriving at the Skokie Courthouse, which, incidentally, should go down in architectural annals as one of the most non descript buildings in world history. Inside further blandness assaults the senses,, beige walls, beige floors and mud colored upholstered chairs which were surprisingly and thankfully comfortable. I would be spending a long amount of time in them that day.

A court employee, whose announcements sounded disturbingly like those of a flight attendant, welcomes us and introduces a video instructing us as to what we should expect during our jury service. A judge, whose delivery was so wooden I feared he would go up in flames any moment, is joined by a semi celebrity local newscaster to explain why the hell we are there and the procedures of a trial. We were then informed by the court employee/flight attendant that these is only one jury trial scheduled for that day. If we are not picked we will be dismissed. We sat, a morning talk show droned, I read.

One of the unpleasant parts of jury duty is the tedium. If I were to be released early I could return home, cook, clean, perhaps visit the gym, I could do SOMETHING! If I am picked to sit on the jury, although depending on the case that could become a multi day process, I would still be doing SOMETHING! We sat, a morning talk show droned, we waited. Except for the T.V. the place was not unlike the D.M.V.

In the one jury trial the defendant pleaded guilty, this state someone can ask for a jury trial even if one has not been scheduled for their case. We were told to amuse ourselves for an hour and a half then return. I pulled out my sandwich and snacks thinking that perhaps between them, writing, reading and my phone I could stay diverted for that length of time.

 As I walked down the hall past the doors of the courtrooms with their long glass windows my mind pondered what personal dramas were being enacted behind each one. Child custody cases, workers comp issues, perpetrators and victims of minor crimes confronting one another, maybe one neighbor suing another over their level of unneighborlylessness.The law, the search for a pat, written solution to the ills of the human race. Many of these ills are part of human nature. They cannot be tethered by the written word. They must be experienced, dealt with, learned from and moved past. Only one law should be necessary, look out for and be concerned for one another, essentially the Golden Rule of the Bible. But people and society seem more complicated than that. Our brains and emotions seem to crave the clutter of detail.

A father and daughter team of lawyers entered the lunchroom discussing various cases, loudly. I would have loved to seek solace in the forest preserve across the street but I could see no trail head and a busy road, sans stoplights, created a barrier between it and me. A song from the 80's stated "nobody walks in L.A.". The same could be said about the Chicago suburbs.

I walked back through the bland, beige interior. Couldn't they at least hang a painting or two? Create a high school mural competition. Allow the taggers of our subway system access to ply their craft? Anything would help!

After our break we returned to the waiting room. I had bought a book in January in anticipation of this day, "A Single Man" by Christopher Isherwood. An early openly gay author he wrote "The Berlin Stories" which was adapted for the stage into "I Am A Camera" which was the basis for the musical "Cabaret". The relative quiet of the room was a good venue for poring through Isherwood's dense, imagery filled prose.

Finally we were told that all cases on the docket that day had been settled and we were free to go. It was my good fortune to find a bus idling, waiting to depart as I left the building. Settling into my seat I reflected on the day. It wasn't a total waste, I got a good read in.


  1. be proud you did your civic duty! I wish I could do likewise, but I always get nixed when they hear what I do for a living.

  2. That's because you would shout out in the middle of the proceedings "The defendant's crazy. I'm a head doctor!!!! I Know!!!!!"