Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Jokes, Damned Jokes & Puzzles :: Ideas Are Everywhere - Day Three

Writers get their ideas by paying attention to the things that most people ignore and doing the things that other people avoid.  For the most part, jury duty is almost shockingly boring, but I kept a journal of my time on jury duty back in 2008 and I'm posting it here (unedited) to illustrate how even the most banal days can provide us with all the story fodder we could possibly want.  A more complete explanation can be found here. -Scott

Day Three

The Judge tells me that for every 100 jury summonses sent out, only 35 jurors appear. 65 of my fellow citizens have some ‘splainin to do while I and my 34 cohorts sit in the windowless bunker, wondering when our turn will come. Again. I’ve always been told that you show up and if you get on a jury, you’re done when the case is done. Apparently not the case, since I’m still sitting here.

I told mom about the judge. She laughed and told me that she once got called into a jury pool with a judge’s mother. You see: at the beginning of Voir Dire, one of the first questions they always ask (and the judge always seems to ask it) is “Do you know anyone on the court today?”

Here’s your ten dollars, mom, have a safe drive home.
(Wait for gong to sound.)

Your tax dollars at work folks. Well, they would be your tax dollars if you lived in Missouri. Otherwise, it's just a good bit of state-sponsored silliness to amuse you as it did me when I heard it. Where was I?

The light flashes but it’s to call in jurors who have already been chosen. They troop into the room, the weird lady that runs the place walks up to the podium and tells a joke:

Q: How do you spot Ronald MacDonald on a nude beach?
A: He’s the one with sesame seed buns.”

My dad told me that joke when I was fourteen. Apparently their awe at having the presiding Superior Court judge in the room has waned. She calls the roll, sends the first jury out with an assistant and then returns to address the rest of us. There will be two Superior Court cases and four Municipal Court cases today.

Everyone will get called, just sit tight and take a short break. Watch for the amber light. In the meantime, another joke…

“A ship captain in heavy seas spots a light ahead on the same course and bearing as his ship. He puts out a call: ‘Change your heading ten degrees!’ the answer comes back ‘Change your heading ten degrees.’

The captain fumes. He’s a navy captain in charge of a warship, and by God he changes course for no man! He calls again… ‘
I’m a navy captain, you will change your heading ten degrees!’ the call comes back: ‘I’m a navy ensign, and you will change your heading ten degrees.

The captain is aghast at this insubordination and grabs the handset away from the radio operator. ‘
I’m a US Navy captain on the bridge of a warship son! And you will change your heading!

There’s a crackle of static as everyone on the bridge watches with bated breath. Soon the call comes back. ‘
Well, captain, I’m a US Navy ensign sitting at the base of a lighthouse, so it’s your call.”

I think this place drives you a little nuts after awhile, because I laughed at that. Actually, I laughed at all of them. Mass hysteria. Mob mentality. Get enough people in a room and tell them a joke and no matter how bad the joke, some of them will laugh and the others will laugh along with them to keep from feeling left out.

I suspect that there are some comedians who base entire careers on this premise.

The real trouble with having a memory like mine is that things like that stick. Perfectly innocent synapses, minding their own business when along comes a really bad joke and SNAP they’re chained to an oar in a creaking galley with a naked Ronald MacDonald beating the drums to set the pace. Yes, I will remember Ronald MacDonald’s sesame seed buns until my dying day but I forget the name of someone I met yesterday. Thankfully, there were already synapses devoted to Ronnie’s buns, so no harm done this time. (Thanks, dad!)

People tell me they wish they had my memory. If you can think of a way to get it into a suitcase, you can have it, but you have to take all of the strange side effects with it: Ronald MacDonald and his buns et al.

Second and third jury selections pass me over but I’m still not allowed to leave. The joke lady keeps sending us on little breaks, “Use the facilities, you’ll be called back in fifteen minutes.” The fifth time I hear it credibility has attenuated to the point of embarrassment.

There are no decks of cards in the bunker. Lots and lots of scary Mary Englebreit puzzles but no decks of cards. Based on the number of older white males in the room, if there were, we’d be up to our ears in a poker tournament in no time. I guess it’s a good thing. I’d hate to get called to my civic duty while holding an inside straight.

I actually don’t know how to play poker, but it’s fun to pretend. I’ve never played Scrabble either. Mine was a deprived childhood, I suppose. We owned Scrabble, I found it in my parents basement when I was visiting last year. It was quite dusty. But it we ever played it I certainly don’t remember it (remember what I said about my memory?). We also owned decks of cards, but at most some rummy or solitaire was their fate. Go Gish in the early years...

A deprived childhood indeed. How do my parents look themselves in the mirror? Deprived, but not depraved enough to want to assemble an entire Mary Englebreit puzzle, however. How bored can you get?

You know, I think the kitty on the front of that puzzle box might be looking at me. I edge away from the puzzle box and open a new document. I have work to do.

Honestly, I don’t “get” Mary Englebreit. Her artwork is a little strange. Like a crossbreed of tole painting and The Busy Busy World of Richard Scarry. So much going on, busy busy busy. Little worms and kitty cats driving cars made out of apples and bananas and stuff.

Work to do. Concentrate. The cat is not looking at you. The flowers in the border are lavender anyway. I’m allergic to lavender. Couldn’t assemble it if I wanted to.

The Judge slipped out at some point. Probably has his own cases to hear, lawyers to frustrate, bad guys to punish. Yes, he’s gone to the bat cave. Or he’s tired of the lady's jokes too and is lucky enough to have an office in the building to escape into.

Work to do. Bye for now...


2:30… the amber lights flash again. Everyone files into the room, puts down the piece of the folk artsy kitty they were trying to find a place for in their puzzle, closes their Grisham novel or looks up from their laptops.

Joke lady walks up to the lecturn… and doesn't tell a joke. A miracle!

A new Superior Court criminal case has been called into session! Forty-five jurors will be called up! A frisson of excitement mingled with dread runs through the residents of purgatory. She reads out names. This is a big one. These cases can run days or even weeks to get through voir dire, witnesses, expert testimony, in and out as the lawyers wrangle over minutia. I set aside my puzzle… I mean close my laptop and lean forward. This could actually be interesting. I haven’t seen a big case yet. I notice the judge isn’t in the room.

Ten jurors in a row are called, all of them on the last day of their final week of rotation. Oooo. That's gotta suck. They howl, they complain, they protest. It’s the computer. It’s random. It’s your civic duty. Take your number, citizen. The computer is your friend. Now, get in line.

My name wasn’t called.

The remaining municipal cases have all pled out. No more jokes for today. Go home.
Ten more dollars. Cold hard cash.

(NOTE: The title is from a famous quote by British statesman Benjamin Disraeli and popularized in America by native son Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned lies and Statistics.")

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