No one really likes rejection. Just ask the New York Knicks. But today I got rejected, and I’m not all that blue about it…I think.
Last fall I got invited to jury duty. I know, I’m popular. In fact, I’m so sought-after that it’s actually rather a ho-hum occurrence for me. Ever since the courts around here located me about 25 years ago, I receive invitations on a very predictable schedule. It’s generally smack dab in the middle of the school year, and I generally request that it be rescheduled for a later date, such as summer.
That’s what I did this past fall. I notified our judiciary system that while I was flattered by the invitation, I would be much obliged if I could postpone until July, when I would be free of obligations and looking for a way to pass the time, assist in the carriage of justice, and perhaps find some juicy writing material.
I received a prompt response. “How would July 2, fit in your social calendar, sir? We appreciate your demonstration of good citizenship, and by the way, should you find yourself on a jury, you may not write about it in your fabulously humorous (if stunningly unpopular) blog. That’s against the law.”
So today, I strode into the jury room, prepared to do my part to preserve democracy. You’re welcome. I was pleased to see the improvements to our surroundings. The uncomfortable folding chairs had been replaced by seats that more closely resembled those in an auditorium. Those seats had been reoriented, and now faced a much larger TV monitor than the one I tried unsuccessfully to ignore three years ago. I must say, it has been very satisfying to see the upgrades over the years. The “How to be a Jury Member” video was riveting this time. Was it the vivid LG display or incredible special effects? Hard to say.
Unlike several previous visits, this time, I made the A-list of potential jurors. A select group of 24 “first round picks” who got to head to the third floor for our auditions. I felt both honored and humbled by this preferential treatment. I will admit to a few butterflies, but I’ve heard that even the most decorated jurors feel a little jittery, particularly when considering that they hold in their hands the fate of our society and democratic way of life .
Once in the courtroom, we were briefed on the case, hearing the charges, and a list of names associated with the case. I would love to tell you all about this, but, as you read above, I am bound by the rules of our constitution. Let me just say this. It involved a crime. The State of Connecticut said he (not his real name) did it. He (still not his real name) said he didn’t. We also learned that the trial would not begin in a month that ended in Y or T. This surprised me, since I had been assured that my gift to our country would not involve me having to prepare sub plans.
Following this appetizer, we were escorted to the green room, or spa, as I like to call it. The temperature was 30 below zero, but fortunately there were two carafes on the conference table with lukewarm or room temperature water, whichever we preferred. We waited our turns, and as each contestant was called to the courtroom, I assessed his or her chances, using my special “profiling radar,” which allowed me to assess someone’s integrity and potential biases based on their shoes, hair, and the way they had said “Here,” when they were first called on in the jury room. It’s a gift.
Brief aside: I was hoping that the judge hadn’t deducted too many points during that initial roll call. We were asked to stand and say “Here,” when our name was called by the court clerk. I was the only one of the 24 who forgot to say “Here,” when I stood. Ironic for a teacher, I know, but it was partly because I’m more of a visual learner than an auditory learner. Had the clerk provided a handout with these instructions or written them on the whiteboard, I would very likely have performed better. Plus, I was concentrating on standing up in a confident and unbiased manner, and I simply forgot to indicate my presence orally. Furthermore, the clerk’s decoding or phonemic awareness was pretty suspect as he attempted to pronounce my name. But back to the story.
This sizing-up was done, of course, with a complete poker face as I pretended to read my novel. When I was finally called for my big moment, I knocked the icicles off of my nose and skated toward the entrance to the courtroom. The judge reminded me that being a teacher, while noble and clearly more important to society than all other jobs besides judges, did not excuse me from serving on a jury. I assured him that I understood, though of course, my students and their parents would not be so understanding.
The prosecutor then began her questioning. I knew that I had to get through this portion of the audition in order to make it to the talent portion of the competition, so I took her questions very seriously. She noted that my request for July was no doubt made because I presumed that the trial itself would happen during a month that ended in Y or T. She apologized for foiling that plan, but offered no explanation. She then asked about my class. The number of students that I had. How many times I had had fewer than 20 students in my class, what the number threshold was for creating a new class, and a variety of other questions that showed definitively that she had once been a student in a classroom where asking irrelevant questions at inopportune moments was like a sport. Did she think that I would forget to give her homework if she asked more of these questions? The defense attorney actually objected to her class-size questions. And the judge overruled him. That is true.
Finally, she started asking questions that had to do with crimes and victims and law enforcement and lawyers. I am not sure which ones I got wrong. They never tell you! I know I was right about the number of students in my class. But then, in a matter of minutes, it was all over. When it was the defense attorney’s turn, he declined to ask any questions, saying that the prosecutor had asked all of the ones that he was going to ask. “And I had my hand up the whole time!” he whined to the judge. No, actually, that isn’t true. I imagined it. In fact, he was very mature about it. He smiled. I was asked to leave and wait in the hall while they deliberated. The bailiff directed me to a bench in the hallway. I didn’t even get to sit down before they called me back to the room.
“Sir, you’ve been excused. We thank you for your time.”
“That’s it? No ‘Talent Segment’? Don’t you wanna see how I can detect integrity just by looking at someone’s shoes or listening to how they say ‘Here?’”
“No, Sir, we’d really just like you to leave. And by the way, we noted that you needed prompting on the “Here” thing. How is that possible for a teacher?!”
I slunk from the room. Someone else would have to preserve the American way. I await my next opportunity…in exactly three years.