If You Want Me to Be a Good Citizen, Serve Coffee

June 12th, 2010

I feel really strongly that people should perform their civic duty responsibly and respectfully.  In other words, if you get summoned for jury duty, you should serve.

I, on the other hand, should get off.

I don’t mean that.  Well, yeah, I mean it.  I just don’t want to be quoted saying it.

Here’s the thing: they didn’t have coffee in the juror room.  None.  Not even a drop.  Not even a pocket coffee (a wonderful little confection I discovered in Italy: sweetened espresso encased in dark chocolate, oral happiness and get your mind out of the gutter, folks).  Nada.  We had to report at 8 am, so I barely had time to down half a cup before racing out of the house.   I usually drink coffee all morning long, so there I was, stuck in a room all morning–and another one all afternoon–with NO COFFEE.  There was a coffee vending machine downstairs but it was broken.  (So, apparently, were all the other vending machines: a fellow juror insisted it was the city’s way of making some money on the side because she and another woman had collectively lost three bucks in various vending machines without a snack or drink to show for it.)

No coffee.  No wonder my only thought the entire time was, “How do I get out of this godforsaken hellhole?”

It wasn’t just because of the coffee, of course.  There were also the four kids at home on summer break, who were basically watching TV all day, because I wasn’t there to insist they do something more physical or more cerebral.  And I had scheduled tons of doctor/orthodontist/dentist/misc appointments for the weeks between the end of school and the beginning of the summer programs and I didn’t know how I was going to get them there if I was stuck in the courthouse.

Call me a bad citizen, but I really didn’t want to end up on a jury.

And to judge by most of my fellow jurors, I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.  The whole atmosphere there felt a little like the famous short story, “The Lottery”–you wanted to be sorry for anyone who got picked but, really, you were just glad it was him and not you.

It was a stressful day and to make a long (and, to judge by my family’s reaction to every attempt of mine to tell it in detail, apparently boring) story short, I went from thinking I was escaping jury duty altogether to literally being JUROR NUMBER ONE for a couple of hours.  Juror Number One.  Terrifying.  When I got picked to replace the original Number One (who had broken down in tears under questioning), I immediately said I had a hardship, i.e. those four kids who were stuck at home on their summer vacation.  I did not mention the lack of coffee in the courthouse but I probably should have, because the judge was very very unhappy with me for bringing up the “kids out of school” argument.  He reamed me out in front of the entire courtroom.  Why hadn’t I asked for a postponement, why couldn’t I have arranged other care for the kids, didn’t I realize it was hard for everyone, even him (he apparently had been called to jury duty recently–bet HE got off), etc. etc.

To my amazement, I didn’t break down in tears which is my usual response when someone in authority yells at me publicly.  I just did my best to answer his questions and explain that I thought this WAS what I was supposed to do: explain the hardship to him if called up.  Plus I had cleared this week for jury duty, just not the NEXT week, which the trial was going to go into since it was already Thursday.  He remained disgusted with me and didn’t seem inclined to let me go.

Any mother out there will know how my mind was reeling as the lawyers continued to question the jurors (not me: it was a real estate case and I didn’t have any conflicts with that): who could I get to take the kids to the doctors appointments?  How would I get my teenager ready for his two-week sleepaway program that started the next weekend?  Was there any way to keep the kids from watching TV the entire time I would be in the courthouse?  How would I survive a whole week of caffeine-less mornings?

Hours went by.  The day was almost over and the jury was just about set.  And then . . .  ONE OF THE LAWYERS EXCUSED ME!

I have no idea why.  All I can figure out is that the judge said, “If you have any extra excuses, you might as well let the annoying Palisades housewife go,” and so this lawyer kindly did.

As I ran out of the courtroom, I had a brief flash of guilt.  Surely, like John McCain, I should insist on staying until my fellow prisoners were set free.

Then I remembered: this wasn’t ‘Nam.  This was Santa Monica.  And really, there was nothing particularly awful about being in the courthouse or on a jury.  It was all kind of interesting and if my kids were grown and out of the house, I’d have relaxed and might even gotten into it.

Except for the coffee thing.  That really sucked.