Thursday, April 19, 2018

Jury Duty: Torture or Writing Research? by Stuart R. West

Much more fun than jury duty!
My wife got the mail that fateful day, said "uh-oh," as she tossed the inexplicably foreboding government letter toward me. Surprise! I'd been chosen for jury duty! (Cue the wah-wah-wah-wahhhh mocking trombone).

Noooo! (Rendering it an even larger injustice, for years my wife has actually longed to pull jury duty. It's a cruel world).

Well, I'd managed to dodge the jury duty bullet twice before in my life time. (Years ago, I'd written the Government that my dad was in a wheelchair {true!} and that I was needed to take care of him {kinda true, but not really!}. It'd worked twice.) Feeling invulnerable, I figured I could dodge the bullet a third time. I wrote that my mother was ailing (true and constantly!) and that I was "on-call" at all times to take care of her (sorta' true if you kinda smudge the boundaries of what's "true" and whatever). This time, the cold-hearted judge didn't take pity on me.

So, on a recent bitter, snow-storm threatening Monday morning, I hauled myself through gridlocked highway traffic to the Kansas courthouse. Like lemmings driven to their death, tons of people grumpily shuffled across the sidewalks toward the courthouse. As it was Monday morning, I'd never seen such a collection of bleary-eyed, clearly hung-over, grumpier people together at once.

At the security check, I de-shoed, unbelted, emptied my valuables into a bucket, got beeped at, then was sent through the puzzling labyrinth of the courthouse. Worse than a rat in a maze, I had to go down a flight of stairs to a room, up another flight, down the hall, down another flight, then up another flight. Finally, I entered the courtroom.

A woman who made Fran Drescher sound absolutely dulcet directed us toward assigned seats. She looked at my paperwork and laughed. Actually brayed! "You're juror number one," she managed between sadistic guffaws. 

This didn't bode well. So much for a fast exit. All week long, I'd been working on a strategy to be dismissed during the "voir dire" process (oral and visual examination of the potential jurors). I figured I might try a surly and crazed "hang 'em all and hang 'em high" attitude. But all now seemed lost as I settled into chair number ONE.

And there I sat for an hour. By my estimation, over a hundred potential jurors crammed into the courtroom. Grimly, I stared at my non-existent wristwatch. An older man sat down in front of me, flying his flannel and sporting a mess of Grizzly Adams beard and hair. My peer. Breathing like a pneumatic nail gun, his face redder than a fire hydrant, he turned around and angrily huffed at me like some kind of out-of-control Lifetime movie husband. At that point I figured it was gonna be a long trial.

Not Fran Drescher did her best to entertain us, answer questions, and warn of the oncoming snow storm. While she couldn't get into the specifics, she did say this was a criminal trial--a big one!--and could take up to several weeks. I had a sudden change of heart. Even though I didn't want to be there, the trial might provide some excellent writing research and ideas. I began to brainstorm a courtroom thriller! Because I had nothing better to do!

Some woman asked Fran Drescher's twin how they picked potential jurors. "Driving and voting records and bad luck," she answered. The woman's question was two-fold, however. "This is the fourth time I've been here this year," the woman implored. "What's up with that?"

Pseudo Fran Drescher responded, "That sucks." (A truly governmental response if I've ever heard one.)

Suddenly a yuppie--flashy in Friday casual wear--took the podium. He said he was our judge (No robe, no liver spots, no tremors while rattling a gavel. Feh. Not my kinda judge.) and apologized for keeping us waiting. Apparently they'd reached a plea agreement and we were free to go.

What?

Just as I'd resigned myself to a long drawn-out affair, almost excited about the sordid adventure awaiting me, then POOF, we were ushered out of the courtroom (and up stairs, then down stairs, then up again, and...).


Oddly disappointed, I trawled home. But at least I wouldn't be called again for another year. Then again...that "rule" didn't hold true for the poor four-time lottery loser in the courtroom.

A jury of reading peers has found Bad Day in a Banana Hammock guilty of hilarity with a finding of a 4.2 rating. 22 jurors surely can't ALL be wrong.
Hear ye, hear ye, click here to read the book in session!

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