Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Nine Equilateral Triangles, You Think

Jury duty. The little card arrives in the mail stamped in red, its official dates and directions printed with what looks like an old dot matrix. Your partially planned vacation is now on hold, you dread the date, but off you go on the clear bright morning when the calendar matches the card. Of course the weather is bright and cheerful, because you will be spending the day indoors bathed under institutional lighting.

Over a hundred people are called with you, and you all sit in metal folding chairs in the little room with clipboards and forms, and a grey stack of magazines on the windowsill. The cross-section of humanity reminds you of the library; a truly democratic place. Everyone was called to served their civic duty, and here they all share in the joy -- the retired grandmother, the unemployed skater, the over-employed and inconvenienced banker with his fat briefcase, the guy you swear you know from somewhere but can’t place, the woman with four kids who works from home stuffing envelopes. After filling out a form, you are thanked by the judge, and given instructions on what will happen next. When he exits, the room settles into a collective anxiousness. A man in front of you seals envelopes and completes his correspondence. The banker taps at his electronic organizer. Everyone is without their cellphones, and seems adrift in a sea of what-to-do without them. The mother cracks open a romance novel. A few people who recognize each other form conversational cliques. You read. The man in front of you takes out a knitting project, and you watch as each stitch is perfectly executed. You decide he must be a Virgo. His t-shirt looks ironed. The morning passes from quiet anxiousness to lethargy. The grey magazines are perused. Windows are propped open with clipboards.

You are one of the first to be drawn in the random lottery that is the first judge’s panel, and are trooped upstairs into a lustrous courtroom, filled with polished hardwood and an energy you can’t place. The plaintiff and defendant sit in silence as the plaintiff’s lawyer takes two hours to ask questions of the numbered potential jurors. It reminds you of the worst parts of school. A sunny day when your mind wandered, the teacher called on you and your brain fell into a “fight or flight” response. You answer when called. You listen to others respond, and like them less and less. You like the defendant and plaintiff less and less even though they haven’t said a word. You like yourself less for not liking anyone. Where has your kindness gone? You spend the rest of the time figuring out the armature behind the giant painting of Justice on the wall behind the judge’s desk. It has nine equilateral triangles in it.

After the defendant’s lawyer asks a very brief set of general questions, the two sides deliberate on their choices. Papers are passed between them. Finally, jurors are called to their seats. You are not one of them. The rejected return to the waiting room. You spend some time at the window. The trimmed lawn with its tufts of intermittent plantings, linear hedges grown fat into embarrassed forms, remind you that Americans can’t garden. An announcement is made that all are excused for the rest of the week. You walk back to your car in the parking garage with afternoon returned to you like a beloved lost pet, as the plaintiff and defendant dissolve from your mind and into the sun.