Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Civic Duty

Well, it's officially over.  I can stop running.  Most people who skip the country do so for financial reasons.  Unfortunately, mine were not so lucrative.  Nor did I leave in order to escape from a dismal climate to a more tropical abode.  Not even to get away from a clingy family friend who just can never take a hint in social situations.  I tried not to bring it up, whenever possible.  A stigma like that can only lead to awkward conversations, averted gazes, whispers.  But it's over now.  I suppose I can talk about it.

For all of my adult life I'd avoided that most tedious of necessary duties, that most thankless of thankless appointments, that longest of remedial sitting activities, by which I mean Jury Duty.  Yes, somehow for eleven blissful years I had moved often enough among the counties of New York State that I never got pinned down to serve in a municipal or country court trial.

And then my summons came.  Twas almost a year ago now but I can still remember, with the haziness of something fairly uninteresting and not really worth remembering, the day my mother said to me over Skype that my jury summons had arrived.  Her exact words were (not really), "you'd better email them that you're out of the country or you're going to get arrested!"  (She likes to exaggerate [I'm nothing like her]).  At the time I was happy, even optimistic at the fact that I'd get at least a year's reprieve (surely it would take them a while before they realized I was back in the U.S. again).  All I needed to do was email a copy of my work visa to the court, and I was off scot free.

Or so I thought.

In a move I did not see coming at all, the court sent me a jury summons two weeks before I even left Astana!  And in even worse news, it was for a week when I'd already planned to be out of town for an author signing (you remember those; no? well, there are these people who write what are referred to as novels, and then these people write a fair number of novels and then readers [the ones who read the novels] like them, and the novel-writers [novelists, if you will] become famous and then when they publish a new book they go all over the country and read from their book, and talk about their book, and you can buy their book and they will sign their book.  delightful, truly), which was to last from Thursday of my jury week until the weekend.  Wonderful.

Despite what I'd heard about jury duty being tedious and taxing and all that, it turned out actually to be quite tedious and taxing and, well, just plain annoying.  For starters, it was repetitive.  Every day for a week?  Just wonderful.  Taxing, as well.  All those cell phone minutes spent on local calls!  And the way that it was run, why, you'd get the impression they had no idea how it was going to turn out from one day to another.  No wonder people with good, steady, well-paying jobs dread this sort of thing.  The time commitment is just dreadful.  All the time, I was watching the clock.  One week began to feel longer than the entire year I'd just spent larking off.  It really was as bad as everyone said.

And they just heaped one indignity on top of another.  It wasn't just the complete disregard for people's valuable time.  They also treated everyone like just a number, referring only to designated juror numbers for all announcements, as though we're no more different than cattle.  Cattle!  Every day I called into the number listed on my jury summons, and was subjected to the same pre-recorded voice, spewing out orders as though we were all just products on an assembly line that needed to be added in the correct order.  "These numbers go here.  These numbers be prepared to go here on no notice at all.  These numbers call tomorrow."  I really wanted to quit, after the second day.  It was interfering with my family life, causing stress around the interruption of my personal time, and had the possibility of derailing a trip that had already been paid for.  What a nightmare.  It really is a wonder that anyone calls in the second day, though I'd be willing to bet call completion goes down quite a bit after the first.

But I didn't give up.  I made the call every day until the announcement was that we were all dismissed.  I made a quick cheer (I couldn't help myself), and decided since I'd already gone ahead and gone on my trip I might as well enjoy it.  I feel, to this day, still a bit exploited by the whole experience, and may yet write a strongly-worded letter about making jury duty a more humane process.  I just may.  But for now, I will put my trepidations away, until the next time I have to do my civic duty.

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