Jury Duty

I've always had a flirtation with the law. From the 7-year rent case against my landlords, to my job as a university administrator, to working for the Manhattan District Attorney, and finally, my multiple times on jury duty - it's been a constant. The law is so counterintuitive that I find it fascinating, though I've used other words for it at various times.

The law was created to deal with exceptional situations. With a one-time exception you can be shocked and stunned, but the legal system is a long-term strategy. It makes this all sustainable by turning everything completely banal. Murder and mayhem are normal in a place like New York, and no one so much as bats an eyelash. You're left thinking that maybe you're the one who's crazy.

One might wonder why a section on jury duty would belong in a travelogue. I'd say that to really get to know a place, you have to go inside the buildings. It's the difference between the barber and the psychiatrist - both deal with the head, but their views are a bit different. You'll get better information from the barber, but for real entertainment, my money is on the psychiatrist.

Most people would kill to get out of jury duty, provided of course, it doesn't get them put on trial. On the other hand, I've always regarded jury duty as a bizarre and interesting way to see the world. And when I lived in Manhattan, the 2-hour lunches in nearby Chinatown didn't hurt, either.

Every two years, like clockwork, I would get the notice in my box. When I moved to Brooklyn I remember saying that even though I was giving up a Manhattan phone number and my friends probably wouldn't come to visit, at least the jury people wouldn't find me for a while. That challenge was answered in less than a year. They know a fool when they see one.

I never thought to write about jury duty until one year I was called in the middle of the planning season at work. I had written the plan but wouldn't be presenting it - a major insult. I decided to maintain a presence by sneaking into the office at night, writing up the day's experience, and e-mailing it to everyone involved. The diary became very popular, and I'm sorry to say that everything in it was absolutely true. There was no embroidering at all. This time the court was in Brooklyn. I was sorry, of course, that I couldn't go to Chinatown, but there was quite enough to make the experience worthwhile.

The transcript follows - the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth - so help us all.