Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hey, Isn’t It Grand? Grand JURY, That Is!

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Reader, as the old song says: Kiss me once, and kiss me twice, and kiss me once again (no tongue, I have a cold), it’s been a long, long time…as doubtless you have noticed. Herewith an apologia:
Kids, your Miss O’ has had the oddest couple-a-three months, for soon after that last blog of September 8, there was Queens Grand Jury duty (as related on Facebook); and between that and getting moved around the floor of her office and resettling into a new space (she’s now in closed cubicle but with window seat) and new projects; and among bouts of little illnesses and doctors’ appointments (all seems fine), and in and out of theaters (no bug can keep her from her appointed rounds of stage worship!), and through beginning a new play lab (if not exactly writing anything for it), to say nothing of taking little trips out to various parts of New Jersey to see old, dear friends—it seems your Miss O’ did something quite out of character and utterly unexpected: She fell into an actual love relationship with an actual man. She is deeply happy about this. I only share this newsy tidbit by way of explaining my blog hiatus, and plan not to speak of it again. Suffice to say it is a true, deep, sweet thing, full-hearted enough for a lifetime, and if you would be so good as to let it go at that, and not toss out accusations of cock-teasing, your Miss O’ would be ever so grateful. And now to business! For there is much, much that Miss O’ must catch up on.]

FIRST THINGS FIRST: A Compendium of All Things Asinine

American Republicans.

And the moment you’ve sort of been waiting for…because there’s no way I can do this justice in one little blog post. Thanks for loving me anyway.

GRAND JURY, the Musical!
Actually: My Modest Pitch for a 12-Episode HBO Series, Because Really There Is No Other Way to Get It All In

Here Come the Judge

Hello, fellow citizens of some American county or another! Your Miss O’ comes to you, bloggy style, after doing her civic best in the Grand Jury system of New York’s county of Queens. Almost daily Facebook posts could not BEGIN to tell the full, giant soap operatic tale of justice for all, and even this blog cannot comment or describe a single case (which under oath I cannot actually do, as the grand jury sessions are secret). And yet this tale must be told, even by an idiot.

Establishing Shot: [Note: I have no idea how to write screenplays, or teleplays, but when has lack of knowledge ever stopped Miss O'?] Queens Courthouse in Kew Gardens, NY, on a sunny day, outside of which are every manner of human imaginable holding jury summonses (including an entire family of Indians, only the wife/mother of whom was called, but whose husband is apparently coming along with kids in tow, to make a point).

Cut to: Metal detectors and the long lines of these same humans; comical emptying of pockets, wanding of many, ensues.

Cut to: Marble hallway filled with people on contraband phones.

NOTE: Herewith a few definitions to begin our story, which takes place in Criminal Court (as opposed to Civil Court—attempted murder vs. suing for personal injury):

Grand Jury: The purpose of a grand jury is to review police evidence to determine two things: 1) Is there sufficient evidence to suggest that a crime has been committed? And 2) Is there reasonable cause to believe that the defendant committed it? After hearing evidence from police officers, witnesses, victims, and sometimes the defendants themselves, the grand jury deliberates and finally votes as to whether to indict the defendant(s) and send the case forward to a trial by jury. THAT, for the record, is where the men of Twelve Angry Men come in, which is not where I was.

Exhaustion: What Miss O’ begins to feel at the prospect of defining all the terms, so fuck it, we’re moving on.

If This Were a Musical, at Rise: A Queens County courtroom in New York City’s least desirable, and yet often adorable, borough. Outside on the steps, hundreds of people are lined up to go up the steps and go through the metal detectors. All carry purple and white jury summonses, most unopened. The majority of citizens are carrying and looking at and scrolling across the very iPhones and Androids and other communication devices that, according to the summons, are “strictly forbidden.” As with most every rule concerning these devices, even the courts have given up on enforcing it. A tall, red-haired fellow lightly prances down the hall in tight orange swim trunks and a lime green button-down shirt, flip-flops on feet, on his shoulder a tote bag that says “Ocean City”—swimming in a sea of khakis pants and pressed shirts, dresses, and good shoes. So much for “occasion.” Cue Song: “How Did I Get So Fuckin’ Lucky?”

So might one begin Miss O’s autobiographical screenplay/Broadway script for Grand Jury!: based on events from September 9 through October 4 of 2013, doing my civic duty here in New York City, Queens County. (Note: The jurisdictions—districts, boroughs, counties, and the like—are beyond my understanding. Queens is Queens County; Brooklyn is Kings County; Manhattan is New York County, e.g. I don’t know beyond this: Every single A.D.A., or Assistant District Attorney, had to ask each witness, victim, detective, uniformed cop, and medical examiner alike, “And is that in Queens County?” in any reference to the crime committed, in order for the proceeding to go forward. But this really should be, as noted, a television series, sadly without the coolness of Breaking Bad. –ed.)

THE SET:  First I offer you a rough sketch of the basic layout of the Grand Jury Room, which looked sort of like a classroom to learn about court proceedings…and it was.

The room is blonde wood, with a few shelves (not labeled) where magazines, decks of cards, and boxes of Trivial Pursuit cards are placed. (Manny, below, will become a grandmaster quiz guy between cases, with those cards.) NOTE: At lunchtime, the camera on our HBO show would follow Grand Jurors as they headed out singly, or in small groups, to various eateries in order to “not talk about” the cases until “all the evidence had been presented” because everyone in America really “respects rules.”

CAST OF CHARACTERS (Names changed, which I am really sorry to do, because the real names are so awesome; I mean, of course, ALL CHARACTERS ARE PURELY FICTITIOUS AND ANY RESEMBLANCE TO PERSONS LIVING OR DEAD IS, LIKE, SERIOUSLY? TOTAL COINCIDENCE, MAN):

[CASTING NOTE: Once I share these little overly-simplified descriptions with the producers of HBO (ha, ha!), I hope everyone understands it’s out of Miss O’s hands. My writer’s hope is that seriously interesting humans who are actors would be cast in these roles, actors who would make each character his or her own, deepening with each weekly episode, under the guidance of a really imaginative director, who would want me as a writer. –ed.]

NOTE 2: ON VOTING I have made a note on the way each juror votes, which is to say, what causes them to raise or not raise a hand. Jurors who vote “reliably” pay attention, deliberate, and raise a hand, or don’t, in a consistent way. Others are as noted.


Officer Frances Suarez (Court Officer in Charge of Grand Jury C, six years; loves her three kids, her husband, doing Zumba; tough and fun, strong sense of duty, proud of this process; unabashed Christian, giant heart, not afraid to tell a loudmouth OFF. New York Puerto Rican to the core.)


In the “Judge’s Seat”:
·      Minerva (age 40, Jamaican, black, serves as Madame Forewoman, or Foreperson; gaps in teeth, musical deep voice, tidy dreadlocks; calm; always takes notes; votes always)
·      Moses (age 35, New Yorker, black, serves as the deputy foreperson; MTA bus driver and hip-hop DJ, father of teenage daughter; emotionally expressive; always takes notes; rarely votes)

At desk in front of the Forepersons, facing them:
·      Carlita (age 35, Puerto Rican, serves as Secretary 1 for the jury; slim and sexy, mother of 3, divorced, loves men; efficient secretary; votes with conviction)
·      Milagros (age 26, Dominican woman, serves as Secretary 2 for the jury; quiet, sweet, very pretty, nice dresser, floats along, but always votes)

ROW 1 (left to right from the Assistant District Attorney’s POV, to left of Forepersons):
·      Soledad (age 50, Puerto Rican, prison corrections officer; butch lesbian; dapper dresser; loose cannon; votes only as needed to indict)
·      Ashley (age 28, black, 7 months pregnant at beginning, 8 at end; dressy dresser, very tall, large frame, almost Valley Girl voice; somewhat sheltered--and she actually wears a big shirt to hide the fact that she is 7 months pregnant (!) because she's dying to get on a jury (!!), and by the end of this she will be EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT, which is really different (!!!); votes by barely raising a hand)
·      Georgie (age 25, Filipina, a girl named for the boy she was supposed to be; quiet; sexy dresser, long black hair, looks about 15, keep ear buds in as long as possible at all times; votes only after looking around the room)
·      Pilar (age 35, Puerto Rican, mother of 3, remarrying and sending out invitations; arranges birthday parties for jurors; always takes notes; has definite opinions, often self-contradictory; always votes)
·      Bertrise (age 70, Jamaican, Christian, black, mother and grandmother, large hipped, slow walker, wears glasses; shares the Biblical “word for the day” off her iPhone; predicts weather with astonishing accuracy, based on feeling; votes are all over the place)

ROW 2:
·      Alma (age 50, Puerto Rican, wife and mother, cancer survivor, plump, practical, lifelong New Yorker; votes with confidence)
·      Ameer (age 45, Bangladeshi, Muslim, works in finance, quiet, naps between cases; votes reliably)
·      Dorca (age 50, Dominican, mother of 4, twice-married, has boyfriend; self-described ditz, lives on junk food, hard-boiled eggs wrapped in foil, and blue-tooth/cell phone; raises hand to vote before charges are even announced)
·      Allison (age 30, 2nd generation Yugoslavian; elementary school PE teacher with three master’s degrees; tiny, energetic, chatty, multi-tasker, joyful flirt, high on life, native Long Islander, loves the Mets; votes reliably)
·      Signy (age—older but indeterminate, maybe 60, maybe 65; black; family from South Carolina, tall, elegant, head full of golden short braids; married, wears lots of rings; plays puzzle games on her iPad between cases; voice of gentle reason; has job in entertainment industry, but keeps in on QT; often withholds vote out of sympathy for the defendant’s circumstances)

ROW 3:
·      Suzanne (age about 70; lifelong single woman, white, glasses; makes sounds from her mouth, like “uh huh” or “hmmm” or “ah” almost continuously, as if mumbling to self; tough NY broad; votes reliably)
·      Eleanor (age 30, Bostonian, intellectual; white; big reader, introvert; pretty, practical, nerdy in a sweet way; stunned and quietly appalled on a daily basis by juror behavior; votes reliably)
·      Martina (Marty) (age 55, 1st generation Serbo-Croation, divorced mother of grown son; nurse; loves Brooklyn, but lives in Astoria; quick, choppy, direct way with words; votes reliably)
·      Miss O’ (And then there’s Maude, raises her hand high so as to be counted; often interpreted by certain others as vengeful, like Miss O’ is personally invested in any of the outcomes)
·      Kandie (age 50, former ’80s clubbing girl who has always been single, lives in Astoria with her mom, very nice, down to earth; 1st generation Greek; slow speaking rhythms, great sense of humor; votes reliably)

ADJUNCT WING (seats across the room, behind a short wall where observers might sit, opposite the “Judge’s Bench” and behind the A.D.A. table; partially blocked by post, to seat remaining jurors)

Front (two seats)
·      Simon (44, short, bearded, dapper; Jewish; diligent note-taker and question-asker; reads four to six novels over the course of a month of down time; tries to date at least a half dozen of the women; points out all the rules, votes reliably)
·      Yasmin (25 or 30, Pakistani, Muslim; glasses, reads novels; wears stylish pants, tops, and shoes, head always wrapped in a patterned or black coordinating scarf; keeps to herself; always participates in votes; quiet; gets to know no one, but very sweetly)
Back (two seats)
·      Edward (indeterminate age, but probably 45 or 50; black South African; tall, quick to laugh and smile; unstoppable question asker; always on phone during down time; always takes notes; votes reliably)
·      Manuel (Manny): (50, Puerto Rican trying to be Tony Soprano; polo shirts, gold chains, big mid-section; swaggers; alternately talks to trapped Edward or dozes during testimony; walks around during votes; fond of loudly accusing Miss O’ (and others) of being an “executioner” for voting to indict; alternately bullies and apologizes—his secret to survival; unteachable)

Court Reporter Roller-Chair Rotation (all female):
·      Middle-aged self-published author, white
·      Older well-dressed protocol stickler, black
·      Tall dark fashion model, Hispanic
·      Slim middle-aged angular fashion model, white
·      Middle-aged sweetie with hair bows, white
·      Thirty-ish quiet nerdy gal, white

The A.D.A. Shuffle: A Compendium of Assistant District Attorneys for Queens County
(NOTE: Names are based on nicknames jurors gave them after repeated rotations and presentments—often within their earshot, because we New Yorkers are charming assholes like that.)
·      Mary Louise Parker
·      Kelly Girl Who is Cool
·      James Earl Jones
·      Mark Wahlberg
·      Matching Tie and Socks
·      Eddie Munster
·      That Stiff Guy
·      The Greek with the Eye Thing
·      The Boring One
·      The Curly-Haired One We Pissed Off the First Week
·      The Serious Blonde One
·      Dippity-Do (or, Man, That Is Some Serious Hair Gel Up in There)
·      The Good One
·      The Lazy One Who Didn’t Really Help the Good One That Night We Stayed Late
·      The Asian Girl
·      Oh, Man, How Many Witnesses Is She Gonna Call? (Note: They were “victims.” And it took three WEEKS and at least two hairstyles for her to call them all.)

(NOTE 2: All the ADAs were extremely competent, most wore ill-fitting suits, sported depressing hair (and how to explain what that is?), all were on the verge of exhaustion, but very professional about it.)

AND JUST THINK OF THE GUEST STARS! Witnesses, detectives, undercover cops, translators...streams of them. My favorite witness was the young woman asked to describe an identifying photo on her cell phone, and posed, as if taking a selfie. The court reporter just stared at her. The ADA said, "Let the record show the witness is indicating a picture of herself." Whew.

DAYS WITHOUT END: Grand Jury Episodes

The show’s twelve one-hour episodes would be broken down into the following, with a short take on a few case types. By the end of Week 1, we were all like, “There’s no way I can do this for three more weeks.” By the end of Week 2, we’re all like, “Yeah, half way there.” By the end of Week 3, were like, “There is no fucking way I can do this one more goddamned week.” By the end of Week 4, there were people who had so acclimated to the simplicity of the life, they were willing to be lifelong professional jurors. Miss O’ knew they had descended into madness.

Herewith a few general notes on the general day-to-day, first.

Daily Routine: The Usual Suspects (or, What I Learned About the Habits of 23 Ordinary Citizens in Queens County, and 24 If I Count Myself, and I Should, During the Days of Service)

1.     Arrival: We met in the lobby of the fifth floor by 9:30 each morning. Week 1: Our court officer came out to meet us and escorted us to the grand jury room. By Week 4, someone down the hall would wave an arm, someone would notice the arm, and mumble, “Let’s go…” and we’d trudge down. At least five jurors would wander in around 10 AM, unescorted.)
2.     Taking Our Seats: After attendance, we’d hear The Word from Bertrise. Then would begin what was often an hour, sometimes two, or three, of waiting. ADAs were typically not ready for cases until after lunch, but sometimes we’d get hit right at 10 and go until 12:15. During down time, people read, ate, napped, listened to music, played games on their phones. Others talked, and it was the talks that were really interesting, the various alliances that formed.
3.     Case time: See below. (The thing that astounded me was the lax attitude by so many jurors—eating, Facebooking, dozing—during ADA presentments of evidence. The court officer has to leave the room during the presentments, so there’s no one to “keep order.” The teacher in me wanted to stand up and say, “People…put it away.” I felt so personally responsible for their behavior, I had to channel my therapist from 20 years ago, Goldye, to tell me to stop owning other people’s choices.  Miss O’ never managed to do that, but at least she managed not to say anything. Mostly.)
4.     Lunch: This was from 1:00 to 2:00, but often was from 12:15 to 2:15, when ADAs weren’t ready. (That meant we’d be there until 7:00 PM a few times, but mostly we were out by 5:00 PM.) We had to leave the courtroom, but the beautiful timing of the weather was sweet: The entire month of September was dry, clear, highs in the 70s (except for 2 hot days and one drizzly one). It was here you saw who the really independent types were (Allison, Miss O’, Suzanne, Martina, Simon, Eleanor, Ameer, Yasmin, Minerva); the sometimes-social (Edward, Signy); and the group-makers (everyone else). For her part, Miss O’ visited the Euro Grill everyday, had hot tea and a burger, or grill cheese, or a bowl of soup, and wrote notes on the personalities of the day. After lunch, she would walk to the old courthouse garden and meditate for a good half hour or 45 minutes.

5.     Afternoon: Just unending case after case after case after case, usually to be continued but often complete and ready for voting on; with interpreters for nearly every witness.
6.     The Subway Ride: Several of us would find ourselves on the Manhattan-bound E Train to Roosevelt, to switch to a 7 Train, or to keep going to Queens Plaza to an R Train to Astoria, for example. It was something to realize we all lived in the same county, though often in completely different neighborhoods, and that Queens is huge.

In Case You Were Wondering (as to the cases…)

Ours was a criminal grand jury, reviewing criminal cases that had happened in Queens County. They amounted to the same things you’d see on any police show—assault, robbery (petit larceny, grand larceny) and burglary (there’s a difference—stolen stuff vs. a break-in, as it turns out), attempted murder, and the various degrees of all of these. In cases like these, there are defendants who act alone, act in concert, or share charges equally. (Mercifully, we had no homicides, rapes, or child endangerments. My feeling is that the more routine the cases presented, the more chance for an audience to meet the jurors and get a feel for a real, regular grand jury experience.) The ADAs have to read us the definitions of every single term, the full text on every law and charge, and charge us on the law for a grand jury hearing EVERY SINGLE TIME. By the 40th case or so, you’ve gone numb, but it has to be done to be fair to every victim, every defendant. The ADAs also have to ask each and every police officer, detective, and undercover for their length of service and where they have served. I realize that should this case go to trial, officers who made arrests may have been promoted or transferred, and so the ADA needs to establish that the officer was in his or her jurisdiction at the time of the arrest and grand jury hearing. It would get old, except that we really don’t have anything else to do but listen, and so you kind of get lulled into the rhythm. You also start to realize how redundant an ADA’s life can be, utterly unlike the glamorous-seeming litigator life of actor Sam Waterston.

EPISODE 1: Days 1 and 2, etc.

Listen, all I can do is a stream-of-consciousness thing right now, so if you want to, go with it. Or just drink. First of all, Grand Jury is NOT Law and Order. It's weirdly more casual, until it's really formal in what are called "presentments" of information. But first, you have to get picked to serve, out of the hundreds who appear with summonses. In Queens, three or four or five of these things run simultaneously. I'm giving you the first two days as an example. Here’s what it was like in my head:

Day 1: So you look around the giant courtroom as the long-serving officer has to yell at everyone to sit down and take our their jury summonses, as if this were picture day in a high school auditorium; and just as you’d see in that place where the kids have forgotten their picture forms, half the people don’t have their summonses even open, and therefore have not filled them out. That’s right. So the pen scrambling begins. You wait. You wait. To approach the front for the interviews, we stand up row by row, and Miss O’ gets yelled at, “DID I TELL YOU TO GET UP?” and she smiles and says kindly, “The other officer told us to keep it moving,” and the officer says, startled, “He did?” unaccustomed as she must be to reasonableness. When you approach the tables to interview, the nice blonde officer lady asks you, first, what you do for a living, and second, “Does your job pay you in full?” and when you say “Yes,” you get picked to serve, and go and sit to the side until it fills up. You wait. You are taken to another room to wait. You wait. You debate whether or not to use the toilet, and when you do, it’s right before they haul you off to another room, which turns out to be Grand Jury C room on the 5th floor via secret back elevator. There you are instructed by your court officer on what you will be doing for the next 20 days, when a person interrupts to say, “Um, it’s more than 20 days,” and the officer looks confused, and a helpful two or three jurors say in unison, “WORKING days,” and the ditz is still lost, so you say, “I’ll explain it later,” and the officer continues (and you start to suspect this could be a really LONG four weeks), and the rest of the day is really lunch and down time except for one case, and it turns out you will not hear the conclusion of THAT case until the very last day. For real. 

On Day 2, Manny the Loudmouth (you learn this in the early minutes of Day 1, just as Miss O’ the teacher learned who the asshole students would be in the opening minutes of the first day of class—“Um, Miss, how come you already know my name?” How come indeed…"So how long we gotta wait here, huh? Why aren't they ready to go, huh?" Oh, lord...) says, “We should be on a first-name basis,” and we go around and say our names, and the elementary school teacher, Allison, goes around and says everyone’s name to show how it’s done; and Miss O’ writes them all down, along with descriptions. And Soledad says, “People let’s make a snack table because we are in this for the long haul,” and that’s what the kids do. (Soledad will also go on to bake for us at various points, and her meat patties (empanadas) and sweet potato pie are unrivaled.)

And so will continue a steady stream of days wherein you want to fucking kill a bunch of strangers, or be anywhere else, or not mind very much—but in any case you learn every juror food habit, tardy habit, and question-asking habit; every translator tic; every ADA verbal pattern. And there is humor. Soledad insisted one day on imitating the Spanish translator (whom we really grew to adore) for the merriment of Frances our court officer, and we were all half sorry, because the next time ol’ Pedro came in we all had to look down, snorting.

And there’s the day Pilar said out in the lobby, “Edward, you always ask a question in exactly the same way,” and she got up, bent over (because when grand jurors have a question you have to whisper it to the court reporter and the ADA), and placed her fingers just so, as he did, and you get up (as Miss O’ did), and say, “No, like this,” and place your index finger to thumb, and bounce it for emphasis, and we all laugh.

But this laughter is short-lived, because GOD-FUCKING-DAMMIT, question after irrelevant fucking question, why can’t jurors remember the RULES: “Sufficient evidence” and “Reasonable cause to believe” are all you need to move an indictment forward. For at least two weeks, everyone is playing fucking Law and Order and Twelve Angry Men and saying shit like “reasonable doubt,” and Minerva the Jamaican Forewoman cries out, “Would you people tink about yo’ questions! What ah you doin’?” And so stupid do these questions become, that when an open-and-shut crime takes place in a doughnut shop, and the ADA says, “Are there any questions from the grand jury?” and Simon goes up the way he ALWAYS does, Kandie turns to Miss O’ and whispers, “What flavors were the donuts?” and you bend over weeping in stifled laughter.

And Moses is always trying to convince you not to indict a brother. And Signy feels sorry for the grandmothers. And we all hate to see old women mugged. There are no shortage of fun details to put into a show, is what I’m saying.

Je Recuse! (The strange case of the arrest I saw on my block.)

As far as I can tell, nothing came of it, but as I was walking to the subway one Saturday, I saw a young woman being yelled at by another, older woman who said it was her right to change the locks, and the young woman saying, “Not while I have a LEASE,” while the old man who owned the building was being cuffed and put into a police car, and my neighbor Antoinette was crying out, “Why don’t you just put a dagger right here in my heart!” And all I could think was, “Oh, shit. This will come before us this week…and I will have to leave the room…”

From Facebook: Blow By Blow

The following posts give you a flavor of what some weekly scripts would at least feel like.

Sept 7 10 years in NYC about to be celebrated by GJD.

Sept 8
NOTICE TO NYC FRIENDS: Miss O' heads out to begin Grand Jury Duty in Kew Gardens, Queens, for four weeks. I have no idea how this works, but I do know that I cannot have on my person either a cell phone or a computer. Therefore chances are good that I will be UNAVAILABLE from 7 AM to 6 PM each and every goddamned weekday for the month. Unless I don't have my number called, and I get sent back to work, or something. Here's to justice!

Sept 11
September 11, 2001, and the week that followed, I grieved for all the lives lost, but mostly I grieved so hard for a city I loved, I moved here. As a part of this city, I'm spending the month in a room with 22 other New Yorkers deciding on criminal cases to send to trial in Queens County. And we give this. It's what you do in a democracy, for your community. Glad to wake up to peaceful diplomacy getting a chance to work globally, too. Love.

Sept 14
Retweeted God (@TheTweetOfGod):

You're stupid in ways you haven't even begun to fail to understand.

Sept 16
Another day, another gun massacre bloodbath in America. We're not allowed to solve it. We're only allowed to "feel bad" for a while. And so it goes. [Note: All the jurors were sounding off on how awful Virginia is, “that’s where these stupid guns come from…what the hell is wrong with them?” Whatever walk of life, everyone was very much pro-gun laws. Sweet to see. -ed.]

Sept 24
These weeks on Grand Jury duty (especially last evening's late session and the bullying juror to whom Miss O' had to say, with her knife-edged voice, "Manny, cut it") have brought home a quote, which has always rung true for teacher-me but just gets truer and truer the longer I live in the wider world (and high school was always MY real world, as I really lived in it while teaching and directing):
"High school is closer to the core of the American experience than anything else I can thing of." ~Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
And, at times, this (from Vonnegut, too):
""True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country."
Good day sunshine.

Sept 25
"Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing." ~Helen Keller, who probably never served on Grand Jury duty. Today I also have a head cold and a right eye swollen shut from an errant city mosquito squatting in my apartment. I have never felt more alive!

Sept 26
Yesterday in the jury room, before the 4-7:30 PM unexpected session from which I'm still recovering, one juror, a fabulous Hispanic way-out lesbian New Yorker (I'll do a blog about the whole experience, except for the cases, which have to remain secret), had heard a Sinatra song on a show the night before and wanted help remembering which one it was; and when we guessed and it was "Fly Me to the Moon," another juror (Signy, glamorous older black woman) and I launched in, in the same key and everything. The room stood still. "In other words, darling, kiss me." And once more. For a week and 2 more days.

Sept 29
In anticipation of my return to the LAST week (knock wood) of Grand Jury duty, I was realizing that most of the 23 grand jurors are about 50, so we have the same cultural history. One gal, Kandie, a Greek from Astoria, told me, "Back in the '80s I used to go clubbing, and there was this place called Danceteria. I used to see this freak in the bathroom all the time, her wrists covered in black rubber bracelets, and she'd be like, 'I'm gonna be really famous'"--and here the Greek did the international sign for cuckoo. "She was always bringing a cassette of her songs and screaming at the D.J. to play them, and she had this whiny, nasal voice, and I couldn't stand her." Her name? Madonna. I'll bet she's sorry she got rich and famous and isn't sitting on jury duty in Queens. I know I would be.

Oct 1
Fuck the fucking the fuckers. Have a nice day.
[Oh, sorry, that was in response to the Government Shutdown. -ed.]

Oct. 2
A guy on our Grand Jury said to me the other week, "I don't like this. I don't feel comfortable judging these cases." And I looked at him: "If not you, who?" If not a jury of your peers, if not a democratically selected group of fellow citizens to consider the evidence in a case, who else? A military tribunal? A vigilante lynch mob? The Republicans? I'm on a political tear this way-too-early-in-the-goddamned-morning. We the People need to wake the hell up. Have a nice day.

A friend commented:
Should one feel comfortable judging? Should one like it?

I replied:
I used to ask myself that when I was first teaching--who am I to evaluate these kids? And I realized it's not a question of liking it or being comfortable--it's simply that it must be done, and since I'm charged with it, I have to do my best to evaluate them as well as I can. I hear people say they won't vote because they don't like deciding on who runs the country, or even their part of the country. I'm not comfortable with people like that--they're putting all the burden of democracy on too few shoulders. But I'll say it: I love voting, and I take the responsibility of it seriously.

Oct 3
So it was attempted murder at 5 PM on the ol' Grand Jury duty last evening, and then we deliberated on the charges. (Ta-kush-boom!) Sure, doing one's civic duty might get a little wearing, but at least we did it SOBER. I hope your day is criminal-charge-free, with hearty fellowship at day's end.

Oct 4
So here was the last day, in order of events, I kid you not a bit: Arrival in jury room; awaiting of four late people; final arrival is Moses, a DJ, who turned on his computer, put the witness mike up to it, and began DJ-ing a dance party, which was filmed by various jurors with iPhones; after the DJ said, "What's with the back row?" by which Miss O' explained in her primmest, most serious voice, "We are white people, and we are very, very repressed"; then Miss O' stunned the crowd by dancing to Soul Train with Soledad the Puerto Rican lesbian. This was followed by more dancing, presenting a gift card to our awesome court officer, who had joined us in the dance; a case or two; lunch; a baby shower for Ashley, who had wanted so badly to be on a jury she hid her 7-month pregnancy with a big shirt; and, finally, two votes on attempted murder and assault cases. We got our letters of service, and here I am, home and heading out to Brogue for beer and Powers Irish whiskey with Jodi and Lisa here in the 'hood. My work is done. Blog tomorrow. And justice for all so help us God.

Oct 4 (Final FB Post)
Yesterday at lunch, a big group got on the courthouse elevator at the third floor, including a very loud old man, Chinese, a real character. At floor 2, he asked a woman entering, "Are you on grand jury, too?" No, she said. "Too bad," he said in bright accented tones, "you not know what you missing." The elevator chuckled, and a younger man, black, turned to me, grinning: "He's like this all the time." I told him, "We have an identical set of personalities on the fifth floor." Last day. Blog tomorrow, unless I'm too drunk. Thanks for riding along.

As it was, I was just too damned tired from it all, and all the other stuff I mentioned in the opening note. So as you can see, there’s material to spare for a 12-Episode Series. #Amirite, HBO?

I Can’t Vote for That: On Delinquency and Four Years Off

Citizens: 19,000 delinquent jurors a year, over 2,000 per WEEK, show up to the Queens County Courthouse to explain themselves or face a year in prison or a big fine. The result? More tax dollars go to chasing down citizens to do their duty. Many people do not see why citizenship comes with responsibilities. They see their right as “free” people to do whatever the hell they want. It’s like the FDNY deciding which fires to go to.

As a result, a full month’s service on Grand Jury used to excuse you from jury duty of any kind for eight years. Now it’s FOUR years. Why? Because we are the only ones who show up. Democracy is getting less and less participatory, in that those who can, don’t; and those who want to (as with voting rights) are actively prevented. This is one fucked up country.

But don’t worry. The members of Grand Jury C got your rights. We got your back. And our own. Because it’s the RIGHT THING TO DO AS A CITIZEN.

And so there it is! Miss O’ on Grand Jury, concluded, blogged, sent out into the universe, and with luck, picked up by HBO following lucrative contract negotiations giving me a new career as a television writer and producer. Ha, ha! Until that happy day, content yourself with the blog, won’t you? And serve your goddamned jury duty when your nation calls upon you.

You know why? Say whatever you might say about this crazy mess of a nation: Every lowest of the low or highest of the high, however petty or serious the crime, whatever your walk of life, YOU GET A FUCKING GRAND JURY HEARING. You really, really do. Any other questions?

As Manny might say, whenever he raised his hand to ask a question and someone else got to it first, but he really didn’t have a question that wasn’t based on the fact that he had fallen asleep, “That was pretty much what I was gonna say.”

Until next time...and who knows when that will be? 
Kisses from
Miss O'

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