Thursday, March 08, 2007

Civic duty

So shit is finally slowing down, thank goodness. The book has finally been sent to the printer to be made into bound galleys. After much back and forth (and stressing out on my part), it is officially titled HACK. There is also a subtitle, which is: How I Stopped Worrying About What to Do with my Life and Started Driving a Yellow Cab. I think it's coming out on August 28th but I'm not totally sure about that.

The past few months were pretty hectic. In the midst of finishing up the last edits of the book and dealing with the whole confusing "publishing process," I got called to jury duty. The last time I had been called was about six years ago when I lived in Manhattan. I was dismissed after two days and all I really remember of my time there is that the chairs were comfortable, the lunches were long, and there was a guy sitting near me whose name was Jack Russel. Also, no one had cell phones really, and only a handful had toted along their clunky laptops.

This time, I arrived at the Kings County Supreme Court Building at 8:30 in the morning and waited in a great long line to get through the security metal detectors with a few hundred of my fellow unlucky Brooklynites. Then I proceeded to the Central Jury Assembly Room which, according to the sign on the wall, has a maximum capacity of about 600 people. I'd say, by the time everyone had filed in, there were about 400 of us. We watched a low-budget instructional movie starring Diane Sawyer and a perfectly diverse cast of characters. I think it was supposed to get us all excited about performing our civic duty, but I got distracted because Diane was so obviously reading her cue cards, it was disconcerting. But I guess it was a good thing because, with the lights all dim, it was the only aspect of the movie that kept me from falling straight to sleep.

When the movie was over, a large man with a white goatee sat down behind a grand table at the front of the room and slowly read through the categories that would qualify one for exemption from jury duty. He would call out each category over the microphone and then would wait for the people from that category to get up and file out through some doors to his side. He started by saying, "Are there any jurors in this assembly room who no longer live in Brooklyn? Please come forward."

At this, one lone guy got up in the middle of the giant room and made his way to the front. As he was walking, the guy with the microphone joked, "When you go through the doors, you're gonna have to write an essay on why you left Brooklyn." Everyone in the room gave a tired little chuckle as we watched the poor guy leave. Then he moved on to the other categories, which included non-citizens, caregivers, felons (about 40 people got up), people who've performed jury duty less than four years ago, and people who had a medical reason to not perform their duty.

The last category was apparently his favorite because he kept referring to it the entire time and telling us it would have the largest response: "If anyone in this assembly room has difficulty understanding English -- or understanding me -- please go through the double doors." A hundred people got up and went through the double doors. How they knew to go through the double doors was a mystery to me, but it didn't phase the guy in charge. When they were all gone, he smiled and said, "I told you that category would clear the room. But don't move over to their seats just yet -- the majority of them will be back." And then with a little wink, "They're just giving it a shot."

An hour later, I got called with 70 other people to go up to a courtroom. When we were out of the big room, our attendance was retaken and I thought it was funny how almost all 70 of us responded to our names by simply saying, "Here," except for the two people who felt it was important to distinguish themselves by saying "Present," and the one jolly old man who said "Good morning."

Up in court, we were told we were gonna be interviewed to see if we could sit on a murder trial. Of all the questions they asked, and all the answers given, I was surprised by how many people answered yes to the one about "Have you ever been the victim of a crime?" More than half of us had been, with the crimes mainly being burglaries and muggings, though one person had been held up at gunpoint, and another woman had the misfortune to witness her godson get murdered right in front of her. It was all pretty depressing. They also asked if the police got involved and how we felt about how they handled it, and it was even more depressing that almost all of us were less than thrilled with the NYPD's actions regarding each of our cases.

At one point in the selection process, the judge instructed us on what "prejudice" means. Naturally, he used cabbies in his example, saying, "Suppose you hold the belief that all cab drivers are terrible drivers." At this, there were a few nods of the head and even one "amen" muttered in the galleys. Ignoring this, the judge continued, "If there is an accident between a cab and another car, you might automatically blame the cab driver, right?" More nods. He went on, "We don't want you to do that here. You need to see the man in front of you as an individual human being and look at the facts of the case. Do not judge him based on what you think him to be beforehand -- that is what prejudice is -- when you pre judge someone based on your beliefs."

The day ended up running long and the lawyers hadn't been able to agree on twelve people so they made those of us who hadn't been interviewed yet (which included me) come back for a second day. The next morning, when the lawyers finally got to me and asked what my occupation was, I said "writer and cab driver." The judge did a double-take, then smiled and said, "Sorry about my cab driver example yesterday." I just said, "It happens all the time."

Around 2:00, the lawyers decided that most of us were not what they wanted on this particular jury and I was, much to my relief, dismissed.

52 comments:

Green said...

It's so cool that "writer" was part of your answer. I have jury duty this month and my response will just be "legal secretary for litigation attorney" in the hopes they don't want me for a juror.

Doog said...

Sure-fire way to get excused from jury duty: take a Bible with you and read it during all breaks. The defense will notice this and will make sure you don't sit.

Not that I know, I just heard...

Austin baird said...

Hi MP
August eh? Can't wait :) Fingers crossed for fame and fortune.

Drunken Master said...

Maybe they were worried about the writer part of your answer when they asked of your occupation. That you could possibly spin the case (had you been on the jury) into some sort of true crime story...

Geoff said...

awesome...i will have to pick up a copy. congrats. i guess you may be thinking about these types of events for the book promo / networking ?

http://www.baltimorebookfestival.com

Mary said...

Can't wait to get the book!

Rockenheimer said...

Sorry 'bout the dismissal. I know you held service close to your heart. We grieve with you.

Nice to have you back...

Anonymous said...

I did jury duty 2 years ago. Mostly it was dull but some of it was really interesting. I'm glad I did once, back when my workload was a lot less, but I'd be happy to not do it again.

Paradise Driver said...

Congrats on going to publication. I hope your publisher promotes your book to Oprah. That would guarantee it being a best seller.

What are your plans now?

What has piqued your interest?

Whatever you do next, I hope you take us along for the ride.

Smithedooples! said...

So maybe we should get married and make much <3 and XOXO?

Beehive Hairdresser said...

Can't wait to get your book.

I found that new courthouse to be quite comfy for jurors, and the people that worked in that building seemed much more friendly than the older courthouses three blocks away.

the zoom said...

I listened to a speech from a former congressman where he preached how bad the Republicans are in communicating there message to their base and to the public, and how the public does not know anything about what the republicans got done in the 109th congress. And while he was going on about the issues that the Republicans got done, he was also talking about the "earmarks". He explained to the conservative crowd, that "earmarks are les than one tenth of a percent of the federal budget" witch is a stunning fact that makes me wonder why this is the concern of our time in the conservative community.

As he finished his speech, I walked up to him and told him "Mr. Congressman, I might be wrong but I recall reading an article in the Wall St. Journal, about an official in CO criticizing an earmark that Sen. Allard (R-CO) inserted in a spending bill, saying that it takes away the money the State gets from the federal government." So I asked the Hon. Congressman "Is it true that when a congressman or senator inserts an earmark in a spending bill, he does not raise spending? That he just takes away the liberty from one bureaucrat to decide how to spend the money and decides himself where the money should go?"

The answer was yes.

So if earmarks do not raise spending and it's not more then one tenth of one percent of the budget, why is there so much noise about it?

Because we do not communicate, and nobody amongst us is aware of the facts. We have to start communicating, and shouldn't be afraid that someone will slam us, because if you fight back, you have a chance of winning, and if you don’t fight you don’t even have a chance of winning.

EverJack1 said...

Great to see your posts again, Melissa. I hope now that you have a little free time, you can post some more in the blog. :o)

Congrats on finishing the edit....

EverJack1

Dino aka Katy said...

cool just 5 months till your book comes out. Since I have only been a citizen a little over a year I have yet to be called as juror - I think it would be cool to do

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you're back! Keep posting!
Cheers!

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,

So excited about your book! I can't wait for August - I like most of your "fans" &
comment makers will be buying a copy! It's nice to see you back & a relief to know this
blog has not completely died.....I too hope that you will post more if you have more free
time & wish you the very best always!

Janelle Ryleigh

Galt-In-Da-Box said...

When you getting back on the road, Sis?
Tell them to give you one of those massive, ancient Yellow Cabs that would crush the unibody plastic/double-wall beercan pieces of crap being made today.
That way, fatboy might think twice before "showing you the family parrot" next time.

John said...

I don't think I would be too happy to be tried by a jury who are too stupid to get out of jury service.
Welcome back.

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Ellie said...

What a treat to see you posted once more! I bet it felt sort of cool to be able to say that one of your occupations were a writer. That must have made it so...real. Good for you, as I have said before, I look forward to reading your book. I hope you continue updating your blog I really miss reading it.

BAF said...

Great News MP - Thanks for the update and best of luck for the books sales. I will do my best to get it 'plugged' downunder.
Where to now?

Randall said...

Thanks for posting to us Melissa,
You write like your ,doing well.
Pick a good future for yourself.
Colorado loves you.

R2K said...

: )

Anonymous said...

That was an incredible post. I have insomnia and after reading halfway through it , I fell asleep for 12 hours. Keep those post's coming I really need the sleep !!
....or maybe you could tell us cabbie stories like we want to hear , not this mundane shit that we all deal with eventually. Whats the next post about , your long wait in the supermarket line . Looks like a good title for the book "HACK"...yeah writing hack.Drive a cab and write , thats when you are your best . Peace.

jo said...

I just thought I would look in to see if you had posted - and you did!! I really enjoyed reading about your day in court and unlike anonymous found it quite amusing and illuminating and not at all boring!!

I was a juror here in London - boring case - but I found the whole experience fascinating. Your experience sounds a bit more lively, there were only about 25 people called for jury service as as opposed to your 400!!

I must admit i didn't think you could make an everyday story sound as interesting as your cabby stories, but this post certainly changed my mind.

Keep on doing what you are doing.

Jo x

Anonymous said...

I was once robbed at gunpoint, and then revictimized by the police. Maybe if I get called for jury duty I can finally use this experience to my advantage. Nobody is going to want me on their jury anyway...my husband is a lawyer and we subscribe to Monthly Review(a socialist publication). I figure I'm safe lol.

the friendly giver said...

Big deal...Plaut throws the dogz a bone.

MrFunkMD said...

I honestly hate to say it...but I really dislike that title.

Imo, if you're going to use "Hack" in the title you need to put the "New York" in there too. And the subtitle reminds me of some type of self help book.

.02

Nonetheless, I am in awe of you.

Daisy said...

Excellent story! I've only been called for jury duty once. I got let out on the question: have you ever had any kind of law instruction? I had Business Law in college so I got to leave. Apparently they prefer people who are ignorant -- the better for the lawyrs to mess with their minds

Cappy said...

Jury duty? No problem. Just ask the judge how soon into the trial the jury can hang the defendant.

cabbyman said...

"If there is an accident between a cab and another car, you might automatically blame the cab driver, right?" More nods. He went on, "We don't want you to do that here. You need to see the man in front of you as an individual human being and look at the facts of the case. Do not judge him based on what you think him to be beforehand, remember he is NOT a cab driver! were he actually a cab driver we would have no need of these proceedings AT ALL because a CAB DRIVER we can assume is guilty and go home and catch the end of 'According To Jim'."

(i know you already made this point with the end of the paragraph m.p., but i just f*cking LOVE these people.

reminds me of the woman who was in an accident a few months ago with a piece of CRANE falling on the cab she was in- somewhere on third ave in the low teens or something- so this modular piece of crane they were hoisting falls on the hood of the cab waiting at the red-light, and when she gets out, the first thing she says, and i have this from the daily news story, the first thing she says is "i'm NEVER taking another cab again!"... i just f*cking love these people.)

Mauro Castro said...

I am a Brazilian Taxi driver!
TAXITRAMAS

Corey said...

I sat on a jury for a civil case. It lasted almost 3 weeks. It was hard sometimes to stay awake. I enjoyed it and was glad I had the opportunity. I would do it again.

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Anonymous said...

WB and congrats!

Forman said...

un-related to this post, i heard they might make a GTA new york, that would be awesome, new york of course doesn't like the idea though, so it may not happen.

Greg said...

I was called for jury duty several months ago (after ignoring the questionaires they sent me prior to that). But I was ill on the first day I was to show up. I called the phone number for jurors and the guy told me I didn't have to do anything, they'd just send me a new summons in five weeks or so. Well, I still haven't received it. :)

Pirate said...

Hey MP,
Thanks for the update. Can't wait to get the book. Congrats on getting out of jury duty;)

Vicki F. said...

http://news.com.com/2300-11389_3-6173811.html?tag=ne.gall.latest

John said...

Happy Easter Malissa. Will it be autumn before we hear from you?

Charles said...

Your writing has improved from your past postings. I get the sense that you are more of a professional now. The jury segment was well-written and interesting and wouldn't have necessarily needed to have anything about cabs. It made me think that your writing subject matter might be expanding.

Anonymous said...

I was fired after serving jury duty. The State of NY will do nothing to protect you!!!! If you think your employer will fire you, tell the Court you have had run ins with the cops, your neighbor is a cop and a prick, etc.

Remember you employer can lie and the State will do nothing... The fine is $200 and you keep working

Chris Brown said...

Can't wait for your book.

http://xeoss.com/ said...

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Have you been on XEOSS today?

mydearfriends said...

I was called for jury duty twice in the last two years. The first time I filled out the complete questionnaire only to stumble over the last question: Are you a citizen of the United States? And here goes my chance to see the American justice system in action. Too bad, it sounds like it would have been an interesting experience.

Anyway, can't wait to get your book.
Ciao.

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

Where are you? I get sad when I go to this blog now...almost don't feel like checking it anymore. Few people commenting....

Pickled Eel said...

An interesting blog - and it is always neat to find a fellow writer - though you are further down the publishing road than I. (work or university publications don't count!) I have a few tales of my own about cab drivers (all positive) on my own blog. Since writing their stories I have not had a ride with a native born Australian - they are all migrants with amazing stories to tell. All the better for us all.
http://pickledeel.blogspot.com

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