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Jury Duty

My posture sank and my head hung low when I received the summons in the mail. Hadn’t I JUST done this? Apparently not. Of course I went through the usual reactions. I checked the date of the last time and while two years passed painfully slow in other regards, it FLEW by when it came to this. I didn’t ponder my excuses for dismissal long before I gave in, resigning myself to at least one long day of absolute boredom and some of the most effed up traffic one could plunge oneself into in Los Angeles.

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Just looking at it makes me shudder.

After playing my fair share of “You can’t get there from here” in Downtown LA, I arrived, relatively on time. Walking into the room where the potential jurors were held was like walking into the DMV without an appointment. I was met by a wall of energy from people who did not want to be there and it was rapidly joined by my own.

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This beast. *shakes head* The original courthouse was SO much prettier.

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Only thing that remains of this building is the original cornerstone.

I’ve been super sensitive to other people’s emotions lately. I was worried that being immersed in such a large gathering of annoyed, irritated, bored people might have some really uncomfortable effects. But I decided to give myself over to the process, seeking the nuances of the individuals rather than the overtones of the horde. And while it didn’t make my experience any less uncomfortable, it was interesting to tune into that discomfort rather than try to check out of it. Of course, no one wanted to be there. But what I found interesting was what felt like an emotional melting, a collective giving in to the process.

As the mouthpiece for the court took us through orientation, we were coaxed into further resignation by her keen mix of discipline, guidance, and humor. She did her job well. She spoke clearly and with confidence. She was patient but powerful. And as she walked the room through the process of filling out the paperwork, instructing us on where to wear our badges and what all the protocols would be, the horde coalesced into a cooperative mass.

The high notes of energy were easy to discern. Confusion over what all the words on the paperwork meant, panic over not having a pen with which to fill it out, that spike of fear that something will be confusing resulting in the individual getting called out of the pack and put on display for being “less than” or not good enough understand or follow directions.  But that soon subsided when the orientation concluded and brought us to the first break.

A soft din broke out over the room as people filed through the aisles, looking for a more comfortable place to be or heading for the bathrooms or vending machines. I knew where I wanted to be. The last trip to this same courthouse left me with indelible impressions of where my comfort zones were. So, up to the front I went, first to the bathroom, then the vending machine for my first crappy snack of the day, then to the cluster of tables by the entrance. Computer, phone apps, a book. I came prepared. And yet, I still found myself falling asleep like a third grader at her school desk, my head resting on my outstretched arm where my jacket would leave wrinkle marks on my face.

Still aware of the room, I could feel the energy around me. In fact, it was the energy and not the noise that kept me from falling completely asleep. The girl across from me, though reading a book, was as bored as I was. The guy next to me? A heavy breather, reading a book called “You’re 50! Now what?” The only people successfully distracting themselves were people who, I figured, were always distracted to begin with. The rest of us were waiting, on hold, a plucked string of tension vibrating perpetually throughout the room.

Beneath the general tone, there were still people who were scrambling. Even though they were sitting or standing still, I could feel them frantic on the inside. “How do I get out? How do I get them to dismiss me?” Truth is, with the system the way it is these days, you can’t. You really are just better off giving in. I had. And the decision to do so kind of made the scramblers fun to watch. The shifting eyes, the weight moving from foot to foot, the looks passed between others they recognized with a similar energy and hence, a similar goal. Little mice ready to scamper.

Just before lunch I was called for a panel. The judge had a clear but rather soothing voice. He was laid back. The case was small. One woman. accused, I kid you not, of “mayhem.” This is a real charge? I did not realize we were still living in 1880. I could, of course, feel her unease but, more so, distrust for all of us. And she particularly disliked the prosecutor who seemed confident that she would win.

Shortly after we were called in for interviews we had to take a long lunch break which was a sad bit of torture. Wait an hour and a half before you finish this job you don’t want to do at this place you don’t want to be. Sitting in this endless hallway of concrete benches and yellow light, the place was the height of 1970’s discomfort. The elevators can’t keep up with lunch time traffic so I opted for the snack bar upstairs. Mistake. Still, banana bread and pretzels are safe enough to keep me company in this place where the minutes prove so contrary. You want to leave? Tick……….tick….tick…. Finally making progress? Break time!

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Misery. Every surface is hard and cold in hideous hues of brown and rust. Tick…..tick….tick…..tick…..

Day two of jury selection proved no less frustrating. More of the same hurry up and wait. I was the last to be selected and the last to be dismissed. Instinct bid me flee like the building was on fire but I resisted the urge to rush. Like the rest of the experience, I decided to use it, observing all the things, walking a casual pace as I continued to sink into the feeling of being uncomfortable. The hike back to the car was ironically literal. Three blocks up Hill St. No lie. Even though I made it back to my car, I think the mountain won. I ached inside and out, every fiber exhausted. The high of knowing I did not have to go back made the rush hour drive home almost enjoyable.

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Do NOT let the grass and fountains fool you. They, in no way, take the edge off the numerous stairs! See that ribbon of silver building in the upper left-hand corner? That’s where we had to park. (I can hear the New Yorker’s laughing at me right now. But it’s true! Nobody walks in LA!)

Those two days I spoke only a few words, stepping inside myself to become that fly on the wall, tuning into individuals whose thoughts were as audible as spoken word. From scampering mice to the reluctantly resigned, I immersed myself in the people around me, listening to their fears, tasting their discomfort and watching them plan their escape.

Perhaps I was fooling myself, disassociating from my own experience by stepping into the pieces of other’s. But I guess we make that choice on a daily basis. We are limited in our perceptions. We have no control over this. The only choice we can make is where and how we focus our attention. If jury duty is our “civic” obligation, then choosing our experience is our personal obligation.

I woke up the next day with a hangover not unlike the ones I sometimes experience after investigations. (And my legs from the knees down were KILLING me. Thanks Hill St.) This feeling is not specific to dark, malevolent, or “demonic” energies.

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It is specific to opening yourself to a different kind of communication. It’s a result of tapping into the energy that fills a space. It’s something we all do to varying degrees. But when communicating with the dead, you direct the majority of your energy towards seeking out that which is not usually seen or heard. You are exercising muscles you don’t use as often. (Like that horrible walk back to the car exercised my poor calves.)

I’m glad that I can’t be chosen for jury duty for at least a year. It’s an exhausting and miserable adventure. And personally, I would rather have a hangover from interacting with the dead than spend another day in the chaotic energy of Downtown LA and her many courthouses.

 

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