Jury Duty in NYC & a Bad Case of Sleep Deprivation
Posted on November 2, 2015
“When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.”
NYC, NEW YORK. September 27-28, 2k15— Living abroad taught me a few things. Often useful things, too. For me it was a foreign language, how to live without AC in a heat wave, that you can negotiate with muggers, and that I can sleep through anything. For a year I lived next to the main train station in Salzburg, Austria. The trains ran from 5am until 3am the next morning, 22 hrs. of high-pitched metal grinding as they braked coming into the station and then each time they left the station, they would signal their departure by playing a C major scale— “Doe, a deer, a female deer“— over the intercom. Once it crescendoed and hit the high C, it would hold the note for 10 or 15 seconds before diminuendoing back down and disappearing off to its destination.
Though, saying I am pretty good at sleeping is about as meaningless as saying I’m pretty good at German. As I should be. The government has a bill for me to the tune of $68k for German lessons at the University. But there isn’t a bill from the government for my ability to sleep. I’ve just been doing it for 30 years, each night and sometimes during the day if there is time and the want to. I am what some might call “self-taught” when it comes to sleeping or some might just say it is in my genes since I come from a long line of people who were also pretty good at the whole sleep thing. It’s a tradition in my family that after Xmas dinner everyone gathers around and watches Granddad show off how good he is at sleeping sitting upright in his chair. But in the last couple of months, maybe years, I haven’t been sleeping all that well. Around 11pm each night, I get a my second wind and I’m good to go until 2/3am. This is good for finding time to read, but pretty shitty for finding time to be a functioning adult the next day or not look like something the cat dragged in. I devised a routine that helped out in the functioning adult department. That seemed to work for a while and I stuck with it.
Morning routine (8am-11:30am):
- 2 double shot of espressos
- 1 hot shower
- 1 tall cup of coffee for some extra boost
- 1 grapefruit juice mixed with sparkling water
- 2 strawberry yogurts
- Optional: 1 more double shot of espresso for those days where sluggish does not begin to describe how I am feeling
But my body caught on and has been rejecting the notion that I should ever feel awake or ready. Luckily one of the steps of getting my tonsils removed is to be tested for Sleep Apnea. I made the appointment a month ago and it only took a couple of days for my insurance to approve the $1,400 test. On the same day that my insurance approved the test and I scheduled my appointment, though, I found this official looking envelope in my mailbox. Written across the front of it was “IMPORTANT: Jury Summons Enclosed” highlighted in yellow. Inside were instructions on how to find out if you were selected for Jury Duty, how to call and when to call (everyday until your ID# was listed), and how you can be arrested and fined for not showing up unless you were dead or damn near to it. The date listed to start calling for me was Friday, Sept. 25 at 5pm. Alright, I thought, that’s doable. I’ll just call from work, see what they have to say, pull my weekend shift, and go to my sleep lab test on Sunday evening. So, I did. And this automated voice told me 3x that I had to be in Kew Gardens at 9am Monday morning to report for Jury Duty and if that didn’t work for me, well, tough shit, friend— wear nice clothes. Ye gods, that threw a wrench in my plans…. The sleep test wouldn’t end until 7am Monday morning and there was still the task of getting from the Upper West Side to Queens and making myself look like I was ready to place Judgment on some Poor Soul in front of a Court of his/her Peers.
When Sunday evening came around, I stuck around work a bit and tidied some things up. The sleep lab gave me a time of 7pm or 10:30pm… either or, just don’t come later. So, what the hell? I could screw around the office and get my desk in order and read that 3-week old New York Times that has been sitting on my desk since I bought it. Ho ho, who am I kidding? I ended up reading about the Blood Moon and how if I missed, well, check back in 18 years. 18 years? I would be 48 the next time something like that happened, and hell, who knows if my body will hold out that long? I grabbed my messenger bag and back pack filled with the clothes I was going to wear to Jury Duty and rush out the door to the subway. My reasoning was that I would get to 55th Street and walk to the clinic while catching glimpses of the moon. People were out in the streets in their pajamas and robes looking upward. But it just looked like a normal moon at that point. And I was amazed that with all the light pollution in the City that we could even see the damned thing. It was still beautiful and left me the urge to get out of the City. The urge to see stars again and a lot less neon signs.
It was 10:02pm when I finally reached the clinic. The doctor took me to a room that might have been styled after a dorm room from the 1970s complete with 2 beds and 2 writing desks. The doctor told me to get out of my clothes… but not in the room, they were watching the room and they would prefer it not to see me naked. I went down the hall and changed into my clothes I was going to wear to bed. When I came back there was this gorilla of an East Indian man standing in the room with a painters cart with random wires and bits of tape everywhere. There didn’t seem to be any logic as to how the wires were sorted on the cart…. They had just been tossed on there left to tangle and become knotted.
The East Indian man smiled and said, “Ready, yes?”
“Sure, why not.”
He instructed me to sit down and he pulled the cart in front me. He waved his hand in front of it to draw my attention to all the items the cart was holding and started to take inventory. He showed me the wires and bands and electrodes…. At the end he picked up a jar and held it out on the palm of his hand. He signaled for me to smell it. I bent forward and put it to my nose. “Lemon?”
He nodded. “My special touch…. It cleans the skin and also will allow tape and putty to come off.”
It took roughly an hour and a half to get all the wires and gear attached to my body, the whole time being guided by the large Indian in silence. When I was finally hooked up to all the machines, he motioned me to get in the bed and began to tape me to it. He tossed a blanket on me and turned off the light saying “Go to sleep!” as he closed the door.
The room was dark. Which was nice since I hadn’t slept in a dark room since moving to the City. The Mormon Temple behind my apartment keeps the lights on 24/7 just in case you’re down to your last pair of Holy Underwear and need a spare at 3am. It is also a terrible place to hide. My girlfriend and I caught one of their members standing out there staring up into our building’s bedroom windows. So we stared back until he saw us and decided that if what we were doing was creepy, what he was doing was definitely creepy, and he hung his head and left. Where was I? Right, the room was dark…. And my brain wouldn’t shut off. Normally this would be when I started talking about this and that to Isabel while she tries to fall asleep. But it was just me and the camera in this room… and I doubted that whoever was in the control room would talk back. I had brought a book and used my phone as a book lamp to read it. I got maybe five lines in when the East Indian’s voice crackled through the intercom.
“Fizziszt… Mr. Doonesbury… fizziszt… can you… pfffzt… ear me?”
“Hey, yeah, a bit.”
“OK, good… fizziszt… Go to sleep.”
I laid there in the dark for another hour or so until my brain finally tired itself out and I fell asleep. I woke up at about 3:30am to the East Indian standing over me fidgeting with the wires on my face. I panicked and he just shushed me and told me to sleep. What was I to do? So, I obeyed.
At 5:30am, he came back in and started removing the wires and tape. I asked about coffee, if there was a good joint in the neighborhood where I could get some. He acted like he never heard of the stuff. “What? Coffee? No… no coffee, sir.” I left it at that and got myself ready. I was due in Queens in just a couple of hours and I still had plaster and some gummy substance in my hair which took 45 minutes to wash out.
The Sun had begun to show, but the City was still blanketed in a hazy grey mist. And it was quiet. The few people I saw on the street looked worn and disheveled. It was as if they had also just crawled out of a medical facility without their wits about them… or the night at the bar turned out to last longer than they expected and it was now time for them to go home and get ready for work. The subway station was packed with sleeping homeless and passed out students and hipsters. But the subway cars were nearly empty. It was a peaceful ride.
When I finally arrived outside of the Kew Gardens Jury Room, there was a line around the block from the front door. I saw a cop standing there smoking a cigarette and he gave me this look that told me he was just as happy to be there as the rest of us. I walked up to him and asked if the line was for jury duty. He took a long drag of his cigarette, looked at the ember, thought for a minute, and finally exhaled. “Nah,” he started with smoking coming out of his nostrils. “You want to go ’round back there. Have fun!”
Around back there was an even larger line. Everyone had their phones out and were saying “I can’t, I have to be here” or “Hopefully not long” or “Trust me, I’d rather be there than here” or something along those lines. We had been instructed to dress for court appearance. I came wearing a polo shirt, a khaki sports coat, and slacks. But, when compared to everyone else, I came grossly overdressed. I was easily the second best dressed person there besides the guy in the Brooks Brother suit. In third place was a guy wearing a sleek black turtle neck and sweats.
Once inside, they herd you into a large room with televisions mounted high up on pillars spaced apart every 15 feet. Playing were daytime court shows, first Judge Judy followed by Hot Bench, just to whet our appetites and put us in the mood for a day in court. We were all supposed to be there by 9am sharp, but that didn’t stop people from piling in around 10/10:30am.
We were instructed to pull out our summons and to fill them out but not to separate them at the perforated lines. I already had the day before since the summons clearly stated: “Please remove along perforated lines.” After about an hour of people asking questions as to “What does it mean ‘home address’?” or “What if I don’t want to tell you my employment status?”, they finally let people come to the front and ask other questions. Instantly people came alive and piled around the front desk. The young guy in the Brooks Brother suit stood in line and looked at his watch every 2 minutes or so. When it was finally his turn, he started begging to be let go. Each beg got louder than the last to the point that I was pretty certain that those in the back row, a good 30 yards away, heard every word. “But, I have an important account merging today and I HAVE to be there! … No! YOU don’t understand … It’s important … No … I HAVE TO BE THERE … Please … Dear God … Please … Alright … I’ll sit down.”
And he did. The rest of us kept watching TV.
Eventually they lined us up like kindergartners going out to recess, one group at a time, by numbers pre-selected on our Jury ID cards. We were led out of the building and down the street to a new building, the court house. This was a nicer, much fancier building compared to the waiting area that resembled my old high school’s cafeteria. We waited outside of a courtroom and told to use the bathroom now since we wouldn’t be given another chance until this was over… and there would be no excuses. Piss now or forever hold your peace.
Once inside, we sat on these long wooden benches while they collected our IDs and tossed them into a giant brass raffle drum. The main operating the drum cranked it for a good three or four minutes and stopped. I was fifth to be called. It looked like I would have a front row seat. The judge then started to address us. “The case here is a pretty simple one. The defendant sitting over there has been accused of a breaking into apartments. But… Do you know what it means to sit on a jury? … Erm …. Number 4, what do you think it means?”
“Uh… I speak no English…”
“No English?” The judge called out. “Like none? As in you haven’t understand what I said?”
“Oh… uh… how you say, very little.”
This went on for a good while and it was starting to look like a good 3/4 of those selected didn’t speak enough English to answer any questions. The questions were as follows (my answers in italics):
-Is your name *insert name*? Yes.
-What is your highest level of education? Ph.D.
-Do you speak English? Yes.
-Are you employed? Yes
-(If yes) What do you do? ***
-Are you familiar with this case? No.
-Are you or anyone you know a member of law enforcement? Yes.
-(If yes) Would that impair you from being able to be fair and impartial if you were to serve on this jury? No, sir.
-Have you or anyone you know been a victim of a crime? Yes.
-(If yes) Were you the victim of the crime? Yes.
-Have you or anyone you know know ever been accused of a crime? Yes.
-(If yes) Were you accused of a crime? Yes
–Do you have any religious beliefs that would cause you not to be suitable to serve on this jury? No.
Only one lady answered yes to the sixth and last question. When asked about what she knew about the case, her only response was: “Well, I googled it… you know, on the internet.” She followed that up with, “I’m not really religious, but I don’t think I could sleep at night knowing I tried to pass judgment on someone.”
It was then the DA’s turn to address us and ask some questions. Her opening remarks were about the Mets (“Go Mets!” she cheered) and about how the Mets were a team and teams work together. She stopped abruptly and started in on how there was little or no evidence (“You’ve seen Law and Order, right? Or CSI? Real life isn’t like that.”). Apparently, the only evidence they had against this guy was a photo taken from a security camera. And all this picture depicted was of the defendant walking towards the front door of the apartment building… not even entering. She asked a few of the potential jurors some questions… she focused on me for a bit.
“Mr… erm… Dr. Doonesbury, you were accused of a crime, correct?”
“But, not convicted?”
“Would you say, you were treated fairly?”
“Besides being arrested and having bruises for two weeks around my wrists, sure why not.”
She then asked me if I knew anyone else who had been accused of a crime.
“Yeah, my dad’s friend and our neighbor.”
“And was he convicted?”
“Oh, yeah. Pretty guilty.”
“And what are your feelings toward him?”
“He’s a pretty swell guy. Used to let my brother and I come over and watch cartoons.”
“So, you liked the person in question?”
“Yeah, he was a nice guy.”
“And what did he do?”
“And this was a ‘nice guy?'”
“One of the nicest guys I ever knew.”
When she was done with her questions, they let the defendant’s lawyer step up. He was pushing 40 and wasn’t taking it so well. He leaned on the juror box and fingered his tie for a bit. “So, the Mets…” Sweet Jesus, what was this… He continued on about the Mets for a bit, often stumbling on words, talking about his tie and how everyone would get a ring if the Mets won the World Series… even the secretaries and the clerks. What this had to do with a man being accused of B&E, I wasn’t sure. Nor did he ever clarify. He was becoming obvious that this guy was a Public Defender and had probably been called up that morning and told to get his ass to the Court House… and maybe to bring some other tie. He switched gears in mid-thought and said, “My son… he’s… uh… 4, right? And once he was really sick, so I took him to my mother’s place because… I… uh… have to work, right? And as soon as we got there… he… uh… just vomits on her floor. And… uh… my mother… she… was like, ‘Timmy…’ …. that’s my son, Timmy… ‘What’s wrong?’ And… you know… he says, ‘Dad gave me a peanut.’ So my mom’s looking at me… and… uh… says, ‘Why would you do that?’ What was I supposed to say? Mr. Doonesbury?”
“Christ, I don’t know. He’s your son. Is he allergic to nuts or wanting to be lawyer?” I replied. “Not really my place to tell you how to raise your kid.”
“Well, what I mean is…,” he responded, “I was being accused of something… like my client. Is it my job to to prove my innocence or guilt? No. That’s the DA’s job… erm… my mother’s in this story.”
I could sense this guy didn’t like me. And so what? I didn’t really want to be there anyway.
“So, Mr. Doonesbury, you were accused of a crime, eh?”
“And without going into detail, you were arrested and let go?”
“Well, for the lack of possessing something.”
“The lack of possessing something? Like what?”
“That would require me giving details, which you asked me not to do.”
He moved around a bit and started asking people some other questions and got hooked on the idea, hey, if someone tells the same story over and over and over again, word for word, then they must be telling the truth. He started going up and down the line for confirmation. And most people agreed. When he got to me, I said, “Well, in East Germany, the Stasi new people were lying when the told the same story over and over and over again. Because it sounds rehearsed. And people often realize something or remember something after the fact. Shock has a way of blurring your thoughts.”
“Oh, what do you mean?”
It was at this point that I decided to talk about the time I was the victim because no one had thought to ask since they were so caught up with me being accused of something one time. “Well, after our apartment was broken into, we noticed new details after we started cleaning up and thought things through. Like how the cops and landlord was saying that the burglar came in through the fire escape, through the window. But, how none of the windows were open or disturbed, and the fact that our front door had a large dent in it, you know, like someone had used something to jimmy it open. It wasn’t that we were lying to cops when we contacted them with a different set of details. Just that we had new details that wasn’t 100% what we originally said.”
He sucked his lips for a minute and thanked me for my explanation. He moved on and asked some other people what they thought, and said that was all.
They let us out for a brief break and called us back in. The judge sat there and called out three numbers and told us the rest could leave. I wasn’t one of those numbers. Two of those three, though, were ones who said they didn’t speak enough English to be fair or impartial on the jury. Oh, well.
I was sent back to the original building and told to wait in case I was to be put in another courtroom. The nine not selected to stay sat there for 45 minutes before we were told we could leave, but we could stay and watch TV if we wanted to. I didn’t really feel like it and my coffee high was fading fast. It was the only thing keeping me awake after getting little sleep from my sleep lab.
Once I left, I felt a bit sad that I didn’t get to stick around and see this through to the end. But, ye gods, was I tired. Hell, I thought, my time might be better spent sitting around in my underwear.