August 27, 2006

When I received my summons for jury duty, I reacted the way I react to everything in my life: I panicked. For years I had successfully avoided it; like credit-card debt, I'd pay later.

Apparently not. It was time to serve. But getting summoned was one thing; being chosen was another. "Don't worry," Liza assured me. "You won't get chosen." Another friend made it sound like a date with destiny. "You never know who you might meet." Why is that a positive thing? I could meet a serial killer. Or a woman who carries photos of her cats in her wallet and wants to discuss them.

The first day of jury duty felt like the first day of school. I didn't know what to wear and I didn't know how to get there. When I found the right building, I sat in a large, poorly ventilated room with several hundred strangers. An instructional video was shown about the democratic process, but midway through, the sound went, so the video was cancelled. One woman leant over and asked me: "How does it end?"

The hours passed. I waited. Finally my name was called from the bingo bin of potential jurors and I was ushered into the jury box. "Do you have any memberships?" the judge asked. "Yes," I said. "Blockbuster." He was thinking more along the lines of the Ku Klux Klan. A few more amiable questions followed: which newspaper did I prefer? Where did I live? Was I single? I began to wonder how many judges are secretly stalkers.

He asked if I could be "fair and impartial" and I said yes. The honest answer would have been, "Not when it comes to dating," but I kept that to myself. Seconds later, the court officer was naming me as Juror No 11. "Be here on Monday at 9am," the judge said. "And please do not discuss the case." I was free to go. I was one of the chosen people.

As soon as I had left the courtroom I called Liza to discuss the case.

The man on trial was named Love Jones. He worked at Domino's. How could they expect me not to discuss that? "You were chosen?" is all she could say. Even my doorman said: "I've never known anyone who was actually chosen before." He looked concerned. Like he might need to water my plants and put aside my mail. So I made a decision. First thing on Monday morning, before the trial began, I'd speak to the judge and do what every other New Yorker does: I would negotiate, and get out of it.

"You have what?" the judge laughed. I paused. "Panic attacks." He gave me a look. "Are you having one right now?" I could see the defendants were looking at me. And in that second, watching them watching me, I felt guilty. The judge would have none of it. The trial lasted two days, and when it came time to deliberate, I didn't think the prosecution had proven reasonable doubt. Suddenly I was Henry Fonda from 12 Angry Men. All of the others wanted to go home, but I loved it. But just as I was really getting into the routine, we reached a verdict. That's the whole point, I guess.

I really didn't want it to end.

I had somewhere to be and I had something to do. Plus, I had an excuse for not being available.

Nobody expects you to get any work done when you're on jury duty.