This essay first appeared in Literal Latté, and was nominated for Best of the Web.

Jury Duty

by Tyler C. Gore

I knew it was a mistake to vote. There’s something un-American about voting, after all. I mean, sure, it’s great that we can vote, but to actually go through it — to get hold of one of those hard-to-find registration forms, fill it out, wait for your voting card in the mail and then show up on a workday at some high school you never heard of and stand on line to pull a lever on those ancient machines—well, if you ask me, it all smacks of some kind of nutty European socialism. But I’d done it — even though I knew my vote was more or less meaningless, that at any rate the Electoral College (whatever that is) would cast the actual votes for one of two schmucks — and that’s how they must’ve gotten my new address.

Jury duty. Dreaded words, like April 15th or Department of Motor Vehicles. You could defer it for six months, but why put off the inevitable? Besides, I had nothing better to do. So, at 7:30 a.m. I flopped out of bed and dragged myself down to the courthouse, navigating my way through maze-like corridors of the mayor’s concrete barricades until I found a bland, squat building, as brown as a turd.

So I had somehow managed to arrive, bleary-eyed, at the appointed hour. Well, not exactly. I was about fifteen minutes late, and when I got inside — to a dark cavernous room that looked vaguely like a movie theatre, with rows and rows of seats — a video was just beginning on the TV monitors that hung over the room. I couldn’t find a seat, so I stood by a wall to watch.

The video vaguely resembled an infomercial. Several Ordinary People — a black construction worker, an Asian lawyer, an Hispanic woman pushing a stroller — testified about their real feelings towards jury duty. “I mean, how could I judge someone else?” the woman was saying. “I didn’t think I could do it.” An elderly black man, leaning on his cane, chuckled ruefully and confided, “Jury duty is a real pain in the neck.” We all laughed. Tell it like is, brother. At least they had a sense of humor about it. But then, to my surprise, Ed Bradley from Sixty Minutes came on the screen, looking very grave. He told us that jury duty was indeed a so-called pain in the neck, but it was also the very foundation of our judicial system, and an essential component to our democracy. And then a shot of the Acropolis appeared on screen, and Bradley’s disembodied voiced continued, “You see, it all started back in Ancient Greece...”

Everyone groaned.

After the video an officer of the court came to the front of the room and announced that certain people were automatically excused from jury duty, and that if they fit into the following categories they should line up in the left aisle to have their notices stamped. “Non-US-citizens,” he called out, and several people got up. “Parents who are the sole-caretakers of their children during the day. People who have doctor’s notes. People who have airline tickets for any time during the next three days.” Various people stood up, beaming with delight. We looked at them enviously. I wondered if there were categories like People who have houseplants or People who just feel kind of tuckered out.

The officer continued. “Anyone who has ever been convicted of a felony.” There was a short pause, and then several people shuffled to their feet, looking sheepish, and took their place in line. I noticed a grizzled looking old man with long hair, wearing a shirt emblazoned with a big marijuana leaf, advertising a newspaper called The Daily Buzz. On the back of the T-shirt was the legend MEAN PEOPLE SUCK under a caricature of Rudy Guiliani. In my mind, I nicknamed this man Snuffy McGoo, and wondered if he was one of the convicted felons. I could imagine Snuffy McGoo talking to his friends through a haze of pot smoke: “Yeah, I once got called for jury duty, but The Man wouldn’t let me serve.”

After the unwed mothers and felons left, the officer explained that People who didn’t have employers — that is, people like me — would be paid $40 a day by the state. I was very happy to hear this. $40 a day was $40 more than I would have made if I stayed home. I now began to feel different about jury duty. I began to think of it as a job.