My daily commute in my pajamas from the bedroom to the dining room table has been replaced by a cruel and unusual 50 minute punishment set to a soundtrack of honking horns, screeching brakes, and a faceless, abnormally chipper voice that you may know as Ryan “I Won’t Admit I’m Gay” Seacrest. Punishment indeed. Every mile or so, there is a ferocious outburst from my mouth – four-letter words that were previously unknown to the English vocabulary, strung together into a staccato tirade that sounds like I am channeling a space alien with Turret’s Syndrome hopped up speed. But I’m still wearing what others may call "pajamas."
This plain, somber, windowless, wood-panelled showerstall of a courtroom certainly isn’t as warm as inviting as you would think a courtroom would be. The judge has a permanent disdainful scowl on her face that spells out “We are not amused.” The attorneys look smug, if not mildly bored. In one corner, two clerks are half-hidden behind 15 year-old computer monitors and stacks of papers; in the other corner, the court reporter sits upright, an expressionless statue looking straight ahead into nothing. Only the bailiff looks like he might be enjoying his day, but I think his gun belt is strapped on a little too low and little too tight.
No one wants to be here for this trial for posession of cocaine with intent of sale.
The double-tiered, stadium-seating separated from the rest of the courtroom by a low divider is called the “Jury Box,” kind of like a luxury sky box, but without the luxury. Nor the minibar. Nor the catered bratwurst party platter, so never mind. The twelve angry men and women seated in a two-by-six matrix in the Jury Box are the jurors. I am not one of them. Two posts and three days into jury duty and I haven’t told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so sue me God. I am not one of those twelve angry jurors.
Oh what a tangled blog we weave when first we practice to deceive.
I am...an alternate.
When I said I was selected for jury duty, what I meant was that the court decided to give me all the gut-wrenching responsibilities of a juror, but none of the glory by dubbing me an alternate juror. An alternate! I wasn’t good enough to make the final cut into the official jury of twelve, but I wasn’t bad enough to be excused from service entirely. Now I know what it feels like to be every other state besides Texas. Should Miss Texas not be able to fulfill her duties as Miss America by posing nude or doing lines cut with her crown, Miss First Runner Up State will take her place as a commentator at the Eukanuba American Kennel Club’s Best in Show, but for now, you’re just not pretty and perky enough. Judicial pugatory was a fate worse that hell. And I don’t even get a tiny consolation tiara.
I pouted and realized that what I thought was a vicious *argh* in my head, had been a very audible *sigh*. The judge asked, “Juror #13, are you not happy to be here?” I snarled back at her, “No, I am not at all happy to be here.” Would that get me thrown out for being in contempt of the court? Of course not. She cracked an evil smile. I think my misery actually made her day.
If I had to be stuck there for another few days, I was hoping to at least see some sort of drama like tv, but the proceedings are dry and dull, with re-statements of repetitive questions. The judge had instructed the jurors (and even the alternates – wow! she included me!) not to come to any conclusions in our minds until we had heard all the testimonies and seen all the evidence, but I couldn’t help it. To be quite honest, it seemed fairly obvious that the defendant was guilty, and that this whole trial was just a formality. The court provides steno pads and pencils that were in desperate need of a sharpener for the jurors to take notes. By the time we broke for lunch, my first page was lightly scribbled over with recipe ideas.
I met up with John again for lunch. He must have thought my pajamas weren’t as bad as Day One, and decided that instead of a dark, hidden corner where he could be assured of not running into colleagues and being seen with someone he picked up off the street, we went to Pete’s Cafe and Bar.
As we walked toward the corner on which Pete’s is located, I was skeptical. We had been trotting through what I would call “Sketchville” – side-stepping piles of litter, ignoring pleas for spare change, and making wide detours around mutteing, sputtering homeless folks enveloped by a dark cloud of dirt, stale body odor, urine. But despite it’s surroundings, Pete’s is a busy lunchtime destination for the business casual and suits set (jackets removed and ties loosened, though) from the courthouses, the LA Times building, and all the other official buildings in the area. The sidewalk seating under a canopy was already full.
We stepped into the bright, airy space with ceilings that stretch up through the second floor, tastefully exposing ducts overhead. The host up front is a friendly “let me buy you a beer” type. He invites us to sit down at any open table, waving one arm toward a long, narrow space on one side, and the other arm toward the same thing on the other side, and "of course, there's the bar." We took our places on a couple of stools at the far end of high bar-style table.
Pete’s is a regular stop for John, so he doesn’t have to look at the menu, which is nothing fancy, just good old American café type foods: soups and hearty salads, sandwiches and burgers, and lighter-than-dinner entrees that won’t induce an afternoon food coma. That is, if you eat half of it and take the rest to-go to eat for dinner at your desk, if you’re working late. John recommends that we share because the portions are generous, and since he’s tried everything on the menu, lets me choose a bowl of vegetable soup and the Caprese sandwich. He orders a beer to round out our lunch, but makes it a Hefeweizen so I don’t feel left out. I had already whined about my feelings of exclusion and inadequacy by being selected as alternate juror on the way to Pete's.
The beer was a welcome buzz and lunch-time chatter with John surrounded by
enormous windows that picture-framed the scenery outside and noisy energy of fellow diners was a refreshing intermission from the monotony in the courtroom. I almost wished that service was slow and inefficient to prolong our lunch.
The vegetable soup was a well-seasoned broth overflowing with more variety than the standard carrots, potaoes, and tomatoes. With so many vitamins, I didn’t feel at all guilty about ordering French fries with our sandwich instead of a salad. The fries were good, but more notable than their proper crisp was the conspicuous presence of salt. I am a shameful salt-hound, and Pete’s French fries saved me the haranguing I typically receive about high blood pressure when, like an overly-disciplinarian parent collars a disobedient child, I reach for the salt shaker and spank it upside down.
The Caprese sandwich was good, even with the pesto, which, as we all know, I hate. But somehow, I didn’t mind it this time, and even appreciated it with the fresh tomatoes and thick slices of creamy Bufala mozzarella. Our bowl and plate were spotless.
On our way out, we ran into a few of John’s colleagues enjoying a two-beer lunch over tax documentation. We said hello, then quickly scooted out, he to his office and I to my dungeon.
The jury began their deliberations that afternoon, but as an alternate, I couldn’t contribute my hasty “Guilty!” Neither could I leave to go home. As Miss Not-Quite America, I had to remain wandering the hallways of the 11th floor. There was disagreement behind the closed doors of the jury deliberation room, so had to come back for a fourth day.
In the end, the jury was divided down the middle. The judge declared a do-over. A Mulligan. Technically, I think it’s called a mis-trial, which basically means that they have to start over, but with a brand-new jury. We finally get go home! I cracked an evil smile – we go home, but the judge and attorneys have to sit through this whole process again. Then I thought about it. They get paid, and we spend our $15 a day on coffee from the cafeteria that tastes like creamy hazelnut tree bark mixed with cigarettes, but without the heady nicotine buzz.
I better not get another jury summons this year.
Pete’s Café & Bar
400 S. Main Street (@ 4th)
Los Angeles, CA 90013