Friday, May 9, 2014

Juror 86

I almost got to do big-person, grown-up, adult-type stuff the other day. Almost.

You see, several weeks ago, I received a summons from my county courthouse for jury duty. Throughout the years, I have gotten several of these letters in the mail asking me to serve as a juror, but each and every other previous time, for some reason or another, the case on the day I was scheduled to appear had been settled out of court, and I didn't even have to show up.

I had gotten so used to this scenario, that I was kind of shocked last Sunday evening when I called the courthouse and the automated answering machine told me that, in fact yes, there was a case to be decided, and yes, my presence was required.

I had mixed emotions. On one hand, I have always been curious about how our country's legal system works, and I always want to do my part as an American citizen. But on the other hand, I don't know of anyone who wants to willingly step foot in a courtroom. Especially when this person may or may not possess 23-year-old illegal bottle rockets that he attained before he was married, that he may or may not have gotten on a trip to Gatlinburg.

Add to this the fact I am presently suffering from allergies, and you can see why I dreaded the thought of sitting in a solemn, quiet courtroom. Every 10 to 16 seconds, I feel a compelling need to blow my nose. And not just a pleasant little puff of air into a tissue followed by a polite, "You'll have to excuse me. I'm a little stuffed up." No, this is the kind of proboscis clearing that produces a sound similar to that of the Heimlich maneuver being applied to a large Canada Goose. This procedure is always loud and occasionally messy. A sound that a defendant doesn't want to hear in a court of law.

But come Monday morning, I put all this behind me. It was time to act like a big boy and do my civic duty. I stuffed my pockets with cough drops and Kleenex, and drove to the courthouse to dispatch justice. It was kind of exciting.

Sniffling and clearing my throat, I entered the large room where everyone that gets summoned waits to receive further instructions, I told the check-in lady what my last name was and how many miles it was from my home to the courthouse. With that, she checked some stuff on a piece of paper, handed me a pamphlet on what would be required of me, and gave me my juror badge. From this point on in life, I pretty much plan on always introducing myself as "Juror 86."

As I turned my mucus-filled head to find a seat to plant myself, I did what I used to do back in high school. I searched out the seat that was the farthest from the front of the room and the closest to the door. I spied an empty chair between two other gentlemen in the back of the room, and I made a beeline for it. I probably would have had my own court case if anyone had tried to beat me to that chair.

As I sat there in that room, waiting for something to happen, I started reading the little pamphlet they gave me. I didn't finish reading it because the third sentence had a big word in it. After a few minutes, they played a VHS tape again telling us of our duties. With my eyes watering and a constant tickle in my throat, I sat there relishing in the fact that I was about to take part in assisting the American legal system, helping to preserve the very Constitution that makes this country the greatest place in the world. I contentedly leaned back in my chair.

I will give this one warning to anyone who is called to serve as a juror in Bureau County, Illinois. Be wary of the chairs. The particular chair that I was in, was made of a particularly sturdy kind of wooden construction with rollers on the bottom. The kind of chair that I can picture Gregory Peck using in "To Kill a Mockingbird." I think it was pretty much exactly like everybody else's chair in the room, but to tell you the truth, I didn't pay that much attention. My chair swiveled, and I think that it squeaked a little when I rotated to the left. Other than that, it was a good chair. Or so I thought.

When I leaned back in that chair, everything at first seemed fine and dandy. However, and I'm sure that anyone who has leaned back too far in a chair can attest, there is that certain tipping point when every thing rapidly changes from "peachy keen" to, "Oh my gosh! I'm going to look like an idiot when I fall out of this chair in the back row of the Bureau County Board of Supervisors board room!"

There is no more terrifying of a feeling in this world than thinking you have leaned back in a chair too far. Fortunately, I was able to pull myself out of this free fall and kept my seated altitude. Looking back, I doubt if I ever was in danger of going all the way to the floor, but that chair sure did give that immediate impression.

In fact, in mid-descent, as my head snapped back and my terrified, bloodshot eyes focused on the ceiling tiles of the room, I audibly uttered three-quarters of a four-letter word that I usually reserve for home repair projects and our cat. Luckily for me, my allergies were apparent to most of the potential jurors in the room, and the rows of people who sat in front of me just thought I sneezed. But those two guys I was sitting between ... I'm pretty sure they know I'm an uncoordinated, foul-mouthed idiot that wreaks of Hall's cherry, triple soothing action cough drops.

To finish the story, after about 45 minutes of waiting, the judge came out and told all of us that due to some unforeseen circumstances, there would not be a case that morning, thanked us for our service and dismissed us. This was the closest to being an actual adult I've ever got.

You will have to excuse me now. I have a goose to squeeze.


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