Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Miscarriage of Justice

You reach a point in your life where procrastination becomes chronic. You can let it progress until it’s terminal, or you can get sick-to-death of slogging around in a psychological swamp and hoist yourself onto the grassy shore of mental rehab. I began seeing all these piling annoyances like rodents running around at night. Taking up space they don’t pay for— disturbing your sleep. You lie there…listening for the suckers, resenting their sneaky freedom while you are stuck thinking about how they are slipping inside your raisin bran box and leaving one or two designer droppings you will mindlessly crunch with your morning fiber.

So when I got called for Jury Duty, unlike many of my friends who would prefer a jail sentence and consider hiring a lawyer to exempt them, I simply went down to 111 Centre on the prescribed date. Times have changed since the last time I served. The security at the door was slightly less thorough than many of the ghetto highschools I visit for my son’s basketball games. There was a movie on several HD screens. Okay, the screen was distorted and snowy, like the films they showed you in the 70’s. It was narrated by Ed Bradley, may he rest in peace, and had dramatic recreations of medieval torture and barbaric trial rituals—maybe the same old footage, but at least the juror-actors didn’t have Farrah Fawcett hair or 70’s Fros. And it was brief.

The orientator/head-clerk in the room was funny. Like doing a Dave Chapelle. I laughed out loud and noticed a couple of young hipsters giving me a dirty look. I’m someone’s mother now. I’m lame. I laugh at lame jokes. The last time I served, I ended up with a sackful of phone numbers—guys and fellow jurors hitting on the young woman dressed in black. Now girls in their twenties and thirties were asking me to watch their things while they went out to talk on their cell. I look honest, middle-aged. Safe.

The trick of jury duty is to avoid at all costs actual selection for a trial. Not overtly, because lawyers and judges can smell a jury-duty shirker. They hang you for it. They know you are smart, have a life. That you’d be nuts to actually want to be selected. So this makes you a prime candidate. But you find subtle ways to communicate some kind of innate prejudice against the case. Like the first one I got called for—a guy who had his arm cut off. Obviously a musician would find this slightly more devastating than, say…well, I can’t say. I was nailed. Nearly. It was obviously a long trial and in the end my self-employed status made this a hardship. That and the fact that the state would have to spring for every single day as opposed to a corporate payroll.

But the second one—a simple negligence suit—a guy who fell and broke his foot on the subway stairs. A guy who I assume is black, because although his lawyer is white and corporate, the defense attorney, for the MTA, is black and cool. And it seems also that it is not just a foot thing, but the guy had been a convicted criminal. Someone who cost the state plenty—trials, jailtime, parole, rehab, etc. And now, the guy falls and sticks it again to the city. Anyone have a problem with this? Yeah, me, I don’t say. I don’t write it on the questionnaire because there is no space... but suddenly I remember—16 years ago…I was pregnant, riding the 6 train, when there is some kind of collision…and I wake up on a hospital gurney, with a sonogram monitor screen showing a baby’s heartbeat …also a bit of fluid or blood. But I have a kid to pick up at nursery school.. oh my god…I am at St. Vincent’s and it’s nearly 3 PM…and a gig. And I get up and run out, against their protests…and I have a bumped head, but pretty okay… and there is the tiniest bloodstain in my underwear that night in the CBGB’s bathroom, but I am pretty okay. And 3 warm months later, when I go into slightly early labor, I am trying to deny the fact that this baby girl who had been amnio-okayed…has not been moving the way she had before the 6-train day, and when the doctor tells me with his arm on my shoulder—awkward professional tenderness—that there is no heartbeat and I must push out a lifeless newborn… I don’t look---I don’t want to see. I am numb and get up and go home with afterbirth unbearable soreness and emptiness, and I have signed away all tiny organs for transplant and usable parts for stemcell research. Yes, she will save other newborns, with her perfect kidneys and heart and liver.

And my friends try to talk me into a funeral but I can’t. I can’t make her real. It would hurt too much. I let her go. I convinced myself that somehow she was wrecked in that subway incident and God or the angels spared her the agony of a disabled life. I believed that. I didn’t blame the goddam MTA. Or the hospital. I didn’t sue. I didn’t even think, until this jury selection, about fault... about sticking it to the city I loved, the trains that take me back and forth to gigs cheap, without the nauseating braking and screeching of midtown rush-hours, without the meter ticking away half your pay.

And while the two attorneys are going around the room asking us about prejudices, about whether we fear a fare increase if the judge finds the MTA must pay out a massive sum to this guy who might even have been drunk and whose well-suited lawyer will make a small fortune convincing us all that the stair was malformed, that it was slick, untended…making us feel guilty if we have any prejudice at all against a guy who mugged several people and robbed a few homes who will now be awarded enough to buy himself a hummer and a rolex. And I am wondering if I am having racist thoughts but thinking also somehow I must defend the soul of my unborn subway angel whose tiny spirit found its way to heaven in the midst of those deep tunnels while I lay unconscious and innocent beneath my fellow passengers whose future babies might have been saved by falling on my large stomach and heavy coat, or by the tiny perfect organs of my lost baby girl.

I am dismissed, end of day two. Honorably discharged for 4 more years with a voucher for $80 in my pocket, 2 telephone numbers, and the sad conviction that perhaps no justice will be served in that courthouse.

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