Hey y’all. Before I interrupt your regular programming, I should tell you that the lovely Artie is off in Vermont doing his civic duty as a member of the US National Guard. I call this three week period “Sergeant School” because I genuinely have no idea what he’s actually doing. As for me? I’m the infamous “girlfriend.” That cat Artie posts about? Yeah, I spent $75 for that ball of fur (and all that to be bad cop to Artie’s good cop. Geez. Parenting is hard). So! How I have I kept busy during the month Artie has been away? In addition to performing in two shows off-off-Broadway (the big-time!) I was called for Jury Duty. Here is what happened.
1. The alarm goes off at 7:00am. It sucks. I make a cup of coffee and a smoothie, watch 15 minutes of Law & Order SVU (preparation) and then hike to the train. Because it’s early, the train is crowded. I have to stand, squeezed between a businessman and a large woman with an almost equivalently large purse.
2. Arrive at 71 Thomas Street around 8:50am. There’s already a line of jurors outside, so it’s not hard to find. Everyone looks tired. I shuffle through security with everyone else (just like at an airport, except minus the taking your shoes off part), and am pointed to a large room just down the hall.
3. The jury room. No pictures allowed, but imagine a low-ceilinged DMV in the basement of a library. Rows of semi-plush maroon chairs, all pointed towards a front desk. Fluorescents buzz overhead. There are four small nooks for computer use, which have likely been claimed by the first four people who were let into the building. No one wants to fight over outlets, but we know battle is imminent. We are here for 8 hours, after all.
4. Some eager beaver in the front row had apparently begun advising everyone to place their completed summons in a basket on the desk. This strange and amorphous cross-section of our fair borough follows the crowd like underslept lemmings. We eye each other, attempting to glean insight into what we’re supposed to do, and silently follow the crowd as though we knew all along what was going on.
5. At 9:00am sharp, a large black man in a suit made in that glorious NYPD blue appears behind the desk, which is now swarming with jurors dropping off summons, picking up questionnaires, and filling out forms. He grabs a microphone. “Good morning, jurors. I see that some of you have decided to deposit your summons and pick up these forms. PLEASE STOP DOING THAT. We haven’t told you what to do yet. Because of budget cuts, we can’t start any earlier than nine a.m. Sorry that was confusing.” Instantly, we shamed lemmings of all shapes and sizes swarm the front desk, attempting to grab back our summons. It’s an auspicious start to the day.
6. 9:30am. Another man, white, mustaschio-ed, also in NYPD blue, He takes up the microphone and begins our orientation. He’s nice and seems to have a sense of humor. He cracks jokes about coffee and assures us that it’s his intention to get us out as early as possible. The now-familiar refrain appears again: “Here are some pens… We’re running out because due to budget cuts getting new pens is much slower.” “You’ll be out of here at the latest at 5pm. Due to budget cuts, they’ll have a problem upstairs if they keep you any longer.”
7. 10am. Our jury orientation video cues up. I’m in the front row, so I can see well, but the screen is about as large as the one I have in my apartment, pinned to the back wall behind the desk. I have no doubt that the jurors in the back can’t make out a thing. As most films of this ilk do, the video starts with an artistic reenactment– this time, of medieval methods of justice, in which criminals were bound and tossed into water to see if they floated (guilty) or sank (innocent). Good start! Aren’t we all so glad justice doesn’t work like that anymore! Yay justice system!
8. We are orientated through till about 11:00am. I swear to you, I have NO idea what we even did, except that we were given incredibly detailed instructions and filled out some pretty damn confusing paperwork (“please detach D from A and B, but be sure to leave C untouched,” “if you are 100% on commission then you can get your fee, but if your company has more than 10 employees you get the fee from your company, however if you are being paid even though you’re here you’re not entitled to a fee…”)
9. Finally, we stumble into a long, long line to drop off our first questionnaires and our summons. This is an epically long line, and moves remarkably slow. An enormous cockroach appears on the ceiling and while one girl in a peplum shirt and tight jeans squeals, the rest of us silently curve around, making room for the insect in case it should detach and fall. None of us want a cockroach on our heads, but at some point, you just can’t care enough to scream.
10. The first attorneys arrive for jury selection. They are going to speak to all of us! This is going so well and so quickly! I can’t wait to hear about this case! The attorneys (three of them) introduce themselves and give basic info about the case (I can’t tell you!!). They then inform us that it will be a 4-6 week trial. We blanch. We have been told that the max is usually seven days. I’m game (sort of) except that I have a brief vacation scheduled for the week the trial is to begin. And I NEED MY VACAY. Out of a jury of over 125, only two people volunteer to enter the next round of interviews.
11. That’s the thing about this case, though. It’s nice that folks volunteered, but they are still going to interview each and every one of us to make sure that we, indeed, CANNOT commit to a case of this length. Our wonderful leader, the white mustaschioed gentleman who the chatty woman sitting behind me said “must have been an actor,” reads off a list of names (about a third of us) who would be the first interviewed. The rest of us are sent to lunch.
12. I scurry towards the exit behind the middle-aged man who had been sitting behind me in the jury area. He glances back with a smile as we pass through the doors. “I don’t know whether this is a good thing or a bad thing.” “Me neither,” I reply gamely. My trusty iPhone directs me towards a cafe– one I’ve actually been to before, since about two years ago I did a show on Walker St. Though it’s only 11:45, I am starving, and I definitely need more coffee.
13. The cafe is nice, and I find a place to sit where I’m completely unobtrusive (like the delightful Artie, I don’t like spending a lot of time in the cross-fire of strangers. I prefer my own company, plus a book and my iPhone). I order an avocado sandwich (on whole wheat ciabatta with arugula, chipotle mayo, and sliced parmesan– Artie’s nightmare sandwich) and a large coffee (Artie’s nightmare beverage). I waste a solid hour and a half reading Lost Girls, a pretty solid nonfiction book by Robert Kolker.
14. I return to the jury room when I can no longer fake having a full cup of coffee. It’s about 1:15, and the security guard makes sure to remind me that nothing is going to happen till two. “Thanks,” I say, “I know.” A change of scenery, even from a cafe to a basement holding cell, is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.
15. Around 2, Mr. Mustache returns and informs us they will continue with interviews from where they left off. Like at an EPA (Equity Principal Audition for you laypeople), he will line up the next group in the front section of seats, and as each is brought into the interview room, the group shifts down the chairs. My name still hasn’t been called, so I meander to Jury Room A, where I miraculously find an outlet. This truly is magical. I plug in my computer (and begin this post!!) and also charge my phone. Gotta text Artie the details, ya know.
16. This is already too long so I’ll skip to the fun part.
17. Around 3pm, my name is called to line up for the interview. I am nervous! What? Why?! This is not an audition or a test. This is an interview where some people decide whether or not they want me to be in the next round of jury selection. Really. Nerves are ridiculous. But there I am, holding my juror card and my questionnaire in my hot little hand, shaking like a kindergartener on the first day of class. We shift down the seats gamely, and I inch towards the final seat… the conduit to the interview room.
18. My turn. I head into the room and don’t know what to do. I’m used to auditions, where it’s clear– you walk in, say a friendly hello, do your sides or monologue, say thanks, and leave. They already have your headshot and resume, plus all your info. You just do your job and are outta there! Instead, I awkwardly drop my backpack on the floor beside my chair, and sit down uncomfortably. I didn’t know what they wanted, so I awkwardly shove my juror card and questionnaire towards the lawyers at the desk.
LAWYER: “So, what’s your conflict?”
BECCA: “Uh, I have a vacation? From August 21 through August 26? It’s the only one I get all year. And I work at a university, which starts up again the 27, so… I… you know, it’s totally crazy around that time of year?”
LAWYER: “Have you paid for anything? Plane ticket? Hotel? Anything?”
BECCA: “Well, we’re just going to be in CT, but we’ve already rented a car, so…”
LAWYER: “And what is your job again?”
BECCA: “I’m the assistant to the head of the Theatre Program at Fordham.”
At this point one of the legal assistants lets out a laugh and grins. I glance over a few times before I finally just break the ice.
BECCA: “Did you go to Fordham?”
ASSISTANT: “Yeah, I went to Fordham at Lincoln Center.”
ASSISTANT 2: “I went to Fordham at Rose Hill [another campus, this is confusing, sorry].”
LAWYER: “I guess they let anyone in.”
The main lawyer confers with another one at the front desk. I know my excuse isn’t great… but by god. I want my vacation.
LAWYER: (handing me my juror card and questionnaire) “It’s your vacation.”
And with that, I am free!!
19. After leaving the room, still shaking, I’m directed to wait for instructions at Jury Room A down the hall. Our wonderful proctor of mustache glory pops his head in just after I sat down saying, “Stop looking so downtrodden. I’m just waiting for my colleague, but I think you’re going to smile!” Within about five minutes of sitting down, his colleague arrives. She surveys the crowd and says:
WOMAN: “You are about to be released from jury services.”
There are gasps. I involuntarily cover my mouth with my hand.
WOMAN: “Now please shut up and don’t move because there are people in the other room who are not released.”
We shut up and stop moving.
WOMAN: You will not be called for another six years. I will be handing you your official release papers. Should you be called prior to six years, you can fax over a copy of this. Also, if you’re awaiting payment (I’m not, since I’m salaried… lucky me) it will take six weeks. DO NOT CALL BEFORE SIX WEEKS ARE UP.”
20. My name is the first to be called since my last name starts with “B.” And with that, I’m released into the sunny afternoon. I actually have time to go home and stuff my face with chips, salsa, and carrots for an hour before I go to my rehearsal. It’s the little things, people.
And that’s what my jury duty looked like! I got super lucky, all the way around.
Have any of you done jury duty? Where? What was your experience?
Also, do you miss Artie’s posts? Because I miss Artie.