Monday, July 21, 2008

Jury Duty

I was summoned to jury duty recently, and I had been dreading it. Now, dread is a strong word so I will qualify it: I have no problem with serving the community; I just hate the feeling I get whenever I interact with New York State, namely that I am either a moron or a criminal. This morning was no exception.

I don't know about America, but in Canada, you must not be late for anything that deals with the government, PERIOD. So I packed out early the morning I was to report and made my way downtown. On the metro, the tone for the rest of my morning was set when I found myself sitting next to an odd young man who keep yelping out loud with laughter at his book while scratching his head. Piercingly. Insanely. I decided that he just had the unfortunate luck of having a tic (Tourette's?) and left it at that as I tried to sip my coffee and calm myself. Because somehow I knew that calm was the last thing my morning was going to be.

I was unfortunately right. First, despite having read the notice and completed the sections as the instructions stated, I wound up going to the wrong building. How I misread that crucial piece of information is beyond me, but I will chalk it up to a combination of nerves and sleep deprivation. I was vaguely humiliated when the clerk gave me a look that was a brilliant combination of condescension and frustration while informing me of my error. To her credit, she gave me directions to the correct address, although I was embarrassed further by her yelling down the hall at me when I began to take the wrong escalator. At least she was helpful. I felt like less than an ant as I found the appropriate exit and scurried out.

Next, because I was going to be exactly on time, and for a yekki exactly on time is the same as being late, when I arrived at the address, I took the stairs up. However, the staircase does not have a sign telling people that the staircase only goes up one flight to the second floor. There I was stuck on the second floor and, unable to locate a flight of stairs up, I decided to hedge my bets and take the elevator. As I approached the elevator, two women arrived right after me and pressed the Down button. A few moments later, B'H', the Up elevator arrived.

Terrified at being late and assuming that the pair of ladies were not going to step onto the elevator because they had pressed the Down button, I went between them to enter the elevator. That's when I received my second tongue-lashing of the day. I'm going to record the said reprimand, because it was so rude, it wound up being comical:

Where do you think you're going? You can't just walk in front there! You got to let people get off first!

(stunned, because I certainly didn't expect to offend anyone)
Excuse me, I thought you weren't getting on because you pressed the Down button.

(People get off the elevator, and then the three of us board)
Barging all in like that. STUPIDITY first thing in the morning!

My ride was blissfully short with Ms. Short Temper, and I arrived at the Jury Duty Room as dreaded: on time.

After a short while, they ran a video that was all Rah-Rah-USA, i.e., America has the best judicial system in the world, a vast improvement over any other system, especially the British system. I suppose most Americans have a problem with the current system, because why else would they have to show such a PR piece? To help win us over, the video even contained celebrity news anchors for credibility. After all, doesn't Diane Sawyer always know the truth about everything?

Next we attended to the paperwork: the clerk walked us through completing the Jury Duty Summons, since evidently I was the only person who had in fact completed it prior to arrival. And then, the moment of truth came. Anyone who had preliminary questions about exemptions could form a line and ask before handing in their paperwork; everyone else, pass up your cards. I passed up my card, since I had neglected to bring a doctor's note. But, then it occurred to me- is jury duty an activity that could rob me of my Canadian citizenship?

As a dual citizen of Canada and America, I have to be careful not to participate in certain government-related activities that would jeopardize my citizenship. For example, I cannot work as a civil servant and cannot enlist in the military. While I was worried about the reaction I was about to get, I figured I had better make sure. I got in line.

The line was blissfully efficient, and within 15 minutes I was up at the clerk's desk. I was in a car accident and have lingering health issues, but I don't have a note from my doctor- not that I am unwilling to serve, I said. She gave me a most blase look. Ok, ix-nay about the doctor, even though other people had gone up and received a paper that their doctor could complete and mail in to exempt them. I suppose, to be fair, I looked too healthy; if it had been one of my kiddush levana mornings, as my husband puts it, she may have been more forgiving. So I moved on to my citizenship question. She opened her eyes just a sliver wider this time. "You're a dual citizen? That means you have no problem. Go take a seat". And so I did.

The beautiful part it all? I sat there for 4 hours and read my library book, before the clerk came out and announced that all the courts in our building and all the other court buildings had enough jurors for the day. So we were receiving our credit for having served jury duty and being released. I uttered an immediate, most heartfelt, "Todah Hashem"! And with that, my jury duty saga ended.

Going forward, if anyone makes a disparaging comment about Canadians, I can retort that at least I did jury duty; what have you done for Canada? And with that, I see that I came away from the ordeal with something of real value after all: the knowledge that I did my civic duty. In my mind, that's worth a bit of humiliation and suffering.

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