I’ll start off by acknowledging that I am a very bad citizen. Over the past year, I have been ignoring the jury duty notices I was receiving in the mail, thinking I’d somehow slip under the radar, and they’d eventually give up on me. True, shirking my civic duty like this was not just ethically uncool, it was downright wrong. However, I was worried about missing work – what if I were to get placed on a trial that lasted a few weeks?
I am fortunate to have a great business and I am far from claiming “financial hardship,” but let’s just say that living in the exorbitantly expensive New York City (my choice, of course) means that I’m not exactly…overflowing with reserves. As a skating coach, not only do I work for myself, but I do so for an hourly wage during specific hours of each day (i.e. when sessions are offered, so I can’t come home and work all night, instead). To put it simply, however crass: when we don’t work, we don’t get paid. This is true when we go on a vacation and when we get sick. This is true during the holidays and on those snowy days when it’s just too risky to charge toward the rink. And this is true during jury duty.
Probably lots of other professionals have similar issues, or worse. And don’t get me wrong, coaching skating is a wonderful career with many perks, but, unless you’re a skating director at your rink, or on salary for some other reason, there is very little built-in security: no benefits, no healthcare, no 401ks, no stock options, no yearly bonuses, no paid time-off whatsoever for maternity leave, etc.
So, last spring, I eventually got a subpoena stating that if I didn’t present myself to the New York County Courthouse by a certain date, I would be subject to a rather large fine. I can’t remember how much this was, but I was convinced that I should shimmy on down to the courthouse pretty much immediately, if not sooner. There, after being questioned about my negligence and getting my hand proverbially slapped, I was told that I would be scheduled for jury duty sometime in the next several months.
Sure enough, I was slated to show up this last Tuesday. No matter what your career is, fulfilling this commitment is never going to seem convenient. Since our Regionals were going on, I was planning to serve as a substitute teacher for my brother (a fellow coach) who would be away. Furthermore, I have several students who will be testing this coming week. Nonetheless, I reminded myself that skating lessons are “non-essential” in that they are not heart surgery or necessary to the continued success of the water or sewer systems, or in any way related to the security of the nearest nuclear power plant. “My students will be okay,” I assured myself. “They’ll be fine.”
Still, I told everybody I know to keep their fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get picked for an actual trial, and, in turn, lots of people offered advice on how to not get picked. This included everything from standing up during the selection process, pointing across the room, and yelling out dramatically, “Obviously GUILTY!” to claiming that I hate cops, to waving my hands in the air like a crazy person. I don’t think anyone was serious about any of this…or were they?
On the first day, I took the subway downtown during rush hour, an adventure that I know well enough to generally avoid. (I opt instead for the joys of metropolitan car travel to get to the suburbs.) If you’ve never experienced this rush hour subway phenomenon in New York, I can tell you that it puts me in mind of those terrifying soccer match stampedes you hear about in Europe. You enter the subway car as part of a herd and get packed in tightly from every angle. If you aren’t close enough to reach a pole to steady yourself when the train starts and stops, no matter: you get propped up by people on all sides. You couldn’t fall down if you wanted to. And forget any notions of personal space because now you’re sharing yours with about six other commuters.
“Wow,” I thought, “this is what so many people in this city, and many of my friends, go through every single day.” I was forced to share somebody’s egg sandwich (practically! It was right by my face, and it wasn’t very good.) And I was also forced to think about Alternative Paths. For example, there was a point when I was deciding between becoming a skating coach in the ‘burbs and taking a job I’d been offered at a mid-sized advertising agency on Madison Avenue as a copywriter. I’m glad I chose to become a coach, but I often think about what it must be like to spend your work life in a more mainstream office job, that world of high heels, briefcases, watercooler chats, and after-work Happy Hours. Sometimes I even fantasize about having my very own cubicle, in which to place a fake plant, a few snapshots, and a joke-a-day calendar.
Sometimes friends send me e-mails during the day regarding that night’s dinner plans – a change of location, for example – and, after I’ve arrived at the original destination (and no one else is there), I’ll have to reiterate the uncommon fact that I don’t sit at a computer while at work. Likewise, I can’t really take or make any calls, even short ones, for several hours at a time while in lessons. And if I don’t lug at least 15 layers of clothing into my workplace, even in the summer, I’m liable to contract hypothermia. These are just a few things that underscore for me the ways our job is unique. (Though, to that latter point, many contend that the air conditioning systems in many office buildings create temperature conditions that would rival any rink.)
Anyway, I arrived at the courthouse on time and relatively unscathed. I joined 149 other people in a large room to await further instructions. Many wise folks advised that I pack lots of good reading material, and this is what I intended to focus upon. But as the morning passed, I found myself instead latching onto a mantra, of sorts. I’ve been telling my students about mantras, lately, encouraging them to talk to themselves while they skate, just to help them keep their so-called “thinking caps” on as they practice. For example, on a Bracket: Knee-Bend, Knee-Bend…Or on a Three Turn: Twist-Check, Twist-Check. While I was waiting, I was looking at the novel I’d brought, but instead of reading, I couldn’t help repeating the words: Don’t pick me, Don’t pick me…
A friend gave me that bestseller book, The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne, which I’ve admittedly only perused. It’s about the law of attraction. A lot of the content is intriguing, but the structure is strangely disjointed – it reads like a book of quotes and I can’t seem to get into it. The upshot is that positive thoughts yield positive results. And the reverse is also true: by merely thinking about what you don’t want, you can bring that unwanted fate upon yourself.
In this light, I suppose I should not be surprised that when the judge telephoned our holding room to request 70 jurors and they spun that bingo-style wheel of misfortune, my card was one of those picked. I should also not be surprised that my card was again randomly picked down in the courtroom when they went through the same process to whittle that group down to 18.
At this point, we took our places in the actual jury box and were asked a series of questions by the Judge, the District Attorney, and the Defense Attorney. I did not, at this juncture, fake a seizure, blab rudely on my cell phone, or curse directly at the judge (other tactics that had been suggested). I told the truth, as instructed, and ended up getting immediately Chosen. My Juror ID card says on it, “Juror #1”, a fact I find myself weirdly proud of. What getting picked first says about me, I don’t really know. Perhaps I exude fairness, or impartiality, or maybe I’m just neutral and bland, the human equivalent of oatmeal. Probably it doesn’t mean anything at all. And truthfully, I’m the kind of person who, when all is said and done, would probably have been hurt if I hadn’t been chosen. I probably would have wondered, why didn’t they like me?
From there, we were quickly plunged into the details of the case, including testimony from the victim. Suddenly, it was necessary (and easy) to forget about all those hours of missed work and the frustration at getting picked. All of us jurors had other obligations this week, but now we had to concentrate on a crime scenario and the serious nature of our task.
When I started writing this installment (Sunday night), I didn’t know how much longer the case would last. I wasn’t sure if I’d get to have one final lesson with my skaters before they test. I was wondering if I’d have to dip into my savings to pay my rent. Well, surprisingly, the trial already ended today (Monday). This afternoon we deliberated and reached a decision. As the jury foreman, I nervously delivered this verdict a few hours ago.
So I’m heading back to the rink for the rest of the week and I’m happy about this. Despite my anxiety, stepping out of my regular routine for a few days for this purpose has been far from tragic. It sure isn’t as bad as being a victim of a crime. Or being accused of one. It has been a good reminder of how fortunate we are to live in a country with a fairly workable judicial system in which people are innocent until proven guilty. Taking part in this process has been educational, to say the least, and, in the end, as desperately as we all want to avoid it, it’s certainly as much an honor as it is an inconvenience.
Thanks to everyone for reading. Your responses continue to thrill and inspire. And, to you many kind souls who are e-mailing comments to me: I love you! But won’t you please leave your comments here on the site (below) so that others may love you, too?
By the way, notice the newest CSOM feature over there to the right: Skater Quote of the Week.