Civic Duty and a Dying World

I checked the calendar.  Seven and a half weeks went by with nary an update to Poison Spur.  I figured that was pretty awful.  Rather than hold myself accountable, I decided to blame the American legal system.  No, the law didn’t finally catch up with me for all those high-spirited felonies I allegedly committed over the years.  It was something far more ordinary in the form of a jury summons.

This sounds like a lame excuse but let me explain.  I hated getting that jury summons.  Obsessing over it took up all my free time, well, except for the hours spent drinking or playing Civilization IV with the space race and time limit options turned off so I could experiencing the joys of endless wars.  More on that later.

At this point, some of you are no doubt shaking your heads and thinking that not only am I an unreliable blogger, but also a real crybaby in the citizenship department.  I can’t say I blame you.  The right to trial by jury is one of those things that makes this country great.  The orientation video they play in the jury assembly room says so and I could see myself enjoying the experience.  With California’s three strikes law, I might even have a hand in putting some guy away for 25 to life for stealing a candy bar.  Ha ha.  Fuck you. The gavel comes down.

The only drawback is not getting paid for my time.  Your bosses can’t legally fire you for going on jury duty, nor can they threaten you, call you mean names, or put a thumbtack on your chair if you are called upon to serve.  However, they are under no obligation to pay you and your landlady is able to legally evict you if you don’t earn enough money to pay rent.
Granted, such an outcome is extremely unlikely.  I have yet to hear of a single instance of someone being thrown out on the street as a result of having to sit on a jury.  Most cases don’t last that long and for the ones that do, even the least sympathetic of judges are willing to dismiss a juror because of financial hardship.  Unfortunately, they rarely share my view that hardship begins with the first penny of lost income.  I must therefore fall back on the proud tradition of using every trick in the book to get out of jury duty.

A little finesse is necessary here.  Unless you’re willing to get cited for contempt, you can’t threaten the judge with causing a mistrial out of spite.  A juror does have the right to do exactly that but only as an unanounced act of revenge and only if one at least pretends to have considered the evidence in the trial.  You just have to be able to say with a straight face, “I voted to acquit because the prosecution based their entire case on just three eyewitnesses and a single fingerprint lifted from the victim’s perineum.  I still got reasonable doubt to burn.”

Even if you do have the kind of mean streak necessary for this act of vengeance, you still had to sit on a jury.  As I said before, I’m fine with fulfilling my civic duty as long as my employer picks up the tab.  Unfortunately, I work as a contractor for an agency that pays nothing.  That means I make no money.  That also means that I will pay no taxes on the money I do not earn and if you hadn’t noticed, this country is strapped for cash.  I would argue that it is my patriotic duty to earn a full paycheck and let some non-taxpayer sit in the jury box.  If you look around, there are plenty of these folks to choose from.  If need be, they can wheel in some retiree from an assisted-living center, feeding tube and all.

The wheels in my head started turning about how I could get myself excused.  Because I was summoned to the courthouse near Civic Center and not the Hall of Justice, this was to be a civil suit rather a criminal trial.  If this was to be personal-injury case, my plan was to say the same things I said when I summoned a decade ago.  “Mr. Plaintiff’s attorney, pull your snout up out of the trough and listen to me.  When awarding damages, I will vote against any sum in excess of what covers medical expenses and lost wages.  This is a court of law, not the goddamn lottery.”

I’m paraphrasing here but you get the general idea.

I could tell the judge was onto me but we both knew there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.  I had played the tort-reform card and it was either boot me or suffer the consequences.  I was out the door within the hour.

So I had a plan that may or may not work.  The week of 9/27 was a long way off.  I have a nasty habit of worrying about things that I can’t do anything about and nonproductive diversion is often my only escape.  Heading out to the bar is usually a good plan but my liver is not as resilient a punching bag as it once was.  I find most TV unwatchable and while reading is quite enjoyable, it stimulates rather than numbs the mind.  When my mind is stimulated it gravitates toward unpleasant topics, like my jury summons.

To save both my liver and my sanity, I started playing Civilization IV on my laptop at home.  This was exactly the kind of diversion I needed but I found the early stages of each game tedious.  Let’s face it.  Building a granary is never going to be as much fun as orchestrating land, sea, and air units to pound the crap out of an enemy position.  Just when things started getting good, some rival would launch a mission to Alpha Centauri and the game would be over.  I turned off the space-race option but that only got me as far as 2050, the normal ending year for the game.  After I turned off the time limit, the game could pretty much last forever as long as I didn’t score a quick and decisive victory.  Since I’m at best a mediocre player this was not to be an issue.

I imagined myself ruling Civ empire as a modern Tiberius: brooding, suspicious, and delighted by perversion.  I closed my borders to other civilizations and built up a huge military, often starting senseless wars where the sole objective was to capture a single enemy city so I could rename it to “Fort Buttrape.”  The real world has never been this good.

As years of unchecked pollution took their toll, the global-warming feature of the game started transforming fertile farmland in this world into desert.  The populations in my cities began to starve and the shortage of arable land served as yet another reason to start wars of expansion.  In my mind’s eye, my empire had a quaint but effective propaganda machine.  Every night the populace was herded into classrooms where movie projectors reminiscent of those from my school days would show inspirational newsreels with booming narration like:


This sort of thing filled my head even when I wasn’t playing the game.  I maintained my presence of mind at work, but only because I had to.  In social circles, I’d nod my head and say things like “Is that a fact?” while thinking more about my game world than what was being said to me.  In my world, you see, no one would receive a jury summons.  The court system would overhauled so human juries were replaced by a panel of 12 Daleks.  The conviction rate would hold at a steady 100 percent.  Crime would cease to exist.  If it weren’t for the specter of global extinction by famine, the place would be paradise.

Time on planet earth continued to move ahead and before I knew it, the week of 9/27 was upon me.  On 4:30 in the afternoon of the preceding Friday, I checked the court website to see if my jury group was order was ordered to report.  It wasn’t.  I dodged the first bullet.  There were four more to go and then I was off the hook for another year.  The next two days followed the same pattern and I thought I was home free.  Then my number came up and I was to report to the jury assembly room at 8:45 Thursday morning.

I could scarcely believe it.  Every time I’ve been summoned for jury duty, they’ve called in everybody they need in the first cxouple of days of the week.  I felt cheated.  I didn’t sleep well that night.  I spent a lot of time thinking of every possible way I could get excused from jury service.  Since I knew nothing about the case or the judge, nothing could be a guaranteed success.

In the end, I lucked out.  Whatever case I was supposed to be on went into continuance and we were all excused.  The total length of my jury service was less than an hour and a half.  I was a free man, and a good thing too.  I needed to have all my wits about me because the city that would one day be known as “Port Yeastclam” was not going to liberate itself.

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