How Jury Duty Has Turned Me Into a Bitch on Wheels

Jury duty should be humbling: You must do your civic duty, after all. You are reminded that, unfortunately, no, you do not have a choice in the matter. It’s one of the few snags of living with freedom and justice for all–someone’s gotta serve on the jury. Period. You’re reminded that you don’t live in a bubble, but in a city, in a community, where bad and unfortunate things happen, and that community needs you to weigh in. And no, you can’t reschedule or move this obligation around like a salon appointment.

But in an age when anything you schedule can get unscheduled (and often does) with a single digital stroke, jury duty is immovable, dense, and slow. And it’s turned me into an intolerable bitch.

Our job as grand jurists is simple: We don’t determine anyone’s guilt or innocence. We decide if there’s enough evidence for the case to go to trial. That’s it. We don’t have all the evidence. There will be no dramatic bearing down on the defendant, or “You can’t handle the truth!” moments. There are some interesting moments, like when a witness who didn’t speak English broke down in tears. And then there are the rest of the moments.

You’d think this would make me humble. But it doesn’t. I’ve been absolutely intolerable since I started on the grand jury, 2+ weeks ago. I squirm in my seat like a bratty and entitled adolescent, dying to check my phone or be anywhere but here.

Aside from the sheer tedium of court proceedings (if someone reads another affidavit I’m going to start foaming at the mouth), I feel a little put-upon. Sure. I feel like I’m doing everyone who’s NOT currently in jury duty a favor. Because I kinda am. I’m snarky and impatient, and even picked a fight with some douchey guy who thought I was rushing him to vote. (I swear I wasn’t. I was trying to clarify what the group wanted to do. OK, and he was douchey and I pushed his buttons on purpose.)

Is it that I don’t want to be there? Partly. But the power of indictment has put a gavel in my hand. What I lack in control over my life this whole month, I’m taking out in entitlement, and it’s not pretty.

I started by indicting my fellow jurors, (#jurybaby), because every day she breaks out a baby blanket and suckles–not sucks, suckles–her fingers. She naps during proceedings and wakes up at break time to watch cartoons on her laptop. Without headphones.

I’ve indicted the court warden, whom I sensed from the getgo (the soft-looking flesh, stooped posture, bad jokes) was weak and ineffectual and so desperate for recognition you could steer him with a single finger. And now, this douchey, dour-faced dude with shellacked hair makes a sideways jab at what he called my “snarky” remarks, for which I will repay him a thousand more snarky remarks.

People on the street are not safe from my indictments–this one for blocking the stairway to the Q train, that one for yammering on his cell phone and cutting the line at Duane Reade. I’ve sent them all imaginary summons.

And you know what? I’m not proud of this. Flush with my newfound, limited power, I’m quick to brandish the sharp end of my judgment, which, by the way, is always half cocked. I turn the blade on myself as well: I’ve been kicking myself around the apartment for not writing that article pitch, for not cooking a decent meal for myself in days (how long can toast count as a meal), for spending money on things that aren’t an absolute necessity, for not reading, thinking, sleeping, meditating, exercising enough. For being so curt and snarky and rigid–a person I don’t want to be.

Here’s what jury duty does: Shows you a cross-section of your community, most of whom seem like normal, workaday folks, some who are clearly on the fringes of normal behavior, and some of whom may have just woken up on a subway bench and wandered in. But it also shows me how, in any group of people who share a task and a room and hours on end together, a community forms, like it or not.

It also reveals to you who you are–simply because there’s no one in there you’re trying to impress or persuade. And as that saying goes: True character reveals itself in how you treat people who have nothing to offer you. I realize my compulsion is to control and produce a situation, to entertain and broadcast while attracting attention. It is what it is. And so in this group, as in others, I find roughly the same percentage of people whom I like, despise, and avoid, as well as those who are either charmed or incredibly irritated by me. It doesn’t make me think I should change–but it does make my petty tendencies abundantly clear.

When we were dismissed on Friday, I walked out with two of my unlikely cohorts, a UPS delivery man and another guy whose name I don’t even know. The three of us tend to reign in the chaos during our ‘deliberations.’ We joked about the douchebag and how sensitive and prickly and crazy everyone is. One of them fist-bumped me with a smile as he crossed the street. “Some of us are just the alpha dogs, and that’s the way it is.”

I just think I need to put my alpha dog on a leash.