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Jury duty

September 18, 2015

For the past two days I spent my time bored out of my mind at jury duty. And it’s not even that unpleasant or uncomfortable, and it even has pretty good wi-fi, but for some reason, seated as we are in a big room with 90 other people or so makes you kind of nuts. It’s like you’re on a two day plane ride to nowhere.

For reading I had with me A Confederacy of Dunces, which I’m reading for the second time, and which is great background for the story I’m about to tell you.

On the first morning of jury duty, you get to see your cast of characters, and it’s kind of amusing. In my case, we had an extremely overworked clerk named Bill, who was doing the job of three people, telling us how to fill out our forms in precise and extremely detailed patient language, repeating everything 5 times for clarity and emphasis. And I would have started to wonder at Bill’s constant repetition, except that in spite of it, there were a few people who would manage to get confused and go up to him – invariably in the middle of a task – and ask him questions.

One woman in particular seemed to do this a lot, and she was loud as well, and almost seemed hostile. It seemed like she was objecting to the form itself, and wanted to find a way to trip up Bill or something, as a way to get back at having to be at jury duty. To the credit of Bill, he was always extremely polite to her. That guy is a saint. But it didn’t prevent her from looking around at the crowd of people, as if she wanted confirmation that her plight was unreasonable.

So yesterday rolled around, the second day of interminable waiting, and it was much worse than the first day. Because, after all, we all knew how boring it would be, and we were all hoping we wouldn’t be called to do our actual civic duty. Being prepared to do it was surely enough. The guy next to me kept mumbling, “I gotta get outta here” under his breath, while shaking his leg furiously.

At around 11am, something happened that kind of broke through the tense fog of boredom. Namely, about half of all the cell phones started to beep loudly. It was an Amber Alert (since resolved). We all pressed “OK” and the beeping din subsided.

Except not for long. I guess people who are on different networks get their Amber Alerts at different times. So for the next 10 minutes or so, random cell phone beeps would happen and be resolved. For all but one phone, everyone’s noise eventually went silent for good.

That last phone, however, was left unattended, which meant that every 3 minutes or so, it beeped loudly for 15 seconds. The fourth or fifth time this happened, the loud lady from the previous day started loudly complaining, “THAT NOISE IS ANNOOOOOYING ME! CAN SOMEONE TURN DOWN THAT NOISE?! IT’S SO ANNOOOOYING!”

Some combination of how pent up everyone’s frustration was, and this loud woman, and probably also the book I was reading, made me start laughing uncontrollably at this point, which was slightly contagious but didn’t stop the loud woman from complaining.

A bunch of people started to explain to her about Amber Alerts, but she just kept telling everyone how annoyed she was (loudly). Finally, one of the clerks at the front, who had (very reluctantly!) decided to show up to work today, told her there was nothing she could do and could the woman settle down.

Well, that made her quiet for about 15 minutes, but it didn’t stop the Amber Alerts from sounding every 3 minutes. And every time they started again it was difficult not to laugh. After the fifth time, some guy who had been in the bathroom for the first kerfuffle made the mistake of saying to the group, “I think someone needs to look at their phone and deal with it,” which was the cue to the loud woman to start wailing again about the noise, and it made a bunch of us start laughing again (I admit I was the worst). This time the loud woman added some sarcastic comments about how SOME people seemed to think her suffering was FUNNY, which made me simultaneously laugh harder and consider suicide. The lady at the front asked us all to settle down again and we did.

At this point it had been going on for almost an hour, everyone was hungry, and it was nearing lunch time. Finally, just as we were being dismissed for lunch, someone sitting next to the loud lady proclaimed, and I literally have no idea why it took them so long, “Hey lady, that’s your phone!,” which she denied, but then the woman up front said, “Lady, that better not be your phone! Take out your phone and check it right now!”

Readers, it was her phone.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. mrgeocool
    September 18, 2015 at 9:01 am

    Wow. I saw the FB preview of your post which only shows the first paragraph, and I clicked through so I could comment that at my jury duty, forget wi-fi, electronic devices of any kind were not allowed in the building. I thought it would make you sympathize with my obviously worse situation. But now that I’ve read your whole post, I don’t think I’m going to get that sympathy now, am I?


  2. September 18, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Phones have settings to turn off the loud amber alerts. Learned this after being awakened in middle of the night in Portland, Oregon. Now I get my amber alerts via mail.

    Sounds like the loud obnoxious woman was just trying to get out of jury duty, There are easier ways to get out without disturbing the rest of the jury pool. Due to my unfortunate status as a primary caregiver I no longer have to use such methods.


  3. September 18, 2015 at 10:24 am

    I remember hearing a story that jury duty summons’s were used in some jurisdictions to clean the voter registration rolls. A quick google search doesn’t have any hits around this idea, so maybe it is an urban myth.

    By coincidence, my wife and I have been called 3 times in the last 2 months, but we aren’t able to serve as we don’t live in the US. Getting us out of the voter rolls hardly matters, though, since we are/were registered in a place that is so unbalanced there are no close outcomes.

    I would have liked to serve on a jury to see the process up close without really being a party to the action. Waiting around sucks, though, so I don’t envy that part of your experience. What types of things are you allowed to do while waiting:
    – organize a bridge game (surely 90 random NYers contain 4 players?)
    – do some math (are you allowed to bring your own whiteboard?)
    – yoga/bodyweight exercises
    – watch videos on your portable device
    – organize an impromptu chapter of Occupy Alt Banking
    – human pyramid


  4. lawrence castiglione
    September 18, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Imagine “a jury of your peers”. Do you see the Loud One sitting in judgment. My concern is that I can see that happening.


  5. Kevin
    September 18, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    You know what people like this are called? Registered voters.


  6. September 19, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Cackling so hard at this. Confederacy of Dunces, indeed…


  7. smythejames78
    September 20, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    Wow, I’m usually not the one for pointing to mere coincidence — indeed, I usually find my reflexive self in the practical Hume camp — but only several weeks ago did I purchase a copy of Toole’s infamous work. That weekend I couldn’t put it down. What a great choice for jury duty.


  8. Jason Starr
    September 20, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    That is a fantastic story.


  9. September 21, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Once while going through the jury selection process I carried with me the book I happened to be reading at the time, “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell — guaranteed this will get you out of jury duty.

    The book is about the value and virtues in making snap judgements. Daniel Kahneman said he wrote “Thinking Fast and Slow” as an antidote to that book.


    • Guest2
      September 21, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      Last time that I was in jury duty, I was reviewing draft chapters on radical Islam, and a guy spoke out: “Yup – they are gonna find weapons of mass destruction.”

      He was wrong, of course. Too bad Bush made a snap judgement that will cost us a trillion or more. All we did was play-out the US-vs-Islam role that bin Laden scripted for us — on a world stage no less!

      BTW Great story. My question about the judicial system is, as it breaks down, and this become apparent to others (specify parameters here), what is the response? My experience at the local and appellate levels is, it does not work. Will structural inertia keep it going, even when it stops working?


      • September 21, 2015 at 11:20 pm

        I have challenged several of my friends to read “Thinking Fast and Slow” . So far many have purchased the book but only a few have actually read the whole book. Even when I assure them that this book is prescriptive and will raise their IQ, they usually only muster a few chapters. The book explores several cognitive biases and their underlying causes and preventions including several examples from the judicial system. Turns out that our “gut feelings” are often wrong and we continue to pursue failed policies long after the evidence is in. It may be my personal bias, but only my “liberal” friends have read the entire book.


        • smythejames78
          September 22, 2015 at 9:30 am

          I don’t know how much I agree with the anecdotal evidence as to only liberals having read it in full. I see many problems with such a claim. Personally, I can’t say that I’m in either camp, because I can’t bring myself to align with any part of a system I loathe. In other words, I wish those labeling themselves as either “a” or “b” in this duality would just admit to themselves they’re full of shit — and that they do so on many levels. I’ll be the first one to start: I’m human, I know that I lie to myself, psychologically speaking, and I know that my biases influence my judgments and, therefore, outward-based claims. I admit that. This is why I make sure to use the John everyday, so that I might relieve myself just a little of that ever-clogging excrement ingrained in my character.

          Wow! That was harsh, wasn’t it? I guess my snap judgment was to attack. My reflexive self clearly doesn’t like the two-party system. And so, I apologize for him.

          That rant aside, I have to say that Daniel’s book is great. And for those that take to non-fiction, it’s a must read. I wouldn’t even go so far to say it’s a book to be challenged, for the chapters are light and can be taken one at a time. However, as per the content, if you survey the popular psychology literature, the material of which he writes is all over the place. As in, many popular texts discuss the context of his presented findings (eg. that we’re not adpative to statistics on a reflexive basis, etc.). Now, that’s not to say he (and Amos) aren’t responsible for Prospect Theory — indeed, they won a Nobel for it — it’s just that much is written about his take on the (coincidence?) the dualistic system in place that represents both our autonomous and non-autonomous decision making systems. Another good introductory book, whose subject happens to be directed in a somewhat different manner, namely on happiness, is Haidt’s book, “The Happiness Hypothesis.”

          I’d also like to add that quite a bit of philosophy deals with the precursors to modern neuropyschology’s attempt to systematize and provide a scientific basis for the understanding of our consciousness. Discussions of “the self” are ever present in philosophical texts, from antiquity forward. Personally, I identify with several existentialist authors (no, not Sartre — but everyone “should” read “No Exit” and “Nausea” at some point I their lives, preferably during those years of adolescent angst), and so the attempts to reconcile the Cartesian dichotomy that is the mind vs the brain is highly resonant to me as I read anything psych, albeit prescriptive or descriptive. On this concern, I like the scientific work, “Descartes’ Error”, which is a fascinating text built around a popular case study, the Phineas Gage holy-shit-how-did-he-survive-that story, in various neuro subdisciplines

          Most likely I’ve just rambled and so… tl;dr.


        • smythejames78
          September 22, 2015 at 9:52 am

          I should clarify, since my response seemingly diverged from my intent.

          I wanted only to say that “Thinking Fast and Slow” is a great book but there are many other texts that discuss his results, amongst others as well, that might be better suited depending on the person to whom you’re challenging (or suggesting). These works can be found within the disciplines of neuropysch, neurosci, plain-vanilla psych or philosophy.


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