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.