Jury Duty

Jury duty. . .hmmm

As good a place as any to strike up conversation with a total stranger. Then again, eight hours is a long time to chit chat. Most of us would rather stare off into space or try to slip off into unconsciousness long enough to forget where we are than make eye contact or heaven forbid, show interest in one another.

It’s too cold to actually be comfortable in any one spot for too long. With toes and nose froze, I’ve perched against a wall (the only safe place to write) as eyes become bored with the follicles or lack of in front and swoop from one side of the room to the other in desperate search of a headline.

Now I wish they might have told us to bring some busy work or be prepared to socialize. Just sitting here is worse than waiting for an airplane and there’s no leaving the earth to look forward to here. At least at the airport there are people on the go, interesting people with stories to tell. Of course, most everyone here has a story too, but mostly they’re all about why they shouldn’t have to be here.

Some people have “work” to do. Some people (the well-informed) have 5” novels. I might eat lunch early to avoid the rush. We humans tend to form line whenever a general need to wait strikes us disguised as a desire to eat, use the restroom or anything that might otherwise seem like just an individual whim.

When we are forced to live from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. our lives become a series of repetitive tasks.

Alarm: 6 a.m. (earlier if you have hair and a long commute).

Lunch break: 11:30 – 2 p.m. WTF?

Are you kidding? What am I supposed to do until 2 p.m.?

This is HIGhly unnatural.

I walk, even in heels and without a record, it’s good to leave the courthouse of my own free will. I stop to eat some pizza in the first place I see. A hallway of a restaurant really, all long and skinny like the galley of a ship, not that I would know. Good pizza though with mirrors all around so you can watch yourself chew, and be your own companion until the lunch rush. Something a little humiliating about letting the second chair go so that a party of three can sit at the opposite table for two. I still have the mirror though and I may be better company if not as outwardly entertaining. AND I chew SILENTLY–absolutely without a sound. I sleep that way too. IF you really cared, you might even check to make sure I was still breathing. I’m that quiet.

In my quest to find something to bring back with me to read I find myself in a catholic bookstore. Yee-God, just pretend your interested for long enough and leave. . . yet, strangely I force myself read the titles just in case there might be something, anything that speaks to me. Alas, there is nothing. Thank you, good day! People address each other in the stores here. Say hello, goodbye, thank you for coming. . .it feels good even if I don’t want to buy anything from her store and she doesn’t seem to hold it against me.

Walking the streets of downtown San Antonio, the river is being drained – nothing like the smell of water-logged trash and that greenish god knows what to get your heart pumping. Oogled by construction workers, been so long I actually felt threatened. . . not a lot of people walking on that particular street. Who knows what Van Buren means to these people. Almost gave up on finding a book to read during my sentence back at the courthouse when I decided to go down one more street before heading back – less than a mile but in heels, still a trying decision.

Tune in tomorrow (or the next day) to find out where I went.

There on Villita Street I saw a little sign on the sidewalk. It read: “If this sign is out – we’re open.” But, it didn’t look very promising so I passed it by and went to the end of the block to see what I could see. Rivercenter mall was half a mile away. Could I make it in time? Not unless I knew exactly which book I wanted and where to find it. So I headed back, passed the sign again and this time I went in. What is this place? People sitting in chairs reading and chatting, kids playing billiards and a security guard at the front desk? “Is there really a convenience store in here,” I ask.

“Yep.” He points toward the back of the building and vaguely motions toward the left. “Back there.”

“Okay, thanks,” I say praying at this point for anything remotely readable. Anything!

There is to my amazement, a tiny shop in the corner with everything a good convenience store should have: soda, ice cream, candy, snacks and sundry items. I do a quick S-pattern through the aisles and look forlornly up at the man behind the counter. “Can I help you find something?”

“I need something to read. Do you have any magazines, anything at all to read?”

He apologized. He had just placed his order for new magazines and they would be in tomorrow.

“Oh, man,” I sigh and let it out. “I’m really desperate. I have jury duty and I NEED a book.”

“Well, we have tons of books,” says the lady standing next to him. “Let me take you to the library. It’s right this way.”

A library. Of course.

There’s no card catalog, but the books are organized into genres. I head for the poetry section—it’s small and will take less time to navigate than the oodles and oodles of believe-me-very-tempting fiction.

I’m immediately struck by this strange woman’s instant kindness.

We’re almost “caught” by the keeper of the books. The library is for residents only she informs me. Residents?

She likes Wordsworth. And this one is good: Mary Barnard – sure. And here’s one by Whitman and Dickenson and Longfellow. I’ll take them all.

She signs them out for me on a sheet with a place for her name, the titles and her room number. For the first time, I realize that I don’t even know her name.

I feel safe with her. Warm and cozy safe like an old friend so I ask her, “What is this place?”

“It’s a retirement home complete with our own chapel/movie theater and you already know about the convenience store and library of course. It’s only $540/month for a one bedroom, but you have to be 62 and I moved in three years ago so you know what that makes me.”

Sixty-five, I think to myself. Oh! To be 65. . . “It must be great to live downtown, right in the heart of it all, huh?”

“Oh yes, I love it here. Wouldn’t go back, well I couldn’t, but I love it here.”

“Well,” I blurt for no particular reason, “I don’t get out much. I mean, I’m new in town. We moved here last year.” Which is an excuse that is wearing thin after a year of traveling no further than the shopping center near our house except by plane.

I have to say I’m returning the books for her when I bring them back.

She tells me about Socrates Café. I’ve never heard of it. Are there rules to learn? Of course I’ll come. She knows all the 1st and 4th meetings and writes them down on the back page of my journal for me.

I have to rush back. Where did the time go? So glad we met – I’m Jessica by the way. I’ll bring these back when I’m finished. I promise.

And I did. But before that I found this poem in one of the books and while all around me were suffering in the cold and impossibly uncomfortable chairs, I was lost for one-and-a-half more hours in four books but I only read one all the way through.

Find out which one in the next installment of Jury Duty. . .

The poem was Carillion by Mary Barnard circa 1930.
In the morning early, sitting
eating our leaves on weedgrown millstones
at the edge of the city, we hear the bells
swinging, challenging the attentive air

The four-leaved pattern of a quarter hour
unfolds its conundrum; oh what will
the day bring? What, when the bells ring
evening will we remember? Of hours and
quarter hours, which will be honey-tongued?
Which echo in the stroke of all hours forever?

At twilight the sphinx in the bell tower
answers her riddle, ringing: Remember?
Remember wondering: oh what will the day bring?

I was inspired…inspired I tell you!
It’s been so long since I felt that way about anything so I wrote this next one
For Len

Between the Bells

Between the bells – or between
this morning and tonight –

For I hear instead of carillion’s
chime, the efficient electronic beep
of weekday wakefulness

Which captured by, I hardly
notice the time between 8 – 5

And distant seemed the end again
today as I sat tortured by
a chair and a ticking clock

Wishing away all of my todays
for tomorrow’s promise
I met a stranger and a friend

If the artist’s mind is the architect of the universe
it pays to read the signs
and to ask directions
and to be curious
and to ask for
that which you desire
Even if it’s just a book or a friend

And stop
Stop just a minute
And listen
Just listen

Beyond the din of the masses
and your own reply
to the one voice
and you may hear
the carillion bells
once again.

Make my day