09 June 2007

A Week in Hell. A Silver Lining.

DISCLAIMER: This is going to be a long post, so grab a cup of coffee, some tea, a cocktail (depending on what time you read). Just don't ignore this post if you really care about what's going on with me this week. ;) I am starting this post at 9:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 5, 2007, my mother's birthday. I'll try to keep my tenses correct -- it will no doubt take several days to finish writing.

So, I'm all excited last Friday, June 1, because Cameron is coming home from a trip and we'll have the weekend together -- even though I have Jury Duty starting Monday. For Friday's lunch I drove to Easy Way for some fresh vegetables for dinner. Stopped at Joe's for Jim Beam and Monopolova. I drove home, unloaded the car, cleaned out the fridge and started back to work as an hour was close to being up.

The logo I created for Easy Way in 2006

I drove out of our neighborhood and got to I-240 when the Passat's usually benign information system that tells me my current gas mileage, outside temperature and whether I'm using automatic or tiptronic switches to one-inch tall letters that say STOP, while the warning buzzer sounded. Freaked out because I'd never seen this before, I pulled onto the shoulder of the on-ramp and watched the monitor for more information. After STOP, it displayed "check coolant", then "service manual". So, I got out of the car, opened the hood and checked the coolant. It was fine. I got back in the car and noticed that the temperature gauge was at 190° F (where it's supposed to be). So, I pulled back onto the road.

Again, with the warning noise and STOP -- this time, I saw the temp gauge hit just under 260° F, in the red. The system did this once more before I arrived at Tracy's Foreign Car Service, which is two blocks from my office. There, Sam checked my fluids and discussed what the possibilities were. Thermostat ($300). Water Pump ($1,000). Scared of what he might find, I kept an eye on the gauge and continued the two blocks to work.

When it came time to go home, I drove slowly and carefully. I got the "STOP" a block from home and as I pulled in the driveway decided to take it back to Sam first thing Monday morning. I wouldn't drive the car all weekend, except for auto ballet.

A Caricature of dminmem, done by my friend David T. for a party on my 38th Birthday

Hooray for cocktail hour(s).

I love mornings on the lanai (a joke that started with my late friend Jimmy D. many years ago). Over coffee, Cameron and I discussed the previous day's events and planned our day. I sifted through e-mail, worked on my portfolio, ordered the $100 service manual for the Passat from (so I wouldn't be ignorant when it came to being told about what repairs it needed and what it would take to complete them). Around 9:30 we decided "wake up" time was over and got on with our day.

Something we don't usually do is tag-team the weekly yard work. This time we did and were amazed at how fast things went. We were done mowing/weed-whacking/edging/blowing in less than 45 minutes. I mowed. Cameron did the rest. Awesome start to chore time.

Sunday morning started about the same way Saturday had. Another beautiful one. After "wake-up time" we fired up the Breville for a hazelnut espresso for me and a caramel one for Cameron. Around 10, I started working to diagnose the problem with the convertible top. It hadn't been raised in about two years. I keep it in the garage and drive it on nice days, so it wasn't that important to repair. Except, with the Passat going in for repairs on Monday I needed the top to work. Rain was in the mid-week forecast. The top motor ran when I depressed the switch but nothing happened. I removed the back seat and side panels and saw that the hoses were out of hydraulic fluid. The driver's side floor pan looked damp -- there had obviously been a leak -- but I wasn't sure if it was a connection, failed hydraulic hose or lift cylinder. In order to find the problem I'd have to fill the system and watch what happened as it operated. Viola! The driver's side hydraulic lift cylinder started hemorrhaging fluid when the top was lowered. Hemorrhage is not an understatement. I promise. So, my hope for the less expensive loose connection or faulty hose assembly was out the window, and the more expensive hydraulic lift cylinder replacement was imminent. I got online and purchased two for $324.06, including shipping. They'd be delivered Tuesday.

That little project took five hours. During that time Cameron was, as he says, "just putzing". Indeed. He'd been clipping, pruning, fine-tuning this and that in the yard. It all looked flawless. Tiki torches were filled and burning, candles were lit on the bar, great music was on. We settled in for a nice evening al fresco.

Hooray for cocktail hour(s).

Since I was expected to start Jury Duty Monday at 9:00 A.M., Cameron and I got out of bed at 6, in order to drive the Passat to Tracy's Foreign Auto Repair. I left the car with Sam, who told me that he'd need time to figure out what the problem could be. We drove home and I got dressed and prepared to drive to the Shelby County Building for the cattle-call that is reporting for Jury Duty. I arrived there at 8:30 after walking six blocks from the parking garage on Jefferson (walking two extra blocks trying to figure out which of the government buildings was the right one). I was not impressed.

Approaching the door, two women were confused about where to go, even though the Assembly Room and the room number was very clearly marked above the door. I showed them the way and entered the disgusting place. It's populated with "F"-grade, white, plastic-with-fake-cowhide-grain "theater" seats that have been in service for perhaps since the building was erected. According to the plaque inside the foyer, that was 1959. Bad period paneling and fluorescent lighting. Dirty floors. As I took a seat the room was filling with a veritable cross-section of society, people from all stations and walks of life. Four-hundred and fifty of us.

Promptly at 9:00 A.M., Clyde Carson, Jury Commissioner with an almost Boss Hog southern drawl, began his approximately 2-hour (his estimate) rehash of much of the same information we endured when we first reported back in March. I already know I can't wear culottes and that shorts are anything that doesn't cover my ankles. I already know I can't wear T-shirts with vulgar "logos". (Again, his words. I hate it when people who are ignorant of graphic industry terms use the wrong word). In addition to that review we were given new information about procedures in the courtroom and were told about the jury selection process. Judge Mark Ward interrupted Clyde's presentation about halfway through to congratulate us on fulfilling our civic duty and explaining how in the big picture our giving up this week is a small sacrifice especially when we consider the people giving up their lives for this country. While I fully understood this going in, I'll bet there were people there that needed to be reminded of this fact.

No, not really. (JUDY!)

Around 11:30 A.M., six or so groups of 25 to 50 people had been called to report to different courtroom divisions (both civil and criminal). So far, I scraped by without being called. A Jury Commission assistant approached the podium and announced that yet another group of 25 was being called and would be reporting to Judge Chris Craft's courtroom, Division 8 on the sixth floor of the Criminal Justice Building. 201 Poplar. Cesspool of traffic violators (been there for speeding tickets a few times), thieves (been there to testify against the man who burglarized 11 homes on my street), deadbeat dads, felons. It's quite lovely, really. At least they replaced the unidentifiably stained, ancient, herculon-clad 70's "mod" seating with stainless steel perforated with little holes, like dotted-swiss a few years ago.

She began calling names. I was at a desk in a side vestibule going through e-mail and at the same time I was counting the names. 1, 2..., 22, 23, 24. Dammit. I was the 25th person called.

We were told to assemble in the entry hall of the building where we'd be escorted to "Judge Chris Craft's courtroom, Division 8 on the sixth floor of the Criminal Justice Building. 201 Poplar." We assembled. We were escorted out of the building by Clyde Carson, along Poplar, across Second Street into the employee entrance of 201 Poplar. We went through security. We boarded elevators to the sixth floor and entered the courtroom where the bailiff drew numbers using a lottery system. I was jury candidate #1.

After 20 potential jurors were seated, Judge Craft informed us that we'd be asked a battery of questions, such as are you married, single, divorced, widowed, have you been a victim of violent crime, etc. But, because it was 12:40 we would recess for lunch and report back at 1:30. With only 50 minutes for lunch and our unfamiliarity with anyplace outside of the Criminal Justice building, many of us went downstairs to what was a lame excuse for a place to grab lunch. Our options were a salad with too much preservative (potato whitener), hot drummies (dry, not hot, with horrid fake tasting ranch dressing), wings, or a hot dog, various beverages and bags of chips, and a handful of cookie varieties.

Back in the jury room the table was occupied. One of the women who had been with me in the Roach Coach (as another juror called it) sat next to me and we ate from the Styrofoam boxes in our laps. As I ate my over-preserved salad with bleu cheese dressing (not as good as my homemade) and not hot drummies without the ever-so-fake ranch, I kept going over the options I would have for answers regarding the "are you married" question. Should I answer, "none of those options apply to me" or is my answer "married"? I can't say "single". I wear a wedding band. Finally, after I finished what little I ate of my lunch I think I had the answer.

At 1:40 we were escorted back into the jury box. After some formalities the Judge began his questioning. My answer was not one of the options offered: "I am in a domestic partnership." By the look on his face and the pregnant pause between questions, I think he was surprised. I offered no further explanation. He then asked, "for how long?" Fifteen years. "Does your spouse work?" Yes. "What does she do?"

I don't know if I should have corrected him or not, but I chose not to aggravate the situation by answering "He is a flight attendant." I simply said, "flight attendant".

All the potential jurors endured this line of questioning as the judge took notes about us all on a chart that reflected our position in the jury box. When he finished, the State's prosecutor began asking us questions more pertinent to this case. "Have you ever been a victim of aggravated burglary or theft." Yes. Several of us had. "Will this affect your ability to give a fair verdict in this trial?" No. Nobody who had been a victim apparently would have a problem with that. Throughout the questioning we learned the man sitting directly to my left had a prior felony conviction, as did a man in the front row. They were both dismissed.

As the questioning concluded the attorneys began passing notes to the bailiff, who then gave them to the Judge, who then called names and began dismissing other candidates who were then replaced with other candidates until we got down to the final fourteen, 12 jurors, two alternates. The remaining candidates were told to report back to the Shelby County Building, and Clyde Carson for a chance at sitting on another jury.

Opening statements began immediately after the courtroom was cleared. We were here to listen to The State of Tennessee VS. Charles Watkins A.K.A Charles McLean, who was charged with aggravated burglary (burglary with a weapon) and theft. We heard from several witnesses. The victims' testimony was a recount of what they found when they returned home from work (damage to their kitchen window, missing televisions (2), DVD players (3), DVDs (several) and a 9mm Glock handgun, and footprints on their kitchen counter), and what information, including serial numbers for the stolen property, they gave the police on the day of the burglary. Their neighbor's testimony was rendered completely irrelevant by the defense attorney's questioning. The officer who investigated the scene didn't provide anything more than an acknowledgement that he was there, wrote the report and had attempted to get fingerprints, only finding smudges. A pawn shop clerk testified that she had worked as a clerk at Cash America Pawn for 17 years, and that people's exhibit "A", a pawn ticket, did come from her store. The clerk who verified Mr. Watkins A.K.A. Mr. McLean's I.D., took his thumbprint and wrote the ticket for one of the two stolen televisions and one of the 3 DVD players -- two hours after the burglary -- no longer worked there. We heard testimony from two other police officials: one in charge of picking up evidence from pawn shops and a Sergeant who was in charge of the burglary division at the time.

Between all that testimony we were told to take at least two recesses so that the attorneys and the judge could discuss points about the case without us hearing. During the second recess I turned my phone on and found 3 missed calls and 2 new messages. One was from my sweetheart, telling me that Sam had called. One was from Sam, telling me the same thing he'd told me on Friday (thermostat or water pump), and that he recommended I take the car to Gossett for warranty repairs because I was looking at anywhere between $300 and $1,000 for repairs. Dammit.

At 5:30, we were adjourned. We were to report back to the jury room at 10:30 Tuesday. I walked back to the parking garage with the same juror I sat next to at lunch. I walked onto each floor of the parking garage to help her find her car. Finally we got to the roof where I parked to avoid parking next to any careless "door-dinger". Her car wasn't there. I gave her a ride down the ramps several floors until we found her Acura.

I drove from the garage to work. There were still a few people there. On my desk was a box that contained the $100 Passat Service Manual. It's HUGE! I didn't discuss my case with anyone and told them that I could be done with Jury Duty by Wednesday. I called Cameron to tell him I was on my way home. I was too tired to go to the gym.

Giorgio Muggiani, Martini, 1921 Art Print

Hooray for cocktail hour(s).

Tuesday morning, I got up at 6:30, washed my face, brushed my teeth and drove to Tracy's to pick up the Volkswagen. At 7:15 I called AAA and requested a flat-bed tow truck to take the car to Gossett Volkswagen. It would take an hour and would cost $4 per mile over the five-mile limit. At about 8:30 the tow truck arrived, I drove the car up the ramp, the driver attached the chains. He began asking about which way I wanted to go and I told him I'd follow his lead. A few minutes after we entered I-40 I dropped my cigarette in my lap. I unbuckled my safety belt, raised up out of my seat and swept the thing off of the seat. I just couldn't see where it landed. Damn thing wasn't on the floor mat. So I pulled over to the shoulder, opened the door and started looking under the seat, behind the seat, between the console and the seat. While the semis roared by, making me very uncomfortable, I found the still smoking cigarette under the gas pedal on the carpeted firewall.

I merged back onto I-40 and finally met the tow truck at Gossett. The driver told me that the charges were $28. I needed to find an ATM. I'm getting nervous because it's after 9:00, I'm supposed to be in court by 11, I'm in a part of town I rarely visit and have no idea where there is a bank or an ATM. I drove several miles north on Covington Pike and found an AMSouth Bank. I drove around to the drive-thru ATM to find that the thing was out of order. Panicked, I tried the Union 76 station on the opposite corner and found one of those non-bank-related ATMs. For a $2.50 fee I got $60 Quick Cash, bought a bottle of Dasani and headed back to Gossett to pay the tow driver, talk to Tom Brannon (the service advisor to whom Sam had already explained the problem), sign the authorization to have work performed on the VW.

Back in the Grand Prix I prepared to rush home and then to jury duty. The fuel guage was about a needle's width above "E". Dammit. Why was I so focused on getting cash at the Union 76 before? Why didn't I notice? I started out this morning with a quarter of a tank. Perfectly tuned, the car gets about 10 miles per gallon. It's full-size car with muscle car powertrain. It likes the gasoline. The 76 station was the opposite direction to driving home. I know of only one gas station on the way. I don't buy from places like that, such as Flash Market or Gas & Go, for fear of water in the tank. Been there. Done that. Learned my lesson long ago. I'll pass that station on my way to a familiar BP station about three miles away.

As I approached the station in mind, I notice the name had changed to "Save-A-Something". Nope. I'll keep driving. Four or five miles south on Perkins at Poplar there's another BP. The needle isn't moving much. It's 9:45. I need to get home. I can't run out of gas. Surely, I'll make it. Hurry light. Move slow-poke. Ah, I made it. WAIT. It's a Shell station, now. BONUS. Love me some Shell. Fifty dollars gave me just over 3/4 of a tank. Hurriedly, I pulled into the driveway just before 10, showered, dressed (no culottes or vulgar "logos") and drove downtown. I parked, walked into the employee entrance at 201, went through security, booted up my laptop for the officer, rode the elevator up to the sixth floor and walked into the jury room at 10:30, on the dot. Amazing.

A little more than half of the jury had already arrived. Near 11:00 we were all there and waiting to be called into the courtroom. Some time later, the bailiff came to the jury room and told us the judge was coming to talk to us. We waited. Bored with that, I opened my laptop and became increasingly frustrated with the wireless service at 201. The signal was too weak. Nevermind. Juror #5 or 6 has Big Boggle. We'll pass the time playing that.

Judge Craft came to the jury room and explained to us that the defendant changed his plea to "guilty" this morning. He told us that ordinarily he wouldn't allow a plea change in the middle of a trial, but because the initial public defender failed to tell her successor about some detail regarding two prior continuances, that on that technicality the case could be thrown out, the defendant had 30 prior felony convictions, there were outstanding indictments for this defendant in both Arkansas and Mississippi, he made an exception. He decided that extradition would save Tennessee taxpayers the over $100 per day for 30-years cost of incarcerating Charles Watkins A.K.A. Charles McLean.

I was dumbfounded.

The judge continued, saying that after our $11 per day salary checks ($22) were mailed to us, our names would be stricken from the records. Apparently, jurors have been shot and or killed after serving Jury Duty in Judge Craft's courtroom. He handles cases involving gang violence, sex offenses, and other heinous crimes. He told us of a time that he had one of the national leaders of a gang (I think it was the Gangster Disciples) in jail at 201 Poplar and that this gang leader wanted to decide who ate on what schedule while in jail. Because the jailer refused to allow the gang leader this privilege, he somehow gave orders to other gang members on the outside to kill the jailer and that he wanted to see it on the 6:00 news. It happened.

Now, I'm dumbfounded and, quite honestly, mortified.

Certificates that attest to our service as jurors had been prepared for us by one of Judge Craft's assistants. These are to be presented to the Jury Commission in the event that we are called to serve again within the next 10 years. Because our names will be stricken from the record, the Jury Commission will not know we served at all.

Nice. Just ducky.

By now I'm SO over it. I would have let now thirty-one time convicted felon Charles Watkins A.K.A. Charles McLean walk because the only thing the state proved is that he pawned a TV and DVD player two hours after the burglary. As we discussed while leaving, some of the other jurors would have voted "not guilty" as well.

Things get better from here. To start with, it was lunch time on Tuesday and I'M DONE WITH JURY DUTY. I left 201 Poplar, walked back to the Jury Commission office to retrieve fingernail clippers and eyeglass repair kit I had to leave before going to court and made my way back to One Memphis Place, where I parked for $2 (the special jury duty rate) each day.

I went home, ate lunch, fixed Cameron's computer and got to work around 2:00.

Since then, things have gotten much, much better. The parts arrived for the Grand Prix. I installed them Wednesday evening, and the top works flawlessly. The VW's overheating problem was a faulty water pump ($382.28, covered under my 5/50 powertrain warranty), I paid $351.01 to have the rear brakes replaced (no more bouncing stops due to glazed rotors). We picked the Passat up Thursday evening. It's like driving my new car all over again.

We cooked dinner Thursday night (late) because I was reinstalling the rear interior in the Grand Prix. The recipes came out of this month's Everyday Food: Maryland Crab Cakes, Corn and Scallion salad and Garlicky-Roasted Asparagus. EASY to prepare and delicious. Thank God, it's the weekend.

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