A retiree’s view on how to shirk civic responsibility
by Dell Franklin
When I received another letter in the mail ordering me to jury duty in a month, I immediately began fretting and was transformed into a different person, a much worse person, a morose, moody miserable person who felt persecuted and fulminated with rage at being picked for this service just about every year, over and over again, as if I was the only person in the county eligible for jury duty because I am retired and basically have no life outside of walking my dog three times a day and night, going to yoga and playing tennis on alternate mornings, penning the occasional diatribe, and looking forward to long periods, day in and day out, of doing absolutely nothing while dressed in rags.
Since I have no job or official functions, I get to wear rags all the time, and I took issue when the jury duty guideline informed me I could not wear shorts or T-shirts or flip-flops, but had to don appropriate attire—long pants, collared shirt, real shoes. I suppose I would be held in contempt of court if I showed up in my usual rags, but truth is, I no longer own a pair of long pants that fit me, just one pair I wore six years ago at my nephew’s wedding, and these pants—cotton Dockers bought at a thrift store for three dollars—have lost their button and will not zip more than a third of the way up, so I have the excuse that I officially have no long pants and felt I should write this down on the form you can fill out in an attempt to get excused from jury duty: “Dear Jury Duty Officials, I have no pants that will not disgrace me and repel fellow jurists, lawyers and judges, only shorts, and own but one badly frayed 45-year-old Hawaiian shirt that is appropriate to wear in public, usually when some friend wants to buy me dinner at a nice restaurant for my birthday or holidays. I have no intention of going to a thrift store to buy new long pants when there’s no need for them and I cannot afford them as I am a poor retiree living like a mole in a dump on social security.”
Well, of course, one can only fantasize about writing such a note to the authorities whom I feel are torturing me for being an old useless retiree. The second I got my summons I called my lady companion, Miranda, in a bit of a panic, and she told me not to worry, that they’d never, on sight, ever put me on a jury, and that if they did consider questioning me they would immediately disqualify me the minute I opened my mouth.
“Yeh, well,” I told her, “I don’t want to go down there.” I repeated this refrain to other associates who’d been forced to go to jury duty, all disclosing horror stories. “Who’s going to walk my dog? I walk him three times a day. He’ll go nuts without me hanging around. How the hell am I gonna get up at the crack of dawn and drive thirty miles to a hell hole like Paso Robles if I’m called there? Or San Luis? Or Arroyo Grande? They’ll jail me for being late and ill clad.”
Miranda accused me of being an unreasonable big baby and hung up. I called a retired school teacher friend down south, who told me I had no worries, that no jury would have me, but just to make sure, he told me to be myself, which meant I would tell any lawyer or judge I wanted all drugs legalized, including heroin, I believed in the death penalty and felt all guns should be banned, and as a white person hated almost all white people.
The real truth is, though, since retiring in 2008, a refusal to do anything I do not want to do or that impositions me in even the slightest has set in and taken hold of me with an iron hand, almost to the point where if one tiny part of my daily agenda is impinged upon, say, a doctor’s appointment, I go into a blind tizzy. It has come to the point where I just want to be left alone! When I’m reading my LA Times with a muffin and two cups of coffee on my deck after yoga or tennis, I want no interruptions! My entire nonsensical days are like this, and jury duty comes as a shock and a threat so overwhelming that a month’s anticipation of the week of jury service ruins this month and causes me much anxiety and dread and a gnawing trepidation.
The fact that during the seven or eight times I have been summoned, I have always been placed on stand-by and never called in has nothing to do with it, because every evening when I had to call in to find out if indeed I was going to be ordered in, my stomach moiled with stress, just as it had all day, and I took a big gulp of air for relief, only to hear that I had to call in the next evening, an ongoing process that spanned an entire week—one which has just mercifully passed, thank you.
During the month leading to my potential service, I did consider writing down that I had prostate surgery from cancer and because my plumbing has been rerouted I have to pee every half hour; have suffered occasional vertigo that had me careening about and crashing into walls; suffer from severe arthritis in the hip, knee, shoulder and neck from past contact sports; have nearly fainted and run amok from panic attacks, but when I tried to get a-hold of my urologist, ENT, orthopedic surgeon and primary care physician to write notes that would exclude me from jury duty, none of their receptionists returned my calls, obviously wanting nothing to do with me unless I was truly sick.
Well, next time I’m going to write down all these maladies along with the names of my doctors, and the jury tyrants can call the receptionists and deal with them, try and get a little information out of them, try and bust through the miasma of red tape when dealing with the medical profession, and even though none of these maladies in all honesty are truly enough to keep me off a jury, maybe the aggravation will deter the tyrants to leave me alone and realize that some of us are not professional grownups by anyone’s imagination, and do not belong on anything as important as a jury, and that as a lifetime slacker and shirker, I feel I deserve exclusion from such a responsibility and am guiltless about this, and because I am a three-year Army veteran, feel I have done enough as a responsible American citizen.
I live in fear of my next summons. §
Dell Franklin lives and writes in Cayucos, Calif. More of his work can be viewed at dellfranklin.com.