Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Jury Duty Story

It came up on Friday that one of my coworkers would likely be out for jury duty tomorrow, Monday. Hearing about jury duty always takes me back to my jurying experience, so I thought I would share my mildly embarrassing experience.

It was St. Louis, 1999. I was working at B. Dalton at the time. I hated working at the mall, so when I got the jury duty notice, it wasn’t the annoyance that it usually is. I got called in on the second or third day of the week. I showed up as per instructions at 8am and sat around on uncomfortable benches, waiting to be called. I can’t remember what I was reading at the time, but I’m pretty sure I brought something large. Maybe Les Miserables?

Anyway, lunchtime came and went. I was finally called up (along with a lot of other people) sometime after 1pm. I marched into a courtroom with probably 50 other people, one of whom, Colleen, I already knew from my wife’s job.

We got the first bit of “good news” immediately: We were informed that this civil case could take up to two weeks to try. They asked that people who couldn’t be away from their jobs that long to come before the judge in her chambers and give their excuses. Then they gave a long list of things that didn’t qualify as good excuses. Basically, unless you either owned your own business, were a doctor, or had a short-tempered pimp, you couldn’t get out of jury duty.

Then more waiting in benches even more uncomfortable than the first. Finally, after letting a handful of possible jurors go, the actual selection process began. The lawyers began by giving us some very general information about the case: It involved a lawsuit against the gas company by a woman who was horribly injured in a gas explosion. Starting at the front of the list (the 12 people already sitting in the jury booth), they began asking questions. They weeded out people who had been involved in lawsuits against utility companies, and people whose family members had suffered horrible burns, and people who generally thought the utilities people were out to get them. (One guy in particular tried to convince the attorneys that he really wanted to stick it to the man. I think they let him go.)

I had no excuses. I ended up on the jury, and Colleen ended up as an alternate. By that time it was early evening, so they sent us home and told us to come back at 9:00 the next day (which means I got to sleep in a little).

The trial began the next morning with opening statements. The plaintiff was a woman who had been preparing her father’s house for sale after he died. She went into the basement through a pair of storm doors and her husband followed behind her. When she tugged on the cord to turn on the hanging light, the spark lit a mass of gas that had built up in the basement after a gas line coming into the house had cracked. The husband, who was only a step or two into the basement, was blown out onto the yard and suffered relatively minor injuries. The wife, who was much farther down and at the heart of the explosion, didn’t fare so well.

According to the defense, the gas line broke in a spot that was beyond the point that the gas company was responsible for. It was a horrible accident, but it was out of their hands.

The first witness was the husband, who described in horrid detail what had happened that day at the house, from their first arrival until his wife was writhing in agony on the lawn, screaming while the neighbors hosed her down. Now, I’ve been called squeamish before. I prefer empathetic, or even empathic. His story disturbed me. I knew I was going to need a light lunch that day.

Next up was the wife. She had a horribly disfigured, scarred, and asymmetrical face. She had these lumps on her back where doctors had inserted balloons to stretch the skin for a skin graft. Her story picked up after the explosion, explaining how she felt as the flesh burned from her body, how she wished she would just die instead of having to feel so much agony. Then she went on to discuss the painful surgeries and the even more painful rehab, all in unbearable detail.

And I do mean unbearable. As her story went on and on, my head and my stomach conspired against the rest of me. Eventually, I couldn’t take it any longer. In the middle of her testimony, I interrupted:

“Excuse me, your honor, but I think I’m going to be sick.”

She bade me exit with all haste. I ran to the jury room and put my head between my legs. That’s how the remaining jurors found me soon after, when the judge ordered a recess.

Eventually I calmed down enough to stand. The bailiff told me that (gulp) the judge wanted to see me in the courtroom. I had no idea what to expect, what unknown rules of the courtroom I had violated, what my punishment might be.

The judge asked me if I would be able to continue. I told her I couldn’t if the testimony continued down the same path. It was just too much for me. Which was the truth.

So I was dismissed, and one of the alternates took my place.

I found out from Colleen that the case was settled out of court a few days later. I still wonder whether my outburst had any part in that eventual settlement.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Ups and Downs of a Frantic Weekend

The IWS had a concert this Saturday -- our last this season in Zionsville. I was putting together a PowerPoint presentation to be shown during one piece to remember the musicians, local and international, who died last year. With that and the concert program on my plate, I planned ahead and took Friday off (up). So I was up really late on Thursday working on the presentation (down), but I still felt pretty nice on Friday since I wasn't trapped in a cubicle (up).

Still, I was up late into the night on Friday working on the presentation and the program (down).

Saturday morning was the dress rehearsal. It went fairly well, and one of the stage crew in particular was very helpful and accommodating (up), which is not always the case because we're dealing with high school students here. After rehearsal, I went to Panera and worked on the presentation some more while I lunched. When I went out to the car, it wouldn't start (down down down). The battery was fine because I was listening to the radio while I waited and stressed, but when I turned the key, nothing happened.

I called the Chrysler roadside assistance number (a small up in this big downer), who arranged towing for the car. It was about 3:15 when the car finally got on the back of the tow-mobile (up, physically), but the dealership's service department closes at 3:00 on Saturdays (down).

So there I was, transportationless. I needed to get over to Kinko's to pick up the programs, and my tuxedo pants were waiting for me at the dry cleaners. And the memorial presentation still wasn't finished! (down down down, though, small up, I managed to peck in all the text that I needed to add while I waited for the tow truck)

Luckily, I have a second pair of tuxedo pants (I coulda been a Boy Scout I was so prepared). My ex-wife, who for once was attending a concert and bringing one of my sons with her [the other was at a sleepover], picked me up, zipped me to Kinko's, and took me to the concert. I got there "on time" (up), but about 45 minutes later than I had originally wanted to get there (down).

The presentation still needed some tweaking (down), and it was to be used during the second piece on the concert, right after an arrangement of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth. I ended up in the light booth, sitting out that first piece (up? down?) to get the presentation ready.

In the end, I got it "done enough." There were some mistakes, but nothing too horrid. The main problem was that there were 87 people to get through in about 15 minutes, so it had to go along pretty quickly. Still, I've gotten nothing but compliments about it (up).

The rest of the concert went exceedingly well. The second half was completely taken up by a performance of James Barnes' Fifth Symphony -- an astouding piece of work that had me up so high I risked a panic attack from acrophobia. Really, if you ever get the chance to hear it (especially if you can hear it with the requisite 16 different trumpet parts), don't pass it up. If ever a piece of band literature deserved a Pulitzer Prize, this is the piece.

After the concert, I got to go home and crawl into bed (I lay down, but it was an up for me to finally relax).

Sunday: Decompression. I had some freelance copy editing that I had neglected (down, bad 4ndyman!) that I put in some work on. In the afternoon, the ex picked me up and we went to Holliday park, where my elder son's drawing of a fox was in a student art exhibition with 59 other kids' pieces. (up up up) I am really proud of him. I hope he gets the drawing bug, like I have. Back home for more editing and more decompression (aaaaaah!).

Monday morning: Scramble to find a ride to work (downish). Thanks, Virginia. Around noon, I get the call from the dealership. Some electronic part in the ignition system had malfunctioned. They replaced my keyless entry system and the car was ready to go. And it was all under warranty (up up up up up).

And that's where I am now: After a temmpestuous weekend, I and my car are both home, and I'm still riding high on the fact that I didn't have to pay a cent to repair the car, and it got done quickly. And I'm a little tired. Guess I'll go to bed and dream about roller coasters with happy endings.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Movie Review: The Watchmen

I went out to see The Watchmen last night. I'm a big fan of superhero movies, so I've been looking forward to this for a while. Back in mid-February, I bought and read a copy of the original graphic novel in preparation. I'm not sure now if that was a good idea, because my impressions of the movie are certainly colored by the fact that I already knew what was going on. I have the sneaking suspicion that the movie was a bit harder to follow by those who weren't already familiar with the story.

Rather than thumbing up or down the total movie, I'll just touch on a few things that stuck in my mind (or my craw) while trying to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

The best place to start is, of course, the ending. There were some grumblings by die-hard fans when they learned that the screenwriters had changed the ending from what appears in the original graphic novel. Personally, I was dissatisfied with the original ending anyway. It came from too far out of left field. In both cases, we're left with an ethical conundrum, but I think that the changes in the movie actually strengthen the conundrum, though many may feel it rides too close to The Dark Knight.

The movie comes in at a bladder-unfriendly 2 hours and 45 minutes, and the writers had to make a number of cuts, for better or for worse, to get it down to that. The things that were left out probably made this more confusing to those who didn't know the story. And here I will tread lightly through possible spoilers:

  • Gone is the constant return to the newsstand, its know-it-all owner, and the comic-book-reading mooch, though all three do make understated appearances. The lesbian couple is completely gone.
  • Gone then, too, are the numerous references to The Frontiersman and the sign-wielding apocalyptician (you know who he is) who picks up his daily copies. The Frontiersman shows up in the last five minutes of the movie, just to give us that "uh-oh" at the end.
  • The maskless Rorschach was too sidelined in the beginning of the movie. When he was unmasked by the police (does that count as a spoiler?), I didn't feel like the audience got the joy of that a-ha moment of "That guy is Rorschach?!" It is amazing, though, how they got the actor to look so much like the Rorschach in the graphic novel.
  • Speaking of how the actors look, the special effects makeup on Richard Nixon is, in my opinion, the worst part of this movie. It just wasn't realistic. But maybe that's just my age (Nixon was in office when I was born.) Was his nose really that big? Carla Gugino's makeup, on the other hand, was great — I could really believe that she was a martini-sipping senior spinster.
  • Not enough was made about Rorschach's other, uh, characteristics. Only once do we hear someone complain about his odor. No one says anything about how god-awful ugly he is.
  • Some things in the movie just weren't explained well. Why, for instance, was Dr. Manhattan naked for most of the movie? What was Bombasto, and where did he come from? (He didn't show up until the action moved to Antarctica.)

Now, a word about the overall content. This movie is rated R for a reason. There was a small family in the theater, the youngest a girl maybe 10 or 11 years old. She should not have been there. Some things to look out for:

  • Blue penises. Lots of blue penises.
  • After a certain inferno rescue, there's a sex scene that's twice as long as it needed to be, to the gratitude of lonely, basement-dwelling comic-book collectors everywhere. For me, it was worth the cost of admission; to a pre-teen girl, not so much.
  • A meat cleaver to the skull. A splash of blood. Then three more whacks with the meat cleaver.
  • Fat boy gets his arms cut off — on screen — with an angle grinder.
  • Lots and lots of blue penises. We're not talking sketched-in Vitruvian Man junk here. Dr. Manhattan's man-parts were, well, impressive. For a glow-in-the-dark blue guy. And honestly, it was obvious that the filmmakers were seeing how much they could get away with. Numerous times — and pay attention to this when you see the movie — they cut away from a scene just after a big cerulean schlong makes its appearance, when there's no reason they couldn't have cut away just before.

The majority of the dialogue is taken directly from the source, so the huge fans (who've already seen the movie a dozen times) can mouthe along with parts of the movie at first viewing. ("But doctor, I'm Pagliacci!") And you can also identify specific illustrated frames from the graphic novel that were reproduced almost exactly on-screen.

One final thing: The opening sequence of this movie is absolutely brilliant. It covers well the entire history of America to 1985 since the first masked heroes made an appearance. This opening sequence should be held up as a prime example of coherently packing a lot of information into a tiny space.

I'll definitely buy this when it comes out on DVD. I'm hoping they'll put out an extended director's cut that puts back in all the stuff that was taken out to bring down the length.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Last (I Hope) Leg Update

I saw the orthopedist today. Officially, my leg is healed, though there's still some swelling that may persist for another month or so, which explains why I'm still limping. I don't have the range of motion I'd like, either, and I'm a ways away from being able to run.

Which is fine with me.

I am pretty tired of limping, though. My calf muscles are sore in both legs...