The topic for Sketch Dailies today was #MyFavArtTeacher. It was an easy choice for me. Mr. Wolfgang taught me so much more than art. I still can’t watercolor my way out of a wet paper bag, but the critical thinking skills he taught stuck.
I have a fond memory of a field trip where he played banjo on the bus. I wish I could remember the songs they sang. He played along with someone on guitar, but they were both drowned out by an excitable tambourine boy. Didn’t bother Mr. Wolfgang a bit.
Scopes Monkey? Roe v. Wade? O.J.? Those trials pale in significance next to Rosenrosen v. Satellite-Co-Glom-Tek.
The judge took a deep breath and began to read the case summary.
“This matter is before the court on Defendant’s Motion up the jimmy caw-caw, to which Plaintiff has responded and Defendant has replied, filed in propria persona for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, evinrude relief, and statutory damages under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, starting at R.C. 4719 point 01 and what follows, 45 point 351 and what follows, 19 point 853 subset 11 and what follows, cheese and rice got down in some big ditch …”
She continued in this way and the expressions I read around the room told me that we struggled to follow along. What I understood: The Gucci-besuited, retired surgeon, we’ll call him Dr. Rosenrosen, represented by his diminutive attorney, we’ll call him Cabbage Patch Sigmund Freud, was suing one of the satellite TV networks, Satellite-Co-Glom-Tek, represented by a rosy-cheeked sales manager and two cyclopean corporate attorneys, for some sort of telemarketing transgression.
The matter at hand eventually became clear and when the judge finished, there was dead silence in the room. I suspect we were waiting for her to continue, to get to the important part of the case, to the real reason we were there.
Potter Stewart was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1958 to 1981. When explaining his test for pornography and obscenity, he famously coined the phrase: “I know it when I see it.” Less famously he defined ethics as “knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.”
The Potter Stewart Courthouse in Cincinnati, Ohio is located on East 5th street, between Walnut and Main. This bulky, utilitarian building takes up the entire city block. The main downtown bus depot is in front. I walked passed people in familiar restaurant uniforms waiting for their bus, standing under brightly lit canopies, staring at phones. I would have traded places with them, would have scooped rubber chicken bits into cardboard bowls willy-nilly for a week of Sundays if it meant getting out of jury duty.
I found myself in room 917, the Jury Assembly Room and waited to speak to Jury Clerk Natalie. I made note of the well-stocked break area in the back, its granola bars, industrial-sized coffee maker and basket of peppermints. When it was my turn, Jury Clerk Natalie greeted me, gave me paperwork, took back the paperwork and filled it out for me, returned the paperwork to me, took it back again, filed it neatly in a drawer and asked me if I had my paperwork.
Adventure. Excitement. A juror craves not these things.
“I am free,” I said confidently one bright and sunny Friday night, dialing the phone number from memory. Fate stopped what she was doing and looked my way. I fell back into the couch, carelessly flung a foot onto the coffee table and put the phone to my ear. The eyes of Fate widened. I dangled the cheese of a self-satisfied grin in the face of Fate. My smugness was too much. Fate would soon pounce.
My service period as a petit juror was ending. For a full month, I had made anxious, weekly calls to the U.S. District Court of Southern Ohio for instructions. Each time, the interactive voice response system, a smiling robot lady, could have told me to report to the courthouse for jury duty the following week. Instead, she tenderly repeated:
You are currently (slight pause) not scheduled (another pause) to appear for jury duty at this time. Please check back next week.
I reveled in this message to the point of giddiness. Don’t misunderstand me, I recognized the importance of jury service to my community, nay, to democracy itself, at least in the beginning. I read the summons months earlier and felt my chest puff the patriot’s puff. Here stood a citizen ready to tether himself to the Constitution of the United States of America, willing and able to immerse himself in this pageant of our country’s core values: equality, deliberation and the administration of justice. The uncertainty and disruption of my life were but small prices to pay for such an honor.
As I splayed across my couch in cocky repose, entering my participant number with my phone’s keypad, I was over all of that. The puff had worn off. Besides, I reasoned, they wouldn’t bring me in so late in the month. There couldn’t possibly be enough time left for a trial. I was free.
Hemingway said courage is “grace under pressure.” Let me tell you about a time when I didn’t prove he was right.
The seventh-in-a-row episode of some television show featuring swampy fellows and the crazy hijinks they pull is nearing an end. Or maybe it’s just starting. Of what I am sure: I’m reclining at Jen’s folks’ home on the side of a mountain in North Carolina, it’s late and I’m full of glazed ham and macaroni salad.
The hills and hollers at 3500 feet are beautiful during the day, but at night you can’t see your mouth bow, jaw harp or gourd trumpet in front of your face. I lose myself in this darkness. I’m happy to be indoors, burrowed into this recliner, watching men of a certain beard prance about in camouflage (on the TV).
Hand over hand, Jen’s Stepfather Bob pulls each beaded window cord, lowering the blinds, completing the cocoon. He stops on the last window that faces the street, and, a minute later, says, “Huh.” Now he’s powering off the TV with the remote, now he’s out on the screened-in porch. I should really think about getting up and seeing what Bob’s up to. Any minute now, I will. Think about it, that is.
Bob’s a quiet man and I almost miss him walking calmly to the master bedroom. My curiosity finally conquers my lethargy. I put my hand against the window and peer into the darkness, down the steep driveway to the street below. I see the tail lights of a truck idling near the driveway.
My gift for Best Man Steve was this caricature set in his beloved Azeroth. It’s tough to draw someone you’ve known since year one. His face in my mind is a stream of age in constant flux, at once kid, teenager, college age and adult.