Friday, March 25, 2011

Jury Duty

I was first called for jury duty in the fall of 1980 and ended up sitting on a grand jury that met every Wednesday for about eight months. During that time, we heard testimony and were presented evidence regarding a number of cases and we handed down quite a few indictments. And while driving to the courthouse in Mineola during rush hour was not my favorite thing to do, it did provide a break from my daily train-and-subway commute to Manhattan.

That stint apparently got me some brownie points because it was more than a decade before I was called again. There were three summonses during the '90s and one in 2004: Three more to Mineola and one to Federal Court in Brooklyn. Only one resulted in my getting picked for a jury -- a civil case that was settled "out of court" while we were sitting the jury room on the day the trial was supposed to begin.


After you've been called for jury duty, you now get a six-year "pass" in Nassau County, so, since I'd last been there in 2004, it was not so surprising that I received a summons to appear this week. The way it works, you are assigned a number and you call each evening to see if you have to show up the following day. I was not needed on Monday, but my number came up for Tuesday.

I drove to Mineola and joined about 400 other folks in the main jury room. We first were shown a video (the same one they showed in 2004 and, possibly, earlier) with Ed Bradley and Diane Sawyer extolling the importance of our judicial system. The video includes a reenactment of a 12th century "trial by endurance" in which an accused man is bound and tossed in the river. If he floats to the surface, he is guilty; if he sinks, he is innocent. Happily for the accused and his family, he sank like a stone and was judged innocent before he drowned.

After the video, one of the judges came in and welcomed us. He reminded us of the importance of our presence and said that even if we were just sitting and waiting, we were providing an important service to the judicial system. When he meets with attorneys on the various cases assigned to him, he is often able to persuade them to come to a settlement simply by pointing out that there are juries waiting if they cannot.

Unlike 2004, when I spent most of the morning waiting to hear my name, I was the third person called for the first jury pool. Thirty-five of us were called and sent to a small room nearby. There, after attendance was taken, we were told that we were being bussed to one of the other buildings. With our "Juror" name tags now hanging around our necks, we boarded a bus and were driven... across the parking lot! (One can only presume using the bus is necessary to make sure we did not lose any slow walkers along the way.)

In the second building, the thirty-five of us were ushered into a room with a table and twelve chairs and the heat cranked up to "bake bread." The court officer who escorted us told us we would be there for only a couple of minutes, but since he had to close the door, we might want to open the window. In legal parlance, I guess "twenty-five" is considered "a couple" because that is how many minutes we were in there.

After we heard someone in the hall say, "Where are the other 35 jurors?" the door finally opened and we were told that we would be taken upstairs to a courtroom. Turned out that after we had arrived, a second group of thirty-five potential jurors had also been drawn, put into an identical room next door, and now all seventy of us were the pool for a case.

Unlike the courtrooms you see on TV and in movies which appear to have seating for a few hundred people, the one we were escorted to was long and narrow and, by the way, did not even have enough seats for seventy potential jurors. With some of us again standing, the judge introduced himself and the attorneys and gave us a quick overview of the case. Then, the first fourteen names were called and those people went to sit in the jury box. However, before anything else could happen, the judge and attorneys had an unrelated matter to deal with, so we all had to leave the courtroom and go back downstairs to the waiting room for "a few" minutes. Thankfully, the court officer decided that we did not have to be closed into the oven-room, so most of us milled around in the hallway instead.

It turns out that "a few" and "a couple" are interchangeable terms because it was another twenty-five minutes that we waited till we went back upstairs. With fourteen people now seated in the jury box, there were enough seats in the courtroom for the rest of us. The judge asked each of the jurors a few questions about prior jury service, involvement with law enforcement, and possible employment or personal conflicts since the case was scheduled to begin next week. As a result of these questions and with the agreement of both attorneys, four of the potential jurors were released and sent back to the main jury room where they would again wait for their names to be called for another pool. Four more of our original seventy were selected to replace them.

The assistant district attorney introduced herself, explained a little about the case, and then began questioning jurors. When she finished, the defense attorney took his turn, but, since he did not think he could finish before the lunch break at 12:30, we adjourned. We were told that we had to be back by 2:00 -- once again to the waiting room downstairs -- and then would be brought back up to the courtroom.

I had brought my lunch with me, so I walked back to the car and sat and ate it, reading the newspaper. It doesn't take me an hour and a half to eat lunch (or read the paper), so I strolled over to the main jury room and had a cup of coffee in the cafeteria. I called Laurie and the office. I went outside and watched the grass grow. At 1:50, I went back to the waiting room, joining the rest of the group.

It was "a few" (or maybe "a couple") of minutes before we were brought back to the courtroom. The defense attorney finished asking his questions of the fourteen folks in the box. Then the judge told us that we all had to go stand in the hall while he and the attorneys had a discussion. When we came back in, the judge reminded everyone that not being selected for the jury was not a reflection on their character, merely a decision reached by the attorneys as they tried to assemble a group that would be best for their case.

Of the fourteen people, three were chosen for the jury. The rest were sent home. The trio were sworn in and told they had to return next Monday at 10:00. Another fourteen names were chosen. Among them was a woman who was not fluent in English; neither attorney nor the judge felt she would be an appropriate juror, so they sent her home. (This after she had been there for six and a half hours.)

We had a rerun of the first round of questioning, with a couple more people being excused and replaced by the judge. Both attorneys had their time and we were again sent out in the hall. After another "couple/few" minutes, we were called back. This time, eight of the fourteen were selected.

Still needing one more juror and two alternates, they started the procedure for the third time. Fourteen more people. Fourteen more sets of questions by the judge and the attorneys. Another "couple/few" minutes in the hallway. When we returned to the courtroom, the dozen of us who had not yet had our names called were thankful that they'd managed to agree on their last three jurors so that we did not have to go through a fourth round.

By now it was almost 4:30, so we all had to go back to the main jury room to be officially dismissed. There a clerk collected our juror cards and scanned them into the computer and printed out our "thanks for coming" certificates. I went out to my car and drove home.

And that is how I did my part for our judicial system. I'm sure they'll be calling me again in 2017.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Job for Superman

In one of the many Superman stories I wrote, I had the Man of Steel save an island full of people from a tsunami. He used his heat vision to slice through its rock base and then lifted the entire island into the air above the onrushing wave. Once it passed, he lowered it back into place, with everyone and everything safe and intact.

I don't recall ever writing a story in which Supes dealt with a meltdown at a nuclear power plant, but it's a safe bet that at least one of my fellow writers put him in such a situation. And I'm sure he handled it as easily as he dealt with the tsunami, with no loss of life and minimal property damage.

And, of course, in Superman: The Movie, he stopped a massive earthquake along the San Andreas fault and then undid most of the damage by turning back time. (Something that he can't do in the comic books, by the way.)

Unfortunately, there is no Superman to save the people in Japan who have faced earthquake, tsunami, and now a potential nuclear meltdown. There are only the thousands of "ordinary" people performing search and rescue operations. And the exceptionally brave group of workers trying frantically to cool the reactor by any means possible.

It is easy for a writer to spin a tale in which the hero saves the day in the nick of time. In the real world, we know it doesn't always work out that way. So we can only hope and pray.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion

I've been asked by a few folks who have enjoyed reading my novel why I haven't been promoting it more. Since I don't have any good answer to that question, here's a peek at the prologue to "The Junkyards of Memory." (The book is available at Or you can order a copy from by clicking on the icon on the right side of this page... and even get a 15% discount!)

She could hear someone knocking, but she couldn’t tell whether it was nearby or far away. She turned her head, looking around. Doing so seemed to take hours of infinitely exhausting effort.

The door, she finally decided. Someone was knocking on the bathroom door. “Go away,” she tried to say, but the sounds that came from her mouth were nothing more than a garbled groan.

The knocking on the door became louder, more frantic, and was now accompanied by someone calling her name. “Go away,” she tried to say again, but the words were unintelligible even to her own ears.

If only she could get up, go to the door, and tell him that everything was all right. Then he would go back to watching TV or reading a magazine or whatever he should have been doing instead of bothering her. She wanted to get up and tell him to leave her alone, but she could not make her body obey.

She pushed down on the floor with her hands, hoping that this would somehow propel her to a standing position. Her hands -- or the floor -- were covered with something wet and sticky. She stared at her fingers, trying to decide what the red stuff all over them was.

The knocking on the door stopped. There was a brief rattling of the doorknob. Then there was no sound. She relaxed in her efforts to stand up. He had given up and gone away.

There was a loud “wham” and a jolt that she felt through her entire body. He must have slammed against the door, trying to force it open. Too bad for him, she thought. She was leaning against it.

She looked at her legs. They were pressed against the base of the toilet bowl. It would be almost impossible for him to get the door open while she was in this position on the floor.

She felt him hit the door again, not as hard this time, it seemed. He wasn’t going to get in, she thought. She stared at the mess on the floor around her, hoping somebody would eventually clean it up.

Suddenly, accompanying another loud “wham,” she felt herself falling sidewards away from the door as it was pushed open. Her face hit the sticky floor, her cheek right next to the magazine she’d scrawled on not so many minutes ago...

Monday, March 7, 2011


Close on the heels of my posting about Yogi Berra, a Casey Stengel quote turned up in the New York Times obit for former player Greg Goossen: “Goossen is only 20, and in 10 years he has a chance to be 30.”

Casey saw both the sublime and the ridiculous during his career, managing the New York Yankees to seven World Series championships and then becoming the first manager of the "Amazin' Mets." For your amusement, some classics from "The Old Perfessor"...

On baseball and managing:

"I broke in with four hits and the writers promptly declared they had seen the new Ty Cobb. It took me only a few days to correct that impression."

"I was such a dangerous hitter I even got intentional walks during batting practice."

"You got to get twenty-seven outs to win."

"Without losers, where would the winners be?"

"Now there's three things you can do in a baseball game: You can win or you can lose or it can rain."

"You have to have a catcher or you'll have all passed balls."

"Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa."

"Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits."

"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

"The Yankees don't pay me to win every day, just two out of three."

"We (the Mets) are a much improved ball club, now we lose in extra innings!"

"The way our luck has been lately, our fellas have been getting hurt on their days off."

"The Mets have shown me more ways to lose than I even knew existed."

Casey on those other two "most quotable players":

"He (Satchel Paige) threw the ball as far from the bat and as close to the plate as possible."

"They say he's (Yogi Berra) funny. Well, he has a lovely wife and family, a beautiful home, money in the bank, and he plays golf with millionaires. What's funny about that?"

On life:

"They told me my services were no longer desired because they wanted to put in a youth program as an advance way of keeping the club going. I'll never make the mistake of being seventy again."

"Most people my age are dead at the present time."

"Do you think I was born old?"

"It's wonderful to meet so many friends that I didn't used to like."

"When you are younger you get blamed for crimes you never committed and when you're older you begin to get credit for virtues you never possessed. It evens itself out."

"Never make predictions, especially about the future."

"There comes a time in every man’s life, and I’ve had plenty of them."

And my favorite, after the hapless 1962 Mets once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory:

"Can’t anybody here play this game?"

Friday, March 4, 2011

On Wisconsin

Speaking at the SUNY Farmingdale graduation a few years ago, then-Senator Hillary Clinton told the audience that whenever someone complained to her about a law, a tax, or other issue, her first question was, "Did you vote in the last election?" Not "Did you vote for me?" Just "Did you vote?" Far too often, she said, the answer was no. "If you are not going to exercise your right to elect the people who govern you, then you don't have the right to complain about what they do."

I've recently gotten a couple of emails from people I know, asking me to support the Wisconsin 14. These fourteen state senators, recognizing that they do not have the numbers to vote down the Governor's proposed budget, have decided that they can prevent its passage by not having a quorum present to vote on it and have been hiding out in Illinois for more than two weeks.

When, exactly, did they lose sight of how this country works? We elect our leaders by a majority vote. We pass laws by majority votes of those elected representatives. If the majority of voters are not happy with what their representatives do, then they have the opportunity to vote them out of office and replace them with people who will do what they want.

If the majority of the people in Wisconsin are, in fact, against the proposed budget -- and I am not here to debate the pros or cons of it -- then they should have elected enough state senators to vote it down. That there are nineteen senators ready to vote for it presumably means the majority of the state's voters are also in favor of it. If not, there should be a reckoning come the next election.

So suck it up, Wisconsin. You elected (or, by not bothering to vote, allowed to be elected) the governor and all 33 of your state senators. Tell your 14 that they need to do the job you put them in office to do, whether they like the outcome or not. After all, how would you have felt if, rather than playing the Packers in the Super Bowl, the Steelers had said, "Gee, we're going to lose. Let's go hide in Miami."