So I was headed to our county courthouse for yet another “opportunity” to be chosen for jury duty, fearing a long commitment as my students entered their final weeks of preparation for their Advanced Placement tests. Obviously, I was hoping I would not be picked, and I thought to myself how much like The Hunger Games my day would be. Like Katniss, the main character in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, I was fully consumed by the fear that I would be chosen and what that would mean for me and those I love…
I had called the night before, hoping to have been called off duty, but my number was among those still required to attend, “contempt of court” charges imposed if I didn’t. I did. I packed a lunch, dressed professionally, and found a surrogate mother for my teen (who was scheduled for a dental cleaning and thus had to visit the orthodontist to get his wires removed, visit the dentist for the cleaning, and then return to the orthodontist to replace and adjust the wires plus had school work and baseball practice).
I found the parking garage easily, took the proffered parking pass, slid into a space, and sprinted out, just ahead of a couple other would-be jurors. A man with a chair and a sign announcing “Juror Check-in” was sitting on the sidewalk, and I handed him my summons, as directed.
“Ms. Dagen, you’re still with us,” he said, before proceeding to give me directions to the big, white building a couple blocks away.
Given my focus on The Hunger Games, I found his choice of phrasing quite humorous and smiled as I walked toward the jury “reaping.” As I sought to get through the day without getting selected, I continued my juror rendition of the games. I entered the building and headed to security, where I was questioned about a bottle I had in my bag.
“What kind of bottle is that, ma’am?” questioned the guard.
(I was so tempted to say “Vodka” or some other smart-mouthed answer, but I managed enough self-restraint to stammer, “Water bottle … tin.” I then had to prove it by pulling it out to show the guard. No humor there. Probably a contempt citation just waiting for me if I cracked a smile. But like Katniss with her mockingjay pin, I too was allowed to keep my token of freedom. Whew.)
I continued to the juror room to find a man I see regularly at the health club greeting each juror.
“I didn’t recognize you all dressed up,” he said, all smiles. Though we never speak at the health club, we’re practically best friends in this foreign, at least to me, arena. After check-in, now labeled Juror #51, I returned to him to get my parking pass validated (hey, gotta save $6), and wondered if he might be my ally in these games. Could he save me? Of course, I didn’t ask, but I kept him in mind.
I sat down and calmly avoided grading the student papers I’d brought along while awaiting my fate, preferring to read the third book in Collins’ trilogy. Meanwhile, my mind sought through the excuses I might use to avoid jury duty, should it prove to be a two-week ordeal such as the trial they were seating the last time I had duty. I had appealed to the judge about that trial, as we had a family vacation booked for one of the weeks. The other times I had been summoned, I also had been excused for various reasons, my duty merely postponed, which has led to a pattern of jury duty recalls every year or so (again so similar to Katniss’s yearly fear factor).
Though completing jury duty only guarantees a year’s reprieve, I have it in my mind that if I truly complete my duty rather than get excused early, I will not be recalled for quite some time. (Of course, Katniss also thought that once a tribute, never again a tribute in the arena…) Regardless, I was determined to see this through if at all possible; when the clerk of the court announced that they were seating juries for three one-day trials, I felt some relief. One day I could do.
I still was playing the juror’s Hunger Games in that I didn’t want to be picked, but the consequence of being picked was no longer the death of my students’ AP test grades. Though others appealed to the judge to get excused from duty, I talked comfortably with other potential jurors, felt no discomfort when I was offered a padded leather juror chair instead of the wooden audience bench, and engaged myself in the questioning process. I figured I had nothing to lose and appeared as my happy, intelligent, unbiased self when questioned by the various attorneys. I’d like to think that in my own way, I was sacrificial like Katniss, essentially offering to take the place of someone else by being so appealing…
Of course, they wanted me. When the crowd of fifty potential jurors was reduced to the final seven, I felt special, chosen, important, and, actually, hungry. Unlike Katniss, I didn’t get selected and then spend days in luxury being fed and made beautiful in preparation for the trial; I didn’t even get a break for lunch.
Which added a touch of “hunger” to my jury version of the games.