Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Tyranny of the Alphabet

Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of being called for jury duty in Kings County.

The day got off to a bit of a rough start. Somewhere between Grand Army Plaza and Borough Hall I lost my summons. I can only assume that it fell out of my pocket and ended up as litter in the tracks or stuck to someone's wet shoes on the subway. Upon my arrival to the courthouse I had to make a detour to the county clerk's office get a new summons. The woman behind the counter offered me the chance to come again another day, but I figured that since I was already there I'd deal with the unpleasant civic duty to get it out of the way.

With my freshly printed summons in hand, I headed to the jury room. There were already about 300 hundered other unhappy people waiting when I got there. Some read the paper, some brought laptops, a few were watching a Fox News with the sound off on the large flatscreen TV's throughout the room. I sat doodling in my jurors handbook and in a sketchbook I brought along.

Shortly after I arrived, a diminutive man in a loud suit entered the room, took a seat behind the desk at the front of the room and began explaining what was going to happen that day. At one point he mentioned that if you didn't have a basic grasp on the English language you would be dismissed after meeting with a translator. At this point about two-dozen individuals ran to the front of the room. All of them were told to sit down because clearly they understood English well enough to serve on a jury. the rest of the room broke out into laughter.

The next point he made was that everyone's service was going to be needed until 5:00 p.m., no exceptions. Even if you were called to potentially serve on a jury and were rejected, you needed to stick around in case you were needed for another case.

All of these instructions were repeated again in Spanish, Chinese and Russian, then the waiting began.

Periodically potential jurors were called away to interview rooms down the hall. At first, just about everyone was paying attention, then after about an hour almost no one was. Each time a new name was called a few panicked people began asking those sitting near them if their name was called. This dragged on for hours, but somehow managed to feel significantly longer. The monotony was broken up briefly by lunch, then proceeded to drag on for what felt like forever and a day.

Around 3:30 something almost miraculous happened. The diminutive gentleman in the loud shirt returned and informed us that he lied. We were all going to be dismissed early. A loud round of applause burst out. However, before anyone could run for the door, we were informed that each of us needed to leave with a piece of paper that said we had served our time. We were also informed that this magic piece of paper was going to get us out of jury duty until 2017. However, there was a small catch, if we left without the paper we were going to be marked absent for the day and called again in the near future.

At that point, the real torture began.

How do you dismiss 300 people? With alphabetical order of course!

At this point I realized that wasn't going home anytime soon. The Tomac's are blessed with many wonderful characteristics. We're intelligent, attractive, hard-working and and we smell good, too. Unfortunately, we are burdened with a name that falls near the end of the alphabet.

So I sat through what felt like the reading of the Brooklyn white pages. I learned that there are a surprising number of Johnsons and Smiths in New York's most populous borough. I also was in awe of the number of different surnames that start with the letter Q.

Checking the time on my cell phone it was 4:30, about an hour into the dismissal process, when at long last they reached the letter T. At this point I thought I was going to be leaving any minute. I was wrong. I waited through the Ta's and the Te's. Th and Ti came and went. A few strange combos like Tc were thrown in for good measure. At long last the To's were reached. Unfortunately, all sorts of To last names were called before they reached Tomac.

Finally, I could leave! At this point I was among the last dozen or so left in the jury room. Checking the time again, it was 5:00 on the nose.

So much for leaving early.

If anything positive came out of my hour-and-a-half wait it was the rough drawing that became the image above.

My lovely fiancé thinks I'm a little crazy for getting worked up over this, but her last name starts with a C...at least for the next few months.


  1. Hi John
    Just happened across your blog. Hilarious writing and great illustrations. Will definitely be regularly checking back in.