S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Lights Out,” Park talks about blackouts and fulfilling one’s civic service: jury duty.
I’ve always appeared for jury duty, even as many of my friends never have. They’ve a list of excuses as long as their arms and they’re usually work-related, which means, I suppose, that I shouldn’t judge them (I’d trade any job I’ve ever had for a corn dog, much less a jury box).
It just seems that our country asks so little of us that it’s the least a citizen can do. On top of that most cases are settled before trial (so you’re dismissed before serving) and the others have at least one interesting element to them.
As do your fellow jurors. They’re strangers you share a zip code with so I enjoy looking at each of them in turn, trying to guess what they do (or did) for a living. It was tougher at the Port Townsend courthouse last week, as this is the second oldest county in America (average age: sixty plus), so not only had we all been ridden hard but we were wearing masks and socially distancing, too.
We’d been summoned to adjudicate a “he said/she said” rape case. There was alcohol involved, of course, but I found myself vaguely disappointed (I’d been hoping for something more in my wheelhouse, like a drug bust), at least until Ms. St. Jaugens, the prim, humorless prosecutor, beckoned each of us to the front for questioning.
It was mostly a variation on:
“Are you a drinker, Juror No. 1?”
“How often do you drink?”
“How much do you drink?”
“Have you ever had a blackout?”
Well, I thought, now we’re cooking. I did, after all, consider myself something of an expert on the subject, even point to my numerous occlusions as the reason my boozing was so guilt free. Felt there was much to recommend about blackouts if you survived them (which was, admittedly, a big if, particularly for women).
I liked to think of them as time travel. They were so familiar to me, in fact, that I was amazed how one potential juror after another claimed they’d either never had one or “Well, maybe there was that one time in college” (but it so scared them it never happened again).
It rocked me back to my AA days. How amazed I was that those old, seasoned rummies had not only evaded blackouts and the d.t.’s, but didn’t drink in the morning either!
What the fuck? I wondered. Am I in the wrong gang? Is there a Winos Anonymous?
I was certainly chafing for my turn in court that day, as (much like booze) I’ve always had a fondness for microphones. When my number was finally called I stepped up, watched the prosecutor give me the once over.
I’m glad she isn’t trying me, I thought (she had a killer schoolmarm vibe to her).
“And what do you do, No. 26?” she asked.
“Well, I grew pot for thirty years, and now I write and illustrate memoirs.”
“Really? Have they been published?”
“A couple were.”
“Would I have read them?”
“Absolutely not,” I said, and turned to face the audience. “But if any of you are interested the first one’s called High & Dry and it’s available on Amazon.”
They might have snickered (it was hard to tell with the masks on), but as I turned back to St. Jaugens it was clear she wasn’t amused.
She had only four peremptory challenges, though, so she had to be sure.
“Do I take it you are a drinker then, No. 26?” she asked.
“Well, I was. I quit a long time ago.”
“And while you were drinking … did you ever have a blackout?”
I laughed. “Oh sure. Maybe five hundred, a thousand of them? It’s not like winos keep score.”
Her mouth twisted in disgust.
“And how did that make you feel, No. 26?” she said. “That you’d done things you couldn’t remember the next day?”
“The only time I regretted blackouts was in the d.t.’s: those were so scary you wanted to know you’d earned them, that you remembered everything that got you there. But other than that … well, I gotta admit I kind of enjoyed ’em.”
“You liked blackouts!?”
“Well sure, as long as I hadn’t raped or killed anyone. What’s more it’s pretty fascinating when you think about it, how you’re unconscious, with the recorder turned off, yet still walking and talking with all inhibitions removed. If that isn’t the real you … who the hell is?”
“And the real you, No. 26? What was he like?”
“How would I know? I heard stories about the guy, but I never met him.”
Later, after I’d sat down and it was the defense attorney’s turn, he’d wrap up his interrogations with:
“Do you, like Mr. Memoir Writer back there, think blackouts are funny?”
I’m sure they thought I was flippant, had never met anyone who treated alcoholism as an assignment before. The next morning, when it was time for the peremptory challenges, the Judge turned to Ms. St. Jaugens, said: “You can begin when …”
“Juror No. 26!” she spat, sitting bolt upright in her chair (as if I’d fouled her air long enough).
Whew! I thought. That’s a relief! It was reminiscent of my draft physical a half century before, when I’d done my duty and been shown the door anyway, the best of all possible worlds.
Except this time another juror, a haggard-looking guy who’d described himself as a “philosopher” the day before, stopped me on the way out.
“Hey, buddy!” he said. “What’d you say the name of your book was?”
I was sure he’d like it: you could smell the night before in his pores.