I didn't hear the rain drumming on my window A/C unit until I lazily smacked my alarm back to snoozing silence. Most days, I imagine there's no way I can care less about how late I roll out of bed. Today is special, though: I'll be downtown doing my civic duty. Up and at 'em, Paige!But the downpour has dampened my resolve to make this one count. I roll over and alternate nestling into the cool pillowcase and the Knight's warm chest; considering last night's late bedtime, I decided that my civic duty does not include showering. Up until this morning, the prospect of being one of those impartial 12, listening closely to evidence presented and handing down swift, fair judgment — obviously, I would read the verdict — had been exciting to me. (Not to mention that it meant a day I didn't have to endure the trip to the suburbs.)
But rainwater cascaded down the windows between cars on the Brown Line, my collapsed umbrella soaking my ankles. As I hopped over ever-deepening puddles on downtown's warped sidewalks, I realized a gloomy day is a gloomy day, downtown or in the suburbs. My excitement dive-bombed. But? It is what it is: The Knight twirled me around under his arm, the balls of my feet gliding like ice skates on the wet pavement, before I ducked into the Daley Center and charmed my way through the metal detector. Once inside, only the glittering promise of hours upon hours to write — and the possibility of a courtroom circus, more blog fodder — kept hope alive that today could defy Mondayness.
Inside the Daley Center, it's a time warp: dull white walls, faux-wood paneling, floor-to-ceiling windows dressed in white linen. Even the typeface on the glowing exit sign — so far away, as the clock ticks toward 9:15 a.m. — seems to be from another era. I take my seat, and a soft click brings sound system to life. Two taps on the microphone. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," begins the administrator, swift and silky tongued like he's done this all his life. He kindly explains what would happen after everyone was settled, the location of the vending machines — across the room, in plain sight — and thanks us "in advance" for our service. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. The rise and fall of his voice, a departure from the bureaucratic monotone I'd expected, is refreshing and comforting.
In front of me, a pale, tattooed woman flips through Mom's Bathtub Reader (chapter subheading: "A Purr-fect Ending"). The outline of a howling wolf guards her left shoulder, and there's a stud through her upper lip. I wonder how her downy-haired bathtub-reader children will turn out — her blond hair is fine and wispy, too, like a baby's. Against the wall, next to the machine dispensing Orange Crush, a bored Indian twenty-something's headphones clearly aren't taking him far enough away from the Daley Center. He hates life today. Staring into space, unmoving, he's flanked by a glazy-eyed old black man in a flat-bill black baseball cap and an equally world-weary, grizzled old white man.
Then there's me. Taking full advantage of the "day off, but not really" situation, I was been careful to pick out a shirt I'd never be able wear to work. I'm brighter-eyed than most of the other potential jurors, wearing in my blue "Ithaca is GORGES" tee. From what I could tell, I'm the only one who brought a laptop. Click, click, click. I sneak furtive glances at my BlackBerry, hoping for tweets and texts and e-mails from the ouside.
A young, mustachioed Lester Holt narrated the video we watched, which detailed the courtroom process and cast of characters. "If you are excused, you must not take it personally," he said. I snorted quietly. Another anachronis: No one is upset when they're dismissed. Even me, despite how much I'd been looking forward to this day: I received and took to heart several tips from Facebook friends for near-immediate dismissal. The days of happily fulfilling civil service are certainly over — but doesn't that follow when the people we're supposed to serve aren't doing anything for us either?
I can't imagine anyone's gleaned anything new from the outdated video — I've learned more about the legal system from watching Law & Order. I look around the room for traces of bemusement on anyone else's face, but I'm met with emptiness. Many around me are transfixed, watching the TV with rapt attention. Or maybe I've mistaken exhaustion and complacency for attention. Sadness creeps up behind me. Outside the window, a thick fog rolls in, obscuring floor by floor the tall, dull grey, taupe and white buildings, faceless structures filled with people whose lives I envy simply for the geography of their employer. Half the honeycomb hive of Marina City vanishes in the mist. Until today, I've never seen the city disappear into the weather up close.
Just after 10 a.m., the man behind the curtain calls panel 9, and faces around me suddenly light up as if they've won the lottery. Minutes later, my number plus one comes up. I eye the vending machine, and the bathtub reader switches from her book to a blue Nintendo DS just before her number is called. More numbers. I decide on a Payday bar and wonder whether mine will ever come up.
I consider making a call from the bank of pay phones, just to nab a piece of the anachronism. The sun wants to come out, but the fog-turned–gauzy haze quietly forbids it.
I wolf down the candy bar, and the morning wears on; I hang here in the balance, 17 floors off the ground.