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--- J O H N M C C A L L A
Perched on the primo corner chair in the dark-wood, 12-seat jury box, I found myself arching my back, sitting uncharacteristically upright and looking downright pleasant. The stone-faced attorney for the defense silently scanned his potential jurors, with nary a note of his leanings. Disconcerted, I sat up straighter.
Like a puppy in the pound preening for a would-be new master, I realized with horror that I wanted more than anything to be one of the chosen. And no alternate-juror status for me; I needed to be wanted wholly for my perceived -- what? -- powers of analytical thinking and logical largesse? Actualized sense of fairness and humanity? Clean-cut and well-pressed good looks?
Never mind that to be chosen for the medical malpractice case before me meant wrecking at least a week jam-packed with deadlines and details, not to mention a severe loss of income for my self-employed, fiscally retarded self, always teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, or at least broke-ness.
Like waiting to be picked for a junior high dodge-ball team, my twisted need for approval had conjured in me some dyslexic desire to be a juror. Love me. Hurt me.
Regaining only a sliver of my senses, I then slipped into what I considered an aloof appeal, a combo of jaded facial relaxations that said, "You know you want me, but to ask would only result in rejection." Like most twisted mind games, this one was all in my swelled head; no one was asking, they were picking and I was losing patience with my lack of control over the situation.
I immersed myself in Buzz Bissinger's new urbanist tome "A Prayer for the City" while my fate was decided by the whispering attorneys. I stumbled across the sentence, "He could sense the horrible feeling in Courtroom 246 in City Hall, the Berlin Wall as he described the atmosphere..." I was in room 246 in City Hall! I tried to contain my "Omigod" reaction and subsequent musings of mysterious significance. "Play the number 246 tonight," an elderly woman to my right urged, her knowing look conveying the wisdom that if I skipped the task, the lottery number would even more certainly hit.
The attorneys took people in the back room one by one to determine possible conflicts. I was confident they would want me, but my journalist job would surely eliminate me from the list. I had critically covered the courts too frequently and recently to be allowed to stand in judgment of anything, though objectivity was supposedly my career aspiration.
I had also been arrested in college, surely a blemish on a perfect-juror record. Albeit, it was for a minor charge -- a drunken friend had barked at a police dog outside of Dirty Frank's and we were all busted. But I was only an accessory to the barking. For the most part, I've been pretty much on the square, maybe a tad tardy on my student loan repayments.
Asked if serving our civic duty (a concept I regrettably do not take lightly) would mean any "extreme hardship," I panicked. Yes, of course it would! Lots of lost income, blown job opportunities (er, dashed employment opportunities?) and general hysteria at the prospect of meeting deadlines? No sympathy came in the form of financial flubs when other possible jurors tried it; I lost my nerve.
Extreme hardship was difficult to conceptualize anyway since I usually relegate the same panic levels to problems of all ranges of life's rigors. Getting mugged, falling in love, spilling tea in bed ... all mustered the same shit-happens, reluctant acceptance response. It's not a jaded thing so much as an inappropriate response device that refuses to calculate the real from the whiny. I felt like expressing my "Melrose Place" addiction as a potential hardship would sound more like the latter. ("I'd serve, but frankly I'm worried about Amanda. Her helicopter crashed last Monday and she's sorely overdue for a root job.")
And, still, my desire to be deemed worthy persisted. Now faced with the idea I wouldn't be chosen, I spiraled into self-doubting brain drain. The same happens in relationships: failing to gain my required levels of love and attention, I revert to the puppy-in-the-pound panic, performing whatever tricks necessary to suck love out of, or at least strike a nerve in, my intended.
A former live-in who I know held me in at least modest esteem nevertheless consistently found the offerings of Nick at Nite or Flix a far more enticing entertainment form than my overly caffeinated brand of camaraderie. When I was shushed during a rerun of "Wings," I knew the relationship was headed for trouble. In such cases, my methods of affirmation-seeking would denigrate to staging histrionic cries for any form of communication, such as impromptu jousting matches with standing halogen lamps.
Ultimately, such neediness is exposed for what it is, and I get the stark revelation that I never even wanted the attention I sought. It's a humbling moment, and one that usually requires an apartment lease addendum, or at least a lamp repairman and a therapeutic junk food binge.
"Congratulations, you'll be our jury," the judge beamed with a deliriously happy, game-show demeanor. I had become the abyss, and the panic set in. Now, it was time to get out of it, now that it was too late (also a relational reality -- till death or dread do we part). Luckily, I left the courtroom, walked out of City Hall and smack into a conflict -- an acquaintance asking me to look into a medical malpractice case involving the same hospital. I went back the next morning and explained, and was immediately dismissed. My fellow jurors looked at me with disappointment and I felt guilty, like Demi Moore probably did when she actively had to use her graveled voice to wrongly convince her peers of the Mafia guy's innocence in "The Juror."
But then, Demi gets all kinds of attention without being a juror; unfortunately, most of us can't shed our clothes for Vanity Fair when we feel vain and needy (nor should most of us).
© crossconnect 1995-1998
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