|c r o s s X c o n n e c t
--- B E N M I L L E R
What the victims and the squirrels call the Isle of Justice really isn't an island at all but a former middle class neighborhood circled by a fetid moat, three blocks of row houses from which all televisions, radios, c.d. players, phones, mirrors have been yanked and in which live--if you can call it living--myself and the 86 others who last year agreed to become permanent jurors in exchange for room, board and six figures.
87 salary seeking sentencers swallowing sworwellian system sore swill seeping sour say sand sight sest slike suh song: say sand sight, sewer sour suh sun, say sand sight, sewer sour suh sun, etc.
I showed up at the initial interview on a lark and then, after I passed, attended the next three bull sessions for the fun of saying all the wrong things (see previous paragraph), only I kept impressing my puffy inquisitors until in front of me was a parchment contract (Thou agree toith forgo contact of Pliny kind width frienz 'n news anchorz...) and in my eyes was the white light of the camera spooning the scene to the Nation as an: ...ingenious corrective in an age where it has become so difficult to find 12 men and women untainted by the media that many states have stopped trying simple felonies altogether...
I signed with a greedy flick of the wrist. I signed like an undigested sundae, three swirls, cherry on top the i in the middle of Will.
And there was applause, I tell you! Applause!
Then I was led to a raft and poled across the stinking moat by a ferryman in a fringed leather jacket (thematic bow to the state's frontier heritage) and met on the other side by a bailiff wearing a diamond studded holster (tribute to the rich tradition of local law enforcement), who affixed his hairy hand to my neck and piloted me to the unfortunate dwelling where I sit now, pressing pencil to paper towel.
Six rooms whiter than innocence, barer than any cell St. Augustine ever hunched in.
Not even one mirror because the I.O.J. Governing Commission, consisting of 11 retired federal judges, believes the reflections might imbue us with a tolerance of "things not as they are," thereby damaging our ability to render a fair verdict.
No kitchen because making oneself so much as a single slice of peanut butter toast is considered by our elected foreman to be "dangerously individual" and thus detrimental to "the development of common ground group dynamic."
Also included on the list are sewing, ping pong, solitaire, surfing, humming, dim summing, gum chewing, duck hunting, diary keeping, reading and masturbation.
Next Tuesday we're each scheduled to have a micro-chip implanted in our genitals, to allow those dimly lit exits to be monitored like any other security risk.
The other jurors have thus far pretended to take this new invasion in stride, hardly touching on the issue and only joking about it when they do.
I, on the other hand, am growing the beard.
In grave violation of the hygiene code, Section 3, Paragraph 4.
In the fervent hope I'll be expelled before M-Day.
Mire mopping mejaculation munching mast mafingering moo morfing mustard mucking marauding Microsoft maggots!
The day the stubble showed I shouted in my heart: I will not be a man dissipated by excessive platonic love of a pet! I will not!
Since then the bailiffs have been in a tin tizzy--fingering ruby badges, jingling opal crusted handcuffs, swinging rosewood batons in pointy patterns of disapproval.
Yesterday afternoon the foreman leaned on me after announcing the identification numbers of a second wave of jurors needed at the courthouse.
It was just us standing on the moat bank, watching the ferryman pole the listing raft across the green-orange water.
For the first time I noticed that the foreman's hair was nearly the same color as whatever kept polluting the moat.
While he tried to light a toxic bonfire under my chin I counted the freckles on the bridge of his nose three times and came up with three different totals: 87, 112, 94.
I broached the issue without warning. He had his agenda, I had mine. Explicate, O learned foreman, the biology of your blemishes! Do the numbers change from day to day? Does stress make more? Less? Or do the spots live on you like a parasites and breed of their own curious accord? You do not know? How can you harbor so many and not know?
He backed away like a crab.
Last night I had an awful dream in which that man sat on a toilet, wiping himself and stuffing the paper into his mouth instead of the bowl, cramming cheeks Godfather full.
This morning I had the whole east side of the cafeteria to myself.
I ate real slow and sloppy and made the other jurors wait. It's a regulation we must march en masse to the Shaving Barn and there was nothing anybody could do but watch me spill milk, fling flakes, go back for seconds.
When I finally got up from the table I was veiled in toast crumbs and egg bits.
The cook is a right winger so only American cheese is available for omelettes and I'd made sure enough of that orange gunk was stuck to the roof of my mouth to alter my speaking pattern.
I say speak. Proclaim would be a better word. For as I was following the others down the primstone path to the Shaving Barn I let them have it like I'd just been appointed poet laureate of the island.
The sewing open
Pathetically porous political posey proffered punctiliously por punch punk purposes prat prickle prying pascal-pitted prison prawn probers!
The Shaving Barn loomed ahead, a cinder block bunker smelling of powder and pears.
Once inside I quieted down for the sake of variety and seated myself on a wooden bench under a window.
Outside, the purple prongs of a wisteria vine and the abrupt blossoms of an ornamental cherry tree. The landscaping here is indeed ravishing. A staff of 38 attend the foliage day and night, forcing blooms with subtle blow torches. The petals are supposed to replace the fertile disasters and florid resignations we hear nothing of and at evening news time a good number of jurors stroll the paths, pointing out specimens in a condescending manner. Pity the bent car crash plant, the buckling earthquake flower. Woeful be the crawl of the murder vine!
No doubt they'd be happier here if their rampant imaginations were cooled by a different kind of self-satisfaction.
It also occurs that the composition of this account is only likely to make me unhappier, especially if the bailiffs that have just entered the front yard do what I think they're going to do with those chains.
Laughing of iron, ticking of ball bearings.
There, they've padlocked me in so I can't escape.
The same all-purpose men that only a few hours ago so carefully arrayed themselves in front of my fellow jurors in the concrete bright of the Shaving Barn and then solemnly fulfilled the role of Mirror.
--...missed a spot on your chin, 34...
--...now move the blade an inch to the right of the medial cringe...
--...don't forget your lower lip like you did yesterday...
--...I am referring to the upper portion of the left cheek...
--...not so rough, 18! Now look into my eyes and see what you've done...
Rouged ransom roughflections riltered rue ruh ropey rank reeking retching rubadubbasubconcious rove rowful renal rudy rats rucked rugly rye rutrid raisin rolls!
After bandaging a bad cut on his left ear, the foreman walked over and settled a speckled paw on my shoulder.
--You get yourself kicked out and then what, Will? Before you took this job you were barely clearing twenty thou at Kleeman Alliteration Corp. and you know they won't take you back after all those nasty e-mails you sent on your last day.
I started tabulating freckles.
--I've done my research. (1...2...3) I know the facts. (4...5) And the hard truth is you're now making a thousand times more than you'll ever make across the river as a pedantic pud pumping out poetic press releases.
He leaned down in the false confiding way that had won him all the votes and I could smell his lemon aftershave like we were going out.
--Moat? You think it's a moat not a river? (6...7...8) Well, what about saying water? Can you say water, Will? Both rivers and moats are made of water so that seems a good compromise, does-ent-it?
I lost my place on the nose.
--You're not nodding in agreement. (...1, 2, 3, 4...) You're afraid to. But it's in you. It surely is. That's clear from the odd tilt of your head. (...9, 10, 11, 12, 13...) Without a doubt you are possessed of an agree-ah-bill-ity that rivals even my own. Which doesn't mean I'm exposing you as a fraud. Not at all! This isn't about your obsessions or my duty. (...14, 15, 16, 17...) No, the only topic here is the Justice System that infests the space between dive-urgent lifestyles. (...18, 19, 20, 21, 22...) That's right, there it is, I'm pointing at it, you're looking at it, God's sanctioning it, Satan's decrying it, the sterilizing universe of order contained in the cool pillow of air separating your skin from my own, THE WHOLE HALLOWED HOLLOW SYSTEM THAT IS NOT US BUT NEEDS US just as a room requires furniture to properly receive guests. (...23, 24.)
Twice I came up with that meager number.
Had some of the freckles evaporated? Had a bird with a special beak sucked them off? Had the foreman coughed them into a handkerchief? Or wiped them away with his fingers? I noticed he touched his face often, very often, all the time, as if making sure his features were in the correct place. Maybe he had a strange birth defect and the natural state of his mug was flux: mouth, nose, ears, eyes sloshing across that pale skin like vegetables in a pot of boiling broth. Maybe his senses were anchored by artificial means and the freckles were dried drips of epoxy.
A buzzer sounded.
ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ(movement here controlled via a sound which when transcribed connotes aggressive sleep)ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ
The barn emptied.
I didn't move until the volume of the exit hint was jacked up so high that it vibrated me across the floor and out the door and into the grove of singed blooms: hydrangeas, roses, azaleas, peonies, tulips, petunias, pansies, rhododendrons...
The lingering butane fumes imbued the cheese yet stuck to the roof of my mouth with a chrome flavor I attempted to sprinkle into the poem I recited the moment I caught up with the group.
On the righteous
The bells! The bells! The rintintinabulation of the unholy confabulation of the bells! The bells! The doggie bongation of the furry hammer on the petty hull of the impoverished abundance of the glittering nation of bells! The bells! The bells! The mildewed mule humid dog ailing hog bouncing frog decrepit donkey smell of the bells! The bells! The bells! The ardor and the odor of the bells!
That hit full tilt when we emerged from the burnt bright grove and arranged ourselves on the eggy glow of the moat shore.
The water had been crystal clear when refreshed yesterday by firemen wearing stove pipe hats (vivid reminder to citizens to have chimneys cleaned) but it now reeked of sparrows and licorice.
Feathers and scum sacks floated on the surface.
The foreman was already on the PA, calling the ID numbers of the jurors required at the courthouse: 37...28...12...
The chosen held their noses and stepped onto the raft, at the very front of which stood the ferryman in the fringed jacket.
I wanted him to look at me.
Like anything I wanted him to let go of the pole and walk over to where I was standing so I could explain that a microchip might have started the beard but what kept it growing was a different kind of desire, a yearning to stop convicting constructing conducting crud encapsulizing curd containing creep cupping crook capping crowd controlling crap shooting crustice, to stop, and to look the other way..whenever possible.
The pole pressed into the muck, the raft of jurors drifted away.
I could have yelled after it, I tell you.
Or I could shout down now at the bailiffs rimming the porch.
Or better yet whisper (law outlasts).
© crossconnect 1995-2000
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania's kelly writers house |