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present tense

4 Jan


Since October 4, 2016, I’ve written the occasional Facebook update, Instagram caption, email, tweet, journal entry, and Christmas card. However, I have been unable to write write. Well, more accurately, I have chosen not to write write. But with 2016 mercifully making way for 2017, I feel like it’s time to stop avoiding the unavoidable. I simply can’t write about anything, until I write about this.

My mom died on October 4; the very same mom I was able to write about here in present tense, just this spring. Back then, ten lifetimes ago, she was still working and laughing and sassy and loving and generous and wise and wonderful. As I wrote about her, I was acutely aware of just how present tense she was. I cried the first time I read the essay out loud, fully aware that the things I had written were usually saved for eulogies. The essay was better than a eulogy, I reasoned, because she was able to read it and see how much I admired her. And she did read it, and she loved it, and she printed it out and showed her friends.

Then without warning, I was including parts of that essay in her actual eulogy, reading it with my brother at my side, next to her casket, in front of my dad, family, friends, and strangers in a church that was built on the site of the school where my mother served as the last school secretary, and where my husband the preacher was orchestrating a tender, beautiful, perfect-for-Mom service.

Mom’s passing was sudden and wildly unexpected, which of course made for a total nightmare.

(I’m not using “you” to creep you out, but because “I” sounds as if I think I’m the only person this has ever happened to. I’m using the big common “you,” that selfishly provides some comfort from having shared in the universal human experience of life and death, but, really, don’t worry, the “you” here is really me.)

You immediately lament the goodbyes you never had. So many other people get goodbyes, why didn’t you? Then you realize that in order to get the goodbye, your loved one needs to be dying, and that is the last thing in the world you would want. So instead, your jealousy turned to gratitude, and then immediately to disbelief tinged with a teensy bit of resentment that you are in the position of having to be grateful for such a terrible thing. But you are…you are so thankful this woman you loved was fully in the present tense to the very end. And she would have hated being sick; she was good at a lot of things, but being sick was not one of them.

The first hours after the unimaginable becomes real, are fuzzy and clear all at the same time. You’re numb, but you notice every single thing. The days run together, and you are unsure of what to do about anything, or how to manage your horrible thoughts, or your unwieldy emotions or the weirdness of your surroundings. You notice the tears come at strange intervals, which makes you self-conscious about how you are grieving. You understand you are still in shock, and that the worst part is still to come and you sporadically entertain the thought that this was all just a terrible mix-up, and your mother is perfectly fine somewhere, and just wants to come home. You feel sorry for yourself and think about how life will never be the same, and you’ll never be the same, and why are we even born if we’re just going to die? You and your family swap memories, and you cling to each other because you have to, and because you can, and you haven’t been together in this intense of a way, well, ever.

At the very same time you’re wallowing in the muck, you somehow find yourself on the receiving end of the best things humanity has to offer. The purest love and kindness pour over you from your friends and family, and you muster the strength to pour it right back without obligation. But also somehow, some of your greatest comfort and practical help comes from the strangest places…From the man who keeps his shop open late so he can fit your dad for a suit then offers to press his shirt for free before the memorial. From the neighbors who bring wine and the other neighbors who bring breakfast and the other neighbors who haul out the garbage for you. From the cousin you don’t really remember having who finds you a church to use for the memorial since Mom and Dad’s church is getting renovated. From the endless string of people responsible for coffee cakes and hams and pizzas and flowers and the tiny little lady you’ve never seen before who delivers a pot of chili that’s nearly as big as her. From the diner waitress who saw the obituary and came to the service because your parents were her customers and always so nice to her. From the bank teller and the pharmacist who were crushed to hear about Mom, because she was always so nice to them. From Mom’s teenage co-workers who showed up– one even riding his bicycle all over town to get there– because, guess what, Mom was so nice to them.

When you’re perfectly entitled to disappear into grief, you can’t.  It’s still not about you. You are suddenly connected to the world in a new way through the absence of someone you loved.

You’re thankful against your will again, because you are overwhelmed with evidence that you were justified in loving and admiring this person, because she impacted people throughout her whole life in ways she never even knew. And you got to be her daughter. And you still get to be her daughter. Present tense.

moms: taking care of business since the beginning of time

4 May

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Me and Mary Jo, circa 1985

She was a blur of suntan nylons, pink lipstick, and curly hair tamed into a D.A. that came courtesy of a JC Penney salon stylist that knew “D.A.” stood for “duck’s @$$.”

In our small house, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work.  She click-clacked across our tile in her sling-back pumps; her dozens of keys jingling with a celebratory clatter announcing to the world that all was well, the keys had been located, probably in a side pocket of a 40-pound purse or under the pile of mail on the kitchen counter.

In our tight-knit neighborhood, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work. The echoes of her signature door slam and engine rev, pin-balled between the tract houses. If you were lucky enough to be standing in your yard when she tore out of the driveway, you were on the receiving end of an enthusiastic wave, and had a good view of her careening around the corner in our Chrysler Cordoba…a vehicle so long, my friends thought our family had a limousine.

She was not much older then, than I am now. Like me, she was a mom to two kids constructed of 80% freckles, and 20% defiance; and again like me, married to a great husband/awesome dad who adored her, but wished she could relax, just a little bit.

She made breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, breaking sometimes for Sunday outings to Sizzler or Kentucky Fried Chicken. She ironed every piece of clothing that touched my body. She reminded me often, that she’d won an ironing contest when she was in high school.

I didn’t babysit or mow the lawn. “You don’t need that,” she’d say, “You’ll have to work soon enough.”

She changed Rod Stewart’s sexy lyrics so convincingly, it was years before I realized the words weren’t “If you want my money, and you want my money.”

She let me roller skate in the house.

She fought her speeding ticket in traffic court, and won.

She was concerned, when at 14, I watched a VHS copy of “Heathers” or “Gleaming the Cube” every day after school.

Before there were rules about parents yelling from the sidelines at kids’ sporting events, she yelled from the sidelines…but only because she was my number one fan.

For a while, she told every grocery checker where her kids went to college. These days, she shows those same checkers pictures of her four grandkids, and of the roast my husband cooked on Christmas.

I was 24 when I finally apologized to her for how I acted when I was 18. I was 26, and only weeks into motherhood, when I acknowledged that being a mom was not exactly easy, and it must have been…not exactly easy for her either. I thought of her when I careened out of work to get a kid to baseball practice. And somewhere over the course of my almost 16 years of motherhood so far, there was a precise moment when I realized my children weren’t spending their every waking moment marveling at all that I get done in a day. It was that precise moment when I became Mary Jo’s number one fan.

I always knew her as a working mom. Not a high profile executive. Not a woman bent on dynamiting the glass ceiling… a suburban mom, taking care of business, so her daughter could do whatever she wanted when the time came.

Mary Jo was just a kid when she learned shorthand and bookkeeping. I remember her perched at our kitchen counter working late into the night. Her fingers, strong from years on a manual typewriter, flew over the keys of her Selectric.

She worked for the railroad, a loan company, and an elementary school. Her bosses had mustaches, cowboy boots and long cars, too.

She worked hard and cared hard and she did it all without needing to blog about it or escape into sacred girls’ nights out.

And now, at 81, she’s still a working mom. When she’s tired, I tell her she she should quit her job, and she tells me she’ll quit when she’s good and ready. She’s tougher than I am, and always will be. Chances are your mom’s tougher than you too. They were tough so we wouldn’t have to be.

Motherhood is taking care of business. It’s careening. It’s click-clacking through the house and caring what your kids watch after school. It’s bragging about them to people who don’t care. It’s making sure Taco Tuesdays happen on Tuesdays. It’s wanting to yell from the sidelines, stopping yourself, then yelling just a little bit. It’s deciding only to quit when you’re good and ready. Motherhood is being somebody’s number one fan.

This is just a snapshot of what Mother’s Day means to me…my hard working mom and hard-working mom-in-law Ruthie…two awesome broads who are taking care of business and loving their families fiercely. Mothers Day might be something else to you. A hard day. A sad day. Here’s to everybody out there who’s taking care of someone – showing compassion, working hard, putting on a bandage, listening, loving, praying, feeding, guiding, giving, hugging, bragging, and changing the lyrics when necessary.

My paradise is your prison: a trip to The Container Store

6 Feb

“Please don’t make us go. We’ll be so good starting right now. Please. Please. Please, don’t make us go.”

Where could I have been dragging the children, that was such a nightmare? What on earth could have evoked such desperation and sheer terror?

Not prison. Not a hard labor camp. Not the dentist. It was The Container Store.

While the children begged for clemency, I tried to contain how excited I was to have a perfectly valid, legitimate reason for going to The Container Store…not even one of my usual made-up reasons. I needed a laundry drying rack…. a big industrial-sized model, because I am never not doing laundry. I had nothing but the welfare of our family in mind. My last drying rack had just collapsed in defeat, a stack of plastic knobs and metal pipes, finally done in by the weight of yet another uniform, and another pair of jeans I was trying to preserve for their human occupant who was just going to fall in mud or grow two feet the next day, anyway.

I needed a drying rack because I still haven’t figured out all of the weird sporty, wicking fabrics the males in this house wear. The material of all that gym/basketball/baseball/running stuff feels so delicate, though I could probably dry all of it by running over it with a tractor and it would be fine. I didn’t need a dorm-sized drying rack. I needed the one that professional football teams use. I’m a professional.

They pleaded their case, but it wasn’t enough. We were going to the store whether they liked it or not, which is one of the necessary realities of childhood, and of parenthood, too.

Just that morning, they had already woken up to beautiful sunshine, had been fed pancakes AND hot chocolate, and then suffered through another store where I had unsuccessfully looked for a laundry rack, yet successfully found a new lasagna pan, a pan I would soon use to make them a lasagna. Quelle horreur!

The Container Store contains more containers than I could ever use in my lifetime. They are colorful, lovely boxes and bins and bags stacked to the sky, each representing the hope of what could be…beauty and order harnessing the chaos. I don’t think that’s what my kids see.

And I guess I see something different in the stores they prefer.

Those stores represent the hope of what could be for them…zombies to be pursued, goals to be made, races won. Two months before my drying rack quest, I went into the video game store on the release day of “Some game with Zombies,” and I vowed loudly, “never again.” I’ve waited on the sidewalk when they go in ever since. I go with John to those stores that sells TVs and phone cases and wires of every shape and size, and my eyes glaze over. If I fall behind and lose him, I wonder around, saying “John?” to all the other brown haired guys in khakis and button down shirts.

“Sorry. You’re not John.”

“Yes, I am John.”

“Not my John.”

You can’t make someone love The Container Store, and you can’t make someone love the wire store or the video game store. It turns out a 41-year-old mom is – often, not always – different than a 10-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy and a 42-year-old boy. And that’s fine, and that’s one of the reasons there are Girls Nights Out and Man Caves.

On that day in The Container Store, the boys knew what would happen, even when I didn’t. They knew I wasn’t just running in for an enormous best-drying-rack ever that would fill the car’s trunk. They knew it would be something else too. And there it was, the ultimate container…a huge plastic box designed to hold our artificial Christmas tree. The one they held on their laps without complaint as we drove the six minutes home.

 

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I’ve already vowed to hold the zombie game on my lap the next time we drive home from their store.

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sunburnt: a summer (cautionary) tale

9 Jul

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There are a few minor adult ailments that might be described as humbling. The first of the non-graphic variety rhymes with… tangover.

The second – a summer staple, perhaps next to the tangover – is the sunburn.

Maybe you are of Irish descent, and you have freckles, and you spent 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s summers with ineffective and/or expired SPF 4 slathered on your parts, only to have the lotion rinse immediately off on the first pass through the sprinklers, or with the first toe dipped in the pool, or with the first sweat broken. Maybe you decided you were better off with an unflattering oversized t-shirt covering your bathing suit – a shirt that became a 40-lb anchor once you jumped in the pool.

Maybe you are an olive skinned beach beauty who’s only had to look with pity at one of us less fortunate folks, roaming the sweltering grounds of the state fair, pink and defeated.

As a grown-up, I listen to my doctors. I wear sunscreen on my face every day. I wear a hat. I sit in the shade. I even went so far as to move to the foggy part of a notoriously foggy city. This ain’t my first rodeo – I’ve been burnt before. (I have been to a rodeo, but it was at night, so I was not actually burnt at the rodeo.)

I was burnt in the usual locales – the pool, the park, the passenger seat of a car, the driver’s seat of a car, the back yard, the front yard, and while sitting on a bench/blanket/lawn eating a sandwich/popsicle/cheeseburger.

In college and during that sliver of time in which I wore a bikini, my then-boyfriend/ now-husband and I uncharacteristically spent the day jet skiing on Lake Tahoe. It turns out Lake Tahoe is closer to the sun than I am used to. The jet-skiing part exposed enough parts of me – top, bottom, front, and back – to make sleep impossible as there was not one way to avoid resting on a throbbing purple and blistered patch of skin. I was out of commission for two days, calling in sick to my barista job, and freaking my mom out with sunburn fueled hallucinations.

In high school, I went to the mid-day Oakland A’s baseball game with friends.  Our upper deck seats put me at roughly the same elevation as Lake Tahoe. As I rode back home, rolling around in the back of my friend’s grandma’s old van, I knew I was in for a world of hurt. I couldn’t bend my knobby violently violet knees and the blisters were already presenting themselves. It was days before I could ride my bike.

Over the next 20 years my baseball outings were relegated to night games, or day games at the San Francisco Giants’ ball park where one usually freezes one’s rear end off, regardless of what weather is happening immediately outside the gates. But July 4, 2013 – armed with a hat, two tubes of sunscreen, and an additional precautionary spray from my friend Megan’s sunscreen can- I re-entered Oakland Coliseum at mid-day, ready for my show-down with the sun.

Our kids had been lined up in the parking lot and sprayed down with an additional protective layer of cream over their little faces, necks, and the oft-forgotten tops of ears.

Somewhere in the 2nd inning, I took off the knee brace that protects my wonky joint but makes my leg fall asleep when I sit for very long. Maybe it was my hops-based beverage in a souvenir mug. Maybe it was the nostalgic and patriotic delight of being with friends at a baseball game on the 4th of July. Whatever it was, I missed sun-screening my darn knee. On that day, in the stadium cleverly designed to focus the sun’s powerful rays on whatever seat my pale limbs occupy, the sun won.

Our friends from New Mexico emerged from the game looking as if they had been kissed by the sun. (Fun “fact”: New Mexico’s climate was designed to resemble that of the Oakland Coliseum, so they had the advantage going in.)

My little family unit walked to the car with 7 pink knees, and one familiar-looking, raging violet knee.  I knew I what I was in for.

Beginning with the failed attempt at prevention, your general sunburn experience might look a little like this:

  • You feel false confidence that you’ve done enough to protect yourself
  • As the sun goes to work on you, you remain blissfully ignorant
  • You congratulate yourself for wearing shorts and a tank top because it’s so hot
  • Your friend slides her sunglasses down her nose, peers at your afflicted area, alerts you to your pinkness, and pokes it with her finger
  • You put on another layer of sunscreen or move to the shade, knowing it’s already too late
  • You realize it’s going to hurt
  • It hurts
  • You wonder if it should really be as purple as it is
  • It hurts more than it did before
  • You vow never to wear a tank top and shorts again, let alone go in the sun
  • You love aloe
  • You love aloe so much
  • You consider filling the tub with aloe and sitting in there for a while
  • Nobody is allowed to touch you
  • You do not sleep
  • You can’t stop talking about your sunburn, as much as you want to
  • Your mom tells you not to worry, it will fade into a tan
  • You assure her that it most certainly will not fade into a tan
  • She remembers that she and your brother are the only family members who enjoy the “fades into a tan” phenomenon
  • You realize the burn does not hurt as bad as it did yesterday
  • It’s itchy now, a sure sign it will peel soon
  • It peels
  • It’s peeling and you feel like a lizard, and you have finally found the one thing that grosses out your boys so it’s kind of funny

All the while, and just like with a tangover (I’m guessing) you waiver between feeling sorry for yourself, and feeling like an idiot.

You should know better. You cooked your own goose. Or in this case, you cooked your own knees.

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* At the top is our actual sun prevention collection. It is strategically spaced through the house, so that by the time you reach the front door, you will have had three to four opportunities to remember it.

**This is me and my awesome friend Megan at that fateful game. I’m the one in the stripes. The one with the freckles. The one who’s legs are sizzling just out of frame.

tiny dancers: the show must go on…and on

28 Jun

Have you ever witnessed something that you immediately realized could only be experienced, and never adequately described?

I did, and let me describe it.

It was the end-of-the-year dance showcase that my youngest son just happened to be a part of. This dance extraveganza is a long-standing tradition for our neighborhood dance school and likely similar to shows in any town with a tap class and a kid with a dream.

Or maybe any town with a jazz class and a kid from one county over, where dancing isn’t allowed – so when Kevin Bacon the kid isn’t angry-dancing in the barn to the cassette in his tape deck, he’s sneaking over the county line to blow off steam the only way he knows how – with a kick ball change, pivot, barrel turn.

As for our 6-year-old, he simply wanted to unleash his hip hop moves onto an unsuspecting world. Just like most little boys are sure they are born naturals at martial arts, they are also “natural” breakdancers.

The first week in class, Zach realized his “natural” abilities could use some guidance and fine tuning, so week after week, he would run excitedly into the dance studio with his new buddies to grapevine, learn the snake and spin an imaginary record to JJ Fad’s classic, “Supersonic,” after the teacher with-the-patience-of-a-saint explained what a record was.

And week after week, the hip hop parents stood squished together in the hall watching every rehearsal through a window while complimenting each other for being way more chill than those other dance parents, like, oh I don’t know, maybe the ballet moms down the hall.

Weeks turned into months until the big day finally arrived.

With the costumes on, the hair done, and audience packed into the theater, the rest of the afternoon was uncomfortably out of our hands. There would be no last minute hugs or gentle reminders of which foot was in fact, the left one.

My older son Jacob sat next to me fidgeting in his seat undoubtedly uncomfortable with the acute lack of texting that was about to happen for him.

Every grandpa, uncle, neighbor, and big brother who flipped through the program, likely said, “Forty routines!! What the – can’t we just leave when MacKenzie/Avery/Abby is done?”

I couldn’t believe it either. I would not have exactly been first in line for a ticket if my kid weren’t in it. I have no patience for talent shows on TV. As a kid, I could hardly sit through an episode of “The Gong Show,” without having to leave the room when things got weird or uncomfortable. The embarrassment I felt on behalf of the contestants was simply too much to bear.

But, as the curtain rose, my breath caught in my throat, and in true Colleen fashion, the tears came. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and my own kid wasn’t anywhere in sight. He wouldn’t be for quite some time;  his 3-minute dance was 33rd in the line-up, near the very end of this 2+ hour operation.

But I didn’t have to know these kids to tear up for them.

From 3-year old cowgirls, to 10 year-olds tapping to Lady Gaga, and to the ethereal, lithe ballerinas who’d been training since they were the pint-size cowgirls – they showed the lucky ones in the audience what happens when you mix joy with talent and hard work.

These little stinkers were amazing.

Every dancer was shining up there. Jake, perhaps once the grumbliest of them all, sat transfixed. Maybe he was trying to understand the mechanics of tap dancing, or popping and locking. Maybe he was just noticing for the first time that a girl he’d known since 3rd grade, was not just a face in his class, but a truly talented, and graceful dancer… who was in like, 15 numbers. Jake leaned over during her 11th dance and whispered, “imagine how much money her parents had to drop on costumes.”

And there, close to the end, was Zach’s little group.  They were an instant hit, and danced their way through cheers and whoops and hollers. Sure, the Gen X parents went immediately bananas when they heard JJ Fad’s signature devastating beats; but these kids were not just cute,  they were having a blast, dancing their little hip hop-loving hearts out.

We didn’t buy tickets to see a parade of dance prodigies – the chances of these kids growing up to be professional dancers, were likely similar to those of the kids at any baseball field growing up to be Buster Posey. We didn’t even come to be entertained. We came to support our sweet, regular, goofy kids who happen to work very hard at their fun hobby – a hobby that also happily counts as exercise. We came to cheer and encourage and support. We came to be nervous for them, then excited, then relieved.

We also came because most of these kids can’t drive, and they needed rides.

Amelia Earhart: a girl and her freckles

3 Jun

ImageAfter an un-fun cycle of disheartening political news, economic news, and more cannibal news than there should be in a week, I was happy to see a very timely Amelia Earheart headline. Just like I will always read a story about Kate & Wills, or the year’s most popular baby names, I will always read about Amelia.

I’ve been keeping up enough to know an unfailingly patient/obsessed team of folks have been getting closer to solving the 75-year-old mystery of her disappearance. The headline teased that they’d made a new discovery on the remote island where they’d been focusing their search; the team unearthed something that surely belonged to Amelia.

By golly, this just finally might be it!

What did they find? Her flight log? Her signature cap? A diary full of her hopes and dreams?

The amazing clue? A jar of anti-freckle cream.

C’mon Amelia, not you! World-renowned aviator, off on your historic around-the-world flight, and what did you make sure to pack? Dr. C.H. Berry’s Freckle Ointment.

Something I did not know about Amelia – she hated her freckles and desperately wanted them to fade.  She had fame, glory and the adoration of the world, but those freckles just had to go.

I would not deny a lady the little luxuries that lift the spirit, especially on a desert island – a moisturizer, some sunscreen, a honey-infused lip balm – but when you are a modern day heroine with stuff to do, it’s time to own your freckles.

OK, so it’s no secret I have freckles. The spaces in between my freckles are not so much “alabaster” or “ivory” as much as they are, “see-through.” I wasted many years of my youth apologizing for it and covering it up with pants. Even with 100% percent humidity on an 8th grade summer trip to Washington DC, I was the one kid in pants, sweating profusely but pretending I wasn’t even hot, like, at all.

As an adult, it’s still not ideal –self-tanner continues to be a requirement as a public service – nobody needs to see my veins.

But I had Seventeen Magazine and MTV and modern day middle school to blame for my insecurities. I guess I just assumed Amelia would have been thinking about loftier things – I mean, she had known a time when women didn’t have the right to vote, for pete’s sake. But maybe  how American women think about themselves through the decades has not changed as much as we’d thought – for the better or worse.  Maybe we all at some level dream about the big, and fret about the small.

Sure, I might be a little bummed that someone like Amelia Earheart was hung up on her freckles, because freckles are great  (I tell myself and that charlatan Dr. C.H. Berry); but in one little discovery on one little island – I realized that Amelia is as much a modern woman as can be found today – gutsy and delicate,  brave and insecure, all at the same time.

Those aren’t qualities women aspire to, it’s just what we are, and what we’ve been throughout all of history. Maybe we can get rid of the “insecure” part when all of the girls of the world collectively decide that they’re tired of striving for the perfection that is always out of reach – whether by a lot or a little – and think about trailblazing, instead. One can blaze trails while still having freckles.

The beautiful pic of Amelia is from: http://www.americaslibrary.gov/assets/aa/earhart/aa_earhart_learns_2_e.jpg, and happily in the public domain.

oh, voir dire: the reluctant juror

24 Apr

“Does this outfit say, ‘poor decision making?’ Because that’s what I’m going for.’”

“Colleen,” said my darling husband, “you’re going to get picked, just because you so intensely want not to get picked.”

The 11-year-old gave me his advice at the breakfast table, “Smile a lot, but not a regular smile, a scary one; and don’t blink; oh and leave your hair like that,” he said gesturing at my wild morning mane.

Everybody had given me advice – bless their hearts – advice I in no way felt comfortable taking as it all involved total untruths; “Tell them you can’t sit very long. Tell them you’re racist. Tell them you bring with you the wrath of God.”

My number was quite literally up – I had jury duty.

After blithely and incorrectly assuming I would be excused by phone, I packed my purse with reading material, then as I do at the airport, proceeded to make a spectacle of myself at the courthouse metal detector.

“Ma’am, don’t put your purse in a bin.”

“Oh sorry, I do at the airport; should I take out the water bottle? I forget at the airport too-”

“No, that’s fine, don’t take off your jewelry – oh you already did – take off your belt then walk through with your hands over your head.”

“I’m still beeping.”

“It’s your boots.”

“Should I like, jump through the machine thing, or take the boots off? Do those go in a bin….like at the airport? Can I put my arms down? ”

 Close your eyes and picture “Jury Assembly Room.” Got it? Whatever image you conjured up is likely correct. Did you also imagine the emotionally unavailable clerk handing out questionnaires and clipboards? Yes, you did.

The last time I was filling out paperwork with total strangers en masse, I was taking the SAT, which is likely what brought out my competitive streak in the Jury Assembly Room.

Boom! Done!

I triumphantly turned in my paperwork – second! Second one done in that whole room of people!

I was all the way back to my seat when I realized I had made a potentially grievous error. What if my paperwork efficiency was the sign of an eager and capable juror? Perhaps I would have been better served by taking forever with it and acting confused.

The clerk came to the podium, and instead of giving out awards to the people who finished their paperwork first, he hit play on the VHS tape DVD of smiling former jurors telling us how fulfilled we were about to feel by the process.

The people watching the video with me were not smiling, nor obviously anticipating fulfillment.

There was a grown-up Sesame Street thing happening – there were as many people of different heights, ethnic backgrounds, and walks of life as you could fit in a room. I sat behind the nurse, and the plumber sat behind me, flanked by the elderly gentleman with the crossword puzzle, and a dude with a Big Gulp. The young guys with computer bags sat interspersed with ladies in business suits and ladies in sweat suits.

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“Yes, it’s an imposition on your time,” the judge said after our rag tag group had filed into her courtroom, “but it’s your duty as a citizen to serve, and if you ever need a jury, you would want someone to step up for you.”

Was she looking at me? Did she know I had considered the advice of an 11-year-old to get out of this? The judge was obviously a mother, because she knew right where to strike to make us squirm in our seats, look at our shoes, and feel bad for being such whiners.

She was right – we weren’t like those bums from jury groups 5, 6, 7 and 8 who were excused over the phone the night before. We were the jurors of groups 1-4! We had to cancel doctors’ appointments and hair appointments (that was me) and meetings to be there – we were outstanding citizens!

The sexiness of civic duty waned over the next three days however as we sat through voir dire, which is a much cooler way of saying jury questioning. We heard from an EMT, the nurse, a real estate agent, a bookkeeper, a financial analyst, a gaggle of scientists and retirees, a lifeguard who could not imagine a universe where he could be unbiased, a furniture salesman, two teachers, a liquor store owner, and a lady from the Teamsters Union who I also had lunch with. As a nosy curious person, this process should have been fascinating, but the questions were long, tedious, and repetitive – often ending with “Do you watch CSI?” and “Do you understand that CSI is a fictional show?” You’ll be happy to know, they did.

Our numbers dwindled until just a few of us remained, unquestioned and anxious, watching perfectly good jurors stream out of the room, excused. At break times we chatted about our work, shared harrowing tales of parking in the adjacent “Detention Lot” and whispered about who might be excused next. Everybody’s money was on the elderly lady in the glitter pants who was asleep on the bench by the water fountain, and who had already slept through a day and a half of questioning. She was excused – not for the sleeping, but more for answering, “Can you have an open mind?” with “No! Guilty! Go to jail!”

When I least expected it, I heard, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have our jury,” from the judge who motioned to the group that did not include me.

I gave a nod of goodbye and good luck to the Teamsters lady who sat in the jury box surrounded by the truck driver, three of the retirees, two of the scientists, the nurse, the liquor store owner, one of the teachers, and the furniture salesman.

I stepped out into the sunshine, feeling free and light and also wondering how I got to be so low on the selection list. Was it random? Was it because I worked at a church and was married to a pastor who had also attended some law school, which I absolutely made sure to mention during my awesome paperwork-completing on day one? I’m afraid that the most likely scenario is that somebody got his or her hands on the video footage of me trying to get through the metal detector.