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Presiding Juror (Part 3)

In a criminal trial on television, like in a fictional drama, or a less-than reenactment, writers manufacture the building conflict and shocking revelations that are appropriate for a 44-minute show. We may see some objections or motions, usually ones that are related to the “ripped from the headlines” twist, but most we get the banner testimony from the star witness, or a sudden confession from the killer. The worst damage taken in this case in Walla Walla was an unsuspecting mailbox, so we were orders of magnitude less dramatic than the average storyline on Law & Order. But there were still moments of tension between the attorneys, who battled back and forth over a few issues like old friends squabbling over the size of a rainbow trout caught a decade earlier.
Stephanie was something of a lightning rod for the case. She was, after all, the owner of the runaway vehicle, and the individual asserting that Skyler Glasby was all to blame for the litany of crimes that took place that cold January evening in College Place. April King—I mean, Lisa Simpson’s Human Counterpart—walked us through Stephanie’s experience in the car and afterward, but it looked like the tooth-pulling experience that many parents have with their teenage daughters who answer everything with, “I dunno.” Many of Stephanie’s responses on direct were vague, spoken through clenched teeth, or told with a shrug. LSHC asked for more details, but they didn’t come. On cross examination from Downtown Julie Brown, Ms. Adele remained circumspect. According to her Skyler knew where he was going, ending up at some purpose at the old landfill site.

After the cross-examination, LSHC called her back to the stand. Read More…

Presiding Juror (Part 2)

When last we left our intrepid Walla Walla courtroom, a jury had been at last selected for the trial of State of Washington vs. Skyler Glasby. Twelve jurors and one alternate were ready to dive into the case, all with stenographer’s pads and freshly sharpened number two pencils at the ready. The judge looked at us, seeming to assess each of us as individuals. Five of us had on purple clothes. Three were men. All of us were white. Every single one, white. Eight of us wore glasses. We had discussed, with the judge and attorneys for each side, our understanding of “reasonable doubt,” the unrealism of NCIS, CSI, and Criminal Minds, the weighing of disparate testimony, and the gravity of our responsibility to remain fair and impartial.

Walla Walla courthouse in the 1920s: postcardHe gave us a look, tilted his head to one side, and then told us we would be breaking for lunch.

“The trial will begin with opening arguments,” he said, and it was clear he’d said this hundreds of times before. “We will begin at 1:30, so be back in the jury room at 1:15. My standard is that if you are here fifteen minutes early, then you are on time.”

Okay, tight ship there, bucko, I thought. This made him my people, this little insistence on punctuality. This is my cloth, and I wear it well.

We stood in the jury room for a couple of minutes, waiting for the bailiff to let us out.

“So how many children do you have,” Juror Number 3 asked the woman in purple paisley. The defense attorney had asked her a question during voir dire as if she had 18 kids at home. I admit, I was curious.

“Five,” she said. Read More…

After 42 Years, I Still Don’t Have the Answer to the Universe

The older I get, the less I realize I know. Let’s face it, it would be challenging to find me more self sure than when I was 9 years old, during which age I’d insist it was not only possible to have all of the knowledge in the world in one human brain, but also that I would accomplish the feat. Such precociousness! Turns out that knowledge gathering is onerous, filled with all this foundational base stuff before anything really fascinating comes up. Want to master painting? Here’s a lesson on perspective. Love to know French? First you have to learn elementary vocabulary and grammar rules. Nobody jumps to particle physics without first hearing about that Sir Newton dude and the apple on his head.

So perhaps patience has been an issue of mine, in that like, I have little of it. At least my expectations for most everything else have drifted toward the realistic. I can’t know everything. I can in fact only know the tiniest shavings of a thing, and my ability to understand those droplets is fallible, mutable, susceptible to the flaws of memory and time and that foundational perspective. Yet in this knowing about knowing I can at least scrape together a little honesty. It is something of a conduit to my own humility, and in great contrast to my previous certainly about my intellectual prowess. So thank you, meta-knowing. Read More…

The Small Town HIV/AIDS Organization

walla walla wheat fields combinesShe comes in, won’t make eye contact with me. I have to hold my breath so I can make out what her mumbles mean. But before I’ve had time to process the low tones of her language, I know why she’s in my office: She wants to get tested for HIV.

There’s definitely shame in the eyes of the people who come here looking to exchange their used syringes for new ones, but oftentimes they’re so desperate to be done with me that there’s nothing halting about their speech or presentation. The folks worried they’ve got the granddaddy of sexually transmitted diseases well, they have a reason to put off the potential certainty of a diagnosis. Those exchangers are all too anticipatory, and it is a readily accessible difference that I can assess inside of five seconds.

No matter the need of a given individual, I put on my most reassuring face. Get professional, avoid any hint of judgmental snark or attitude. In most engagements, they’ve spent copious amounts of time beating themselves up for their behavior, their mistakes, their bad decisions. I’m not one for piling on. Read More…

Seek and Reclaim

BR catalogI love cargo pants. I love cargo pants almost as much as I love ye olde sweater vests, but trousers receive decidedly less attention from my friends and family. Maybe it’s because they’re in neutral tones, or situated too far from my face, the area where people look when we’re conversing. Peripheral vision only extends so far. In any case, I have several pairs of cargo pants, and I’ve owned at least one pair since Banana Republic sold its wares out of a hand-drawn catalog. I like them not because I have some strange affection for marsupial pouches, but because I don’t like having stuff in regular pants pockets; it’s more comfortable to keep my wallet in a bigger pocket that pressed against my hip or ass cheek.

Until yesterday, cargo pants had always been good to me. Until yesterday.

Left pocket stores my iPhone, right pocket my wallet. Lanyard goes around my neck with my office pass key, and my keys are either in my ignition or on a table nearby. I only put keys in my pocket if I’m out somewhere, walking, and even then, I’ll try to find a spot for them off my person if I can (read: baby stroller drink cup holder). But as my pants have aged the kangaroo pockets have gotten more pliable, and when sitting in my car, a couple of times I’ve felt my phone slip out and fall to the floor. I hadn’t identified it as a general problem, and that is on me. Because when I was running from the office to home on my way to an HIV testing fair, it slipped out, only this time it found the pavement in the parking lot rather than the floor of my Honda. I drove away and didn’t notice it missing until I crossed the threshold at home, giggling at Emile in his high chair. I patted my pockets once, twice. Wallet in my right hand. Where was the phone?

Now then, I presumed I’d left it on my desk at work. When I’d run out the door to the car, I had a stack of folders for taking down testing and specimen information, a fist full of HIV tests, a few pens, a paper sack filled with condoms, lube, and dental dams, and a banana. It was more than likely that in all of my flusteredness I simply forgot the little white iPhone. As I bundled up the baby and took his diaper bag from Susanne, I reminded myself to log on to the computer in the student center (where I’d be doing the testing), and email my case manager to ask if he could find my phone back at work. Nope, not here, he said. Read More…

Lighting the Uh-Oh

Emile has lived through a holiday season once before, but last go around, he didn’t notice much of it. Holding up a 14-month-old to a Christmas tree bursting with colored lights is a bit like holding a moth up to the sun, except for the lack of fluttering. For me it just isn’t December if there’s not a tree bedecked with garland and sentimental ornaments, but we worried about setting anything up in the same space as our new walker of the household. I hatched a plan to hide the tree behind our click-clack futon so that until Emile learns to climb, direct access would be prevented. This also means that the lowest third of the tree is obscured by black vinyl, but whatever, for the wee one this Kmart brand 6.5-foot tree is like an amazing magical fortress.

Now then, for the sake of context, let me point out that for a 14-month-old, Emile is quite verbal. His vocabulary now includes the following:

  • Ow
  • Mama
  • Dada
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Woof (usually said to dogs or puppies)
  • Meow (usually said to cats or dogs)
  • Hi (his actual first word)
  • ‘Lo (short for hello, usually said to anything resembling an electronic device, always positioned in his hand at the back of his skull where naturally these devices reside)
  • Uncle
  • Apple (used for apples but also oranges and pears)
  • ‘Nana (for bananas, not grandmothers)
  • Bye-bye
  • Mwah (said in conjunction with a blown kiss)
  • No, or no-no-no (said with increasing frequency)
  • Yesh (often said with a nod that makes my heart explode because cynics like me can’t handle the cute)
  • Uh-oh Read More…

Of Larvae and Vomit

big pile of candy cornPerhaps every day comes with its own set of expectations–if we’re looking forward to a particular event, those expectations are probably higher, and conversely, if we are dreading something on the calendar, well, one won’t ask for much from that day. We may have most or least favorite days of the week. There could be influences mediating our expectations more generally, like fighting through depression or riding a high from a recent success. If I were a master mathematician, I would write out an equation to explain these shifting thresholds, but I think we all know I balk at calculus. Actually, I can barely spell “calculus.” It’s not an easy word to type on a standard QWERTY keyboard.

This Monday really didn’t have much of a chance, as I knew I’d be saying goodbye to my mother and stepdad after their visit to our home. The shared birthday celebration last weekend, recreational board game quality time, wine tasting tour, and US Open Tennis Tournament cheering was all coming to an end, so really, September 10 didn’t stand a chance.

Even by the anemic standards set for today by my personal immediate past, Monday fell far short.

Yes, the family photographs on the front lawn in the early morning sun–under our weeping birch tree, Susanne clad in a housecoat and pajama pants–was nice and bittersweet. Emile is a dedicated giggler in the hour after his morning meal. I waved goodbye to my folks and aimed the car at my office. I swung by a popular vendor for espresso drinks, and pulled into the parking lot at work.  Read More…

Singing the Body Electric Fence

electric fence and horsesIt is an understatement to say I’ve spent quality time around horses. I hung out at Tara Stables in New Jersey as long after a riding lesson as I could; I’d go for 1- and 2-hour rides with friends in the forests around the Delaware River Valley, and twice I went to horse camp. Because once necessitated a sequel, I suppose. I learned how to ride horses in the Western and English styles, and I took a horse riding class in college as my one and only “fun” class in 120 credits of my undergraduate career. As a tween I drew horses for hours and collected small statues of the animals in the way that kids are strangely encouraged to identify hobbies.

I even helped a horse give birth when the colt was breech, because at 14 I had gangly sticks for arms, and the large animal veterinarian directed me on how to help the baby turn, which unsurprisingly, was a messy process.

I’ve washed horses, groomed horses, shoveled horse manure (which I used at one point in a practical joke against two Syracuse U. students who were trying to put one over on me), fed horses, baled hay, been kicked, thrown, stomped on (this is the value of steel toed boots), and entered riding contests. I know how to properly saddle a horse in both styles, and take off horse shoes. In addition to plain old riding, I have logged copious hours at the track and by the age of 7 I knew how to handicap thoroughbreds and read both betting and tip sheets (even though after a decade of playing the piano, I’m still pretty rough for reading music).

After all of this vast experience, it was entirely unexpected that in showing Emile his first up-close, real life horses, I would lean too close to the electrified fence wire and shock myself. Emile, two feet behind me and secure in his $300 stroller, looked at me quizzically. Read More…

Requiem for Breathing

really dirty sinkCollege students, future generations of professional leaders that they are, do not have a reputation for stellar hygiene. Rather, they are known for being something of a dirty population–prone to sudden expectoration after an evening of imbibing beverages, rolling out of bed unwashed in order to make it to class on time, and giving their undergarments a second act of wearing before laundering. They are, after all, college students. They are known to be broke.

Because they have this sordid reputation, and because my wife and I both have been ourselves college students, we have something of a defense system in place to protect our offspring from the side effects of contact with dirty folks, namely, communicable disease. She accepts electronic papers from her students. I refrain from getting within two feet of any student volunteer at my agency, especially during flu season. As Emile is not yet capable of blowing his nose, our goal is to avoid upper respiratory infections whenever possible. I’m a fan of hand washing, although the skin on my hands is not. Read More…

The Worst Jobs I’ve Ever Had

Blockbuster store frontWriting books for a living looks like a great gig, from the outside. Well okay, it is. To be realistic, it’s a lot of work done over a period of years for no money, which is less than great. It also demands constant vigilance to one’s capacity for excellent time management, which yes, can put a damper on actually writing things. It’s a job in which self doubt and not office politics is on the ready to stifle productivity–and one gets familiar with the push-pull of internal conversations about choices, strategies, projects. All of this to say is, writing isn’t a perfect career, but it has its very nice moments.

For sure, I’ve had my share of stink-ass jobs. You know the ones–they make you change whole vocational paths, send you back to school or new training, haunt your dreams, make you leave a cart of groceries in the store because oh no, that jerk from three jobs ago is in the next aisle, talking as loudly as ever. Not every job qualifies for this list. Garden variety crappy jobs need not apply. Read More…

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