Your head will collapse.

Music – The Eels – Love of the Loveless

My last three weeks, spent as prisoner of San Francisco’s criminal jury selection system, have been the worst of my entire time here in Our Foul City. Two months ago, when I received it, I had no idea one little computer-generated form letter could bring about such horror.

What a nightmare.

No legal infrastructure in this nation, no matter how awful and incompetent, can hold a candle to San Francisco when it comes to all-consuming despicably malevolent suckitude. Such horrors are not to be found anywhere else the stars and stripes fly; not in the darkest heart of LA county, not in the post-apocalyptic wastes of abandoned Detroit, not even in the deepest lynchmob-ridden South.

Show up every morning, riding the 27 down through the TL, crammed in alongside a biting, snarling mob of schizophrenics, hobos and battle-hardened transvestites.  Wait in an hour-long queue to get through a metal detector while bored bailiffs confiscate everything from pruning shears to anti-aircraft missiles from the scum lined up ahead of me.  Lurk around the dim and stinking corridors of the Bryant Courthouse all day, sitting through hearings and questionings and all manner of arcane legal rituals.  Huddle in the back of the courtroom, as far as possible from the cheap-suited lawyers, the depraved and dead-eyed cops, and the barking, jackal-looking judge. Get released at five in time to hike home up Seventh, running to get through the demilitarized zone between gang territories before the sun sets and the real freaks hit the streets.

Get up the next morning and do it all again. Day after day, week after week.

I saw a girl, a fellow jury-pooler, run screaming out a fire exit after being followed around for a half hour by some crazy toothless trenchcoated fucker who said he liked the “smell of her hair”.  And this was inside the courthouse.

I waited expectantly for the cops to rush up, guns drawn, and haul the guy away.  They looked up for a moment, irritated that their dirty jokes and mindless conversations had been interrupted. Nothing more.

The psycho crept along after the girl, out into the alley.

That was the first day.

Things only got worse.

——–

They called in two-hundred of us originally, for a jury of twelve.  Eighty or so got out by submitting outright lies on their hardship forms, feigning illness or insanity or incomprehension of English, or by slipping the clerks a fifty.

The judge threatened us who remained with fines, jail time, and public beatings if we failed to show up the next day.

“God help you”, she warned, “if you dare shirk your civic duty, because the SFPD never will.  You don’t show up for us, and we won’t show up for you, next time you call 911.” Then she cautioned us to not discuss the case with our loved ones, or “to park more than a block south on 6th.  Any car out of line-of-site from the courthouse is likely to be stolen, set on fire, or worse. Have a nice day.”

The lawyers slithered out the rear of the court while the rest of us surged for the doors, mumbling and cursing our bad luck.

Let me the hell out.

God what a horrible place.

——-

The second day, we waited outside the court for two hours.  A note on the door said to wait until called, as there was an unspecified delay.

More than a hundred taxpayers sitting idle, silent and unproductive, while the City’s court does whatever the hell it does behind closed doors.  Thousands of work hours, wasted.

This gave me ample opportunity to inspect my fellow jurors.

I looked across the rows of unpleasant faces and despaired.

If these motley motherfuckers truly represent a cross-section of San Francisco society I hope our little fucking peninsula collapses into the sea, because there’s no hope for us.

An uglier group of thieves, morons and dirtbags you never did see.  One woman shivered and shook, her face covered in pustules I can only assume were caused by smallpox or some other evil shit.  The judge’s threats had scared her so badly she’d risked death rather than slink back to her hospital bed. An eighteen year old girl, fresh out of high school and unaccustomed to the obligations of a legal adult, was crying softly, curled up on a bench.  I couldn’t blame her; this hell was no place for youth.

A gap-toothed, early thirties Asian woman next to me struck up a conversation.  She was sixth generation Japanese, knew no Japanese words outside of the names of sushi rolls and electronics brands, but was planning to tell the judge she “espoke no engrish.”

I asked her what she did for a living that she was so quick to lie her way out of jury duty.

“Oh I’m unemployed.”

“Really? Why not stick it out?” I asked.

She looked at me strangely, both amazed and disgusted.

“You’ve never done this before, have you?”

“Not in SF, no.”

“Then you have no idea.  When the chips are down, you do whatever you have to to get out of here.  You play whatever card you have to.”

“Hmm.”

“You’ll see.  I’ve seen people act racist, curse out the judge, all kinds of stuff.  One guy faked his own death.”

I was skeptical.

“You’ll see.  Wait a few days.”

The door to the courtroom finally opened, and she shoved her way in, up to the front.

—–

I thought about what she’d said while the judge and the lawyers droned on.  The Asian lady was called up and, answering questions in her painfully broken English, she was dismissed.

Think about it for a second.

To weasel out of jury duty not only fucks over the government, which is something most of us (read: I) can totally get behind, it also fucks over your fellow citizens.  It’s like cheating on your taxes or loopholing the welfare system; yeah it’s great to Stick It To The Man, but the buck just gets passed to some other poor fuck who may or may not be less deserving than you.  There’s collateral damage to consider.

I’m better than that, I thought.

At least I did on day two.

——

By the end of day four I was ready to do anything short of emigration or suicide to get out of that shit.  I searched for a Confederate flag I could wear as a cape.  I rehearsed longwinded paranoid tirades, declaring myself El Presidente and Dictator for Life of the New California Pagan Nation.  I stuffed my pockets full of alka-seltzer, planning to gobble a handful if called so I could fake a seizure or rabies or something.  I prepared myself mentally and spiritually to stand up in front of a hundred of my fellow citizens and declare that I believe everyone deserves a fair trial.  Except blacks.  Young, unmarried honkey bastards like me can’t play the Engrish card, or the breadwinner of the family card, but we can sure as hell play the racist card.  No public defender on earth will let a self-declared bigot sit on a jury.

I would burn with shame and disgrace to do that.  It runs against my every San Francisco Enlightened Liberal Treehugging Pacifist instinct.

But fuck, that lady was right.  I would totally go there.

Whatever it takes.

——

Every juror dismissed I hated with a pure and seething passion.  Fuck you backstabbing bastard motherfuckers for not getting picked, for going home while I have to stay here.  I glared at their smirking faces while they walked jauntily back up the aisle to freedom.  Die slow in a fucking fire you scum.

One by one, we were called up and asked the same thirty questions.  The same fucking inane topics were covered hour after hour, day after day.  In the middle of day five an elderly Chinese man who was called admitted that he was partially deaf, and hadn’t heard anything since day one.

A hundred of us sighed in exasperation.

MOTHERBITCH ARE YOU KIDDING.

The judge and the lawyers spent three hours going over the entirety of the shit they’d covered with him while the rest of us waited in hateful silence. They gave him big ass wireless headphones; he looked like he had black coffeecups nailed to his ears.

Do you understand the principle of innocent until proven guilty?

Have you ever been the victim of a crime?

Do you have any associations with law enforcement?

Have you ever interacted with the police? Can you recall each and every fucking traffic ticket you’ve had since you were 16?

Are you jsjkldskljsdflkjsfdjklfsdklsflsdfsdf

I hear the fucking questions over and over, even now.  In my fucking mind.  In my dreams at night.  They’re stamped on the inside of my eyelids and carved on my soul.

It got to the point where, while listening to the dyslexic half-blind Vietnamese court clerk slowly butcher all one hundred and twenty of our names on the roll every morning that I actively prayed for an earthquake.

That someone like me could be driven to pray, let alone pray for an earthquake, is testament to how INSANELY FUCKING UNBEARABLE the whole fiasco was. From start to finish.

And we came back, day after day, never knowing if we were going to be called, never knowing if we were going to be stuck in the court for months on end once the real trial began.

What if I get picked?

Oh fuck.

——

On day six, we arrived only to have the judge send us home after another two hour wait.

No explanation.

Come back tomorrow, she said.

—–

Day nine or so… I can’t recall… one girl snaps.  One of the few ‘normal’-ish people in the pool, and she absolutely loses it on the stands.

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?  WHY DON’T YOU PUT THESE QUESTIONS ON A FORM OR SOMETHING?  WHY MAKE ALL OF US RECITE THIS SAME CRAP OVER AND OVER?”

The judge started talking, trying to calm her down.  The girl would not be silenced.

“I UNDERSTAND YOU WANT TO BE FAIR TO THE DEFENDANT BUT JESUS, COULD YOU POSSIBLY FIND A WORSE WAY TO GO ABOUT IT?  BY THE TIME ANY OF US GET UP HERE WE’RE READY TO SEE THE POOR GUY BURNED AT THE STAKE IF IT MEANS WE CAN GO HOME.”

She was right of course, but her fellow jurors recoiled, shifting their seats away from her as though her madness were contagious.

“Miss, you need to consider…”

“NO. IT MAKES NO SENSE.  THAT LADY THAT JUST LEFT?  THAT HAD BEEN SHOT AND ROBBED LIKE NINE TIMES AND WAS RELATED TO HALF THE POLICE FORCE? SHE COULD HAVE TOLD YOU ON DAY ONE THAT SHE WAS UNFIT FOR A JURY JUST BY FILLING OUT A DAMN QUESTIONNAIRE. THIS IS NOT HOW THE AMERICAN LEGAL SYSTEM IS SUPPOSED TO FUNCTION.”

She was shrieking by this point, pounding on the little wall that stood between her and the rest of the court. The whole ineptitude and foulness and outrageous illogic of our situation had overwhelmed her, and the bailiff had to drag her out forcibly, tearing her sweater in the process.

I leaned over to the woman next to me.

“That’s some crazy shit.  I knew somebody would get pushed over the edge, but I’m certainly glad it was her and not me.” I said.

The woman scowled.

“Fuck that.” she said.  “That lying bitch staged it all so she could go home. I hope they tazer her ass out in the hallway.”

“How do you know she was faking, that she wasn’t just self-righteous enough to blow up like that?”

“Because I made the mistake of telling that whore my plan during a recess yesterday.  That’s my speech she’s giving.  Now I need to come up with a new idea.”

“Fuck.” I said by way of consolation.

We never saw the screaming girl again.

Tazered or not, the lucky bitch got out.

——

Just as the body sweats to keep cool without a conscious decision on your part, so the mind wanders to keep you from going bugfuck freakout crazy during jury selection.

I daydreamed a thousand different scenarios of escape.  Everything from tidal waves to alien invasions.  Not allowed to read or sleep or do anything but sit quietly for eight hours a day, I worked tirelessly to develop my latent psychic abilities.  The first day I tried to focus my powers to set the guy in front of me’s toupee on fire.  That was too difficult, so for the next three days I tried to read the prosecutor’s thoughts.  All I could glean at such a distance was empty static. Jibberish.

It may be that my psychic powers were functioning properly, but that the mind of a lawyer is simply to hideous and foreign a thing for my psyche to grasp.

—–

Sitting in the court, day after day I looked around me, furious and glaring.  Fuck you people. I hate you all.  Somebody’s gotta do this shit but it ain’t gonna be me.  The look was returned en masse.  There were no friends here, only alliances of convenience to be abandoned at the first sign of trouble.

Any one of us would trample any other in a dash for the door should we be excused.

Every sneering, spring-stepping shitbird that walked out the back doors after dismissal I despised.

Part of me wanted to get called and questioned, just to get it over with.  At least then I’d know whether I’d be stuck here for another god damn month.

On the end of the tenth day, around 4:30, an overweight Hispanic lady was dismissed after telling the court that she hated cops, feared all minorities including herself, was a certified sociopath, had persistent back pain, and was Amish. You lying bitch, I thought.

I could tell she had no back pain.

They called me up to replace her.

—–

Juror Number Three:

My name is Trevor.

I live in Nob Hill.

I have no prior jury experience.

I am unmarried but live with my girlfriend.

I am a network administrator and part owner of a martial arts academy.

My house was burglarized in 2004.

I worked for the District Attorney for five years.

My uncle was a cop.

I understand the principles of law the court has laid out before me.

I am a citizen of the United States, am of sound mind and body, and am fit to stand in judgment of my peers.

And I want more than anything to tell everyone in this courtroom to go screw him or her self and to go die.

—–

I answered all questions put to me by the judge and lawyers succinctly and articulately.  I stood when I spoke and did not stutter.  I appeared educated and intelligent despite having wasted three irreplaceable weeks of my life in jury purgatory.

And I was summarily dismissed.

Perhaps the People did not want someone so demanding on their jury.  Perhaps the Defense wanted to avoid someone with governmental associations. We may never know.

Frankly, I could give a fuck.

I snatched up my backpack and, looking over to the girl and guy I’d sat next to and made small-talk with over the last weeks, dashed out the door with nary a fucking glance back.  The girl, Margarita, my ‘friend’, flipped me off as I shoved out the door and I returned the favor.

Fuck you too lady.  I’m out.

—–

I ran down the flights of stairs and out into the street, shoving past greasy attorneys, slouching BO-smelling cops and broken-spirited jurors.  I gulped a deep breath of smoggy, urine-twinged air out on Bryant, overcome with joy to simply be free.

Never have I been so excited to go to work.

—–

I read somewhere that the largest life form on Earth was a fungus.

Not a blue whale or a redwood tree or whatever, but a fungus.  Most of it underground, invisible, like an iceberg.  The places where it breaks the surface, the little knobs or mushrooms or whatever the fuck, people used to think these were independent organisms. But no.

It spans thousands of acres. Miles and miles of fungus.

I imagine what it looks like.

Endless and yellow and putrid, an amorphous blob just below the surface.  The sheer size of the sick thing boggles your fucking mind if you think about it, but to walk along the ground above it you’d see no part of it but a random mushroom or two, poisonous and noxious but easily avoided.

As horrid and vast as that fungus thing is, the Government of this horrible place we call home is twice as bad and ten times as big.  Walking the streets you encounter nothing but a mushroom or two growing out of the muck; a courthouse here, a post office there, a police station or two…

Little do the citizenry know that these institutions are all just pieces of the same foul fucking bureaucratic superorganism growing just beneath the surface, bloated and bubbling and rancid.

And the thing, infinitely massive and wrong, stretches far far beyond the boundaries of our city.  Wherever you go, it’s beneath your feet, feeding and excreting and devouring. Always growing.

Some day the Bureaucracy Fungus will have consumed all there is to consume, all resources and organic matter, and then the monster will slime its way up out of Earth’s gravity well and take off into space, leaving behind it a lifeless dusty rock.

That’s what I learned in three weeks of interaction with the SF legal system.

—–

It’s hard for me to describe exactly why the jury experience was so terrible.  Free of it, back in my room away from all the ugliness, it’s easy to be coy and sarcastic.

But seriously, it was fucking horrible. In every way.  Every person there was terrible.  Even myself.  You step through those doors into that hulking retro-futuristic 1960’s court building and it you metamorphasize into something less, something selfish and gutless.

The San Francisco we interact with on a daily basis is such a fractional microcosm of the reality.  This town is not the bustling metropolis full of happy-go-lucky artists, stockbrokers, and yuppies we think it is.  They are hopelessly outnumbered.  Down at the courthouse you realize just how many miserable worthless inhuman fucks there are in this town.  And there is no distinction between the lawyers and the judges and the defendants and the jurors other than what god damn chair they sit in.

The guy whose trial I was in on supposedly robbed four liquor stores at gunpoint, and he seemed like the most likeable, decent person in the god damn room.

Every hoop we jumped through was more pathetic, every ritualized step we took was more petty and awful. My first reaction was pity, pity for everyone force to visit this temple of ugliness on a daily basis, but that shit wore off in about ten minutes and I just began to hate everyone instead.

Having experienced it firsthand, I can tell you without a doubt that the SF court system is the most byzantine nightmare of a shitshow in the United States. It is without peer in its horrors.

And to top it all off, the complete fucking inneffectualness of it was staring us RIGHT IN THE FACE.  Every prospective juror was asked if they’d been a victim of a crime, and out of the seventy or so I saw interviewed, FOUR had not.  FOUR. No exaggeration.

Every other juror had been mugged, raped, shot at, stabbed, robbed or burgled.  In San Francisco.  The police don’t even bother keeping up appearances any more.  Car burglaries have ascended from commonplace to ubiquitous.  One juror, a woman journalist from the Haight, saw a guy gunned down in cold blood in the Fillmore.  The cops got a perfunctory statement from her and nothing more, no descriptions or followups or anything.

But they’ve got time to threaten us with jailtime for not driving down here for fucking jury duty.  They’ve got time to have twelve court staff read back three days worth of notes to a deaf Chinese immigrant (who is GUARANTEED to be excused anyway) while our cars are getting broken into in the god damn police parking lot across the street by crowbar-wielding fiends.

Every facet of the thing sucked in every conceivable way and god help you if you ever get called for jury duty in this horrible city.

The building smells like burned hot dogs mixed with septic tank.

But hey, at least I earned $52.50 for three weeks.  That almost covers my bus fare.

Motherfuckers.

The only way I’ll ever set foot in that courthouse again is in handcuffs.

-T.

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