180 Degrees

Who likes Jury Duty? Well it’s not me, thank you very much. Especially since I live in Camden County, NJ. The courthouse is in the city of Camden, and for those of you who have never been to this HELL (watch how this word shows up later), Camden is like a cancerous polyp on the state of NJ. I’m not kidding. The energy there is frightening, and needless to say it’s not on my top ten list of places to visit. But like it or not, I had to go there yesterday.

All week long I meditated and envisioned myself not getting called for jury duty. But when I went on the web site to see if my number was picked the night before, my heart sank. I had to go. Now I was pissed. I even had a mini-meltdown. Why? For one, I do not like being forced into doing anything that I don’t want to do. And secondly, I had a catalog that was under a very tight deadline and could not afford to miss a day at work, and I was also working on a novel with a tight deadline. Honestly, I needed a break, but Jury Duty was not my idea of one.

I got up early and drove to the Speedline Station in Lindenwold to take the train into the city. But when I got there I didn’t realize they had put in all new ticket machines. And for the life of me I didn’t know which button to push or which slot to insert what. It was all very confusing. The guy behind me noticed my distress and offered to help. I handed him a $20 to put in the machine and he said, Do you have anything smaller? No, I replied. Well, he said, you’re gonna get all change. It was too late to go to the bank, so I was just going to have to use my $20 and carry around a lot change. And then another man waiting in line offered to give me $2, and I accepted it with gratitude and bought my ticket. (The reason I’m bringing this up is because I became aware of the support that was around me despite my very grumpy state that morning).

The train dumped me into Camden and I hurried (ran) to the courthouse. Lingering for any length of time in this city can be dangerous to one’s health. It wasn’t long before I got called for the first round of jury duty (you can be recycled all day long). A bunch of us pile piled into the elevator that would take us to the fifth floor to hear a Criminal case. The officer manning the elevator reminded me of a character that belonged on the set of The Adam’s Family T.V. show. Short, pasty, and eyes that said he liked to pull the wings off of insects.

And, of course, don’t I start a conversation with him and blurt something inappropriate out? Well yes, I did!

“So, are you taking us all to HELL?” I chuckled.

He looked at me with a deadpan face, and said, “I thought we were already in HELL?”

Everyone on the elevator burst out laughing. Well, we are in HELL, I mean Camden, right?

I proceeded into the courtroom and the officer inside directed us to sit down in several of the rows in the back. The Judge told us briefly about the case and mentioned that it would run through Friday. Oh crap! I can’t be picked. I’ve got the catalog to do. I noticed some people getting excused for work related issues and although I was afraid to say something (I’ve met judges in the past who were quite nasty and did not take any excuses), I made myself do it anyway. I told him that jury duty would interfere with the catalog that I was in the middle of and he excused me—just like that! I couldn’t believe my luck.

I got out of there quick, in case he changed his mind, and headed back to the jury waiting room, turned in my badge, got my letter and left. I was FREE and had the rest of the day to myself. Once I got back to my car I headed for my favorite coffee house and worked on my novel for a few hours, then grabbed some pizza for lunch. Later, I went for a swim in the pool and basked in the sunshine and my unexpected day off.

hell gateLater that night, I joined my Mom and niece for a ‘concert on the green’ at the old Whitman House (the historic summer residence of Walt Whitman) in my hometown of Laurel Springs. During the concert I went into the house and climbed the narrow stairs into the attic to take a look at the antique toys on display. Against the wall to my right were a few toy buildings and a bridge that looked exactly like city of Camden. And written on the bridge was HELL GATE. Well, well what kind of synchronicity was this? I could only smile as I took a picture with my Blackberry and think of how my day had turned around 180 degrees. HELL, it seemed, had turned out to be only a state of mind.

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