We were having a bad day.
Brooklyn was a snowy wonderland, and we were inside, getting mad at each other. Nothing worked right. The place was a mess. We should clean more, we should be more organized, but there's never enough time. We were in each other's way, because there's not enough space, never enough space, and we yelled. Then we hugged and apologized and then discussed our rational and well-thought-out points which devolved into more yelling, and then a second round of hugs (shoved together by Henry, who had really had enough of our behavior). We retreated to our corners. We pledged to be better in the future.
Outside the sky was turning bright, and there was all this snow, crying out to us, SLED ON ME. Now. Jerks. It was time to cheer up. Because: snow! Last year it never snowed, after all, and the sled sat in our upstairs hallway, whimpering softly to itself. Personally I loathe sledding, but the men in my family want nothing more than to hurtle down slopes, and I like to watch them and wring my hands.
We layered up and trudged outside, where the fun times could be had. Only, Henry's boots were bothering him. We're a few blocks to the park, but every few feet we had to stop so Henry could examine and adjust his boots. He was pretty grouchy about it. He kept taking them off. We were losing our patience. Everything, I thought, is terrible. We are incapable of joy. Around us all the happy families were passing us on their way to the park or back from the park, laughing, holding their sleds, probably going home to whip up artisanal hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.
One block, two blocks. The wind was gusting in our faces. The seventh time Henry stopped to adjust his socks I wondered why we bothered going out, ever. Why everything had to be so fucking hard. I sighed heavily and Scott cursed under his breath and Henry was, I am sure, heartily sick of both of us.
Finally we got to the park, where everyone in the universe already was, and all having a delightful time. No one seemed to mind that they were sharing a relatively small hill in the park with everyone else in the universe. People were crashing into each other, sledding into each other, squealing and cheering. I stood up there, watching them all, wondering how they stood it.
There ensued some complicated sledding adventures. Complicated because there was too much humanity present on the hill to actually sled, and also the boots. THE BOOTS. By the time we left I was sure I had gone terribly wrong, not just in one area of my life, but every single one of them. Henry insisted he could barely walk, and he was being pretty dramatic about it, and I thought, this is because of the morning we had. Because I lost my shit and yelled loudly enough for the neighbors to wonder about me. I have literally hobbled my son.
When we got home I took a close look at his boots. Turned out they were TINY. Because the last time we needed snow boots it was 2010. They were at least two sizes too small. We didn't hobble our child emotionally. WE HOBBLED HIM WITH SMALL BOOTS.
Then we ordered him a pair of new boots, put on a movie, drank hot cocoa, and had a perfectly lovely day.
It occurred to me later on, Small Boots is every imaginary problem I torture myself with. Every dilemma I'm sure is insoluble, but could be fixed, if I dedicate some energy to focusing on solutions instead of the problem. And really, we have no big problems. We need a few feet more space, a few hours in the week. Boots can be purchased; time can be found; a few household-management changes can keep us from blowing up after a stressful week. It's all Small Boots. I'm no life coach, and I promise not to make this my catchphrase, but you have to admit, it has a ring to it.
Entries in brooklyn (9)
We were having a bad day.
We have our own roof deck. It's pretty great. We tell people in Brooklyn that we have a private roof deck, and they look at us like we just admitted that our home is made of titanium and the walls are covered in jaguar pelts. Any other part of the country, you show them a deck this size and they're like, "Wait, how do you fit your above-ground pool on that?" Then we tell them we only have one bathroom and they try to fling themselves off the deck. It's not that high up, guys, you're just going to break something.
Anyway, I went up there this morning to do a little watercolor, drink a little coffee, feel superior to those poor deck-less schmucks around us, the usual. I was going to paint the view, or the birds, or whatever, but what I ended up painting was...this.
This, in case you can't read the caption, is the Mysterious Chimney that Belches Black Smoke. I call it that because it's a chimney, it belches black smoke, and we don't know why. Mystery! It's not part of our building, or we could ask the landlord, "Say, landlord--what sort of carcinogenic substance is being horked out of that chimney of yours every few minutes? Incidentally, how long do we have to live?"
I have never seen anything like it. Every twenty minutes or so, smoke starts to billow out of it, and you think it's going to stop, but it gets blacker, and then you're thinking, "Hold up, that's unreasonable," and then it gets blacker, and you're like, "Say, me, should I run until I can never stop running?" and then it gets blacker still, and then a solid mass of blackness gloops out and up and dissipates in the air and spreads across the sky above you and then you're probably inhaling alien spores and will soon become a Space Zombie. (I've been watching Doctor Who with Henry.) It's…unhealthy-looking. I'm surprised and grateful that we don't have Black Lung Disease. Yet.
The one bright spot in this weird chimney-that's-eerily-adjacent-to-our-home-and-ps-will-kill-us-all problem is that whenever we have visitors on the deck and it starts, we get to see their reaction. They go from surprised to concerned to horror-vomiting, and it's so fun! P.S. Not really clear on what "fun" is. Is it when you get to use a mop?
Seriously, it's been an area of concern, but the good news is that ever since Spring arrived and we've been back up on the deck, we haven't seen any black smoke. None. Which means the chimney was cleaned up, or they've stopped making human-meat-pies (the best pies in Brooklyn!), or something. Or they're not ready to announce a new Satanic Pope yet. I'll keep you updated.
"A roller coaster ride of boredom, horror, hilarity, and sociopathic behavior!"
--pullquote from the imaginary review for my upcoming movie, "Grand Jury: No, It's Not Like Regular Jury, There's Not a Trial, It's…Forget It, Just Forget It."
Well, that happened. For two weeks I was trapped in a windowless room, either falling asleep waiting for a case or listening to an an exhausted ADA listing 48 separate charges that sounded suspiciously alike; trying not to sympathetically break down along with any number of traumatized witnesses; or silently pleading with my associates to stop engaging in asinine fights with each other during deliberations. One of my fellow jurors on the last day observed, "This was like the worst summer camp ever." Worst summer camp ever, or BEST? I would rather do just about anything than go back to summer camp, but then I was never much for "team sports" or "deer ticks."
Actually it wasn't that bad. (I went to drama camp! Can you tell?) Sure, it was occasionally harrowing and often dull, and sure, far too many restroom-users seemed to be incapable of flushing (or was this some form of civil disobedience?) but I got to meet a fascinating array of people, the vast majority of whom were committed to sussing out the facts in each case and doing the right thing. Plus, we had laughs. Oh, but there were laughs!
I was determined in the beginning not to a) talk to anyone or b) like anyone but their charms were too much and by the end we were having lunch together and chatting during coffee breaks. Then the talk began of maintaining friendships beyond our duties, and I pretended to take an emergency phone call. Because either a) I have enough friends for whom I don't have enough time, or b) I am a terrible person. Take your pick!
I mean, they were great and all, but I wanted to get back to my regular life. On the last day one of the assistant district attorneys informed us that the grand jurors always went out on the last night, and invited their favorite ADAs. (You meet a ton of them.) (Yes, you have favorites.) I suspect this was a ploy designed to get them free drinks, and anyway the last thing I wanted to do was go out. The first thing I wanted to get the hell out of there. When we were all officially released I could not tear ass from the building fast enough. I literally backed out of the room and if anyone had caught me I would have pretended I was going to the bathroom. Where I would have flushed, because maybe I'm not nice but I am also not an animal.
This is my first jury duty stint and I was pretty anxious about it. This is unsurprising, as I am anxious about everything. I like to know exactly what I'm getting myself into. I want to get all the rules straight, I want to know what the protocol is. I don't want to wander around all confused or show up in the wrong room or I DON'T KNOW WHAT. I don't like not knowing where the ladies' room in a restaurant is. Where they are paid to be nice to you. What if I get lost and pee in the kitchen? Before I even leave my seat I demand a map or detailed reassurance from the waitstaff. (I am always their favorite.) So the idea of going somewhere where overworked, embittered city employees would be barking orders at me (I guessed) and maybe I'd do something wrong and they'd be all MA'AM. MA'AM, THAT DOOR IS FOR EMPLOYEES ONLY MA'AM. And everyone would stare at me, the Jerk who Doesn't Know How Doors Work, and then I would pee myself. (Apparently many of my anxiety-fueled fantasies involve pee.)
What has been unexpectedly delightful about jury duty is how 1) so many other people totally disregard any of the rules or standards of behavior, and how 2) utterly accustomed to this the staff is. I mean, the attorneys seem perky enough, but the court wardens all have this expression you can only get from listening to the same stupid-ass question you've answered a trillion times that day. They're done being annoyed. They all have these kindly exhausted faces that seem to imply that if you peed yourself in front of them (there I go again) they'd only sigh and gently remind you that peeing should only occur in designated pee-places and to please not pee again anywhere but in the designated pee-places. And then the juror next to you would pee herself, just for the hell of it. Just because she's annoyed that you got to do it and she didn't! Why should you get all the fun?
So although I'm exhausted, I'm enjoying myself. The hours may be long (I did not expect 10-11 hour days, I'll tell you what), the endless cases may be pretty damn depressing, but this is people watching at its finest. Where else can I get this? Usually my interaction with humans I am not related to or friends with is limited to school pickup and the occasional chit-chat at the gym, coffee shop, or with a fellow dog owner. Now I am wading in humanity! Awesome, terrible humanity!
Before I get started with this, because no one I talk to seems to know: "grand jury" does not mean "super-fantastic jury." In a grand jury, you hear many cases, and in each one you vote whether or not each case is going to go to a court. So you wait around until an assistant district attorney comes in and presents you with a case, you hear testimony, you vote, bam, next one. There's no judge in the room. Which, to the more vocal of my fellow jurors, seems to mean THE RULES DO NOT COUNT.
Also, unlike a regular old jury, no one is dismissed at the outset. NO ONE. There's no getting out because "this case is about a car theft and I'm married to a car" or "I don't trust the police and also I think my dog speaks human talk straight to my brain." Everyone's in. So imagine how many different brands of lunatics can show up in any given grand jury. Lucky for me, I've got them all! (At least the harmless kinds. I hope.)
I love my nutball fellow jurors, I really do. Sure, plenty of the others are thoughtful and brimming with mental health, but how can I write about them? I'd rather tell you about the kooks. Oh, my friends, I want to kiss them on their adorable mouths! From whence the crazy sounds come!
Anyway, as I was saying, I think a judge would put these goofs in their respective places, but that would be no fun, and neither the assistant district attorneys nor the court wardens seem especially keen on laying down the law (so to speak) when it comes to appropriate behavior.
For instance: cell phone conversations. During testimony. You would think that would be frowned upon, yes?
Oh, it is. AND YET! On the first day, a phone rings during testimony. It belongs to a juror behind me, an elderly lady who has spent most of our down time between cases snoring so hard I'm afraid she has apnea and might pass away. A witness is on the stand, and this juror's phone goes bonkers. Not only does it ring, it rings LOUDLY and with VERVE. She loves her Broadway showtune ringtone her grandnephew programmed on her phone, and damned if she's not going to enjoy it when it rings!
Listen, we've all forgotten to turn off our ringer at one time or another, right? (Actually I haven't. See above re: scared of getting yelled at.) So she pulls out her phone, at which point of course it's only louder, is in fact almost deafening in its Broadway show-tuniness. But does she turn it off? Does she?
Oh, no. She answers it. Yes. While everyone is staring at her. She answers it.
At this point I am practically hiding under my chair just thinking about how much anxiety I would have about committing such a sin. There is a sign outside the courtroom that commands us not to use our cell phones during testimony, and I am pretty sure this means cell-phone use means we will all be officially Shunned from polite society from now until the end of our days.
Everyone is staring at her. The Assistant District Attorney is gobsmacked. On the other end, a man is shouting that he can't hear her. How do we know this? Because she has the phone ON SPEAKERPHONE.
"I can't talk right now," she says. "I'm on a jury. I'm in the court. Yes. Here. In the court. I can't talk. I'll call you later." She spends almost thirty seconds describing how poor a time it is to converse. "What? WHAT?" the man is bellowing. The poor ADA is trying to tell her to turn it off. The entire jury is shouting at her to turn it off. Except for me. I'm trying to claw through the floor of the jury box with my bare hands, to escape the shame.
Here's the truly glorious part of this: you would think she would have learned her lesson. BUT NO. Later that day, she did it again. AGAIN. The whole thing. Broadway showtune, speakerphone, guy yelling, her telling him she couldn't talk, everyone shouting, me floor-digging.
But wait! Here's the even more glorious part, the part where all the angels sang in unison. This part occurred on the second day. When, oh Lord in heaven, she did it again. She did it again twice. All the same elements. Broadway, speaker, guy, her, everyone shouting. The third time, she chatted while the ADA and two court wardens berated her. It was a spectacle that went from being mortifying by association to impressive. That third time, I managed to remain sitting upright. (Although I did hide my head in my hands, thus rendering me invisible.) By the fourth time, I was giggling into my court notebook. Would she do it again? I was beginning to get excited about it!
On the third day, some of the other jurors made her promise she would turn off her phone, and either she did or that guy (her grandnephew?) gave up trying to chat with her. I have to say, I was disappointed. Her rule-flouting was turning out to be better than therapy for me. I think I want Phone Lady to become my guru. She seems awfully happy. Although I can't say I care for her choice of ringtones.