14 July 2011

Jury Duty

[NOTE: Back in March of 2010 I had jury duty.  Here are some observations from that time.]

You know what's depressing? The two long lines of people with court dates wrapping around outside. Before the day is through, I may find myself sitting in judgment on one of the people standing on line. That's heavy.

How do you get to Superior Court? What sort of crime?

*     *     *

Overheard a judge:

"It's like a Punch and Judy show around here. People beating on each other."

So that's the sort of crime that makes it to Superior Court. That and traffic cases.

It's a light day today. According the the Jury Room lady, they usually have 20-30 cases going. Today it's 5 cases in 3 courtrooms. Usually there are around 100 jurors, but only about 65 jurors showed up today. Odds are pretty good I'll get selected, but that's fine. The court is closed for Cesar Chavez Day tomorrow, which means I can go to work and get some stuff done. The average case runs 5 days, so I'll be fully done (hopefully) by next Thursday.

There are posters around the room with pictures of celebrities ranging from Camryn Manheim to "Weird" Al Yankovic under the words "Jury Service." These noted celebrities served, and we should feel proud to be among their number! Well, whatever, but it is kind of cool to know that "Weird" Al served. (Can you imagine being up on an assault charge and seeing his curly mane in the jury box?)

*     *     *

I checked in with my boss at lunchtime. The office is not burning down, contrary to her fears when I told her I wouldn't be there today.

I ran across to McDonalds for lunch. I'm fairly certain they haven't changed the grease in their fryer since the OJ Simpson trial. Fried food typically tastes ... well, fried. But it's a BAD sign when fried food all tastes the same. I mean the McNuggets taste like the french fries taste like whatever else they fry. There's an H. Salt Fish and Chips in the valley that has that problem. The hush puppies taste like fish and the fish taste like fries, etc. More accurately, everything tastes like a pastiche of everything. So I have a bit of the ol' "McBrick" going on right now. (Gah ... even the coke was flat. How does that happen with a fountain drink?)

Outside the courthouse is a plaque commemorating the start of Billy Graham's career as a street preacher on the corner of Hill and Washington. I tried to take a picture of the plaque for dad, but the writing doesn't register on my camera phone.

So I'm waiting again. It looks like the first batch of jurors they called were about half of us, so I suppose if they call for more (and don't settle the cases before trial -- a definite possibility) I will most likely get called up in the next batch.

*     *     *

I'll be back on Thursday morning for more jury selection. A few observations:

1. Court reporters are saints. I hope they are well compensated for the non-stop, straining to hear mumblers, catching every word WORK.

2. People are freaking cagey when answering questions in court. We've been well trained by TV and film.

JUDGE "So you work in real estate?"

JUROR "Yes."


JUDGE "Tell me a little about that."


JUROR "I work in real estate."

That's an exaggeration, and not a real conversation that I heard today, but you get the idea.

3. Jury duty is like taking out the garbage. No one wants to do it, but avoiding it isn't really an option.

I don't think I'll get away with live blogging on Thursday, so I'll share my thoughts after I get home. Assuming I'm not chosen for the jury, that is. If I'm chosen I have to swear some sort of blood oath to not talk about anything until after the verdict is answered.

[Sure enough, I was chosen for a jury.  It was a case involving indecent exposure.  In the end, we the jury found that it was likely to have occurred, but the evidence presented did not prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  So, innocent was the verdict and the guy walked.]

13 July 2011

And What Have I Learned?

[NOTE: Originally published on Facebook on 1/18/2011.]

On the eve of my thirty-sixth birthday, I am reminded of the immortal words of Marsellus Wallace:

"Night of the fight, you might feel a slight sting. That's pride fuckin' with you. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. You fight through that shit."
The past year has been interesting. Wonderful, fulfilling, devastating, frustrating and ultimately triumphant. Life is a learning process. Here are a few things I've learned:

1) Jump feet first into the horrible. Dirt washes off and scars add character. Living with anxiety and indecision in the face of the great unknown is not a life worth living. It's better to rip the band-aid off; to roll-up your sleeves and dive into the stinky. It's the only way to get to the root of what's ailing you. Deferring judgment only works so long -- and ultimately doesn't work at all!

2) Tried and true "got your back" friends are priceless. Taking the time to work at creating those relationships is incredibly important. Having a cohort. "Cohort" derives from Latin and means "from the same garden." The people you grow up with define you, challenge you, make you a better person. I could not be happier with the garden I'm in (and I look forward to growing old with you people.)

3) Again I am reminded of what should be the obvious: Communicate. Compare notes. Don't let someone convince you of another's guilt without verifying it for yourself. Don't jump to conclusions without extending the same benefit of a doubt you'd hope people would extend to you. Count to ten. Breathe. Communicate.

4) It is TOO DAMN EASY to hide from what you KNOW you're supposed to be doing. It's easy to find yourself in a cul de sac, driving in circles, kidding yourself that you're getting somewhere while the scenery never changes. "Cul de sac" is French. It means "bottom of the bag," and refers to a literal dead end. You (and by "you" I mean "I") have to to assess where you are, where you've been, and (perhaps most importantly) where the hell you're planning on going. You know that old Lennon quote, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans?" Well, there's "making" plans, and there's following through on the execution of those plans.

When I first got my license, I thought it was a funny joke to occasionally "freak out" behind the wheel and scream, "WHAT AM I DOING?!?" As if I had suddenly forgotten how to drive. Every now and then, I think it's important to freak out a little and scream to yourself, "WHAT AM I DOING?!?" If you wake yourself up to discover you're doing donuts in a dead end, it's time to change direction.

5) I miss my dog. A lot. Life is precious, memories are important, and it's okay to be hurt. Being hurt means you felt something to begin with.

6) FUCK PRIDE. Like Mr. Wallace says, it only hurts, never helps. I'm not saying don't be proud of your accomplishments, I'm saying don't be obstinate. Or to quote someone who doesn't drop the f-bomb:

Arjuna is to do the best he knows
In order to pass beyond that best to better.
How can we prescribe our neighbors to be perfect
When it is so hard to know our own heart?
The pacifist must respect Arjuna
Arjuna must respect the pacifist.
Both are going toward the same goal
If they are really sincere.
There's an underlying solidarity between them
Which can be expressed:
Each one follows without compromise the path upon which he finds himself.
For we can only help others to do their duty
By doing what we ourselves believe to be right.
It is the one supremely social act.
[-- "Sojourn of Arjuna," by Future Man of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.]

Concentrate on your work, do your best, and bend like the reed, grasshopper.

7) My greatest strength is my relationship with Pamela. She's the "got your back friend" to end all. She's a strong, determined woman who inspires me to get off my ass and do what I do. I'm a lucky guy.

So there you go. Thirty-five years in the bag! I can't wait to see what thirty-six has in store ...

12 July 2011

Frenchmen, Minstrels and Hot Tubs -- Oh my!

[Note: Originally posted on Facebook, August 9th, 2010]
The wife and I watched Le Mépris, The Jazz Singer and Hot Tub Time Machine over the weekend. A few observations:

The language of film is distinct and rich, and the great filmmakers speak it fluently. Goddard gets away with a long, extended scene of two people having the same conversation over and over and over in the middle of Le Mépris because he is an elegant storyteller in this unique visual language. Throughout the film, in glorious widescreen tracking shots that belie Lang's (scripted) assertion that Cinemascope is only good for "snakes and funerals," Goddard repeatedly loses actors and regains them. It's a slyly jarring, subtle way of depicting the disconnection between the characters. Likewise is the frequent change of languages. English, French, German and Italian are all spoken, and frequently on top of each other. (Interestingly, Lang is the only character in the movie to speak all four languages fluently.)

The Jazz Singer is an embarrassing milestone -- embarrassing because the climax of the flick has Al Jolson in blackface, emoting through the song "Mother of Mine, I Still Have You". As for the milestone, this being the first full-length movie with sync dialogue: The shift from title cards to sync sound still holds considerable impact. I can understand why people flocked to this movie back in the day. It's overly sentimental, overtly racist, and not a little creepy at times (Jakie Rabinowitz and his mother at one point elicited a shout of "Get a room!") Yet the intertitles have a poetic simplicity, and the story of an artist who finds his place of worship before a Broadway audience certainly appealed to this heathen.

Not to make excuses for it, but there is a thematic necessity for Jakie to put on a mask when he becomes Jack Robin, jazz singer, especially the mask of another race. He is turning his back on his own race and culture, pursuing a musical form that was originated by African Americans in the South. He is literally covering up the authentic with a mockery of what he idolizes. Although handled clumsily and with too much melodrama, Jakie's return to his own culture and racial identity as cantor for Yom Kippur is the logical progression of his story. Performing in blackface should be the low point for the character, where he demeans himself and the people whose music he loves by literally coating on a horrible falsehood. Jolson's blackface performances are not presented as "buffoonery." There's an emotional accessibility in the singer, a "cry in his voice," an honesty on display that undercuts the overt racism. His redemption is found immediately after this scene, at his father's deathbed and in the synagogue, his clean-shaven face conspicuous among the bearded Rabbis. He finally actualizes himself through the marriage of his racial and cultural roots to the man he aspires to be. That's powerful storytelling.

Unfortunately, the movie doesn't end at Yom Kippur, and the filmmakers leave us with the image of Al Jolson in blackface, on bended knee, extolling his "Mammy." Ugh. Yes, at the end of the day, it's still a minstrel show; an abhorrent artifact of a thankfully bygone era. However it is such a rich and complicated time in history -- particularly for the arts and pop culture -- rife with dramatic potential, don't be surprised if a certain dramatist wades into those controversial waters in the not-so-distant future.

Hot Tub Time Machine is itself a time machine. This movie is a throwback to a simpler cinematic time, when onscreen heroes could do stupid amounts of drugs with no ill effect, break the laws of physics with wild abandon and get the girl in the end despite all odds and logic. It's incredibly stupid and lots of fun. Ample nods to Back to the Future and assorted 80s fare ("A bet's a bet, man. I want my two dollars!") simmer throughout without ever turning the movie into a cheap string of pop culture references. The cast is perfect, and John Cusack hasn't been this plugged-in since ... Fuck. When was the last time I cared about John Cusack in a film role?

Craig Robinson is one of the best things to happen to screen comedy in a long time. The man has timing like a Swiss watch and a delivery that sidles up to you like a hot prom date (I should know -- I married my hot prom date). He is beyond ready to pop, and a smart producer would line him up in his own star vehicle, like now.

So there you have it, a weekend of movies on DVD. The good, the bad and the funny.

11 July 2011

A Theory About Superman and Batman

[Note:  It seems I hardly ever blog here, opting instead to post notes on Facebook.  With Google+ and the possibility of linking this blog to a social network on the horizon, I thought I might dig deep into my Facebook notes and share some of my pithy, witty observations with the world at large.  You're welcome.]

An off-handed joke/observation yesterday ("Do you suppose Superman ever asks Batman to carry his ID for him? Because ... you know ... no pockets.") got me to thinking.

Why does Batman tolerate Superman?

Young Bruce Wayne watched as his parents were killed by a common street thug and was raised by his eccentric, English butler in a cold, empty mansion. Kal-El was a baby when a natural disaster took out his home planet, and was raised by loving adoptive parents on an idyllic Midwestern farm. Batman dedicated his life to avenging his parents' death, traveling the globe to train with the best -- to become the best. Superman is endowed with super powers by our yellow sun. Batman has to continually condition his body to stay in tip-top shape. If Superman is ever feeling rundown or flabby, he can sprawl out in the sun for a few hours.

(Seriously -- if Superman's strength is such that he can lift a 747 over his head, where does he go to work out? There aren't enough free weights in the world.)

To preserve his secret identity, Batman has to pose as a bobble-headed, billionare playboy. 180 degrees from the man he truly is. And Superman? The overgrown boyscout poses as a naive Kansas farmboy. What a stretch.

And for all his hard work, the people of Gotham call Batman "vigilante," and occasionally press their police to bring him to justice. The people of Metropolis call Superman "champion," and erect statues in his honor.

How can Batman stand to be in the same room with Superman?

Because when Batman sees Superman, he sees a massive tool. (Pun intended.)

Think about it: Batman can't fly, so he has a bat plane. He can't stare at a set of fingerprints and divine the identity of the person to whom they belong, so he has a bat computer. He carries a variety of bat-tools wherever he goes in his utility belt. There are a lot of things Superman can do that Batman can't: He's a walking x-ray machine, for starters. He's a handy body shield. Super speed and flight makes him the best "go fer" in the world.

There is something Batman has that Superman lacks: Intellect. Consider: Batman can't deflect bullets with his bare skin. He can't afford to walk blindly into a room and take on all comers. He has to strategize, often on the fly. If Superman were locked in a sealed container with a ticking time bomb, he'd have a couple of options: 1) Use his super strength to bust out or 2) wait for the bomb to go off, brush the dust off his costume, and fly away. Batman, on the other hand, would have to use his keen mind to defuse the bomb or break himself out.

The radiation of our sun gives Superman god-like strength, but not necessarily god-like intelligence. Even if the potential for god-like intelligence is there, what would motivate him to develop it? Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive -- and he didn't have to work a day to become that way. Being able to leap tall buildings in a single bound does not automatically imply an ability to complete a crossword puzzle.

As a criminologist (perhaps the greatest living criminologist) Batman has studied psychology. He would know how to manipulate Superman to get what he wants. Superman is guileless and bald-faced. Batman is nothing but guile, hidden behind his lead-lined mask.

And Superman is his bitch.