Friday, March 28, 2008

Baring Your Soul On the Court's Time

I spent an entire day of my spring break exercising a right granted to each and every U.S. citizen, that is, I served a jury summons.

A jury summons is a notice for you, as an American citizen, to go to the courts and wait to be called upon to serve as a juror in a civil or criminal trial. I discovered that it wasn't just a civil duty I was carrying out, but an exercise in cathartic release.

My day began at 8 am with a walk through security. I went to the jury assembly room where the women who would spin out our collective fates at the administrative desk, handed me a biography slip. I grabbed a seat among a crowd of bored, irritable, indifferent, anxious, and semi-alert people who greeted me with cursory glances. I looked around and saw people trying to pass the time: texting, talking to their chair neighbors, grabbing the nearest magazine. I pulled out a book and read. And read. And read. The ceiling-mounted TV screens surrounded me with their incessant low murmurs: of war, of the Democratic race for the presidency, of movies you couldn't pay me to watch. Like Miss Congeniality, which the Fates deemed entertaining.

Thankfully, that didn't last long because then I was listening to a video explaining the jury selection process and its history in Arizona. Arizona allows jurors to take notes and present questions over the course of a trial. The state asks each person to serve their jury duty under a "one day or one trial" rule, that is, a potential juror spends the day being scrutinized and either rejected or accepted for a trial. If you are rejected, you may be asked to undergo the selection process at another trial.

Joining a pool of potential jurors was a strange, double-edged affair. I spent a lot of time waiting around, hoping that I was either chosen or ignored as a potential juror. If I was called, then I wouldn't have to sit around all day in a room full of bored people. But if I was called, then there was the chance that I would've been spending a number of days participating in a criminal or civil case, away from the rest my spring vacation.

Not that the actual selection process itself proved to be mundane, however. The judge and lawyers raised questions that tapped into the more violent aspect of people's pasts. By the end of the day I knew more about the tragedies of my fellow potential jurors than of my closest friends.

There was one man who was on the phone with a female friend when someone assaulted her from behind. He offered to give his testimony, but the detectives handling the case never took his statement. There was one older woman with whom I spoke whose son was a graduate of Oberlin College. He graduated as an environmental studies major, but like many Obies, his interests ranged beyond that. He loved Oberlin and what he was learning there. He was going to graduate school to become an engineer, but before he graduated, someone murdered him. Every year since his death, this woman sent money to Oberlin on his behalf. Given the number of years that have passed, I asked her why she had not created a scholarship in his name. She said that she lived modestly and didn't have enough savings to start anything to honor him. I didn't know what to say.

I encountered similar stories during the selection process and all without learning anyone's name. For the sake of privacy, security, and impartialness, everyone had a number and only that number was given along with your answers to the court's probing questions. The prosecutor asked the CSI question, that is, she wanted to know if anyone had problems with a criminal case that lacked physical evidence. A few people had issues with it, but they did not seem adamant about it. The defense attorney seemed fixated on one woman's hooded sweatshirt, which he deduced to be from an Texan Christian university. No one could discern why he had to identify the origins of her sweatshirt, but many thought that he was going to choose her as part of the jury. She was not chosen.

And I shared the same fate. I'm not sure why they did not choose me. I didn't share any particularly strong views about domestic violence or skepticism about the integrity of the police. (This was a domestic violence case involving three people, a man and woman pressing charges against another man.) Perhaps my relative youth played a role; the selected jurors ranged in ages from 30s to 60s. Whatever the reasons, I left the courthouse feeling strangely lighter, as if I had finished my confessions with the judge and my sins taken off my shoulders, which is a unusual analogy for me to discover.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Vietnamese Food

Nam-Son is a restaurant near my parents' home that serves Vietnamese food. It used to be run by someone named Avina and her mother. Their food was above average but not something that qualified it for repeat visits. Due to health-related problems, Avina and her mother sold the place to a new set of owners. And their food is delicious.

Whenever I approach the restaurant, I'm always struck by how unassuming the front is. It is located in a small plaza where the main attractions are a Fry's supermarket and a Bank of America. If I didn't bother to glance over that corner of the plaza three years ago, I would've easily missed it. On this day, I walked in and noticed that the place is a little darker but full of brilliant colors: blood-red tablecloths that remind me of Chinese New Year's; bleach white tiled walls covered with large photographs of Vietnamese sub sandwiches, each one a burst of orange carrots, green spinach, and white mung bean sprouts.

There was one other customer who was enjoying a bowl of pho, something a poet once called the soul of the Vietnamese. He had bare sprigs of Thai basil, cilantro, mung bean sprouts, and lime wedges spread across his entire table.

I sat down and looked over the menu. It hadn't changed with the new owners. I ordered some comfort food: spring rolls, a beef curry stew that came with a loaf of French bread, and a honeydew boba. Boba is a cold tapioca and tea drink that supposedly originated on the streets of Taiwan and spread like influenza among East Asian countries. In the decade since its invention, the flavors of boba have moved beyond sweetened tea to include guava, jackfruit, lychee, cantaloupe, coffee, and, one of my favorite fruits, honeydew melon.

The spring rolls were tight; their contents remained within the diaphanous rice wrapper with every bite. The fresh mint leaves, dried pork, and snappy rice noodles melded with the fish sauce into a blend of contrasting flavors and textures. As I finish my last bite, the waiter arrived with my bowl of beef curry stew and a loaf of French bread. Saliva flooded my mouth. The bread had a crisp and chewy crust; the crumb was tender and blinded me with its steam. The bowl held a pool of brilliant, earthy orange liquid, a hue that reminded me of the embroidered ceremonial robe of the Qianlong emperor, and dotted with slivers of tender beef and golden chunks of deep-fried potatoes. I had to pace myself with sips of the honeydew boba--itself a mildly sweet slush punctuated with big balls of black tapioca--or I would've burned my tongue.

As with all good things in this world, my meal came to its natural conclusion. I paid my bill and left Nam-Son knowing that that drab-looking restaurant still held many treasures waiting to be rediscovered.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Just ignore this. I'm testing new desktop-based blogging software. Let's see how this goes...Tags: ,

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008