It rained 7 inches in 20 days in July in this desert town. The rain snapped a heat wave that comes every June but felt especially horrifying this year. I have a friend who calls the “dry” heat just before the monsoon season “surreal.” I call it hell. If it weren’t for my dog needing exercise, I might never leave my house in June. By the end of that month, the heat never dissipates. It’s 90 degrees at 2 am. And as the humidity builds, as it must to conjure the magical rains, the town begins to feel like a wool sweater that you can’t take off. My poor dog has a black coat -- a black dog, in Tucson, in the summer. And you think you have it rough.
But enough of that -- we survived and the deluge came. Cacti that were literally ready to give up the ghost plumped out and and greened up. Every plant began photosynthesizing like mad and the brown, seemingly dead desert, resurrected into a garden of...well...hell. Black widows are reproducing at the speed of light in my backyard. Termites are eating every piece of wood they can find, including the door frame. The leaf cutter ants have not met a plant in my yard that are not intent on stripping. And then there are the voracious mosquitos. Stand still for even a minute in the newly returned heat (105 degrees today) and your calf will be fuzzy with their dominance. And if you think Off or any other repellent will help, you’ve not met a Tucson mosquito. These assholes verily lick the Off off. I swear I can see them smile as they do it. Maybe it’s like salsa on a taco to them. At any rate, they are everywhere and they are insatiable.
So the best place to be in the “late summer” (which lasts until November) is inside -- in cool air conditioning, watching people, and avoiding the mosquitos. Even jury duty doesn’t seem like that big of a burden in August because there is no where else to be really and at least it is good people watching (I suppose someone could make a lawyer joke here and say that the courthouse is full of "bloodsuckers" but let's not go there). As I sat in the jury “assembly room” (which feels more like a holding pen for a herd of cattle), I eavesdropped on every conversation I could. First, there was Timmy, a young man who couldn’t have been 2 weeks past his 18th birthday. He clearly had special needs and was so excited to be doing his duty, but he had had to take the bus to get to the courthouse and was very worried about how he would get reimbursed. He and his mom could not do without that money. Very loudly, he explained that his mom hadn’t wanted him to come today, but he knew it was the most important part of our democracy, other than voting, of course. He hadn’t voted in the last election because he wasn’t old enough but he was SUPER excited for the local elections on August 29th. He turned to face the room and repeated several times, “The election is August 29th!” to anyone who would listen. And then, “And I wouldn’t have voted for Trump. NO way!” Everyone, even probably some Trump voters, chuckled. The jury assembly employees are some of the most patient people I’ve ever witnessed. Each of them (3 in total) explained to Timmy that he would get reimbursed by a check in the mail in a couple of weeks. He asked them each several times, I think, just to be sure they all said the same thing. So after about a zillion times of being reassured that his bus fare would come back to him, he sat down and took out a cooler the size of a small car and began to much hungrily on a sandwich. Wonder Bread with baloney and a slice of American cheese. He finished the first sandwich and took out another. Timmy probably didn’t weigh more than 100 pounds. After 5 sandwiches, he took out a king-sized Snickers bar and gobbled it down. It was now just past 10 am.
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Francis Gilmer that “every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him.” So there we were...me and several hundred of my peers being forced to contribute to justice (surely a necessity of society?). In addition to Timmy, there were 3 young Latino men speaking Spanish and laughing heartily. A pair of seemingly middle class white women conspiratorily shared stories about the back to school woes of their school-aged children. An old hippie cussed at the vending machine that refused to pour him a cup of coffee. Sitting next to me was a high school teacher frantically prepping lesson plans. She explained to me that she was stressed already...but, like all really good teachers in August, she expressed such hope for the coming year. She whispered (as though it were an embarrassing secret) that she was sort of hoping to get picked for a jury so she could share the experience with her students.
The hours ticked by. Timmy was called and summarily dismissed. As he turned in his badge, he asked one more time about the bus fare. The teacher and the moms were similarly summoned and rejected. The 3 Latino men disappeared and never came back so I assume they were picked for a trial. As we were dismissed for lunch, I met Stanley. Stanley didn’t walk, he shuffled and very slowly at that. Stanley was probably 75 years old and wanted tacos for lunch. I expected it would take him the entire lunch hour to walk the ½ block to the taco place so I offered to get tacos for him. He smiled great big at me and said, “that’s so kind of you, but the walk will do me good.” Slowly all the folks got called and there was just a smattering of us left. Amy, a former nun (I’m not kidding), sat happily finishing the jigsaw puzzle and talking to herself. The old hippie had given up on the coffee and sat unhappily sipping a Diet Coke.
And then there was Rudy. She was increasingly agitated. She needed the hours at work, she explained, and her boss said she could come in if she got out by 4pm. At 3:40, after we had been sitting there for 7 hours, she got up and went to the public phone to call her boss (she didn’t have a cell phone). Then she sat back down and started to cry. Quietly but obviously. She had severe health problems and had missed some work lately and she really, really, needed those hours. I asked her why she hadn’t asked to be excused from jury service. Her eyes widened. She looked at me like I had suggested she fly to the moon. “Why would I do that? It’s my duty to serve. It’s the least I can do for living in our great country.” Indeed, a necessity. Timmy, Stanley, Rudy all made me feel like a schmuck. I didn’t want to go to jury duty. I have a lot of work to do to get ready for the school year and didn’t want to be “bothered.” I drove my gorgeous truck to the parking garage. I walked 4 blocks in about 2 minutes. I had my Mac laptop, my iPhone, and ate a delicious, nutritious lunch. And here were all these people...who were sacrificing so obviously and so proudly.
Many people question the concept of a jury of “impartial” peers. No one can be impartial goes the argument. What they heck is a “peer” anyway? Same age? Same class? Same gender or race? And can a group of differentially educated and abled people really find justice? But the system mostly works (and mostly is pretty good when humans are involved). Juries were picked yesterday. Defendants were tried in a court of law. And citizens gave of their time to ensure the right of a jury trial to their fellow citizens. In today’s political climate, that adherence to one of the most fundamental Constitutional rights seems particularly profound to me. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given a chance, they can be depended upon to meet any obligation, including finding the truth. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer.” I could have used a beer or two yesterday afternoon. But the air conditioning was cool, the people watching was great, my peers humbled me, and there were no mosquitos (except maybe the lawyers).