We don't know what it says about our job—actually, we know exactly what it says about our job: It blows—that we were excited for jury duty, but there you have it. Three days without work where we could get up at the relatively late hour of eight and sit around reading the newspaper without thinking, "Oh, I have to try to be funny about that"? Where do we sign up? (The DMV, apparently.) Anyway, it was with joy in our heart and a spring in our step that we hopped on the 6 train and headed down to City Hall. It took us about two seconds in the waiting room (after the comedy court clerk started his shtick, but before that horrible video with Ed Bradley, God rest his soul, began to play) that we remembered: Jury duty sucks.
Why? People. Let me tell you about other people. They are morons, and self-important morons at that. I'm generally ill at ease in any environment where a large number of people are asked if they have any questions, because the questions are always retarded and repetitive. Either people don't read their forms before they come to court or they don't understand them (or, most likely, they don't think they apply to them), but there's an incredible feeling of bile that rises in my throat when I suddenly realize that my next hour is going to spent listening to some schmuck try and tell a government employee who couldn't care less why his business trip is of such vital import to the nation's economy that he cannot be expected to perform his civic duty. And then another hour of a different schmuck explaining exactly the same thing, even though it didn't work for the last guy. I immediately felt sorry for whatever defendant drew these dunderheads as jurors: I'm pretty sure that 90% of all guilty pleas are decided on a "I'm going away for the weekend; let's just lock him up and get the hell out of here" mentality.
In any event, the first day was mostly eventless. The courthouse has Internet access now, so I was briefly able to catch up on Gawker and curse the fact that FUCKING DOREE GOT TO DO ALL THE RUPERT MURDOCH STUFF. But I tried to stay offline, and spent most of my morning reading the newspapers slowly and with rapt attention—much like the way one has sex when one isn't actually getting paid for it. The cliché about jury duty downtown is that the best part is having lunch in Chinatown, but it's true. When you get two hours in which to eat and you have an incredible array of places in which to do it, you sort of understand why the Europeans are way ahead of us in leisure activities. (FYI: The tong po pork at New Green Bo, 66 Bayard, is astounding: Fatty pieces of braised belly shellacked in Shanghai gravy, then stuffed into steamed buns with baby bok choy? It haunts my dreams.)
Returning from lunch, I was sort of excited to learn that I was getting called for a case. Maybe I'd miss the next three weeks of work! They herded us into a courtroom downstairs and gave us the details: small-time crack sale arrest. The judge said it could take up until August 13th. YES! I mean, sure, Conrad Black would probably mow down seven people before taking his own life and FUCKING DOREE WOULD GET TO COVER IT, but getting up at ten o'clock each morning and dispensing some justice, Balk-style? I could handle it.
Then the reality: There were other jurors. Some of them seemed smart and attentive, some of them were a decent subsection of Mahattanage (am I the only one who plays Hot juror/Not juror? You know, where you look at the folks in the box and think "I'd stare your decisis!" Really? Just me?). But the majority of them were clearly interested in getting the hell out of there, and, suddenly, so was I.
Everyone has their own prejudices and views of the world, and I accept that, but I was astounded to realize how many people refused to accept that a defendant's choice not to take the stand did not in any way imply guilt. Never mind that it's a bedrock principle of our Constitution, never mind that given the astounding power of the state to deprive someone of their liberty that person has no obligation to personally argue against charges proffered against them, never mind innocent until proven guilty: To some members of the pool, the fact that you were unwilling to testify in your defense clearly meant that you had something to hide. (And, sure, sometimes it does! That's not the point!) I suppose it shouldn't be shocking that juries really do operate on a general assumption of guilt, but it's not a bad thing to be reminded of every now and again, and for that (and that tong po pork, which is fucking amazing) I actually am sort of grateful for the experience.
But enough bleeding-heart yapping: The judge eventually came around to me and asked the standard question about how I made a living. This was something I had wondered about in the days before the call: What would I say? "Blogger?" Yeah, right. Can you imagine anything more embarrassing? Writer? As if. Let's be honest, I'm a blogger. You're not reading 280 pages of My Cock & Me, by Alex Balk anytime soon. (Although if you're interested and have the juice, drop me a line.) So I simply said "editor," which is, after all, my job title.
When it came time for the baby-faced A.D.A. to ask us questions, he turned to me.
"Mr. Balk, you said you're an editor? What do you edit?"
"Well, it's a website?"
"What kind of website?"
"Um, it's Manhattan-centric? Media and celebrity stuff, mostly."
"What's it called?"
Fuck. I had to admit it.
"Gawker.com," I sighed.
The A.D.A. and the defense attorney immediately exchanged glances. I can't be 100% sure, of course, but I'm pretty damned positive that working for this site kept me off that jury. There's a cruel and twisted irony in there, but at that point I was happy to take it and get the hell out.
While we were waiting in the hall for them to call us back in and let us know who was chosen and who got to leave, a couple of guys came up to me and said stuff like "Gawker? That's awesome!" [Note: Do not do this. I am extremely shy and extremely ashamed of what I do for a living. Don't rub it in.] A girl approached me and said, "Oh my God, you're Balk's Cock?" Which is how, for the first (and probably last) time in my life, I got to say, "No, I'm Balk. My Cock's down here."
Fortunately, they called us in about a minute later and cut me loose.
What have I learned? People are idiots. The system is pretty much stacked against defendants. Working on idiot websites is a good way to get out of jury duty. And tong po pork is astounding. Seriously, go check it out. You won't be disappointed.