Friday, December 09, 2005

You know Smitty is depressed when...

...it's December and she hasn't written a single blog entry since October. I'd like to say I haven't written because I've been so insanely busy with my wild and exciting life. But alas, it is because I've morphed into one of those Zoloft blobs. I've entered this fuzzy mind-state where I tune out and fester. Hard to be creative and write when making a concerted effort to not be conscious of anything that might trigger despair, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like a big loser, etc (AKA avoiding life in its entirety). Those of you that know me know this is nothing new, I've had these bouts of depression and/or anxiety for a long time. But even though I know I've gotten better in the past, it always feels impossible to fix when it comes back. But I'm working on it and getting help for it. I'm not sure I ever had any faithful jerky touniquet readers, but if you are still out there, just wanted to check in and let know what the hold ups been all about. If anyone has any suggestions, or wants to stroke my withering ego, post a comment will ya?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Louisiana: Week Two

For some reason, the 2nd week is a lot more blurry than the 1st or 3rd. I think Killer Fatigue may have set in such that all I did was get up, work and go to sleep. I didn't really go out at night and didn't write in my journal (bad girl) beyond lists of keywords so I could try to fill in the blanks later. If my bunkmates were lucky I showered. That is actually something that sticks out from Week Two: the showers.

Back at Spirit you had two choices:
  1. The hazmat decontamination tents, which felt a bit like a human version of the car wash, with spray nozzles coming at you from all sides.
  2. Showers in the back of semi-truck trailer.

In both cases, Red Cross volunteers were in charge of cleaning them, which may not have happened all that often given the other work we were doing.

But at the First Baptist Church in Covington, the Southern Baptist Convention brought showers with them that they staffed for their own use and ours. They provided soap and shampoo, clean towels and washcloths, and THEY CLEANED THE SHOWERS DAILY! That was pretty sweet. Thanks Southern Baptist Convention!

I think the other reason Week Two is a blur is because that is the week my ERV went into Slidell. We'd leave Covington between 10 and 11 AM with 600-1000 meals and not come back until 8-9 PM (that is not including an hour on each end to load and unload/clean the ERV). To give you an idea of the condition Slidell was in after Katrina, our staff EMT (Hi Joy!) once said driving into Slidell, "Welcome to Hell." Unlike the areas I'd serviced my first week, Slidell had taken the full force of both wind and water, being right on Lake Pontchetrain. We couldn't even find people to feed on part of our assigned route because there was literally nothing left standing. The people we did feed were those who couldn't yet live in their home, but came during the day to completely gut the inside. Everything: furniture, clothes, carpeting, drywall, refridgerators, stoves...literally everything was put out on the curb. Some of the fridges still had magnets holding up kids' drawings on them. And those were just large items I could make out from the ERV window. That doesn't include all the "little things" like photos and keepsakes that were destroyed in the high floodwaters.

Most people seemed to be in surprising high spirits. I think that is a combination of the fact that four weeks had passed since Katrina so some of the initial shock had passed, if that is possible. Also, it is one of those situations where if you don't find things to laugh about, you'll cry. I heard over and over again, "It is just stuff. We are blessed because we are all safe and alive." I'd like to thing I could have the same positive outlook. But there were those people that came up to the window that appeared to be in shock. I often asked people where they slept at night. Most were with family and friends, but I met one guy who was sleeping in his wet, dark house with no lights or air conditioning. He put packs of ice over his body when he slept at night. And the eldery woman who told me "this is no way to lose weight." She'd lost 25 pds in 4 weeks cleaning out her house.

I didn't realize exactly how cushy my ERV routes had been the first week until Slidell. Navigating around downed power lines and flooded roads (I wasn't driving, but was sympathetic to Doreen- certified ERV driver and partner in crime). We got a flat tire in Slidell one day and I really needed a bathroom. Well, every place was closed (and even if it had been open, many people put their toilets out on the curb with everything else). We blew the tire near a church, so I tried there: No lights and full of mud. I finally noticed that a construction crew repairing a washed out bridge had a porta potty. I was afraid to just walk out onto the bridge (something about the "Danger: Do not Cross" sign) so I yelled from 25 yards away, "Hey guys, can I use your john?".

Another time we drove around for 20 minutes looking for anyplace to go to the bathroom when we remembered there was another kitchen and staff shelter right in Slidell. Well, we walked into that church and it too had been flooded. Everything from the floor to four feet up was gutted- no flooring, pipes exposed. We found the ladies restroom and there sat three bowls. There was no tile on the floor, no drywall, and no stalls. Just garbage bags duct taped together as dividers and no doors. We didn't complain- we were just glad to have a bathroom (and that it wasn't our staff shelter). There were Red Crossers staying there! Besides, I couldn't complain about harsh conditions when A) that is what I signed up for and B) there are survivors living that reality everyday- I only had to do it during daylight for a week.

I think at that point there were still 3 kitchens and 20 some ERVs serving in Covington/Mandeville/Slidell area. But some of these areas were getting back to normal. Covington was pretty much open for business, although often at reduced hours because a lot of the staff were still evacuated. They had power and water. So those ERV routes were shut down once we knew people were going to be okay without us. This resulted in access ERVs in the area. So when word came down that Baton Rouge HQ was requesting ERVs and ERV crews for places hit by Rita, we volunteered to be reassigned.

Which brings me to Week 3. To be Continued

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Louisiana: Week One


I left on September 20th, three weeks after Katrina hit and a few days before Rita. I returned 21 days later on October 10th.

Normally one doesn't join the Red Cross after a disaster. But due to the enormity of Katrina, The Red Cross needed additional volunteers than those already on call. I first contacted the Minneapolis Area Chapter on Tuesday September 13th and left 7 days later following training in Disaster Services, Mass Care and Shelter Operations.

I flew into Baton Rouge, where the Red Cross had a massive Staging area for all disaster relief in the State of Louisiana. The Baton Rouge HQ was housed in an old Wal-mart. After some paperwork and orientation, I was assigned to "Feeding," one component of Mass Care services. The staff at the Feeding workstation signed me up to be a kitchen tech in Covington, but my departure was delayed pending a meeting on Hurricane Rita. They needed to make sure it was safe for us to go there and determine the likelihood I would have to turn around and be evacuated. They eventually decided to send 7 of us from Baton Rouge to Covington.

We then arrived at yet another Red Cross staging area in Covington. This office oversaw all personnel for some 5 kitchens and 12 client (evacuee) shelters in the Covington area. We were assigned to Spirit of America kitchen in nearby Mandeville of St. Tammany Parish. Spirit of America is the Red Cross' largest mobile kitchen, capable of preparing 30,000 meals a day. The Red Cross provides the food through in-kind donations and food purchased with donation money. Members of the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Convention staff the kitchen and prepare the meals. The Baptists then return the food to the Red Cross for distribution. This was true of the 3 kitchens I ended up working at during my 21 days.

Spirit of America was in the parking lot of the St. Tammany Center. The Red Cross staff shelter was on the third floor of the Center, in the classrooms of Southeastern Louisiana University. In addition to the kitchen, the parking lot was used as a sort of open-air warehouse with everything from generators, food, water, tent showers, coolers, baby supplies, tarps, etc. I would estimate there were some 200 workers staying in the Spirit shelter. In addition to the Southern Baptists and American Red Cross, there were volunteers from the French, Norwegian and Canadian Red Cross as well.

My first day at Spirit, the Red Cross asked us 7 new folks to help with shelter consolidation. There were several evacuee shelters closing and consolidating into 1 new shelter. Because 3 weeks had passed since Katrina hit, these shelters were running under capacity as people either found temporary housing or were able to return home. Plus the shelter we helped close was in a school that was probably getting ready to reopen. Shelter consolidation can't be easy on the clients. They've already been displaced and had to adapt to new surroundings at least once. While a shelter will never be home, I imagine clients would be attached to some degree to whatever shelter they had been in. They knew the other residents, had their belongings organized and sleeping accommodations set up the way they wanted, only to be moved into a new place where they'd be sleeping next to new people. I know it was hard for me just to switch staff shelters, and I had the benefit of knowing I had a home to go to.

For two days after the shelter consolidation, the kitchens shut down for Rita. The day before Rita, the ERVs took out MREs so clients would have extra food while the kitchens were closed. We were on the outer cusp of Rita, receiving some wind and heavy rain, but otherwise unscathed. Our decontamination tent showers were blown over. I felt safe because the Tammany Center is designed to be an evacuation shelter and had already survived Katrina with no damage. While some people welcomed a break from 12 hour workdays, I was going stir-crazy. I felt like I was taking a break before I had really gotten started.

After Rita, I was assigned to work on ERVs (emergency response vehicle). ERVs are essentially an ambulance modified to work as a mobile feeding line. The ERV coordinator for Spirit would assign ERV crews and routes. ERVs usually had a crew of 3 (driver and two in the back doing feeding). The driver would get on a PA system that could be heard for 3 blocks announcing that the Red Cross was there with hot food and cold water. Meals included beef stew, chicken and dumplins, BBQ beef patties, Chicken patties, Corn beef hash, ravioli, chili, red beans & rice. There would always be a side of veggies, side of fruit and some bread. We would also hand out snacks , drinks and bags of ice. Sometimes we'd have juice or gatorade, which was a welcomed change from water.

After about a week in Mandeville, word came down that the University wanted their building back to resume classes. There were rumors for a few days that we were going to move into a tent on the other side of the parking lot, but that idea was eventually squashed. Not sure if it was because the powers that be decided to close Spirit of America or because of the fire ants in the field where the tent was supposed to go. But either way we packed up and moved to another kitchen in Covington and a staff shelter at a Baptist Church. Spirit of America was supposed to be going into New Orleans while the remaining kitchens would service the Covington/Mandeville/Slidell area.

Next time: Week Two

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I'm back

So I got back Monday from my three week volunteer stint with the Red Cross. I'm still at a loss as to how to describe my experience. The awesome camaraderie I felt with my fellow volunteers, the frustration with the inevitable inefficiency at times and the way in which I was most certainly ready to return home and never leave at the same time. I managed to take 6 rolls of film but all the pictures in the world can never encompass the darkness of New Orleans at night, a post apocalyptic ghost town with no working street lights. Or the smell of a Slidell neighborhood that had been evacuated, flooded and left festering until homeowners could return to completely gut their their homes. One snapshot of a lake-front home in Slidell that has been reduced to a pile of matchsticks doesn't show how this devastation continues for a mile or more down the road. My observations of returning to "normal" life thus far: It is cold in Minnesota compared to Louisiana. I'm suffering from media cluelessness as I went from watching the news 24-7 with the rest of America after Katrina to practically no TV, newspaper, internet or radio for three weeks. My hurricane injuries are healing (ok, so a few scabby mosquito bites and my grazed knuckles from trying to open a bottle of Heineken with a rental car key in the parking lot of a Baptist church). It is very satisfying to shower in a facility that is neither a decontamination tent or semi-truck trailer and one which doesn't require wearing flip flops in fear of gangrene. After three weeks on army cots, I feel a bit like Tom Hanks in Cast Away when he returns home and is more comfortable sleeping on the floor than in a bed. Or perhaps that is just because my girlfriend and the cat got used to having the bed to themselves, as evidenced by my pillow on the couch and the bite marks on my toes. After a day at home, my immune and adrenaline systems said, "Well, I guess you don't need me no more" and I promptly got a cold, slept for 12 hours and my back gave out.

But I must not be too messed up because I passed my mental health exit interview in Baton Rouge and the Red Cross "stress team" called me at home the other night and I didn't seem to raise any major red flags (or he was very good and covering up my true diagnosis and the people in the white coats are on their way as we speak).

I missed a few things while I was gone. I was a bad girlfriend and missed Allegra's gigs (storytelling gig for U.S. Fringe Festival conference, Sax in benefit for New Orleans musicians and a band concert). I also didn't make it to the Cirque de Soliel touring performance we'd had tickets for since April. I seem to have missed Fall. When I left Minneapolis it was in the 80s and now there are Christmas Cards for sale in Walgreens.

Also, she and the in-laws completely redecorated the apartment while I was away. The place looks awesome. We basically live in zig-zagging hallway and weren't making the best use of the limited space. My Real Simple subscribing Mother-in-law rearranged furniture and installed curtain rods and shelves galore until there was enough storage space in our apartment for all the shit Allegra still had in her parents' garage. My only gripe is that I noticed my Kung Fu Fighting Hamster got stashed in a closet. The only thing I have to say about that is, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner!".

More thoughts and photos to come. Until then, check out fellow volunteer MJ's thoughts on returning home. MJ and I were assigned to the same kitchen my first week.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Louisiana Here I Come

If the Red Cross ever held volunteer fashion awards, I think I might just win. Starting from top, note the khaki rimmed hat, clip-on sunglasses and eyeglass strappy holder.

In hand, Level 18 DEET insect repellant and generic Nalgene-style water bottle.

Around the middle, the back support girdle to help with heavy lifting (and draw attention to the ample bosom).


Matching khaki pants that unzip at the knee to make shorts.


And the real winner, the paisley purple rubber boots, the only knee-high waterproof boots I could find on short notice.


Tomorrow I fly to Baton Rouge, LA to begin 3 weeks of volunteering for the Red Cross. I completed a crash course in disaster relief, mass care and shelter operations in one day last week so I could be ready to go this week.

Don't know what to expect when I get to Baton Rouge. I've been given an 800 number to call when I arrive and the Red Cross officials in Lousiana will direct me from there. I may be staying in a hotel or in a shelter. Which means I've packed just about everything you can imagine to account for every contingency.

"Mass Care" entails everything from registering people staying in shelter, preparing and serving meals, cleaning and anything else to keep a shelter running. More than likely, I will be loading food and other supplies into trucks and driving out into affected areas where Hurricane survivors have stayed or returned to their homes.

Will do my best to stay in touch, but don't know if I'll have internet access or cell phone reception where I'm going. Back October 11th.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Art Snobs


The Coffee Grounds- the heart and soul of the Twin Cities art scene. Sike.

Allegra and two other Fringe performers were invited by a fellow Fringer to read for a storytelling group this past weekend. All three graciously accepted the invitation. I did sense some hesitation on Allegra's part. I never really knew why, but she'd grumbled under her breath about this storytelling group in the past. But she was pleased to have been asked and respected the member who had extended the invitation. The group had picked a theme, "taking risks," and each story was supposed to encompass that theme per each artist's interpretation. As we took our seats, Allegra said with a small wicked grin regarding the woman that had invited her, "she's gonna be in trouble with the group." Turns out that the reason Allegra had been hesitant to perform for the group was because she'd encountered some Spoken Word Snobbery from group members before. According to Spoken Word Snobs, Storytelling is about the oral tradition: it is to be memorized, not read off the page. All three invitees read *gasp* off a manuscript.

Allegra read an old piece she tweaked for this performance and a brand new work in progress. The new piece was hilarious! She had me laughing aloud even though I already knew the details of the story. She described how the seemingly benign task of joining Netflix snowballed into our blind date with another lesbian couple we'd met online, and, ultimately the revelation that she is, god forbid, a Bingo Player. She and the other two writers wowed the audience in my opinion.

At least, most of the audience.

After the performance, Spoken Word Snobbery reared its ugly head. Allegra was approached by a group member that implored Allegra to stay for the open mic by saying, "We had to listen to you, now you have to listen to us!". Surely that wasn't animosity I sensed in the word "had," as if Allegra's performance was something to be endured rather than enjoyed. Then said Spoken Word Snob turned to an acquaintance and said within ear shot, "Storytelling is so much more than dramatic monologue...which is what those three just did."

Beeatch. [I don't care if she comes across this and knows I called her bitch because she'll never be able to confront me. If she did, I'll just expose her for the hypocrite she is. Afterall, she's all about the oral tradition. Blogs, being the written word are trivial drivel.]

We did not stay for the open mic.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What I've been reading

The First Verse by Barry McCrea.
Allegra received this from my parents for her birthday after a recommendation from her college literature prof. But I snagged it and read it first. This book is captivating, but was especially enjoyable having spent time in Dublin. It is about a young gay man starting his studies at Trinity (where Allegra went on study abroad). Things go as expected as first: Much time in pubs, eating in the cafeteria and his first foray into a gay club (The George, where I met "Panti," an Irish drag queen that rewrote "Ring of Fire" to be a song about hemmorroids). But things take a dramatic turn when he finds him on the cusp of (and eventually fully entrenched in) a literary cult. May be one of the only novels to describe gay nightlife in Dublin.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
Watching Finding Neverland made me want to read this again. The last time I read Peter Pan was in a Fantasy and Children's Literature course I took while on study abroad. I'd forgotten I had underlined sections of the book when I was reading it for class. Funny to see a children's book with key passages highlighted in such an academic manner. I guess I thought I was deep and insightful when I recognized the crocodile's ticking clock for the metaphor that it is.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Safran Foer is an ambitious young writer who tackled the subject of the Holocaust in his first book, Everything is Illuminated (motion picture version starring Frodo to be released later this month) and September 11th in this book. As soon as you flip through this book for the first time, you know you are in for a special reading experience. The author includes cryptic photographs of doorknobs, exteriors of buildings and other images amongst his tale of boy's search for the lock that matches a key he finds in his dad's closet after his father was killed in the WTC. I read it in 2 days and promptly flipped to the beginning and read it again.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling.
Sniffle. I'm still in mourning. Went to the midnight release party and finished it 27 hours later.

The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas by Davy Rothbart
I picked this up during jury duty to kill time during our long waits in the hallway outside the courtroom. I chose because it is by fellow Ann Arbor native and founder of Found Magazine, Davy Rothbart. Overall the stories held my attention, but I was occasionally jolted away from the story by the insertion of some metaphor or phrase that seemed straight out of Creative Writing 101. It was almost as if the author was like, "Hmm, haven't written anything real 'artsy' in a couple pages, better get on that." For example: "We loaded him gingerly but hastily into the backseat as if he were a rare piano stool we'd smuggled from the warehouse at an estate auction" (italics mine).

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell. This book is actually more typical of what I read. The previous selections would indicate otherwise, but you usually find me in the nonfiction section of the library or bookstore. I'm a "This American Life" fanatic. I've seen Sarah Vowell, David Sedaris and Ira Glass speak. I smile every time I remember getting my book signed by David Sedaris. Anyways, creative nonfiction rules, including this collection of essays by Vowell. Only she can have a reader laughing out loud in the Jury assembly room by describing her tour of presidential libraries. And no, the irony of the notion of a "partly cloudy patriot" in the jury assembly room was not lost on me.

Cro-Magnon



Is it just me, or does Angel look a bit Neanderthal when he's in vampire mode? He looks strikingly like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer.

A few of my favorite cyber-things...

Rob Cockerham is a genius!

Drew Curtis's Fark

Michael Moore
. Especially the "Must Read" section

Television Without Pity
-
Where else are you going to get a blow by blow recap of a show that was cancelled in 1996?

Margaret Cho

For all things Harry Potter

For all things Harry and the Potters (Favorite Lyric of all time: Of Harry's disasterous date with Cho Chang: "I'd rather not talk about your dead ex-boyfriends over coffee")

Netflix. It changed my life. Sure, my girlfriend and I bicker over the queue order [ "Three Irish Films back to back?" (Me to her)] and film ratings ["Only one star to Gosford Park? Are you Crazy?" (Her to me, Godforsaken Park I say)]. But with no late fees, unlimited viewing for a flat rate, and only having to walk as far as the mailbox in my pjs to pick up a new film, we get over the squabbles quite easily. Which is why our queque has ballooned to 383 discs. Perhaps we'll get to "Nip/Tuck" Season one by 2011.

For those of you that notice things like Jeanne Tripplehorn's character turning the wrong way onto a one-way street in Sliding Doors, there is Moviemistakes.com

Blogs:

Allegra

PostSecret

Rik Reppe

Amazing Race Pool

Ben

Curt

Friday, September 09, 2005

Funny Lady

Friendster is a funny place. It is a great way to stay in touch with friends and spy on exes. But I have close friends who are not my "friendsters" because they aren't computer people and people who I only vaguely know as that-girl-I-went-to-college-with-but-had-never-spoken-to-until-she-was-a-bridesmaid-in-that-one-girl's-wedding who have asked me to be Friendsters. Which is cool because there is also this unspoken competition to have the most friends on friendster and I'll take em where I can get em. And sometimes Friendster brings about cool little encounters that wouldn't have happened otherwise.

Case in point: my girlfriend was tracked down on Friendster by someone she had been in a youth choir with back in 3rd grade and hadn't seen since. But my girlfriend's name in Allegra and the woman was doing a Friendster search of people from their hometown and how many Allegras are from Minnetonka, MN really? Turns out this woman, Amy Anderson, is an accomplished stand-up comic who has been featured on Comedy Central and VHI. So Allegra took to checking Amy's site periodically and low-and-behold, Amy had a comedy gig over the weekend right here in Minneapolis. So we decided to check it out. And not only was the show free (I'm a sucker for a bargain), Amy was hilarious and totally into the fact that some random chick from her childhood and random chick's girlfriend showed up.

Amy was funny regardless, but I think my experience of her performance was heightened by the location of the show. Amy was performing in the chapel of Augsburg College as part of their freshman orientation. I think she was invited because some of her material deals with her Asian heritage, racism and stereotypes. I got the feeling she was told shortly before her performance that "the freshman learned about discrimination today and we are hoping you can help further their understanding of stereotypes with your comedy." So there she was, in the chapel of "a college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," with an audience of mostly young white kids who probably just left their small Midwestern town for the first time and she's been charged with making racial sensitivity more palatable. She did a very good job. She had the crowd rolling (except one girl in the front row wearing a pink and purple striped shirt who looked shell shocked). But I have a feeling whatever admissions counselor or orientator hired Amy hadn't heard all her material as she scandalized the rooms with jokes about her divorce, live in boyfriend and a hilarious bit about the sexual names of fast food joints (in and out, hot and now, etc).

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Brushes with mortality

A recap of some personal life events in which, if only for a moment, I realized that I would one day stop breathing and die:

The near drowning in the neighborhood pool at my sister's birthday party. Note to parents: as tempting as it may be to say yes, when your youngest daughter asks if she too can participate in the relay races in which the swimmers don oversized clothing from the dress-up trunk, leave it to your eldest daughter and her friends. Otherwise you too will have to jump in the pool wearing clothes. At least I had my swimsuit on underneath.

The diving meet in which I had to do my first back dive in competition. I think I was maybe 7 or 8. My pool's diving board was like 3 feet above the surface of the water, but this was an away meet at a pool that had a high dive. I leaned back and felt myself fall...and fall...and then SMACK! Hit the water flat on my back like in those old Crystal Light commercials. For the rest of the summer, I was an exhibition diver, meaning my dives didn't count for the team because I refused to do another back dive.

The near drowning in the high school pool when I had an asthma attack during a synchronized swimming meet (anyone else wondering why I'm still going anywhere near a pool at this point?). Hard to hold one's breath when there is no breath to be held. Also difficult to remain graceful, despite the sequined bathing suit.

Attending the funeral of my 19-year old cousin.

Working in an abortion clinic during the post 9/11 anthrax scares. Nothing like your own personal FBI agent sending faxed instructions on how to open mail with rubber gloves to make you feel safe at work.

Working in an abortion clinic when an armed robbery occurred there. "So, like, was the gun loaded?" Isn't an abortion clinic the LAST place you want a loaded gun?

Let's face it, working in an abortion clinic, period.

Attending a Las Vegas wedding that featured both Enya and Kenny G music selections.

Jury Duty: The End

I'm growing weary of recounting my jury duty experience, but feel like I should conclude it in some way. So here goes.

We switched courtrooms on Day Three. Our judge had been using another judge's courtroom while (I think) some high-tech equipment was installed in hers. Usually each juror left his/her notepad on the chair when dismissed from court and the notebook would be waiting for us on our chair when we returned. But because we switched courtrooms that day, the court clerk accidentally mixed up our notebooks. So we passed the notebooks down the row and picked ours out. A few people had already shuffled through the stack when it was handed to me. It was only then that I remembered the top item on the top page clearly stated "Catholic Faggot" in my handwriting (see previous jury duty entry for explanation). Nice.

We got to see the new high tech equipment 1st hand. Usually, if the judge asked or allowed counsel to approach the bench, they would converse in whispers. The court reporter had a set of headphones that connected to a mic on the judge's bench so she could take everything down, but the jury clearly wasn't supposed to hear what was discussed. On previous days, this had worked for the most part, but I'd be lying if I said I couldn't make out anything that was said. But, with the new hi tech courtroom, the judge could not only control the volume of all microphones in the courtroom (prosecution/defense tables, witness stand, etc), but activated a speaker above the jury box that played white noise while she was in discussions at the bench.

Witnesses on Day 3 were the victim and her mother. Victim testified as to where she and the defendant went that night (2 bar/restaurants, 1 one which I sometimes frequent) and detailed the events leading up to the assault. She also gave us some background info on how they met and came to date and some of his previous controlling/aggressive behavior. This included smashing her cell phone when she took a call from someone else and not allowing her to touch anything in his apartment. That night, she and the Defendant returned to his apartment, listening to music on the couch until she became tired and went to sleep. When she was unable to sleep because the music was too loud, she returned to the living room and turned off the stereo. So this is where the stereo comes in. He became enraged that she touched something without her permission. Might seem strange to some, but it is classic batterer behavior. Details of the assault aren't necessary here, but he attacked her. She was unable to get free until she bit him, but he caught and attacked again; she was unconscious when the police got there. She was upset at times on the stand, particularly when she had to look at photos of her injuries. She was noticeably irritated at times when the Defendant was cross examining her, and really, who could blame her. I couldn't help but wonder at one point if he had acted as his own counsel partly because she would have to talk to him one more time. I also think he was exceedingly arrogant in representing himself. I think he still felt justified in hitting her and thought a jury would have the same skewed outlook. The victim did have a court appointed victim advocate with her.

The victim's mother testified as to her daughter's appearance the day after the attack, after bruises had formed. The mother was the only witness that the Defendant did not cross-examine. The prosecution rested.

The defendant took the stand as a witness for the defense. He would be the only witness for the defense. Not only did he not have any character witnesses on his behalf, but I couldn't help but notice he never had a single observer sitting on his side of the courtroom to offer moral support. Including his mother, who we knew lives in town because it came up in previous testimony. Was the defendant going to ask himself questions, alternating between the witness box and the floor? He sat in the witness box and offered his testimony so that his version of events would be considered as evidence.

This is where I finally get to tell you about what I began calling in my head "the B.J.-Self
Defense" defense. He claimed that the victim was performing oral sex when he said the name of another girl. The victim became so upset that she bite him on his inner thigh and clamped on so hard and for so long that he had to hit her repeatedly to get her off him. Therefore, any injuries he inflicted were in self defense. But there were a lot of things he had to explain that we'd heard in court. The second attack that took place after she bit him and got away? Never happened. What about the slapping noises heard by the police? Could've been the cordless phone falling on the kitchen floor when it fell off the cradle after he called 911 (whatever). Why was he screaming about his stereo? After he was able to fight her off, he left her alone to calm down. He heard water running and discovered she had poured a glass of water into his stereo. The victim never turned off any music because there was no music because the neighbor testified under cross she hadn't heard any.

100 bucks says that stereo is still in his living room in perfect working condition.

The prosecutor cross examined the Defendant and was very merciful in my opinion. I think he realized that the jury would be more appreciative of a short cross examination than meticulously going through all of the inconsistencies of the Defendant's version of events (it would have been very easy for the prosecutor to do). The prosecutor did go through some of them: How was she able to scream and cry for help if her jaws her locked onto his leg? Why didn't he mention being attacked when he called 911? Why was he asking for help for her and not himself?

I have one I'd like to add: If there was no second attack and she was able to walk around pouring water onto stereos, how did she end up unconscious on the floor when the police arrived?

At some point during the defendant's testimony on Day Three, we ran out of time for the day and were given a time to return the on Day Four.

Day Four the jury showed up for service, but the Judge informed us that "there was an unexpected delay in the case" and we would resume the following day. We found out after the case was concluded that the delay was because the Defendant called in sick. But of course the judge couldn't tell us that at the time because it would've potentially biased the jury, some of whom were already very weary of how long the trial was taking.

Day Five we actually finished the rest of the Defendant's testimony and cross and rebuttal. Finally we got to closing arguments. Again, the prosecution was smart and kept things fairly short. And again, the defendant struggled to keep a concise train of thought and closing arguments carried over into Day Six. Day 5 was a Friday. The called the prosecutor and defendant to the bench where I think she may have given them the option of sequestering us. But, with the static coming out of the speaker, I can't be sure. All I know is that when she was done consulting with them, she told us "Not to worry. It's not like TV, you won't be sequestered over the weekend."

In his closing arguments, the Defendant tried to bring up some inconsistencies as grounds for reasonable doubt.

The red herrings that he tried to throw at us didn't really matter anyways.
He wanted us to accept the testimony of the neighbor having heard no music through the wall as valid, but at the same time dismiss her testimony that she heard a slap through the wall because that noise could've been "100s of things" and what can you really hear through the wall anyways?

He kept harping on the fact that the victim didn't initially testify in court that they had been kissing that night. Even though she did admit it under cross. She's a liar, she denied it. Um, no, she simply didn't mention it at first. Who wants to talk about kissing her attacker? Besides, what bearing does a kiss have on any of the charges?

He also harped on the fact that there were things she testified as not remembering. There were no glaring major gaps in her testimony, but details she did not remember. I think he wanted us to think she was drunk when it happened and not credible, but her testimony was very credible. Besides, any gaps in memory could be explained away by the fact she was unconscious at times. Not to mention she was having to recall a trauma 7 months after it happened and being questioned on the stand by the man who did it.

"I called 911 on her behalf! I was worried about her well-being. I said 'A friend' not 'Fred'". We did talk about this a during jury deliberations. Why did he call 911? The prosecution offered a theory in closing arguments: that he probably knew the neighbors could hear and thought he better try to get a different perception of events out there by calling 911 himself, yet be vague enough on the call so he could try to fill in the gaps later once he'd thought about it. I'm not sure the jury bought that, but thought he briefly scared himself enough that he was worried about what he was capable of doing if he didn't call. But why could police hear him hit her when they arrived? Was he really so stupid as to keep hitting her when he knew police would be coming? Apparently. I don't think the prosecutor ever tried to explain it. But when we talked about it during deliberations, the consensus was that he just couldn't control himself.

But I think what decided the case for me was this: Even if you were willing to accept his cock and bull story that she bit him unproked, the injuries she sustained far exceeded what would of been necessary for him to get her off of him. He is larger and stronger than her. And the law says that a person can defend him/herself until the threat of immediate danger are gone. If you continue to assault someone after that, it is no longer self defense. The only Self Defense that occurred that night was when she bit him to get him off of her.

We were finally given the case for deliberations the afternoon of Day five. The Judge gave us detailed instructions on our responsibilities and defined each element of all three charges. We would have to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all elements of a charge to find him guilty of that charge. We, of course, had the option of finding him not guilty of all three, guilty of all three, or a mix. We were eventually dismissed into a deliberation room. We were provided with copies of the written instructions and definitions that the judge had given verbally, all state's and defense evidence exhibits if we chose to review them, and six verdict forms to be signed by the elected foreperson (guilty and not guilty version each of the three charges, only to sign the one that matched our decisions).

In the deliberation room, I was once again baffled as to why and how the Defendant chose this jury. The jury was 4 women and 2 men. Majority women on a domestic assault case? And I immediately felt relief when 2 other jurors admitted that too felt they wouldn't have been on this jury had the Defendant not represented himself. One of them is a psychologist who has testified repeatedly in Family court regarding family violence. And unlike my previous affiliation with the battered women's shelter, the Defendant knew that info about her during jury selection.

It may have been one of the shortest deliberations in history. And it would've been even shorter if they hadn't nominated me as foreperson. There was one juror in particular that made no attempt to conceal her desire to find him guilty of all charges and get out of there as soon as possible. Which made me a little nervous. Hey, I thought he was guilty too but felt we owed it to him to take our time and to the other jurors to each have their say. But when we went around the room, we all pretty much agreed immediately he was guilty. No one believed he acted in self-defense. Because the case was essentially he said/she said, there was a lot of conflicting testimony. Some believed certain elements more than others, but those details were insignificant when it came to an actual verdict. Regardless still caused fear and bodily harm to the victim. And no one contested the disorderly conduct. I figured he was guilty of that charge based on the neighbor's testimony alone, but the rest of jurors focused on his behavior towards the police.

At some point, I asked the room if they were really all comfortable having me as foreperson and were they okay with guilty verdicts on all three charges. They agreed and I signed the guilty papers. We informed the deputy outside the deliberation room and I guess she informed the court. It took awhile to be called into the courtroom. We took our same seats as usual in the jury box. The judge asked if we had selected a foreperson and reached a unanimous verdict. Lucikly, I didn't have to read the verdicts aloud myself. I presented the verdict sheets to the deputy and the Judge read them. But I messed up. I had only brought the signed forms with me and left the not guilty forms in the deliberation room. I had to go back to the room, walking right by the defendant, to retrieve them. The Judge read the verdicts, including my full name as the signature on the forms. I glanced over at the Defendant. He was pretty stonefaced. Judge said something about setting a time for sentencing and asked that the jury remain behind in the courtroom and everyone else was dismissed.

We were invited into the Judge's chambers. She thanked us for our service and said we could ask her any questions we might have. One juror asked what kind of sentence the defendant might receive. Turns out that the charges were 5th degree assault charges, a misdemeanor. The max is 90 days, but the Judge said she would give him less than that. If she gave him the max, then there is no option for additional probation and she said she "wanted to keep an eye on him for as long as we can." Someone else asked what had happened on Day Four and that is when we found out the Defendant had called in sick. One of the jurors seemed to scoff, but the Judge said she thinks he was mentally and physically exhausted from representing himself. I asked the Judge what she thought of our verdicts and she said she thought the evidence was certainly sufficient to find him guilty. Thankfully, someone else brought up the fact that he was uncomfortable with the Defendant knowing our names and cities we live in. Even though no contact info is put on the jury list, it would take all of ten seconds to find us on the internet. The Judge said she would ask for the jury list to be returned and include it in his probation to not contact any of us.

That thought had certainly crossed my mind and made me nervous and a woman who lives in a ground level apartment with another woman. It must have still been on my mind that night when I was home alone in bed and someone knocked on my window. It was the kind of thing where it is dark outside and I had lights on inside, so wouldn't be able to see anyone even if I did pull up the blinds, which I didn't want to do. I called out "Who's there?" while frantically looking around the room for potential weapons. No one answered my calls and then I remember that Allegra had just called to say she was on her way home. So I'm frantically trying to call her to tell her someone's outside the apartment and don't come home because he might be there when she opens the door to the apartment. Our neighbors upstairs were locked out so they had knocked on my window. But they didn't respond because then they saw Allegra pull up and she let them in. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Jury Duty: Day Two, Part Two

The next witness was Cop#2. Cop#2 and 3 arrived on the scene together in response to the neighbor's 911 call. The neighbor showed them to the door. Cop#2 stood closest to the door while Cop#3 stood behind and to the side as back up. Through the door, Cop #2 heard a man yelling about his stereo, something to the effect of "Why did you touch my stereo?". He then testified he heard a flesh on flesh slap through the door. They knocked on the door and the Defendant opened it. The victim was lying on the floor, going in and out of consciousness. The Defendant said "She bit me for no reason." Concerned for the safety of everyone involved, Cop#3 handcuffed the Defendant while Cop# 2 tended to the victim. Cop#2 was able to wake up the victim and she was eventually taken by ambulance to a hospital to check her injuries. At the hospital, Cop#2 took a statement from the victim and also took photos of her injuries. The statement and the photos were presented in court and entered as evidence. In her statement, the victim relayed the events of the evening. She and the defendant had gone out, both had drinks. Eventually returned to the apartment where he became enraged over something and had beaten her. Cop#2 testified that she had been drinking, but was coherent and not intoxicated.

Cop#2 eventually went back to the precinct where the Defendant was being held. They had not been able to book him yet because he wasn't cooperating. He was put into a holding cell until he was calm enough for booking. However, in the cell, the defendant became "out of control," screaming profanities and punching and kicking the walls. Because he may of hurt himself, the cops called paramedics to come and sedate him.

Cop#3 also testified as to what he heard outside the apartment. He couldn't make out what the man yelled, but did hear the slap. He handcuffed the defendant who began hurling insults at the cops including "Catholic faggot," "F*cking pig," and "bush lover." I could never quite determine if it was "Bush lover" with a capital B, as in Dubya Bush, or lower case b, as in female anatomy. Certainly faggot and lower case bush lover seem to be contradictory insults. This kinda of talk from the defendant continued until he was later sedated. When asked what happened, all the defendant would really say what that the victim bit him and that she had been drinking. The details of his side of the story were heard for the first time from him in court.

Cop #3 was the final witness for Day Two, we were dismissed for the day.

Specimen


I came across my student I.D. from when I was on study abroad at the University of Wollongong. Of course, I never told anyone that my time spent there was actually in a Petri dish. While the definition of "Specimen" does include an individual member of a group, us Yankees are more accustomed to the scientific use of the term. I therefore find it humorous to see "Specimen Signature" printed above my name on the back. Kinda brings a whole new meaning to the idea of foreign study's objective to expose us to a new culture. Get it? "Culture"?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Jury Duty: Day Two, Part One

Crazy J texted me mid-day with requests for more jury duty info.

Day Two brought the conclusion of the Defendant's opening remarks and the beginning of the State's witnesses and the exhibits that came with them. The first witness is someone I referred to in my notes as the "911 guy." He's a retired police officer who was working as the temporary manager of the 911 dispatch center on the night of the alleged assault. Two 911 calls came in that night and both were heard in court. The 911 guy was there to play the tapes, help the prosecution introduce the tapes and corresponding transcripts into evidence and essentially explain how the whole 911 thing works.

The first 911 call came from the Defendant's next door neighbor. Their apartments share a wall. In the tape she stated she was calling to report "domestic violence," that she could hear a man yelling "I'm going to hit you, I'm going to f*cking hit you again," a woman crying and screaming and as the phone call was being made, she told the dispatcher she just heard him hit her.

The 2nd 911 call came from within the apartment where the assault took place. A man called to say there was a woman there in need of help. She had too much to drink, but was not forthcoming when asked if she needed an ambulance. When asked what his name was, he said "Fred." Both recordings were entered into evidence as State's exhibits 1 & 2.

While the interview of the 911 guy by the prosecutor was pretty straight forward, the cross examination by the defendant was where the jury began to see his attempts to rewrite what happened that night. Up until this point, we don't technically know who the man that called 911 was, just that it was a man from that apartment. The defendant wanted us to know it was him. This proved tricky because counsel can't testify during questioning. He tried to say, "it was me that called," but that immediately brought objections from the prosecution. And since the 911 guy doesn't know him and was never at the scene, he just had to keep repeating himself over and over saying "It sounds like a man and the call came from this address. That is all I know." Now, Fred is not the defendant's name. He asked the 911 guy, "Is it possible that the man on the phone said 'A friend' when asked his name?". The 911 guy said, "No it sounds like Fred." The Defendant tried over and over to get the witness to testify that the transcription may not be inaccurate, but the witness didn't take the bait, simply saying "If I wasn't certain what was said, I would have put 'inaudible' on the transcript. I'm not going to guess at what is being said." And indeed, there were portions of the recordings where static drowns out the voices and the transcripts did say [inaudible] in those places. I think the Defendant wanted us to know that it was him that called 911 because he thought it would show concern for her well-being. But whether he answered "Fred" or "A Friend" he was evading the question, which is suspect behavior from a supposedly innocent man. I'll get into more detail later about his version of events, but suffice to say for now that his 911 calls mention nothing of the events he later described in court.

The next witness was Cop #1. Cop #1 was actually last on the scene that night, but testified first because she interviewed the neighbor that called 911. She saw very little of the scene in the Defendant's apartment aside from him in handcuffs talking to Cop #3 and the victim being attended to by Cop#2. She presented State's exhibit 3, a transcript of the recorded statement she took from the neighbor. In the statement the neighbor repeats what she heard through the wall that prompted her to call 911. The Defendant also cross examined Cop#1, but the only close to meaningful thing he got her to say was that she was not an eye witness to what happened between him and the victim. This would be a recurring theme from him: That only 2 people really know what happened that night and that the victim (in his opinion) can't remember clearly.

The next witness of Day Two was the neighbor herself. Lucky her, she still lives next door to the defendant. Having called 911 0n him, testified against him and been cross examined by him, I think I'd want to move if I was her. And here I was just uncomfortable being a juror. She corroborated the state's exhibits and described how she met the police in the apartment lobby and led them to the Defendant's apartment. The defendant also questioned her and got her to admit she only heard things through a wall and did not see what happened. He also asked her if she ever heard music coming from his apartment. She had. He asked her if she remembered hearing music from his apartment that night. She did not. This would be important to his defense later when the whole issue of the stereo came up. Turns out his stereo played an integral role in everything that happened that night...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Jury Duty: Day One, Part Two

So once the 16 potential jurors were unloaded from the freight elevator, we spent some time waiting in the hallway outside the courtroom. I came to know this hallway very well over the next 5 days. The weirdest part about the hallway is that everyone involved in the trail waited in the hallway together throughout the trial. All the jurors, attorneys and witnesses gathered there together. I'm not sure if I expected each party to have their own locker room or what, but only the Judge had her own hideout in her chambers behind the courtroom.

Eventually, the court clerk led us in and we took a seat in the observer section, behind the low barrier dividing observers from those involved in the case (you know, where Mr. Brady was sitting when he dropped his briefcase to get the con artist to turn his neck in the neck brace to prove he was trying to scam Mrs. Brady in traffic court). On the other side of the barrier are the prosecution & defense tables, court clerk desk, court reporter box, witness stand, jury box and Judge's bench. A lot like TV except it wasn't all polished dark wood and dramatic lighting. I mean, there was some polished wood, but I didn't get the same feeling of formality and grandiose importance as one would in the "A Few Good Men" courtroom.

We were told the case was a criminal case: State Vs. [Defendant's last name]*. Three Charges: 1) Domestic Assault causing bodily harm 2) Domestic Assault causing fear 3) Disorderly Conduct. As soon as I heard the charges, I thought there was no way I'd end up on the jury. I'm a woman. I minored in women's studies in college. I went through volunteer training at a battered women's shelter. My bookshelves contain autographed copies of Andrea Dworkin and Susan Brownmiller books.

Then we were introduced to the prosecutor and the defense team. The defense team consisted of the Defendant and... that's it. The Defendant acted as his own council. That means he not only interviewed potential jurors for the defense, but did opening and closing arguments, all cross-examinations of the prosecution's witnesses (including the victim), and attempted to make objections. And no, he is not a lawyer.

And that is how someone with my background not only ended up on the jury, but was eventually elected foreperson during deliberations. This is why I am not using the defendant's name in the blog. Because he interviewed the jurors, he was given our names and cities we live in. My full name was also read aloud during the verdict as the juror foreperson.

Let me just state for the record, I went into this trial with an open mind. I believe in every individual's right to a fair trial and that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty. However, all jurors are going to be influenced by their life experience. That is why 16 potential jurors were interviewed for a 6 person jury. It is up to the defense and prosecution to weed out any jurors that have life experiences that would bias them in the favor of the other side. I answered all questions posed to me by both the prosecutor and the defendant with complete honesty. The Defendant did not ask if any jurors had ever worked with victims of domestic violence, nor if there was any reason we might be biased. All he asked us about was where we live, what we do, our education level, and our hobbies. Then the prosecutor had his turn, but of course, he didn't ask questions that would help the defense. We did not fill out any written forms, we were only asked questions verbally. Before I knew it, we were once again dismissed into the hallway while the jury was chosen.

I felt a little guilty while sitting in the hallway. Should I have just raised my hand and said, "Dude, I'm a feminist."? I figured even though this information hadn't come out, I'd still have a small chance of being chosen. I was about the same age as the victim, surely that was enough for the Defendant to strike me from the list. We were eventually called back in. The Judge read the names of those jurors not chosen. When the judge was finished, I was still in the Jury box. I really had no time to think about it because as soon as the 6 of us consolidated our seats in the front of the jury box, the trial began. The prosecutor began his opening statement. He basically told us what to expect in the way of witnesses and the evidence each of his witnesses would bring up. As times his remarks were dramatic, as he mimicked the slapping noises heard by witnesses during the alleged assault.

Then the Defendant got started. Right away I knew that the estimated trial length of a day and a half was drastically low. Even though we had been informed that opening statements are NOT evidence and therefore have no real bearing on jury deliberations, the defendant immediately launched into his version of events. He also tried to define the law for us, which immediately solicited multiple objections from the prosecutor. Only the judge can define the law for the jury and it comes after all evidence and closing arguments. The Defendant's lack of understanding of the law would continue to be evident throughout the trial. It got to the point where the judge would simple intervene herself without an objection from the prosecutor. The Defendant repeated himself often and made long pauses. Some of the jurors were more patients than others. Even though inexperience and length of time shouldn't influence the jury's verdict, the defendant never seemed to get it through his head that getting to the point would be better for him in the long run. As such, one of the first notes I made on the legal pad provided was "Just because he is an idiot does not mean he is guilty." Despite starting opening statements relatively early in the afternoon, the defendant still had not finished his testimony, er, opening remarks by the end of the first day.

*I leave out the Defendant's name not to protect him, but so I don't have to enter the witness protection program.

MN Conservation Plate


Is it just me, or is the boy deer about to mount the girl deer?

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Jury Duty: Day One, Part One

Tuesday afternoon I completed my civic duty as a juror at Hennepin County District Court. I wasn't allowed to discuss the case while proceedings were taking place, so I'll recap now that we've returned a verdict and have been dismissed from any further jury duty (until eligible again in 3 years).

I received a jury summons by mail at the end of July informing me of my two week jury service starting August 22nd. Included with the summons was a brief questionnaire (gender, race, age, etc). Once the jury office received my questionnaire, I could request call-in status and would not be required to report in person until the phone-in recording called my group number. Luckily, the phone-in instructions are straight forward. I obtained phone-in status and wasn't required to report my first day. My group number was listed in the recording to report at 9 am Tuesday August 23rd.
Shortly after 9:00, a woman from the Jury Office did role call by having everyone line up and scanning the bar code printed on our summons (what is the plural for summons?). Some of the jurors had sat there all day on Monday and never been called. She had us newbies stay for brief orientation where she told us about things such as:

  1. Payment of service: $20/day + mileage to courthouse as calculated by the address summons was sent to. As the courthouse is in downtown Minneapolis, $20 just about covers parking for the day. If you know a good place to park (early bird special on City Center roof is only $9 if you get there before 8:30), then you might have enough to pay for your lunch as well.
  2. Rules of court: no camera phones, all other phones turned off, no weapons, etc.
  3. How to sign in/out for breaks: dry erase board. OK to leave if sign on board is green, stay in room if sign is red- that means they are about to pull jurors from the pool for a panel.
  4. All other information was regarding people's bitching and moaning about being there and their various attempts to weasel out of jury duty. One one exception (a young mom with a 5 month old who was also a student), I just felt contempt for those people that somehow thought their time was more valuable than the rest of us.

Here's what I remember about the Jury Assembly Room. About 100 people spread out in a large waiting room. Mostly not talking to each other. There were some magazine racks and bookshelves with games and books. The jurors seemed to be divided into two trains of thought: those who had resigned themselves to jury service and were trying to make the best of it, and those who were going to fume and bitch until they were dismissed. I watched a young woman with acrylic nails work on a puzzle of cartoonish polar bears. Another woman slept. The few people who had dared to socialize were playing cards or chatting. Most people read. Otherwise the only entertainment was overheard cell phone conversations and two "Justice Talking" kiosks. The kiosks were decorated in red, white and blue with historical photos and headphones. Presumably you could listen to some kind of museum exhibit type recording, but I never had the pleasure of listening for myself.

There were television screens throughout the room. They were not showing programs, but scrolling screen shots of useful text.

  • "Shakes and Rumbles? Don't Worry! The Jury Room is located under Sixth Street and what your feel is the traffic overhead" (and I assume that prolonged rumble accompanied with the sound of a jackhammer was road work).
  • "Thought for the Day: There are those who's train of thought never leave the depot."
  • "You may sign out for 5 minute breaks!" (over a montage of Old Glory, Abe Lincoln's face, and the Capital Dome in order for us to feel nice and patriotic about being let loose for a smoke or a potty break for all of five minutes)
  • "Please do not use chairs as foot rests!"
  • "Thought for the Day: People don't plan to fail, they fail to plan."
  • "Any juror that arrived after 9:00 and missed role call, please check in at the office!"

There were a lot of exclamation points.

At one point, I checked myself out for a 5 minute break! I went to the bathroom. The women's restroom smelled like grape Robutussin. Which it pretty good as far as bathroom smells go. When I returned to the dry erase board, the red sign was up. 16 names were called at random as chosen by a computer from the jury pool. They called my name. We were all checked by guards with security wands and taken in a freight elevator to the 14th floor.

To be continued.

Friday, August 26, 2005

3-thumbed Jenny

Before my girlfriend went perm, she and I briefly temped in the same office. It was monotonous work, coding invoices for merchandise sold on the company website. We did this all day, every day, 40 hours a week until we got the department caught up from the holiday rush. The most valuable thing either of us took away from that experience was license to tell Three-Thumbed Jenny* Stories.

Often temps are rarely given corporate email addresses. The time it takes to get the request through the IT work order process can be longer than the temp's tenure. But our supervisor let me the email address of the temp who had previously worked in the cube before me. She was a temp-temp. The kind of temp that can't be trusted to be left alone and do work, so she was quickly let go. I don't blame the supervisor for not wanting to get me my own email address, what if I had ended up a temp-temp as well? So, according to my email address, my name was Cindy McPipe. One day, Allegra emailed Cindy and wrote, "Have you noticed that Jenny has three thumbs? Well, two regular sized thumbs and a third janky thumb sprouting out of the left one?" I hadn't. But it became my mission to see it. Jenny was pretty good at hiding the double thumb, but I finally did get a glimpse of it.

News of the third thumb spread quickly. There were a lot of questions going back and forth over email between Cindy, Allegra and the other temps. Why didn't her parents' have it removed when she was born? Why doesn't she do that now? Is this the result of inbreeding? How does she use the space bar with that thing?

The most mystifying question of them all: How is it that someone with 3 thumbs has a permanent job and we don't? We became even more baffled by this injustice whenever Jenny opened her mouth. Here are some of the highlights:
  • "My husband and I went out for Chinese last night. We were looking at the menu and decided to order the Mock Duck because we haven't had duck in awhile. But then when it came, something wasn't right with it. It wasn't duck! It was fake duck! I mean if they aren't going to give you real duck, it should say so on the menu..."
  • Someone else in the office was giving directions to a casino to Jenny. The directions included driving through a rural area of Minnesota so the coworker warned Jenny to watch out for deer on the road. This was in January. "Deer? Aren't they all dead in the winter?" Yes, they spontaneous regenerate in the spring. Either that or they fly south for the winter.
  • Cindy and the rest of the department received an email one morning from Jenny entitled "Birthday treats." The text of the email informed us that today was Jenny's Birthday and she had brought in some "Fruit drinks" to share with the group in celebration. They could be found on the back filing cabinet (every office has that designated area for shared food, otherwise Hands Off!). Later that morning, I went to file something and spotted Jenny's Fruit Drinks. You know those popsicles that come in a plastic tube filled with artificial flavored sugar water? You freeze them, then cut the top off the tube and squeeze the bottom to get the ice out. Jenny's were technically drinks I suppose, in that they weren't frozen, but they were in a box labeled "Ice Pops."

Recommended viewing: Haiku Tunnel, Clockwatchers, Office Space.

*Name Changed.

Monday, August 22, 2005

White Women in Peril

There has been some discussion in the media lately as to whether the coverage of Natalee Holloway's disappearance is too excessive. First, Bob Costas refused to guest host Larry King Live when the show was devoted to Holloway's disappearance. [I find it humorous that some people are now hailing Costas a journalist with integrity for refusing to cover a topic already so well covered. While I agree he has every right to not cover topics, I think Costas is a tool. The only time I watch anything he hosts is the during the Olympics and I've hated his coverage since 1996 when he made fun of the synchronized swimmers. The Olympics is one of the few times we see any network primetime coverage of women in sports and Costas always undermines it. For example, when interviewing the U.S. Women's Olympic Soccer Team in 2004, he fell back on asking Brandi Chastain about celebrating in her sports bra years earlier after winning the World Cup].

Then I was reading one of my favorite comics, The Boondocks, and came across this strip. Some's knee-jerk to this comic might be anger about the artist's apparent disregard for sensitivity of the Holloway case, but that would require the reader to ignore the tongue-in-cheek nature of this valid critique. I agree with the sentiment that the line between news coverage and "reality" TV can be blurred when news is pursued and edited for the sake of ratings.

News networks' decision to give preferential treatment to missing middle class white women reminds me of the coverage of suburban high school shootings. Both are tragedies. But violence amongst youth in America only received ample coverage when it moved to the suburbs; when it became "Our nation's children." Urban violence amongst the poor and minorities is considered a given, perhaps a shame, but not really something we can do anything about.

Consider the coverage of Laci Peterson versus LaToyia Figueroa. Both were young, attractive pregnant women who were missing. But Peterson was white and married while Figueroa was black and unmarried. When I typed "LaToyia Figueroa" into CNN.com's search engine today, I found two matches: one article from when she was first reported missing, a second when her body was found. When I typed in "Laci Peterson" just minutes later into the same search engine, there are 233 articles. Yes, many of them cover the Peterson trial, a stage not yet reached in the Figeroa case, but 35 of the 233 articles were written from the time Laci Peterson went missing until her remains were identified.

Just because I am restless with the way much of TV news coverage is presented doesn't mean I'm not sympathetic towards the victims and their families (even those who benefit from the bias). I was high school classmates with a woman who was murdered at age 19 while vacationing in Costa Rica. I was a student at a small college when one of the 1,300 students was killed by her ex-boyfriend in the dorm. If anything, my proximity to those cases (and the media frenzy that followed both) makes me more likely to tune in to similar news stories. This doesn't mean I accept everything I'm told. In the case of Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called "Runaway Bride," I never accepted the orders that I was supposed to feel outrage at her faked abduction.

The website White Women in Peril offers an ongoing critique of the media's portrayal of these cases. While I don't agree with all the sentiments expressed on the site, they do have a very interesting quiz. While much of it is written in jest, I think it says a lot about our society. The link leading to the survey says "Ladies, determine your white woman in peril cable news interest rating!" By answering a series of questions regarding everything from age, race, sexual preference, hair color and even if your family's home can accommodate news vans, you are given a score out of 100. I scored "36 (out of 100 +5 bonus points): Very little chance of coverage." I have no idea how each question is weighed. I'm guessing the points I did receive are for being young and white with a family that would be willing to go on the news and plea for my return. I'm guessing that because I'm a lesbian, don't go to church and my family has no wedding photos or bikini shots of me hurt my score.


My current to do list:

Call CC fraud people
Job Hunt
Mail jeans/cd/hubcap program to Tony and to Katie
Therapist
Laundry
Call Kara
Call Katie

Friday, August 19, 2005

More Corporate Silliness

Before my last temp contract ended, I took a souvenir with me. The office building was cleaned at night unsupervised by the cubicles' inhabitants. In order to put corporate Joe Shmoe at ease about leaving his precious materials unattended over night, one could find these signs posted at every copy machine, recycling station and water cooler: "Your Janitorial service has been trained only to throw out trash within actual trash cans. Please use one of these sticky notes to label any trash that does not fit in a proper receptacle." I suppose this was created after someone's all-important TPS reports were accidentally trashed. I find it very hard to believe that the perceived need for such labels came from the janitors themselves and not the corporate blowhards who probably had to have several hour long meetings to come up with this system.

I found the whole thing hilarious. I took to leaving an apple core on my desk with a "trash" label stuck to it just to see what would happen. I mean, is oversized office waste really such a problem? I suppose the 5 pizza boxes when the supervisor decided to treat the group to lunch on Casual Friday might not fit in a cubicle-sized waste basket, but was anyone so confused about its status as a throw-away item that middle management didn't feel comfortable leaving them stacked next to the trash can in the kitchen in fear they'd sit there all weekend and attract ants?

I would've loved to have been the entry level admin assistant asked to take notes during this meeting.

There are three notes to choose from:

I think this is what the guys came up with first. It is straight forward. The meaning of "trash" is conveyed not only with the bold font, but the universal language of doodle. Blobby figure put trash in container. This means trash.



I think this label came next. Someone stopped Larry in the hall and said, "you know, I'm worried about a sexual harassment lawsuit." The blobby figure on the trash post-it is clearly a woman. I mean look at the skirt. We don't want to imply only women are responsible for labeling trash. This is a group effort that fits within our mission statement. So they took her off the label. But then there was concern that the doodle was no longer universal. What language do immigrant janitors speak? Spanish. There, now it is universal again.

Then groovy-boy got wind of the label system. A recent graduate of a liberal arts college with a degree in poli sci, he is the kinda guy who used to organize cardboard box camp outs on the campus quad to raise awareness on the homeless, weather permitting. Since he sold out by working for said corporate blowhards, he's determined to still make a difference. What if he wants his pizza boxes to be recycled? Even though he hates to sacrifice even a post-it's worth of paper, it is better than those Papa Johns boxes heading for the landfill. Here, the corporate blowhards stick with the bilingual + iconic representation format for this label, but go with blue ink because it is "earthy".

Contractor? I'm not in construction!

I imagine most blogs are started out of boredom. My girlfriend started hers while trapped in a two day training at work in which they made the mistake of giving everyone computers with internet access. I suppose there are those people who blog out of a feeling of self-importance, but I am not one of them.

I don't know if I'm so much bored as in limbo. Since I moved to Minneapolis in November of 2003 (I came here because I was in love with someone- you need a drastic reason to move to Minneapolis at the start of winter), I've been working corporate temp jobs. The work has been tolerable, but mostly was gratifying only in that it kept me out of credit card debt. The problem with being a temp is that if you do a good job, you inevitably put yourself out of work. The upside to being a temp (or a "contractor" per corporate lingo) is that you can try to convince yourself that this is just a brief stopping point on your way to something better. But those reading closely will have noticed that I've been temping just shy of 2 years. Which is hardly "temporary" seeing as how I've only had 3 placements in 2 years, 2 of which were for the same corporation back to back. When you've worked for the same company for a year and a half, its isn't technically temporary. All I can really say about it is that I've had a series of entry level positions for two of the largest employers in the Twin Cities but haven't had health insurance or a single day of paid holiday or vacation that entire time.

When you are a temp, there is always an invisible line dividing you from the perms. Sometimes the line isn't even invisible; at one of the companies they actually make the badges for temps s a different color than the permanent employees. It can be a good thing. You can cheer up by telling yourself you haven't completely sold your soul to the devil; all you have to do is call up the temp agency and have them tell The Man you're not coming back. Not that I ever did that, but I could've. If you are lucky enough to have other temps in the same department you can gossip about the office shenanigans and go on about how you are just doing this until you go back to grad school. Even if all that talk is bullshit. You're not temping so you can have the flexibility to do your art or your activism on the side. You want more than anything for the company to offer you a different colored badge.

Usually that separation of temps and perms just sucks. The perms don't want to invest any time in you because they know you're just passing through, or worse, have decided to treat you as their personal secretary. You eat lunch alone in the overpriced cafeteria or at your desk, where you can at least email friends you are also trapped in cubicles and feel some camaraderie. The worst was when I was working at a place that wouldn't allow temps to participate in the office holiday gift exchange ("secret Santa" was re-dubbed "secret snowball" because not everyone believes in Santa). Look, if I've been coming to the same office on time for 6 months, I don't care if my paycheck comes from The Agency, I have a right to purchase and receive cheap crap as much as the next guy. I want to re-gift that stinky candle I got last year dammit!

Perhaps for my next entry, I'll try to figure out how I ended here. In the meantime, here's my current To Do list:

  1. Rx refill
  2. Blog (yea! I can check something off)
  3. Pay cc bill
  4. deposit Fringe + tax refund
  5. Allegra's B-day
  6. Job Hunt
  7. Find Summons
  8. Mail jeans/Cds/programs to Tony/Katie
  9. Buy stamps
  10. Therapist
  11. email family re: vacation