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