Wednesday, November 19, 2008
fris‧son / Pronunciation [free-sohn; Fr. free-sawn]
a sudden, passing sensation of excitement; a shudder of emotion; thrill.
(Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2006)
Let me tell you about the holiday that I like best of all – Thanksgiving.
I like all holidays. Any day you get off from work, or during which people get together to celebrate, or when you get (or give) gifts? In my book, that’s a good day. Some days are more special than others, though.
Christmas used to be my favorite. When I was a kid, I went straight from one frisson to another during the week leading up to Christmas. The celebration of Christ’s birth was magical and there was no end to the ways that the world delighted me. As I’ve grown older, the magic has ebbed. I haven’t changed, however; it’s the world that has.
When I was a child, nearly every house in the neighborhood sported red, yellow, green, blue and orange pastel lights, either as decoration outside or via a candle or two in the windows. The streets were bathed in an embracing warmth, a welcoming glow. Nowadays, the lights of choice are mostly cold; icicles and clear starbursts. I guess a lot of folks like them – otherwise, why would they have them? - but all they do for me is make the night streets too much like daytime. Those bright white lights don’t do anything but remind me of how cold it is in winter. The colorful lights of my childhood made me feel warm, even during the meanest of snowstorms.
(Photo courtesy Photos From My Life. Isn't it a lovely tree?)
The music is omnipresent now. Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas music. I always have. I always looked forward to it beginning, sporadically, after Thanksgiving, and then building bit by bit until there was an entire glorious day and night of it from Christmas Eve through to Christmas Night. It played on the radio all day, but only all day on Christmas and most of the day before. In the morning, while opening presents with my Mom and Dad, we played the two or three vinyl Christmas records we had at home. It was special.
Now the trouble is in trying to avoid it. Even as of today, November 19th, there have been radio stations playing Christmas music 24 hours a day for the past three weeks. Seriously - and I mean this - if you like that sort of thing, God bless you. To me, though, Christmas music is like chocolate. A few pieces, rich and creamy, are delightful. Feed it to me non-stop for sixty days? All that is, is a sick stomach.
(My job, as good as it is, doesn’t help matters. I’m a voice-over guy, and I also do production work, but my actual job title is “Music Director”. Therefore, in the course of my duties, I sometimes have to use holiday music for background in pieces I complete for clients during September and October. I try to remain detached while doing so, but...)
The final nail in my Christmas coffin is driven in by the greedy merchants who just plain don't have the common decency to wait for Thanksgiving to be over before they start spewing forth their hideous advertisements. Every year, they start earlier and earlier. I rail against it every year, too. MY WIFE tells me to relax, that I can’t change it, that there really isn’t anything all that bad about it. I love MY WIFE dearly, but on this she’s dead wrong. I’ll go to my grave cursing those bastards for draining the innocent joy out of a lovely day. I try to ignore it and I try to keep the spirit I believe in, but they just beat me down and beat me down and one of these days I won’t be able to get back up.
I can’t even begin to imagine how hideous a time it must be for those who don’t share my faith. No wonder some of the atheists keep trying to run it out of town. The money-grubbing parasites, who see it only as a time to reel in a profit, have turned it into something even I want to partially get rid of.
Ah, I suppose that’s a bit over the top. The day still has charm. The real importance of it, for someone like me, is spiritual, and the sons of bitches can’t rip that out of me unless I let them. The people I share the day with, and with whom I eat good food and exchange lovely and loving gifts, are dear to me. They still make it a wonderful day, but that frisson I spoke of earlier, that I used to have in multiples during the season, hasn’t been felt in quite a while.
The only holiday I can always count upon to deliver a frisson is Thanksgiving.
(I’m trying to set the world record for frisson mentions in one blog. Am I there yet?)
I have never had a bad Thanksgiving. Not one. As a matter of fact, not only have I not had a bad one; I’ve had nothing but good ones for as long as I can remember.
For every other holiday, I can dredge up at least one bummer. There have been New Years Eves with toothaches and New Years Days with hangovers, Washington’s Birthdays with flu, Memorial Days with sunburns, July Fourths with car accidents, Labor Days with the dread of returning to school, Halloweens with stolen candy, and even Christmases with “Dear John” letters thrown into the mix, but never a bad Thanksgiving.
(I’m hoping I’m not the victim of selective memory. Somewhere in the past there may have been one horrible incident I’ve tucked into a corner of my mind under lock and key. If so, and you know about it, don’t tell me. I’d rather be ignorant and happy.)
You know one of the reasons why it’s so easy to have a good Thanksgiving? Nobody’s trying to sell you anything. It’s just good company, some football, great food and maybe a nap with your belt loosened. The biggest thing anyone can put up for sale is a bird. There are no bogus guilt trips laid on you by manufacturers trying to make you feel as though you haven’t done right by your loved ones. All you have to do, to do right by your loved ones on Thanksgiving, is show up.
Oh, the smells of Thanksgiving dinner cooking! There is no perfume in existence that matches the fragrance of turkey, stuffing, gravy, squash, turnip, sweet potatoes, hot rolls, pumpkin pie, and all of the other mouth-watering aromas that emanate from the kitchen on that day. It is the smell of pure love. The one doing the cooking isn’t doing it because he or she is guilt-ridden. It’s being done because the people who will eat the feast are near and dear; as simple and lovely as that.
MY WIFE and I have hosted Thanksgiving at our place for the past twelve years. It is the most sublime pleasure of my year to plan that meal and then prepare it. I’m the luckiest man in my family. I get to enjoy those smells longer than anyone else. And I get the lion’s share of the leftovers, too.
I remember lovely, huge tables full of food at my grandparent’s apartment in Roslindale, the vegetables served in great green ceramic bowls and topped with pats of yummy, unhealthy real butter. I remember waking in my upstairs bedroom to the smell of a turkey roasting in my childhood home in Dorchester. After my parent’s divorce, I ate TWO huge dinners every Thanksgiving – the first cooked by my father and the second served at my Grandma’s in Weymouth, where I would eat with my mother. It wasn’t easy, but I loved both of them too much to disappoint either one of them, so I did my duty. I even ate a couple of pieces of pie at both places, just so they’d have no doubt about how much I cared.
I try to remember what the name of the holiday calls for – the giving of thanks. I look upon my preparation and sharing of food as a sacred rite of sorts. There’s no skimping on this meal. If money’s tight, it’s a way of showing my faith in the idea that God will bring better times. Always, it’s a time to be thankful for the good people who are sharing the table with me (even if some of them don't like their picture taken.)
There are lovely constants at Thanksgiving. For instance, every year the Detroit Lions play football. Well, at least they try, and they ought to get credit for that. And the same stories get told at the table. There's one that never fails to get mentioned, concerning turnip and a Danish friend of the family .
Seems that one year, when this Dane was a holiday guest, my grandmother was preparing the food and one of the vegetables was turnip. The fellow laughed and said, in his Danish accent, “Turnip! Ha-ha! Very funny!” and when he was asked why he was laughing, he said, “Ho-ho! Yes, the joke’s on me! That’s a very funny joke. OK, you can take it away, now.” Seems that they only served turnip to pigs in his region of Denmark. He thought it was a joke. When he found out that it was something we actually ate, and enjoyed, he became somewhat indignant, if not sick to his stomach. Every year, when I bring out the turnip, that story returns for it’s annual telling. And I love it. There is also usually a mention of turducken as though it were just invented the previous week.
When the meal is over – well, at least the part of the meal that doesn’t involve pie – my stepfather and I turn our attention to the end of the Lion’s game. Meanwhile, the other folks have good conversation, coffee, tea, and, yes, pie. If the Lions win, Bill and I have a piece of pie to celebrate their good fortune. Since this rarely happens, we console ourselves with a piece of pie if they lose. It’s all good.
Soon, it gets to be late afternoon and folks start leaving. First, my Cousin Scott and his wife, Andrea, because they go visit some other relatives. Then my Uncle Rick and Grandma. Finally, Bill and my Mom hit the road, and then it’s just me and MY WIFE, all alone in the house. At that point, I do what any red-blooded American man would do. I take a couple of the leftover rolls, slice ‘em open, stuff them with turkey and dressing and a spoon or two of gravy, and eat them. And then watch the end of the Dallas game.
I love this holiday so much, I take the entire week off each year. That way, I can very leisurely clean the house and buy the food and decorate and do prep work for the feast, taking those chores completely off of the hands of MY WIFE, who deserves at least as much of a restful, enjoyable feast as I’m giving everyone else. I love every moment of that busy, yet still somehow slothful, week. And, since I only post from work, that’s why this is the last post until the following Monday, December 1st (at which time you'll get some re-runs, because I take the week off from writing, too, but they'll be really good ones, so please come back!)
I wish you a tremendously happy Thanksgiving. Eat much, show love. See you in thirteen days, with more better stuff.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The picture above is apropos of absolutely nothing. So is every word below.
I've previously explained my stance on memes. The short version? I simultaneously like them and hate them. You can read the reasons at the link. If you plan on tagging me, you should definitely take note.
Be that as it may - and may it as that be - here are three memes. Now that I'm getting them out of my brain, maybe I'll be able to remember more important stuff.
The first comes from Crazy Cath over at Cath's Cradle. The usual rules seem to apply, so I won't list them.
(A) Four places I go over and over:
Well, this seems highly personal, but OK.
1 - The bathroom at home.
2 - The men's room at work.
3 - The men's room at TD BankNorth Garden
4 - A convenient alleyway, if need be.
I must admit I was surprised by Crazy Cath's answers. She always seemed much more genteel and ladylike, but here were the places she named:
Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses,
Mum and Dad's home,
and garden centers.
Any garden center, over and over again.
CC, it sounds as though you have a problem. If you were a man, I'd suggest having a look at your prostate (well, having someone else look at it, as it wouldn't be easy to see it yourself) but since you're of the female persuasion, all I can do is recommend you get to your OB/GYN before the folks at those garden centers discover what you're doing.
(B) Four people who e-mail me regularly:
1 - My Mom.
2 - My Uncle Jim.
3 - Tara.
4 - Fred.
After naming them here, they'll probably never e-mail me again.
(C) Four of my favorite places to eat:
I eat foods, not places. This makes no sense at all, unless this is some sort of oral sex thing we're talking about. If so, I'm not one to eat and tell.
(D) Four places I'd rather be:
There's only one: Lurking in the bushes outside of your window. As a matter of fact, I'll be there later tonight.
(E) Four TV shows I could watch over and over:
If you've got one TV show you could watch over and over, what do you need the other three for?
(F) Four people I think will respond:
Respond? To what exactly? My loving caress? A post-hypnotic suggestion? A plea for money made through the mails by a charitable organization? I need much more information before I can answer this.
That takes care of Crazy Cath. Now on to Angie, over at Gumbo Writer
Here be the rules:
1 - Grab the nearest book. Open the book to page 56.
2 - Find the fifth sentence. Post the text of the next two to five sentences.
3 - Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the closest.
4 - Tag five other people to do the same.
As I said to Angie at the time I was tagged, page 56 of what I was reading didn't have any text. It just had photos of naked women. Therefore, I decided to wait until later to do the meme.
(I know this is disappointing to a number of you, but get a grip. Better yet, let go of the grip. That might solve the problem.)
Well, here's what's closest to me, now that I've finally gotten around to it:
Great Government Goofs, by Leland H. Gregory, III
Page 56 details the story of a person who only had initials for a name, similar to K.C. Jones of Celtics basketball fame (the K.C. stood for nothing other than K.C.)
"(here is the story of) R.B. Jones. R.B. decided to enlist in the army and to alleviate any problems with his name he courteously wrote it as "R(only) B(only) Jones." From that day on, his dog tags, his assignment forms, and even his discharge papers were issued under the name "Ronly Bonly Jones."
And that takes care of Angie. Now on to Sarah.
As with Crazy Cath, the usual rules.
7 things I plan to do before I die
1 - Well, first, I'm going to finish this m
Monday, November 17, 2008
Before anything else, I want to say "Thank You!"
Thank you for caring. Thank you for trying. Thank you for everything.
Last year, I began a campaign to stop avaricious merchants from ruining our holidays with their greed. Thanksgiving Comes First was an attempt to keep things in perspective. I asked you to post about it, place a logo on your website, and spread the word as you saw fit and were comfortable in doing so. Many of you helped, and for that I am truly thankful.
Unfortunately, some folks still don’t get why I do this, why I try to make a difference, why I undertake such a seemingly quixotic battle. I don’t suppose I can repeat this often enough, so I’ll do so again. I love Christmas. I love the entire Christmas season, but only when it stays within its traditional bounds. When I say “Thanksgiving Comes First”, I don’t do so only to strengthen the American traditional holiday set aside for offering thanks. I also say it with the hope of keeping Christmas from becoming something lesser.
Make no mistake about it. The further Christmas expands, the weaker it becomes. The lovely Christmas music I adore turns into an annoyance when shoved in my face for two months running. The images that are treasured in my memory – those that endure through the strength of love, and subsequently fill me with warmth in the recalling – are rendered cold and cheap when co-opted to sell product. The very real becomes pale imitation; the extremely good, an evil. And with each passing year of unfettered expansion, my sacred holiday becomes increasingly trivial and profane.
Thanksgiving is a lovely holiday in and of itself, but Christmas – the traditional, lovely, December Christmas – gives it special meaning and strength. I truly do offer thanks on Thanksgiving, and I not only offer thanks for that which has come before, but also for that which WILL come. That’s a huge part of what being a Christian is about, the expectation of future good. When the Christmas holiday’s joy, passion, gifts, celebration, and (yes) expectations overrun the days when giving thanks should be foremost, it renders those thanks more hollow, lesser in power, and increasingly rote. Having either one of these holidays (holy days) stripped of power is, to my mind, tantamount to blasphemy.
(The obvious questions, usually asked by non-believers, are as follows: Why do you need to have a special day to give thanks? Wouldn’t expansion of Christmas to a year-round basis be a tremendous thing, considering the values it supposedly represents? I can only answer that, yes, faith should be enduring, and thanks should always be forthcoming. The calendar shouldn’t dictate our relationships, nor outside influences dictate our beliefs. But, they do. That’s just the way it is with humans. We’re made that way. And, if that doesn’t satisfy you, all I can say is that, while I’m part of the human race, I refuse to be made to feel that I need to apologize for us as a whole. Apologizing for my own shortcomings is a full-time job that I’m not exactly acing, so I’m not going to take on any added assignments at the moment, thank you very much.)
Enough about me. You all had your own reasons for helping with this. Some of your reasons match mine, but some don’t even come close. I respect your reasons with no reservation, much as I hope you respect mine. And I am thankful beyond power of the written word for your participation.
Here are all of the people who helped. This listing is, of course, limited to those of which I’m aware. There will most certainly be someone left out here. While that’s a true shame, I’m no less thankful to you if your name has somehow been omitted. Drop me a line and point me in your direction. I’ll be glad to add you.
Here's proof that we're doing the right thing - Universal Hub. And here's the original posting from that great site.
And here are your individual posts. God bless you all!
First post of the year came from Teresa at Technicalities
Then, the lovely Sarah from Que Sarah Sarah
Nana Net, from Check-N-Out Life
Prudence, from Prudence Ponder, who says she has sold out. Boo! Shame on you, Prudence!
Aside from posting the "Thanksgiving Comes First" logo, there are lots of great Wonder Woman shots over at House Of Eratosthenes. Thanks, Morgan!
My good buddy, Buck, from Exile In Portales.
Kris, at Reflections By Kris.
Thimbelle has written one of my all-time favorite TCF posts at Creeping Towards Normal. And she has added another here (which has a bit more to do with Christmas.)
Philmon, at The Clue Batting Cage.
Michelle (my darker gray friend, as I am her lighter gray friend) at The Surly Writer.
Heidi, at Heidi's Moments. And, again at Heidi's Photos.
Dusty Lens (who was pissed about this even before me last year - poor guy!) has promised another piece. When it is published, I'll insert the link here. And here it is - Thanksgiving Comes First.
Janet, at Adventures In The 32-Aker Wood (who really seems to enjoy using parentheticals almost as much as I do.)
Laurie, at Soldiers' Angels New York (which appears to be a very nice blog in and of itself, as these people try to make soldiers lives a bit more comfy.)
Blogger's Delight picked up my Cousin David's piece from last year.
Apparently, we are creating a buzz. That's all I can infer from the fact that BuzzTracker is tracking us! Woo-Hoo!
In the same vein, BlogNetNews has picked up on it.
Good thoughts from Cole at Running The Marathon Of Life.
This website came about with no knowledge of mine, so far as I know. It is called 100 Days To Christmas. This is their entry wherein they ask you to consider what you have to be thankful for.
Fat, Frumpy & Fifty doesn't decry a lack of Thanksgiving, per se - she doesn't live in a country where it's celebrated - but is certainly in the right spirit overall.
My Dedham (a suburb of Boston, for those of you not from around here) gave us a link, and added some nice wishes.
A nice mention at A Nest Amid Thorns.
Some Cranky Guy (sounds like me!) gave his thoughts (which sound like mine!)
Miss Von Shtoop over at Shamrag has joined the fray, same as she did last year, bless her. She has also added a list of places to boycott, on her sidebar.
Lady Laurie at Rose Cottage got in just under the wire with hers! Thank you, dear!
One more time: If I missed you, please let me know. Thanks! You’re all in my prayers, whether you want to be or not.
MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA, MEA CULPA!
I did, indeed, forget someone. As a matter of fact, two someones.
First, the lovely Anali at Anali's First Amendment. This is her second year participating, so I am especially shamed to have missed her entry.
Second, this from Live Journal, given a start by friend of the cause Ron Newman.
In addition, another post was put up just after I published yesterday. It is from Green Jello. It is a cartoon, well worth seeing. If I could put it up on billboards around the country, I would.
And one more, from 11/18 - Graham's Live Journal.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Oh, well. Not so bad, really. I wasn't hurt, and the damage was as minimal as could be expected. On top of that, the other guy seemed to be a nice fellow, and he said it was most definitely his fault, so my insurance won't take a hit.
I was in an auto accident this morning.
I was driving to work, feeling pretty good because MY WIFE and I have tickets to tonight's Celtics game. I saw him edging out from a side street - there's a STOP sign there - but I was cruising right along in the line of traffic, the light green up ahead, and it was obvious he couldn't possibly be thinking of moving further at the moment. Aside from me, and the traffic on my side of the street, there were cars coming the other way. And he was signaling to take a left into that lane. I looked ahead and drove onward.
And then he accelerated, just as I was passing him.
He hit me - or, I should say, he hit my previous-to-this-had-never-before-been-in-an-accident 1998 Grand Am, whom MY WIFE named "Roddy" - in the rear right.
I said, "Heavens to Betsy! This is most unfortunate!"
OK, that's a paraphrase. What I actually said was, "What the FUCK?!?"
After that, my first thought was, "Oh, no! Roddy! Are you OK, baby?" I mean, Roddy was basically cherry when I bought him, and he had acquired nothing more than a couple of minor nicks in his paint in the intervening six years. To have him now facing major surgery due to no fault of his own seemed tremendously unfair.
I looked over at the other guy - if looks could kill, I'd be facing a murder rap right now - and our eyes met. It's interesting how much information can be exchanged in a two-second glance. I immediately knew he was sorry, and I also knew he was going to pull over, as was I, and we'd exchange papers with him saying it was his fault. And that's what happened, too.
There was a parking spot immediately to my right, so I pulled into it. I got out and went around to the passenger side to see just how badly Roddy was crumpled. I was amazed. I was expecting to see a hideous scrape, or a huge dent, or something that would make my ride look like a shitbox. I saw absolutely nothing, at first. I thought, "How in hell could Roddy be hit as hard as that and have no damage whatsoever?"
I was just about to chalk it up to living a good life and having been the recipient of a minor miracle, but then I saw the damage. A piece of the molding around the wheel well was cracked in two. In addition, there were a couple of small scrapes on the rear quarter. Still, if I had been told that I'd be in an accident this morning, with someone running a Stop sign and hitting me - nothing I could do to change fate, so I may as well get used to it - and I had been told that this was all the damage that would occur, I'd have been mighty relieved. And so I actually was.
We exchanged papers, he contrite and me forgiving. He seemed like a nice guy. His front end was in much worse shape than my rear (and that sounds faintly homo-erotic, but I'm not going to worry about it.) His headlight was smashed, he had a major dent, and it was obvious he'd be facing a rather large repair bill, not to mention a major hike in his insurance rates come next year. Why make him feel any worse? We shook hands - he had given me all sorts of contact information, just in case there were any questions - and then we both drove off.
So far as I can tell, there isn't any major damage. Roddy rode smoothly, there were no weird noises, and nothing appeared to fall off before I arrived at work. I'm a bit shaken, but all of my parts are unbroken and still attached. I'm a bit pissed that I'll have to lose time taking care of the repairs, but I'll try to make the best of it. While Roddy is getting some plastic (well, fiberglass) surgery, I'll stroll around and maybe try out a new restaurant. And I'll try to keep in mind that it's very nice to be able to stroll around and to be able to afford trying out a new restaurant.
You know the old saying: When life hands you lemons...
All right, maybe some of you don't know that saying. Here's the whole thing: When life hands you lemons, you say, "What the FUCK?!?" and then start throwing them back at life with every bit of velocity you can muster.
Well, that's the way I heard it.
Soon, with more better stuff.
P.S. I was just struck by the thought that my title for this piece, juxtaposed with a picture of Roddy, might lead some to believe that I think Roddy is a lemon. Well, obviously, if you read the whole story, you know that's not the case. However, I just want to make it clear that Roddy is the best car I've ever owned. Thank you.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The story you have just read is true. Only the names were changed to protect the innocent. That would be me and the other jurors. The two maroons suing each other certainly weren’t.
(In case you didn't read the story, you can find its various components HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
Having heard seven days worth of testimony concerning how rotten two neighbors could be, we now had to decide if one of them was more rotten than the other. We also had to decide if being less rotten deserved any sort of monetary reward.
The counts being contested were…
By French, Against Irish:
1 – Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress
2 – Nuisance
3 – Abuse Of Process
4 – Malicious Prosecution
5 – Assault
6 – Assault & Battery
Counts 3 and 4 were tied together. They both had to do with Mrs. Irish’s accusation that Mr. French flashed her. As you’ll recall, he was found not guilty of that charge in a previous trial. Our feeling was that this was probably the truth. At the least, we found her testimony conflicted with some of the physical evidence we were shown. The assault charge was for Irish driving up onto French’s lawn and almost running him over. Had he actually run him over, it would have been assault and battery. The assault & battery charge concerned French being kicked in the balls, or perhaps it was about him being trapped under the motorcycle while Irish beat him with his own shoe; I forget.
By Irish, Against French:
1 – Intentional Infliction Of Emotional Distress
2 – Nuisance
3 – Invasion Of Privacy
After giving us a thorough reading of what the law was concerning each count, the judge gave each of us a series of xeroxed sheets containing the 31 questions we needed to decide in order to reach a verdict.
31 things? Yes. There were 9 counts, but after deciding guilt or innocence, we needed to decide if actual damages had been done, and, if so, what monetary award we might wish to attach to that damage. With the inclusion of wives in a couple of the questions, we had 31 total decisions to make.
We were escorted into the deliberation room, where we began dissecting all that we had heard during the seven days. Since we were under strict orders to not discuss the case prior to deliberations, we now freely let our opinions fly. The one opinion that flew higher than any of the others was that both of these guys were flaming assholes. Not everybody used those exact words, but the superlatives actually used were most certainly synonyms.
Our foreman decided that things would go more smoothly if we first decided the guilt or innocence on all counts, after which we would revisit each of the questions to decide on the money. He was right. The decisions concerning guilt or innocence were simple. We found both of the jerks guilty, on every count, and we also wished to add qualifiers. We wanted to go into the courtroom and say...
"Your Honor, we not only find both of these fucktards monumentally guilty, but we would like to add some counts of our own. They are also guilty of Intentional Infliction Of Mental Cruelty On A Jury; Gross Lack Of Common Sense; and An Indiscriminate Waste Of The Taxpayer's Money. We feel they should pay each of us 10 times the salary we lost sitting here listening to them, as well as make a reimbursement to the state treasury for all costs incurred. In addition, we recommend that they both be pilloried. In that way, if we somehow got our verdicts wrong, the neighbors of these dickweeds will no doubt see that the balance is evened out."
Unfortunately, we weren't allowed commentary, so we did the best we could with the tools at our disposal. We found Irish guilty on all counts brought against him by French, and we found French guilty of all counts brought against him by Irish. On 6 of the 9 counts, even though we said that, yes, damage was done, we awarded the winning party ZERO dollars as compensation. They were both dicks. We weren't about to award them anything for dickishness done to them when they were just as dickish in reciprocating.
The three counts we awarded money on were:
Malicious Prosecution - We felt that this did a disservice to French that went beyond anything he had done to Irish. French was still employed as a police officer at the time of the charge, but was immediately dropped when the charge was made. However, he was only working part-time, as a "special police officer" - the guy who stands by a hole being dug, directing traffic, if he isn't too busy chatting with a backhoe operator - so we believed the salary loss was somewhat minimal. The major amount of the award was to recoup his defense fees, for that trial and a portion of the one for which we currently sat in judgment. The award was $30,000.
(More on this at the end.)
Assault & Battery - We awarded French $5,000. We felt it was reasonable because he had been the recipient of actual physical harm from Irish, whereas (so far as we knew) Irish had not received any actual physical harm at the hands of French. It was a relatively small amount only because French had never sought medical aid for any of the injuries he suffered.
On the other hand, we awarded $10,000 to Irish on the count of Invasion Of Privacy. There was some argument among us concerning the amount. A few wanted to even things out completely, awarding $35,000 to Irish. They felt that this - a total of zero dollars changing hands, once all was totaled - would send the unequivocal message that both of them should grow up. On the other hand, some wished the amount we awarded to be less than what we finally did award. In the end, we reached a compromise on the figure of $10,000.
Final monetary judgment, in total, was $25,000 to Mr. French.
We signaled the court officer that we were ready. Deliberations had taken perhaps six hours in total. We were done, finished, through, completed, and mentally exhausted. We trooped back into the courtroom and had our paperwork handed to the judge, who then handed it to the court clerk to be read aloud. As each verdict was read, he asked our foreman if it was correct. When the foreman answered in the affirmative, he then questioned the remainder of the jury. What with all of the reading, questioning, and answering, the delivery of the verdicts took about ten minutes.
After all had been verified, the judge turned to face us. She thanked us for our time and effort, adding that she felt we were an unusually attentive and perceptive jury. I took this to mean that she also thought that both of these guys were a-holes, same as we did, only she wasn't really allowed to say as much while seated behind the bench.
We were led out of court, back to the deliberation room. We were told that the judge wished to speak to us, and that she would answer any questions we might have, too.
The judge walked into our room, and she again thanked us for sitting through such a mess. She assured us that it was one of the most convoluted and bizarre suits she had ever had to sit through. She again said that we had shown great sagacity via our decisions. She said that, in private conversations with the other court personnel, many of them expressed the opinion that both Irish and French should have been locked in the same jail cell, left to settle their differences in whatever way they wished, and thus saved us all a load of time.
Now, a couple of closing notes of some import.
Do you remember me mentioning that we were never seated in the jury box prior to 9:15, even though we were asked to report by 8:30am? The judge told us the reason for that. Irish was in custody, awaiting trial on different criminal complaints. She couldn't tell us this while the trial was ongoing, since it would possibly have prejudiced our decisions. So, while Irish was being escorted by guards each morning, we had to cool our heels. One of the charges facing him was a contempt of court, which our judge would be hearing the Monday following. God bless her. She had to sit through at least one more day of it than we did. Irish was also due to appear in small claims court, where he was being sued by (yup) French for the destruction done by shooting at French's lights and house with the BB gun.
As for the legal fees we assumed we were reimbursing French... In a newspaper account which I read after the trial, it was mentioned that French had spent $100,000 for his attorneys.
One Hundred Thousand Dollars.
That still boggles my mind. We had heard a figure of $10,000 bandied about during the trial itself, so perhaps that was a misprint which included an extra zero. If that figure is true, though, then the sum total of the trial reads:
Irish - Minus $25,000
French - Minus $75,000
Which is somehow fitting, that they both lost money on the thing, although perhaps a bit tilted in Irish's favor. However, I expect that Irish may end up paying via the additional trials and also via loss of property value when he sells his place, since who in hell would want to move next door to French?
In closing, I'd like to thank both of these guys for one thing, and one thing only. I know that, from this point onward, whenever I see a happy Christmas bear on somebody's lawn, I'll smile. If the bear is mooning me, I'll laugh out loud. That sort of thing adds years to your life, or so I'm told.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
(If you’re just coming upon this story, I strongly suggest that you read the first three parts before this one. This is not because you won’t be able to follow it from this point on, but because I have a massive ego and I’d hate to think my previous 6,000 words were completely unnecessary. You’ll find parts one, two, and three, HERE, HERE, and HERE.)
Now, as best I can reconstruct it, this is the sad saga of Mr. Irish and Mr. French. This account includes things testified to by one man or the other, their wives, their neighbors, a psychologist, and a local police officer. Some of these allegations were denied by either Mr. Irish or Mr. French. Most were backed up by photographs, some by paper records, and some were simply admitted to.
Mr. Irish and his wife were 22-year residents of The Town Nobody From Outside Of Massachusetts Can Pronounce. We’ll call it "Bugtown" to make it easier. Mr. Irish was a retired police officer, having been on the force in a Massachusetts city in the eastern part of the state. As well, he was an ex-marine, having served in Vietnam as a door gunner on a helicopter. He and his wife had a daughter living with them. They would have granddaughters there a bit later.
In 1998, Mr. French – also an ex-marine, and also a retired police officer (rank of lieutenant) in the town of Mount Upperclass, which bordered the city Mr. Irish had been a police officer in – moved into the house next door to Mr. Irish. He was accompanied by his wife, his daughter, and two dogs. There would also be grandchildren for them later on.
Mr. French decided to introduce himself to Mr. Irish. He had heard that his neighbor, like himself, was a policeman. He might have heard this from other new neighbors or he might have known about Irish being a cop because the towns they had served in were contiguous. In any case, he figured they had something in common, so he went over and knocked on Irish’s door. When Irish answered, French said:
"Hi, I’m Lieutenant French of the Mount Upperclass police, your new neighbor. I just wanted to shake the hand of the policeman who’s crazier than I am."
One would assume he said this with a smile and a wink. No matter. Irish took offense at this characterization of himself as "crazy". He told French as much. We don’t know the exact words used, but all that subsequently happens would lead us to believe they weren’t words used in most churches. And the battle was on.
Over the backyard fence between their properties, insults were thrown – and other things, too, although we’ll get to that later. French belittled Irish’s police record, saying that he mustn’t have been a very good one to have not achieved rank after so many years on the force. Irish accused French of improprieties in the line of his duty. They both flipped each other the bird. French would imitate a machine gunner, pretending to shoot Irish. Irish would run his thumb across his throat in the internationally recognized symbol for intent to kill someone.
While Irish raked leaves, French would tell him to come over and do his yard after he had finished his own. When Irish would tell him to fuck off, French would then run a leaf blower and send the refuse from his trees into Irish’s yard. Things were little more peaceful during the winter. French would then run a snow blower and send the snow onto Irish’s property. Supposedly, he would search out bare areas that contained rocks, which would then be jettisoned toward Irish with terminal velocity.
French, as I say, had two dogs. Naturally, he would let them out into his backyard. Irish felt that the dogs were a nuisance, constantly barking. He asked French to keep them quiet. French supposedly said, "If you don’t like the dogs barking, screw you. I’ll encourage them to bark more." French INCREASED the dog population to three.
In retaliation, Irish began running chainsaws, leaf blowers, lawnmowers, wood chippers, and all manner of mechanical implements, day and night, often leaving them running, unattended, right at the property line, specifically to annoy French.
(Photos showed Irish feeding what looked like small telephone poles into the chipper. We could only surmise that he bought these huge pieces of wood for the sole purpose of destroying them, thus annoying French with the noise. There didn’t seem to be anyplace on his property where these huge logs could have come from.)
French now kept the three dogs outside all the time, barking, even in winter. Irish alleged that, when the spring thaw came, there were hundreds of piles of dog poop in French’s yard, and it smelled foul. Irish liked to entertain guests at his swimming pool and patio area, and the smell made those activities impossible. He yelled at French to pick up the dog crap. French did, and then threw it into Irish’s yard.
Irish now built a fire pit near the property line. When he had finished, he began burning green wood in it, day and night. Huge clouds of acrid smoke came from the fires. The prevailing winds would, more often than not, carry the smoke towards French. After a week or so of this, French called the fire department, and they ordered Irish to cease burning wood in the fire pit. Irish complied, but he then bought a portable wood burning stove, which he continued to stoke with freshly cut wood and brush. Irish claimed to be cooking hamburgers and hot dogs on it, but French reported that Irish would feed wood into this thing at 3 o’clock in the morning.
(In the photos, the smoke was so thick that it looked like an atomic bomb had gone off in Irish’s yard.)
French’s three dogs now somehow escaped. French says Irish opened the gate and let them out; Irish says he saw them climb a pile of logs and then jump the fence. Whatever the case, one of the dogs wouldn’t be doing much of anything soon. It was found dead, by French, with a box of D-Con rat poison next to it.
(We saw a photograph of French’s backyard, a box of D-Con on the lawn. A few questions immediately came to mind. Would Irish have been so brazen as to hurl the box over the fence, knowing full well that French would assume Irish threw it there? Wouldn’t he have just thrown the poison itself, and not the incriminating box? Anyway, a photo of a box of D-Con sitting by itself isn’t much proof without the accompanying poisoned dog. The dog that died, by the way, was nearing its 15th birthday, so one might assume it just died of natural causes.)
The MSPCA paid a visit to Mr. Irish, spurred by Mr. French calling them. Mr. Irish was less than cordial, telling them to get the fuck off of his property. No citations were issued, since nothing could be proven.
French decided that Irish represented a threat to his family’s safety. He installed two security cameras, both aimed at Irish’s yard. In order to increase the efficacy of the cameras, he installed spotlights – FIFTEEN of them, all of which he kept trained on the Irish’s home. The lights shone brightly into the Irish’s bedroom, among other places. This did not make Irish happy.
Irish asked French to stop lighting up his indoor spaces. French ignored him. Irish came out into his yard one morning and banged a pipe on the chain link fence separating their properties. He yelled for French to come down and settle things man-to-man. French called the local cops, instead. No arrest was made, so French decided to erect a more substantial barrier between he and Irish. He installed a six-foot stockade fence.
The lights continued to shine, so Irish tried painting the slats on his blinds black. This helped, but not enough. He tried shooting out some of the lights with a BB gun, putting multiple holes into French’s vinyl siding as well. French installed even stronger lights, and added four more video cameras – for a total of SIX, all taping 24/7.
Irish now decided upon another plan to stop the lights from bothering he and his family. He erected a tarp between his house and French’s. This tarp, about 15 feet by 25 feet, no doubt helped to cut down the light entering Irish’s bedroom, but it served another purpose, too. In the upper right quadrant of the tarp, Irish had spray-painted a five-foot tall "FUCK YOU!" This epithet was strategically placed so as to be visible, at all times, from French’s TV room window. Irish was even kind enough to BACKLIGHT the tarp, just in case French’s spotlights weren’t enough to do the job. Just above the handwritten greeting, Irish stuck a bumper sticker to the tarp. It read (and I quote) "Fuck You, You Fucking Fuck!"
Oh, I forgot to mention that there was a day-care center across the street from these two guys. Every day, moms dropped off their kids across the street from a gigantic "FUCK YOU!" sign. Obviously, someone was going to complain about this, and someone did. The Bugtown police came and told Irish that he had to take the tarp down. They said that Irish could certainly erect a tarp if he wanted, but not one with such language on it.
Irish took down the tarp, but he decided that he still wanted to send a specific message to French. So, he used a power washer to inscribe "Dickhead! Fuck You!" in the cement area surrounding his own swimming pool. In addition, he used a chainsaw to carve another "Fuck You" into a big plank, which he then leaned on a bench, aiming said bench and message at French’s deck. Irish shone a spotlight on this message, and decorated the tableau with multiple toilet seats, just in case French might have missed the point somehow.
French now took every opportunity to come out onto his deck with a handheld video camera and tape Irish every time Irish did some yard work. Going beyond the call of duty, though, French also videotaped everybody who used Irish’s pool, including Irish’s daughter and granddaughters. Now it had become a creepy and lewd sort of Spy vs. Spy. Irish felt this sort of voyeurism was unwarranted, so one evening he told French to stop taping. French refused. Irish picked up a big boulder AND THREW IT THROUGH FRENCH’S FENCE.
The Bugtown cops were called. Irish was arrested and charged with malicious destruction of property. The next day, when Irish – released on bail – came out and appeared to be getting into his car, French, standing on his lawn with a friend, yelled at him, "Hey, Irish, I’m going out soon. Can I give you a ride to court?" Irish got into his car, backed out of his driveway, and then gunned the car forward onto French’s lawn, coming within inches of French and his friend. He was arrested again, this time charged with assault with a deadly weapon.
(These acts, and a few others, resulted in 7 counts being brought against Irish. A year later, he admitted to sufficient facts – which isn’t quite a plea of guilty, but close enough for rock and roll.)
A few days later, Irish and his wife were draining the pool in preparation for closing it down for the winter. French, of course, was out on his deck shooting video of this. Irish yelled at him to stop. He didn’t. When Irish went into his garage to fetch a tool of some sort, French unzipped his pants and pulled out his Johnson, waving it at Mrs. Irish. She called the cops. No arrest was made, however – no explanation of why not, except that perhaps the Bugtown cops were just plain getting tired of this shit.
(Three months later, she again alleged that French exposed himself. This time, French was arrested. He was subsequently tried, being found not guilty.)
With French now out on bail, Irish was sitting in his back yard with his cousin. His cousin noticed something on Irish’s chest. He told Irish to look down. What Irish saw was a red laser light, directly over his heart. Irish freaked and ran into the house.
(French denied owning any firearms with a laser sight. He didn’t deny owning firearms, nor did he deny that he shone a laser at Irish.)
The next day, Irish rode a small tractor up and down in front of French’s house, yelling obscenities at him; perhaps these included taunts to try and hit a moving target. Later on, French was in a neighbor’s front yard across the street from Irish. Irish came out of his house, got into his car, drove over in front of the neighbor’s place, and started screaming at French to fight him. French refused. So, Irish got out of his car, picked up some rocks, and started chucking them at the neighbor’s vintage motorcycle. Irish said that French had yelled obscenities at him, first, thus triggering this behavior. French denied it, of course.
The next part is just too good, and was the one thing in this mess that everybody in the courtroom could hardly believe. The rest of the stuff is horrendous, but possible. This was just plain ludicrous, and was what probably made us decide that Irish was just a bit more off his nut than French.
Look at the following photo:
It is a happy smiling Christmas bear, complete with jaunty scarf and hat. It is a lawn decoration, perhaps four feet tall. French had two of these Christmas bears and used them to decorate his property during the holiday season. Now, French’s Christmas bears were a bit worn and dirty, not as bright and pretty as this one. Nevertheless, they were just plastic Christmas bears. Introduced into evidence were two photos of these bears, on poles, with their backs facing towards Irish’s property.
Irish contended that French specifically set up the bears so as to have their backsides taunting he and his wife. In other words, Irish believed that the Christmas bears were mooning him. He even used that exact language during his testimony. Picture a particularly malevolent Jerry Stiller from Seinfeld and you’ll have a sense of how he came across in the courtroom. "Those bears were mooning me!" I had to literally bite my tongue, hard, to keep from laughing. They were damn plastic bears.
Ugh. I’m getting as exasperated writing about this thing as I did listening to it in person. Just a few of the more spectacular idiocies these guys pulled on each other.
Somehow, French got it into his head that he owned four feet of property on Irish’s side of the fence. Where he got this idea from, nobody knows. No survey was done, that’s for sure. However, believing as he did, he now didn’t like the way Irish’s flowering bushes and trees were overhanging "his" property. So, French climbed a stepladder and cut all of Irish’s bushes and trees level with the top of the fence, leaving the voluminous trimmings in Irish's yard to discover.
Irish, for his part, now chained a rubbish pail to the fence. Nothing too bad about that - except the pail was full of dead and putrefying squirrels, the stench of which permeated French’s yard and house.
(We saw four photos of this pail. Not a single one of us could make out a squirrel in there, let alone piles of dead ones. There was plenty of grody stuff in the pail, to be sure, but it looked like spaghetti and vegetables to my eyes. If it was a bunch of dead squirrels, they were surely some of the most horribly mutilated squirrels ever.)
Irish decided to put an addition onto a fence located on the side of his house that was NOT bordering French’s property. How did this affect French? Well, the road they lived on curved at that point, so the additional fence made it impossible for French to have a view of oncoming traffic when backing out of his driveway. The Bugtown police made Irish take this fencing down, declaring it a traffic hazard. When French was taking a photo of this fence – French took photos of every damn thing, which was, of course, part of the problem – Irish came out of his house, challenging French to a fistfight in the middle of the road. French demurred, backing away from Irish. Irish charged at him, and then kicked him in the balls. When French fell to the pavement, Irish kicked him again.
(Irish admitted this in court; rather proudly, it seemed to us. The lawyer asked him what he did. Irish said, "I kicked him in the balls!" When the lawyer asked him what he did following that, Irish said, "I kicked him again!"
This lack of guile was interesting considering some of the things these guys wouldn’t admit to. For instance, Irish was asked if his wife had helped him with the hanging of the infamous “Fuck You" tarp. Irish said she hadn't. When presented with a photo that clearly showed both he and his wife hanging the tarp, and asked again, Irish said, "Oh, you meant my wife? Yes, that’s her.")
French tried to run over Irish with a motorcycle. Well, that’s what Irish claimed. French said that Irish put himself in harm’s way on purpose. Whatever the case, during the pursuant struggle, Irish tipped the motorcycle over onto French. While French was trapped under the bike – and receiving a pretty severe burn from one of the hot pipes resting on his thigh – Irish took French’s shoe off and began beating him with it. When a teenager from across the street ran over and tried to stop this, Irish reportedly said, "You know, they make coffins in your size, too!"
Irish was arrested again, this time charged with assault and battery.
Now, Irish definitely seemed the more deranged of these two clowns, but French was certainly no saint. He egged on Irish at every twist and turn of this sordid affair. Here’s a perfect example of just how much of an a-hole he could be.
Irish, at one point late in this affair, decided that he had had enough of it. He and his wife owned another property in Florida. They decided to sell their house in Bugtown and move to Florida. You might think this would have delighted Mr. French. If you were Mr. French, what would you do?
Yes, that’s right. Being sane, you or I would have done everything in our power to help Irish sell his house. Not so our odd friend Mr. French. Instead, he posted multiple "No Trespassing" signs on Irish’s side of the stockade fence, with handwritten notes telling prospective buyers that he (French) claimed four feet of property on Irish’s side. He also told them that Irish was awaiting trial, and he implied that things were wrong with Irish’s house, things like a leak in the in-ground pool (there was no leak.) Needless to say, Irish was unable to sell his house. Real estate agents wouldn't even bother listing it.
One final taunt from French. He decided to investigate Irish’s service record in Vietnam. He found out that Irish was a helicopter mechanic, not a door gunner. One doesn’t necessarily preclude the other, but no matter. French made up a sign and hung it in his window. It was a sign that only Irish and his wife would understand.
2422562428 = 0
It was Irish’s service ID number. The "0" could have meant that Irish was a zero in French's eyes. It also could have had deeper meaning. Irish’s blood type? O.
In any case, both of these guys were dicks. And, after seven days of hearing about their dickishness, we had to decide if one of them was a bigger dick than the other.
Soon, with the results of the trial.
Go To The Verdict.
Monday, November 10, 2008
Part One HITHER. Part Two YON.
On Day Two, I arrived in Lower Palookaville by 7:55am. We were told to report by 8:30. Being conscientious, and not knowing traffic conditions on a morning commute to Lower Palookaville, I had left my house way too early. I parked in the juror’s parking lot and walked to a nearby convenience store, where I bought a newspaper and a cup of coffee.
I walked back to the courthouse and hung outside, enjoying a cigarette with the coffee and newspaper. I was sort of hoping to run across a reference to the trial in the newspaper. That would have given me a legitimate excuse to tell the judge I had become prejudiced, at which point she would have had to send me home. No such luck, though. I was reading a Boston newspaper, and Boston newspapers don’t care a whit about a trial in Lower Palookaville. I could have bought the local Lower Palookaville newspaper and probably found something, but I wasn’t looking to specifically disqualify myself when I bought the paper. I just wanted to read about the Celtics. Unless Big Baby Davis or Kevin Garnett turned out to be a witness, I was still uncontaminated.
When I assumed it to be about 8:30, I went inside. After emptying my pockets and going through the metal detector, I walked upstairs to our deliberation room. Most of my fellow jurors were sitting around the heavy oaken tables. They all said a friendly "Hi!" as I walked in, and I returned the cordial greeting. Four of our fourteen were still missing. While waiting for them – the last arrived by about 9:00, which didn’t seem to faze the court officer assigned to us – I had a chance to size up the group. They were a decent lot, some with a good sense of humor, none with what I’d classify as a startling lack of intelligence. In fact, it seemed to be a fairly bright bunch of humans overall. I hoped they saw me in as good a light as I saw them.
As the minutes dragged on, while we waited to go to the jury box, we seemed to naturally divide into males at one end of the room and females at the other. The men would talk mostly about home repair, driving, and other things stereotypically associated with men. The women spoke of children, cooking, and other feminine clichés. We all staked out positions at the table, and we would more-or-less maintain them as ours throughout the course of the trial. My seat was on the side, by one of the corners.
Time passed, slowly. It was now after 10am. We speculated on why they hadn’t yet called us into the courtroom. The overriding hope was that the two parties were negotiating a settlement of some sort, leaving us free to go, but we doubted this. We all wanted it, though, so we let that pleasant fantasy have full reign until 10:25, when the court officer came in and asked us to line up in order of our seat numbers. We were about to be led into court, almost two hours after we were asked to be on-hand. This would turn out to be standard procedure, although we never waited quite so long as we did that first day. I don’t believe we ever got into the courtroom before 9:15, excluding the final day of the trial.
(We found out the major reason for this after the conclusion of the trial. It would detract from the narrative to tell you about it here, though, so you’ll have to wait until the end, same as we did.)
Mr. French’s lawyer was standing by a big stack of three-ring binders. After we were seated, he handed one to each of us. They were stuffed full of photographs and official papers, all marked off by tabs. These were the exhibits we were called upon to examine as the case wore on. There were some 55 photographs – most taken by Mr. French, but a double handful shot by Mr. Irish - and perhaps a like amount of doctor’s reports, police records, psychological evaluations, and other pieces of written ephemera, concerning both men and their wives, all to a certain extent undecipherable without background information. We would, of course, be given the background information, and in excruciating detail.
But not too quickly. We found out that the main job of an attorney is to object whenever his opposition might shed some light on things. It is the judge’s job to sometimes agree, leaving a juicy tidbit hanging in the air, and other times to roll her eyes and look as though she’d like to flay the skin off of the lawyer who objected, meanwhile saying, "Overruled." We all loved her when she said this. When she didn’t have an immediate answer to an objection, she would motion the counselors to meet her at the sidebar. While they discussed the finer points of law out of our hearing, we would busy ourselves by counting the number of projections in the molding on the ceiling, or wondering if the paint job in the courtroom looked as it did because they ran out of money in the budget or they actually planned it that way.
The first person called to the witness stand to testify was Mr. Irish. The attorney for Mr. French questioned him. He was then cross-examined by his own lawyer, with a quick follow-up by French’s lawyer. Irish’s turn on the stand lasted the better part of two days. After Irish was excused from the stand, his wife was called. This was followed by French taking the stand; his wife being heard from; two neighbors testifying; Irish’s daughter having her say, followed by a cousin of Mr. French; the police chief who had been French’s superior at his latest job; a state-employed psychiatrist; and, finally, a police officer from the town where both Irish and French lived. In total, we had seven days worth of testimony, arguments, exhibits, and – at least in my case – writer’s cramp from taking down the pertinent details.
I’m not going to give you every bit of testimony we heard. If I did that, you might get the mistaken impression that I’m a journalist, and I wouldn’t want to attempt a conceit of that magnitude. In any case, if I gave you everything, this blog would become as mind-numbingly tedious as the actual trial. While there wasn’t a lack of interesting stories - and some fabulously graphic photos accompanying those stories, too - it all came out in dribs and drabs. Both lawyers attempted to obfuscate whenever their clients appeared guilty of something, while concurrently painting the opposition as a son of a bitch who’d steal candy from a cancer-ridden baby. So, to save us all some time – and also keep this story as wonderfully perverted as it truly is - I’m going to attempt to lay out the progression of un-neighborly behavior in chronological order, as best I can from the fifteen pages of handwritten notes I took during the proceedings. We weren’t given exact dates for everything, but no matter. Taken as a whole, it is as comprehensive a collection of hideously childish behavior as you’ll likely ever hear concerning two ex-cops in their sixties.
I’ll be giving you the entire sad story tomorrow. I promise it will be worth coming back for.
(I know. You want it now. I do apologize. I’m going to be totally honest with you [which is more than Mr. French and Mr. Irish probably were, but I digress.] I had written the next part, some 5,000 words worth, giving Mr. Irish’s side followed by Mr. French’s version of things. That sounds like fun, but after re-reading what I had written, I found too much repetition, despite the differing viewpoints. I decided that it would be better to give it to you chronologically, both sides interspersed and no particular point of view. So, that’s how I’m re-writing it, and you’ll have that re-write tomorrow. See you then.)
Go To The Entire Sad Story.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Part One HERE.
After I was the last one to be seated on the jury, we were all escorted into the deliberation room, there to wait our first call into court. Perhaps 12 feet by 16 feet, the ambiance of the room was similar to that of an urban public school classroom of the early 20th Century. For amenities, it contained two heavy oaken tables, about 7 feet long by 3 feet wide, set end-to-end from one corner of the room towards the other, and 14 fairly comfortable padded chairs. A modern convenience was a microwave oven, although there was nothing to eat. There was also a fireplace, although no wood to burn in it; a whole bunch of coffee creamers and sugar, although no coffee to put them in; and five or six hardcover books, I suppose to entertain you if everybody else was arguing and you had already made up your mind.
(As we found out, there was more time spent in that room than we originally expected, and I mean prior to deliberating the case. If one of us had wanted to read an entire novel, it probably could have been done. Also, as mentioned in part one, the Lower Palookaville court personnel were unfailingly kind. They later provided us with coffee, tea, cookies, candies, and more substantial fare, such as pizza and salads, on more than one occasion. I don’t want to slight their largesse simply for the sake of humor.)
The court officer left us alone and closed the door. Not knowing what else to do in this situation, we all stood there, a bit uneasy, trying to come up with small talk. Over the course of the eight days, we would discuss the weather more than most meteorologists. Everybody was pleasant enough, to be sure, but it was one of those situations where we all hoped it would be over with as soon as possible. Nobody wanted to invest a lot of emotion into personal relationships that we would prefer to have dissolved quickly. To give you an example: While we certainly introduced ourselves to those with which we most often conversed while waiting, we did not formally introduce ourselves to each other, by going around the table and giving our names, until the day when we began deliberation. Even then, most gave just a first name.
The court officer – a real nice guy with a great sense of humor, and also my personal escort during breaks since I was the only jury member who smoked – came back in and told us the procedure. Every time we entered the courtroom, we would file in by order of our seat numbers. He would be in the lead and announce our arrival. When we left the courtroom at the end of the day, or for a scheduled break, he would lead us into the deliberation room, from which he would subsequently release us to the outside world or keep us informed of when we’d be needed again. If we had any questions, he would be our conduit to the judge.
He now lined us up by number and led us back into the courtroom. It was sort of like going on stage for the first time in a play. There were some butterflies in my stomach. I felt as though I should check to make sure that my fly was up, that there were no boogers hanging from my nose, and so forth. We filed in, going to our assigned seats.
We stood and waited while another officer recited a half-noble, half-overblown announcement about how court was now in session, hear ye, hear ye, all with grievances pay attention because here come de judge! Then he told everyone to be seated. There were notepads and pencils on our chairs. We picked them up and sat down.
The judge, a petite blonde in (I would guess, but I’m not always good at guessing a woman's age) her early 50’s – a decent looker, as judges go, in any case – gave us some instructions concerning what we were about to do. She explained thoroughly, but was not boring. She was, at all times, solicitous of the fact that we were somewhere we didn’t want to be. This was definitely appreciated. We would come to understand, after a short time in her court, that she wanted to move things along as quickly and efficiently as we did. Although her intent certainly wasn’t to belittle the gravity of the case, her eye-rolling and sometimes barely-contained smiles became, for us, a source of relief from some of the more tedious portions of the trial.
She told us that the case we would be hearing involved a suit and counter-suit, each side charging the other with five or six different counts of abuse, assault, mental cruelty, and other loving gestures. The parties bringing suit against each other were (not their real names, by the way) Mr. Irish and Mr. French. The judge explained that we were now going to hear opening arguments from each side, after which we would be taken back to the deliberation room. Then we would be set free for the remainder of the day. She asked us to remember that these opening arguments were NOT evidence, but merely a presentation by each lawyer of what he intended to prove to us concerning the rat bastards on the other side.
(She didn’t actually say "rat bastards". It was just generally understood.)
I opened my notebook, ready to begin taking notes. I absolutely was NOT ready for what I heard.
Mr. French and Mr. Irish sat with their lawyers, at tables in front of the judge's bench. They were both in their early 60's, Mr. Irish with a full head of gray/white hair, Mr. French with a bit less so. Mr. Irish appeared reasonably fit. Mr. French appeared to have enjoyed a few too many pork chops in his day. They both appeared somewhat bored - one might go so far as to say catatonic - while their lawyers went on, at length, concerning their respective hideous behaviors. For their parts, Mrs. French and Mrs. Irish were much the same, although they sat in the general seating area, away from their husbands.
Lawyer Number One got up, introduced himself, and said that he was representing Mr. French. He said that Mr. Irish was "a terrorist" and that he conducted a campaign of criminally malicious acts that had his client, Mr. French, as well as Mrs. French, fearful for their very lives. He said that, at various times, Mr. Irish had:
• Climbed trees and used binoculars to look into the French’s house.
• Released the French’s dogs out of their yard.
• Threatened Mr. French with bodily harm.
• Actually bodily harmed Mr. French.
• Made off-color and threatening remarks to other neighbors.
• Wrote “Fuck You” on a gigantic tarp and hung it between their houses so that Mr. & Mrs. French couldn’t help but always see it from their TV room and bedroom.
• Wrote obscenities in other places on the property, messages specifically directed towards Mr. French.
• Continually ran chainsaws, wood chippers, leaf blowers, lawnmowers, and other machinery, both day and night, strictly to annoy Mr. French.
• Built acrid fires near Mr. French’s property line, so as to send voluminous amounts of smoke towards Mr. French’s house.
• Made false accusations concerning Mr. French to the police.
• And, he implied that Mr. Irish probably poisoned Mr. French’s dog.
Lawyer Number Two then got HIS chance. He introduced himself as Mr. Irish’s lawyer, and he said that he would endeavor to prove that Mr. Irish did none of the things alleged. However, Mr. French had done the following nasties:
• Continually photographed and videotaped Mr. & Mrs. Irish, 24-hours a day, with SIX different video cameras.
• Shone multiple spotlights into Mr. & Mrs. Irish’s bedroom, for many months, all night long.
• Took photographs and videos of the Irish’s daughter and granddaughters when they used the swimming pool in the Irish’s backyard.
• Kept his dogs out all night, barking, and would not listen to Mr. Irish’s requests to take them in and quiet them. Instead, he said that if Mr. Irish didn’t like it, he would encourage the dogs to bark more often.
• After his dogs pooped all over the yard in winter, leaving behind hundreds of droppings in the snow, he would pick up the excrement and throw it into Mr. Irish’s yard come spring.
• And, to top it all off, he had allegedly exposed his private parts to Mrs. Irish – twice, in two separate incidents, separated by months.
Thus concluded the opening arguments.
These people were next-door-neighbors; had been for almost ten years. They were both well past retirement age. It sounded like a sitcom plot gone horribly wrong. It was The Ricardos and The Mertzes with no laugh track, The Kramdens and The Nortons on a bad acid trip.
Oh, and did I mention that both of these guys were retired policemen?
Welcome to jury duty, Mr. Sullivan. It only resembles Hell. However, if you were still a Catholic, it could probably qualify as Purgatory.
Soon, with the other seven days of my life that I’ll never get back.
Go To Part Three.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Jury duty. I was on jury duty. That’s where I was all of last week. That’s why there were no new postings. Jury duty.
Life has real tragedies – death, for instance, or being forced to watch "Wife Swap" – so I know better than to compare jury duty to something truly horrible. Just the same, among life’s minor irritations, jury duty is right up there with jock itch. You ask yourself, "Why me?" and about all you can do is wait for it to run its course.
This all started a year ago. I got a notice in the mail telling me to report to… well, I’m going to use a fictitious location. This is because I don’t want to make it easy for someone to connect me with the case I heard. It involved litigation, and if the jerks involved were willing to get all litigious with each other, who knows what they might decide to do with me concerning writing about it? So, let’s call it Lower Palookaville Superior Court.
Now, you’ve got to understand something important. I live in Watertown. Watertown is about ten minutes from the Cambridge courthouse, where I’ve previously done jury duty. Watertown is also about an hour from Lower Palookaville. To say I was surprised to find that they wanted me in Lower Palookaville is like saying Custer was mildly irritated at Little Big Horn. What I was, was... well, if there’s one good thing about all of this, it’s that I get to use one of my favorite words. What I was, was flabbergasted.
Luckily enough, one of the things they let you do is postpone your service for a year. That’s what I did, of course. I sent back the form saying that I’d like my jury duty postponed. Soon enough, I got a notice in the mail saying that it was rescheduled for October 27th, 2008. Well, hell yeah! When something is a year away, it’s as good as non-existent as far as I’m concerned. I put it completely out of my mind - until October 1st of this year rolled around, at which time I started to dread it.
Not that I expected to become part of an actual jury. I had served jury duty some four or five times previously and I had never been part of an actual jury any of those times. It was just a few hours of sitting around reading a book, then being sent home, secure in the knowledge that I was safe for at least another three years, since that’s the least amount of time before you’re eligible to be called again in Massachusetts. Not this time. This time, I was actually put on a jury.
Jim? This is jock itch. Jock itch? Jim. I hope you have a pleasant week together.
Before I tell you about the pleasant week – actually, eight business days - let me tell you about what was almost a pleasant month. The first time I did jury duty, it was in Suffolk County. Boston, that is. And it was all very interesting because it WAS the first time. I wasn’t so overjoyed with the experience that I wanted them to call me back immediately to do it again, but it wasn’t hideous. I somewhat enjoyed seeing the inner workings of the judicial system – especially since, given my iffy background, I wasn’t seeing it from the defendant’s point of view and thus sweating the outcome.
Anyway, on that occasion, I just missed being a member of a jury that was sequestered for over a month. The defendant was a guy whose name I will never forget for as long as I live – Vinnie "The Quahog" Paradiso. He was serving a term for murder, as I recall, and now he was going to be up on a rape charge. Or maybe vice-versa. In any case, arrangements had already been made for him to be in the custody of the state for a very long time. To me, it seemed rather superfluous to be trying him for something else. But, who knows? Maybe this represented the possibility of Vinnie The Quahog never actually seeing daylight again and the state wished to make certain of that, even if the daylight he might see was currently forty years down the road to begin with. In any case, it was a big deal criminal trial. It dragged on for weeks. I followed it in the newspapers because I was (notice me holding my thumb and forefinger about an eighth of an inch apart?) this close to serving on the jury. I was considered, but not seated.
(Seated. That’s real honest-to-gosh technical jury terminology!)
As I say, that jury was sequestered for a month or so. I always figured that was as close as I’d ever actually get to being a juror. Wrong, subpoena breath!
Where was I on the morning of October 27th, 2008? I was driving from Watertown to Lower Palookaville. Where did I want to be? Just about anywhere else.
I arrived at the Lower Palookaville Superior Courthouse at 7:45am. Now, despite the fact that I didn’t want to be in Lower Palookaville, I’ll give them their props. The directions for how to get there were perfect, except for the fact that they took me 30 miles out of my way. If I had used Mapquest, it would have saved me a half-hour. I took a different route home. One good thing about Lower Palookaville, with no qualifier, is that they have a parking lot reserved for jurors, one you don’t have to pay to park in. That’s a distinct improvement over every other place (Boston and Cambridge) where I’ve done jury duty. And all of the personnel at the courthouse were kind, polite, good-humored, and in all respects swell people. I sincerely mean that. They were the nicest group of government employees it has ever been my pleasure to encounter. Not a grumpy face in the whole bunch and every single one of them tried to make the experience as painless as they could. I’m tempted to tell you the real location, so that those people might get a pat on the back from their superiors, but I won’t, for reasons previously given. If they’re reading this, they’ll know who they are. I want them to know they were wonderful.
By 8:30, all of the jurors who were supposed to be present and accounted for were. We sat under the watchful eyes of the very good-natured jury pool officer. For my part, I had brought a book to read. I figured to get through a few chapters, and then be told to go home, having done my duty as a citizen of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. That’s how it had worked all of the other times.
After checking in, I had been given a card with my name on it, as well as a number. My number was 35. I had no way of knowing what significance that number might have. As the process moved along, I found out that it was somewhat important. It would determine my fate for the next week or so.
The jury pool officer told us that there was one trial for which a jury would be empanelled. This would require 14 jurors – as we understood it, 12 actual jurors and 2 alternates. There were approximately 70 people in the jury pool. Being a good gambler of long standing, and therefore able to calculate odds quickly, I knew there was an immediate 1 in 5 chance of my becoming an actual juror. Not bad odds. I wasn’t too worried.
I looked around and saw that there were about twice as many women as men in the jury pool. This raised my level of concern. I assumed that they would try to empanel a jury comprised of an equal amount of both sexes. Just a guess on my part, of course. It might turn out that the lawyers would prefer more women - or more men - but without any further information to compute, that meant that the 23 or 24 men available would be contributing 7 members to the jury. My odds had dropped to a bit more than 2 to 1 against being picked. Not as good a prospect for avoiding service. If they actually preferred more men, my odds might be close to even money.
At about 10 o’clock, we were led to a courtroom. After being seated, the judge told us a few minor details concerning the case. She said that it was a civil trial, a lawsuit. She then told us that she would ask all of us a few questions, and if our answer to a question was "yes", then we were to hold up our numbered card, at which time one of the court officers – there were three on duty – would relay that number to the court clerk, whose task was to record such things. The idea was to find out if we could serve without prejudice, as well as whether or not we would endure any undue hardship serving for the entire length of the trial.
The judge informed us that she expected the trial to last between 5 and 7 days.
She introduced us to the lawyers. We were asked if we knew the lawyers. None of us did. Similarly, we were introduced to the plaintiff and the defendant. None of us knew them, either. We were asked if we had read about the case in the newspapers, or heard about it on TV or radio, or if we had any knowledge from other sources, such as the internet or just plain word of mouth. Nope. So far, we were all perfect prospective jurors.
Now the judge asked about personal prejudices. She explained a minimal amount about the case; that it was a dispute concerning neighbors, each suing and counter-suing for supposed mental anguish and the like. Any of us with a prejudice concerning such a case, perhaps a past history of our own disputes in similar matters? A few cards were raised, and the court officers called them off to the front of the room – "7!" "42!" "66!" "51!"
A few more questions were asked concerning prejudices – I really wanted to yell out something about hating the entire human race, to see if it would get me the hell out of there, but I didn’t have the guts – and then the judge asked if any of us would endure a specific personal hardship if we had to serve for 5 to 7 days on a jury.
About a third of the cards shot up into the air. I came close, but I honestly didn’t think telling her that I worked in a small office, and perhaps they’d be burdened by my absence, would be enough. I kept my card down. The numbers were again relayed to the clerk.
Now the clerk started calling out our names and numbers. Each person called would be seated in the jury box. We were told to answer “Here!” when our name was called.
"Number 1, Radcliff Q. Tiddlyblatter!"
"Did you answer ‘yes’ to any of the judge’s questions?"
"Seat Number One!"
And so, Radcliff Q. Tiddlyblatter was escorted over to the jury box and seated. Then the next call went out.
"Number 2, Poopsie Frankenstein!"
You see, Poopsie had answered ‘yes’ to one of the judge’s questions. Now the judge and lawyers examined her further. We were not privy to their conversations, but in the end, Poopsie was sent downstairs, presumably to soon go home. The rest of us, now seeing how the system worked, racked our brains to see if there was some way to amend our previous answers. For my part, I would have been happy to give the judge printed out copies of every entry ever made in this blog, which surely had to contain some sort of impropriety that would have resulted in her dismissing me. However, it might also have led to my being tried for something, too, so I didn’t.
"Number 4, Crackhead Jones!"
The judge did not accept Crackhead’s excuse, and he was sent to sit in the jury box, seat number two.
"Number 5, Paddy O’Furniture!"
"Did you answer ‘yes’ to any of the judge’s questions?"
"Seat Number Three!"
I began to understand that they were calling us in numerical order. Why they skipped 3 was a puzzle. Was there no number 3 in the crowd? In any case, I could now get a better grip on my actual odds. The judge might or might not accept the excuses. That was encouraging, and made my earlier reticence to raise my card seem like a reasonable course of action. It would probably have resulted in nothing more than a walk of shame past my fellow prospective jurors when my excuse was found to be insufficient. In any case, they had gone through 5 numbers (four actual possible jurors) and already seated three people. My holding number 35 seemed like a reasonably safe position.
Long story a bit shorter, they had seated a full complement of 14 jurors by the time they reached number 19 on the cards. I felt extremely safe. The safe feeling, however, lasted for only about three minutes. The lawyers were at the sidebar, conferring with the judge. I had forgotten that each lawyer could ask for a certain number of jurors to be dropped, no questions asked.
The clerk asked one juror to step out of the box. She was dismissed and sent back downstairs. They now called juror 20, who was ordered to the sidebar. And so on, through number 24, at which time they again had 14 jurors. And I, again, felt safe. As before, this feeling of safety lasted for about three minutes. The lawyers AGAIN met at the sidebar with the judge. This time, the clerk asked THREE jurors to go away. They did so, with very big smiles on their faces, and the process began anew.
Now I was sweating. As a number was called, and I heard "Sidebar!" my heart sank. I longed for the judge to say something like, "What in the name of...? You call THAT an excuse, you sorry piece of trash? Get in the jury box and be thankful I don’t have you whipped!" Unfortunately, the judge was a reasonable woman, so no such admonitions issued forth.
At number 34, the box was again filled. If I didn’t think it somewhat blasphemous, I would have now been praying that there were no more objections from the lawyers. I saved my prayers, though, because I figured if God wanted me in the jury box, He was going to get me there, and if He didn’t, He wouldn’t. How about it God? Cut me a break?
The lawyers again met with the judge at the sidebar. I saw a juror’s card being passed over to the clerk. I wanted to run up there, grab the card, set it on fire, and then throw it out the window. And maybe sing a few stanzas of the Horst-Wessel-Lied while I did so, if that would help.
"Mary Lou Luckyfuck! Please step down!"
"Number 35, James S. Sullivan!"
"Did you answer ‘yes’ to any of the judge’s questions?"
No, but right about now I'm willing to start humping her leg if that will that get me sent home.
"Seat Number Ten!"
Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
This was the seat that had just been vacated. I walked over there with what I hoped was a sour enough look on my puss to get one of the lawyers concerned about such a hothead hearing his client’s case. No soap. The bastards were all smiles.
The judge asked, "Are both sides satisfied with the composition of the jury?"
The lawyers answered, in unison, "Yes, Your Honor."
And there I was, the reluctant juror, seat number ten, the very last one seated, destined to spend the next eight business days listening to one of the most convoluted and bizarre lawsuits you could possibly imagine...
Go To Part Two.