Peahens and Peacocks and Geese, Oh My

Being about as swift as a herd of turtles, it was nearly one o’clock by the time we arrived at the Arboretum. My girlfriend, her young daughter, and I strolled the paths until we found a small wood bench with a view of the pond. Several wood ducks – the ones that look like somebody painted them – were swimming about, sharing the waters with a couple of Canadian geese. Ashore, peahens ambled around the bench pecking at little nothings while mother and daughter walked to the water’s edge and I sat quietly.

The tram passed by the pond and its riders dutifully tossed bread bits at the ducks and geese, but it seemed an automatic gesture and they passed by without savoring the peacefulness of the scene or enjoying the personalities of its inhabitants. The passers-by didn’t notice how the male wood duck deferred to his female companions, allowing them the first choice of tasty treats before snapping up some chewy chunks for himself.

The riders thought that this was their habitat and that the animals and scenery were there to entertain them, not the other way around. Truth is that this is their world, their home, and if you listen closely you can hear them laughing at us – “those silly people,” the peahens whisper to one another while the Canadian geese honk their ridicule more loudly. But children understand, and are happy to inform you, pointing out the house that belongs to the ducks and the tunnel that belongs to the water.

I like to bask in the sun like the turtle on the rock watching the baby ducklings splash and play a few feet away. The air is filled with the cacophony of duck and birdcalls, then there’s a sudden moment of silence when all you can hear is the dribbling of water on the rocks and the wind whispering through the bare tree branches mostly still nude from the winter. But there is green all around – the grass, the bushes and the succulent ground covers with their smattering of colorful blooms.

Of course what may seem peaceful to me is not necessarily so to them. We notice the two male wood ducks who are clearly quarreling over a girl duck, and we watch two geese cross the grass with tails a-swishing to chase away a peacock who appears to be bothering no one. He retreats, dragging his plumage behind him, and the geese turn then to stare at us. The child is busy digging an indentation in the dirt and filling it with blades of grass. It’s a nest for the geese, but they are unimpressed and unappreciative of the maternal efforts of a three-year-old. They waddle away.

Ultimately, we too head for home, but not without a small detour through the forest of yellow and green bamboo where we search for lions or tigers or bears. “They must be hiding,” I suggest when no creatures appear. “No silly. There aren’t any tigers,” she informs me. “It’s just pretend.”

No Longer In Contempt

I was cleaning up my office today, riffling through a stack of papers, as yet unsorted, perhaps to be filed, perhaps to be tossed. This, like re-arranging the spice rack, is a favorite mode of procrastination, near and dear to the hearts of every writer. Sometimes, however, it also serves as a means of inspiration, especially if you serendipitously come across some scrap or memento about which you can then write. Such was my luck today. With dinnertime fast approaching, and not yet a written a word for today’s posting (not even an inkling of a topic), I came across a half-sheet of green paper with printing that slanted downward toward the right

For some reason (probably the instincts of a pack-rat journalist), I had saved my Certification of Jury Service, along with two tri-panel brochures – “Trial Juror’s Handbook” and the “Where-to guide for Jurors on their lunch hour in Downtown L.A.” – a page titled Juror Orientation and a Notice to Jurors Regarding Postponement, Financial Hardship and Possible Service at Other Courts. Now I remember. I was going to write about this. Why? Because when the day was over I was surprised to find myself actually looking forward to being called again, and slightly disappointed that it would be at least a year before that summons would come. You’re surprised? So was I.

In Los Angeles, you are notified of the week that you must be available, but you get to phone in each evening to see if you are needed the next day. If you are not needed, you do not go in, and if you do have to go in but are not appointed to a jury that day, you are excused from service until your next summons a year or more later. In short, unless you begin a trial, you never have to spend more than one day in the court house.

The first night I had called in to find that I need not report the next day. I congratulated myself on my decision to not try and extricate myself from serving – a decision based not on any desire to serve, but on my own conviction that nothing would be happening in the court house during the week between Christmas and New Year. I was wrong. The next evening a recorded voice informed me of my 7:45 AM call time. The weather was predicting major storms and, given the fact that rain was already coming down in sheets, there was no room for doubt or hope.

The drive into downtown on the oldest freeway in Los Angeles, a narrow curvaceous ribbon with lots of flood-prone dips, was truly terrifying, even at fifteen miles per hour. After puddle-jumping through the three blocks from parking lot to court house, placing my soaking wet belongings on the security scanner conveyor belt, and following the crowd down long hallways to and from the elevators, I took a seat in the Jury Assembly Room. No one wanted to be there and everyone knew it.

The orientation spiel was well-scripted. By now they know exactly what to tell you, and they answer all the questions one might have before anyone needs to ask. Then, one of the judges came in to address the prospective jury pool. He was extremely dapper, wearing a three-piece suit that looked more like a frock coat than a banker’s suit. He asked how many of us were happy to be there, and two people raised their hands. (At least we were an honest bunch.) Then he asked how many of us believed in the right to a trial by a jury of ones peers; of course everyone raised their hands and his point was made. He then spent a few minutes actually thanking us for being there. That’s when my attitude, and the attitude of many others, began to change. Judge Frockcoat has made a very positive impression.

Around 10 AM, a disembodied voice called thirty-five names, including mine, and sent us up to Department 126. The bailiff came out to give us juror numbers and ask us to wait in the hall. We had been told that the case was expected to last two days (not counting jury selection or deliberations), and by this time I was psyched – properly prepped and primed to do my civic duty. I had already figured out how to postpone whatever other obligations I had for the rest of the week and next. And I was not the only one who was now eager to be impaneled. But after about fifteen minutes, the judge himself, still robed, came into the hallway to tell us the lawyers had just settled, and then he thanked us for being there ready to serve.

I spent the next hour and a half listening to a disgruntled retired schoolteacher, chatting with a building contractor, and solving puzzles. No, this is not some writerly metaphoria; the Assembly Room was well-stocked with 5000+ piece jigsaw puzzles that not only helped to pass the time, but also rekindled my love for a childhood pastime. Mercifully, the rain abated and, we were granted a ninety-minute lunch break. Having been provided with schedules for the twenty-five cent Dash buses and maps to shops, restaurants and sites that would do a visitor’s bureau proud, we dispersed to eat in China Town, shop in the jewelry district, and visit the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angeles.

Two more juries were selected after lunch, but my name was not called. Shortly after 4 PM the voice let us know that we could go home. I traded in my badge for the green certificate, and headed for home. I was disappointed that we were not needed, and pleasantly surprised by both of the judges I had encountered.

So what I wanted to know was, are all judges like that? I have a friend from college who is now a
criminal court judge, so I inquired by email:

Do they teach you to be so nice and polite to jurors in judge-training? I ask mostly tongue-in-cheek, but there is a part of me that really thought judges were to be feared (yourself not included, of course), much in the same way as we fear the police. I even noticed a good feeling among the courthouse staff, a camaraderie that I thought was a figment of TV’s imagination a la Judging Amy. So what do you think, is this the norm?

My judge wrote back at great length, ending with:

To sum it up, I would say what you experienced is becoming the norm. We are told at the judicial college that wearing the robe and just dictating won’t work today, you have to have a viable means of interacting with the public, which I’m glad about. With that said, however, we still have to maintain judiciousness and judicial authority, except that now, hopefully, the public will have enough information to respect, understand and accept the system…. One of the things I enjoy most about the position is the juror participation and my opportunity to interact with them. It’s the system at work.

Enough said. Court is adjourned.

May Day or mayday?

I always thought May Day was all about dancing around the maypole, fun and frolic in celebration of spring – a tradition that dated way back to when the Druids of the British Isles celebrated Beltaine and the arrival of summer. Then, availing myself of the power of the internet to check my facts before posting, I discovered that May Day is not just about the arrival of spring. In the 1880s, May Day became synonymous with demands for more humane treatment. It was May 1, 1886 when American workers clamored for a more reasonable eight-hour workday. So I guess it is ironic that I chose to launch my blog on May Day, as the very act of blogging is going to increase my workload exponentially. Perhaps “mayday, mayday” will be more like it. The international distress signal, derived from the French “venez m’aider” (come help me), may turn out to be my refrain. Of course, if I am to share in the rarified ether of some super-literary friends and colleagues, I may do better to associate “May Day” with F Scott Fitzgerald. Within the pages of “The Skeptic,” a biography of H. L. Mencken by Terry Teachout, there are several references to pieces by Fitzgerald that Mencken published in “Smart Set, and while “May Day” was not mentioned in specific, I think that is where it first appeared.