Every once in a while life gives a pleasant surprise.

I was cleaning my desk. I rarely get to the bottom, but I was looking for a specific piece of paper. The desk was unhappy, overwhelmed by the way-too-early holiday ads I usually send to “recycle.” This time they didn’t make it, creating a smaller version of New Jersey’s Mt. Trashmore off to center-left of the keyboard extending up to the ceiling.

I don’t really need the keyboard. I have a laptop, iPad, and phone which allow me to procrastinate on desk cleaning, but there was the matter of the piece of paper I needed.

I picked up the giant pile of catalogs I’ll never read and Christmas coupons representing the death of ten trees. I leaned toward the trash.

An envelope jumped out, flew into the air, spun around and landed on the one clean spot on my desk, defying gravity and probability at the same time. It said “Judiciary–Rhode Island.” But for the grace of God, I would have thrown it away like I tossed the winning Publisher’s Clearing House entry two years ago. They frown upon such things

A jury summons.

Most people get upset when they get that envelope. I get excited. A whole two days to be forced to sit and read, and my employer has to let me? It’s pretty amazing. I peeked at the dates. December 10th and 11th. Nothing pressing, great timing. A break in the middle of the Christmas bustle.

I haven’t always had the best of luck with jury duty.

Usually, they request me during awful times or when I happen to be living in another state.

Last time they called, it was the middle of exams. Teachers don’t take off for final exams unless they are dead or well on their way. I asked to be rescheduled.

They said, “You will be in contempt of court if you don’t come.” I went. I read for two days and got sent home.

Years ago, Connecticut called me when I lived in upstate New York. I was too broke to come down, so I called. I said I was interested to serve, but could they transfer my duty to Rochester? I sent proof of residence.

“You will be in contempt of court if you don’t come.” I rented a car and came.

“Is there anyone who has a problem serving on this jury?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes, sir,” I said. “I live in upstate New York.” The judge excused me from the case. Two more cases followed. I’m Irish with all the luck included therein, so I was chosen for those two as well.

“Is there anyone who has a problem serving on this jury?”

I repeated that I still lived in upstate New York. I hadn’t moved in the hour we’d spent getting from the first to the second case. I said I’d driven eight hours to be present, that I’d tried to call ahead. The judge grumbled. By the third case, I raised my  hand. He was mad. He waved me out of the courtroom sending me to a clerk who stamped my paperwork and declared me free. I got a fifty dollar stipend for serving, about a quarter of the expenses of my travel, and was sent on my way.

I got picked for all of the cases the days I served during the final exam service, too, but I got kicked out because nobody thinks former insurance people can be objective in cases where there are injuries and no damage.

I figured I’d take the stipend they gave me and go to Foxwoods, I felt so lucky getting picked for every case, but they didn’t give me any money.

I got sent to a different clerk who stamped my paper, declared me free, and said, “You work for the state, so instead of paying you the twenty-dollar stipend, they’re just going to pay you for the day.” To be honest, being locked in a room and forced to read a book without interruption is payment enough. If they just put in some high-quality good coffee, I’d try to get a summons every week.


Maybe I’ll get a cool case and the prosecutor and judge won’t hate me this time. We’ll see. I hope I won’t get a twenty-year murder trial or something depressing. I’ll put happy books on my Kindle to prepare.

So, if anyone’s looking for me December 10th or 11th, that’s where I’ll be–reading in the jury summons room. If you’re still missing me on the 13th, check the paper for murder trials, or since this is Rhode Island, mobster sagas with a heavy doses of embezzlement. Most likely, I’ll get tossed again, but if they do it quickly, I’ll be hiding out drinking coffee for the entire day.

P.S. My desk is clean.