And the verdict is...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Friday before Thanksgiving, I received two government-issued summons: one was to pay fines for crossing the double white lines in the Peach Pass lane (for the record, those cameras do work); the second was the dreaded summons to appear for jury duty.

That's how I began the Monday after my holiday weekend - crammed into the largest courtroom available with more than 130 other poor souls who beheld an equally ominous light blue envelope in hand. Looking at the crowded courtroom, I attempted to mentally calculate my odds of getting picked. One in ten? I'd probably be excused before lunch.

But then...well, then, the stay-at-home caretakers were excused. And the peace officers. And the students in the midst of exams. And the over-70s wishing to tender their service to Judge Judy from the comfort of their own living room. The hard wooden benches looked much more sparse, but still, my chances of dismissal were still greater than the chances of selection, right? Until the clerk informed us that three trials required 12-person juries this week. And suddenly, I found myself in a group whittled to just 36 persons, and my percentages of getting picked rocketing upward.

I arrived at the courthouse at 8:15 a.m. and shuffled from room to room as an anonymous summons number for the better part of the day, finally being questioned by the attorneys around 1:30, and then herded into the grand jury room to wait. So by 4:45 when my name was called as the third juror in the criminal case at hand, the tediousness of the day had me wanting to object.

Instead, I reported as instructed the next morning for service with 12 perfect strangers. Having had to cancel a business trip and turn a project I very much wanted to work on over to someone else due to my selection, I felt petulant and irritable. But sometimes when everything seems to be going wrong, life will surprise you with something unexpected.

One case, three days, more than half a dozen witnesses, 20-something pieces of evidence, two closing arguments and almost three hours of deliberation, I learned a few statutes that I thought worth sharing.

1. Challenge your assumptions.Think actively about the ways you fill in the blanks of all kinds of narratives without real knowledge or understanding and recognize that those assumptions can be wrong, misguiding and close-minded.

2. Common bonds are easier to find than you might think. I sat down Tuesday with 12 strangers. The group was a multi-ethnic, multiracial, multi-generational mix of men and women from all different walks of life. Common ground was not immediately apparent, but it was there, waiting to be uncovered.

3. Turn off your phone and pay attention to the people around you. Every morning, we relinquished our cell phones to the bailiff at the courtroom door. Once sequestered in the jury room, we had no choice to but to talk to each other. And since we couldn't talk about the case until instructed to do so, we talked about ourselves and our lives and found those common places that would never have been found if we'd all been playing Bejeweled Blitz (which I am so guilty of doing).

4. Restore your faith in humanity. While I was assigned jury duty in the wake of an alleged crime, which might lessen my opinion of my fellow man, I served with a group of really good and lovely people who shared one bathroom, very little elbow room in the jury room, zero leg room in the jury box and a not insignificant deliberation with genuine human kindness.

5. People may surprise you with their earnestness. I realize that my experience is a millisecond in the grand scheme of the justice system. I'm no judicial expert and have no wish to comment on the reality of fair and just procedures on the macro level. What I can tell you is that 12 people sat in a room today and very seriously and thoughtfully considered testimony, evidence and the applicable law (which was no small task) and did so with a commitment to render a verdict we unanimously felt was indicative of the charges laid before us. Everyone spoke. Everyone cared. Everyone took to heart that we collectively determined the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

6. Say thank you. Every time we left the jury box and filed into the jury room, a bailiff held the door for us. And when we left the jury room through the courtroom, another bailiff escorted us to the elevator where a court officer waited until we were all packed tight for the ride down. I was heartened by how many of my fellow jurors thanked the bailiffs and the court officers. And one of our bailiffs told us as we left today that not every jury is a "sweet" as us. Let no small kindness go unnoticed.

7. Police-escorted lunches can be cool. While I have no desire to ride in a prisoner transport van under most circumstances, I had occasion to be shuttled to lunch today with my fellow jurors in one such vehicle. And since it was under lawful circumstances, I will say that arriving with a two-officer escort gets you good service.

And lastly, I must share that I left today with a piece of paper in my pocket. On it is written 11 names and 11 phone numbers. Because beyond rendering a verdict, we managed to render something else - real, human connections. Connections with people who don't look like us - who are older or younger or were born in a different country, who do different jobs and live different lives. But who are people - real people - who we hugged as we departed and called out promises to have dinner soon to wish each other happy holidays. And so the verdict is, people are people - good people - until proven otherwise.

Court is adjourned.

this is 34

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

July 4, two days before my birthday
I wake up knowing that there is no coffee in the house and very little in the way of anything that might come close to constituting breakfast for me and my beloved BFF Nikki. Instead of showering or combing my hair or putting in my contacts or really trying in any way to look like a reasonable human being, I pull on loose sweat pants, a tshirt from staffing AthFest four years ago and flip-flops, grab my glasses and twist my hair up into a bed-head ponytail combination at best. Yesterday's mascara may or may not be speckled across my cheeks. And that's how I go to Kroger to grocery shop. Classy.

July 5, one day before my birthday
When I take a shower, the water backs up into the shower. After valiantly plunging and pulling out a gross conglomeration of human and cat hair and forcing the shower to belch up black sediment, I do what any single woman in my position does. I called Dad.

He plunged the shower with far more skill and vigor, and it in turn regurgitated more sooty black sediment onto the tile. And when we go to investigate the plumbing in the basement, we discover about a 1/2 inch of water spreading across the concrete floor from the wall to the staircase.

I depart and drive across town to pay my ad valorem tax (with one day to spare!), return in a torrential downpour and find that my toilet is now in my shower. Because it's leaking into the basement and the seal is broken. And Dad is in said basement, wailing on the outflow pipe cap, which is all tarnished and warped in its cast iron setting. He finally wrenches it out and water pours from the pipe into the floor.

While he threads the pipe in search of the problem, I go to Home Depot and Lowe's only to discover that the 2 1/2" brass cap isn't standard size any more. And that's how I end up with a Diet Mountain Dew bottle forced into the pipe's end and duct taped within an inch of its life.

July 6, my birthday
Dad goes out early to Luke Hardware where they have a single 2 1/2" brass cap in a box of old junk. Literally. In a box. Of junk. Dad installs the brass fitting, and despite his best efforts and threading tape, there's a slow drip out of the bottom end. We google for how to seal a brass cap in a cast iron pipe. And Mom and Dad take off for another trip to the hardware store to find some mysterious epoxy. While they're gone, Nikki and I use a push broom and a shovel to remove water from the basement. Later, the epoxy applied, the slow drip persists, but nothing a little bucket can't handle.

Nikki and I both shower. And I'm annoyed that the water is still backing up in the shower. And I hear a strange burbling coming from the toilet. And when she gets out of the shower, she says that the drain clogged in the guest bath, too. And then when we go to turn the light on to admire ourselves in the full-length mirror in the hall and the bulb blows and I tell her I'll go to the basement and get the step stool so we can change the bulb...well...that was 34. Thirty-four full on in my adult face and raining down in my basement from every pipe and joint I can see and dripping down the window and wetting the baseboards with insidious water from God-only-knows-where. So I swore roundly and yelled up the stairs for Nikki to bring the trash cans -all of them! - and like the poor man's bucket brigade, we positioned every can and bowl and pot I had to strategically capture a small percentage of the water bursting into my basement.

We finished getting ready and arrived at my birthday dinner nearly an hour late and sat outside before being chased inside by the never-ending series of cloudbursts that have marked the past few weeks. And then we walked in the rain to the bar to meet others for drinks. And all the while, I thought of the rain in my basement. And before we went home that night, we went to the bathroom at my office.


Today, the plumber came. Hours of threading the pipes and $300 later, the clog has been dislodged and the plumbing set to rights. And I put in a call to a guy to clean my gutters because if I don't they're going to fall off the house. And my dad mentioned that one of my basement windows might be rotting. And when I got home tonight, there was a snake in the carport. And so far, 34 is making me feel very much like perhaps I should go to bed and pull the covers up over my head. But that would likely be inviting a leak in the ceiling...

Here's What I Think, Old Sport

Sunday, June 9, 2013

When I was in high school, I bought a copy of The Great Gatsby from Jackson Street Books in downtown Athens. I imagined that it was a collector's edition, but the truth is, it was merely a 1953 Scribner reprint missing the dust jacket. Nonetheless, it's held a place of honor on all my bookshelves since then, and the thick blue pages preceding the title page are scribbled with my favorite passages from the book and other Fitzgeraldisms.

Since the Baz Luhrmann adaptation of my beloved Gatsby was announced some 18 months ago, I have been cautiously optimistic about it. I've been making and breaking plans to see the film since it hit theaters May 4. I finally accomplished it last night. As a known Gatsby-phile, several people have asked what I think, After they read this, they may be sorry they asked.

If Tim Gunn had the opportunity to review the pre-final cut of the film, I like to think he would've put one finger over his lips, quirked one eyebrow delicately above his glasses and said, "Baz, I want you to edit thoughtfully." There's no doubt Luhrmann captures the bold, brazen color of the 1920s. His recreations of Jazz Era New York are nothing short of stunning. In a scene where Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and Jordan Becker (Elizabeth  Debicki)  are jostled through a Times Square crowd, it's almost difficult to pay attention to their conversation given the impeccably rendered city scene. In other moments he gives way to his signature high-style tactics with fast-motion turns through rooms and swoops through skylines. Although I chose not to see it in 3D, I could discern in moments that his choices were based on giving the 3D version life and not on supporting the story in anyway. In those moments, I felt Luhrmann sitting next to me saying, "Hey, hey, hey - watch this part!" Yeah, yeah. I see what you did there, Baz. It made me want to punch you in throat. And incidentally, it made me a little queasy.

I try never to go into movie adapted from a book without reminding myself that something, some little detail at the very least, will be changed. But when The Great Gatsby opened on a snowy New England sanatorium, I was downright confused. It seems that Fitzgerald's subtler motivations for Carraway's retelling of the story didn't suit Hollywood, so they turned him into an alcoholic and installed him in therapy. Well, that's distressing. But it gave him a reason to write the book and give Luhrmann use of another really annoying maneuver of showing Carraway writing and putting the words on the screen. The first time this happened, I couldn't stop myself from an audible, "Oh! I don't like that." I was disappointed to see the failed relationship between Nick and Jordan stripped from this adaptation as well; I thought Luhrmann underutilized Debicki who put in a cool, controlled and aloof performance as Jordan.

Since the teaser trailer debuted with "No Church in the Wild" by Jay-Z and Kanye West thumping in the background, much has been made about the soundtrack, which features a lot of non-Jazz Era music compiled by Jay-Z. Much like Luhrmann's sweeping landscape shots, when it works, it buoys the film; and when it fails, it's a miserable distraction. Jack White wailing "Love is Blindness" in the climactic scene was raw and desperate, and Lana Del Ray's "Young and Beautiful" is woven dreamily into the post-party scene and hauntingly spanned interaction between Gatsby and Daisy. On the other hand, a jazzy cover of "Crazy in Love"and's "Bang Bang" belonged nowhere in this film. This is probably how Shakespeare fans felt when The Cardigans' "Lovefool" bounced through Romeo + Juliet.

But lest you think I'm all down on this latest Gatsby adaptation (for the record, the fifth to date if you count A&E's tragic made-for-TV effort), this one is by far my favorite. Leonardo DiCaprio puts forth a dynamic performance, capturing both Gatsby's disarming charm and his nervous vulnerability. His confidence is convincing, and yet, you can sense that he's constructed a very delicate house of cards that threatens to tumble at any given moment. Even in moments when he's portraying the immense persona of Gatsby, he's carrying that threat just below the surface. Likewise, Carey Mulligan imbued Daisy with both charm and fragility without sinking into the insipid. She managed to emanate light and vivacity without being cloying, drawing both Gatsby and the audience to her every word and gesture. And an in an unexpectedly solid performance, Jason Clarke delivered a pitiable, brutal George Wilson. On the contrary, Isla Fisher's Myrtle is a one-dimensional woman on the side.

Though Luhrmann's styling sometimes pushes the characters into caricatures, he does capture the charisma and the chemistry while lacing it with the tenuous atmosphere of a grinding, sweaty, disruptive world on the precipice of disaster. Even though Fitzgerald couldn't have known what was coming, Luhrmann tinges this Gatsby with the unsustainable, voracious appetite of the 1920s that led into The Great Depression. His rendering of some of the key elements of the novel - Owl Eyes and Dr. T.J. Eckleburg and the Valley of Ashes - were spot on. Plus, the contributions of Luhrmann's costume designer wife Catherine Martin cannot be understated in their impact on the film's visual interest.

Perhaps a fully realized screen adaption is as impossible as a happy ending in West Egg. Perhaps we who love Gatsby so deeply for his hope and his hopelessness have fallen into his ways. We look to the silver screen like he looked at the green light for the reflection of what we felt when we first met him in possession of "one of those rare smiles with a quality of reassurance in it that you may come across four or five times in your life." And maybe Baz Luhrmann is guilty of producing a film of Gatsby-esque proportions, attempting to bring Gatsby to life with so much intensity that his production values were as overstuffed as Nick's parlor with hothouse flowers.

In the end, I loved and hated it, much as one loves and hates the whole lot of careless characters. I stand by the old "the book is better" philosophy, but there was a lot this film brought to life that has me wanting to pour some champagne and party with it all over again. After all, who wouldn't want to go to one of Gatsby's epic parties?

help tastes good

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I recently sat down with a group of students at UGA who are offering their time and talents to help Community Connection of Northeast Georgia better serve the community. They asked me why I am passionate about the organization. Here's why - because Community Connection serves literally everyone in this community. It is a community lifeline in a way that no other community organization is.

For those in need, our 2-1-1 referral line connects them to the services they need and the organizations that provide those service, including basic needs like food, clothing and shelter. Sometimes, when those calls come to us, it's someone's last resort. The end of the line. And at the other end of the line is help.

For those who are part of those organizations that provide services, Community Connection helps them do more with less. We help build capacity through strategic planning assistance, staff development, technical assistance; by strengthening nonprofits, we strengthen the community.

And for those who want to help, we connect them to opportunities to improve the community. HandsOn Northeast Georgia allows volunteers to browse the needs of community agencies and find meaningful ways to serve.

Community Connection is connecting the community in marvelous ways - it's a lifeline to a better community.

I'm in my second year on the board of directors, and prior to that, I was volunteering through HandsOn. I met some amazing people through the organization, and made some lifelong friends.

Photos courtesy of Zoomworks
This weekend is Taste of Athens. The weekend's events - a 10K race Saturday morning and Sunday's eat-travaganza benefit Community Connection. It's our biggest and most important fundraiser. If reading this blog has made you feel the least bit moved by what our organization does, I'd love to see you chugging along at the race Saturday or gnoshing among the 60 restaurants and beverage suppliers who will be making Sunday night extra delicious. Or if you can't make it, consider buying a $5 raffle ticket that could win you one of four weekend packages that include hotel nights, entertainment and dining in the Classic City.

So eat up. Help is delicious. And calorie-free.