RIP

There are many phrases I never thought I would write, and one of them was, “Well, now I’ve been to a funeral on Facebook Live.”

My cousin Joey Koch died from COVID-19 this week and his funeral Mass was in D’Hanis this morning. There were actually more people at the service than I expected. Most of the people I talked with weren’t attending, and they were family. I find this tragic, but not surprising in this times.

His was not only a COVID case, it was a Facebook case. On January 21st, he posted that he had been fighting COVID for eight days. Two days later, he posted that he was in the hospital. By February second, his blood pressure was low and he was on a ventilator. He seemed to rally, took a turn for the worse, and then he left us this week. In the midst of all this, he had his fifty-seventh birthday.

So, this morning, Holy Cross Church live streamed his funeral. Without this, I wouldn’t have attended. His sister sent me the link to the livestream during the rosary. I was crying in my recliner. I hate funerals, but I really hate funerals through a small lens that somebody in the back of the Church remembers to adjust randomly.

At the end of the rosary, before Mass, while everyone was readjusting things, the camera panned around the front of the Church, and I saw Joey in his coffin with his Texas A&M cap beside him before they closed the lid. I am not sure this was helpful for me.

Watching one of my cousins’ funerals online was a very strange occurrence. Usually, a death in my Mom’s family implements the same drill. Call or text relatives you haven’t spoken with in a while. Coordinate arrivals in Hondo or D’Hanis. Assume you will meet at least some of the mourners at Hermann Sons the night before the Mass. Attend the reception after the services, and somewhere in the afternoon, realize you are probably laughing quite a bit more than proper at a memorial.

However, this is the time of COVID-19. When we talked online during the drill, I think we were each waiting for the other to say, “I don’t think I’m going to attend.”

Finally, my brother suggested we have a Celebration of Life (a memorial where you’re expected to laugh) some time this Spring, when people are vaccinated and everything is back to normal-ish. This way, nobody had to feel badly about skipping the funeral.

That’s when I realized we’re also celebrating the one-year anniversary of the two-week lockdown. Everything is probably never going to get back to normal-ish.

This morning, I realized I still felt badly about skipping the funeral.

So, now I actually know someone who died from COVID. I have friends that have recovered. I know people who lost relatives. I know people that know people. This one was close to home.

I hate funerals. I hate saying “Goodbye.” I don’t like endings that I don’t control. However, I don’t like skipping funerals even though it was the right thing to do from a safety standpoint. I never thought I would regret not going to a funeral, but this one is close.

I really don’t like endings that were pointless. Joey’s ending was pointless. His ending was pointless because he died of COVID-19.

Joey was being cautious. He had mentioned on Facebook that it wasn’t just about you, it was about the people around you. If someone in your household is in a high risk group, you’re in a high risk group by default.

However, caution does not beat stupidity. It is rumored that he contracted the disease at work. Someone in his office went to Florida to visit family for Christmas and someone there was showing early symptoms. His coworker came home and just went back to work. No mention of any disease. Oops.

COVID-19 is the idiots’ disease. Not that idiots contract it, but that idiots spread it. If you travel somewhere, self-isolate when you get back. Not because it’s the law, but because it’s just common sense. If you think you’ve been exposed, get a test. If you think you’re sick, warn the people you’ve been around. If you don’t feel well, just stay home. If you don’t, you may find yourself feeling better just in time to bury someone you knew.

Name Blindness

I am perplexed. However, this time I know what I am perplexed about – and it is something that occurs every once in a while, but predictably. In fact, I can cause it to happen at will. The next time you’re bored, you can try a simple experiment, and see what happens.

Most people have two names at a minimum, a first name and a last name. Most probably also have a middle name – it’s the name in-between. That said, middle names don’t get used very much, unless your Mom is really pissed at you or you’re an accused or convicted murderer – then, you get all three names, like John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

(Yes, growing up in Texas, I know some people of Mexican descent who have a first name, a middle name and two last names. I’m not one of them, and I always have to remember that the last name may not be the last name. Let’s not get into that, shall we?)

Nonetheless, I use all three of my names from time to time. I have a long last name, so the other two names balance it out.

I will explain my logic mathematically:

  • Kevin (5) Gilhooly (8)
  • Kevin (5) John (4) Gilhooly (8)

5+4 = 9 and nine is closer to eight than five. So, it’s balanced. Approximately.

Besides, John was my Dad, so it helps me pay a little tribute to him.

As a bonus, my full name takes up a lot of room on a line of text, so it stands out in a list of names, which makes it easy for people to find when scanning lists of people on the pre-sale ticket list. So, even though it might make me look like a murderer (or Mom’s pissed at me again), there are some times I use all three names. Also, some computer forms ask for a middle name, so I always fill it in, because I have one. Use it or lose it.

There’s just one problem with using three names. It causes name blindness.

It came up again this evening. I got an email request for some nonprofit consulting, and the request started with “John -“. The only time someone addresses me as “John” instead of “Kevin” is when my middle name is included, and they don’t know me. I went and looked at my profile page, and it is headlined “Kevin John Gilhooly.”

Now, it makes sense that no strangers ever call me “John” when I don’t use my middle name, because they wouldn’t know what it was. However, even when it is on the form, it’s in the middle.

What happened to “Kevin”? Why does everyone who doesn’t know me skip over it? Is this one of those balance things I was supposed to learn in photography class, where the eyes are drawn to the middle?

It happens all the time. If I have my first and middle names on a form, my first name just disappears to people seeing my full name. Am I the only one who is confounded by this?

I actually tried an experiment a few years ago, and included my middle name in my Facebook name, and I started getting called “John” by acquaintances or people trying to become my acquaintances. Friends know my name, so they just continued to call me various expletives. Family avoids me, so it didn’t matter. I dropped my middle name from the name field, and the same acquaintances-to-be all started calling me “Kevin.”

WTF?

I would expect that three names would throw some people off, but I don’t understand the universal tendency for people to assume a middle name is the name to use when a perfectly good first name is included in the same full name. It’s called the first name because it is … first.

Maybe Lincoln called John Wilkes Booth “Wilkes” at a reception, and he finally snapped. Just sayin’.

If I would have put Kevin “John” Gilhooly, then I would expect people would think “John” was my nickname, like “Scooter” or “Bulldog” or any number of other, better nicknames, because “John” is a really bad nickname for “Kevin.” The only nicknames for “Kevin” are “Kev” and “Kevino.” So if I had put “John” in quotes, then I would understand being called “John.”

If I put K. John Gilhooly, I would expect robocallers to ask for KJohn, and I would understand people calling me “John” and not “K.”

Actually, that would be funny, because every time somebody called me, it would sound like they were asking for my agreement. K, John?

However, my full name is “Kevin John Gilhooly.” I suppose if I added my Confirmation name, it’s “Kevin John Peter Gilhooly”, so maybe then I would be called “Peter.”

This is why formal letters use “Mr. Gilhooly”. It’s pretty obvious which one I want you to use for my last name.

If you see a middle name, do you assume the person wants you to use it instead of the first name?

By the way, if you’ll be my bodyguard, you can call me Al. Otherwise, “Kevin” will do.

Mom-in-law 1, Instant Pot 0

Don’t make sauce quickly. Just don’t.

My mother-in-law defeated my Instant Pot from the Great Beyond last night. She’s been gone almost ten years, but I’ve always been pretty sure she’s still watching us, and now I have proof.

My wife still has her right arm immobilized, so I’m still the chef of the house. Yesterday afternoon, the patient requested chili, so I got some ground beef from the freezer, and a couple hours later, when I started assembling ingredients, I discovered that was pretty much the only chili ingredient I had. Oops.

Plan B was goulash, but we were also missing ingredients for that.

My goal while I’m running the kitchen is to prove people can eat before 8pm and survive, so this was not looking good.

Finally, my wife said, “Make sauce.”

This is where my Mom-in-law comes in.

“Sauce” when I was growing up came in a jar, and it was called spaghetti sauce. My in-laws are New York Italians and sauce is a not in a jar. It is in a number of cans and cloves and shakers that have their contents combined in a large stockpot. It takes all day to make. All damn day. Also, it’s not “spaghetti sauce” because it’s not just for spaghetti – you use the same sauce for all kinds of pasta, on entrees, on bread for a snack, as a substitute for plasma in blood transfusions…

As an aside, for some people from the frozen North, sauce is called “gravy.” I grew up in Texas, where there is cream gravy for chicken-fried steak, enchilada gravy for enchiladas and brown gravy for everything else.

My mom-in-law lived with us for six years before she passed away, and the most upset she ever got was when Rachael Ray made sauce as part of a thirty-minute meal, adding beef stock to get that “all-day flavor”. She was more upset about half-hour sauce than she was the day one of the dogs peed on her walker. Twice. Pee? Slightly Annoyed. Sauce in a half-hour? Ballistic.

So, making sauce “quickly” put me on shaky ground, but I figured, I’m Irish, she should expect me not to know better, and it’s not like she’s haunting us or anything.

For the record, my mom-in-law’s sauce must cook for at least four hours, or it tastes “raw.” To me, sauce tastes like tomato and uncooked sauce also tastes like tomato, but I learned early on to not argue with her about cooking.

So, I was going to make sauce quickly (which is different than “quick sauce”), and my Instant Pot had never let me down in the two times I had used it. Plus, I was cooking for an invalid.

So, first step, brown the garlic. Then, brown the ground beef. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir it all up. Seal the pot.

Wait for the pot to come up to pressure, wait a half-hour, make some pasta, dinner is served.

“Beep!”

I had never heard a “beep” that just sounded unhappy.

The display said, “Burn.”

This is apparently a well-known issue, “the infamous Burn message.”

It means something is sticking to the bottom of the inner pot. (Thanks, Google.)

So, I opened the pot, stirred everything around, resealed and started again.

“Beep.” Burn.

Uh, Google?

So, something may be stuck. Check. There may not be enough “thin” liquid in the pot. Don’t stir in “heavy” liquids (like tomato paste.) Oops.

This was also when my wife mentioned she usually adds a can of water (28oz!) to her sauce. Hmm.. Water would be a very thin liquid. That would have been a helpful reminder a half-hour ago.

Let’s try this again. Scrape the bottom, add the water (note how close we are to the Maximum Fill line), stir all the heavy stuff to the top (consider that logic), seal and pray.

“Beep.” Burn.

I really should have learned to say, “Dammit” in Italian.

I admitted defeat. I moved all the raw sauce into a stockpot on the stove. Four hours later (after we had BBQ delivered), dinner was ready. For tomorrow.

So, “Burn” is apparently just short for “You will burn in Hell for trying to make sauce quickly.

I miss my mom-in-law. I might have had a bruise today, but she would have stopped the madness much sooner.

Annus Horribilis

In the Caribbean, this has been a horrible year. I know, because I’m scheduled to go there at Christmas. My wife and I have our annual cruise scheduled, in spite of the fact I’m still looking for a job, because we just need to get out of town for the holidays.

This year, there was a particularly nice cruise available on the Norwegian Jade, a ship we have sailed before and enjoyed. It’s ten days, so a good length of time away. It wasn’t that expensive, compared to other years. It was also calling on a number of ports that we had never visited before. So, with all the stresses of not working, I was looking forward to a cruise.

Then Irma. Then Maria.

Here’s our cruise plan, as of the original booking. All the red ports are currently closed. We should know in a couple of weeks where we’re actually going to sail, but as all the cruise lines have the same problem, and all of them will have a multitude of ships in Florida for the winter, it’s going to get interesting. The scheduling of multiple ships of multiple sizes (which limits which ports can be visited) with random cruise lengths to the same area of the sea will be challenging, to say the least.

[googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/1/embed?mid=1kbPmaybP4z1WkWlnI4xa1W6DBc0&w=640&h=480]

This is not a complaint letter about our cruise being changed, although you can find plenty of those around. Our itinerary will change, we know that, whatever. It’s hardly Norwegian’s fault that two of the worst storms in history tracked almost exactly over their planned Christmas cruise.

That said, we learned a couple of bizarre things while watching Mother Nature destroy our vacation plans. One, many people care more about their vacations than other people. When Norwegian announced all their Eastern Caribbean cruises were suddenly sailing Western Caribbean routes until at least the end of November, people complained. Complained.

There are people living in the islands who depend on tourism who now won’t get tourists because the port has been destroyed, and by the way, their house is gone, and you’re whining that your vacation was ruined? Get a grip, people.

It was particularly painful for us, because we’ve been to some of the islands and we know some of the people. I fed birds in St Thomas. I haven’t heard how the resort made out. We made our own perfume at Tijon in Saint Martin. The store remains, the owner’s house is gone.

We support a dog rescue on Saint Martin. We donated what we could to their campaign to build a shelter last year. The shelter is gone now. It took a couple of days for someone to locate the founder of the organization because the power was out, nobody could get to her house, and she had refused to leave the dogs. Even though we haven’t met in person, it was freaking us out that nobody knew if she was OK.

So, having to go to the Western Caribbean instead of the Eastern Caribbean is not really a problem. Trust me.

I was very pleased to see multiple cruise lines donate ships, crew and time to get supplies to the islands and get stranded people off of them. I was horrified by some of the comments of passengers diverted by a hurricane to Cozumel. (“It’s humid here!”) Honestly, I would be freaking out if I was working (and paying a dog sitter) and suddenly had my vacation extended by an unknown amount of time, but I would like to think I could handle it more gracefully. It’s a freaking hurricane. It’s not really under the cruise line’s control. Have a margarita. Chill out.

We also learned that the islands don’t seem to exist in much of the US media’s eyes. At best, they’re flyover country – a large number of independent entities that are all just lumped together. Storms generate in the Atlantic, pass over the Lesser Antilles and then go towards Miami. There are over thirty islands. It’s not one clump. Some were hit, some were grazed, some were missed. The distinctions are important and it is newsworthy for each individual island. The Weather Channel seems to dwell mostly on what might or will happen instead of what has just happened.  CNN did a better job of reporting results, but if you’re all about weather, why aren’t you covering where the weather just occurred? Personally, I don’t really care right now if Miami is going to get hit in four days if someone I care about is getting hit at the moment.

(I also learned that you can find information, you just need to find the official channels or newspapers on the web. However, when their power goes out, the news gets spotty.)

Also, the US Virgin Islands are part of the US. The name should be a major clue. Newspeople don’t seem to know this. These people are your fellow citizens. (Here’s where to donate.) The same applies for Puerto Rico. I’m really appalled by the lack of coverage or concern because everyone was looking down the calendar at Florida.

I’m actually appalled by the media not covering more of the islands at all, even the ones not directly tied to the US. The Caribbean is a major tourist destination. There are expats living all over them. There are cruise ships steaming towards them, filled with drunk Americans. There are people spending their vacation money, planning to visit in the next few months. It does matter.

The Caribbean should be more important to us.

The islands will rebuild. They always do. However, a lot of what they need is imported (expensive), so it will take time. Months. Maybe years. Support them. If the ports aren’t open, I’m pretty sure you can still transfer funds. Donate, people.

I personally don’t mind visiting an island that’s half recovered, just to spend some money there and help the recovery by having some fun. I hope more people think that way. From what I’ve seen online, there are some who agree with me.

“It’s not like at home” is one of the great reasons to travel. I hope we all remember that.

Oh, and if you’ve been thinking about adopting a dog, I can help set you up. You just have to wait until they can arrange the flights, assuming the airport is open.

Genealogy From Spit

This is My DNA Profile that I received today. It’s not the most exciting set of results.

I’ve been working on my family tree off and on for years. I don’t really need to do a lot of work as my Mom’s Mom’s family seems to have an unofficial historian and there are lots of notes out there. My Dad’s family is not well-documented – I think I first discovered my grandad had a brother when I was in my forties. (Dad didn’t talk about his family much, and when I asked him once what “Gilhooly” meant, he said, “The bastard down by the stream.” He may have just been stressed that evening.)

My wife has done some work on her family tree, but some of the branches seem more interested in their own specific branch than where the entire tree goes. I think it’s pretty much you go as far back as the people you saw at Sunday dinner at Grandma’s, and call it good. That, and she’s Brooklyn Italian, so a quarter of the branches in her family tree end up in the East River.

When I found out about the AncestryDNA kits, it sounded like an interesting idea, but a bit far-fetched. I wasn’t sure want bodily fluid was required to extract your DNA (it’s saliva, so calm down), but it sounded scientific and mysterious.

Why trace people’s names when you could find out you were part Gypsy just by spitting in a tube?

The test is interesting – you actually do spit into a tube (up to the fill line), seal it with another tube that has preservative in it, shake it, drop it in a post-paid envelope, and wait for the results.

I may be the first guy who was looking forward to a DNA test coming back.

They tell you it takes six to eight weeks to get your results, but I was pretty sure that was setting expectations low. I was correct. I mailed off my spit in a tube at the beginning of the month, and my AncestryDNA test results arrived today. Actually, I got an email that said they were available on the web site.

There is nothing earth-shaking in them, which is good and bad. Good, because it means nobody has been lying to me about my origins, and bad, because it means I actually am descended from these whack-jobs.

My wife and I sent out samples in the same day, and mine are back, and hers aren’t, which just shows alcohol is easier to process than tomato sauce.

It did occur to me that genealogy would be a wonderful subject in high school, when everyone is desperately trying to prove they’re not descended from the tyrants at home.

I’m pretty sure my wife’s family will now buy kits for each other, since they all criticize each others’ cooking and eating habits, and the greatest insult is “You can’t possibly be Italian.” Well, let’s see, shall we?

My key results:

56% Ireland, which would be my Dad’s contribution, as his family is from a small town in northern Ireland – which is not to be confused with Northern Ireland. We’ve visited there, it’s beautiful countryside, and small farms. If you go far enough north in the beautiful countryside, you will meet British soldiers with tanks and automatic weapons. That would be Northern Ireland.

24% from Europe West, which must be mostly Mom’s donations – her family emigrated to Texas from Germany (probably technically Prussia) in the late 1850s, and my maternal grandfather’s family was from Alsace, which is either German or French, depending on who won the last war. Mom’s family left Germany since all of the sons would very likely be forced to go into the Kaiser’s army, but ironically got to Texas just in time for some of them to fight in the Civil War for the South. Ouch. Luckily, I don’t think any of them saw active duty, they just wandered around the State, not fighting Yankees, since they’re weren’t any in Texas. Yet.

6% Scandinavia, which I have no idea, but it explains why I like lingonberries. If it’s ancient DNA, then it’s just the invaders who went to Ireland to rape and pillage, and found beautiful countryside and small farms. Either that, or the invaders who went to Germany for Oktoberfest.

6% Italy/Greece which is probably just from the gallons of tomato sauce that Virginia has fed me over the last 16 years – some of it is bound to be in my blood. Either that, or it’s from my ancestors who left France to teach the Italians how to cook and make wine, or the ones who left Germany to teach the Italians how to make sausage, or the ones who left Ireland to teach the Italians how to make love.

4% Great Britain which is probably some of my Irish relatives getting lost going home from the pub. “Sean! It must have rained while we were havin’ a pint. I don’t remember having to swim across the street when we left the house.

There are traces of random other stuff, but I’m not an African Prince, so don’t email me money, no matter how much I ask.

This is a wee bit more specific than “Irish and German” which is what I’ve been told all my life.

The results can’t say I’m German (it’s Europe West), since I think when my family left for Texas, they were Prussians. When my family left Ireland, they were technically British, but they were not happy about it.

I really didn’t think that I would ever pay a company $99 to process a vial of my spit for two weeks, but my cousin had done her DNA test a while ago, and we were discussing her results last month. Her results showed a lot of Great Britain in her DNA, which is  interesting since her Mom (my Aunt and my Mom’s sister) and Dad are from the same small town in Texas and have roughly similar family trees. (My Mom’s home town had five or six founding families who all tended to marry each other.)

The DNA results did predict that my cousin and I were cousins, so that part of the test works.

There’s a part of me that was really hoping to find out I was descended from gypsies or pirates, but so it goes.

Now that I have my results, I have to get the dogs checked. Rocky cannot be all Chihuahua.

Survivor

My wife loves Survivor. She loves it so much she tells people we love Survivor. This particular usage must be the Royal We, because I do not love Survivor. I will watch it with her, but I actually prefer the Amazing Race, where contestants have some control over their own destiny. Survivor actually distresses me, although I couldn’t really articulate why.

Last night was the conclusion of another riveting season. Actually, all the players were returning contestants, so it was better than most seasons. Some guy who had been in the back most of the time managed to build a large enough alliance to get into the final three, pleaded that he was there to win for his family, and won a million dollars. He won one challenge.

I was incensed that he won, as he had minimal accomplishments. I thought the whole “for my family” speech was pandering to the jury. My wife was very pleased he won, since she liked him.

It’s today’s Corporate America in a nutshell, and that’s my problem with Survivor – it’s just too close to my work life to be enjoyable.

I’m hoping the producers originally envisioned a true contest of strength and endurance, where the cream would rise to the top, and the most powerful would be rewarded with riches. Assuming that a TV producer had ever read Darwin (a leap of faith on my part), the strong would survive, by natural selection. This is a good theory.

Here’s what actually happens each season on Survivor:

A bunch of random people are placed in a relatively high-stress situation somewhere in a remote location. They are not truly random, since the producers choose them ahead of time, and there always seem to be patterns. It’s almost like there were quotas to fill. There will be a big tough guy, an pretty boy,  a nerd, a slightly crazy woman, a proud ethnic woman, an overly-sensitive guy, an old guy, a Mother Earth woman, someone with a secret, and a few others. The “random” people are placed on teams.

After a couple of days of assessing each other, some of the rather weak performers start to band together and methodically wipe out the stronger performers, simply because that’s the only way they will remain in the game. They swear loyalty to each other, but will switch allegiances whenever necessary, just to stay alive. If their friends are sacrificed, so be it. There are always one or two incompetents who manage to stick around week after week, just because they are no threat to anyone, even if they are an incredible annoyance to the people who actually know what is going on. Someone thinks he is in charge, but everyone is actually working behind his back to destroy him.

The truly weak are kept around because at the end, in theory, the best player of the few left will be crowned the winner. So, rather than surrounding yourself with strong players, you select weak players, since that makes you look stronger.

Each week, all of the contestants are required to complete a task which has no apparent actual value other than it was the task assigned. One of the teams will get rewarded based on how quickly they can do the task. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t master the task (except for losing the reward), since you will never have to do the task again. If you win, you get a reward and the other team gets told “I got nothin’ for you.”

After that, there is another random task, but this time, if your team loses, your team has to send someone home. There are hidden trinkets that you can find that can prevent you from going home, but only if you display the trinket at the proper time. In the end, some of the last ones who were vanquished are allowed to pick the winner out of the losers that are left.

It’s natural selection on acid.

It is also, my friends, the past thirty or so years of my life, except that on Survivor, nobody has to do annual performance reviews, mainly because they’re not out there that long. I’m constantly amazed I’m still here. I guess I’m just not a threat to anyone.

These are not my peers

So, I had jury duty this week. I had postponed it once, but when I tried to postpone it this time, the automated system said there were no more dates available (wow! that many people want to go to jury duty?), so off to the courthouse I went.

I tend to take anything involving the law fairly seriously, given that I couldn’t talk my way out of any number of traffic tickets over any number of years, so if I get a form letter from a judge that says I need to be somewhere at 8:30am, I will be there. In fact, I will be early.

Monday

I arrived at the courthouse at about 7:45am, because I got an early train, because I left my house too early. I was afraid of over-sleeping, so I couldn’t really sleep that well.

Yes, I really get paranoid when the law is involved.

8:30am. After finally signing in, I just read books on my iPad until the introductory film was shown. Wow. Local TV news anchors explaining why jury duty was a good thing to do. We’re here, don’t try to sugar-coat it for us.

In a way, it’s like the seat belt film on airplanes – you really should know all this stuff by now, but somebody in the back isn’t going to know that a jury decides the facts in a case, so everybody watches the film.

9:15am. I am juror 109 on my summons. The first group called was forty-something to 180-something. Off to the courtroom we go.

We found the courtroom, but it was closed. Well, occupied. Eventually, the bailiff came out and explained we were going to be in a temporary courtroom down the hall. So, we all moved down the hall. And waited. And waited. Luckily, there were sixty of us and seats for about forty. The bailiff gave us placards to identify us. I was number 35. Since there were twelve jurors in a district court, that seemed pretty far down the line.

I love the placards. It helps the attorneys call on you without mispronouncing your name or having to say, “Excuse me, the old black guy in row three” or “The chubby woman in the a Grateful Dead t-shirt.” “Hey, number 35!” is much better. (“Hey 19” is a Steely Dan song.)

11:00am. Finally, we entered the courtroom, and sat down. Everybody stands when the jury enters the room. We’re important! We’re also two hours behind and we haven’t done anything yet.

I looked around. There were six attorneys in front of the judge. Three per side. This is not a good sign. Teams of lawyers mean somebody thinks there is a large amount of money at stake.

The attorneys introduced themselves. The plaintiff’s side had a jury selection specialist, as well. Ruh-roh. How big a case is this? How long a case is this?

The judge said the attorneys had designed a questionnaire to help speed up the voir dire process. Voir Dire is a French term that means “pry into your private life to see if you will vote against us.”

Then, the judge said it would probably be about a two-week case. Panic filled the air.

Now, my job is pretty flexible on time and space and my boss looks at results instead of hours – I work at home, I get my email on my phone, I can work 24×7 from just about anywhere, but there were some people in there who were not looking forward to a two-week enforced vacation in a courthouse. A couple of self-employed people mentioned the $40 per day wasn’t enough. I was just trying to figure out if it was going to interfere with my business trip to Vegas at the end of the month. Sometimes, it’s good to be a white-collar dude.

The judge said he would adjourn so we could fill in the forms, and after we did that, if anyone had a reason they couldn’t be on the jury, he would meet with them “after lunch.” His idea of “after lunch” was 2:30pm. It was 11:20am. He said if we didn’t have a reason we couldn’t serve, we were done for the day. Be back at 9am tomorrow. So, my first day of jury duty ended before noon.

Tuesday
I gave myself an extra half-hour of sleep, since I had been so early on Monday. I even stopped at 7-Eleven for coffee on the way to the train station. I still managed to get to the courthouse by 8:15am, so there was time to kill. Again. I should have gone downstairs for more coffee.

9:00am. Time to start. The bailiff said five people had been dismissed yesterday, so we had 55 people left in the panel. At 9:30am, we were still missing people.

Now, as I was walking over from the train station, I noticed a lot of traffic. Then, I remembered they were filming yet another JFK miniseries, so the roads were all blocked. Now, I’m sure as a photographer, I would want to shoot in early light, but early light in downtown is called “rush hour” and people are bitchy.

I wondered how many people didn’t know about the miniseries.

The answer? At least ten.

9:30am We’re still missing people. Now, they’re making a judge and attorneys wait, and a guy with a gun is in charge of finding them. This is when I realized these are not my peers. My peers would have been here at 8:15am, fully caffeinated and ready to go, and wondering if they weren’t possibly guilty of whatever the case was.

The bailiff walked through with Juror badges, for those who forgot theirs. I had mine.

Seriously? How many people can’t follow directions? Be here at 9:00am. Wear your Juror badge. We’re on the sixth floor. (Ironic, with the JFK filming. I just realized that.)

9:54am Still missing two people. WTF? We’re now waiting just to get started waiting.

10:24am The last one staggers in. Apparently, the traffic is bad. Did no one else know they were filming in downtown?

10:33am Lining up with our placards. The bailiff says, “If you need a restroom break in there, just signal me, and I will let the judge know.” Six women signal him immediately. We’re not even in the courtroom yet! We have been waiting for an hour and a half to get started, and now you want a pee break? What have you been doing for the past ninety minutes, other than filing your bladders?

After all the ladies (and the three gentlemen who bowed to peer pressure) returned, we finally enter the courtroom. Now, the day can begin.

The plaintiff’s attorney questions the group and specific people until ten after one. No lunch break. One potty break. There is an insane amount of questioning. How do you feel about mental anguish? (Many say there’s no such thing, it’s just life. This has the potential to be a “put your big girl panties on and get over it” jury, which would be great for the defense.) How about loss of consortium? I tried not to laugh, because if these people don’t think mental anguish is a problem, loss of income and a bit of nookie is not going to be an issue for them, either. It wasn’t, even after consortium was explained. Actually, everyone was just thinking sex until somebody mentioned loss of wages if the injured party couldn’t work. How about punitive damages? A few were against them, because they went to the person, not the State. Wow.

I’m getting worried. I’m surrounded by people giving honest, truthful answers that are going to get them tossed, and I don’t really have an issue with any of the questions, because the prefix to every question (as in every voir dire question) is “Will you follow the judge’s instructions as to the law?”)

I’m actually impressed that they’re going to get tossed by being honest and not because they’re trying to get tossed. I was thinking of all the answers to give that would put me on the “bad” list, but I just can’t do it. Besides, the case was beginning to sound interesting.

So, these are not my peers. I will follow the judge’s instructions. I will be open-minded. I’m not making a bunch of pre-judgements. I would grant a mental anguish award if I thought the case was proven. I could understand a loss of consortium claim and I had actually heard the term before. I understood the concept of punitive damages. Unlike one rather loud woman in the back of the room, I do not watch Judge Judy “because she is so wise.”

1:10pm. Lunch break – we need to be back at 2:20pm so we can get started with the defense questioning. There’s a Greek diner in the basement of the courthouse that is really good. I was back by the courtroom by 2:00pm, and I was concerned about being late. Naturally, we get started at 2:45pm. Oy vey, people, there are clocks everywhere in here.

2:45pm. The defense asks similar questions, but from a more defensive position. Obviously. The same people who said “No, I can’t” now say, “I can.” Both sides of attorneys are taking notes furiously.

I’m wondering how I’m going to like getting to the courthouse at 9am every day for two weeks. I’m wondering if the case will be done before I have to leave for Vegas.

4:45pm. The defense is done asking questions and receiving assurances. We’re all sent outside so the grownups can chat. (It’s like all the game shows where you have to go slightly off-stage so the judges can decide who to send home. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like.)

Waiting some more.

This may be an interesting time to point out for those who aren’t following closely – this is day two of jury duty and the case hasn’t started yet.

5:30pm. The bailiff comes out. Are we done? Are we picked? No, of course not! However, if you parked in the garage or any of the local surface lots, those attendants go home at six o’clock, so if you want your car to drive home, maybe you should go move it to the street and come right back.

I’m wondering how long this will take.

We’ve outlasted the parking lot. I am so glad I rode DART. I have until 2am or so, before the trains stop running.

It’s almost ten to six, we’re all back, and we’re lead into the courtroom one last time.

The bailiff had said earlier in the afternoon the jurors with low numbers go first, unless they were struck, so if you have a high number, you’re probably safe. Each side has six peremptory strikes, so that’s only twelve people dropped, right?

They need twelve people. I’m number thirty-five. Can I just go home? There’s a train in six minutes.

First juror called was number four. Then, number six or seven. Hmm. How many other strikes are there?

Wow. They’re leaving a lot bigger gaps in the panel that I would have thought. Twelve, you say?

I realize the woman next to me was one of the ones who was honest. Ruh-roh. I wonder if she was too honest.

The twelfth juror called? Number thirty-four. I thought juror thirty-six was going to collapse into my arms, sobbing. She was sweating bullets.

Spending two weeks at work has never looked so good.

Good luck to the twelve. I’m with you in spirit.

Peace & Quiet

I’m beginning to think you can determine someone’s age by what noise level they consider “loud.” While I’m not out on my front porch, yelling at the neighbors’ kids to “turn that crap down” – yet – I have noticed that my world is pretty noisy, and I would like that changed. Now, I love concerts and live performance, and I can usually tolerate the performance art that is a good meeting at work, but there doesn’t seem to be a quiet place to escape any more.

It started with restaurants – now, we have been dining with my Mom and her hearing aids (or lack thereof some evenings) for a while, so maybe that’s when I started getting sensitized to it. Restaurants are loud. Many have live music every night of the week, which I’ve addressed before. Well, actually, I ranted about it before. Still, even places without music can be very noisy, and yes, I know many are actually designed that way so you get a sense of energy. However, if you’re trying to talk to someone who is hard of hearing, it makes conversation difficult, if not impossible. Of course, as a side benefit, you can be rude about them, and they will never know. Not that I would. Just sayin’.

So, we spend many nights going down the list of restaurants before we call Mom, so we can find a relatively quiet one. The reality is that there are none around us, even at Mom’s rather more extravagant price point. Even the pricey places tend to be crowded (probably full of people looking for quiet) and so, they are pretty noisy.

When we were on our Christmas cruise, I realized there is no such thing as a quiet bar on a ship. This was a revelation to me, I’m not sure why – I had just never noticed it before. Every bar has some sort of entertainment – a piano player, sing-alongs, games, something. It’s interesting to me that on a ship with eleven bars (and the larger ships have many more), there is not one bar that is a real traditional Irish (or British, in a pinch) pub – with small tables, quiet conversations, a decent pint. No loud music, no dueling pianos, no bingo. Maybe it’s just me. There really is no place other than your balcony to just sit quietly and reflect on how everything is going to be so much better when you return from vacation. Maybe the noise is designed to keep you from having those thoughts – since you are going to be disappointed when you return.

Sometimes, I do think it’s the crowd. I know on the ship, if you have a musician who will interact with the crowd, they are going to interact back. Much like a puppy barking until you pick him up, people are going to babble until he plays their request – even though they probably didn’t hear him play it the first time, because they were babbling. If I were as funny as some of those people think they are (after a couple of drinks), you would enjoy reading this blog a lot more.

The crowd also tends to make the music louder because they are trying to talk over the music. Perhaps, I’m not the only one looking for a place to have a conversation. However, then it’s an arms race – some talking over the music, then others talking over the people shushing you for talking over the music, and then the music itself. Just remember – the musician has a piano and a microphone. Either is a nuclear option in a noise race, and he’s trained to use both together. You’re not going to win. Go talk somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong. I like music. I prefer music to hearing other people talking, unless it’s an interesting subject like divorce or bad relationships. I like most entertainment. I even like dining with my family, most of the time. I just would like a chance now and then to just have a drink and dinner with a quiet conversation. I’m still looking for the right place.

That must mean I’m getting old.

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure there wasn’t any music in the restaurant in the retirement community that we visited with Mom. There may be a lesson there, somewhere.

Annoying People

Why are people so annoying? Seriously, what has happened to us? Where are our morals?

Annoying is actually not a strong enough word. Both of these items that really annoyed me involve petty theft. Why do we have people who think stealing someone else’s resources is a reasonable thing to do?

Spam Users
I created a new website called Cruiseaholics – my wife and I are addicted to cruises (Latitudes Platinum on Norwegian), so I thought it was a cute name. I’d like to have people join and discuss their cruise preferences and experiences. Now, I’m not planning to be CruiseCritic (although some of their restrictions are just annoying and some of their users tend to be very argumentative), but I thought it would be a nice alternative for what I assumed would be a very limited group.

This morning, I had over 200 users registered for my site. 200! Wow! You know what they all had in common? They were all spam users. Not a valid one in the bunch. While this should not surprise me (I’ve had web sites since the dawn of the World Wide Web), it still pisses me off. Why are you wasting time registering fake accounts on somebody’s website? I suppose the only hope is that the default user limit is set to “contributor”, so they can try to sell shoes or Viagra or whatever.

I turned off user registration on the site this morning. So, I’m not building a community any longer. If somebody wants an account, they will have to email me. It’s sad, but I just don’t have the time to weed out all the real users from the crap. If it were a money-making site, then, perhaps, but for a hobby, it’s just not worth the time.

Warnings That Shouldn’t Be
I learned about a self-service library system this weekend from a neighbor. It’s called Little Free Library. Basically, you have a large bird house (go look at their site – it’s the first thing that came to mind) full of books on your front lawn, and anyone can take a book or leave a book. I see this as a way to build community – if I had one in my lawn, most of the books would come from neighbors on the cul-de-sac. Also, I don’t think people would drive to one, so you will have foot traffic, which means people are walking in the neighborhood.

Here’s the issue – the first thing someone mentioned was preventing people from clearing out the library and going to Half-Price Books for some quick cash. (Having sold an obsolete record collection and then an obsolete VCR tape collection, I can tell any potential thief that it’s barely worth the time.)

It distresses me that something that should share the joy of reading and build community would have to protect itself against theft. I know there are bad people everywhere, but this also pisses me off.

Both of these cases involve community and how easily that community can be broken by someone taking advantage of openness. Seriously, can’t we just have good in the world without having to worry about someone taking advantage of us?

How to build a community

A lot of companies spend lots of money trying to get people to join their online community. To some, a community is a Facebook page (“Like us!”), or a Twitter feed (“Follow us!”) or an Instagram account (“Look at us!”)

When I moved demobox.org (an old domain I’ve had forever) off my Domino server at home and onto GoDaddy’s hosting, I put WordPress up so I could play with it. (I love wordpress.com but it’s not like you are in charge.)

I have four members.

WTF?

I’m still trying to determine how a backwater site with no apparent value or content has managed to get four members. So far.

I can’t wait to see if they try to post.

Maybe I should change my title to “Marketing Consultant.”

Sad Update (9 August 2014)

Well, it’s very easy to get multiple members, apparently. They’re all spam members. So, I’ve turned membership off on all my WordPress sites until I can get better protection from idiots. This may be impossible.