Monday, September 24, 2007

Jury Duty

This serendipitous moment brought to you by the Los Angeles Superior Court Jury Duty system. I'm a fan of jury duty. Here in LA the motto is One Day-One Trial. Either you're called in to wait to be picked for a jury pool (One Day of waiting max), or your picked for a pool and thus assigned to One Trial. I, unfortunately, never get picked for a jury pool. But I don't waste my time crying because I've just been given seven hours of free time that I'm required by law to take. The key is to come prepared. That means water, snacks, reading and writing material. I camp out in the hallway right outside the Jury Assembly Room. Inside the JAR is too crowded. I need to narrow my focus so I don't get overwhelmed by the people watching possibilities. Most people think they have to stay within the room, which makes the hallway the perfect funnel for trickling people out to take cell phone calls or to use the facilities. Once in the hallway I can observe them from every angle as they pace back and forth. So many characters and so little time to capture them all! Under intensive scrutiny even the most lacklustre individual becomes a person of interest.
  • The generic young Asian guy: Classic asian guy hairstyle. Shaved sides, left long on top to slick back, but still poofs up. Wearing black t-shirt that says We Fly High!; light denim jeans of a generic brand; white nikes. blood shot eyes and minor acne. He came with a cell phone and pen and draws tiny patterns on the jury hand out. He sat across from me in the hallway. When lunch was called he didn't move. When I came back from our hour and a half lunch, he was laying in the exact same spot. He's the kind of guy you'd expect to come alive among his own ethnic group guy friends especially on the basketball court or playing video games. You're surprised he would remember to call in each day let alone actually show up for jury duty. If he's still in college, he would attend UCLA or some other UC school for business. If he's not in college, he helps attend the family business, but he's not happy about it.
  • The guy wearing a Vietnam Vet baseball cap; Lee blue jeans, white tennis shoes, and a blue sweat shirt. He's reading a Louis L'Amour novel and appears to be half way through it. Asks me when I think we'll be getting out of there. He's agitated waiting for his name to be called and then agitated when it doesn't get called. Tells me he's too biased to serve on a jury 'cause he could never send anyone to jail or to prison. He has too many friends and family in the prison system. He doesn't believe in it. He keeps talking to me like I'm the one who can give him a jury duty reprieve. I keep telling him only the judge can let him off if he doesn't have any other excuse not to serve. He has bad breath-the sickly sweet kind. I stop talking to him so he'll stop breathing on me.
  • The young Italian /Spanish guy with a pageboy of glossy black curls. wearing black jeans, black Italian leather loafers, and a black silk polo shirt he nervously plucks away from his stomach like he's self-conscious of his soft body. He carries a beetle green cell phone as if his whole clothing ensemble is merely a backdrop for his irridescent phone.
I was tempted to cut out without answering to my name so I'd be put back into the system before another year was up. I really, really like jury duty.

Women did not linger in the hallway leaving me little time to observe them. Only two women (me and a middleaged professional) hung out in the hallway and the rest were men. I wonder why men disproportionately favored the hallway to the JAR.


ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation –noun aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

I'm sitting in the front seat on the top half of a double decker Oxford Tube coach on my way to London. Across from me is a young woman who appears to be an Oxford Student. One foot in black /white converse low tops is scratching the heel on her other foot. As she scratches, the black chinese characters embroidered on her sock slide up and down. She's engrossed in her book. Her engrossion (a danica neologism) piques my interest as to what she's reading. But she's a coy reader keeping her head down and her book lowered. I'm very annoyed. Then I see the head loll. And yep, she's nodded off. Now's my chance to FIND OUT.

Extremes along the Silk Road. Oooooooo sounds exotic! The phrase Silk Road conjures up visions of opium dens, intrigue, gunslingers oriental style, grand vistas and grand adventures. I note the title in my moleskin, skipping ahead to a date when I'll be stateside to remind myself to check LAPL for a copy.

Two weeks later the book is in my possession. And it's good.

A stranger on a bus changed my life. Granted it's in a very small way, but the fact remains. I would not be reading this book if it hadn't been for the woman who just couldn't put it down and made me so curious I had to read it for myself.


Coming from Virginia I never met a Korean. My University in SoCal was probably 40% Korean, yet I don't remember ever thinking of them as being culturally distinct. Then I spent a semester abroad in Sheffield, England. One of the first people I met was another exchange student from U.C. Berkeley-Hyok Cho Chong. Hyok was the first Korean I experienced as different, but not because he was particularly Korean or because he held particularly Korean ideas. He wasn't and he didn't. But he had the foreign sounding name that sounded like I was hocking up a loogie when I tried to pronounce it. According to him, he understood Korean but could only speak with an elementary vocabulary. His parents on the other hand couldn't speak English with proficiency. Their mutual lack of language fluency created a barrier to the development of their relationship. In high school, Hyok had gone to a church in the Bay area with a friend of mine from college. Hyok hadn't like him.

Three years later, I'm teaching English with the YBM Language Institute in Taegu, Korea. I arrived on a Wednesday, having missed the week long orientation due to visa trouble, and started teaching at 6:30am that next Monday. All my students learned quite quickly to raise their hands to ask me to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and to "repeat please". I learned to slow down and to repeat. Somehow I made it through my time there, but I never got comfortable teaching. I was too disorganized, yet too perfectionistic to make it work for me. But I left with a love for Korean food and a love for the Korean people.

Back in LA I find the best hair stylist I've ever had and she's Korean. I'm talking to her in a Beverly Hills adjacent salon and find out that she went to a high school church youth group with a friend of mine from college who grew up in Hacienda Heights. I'm looking for the restaurant that cooks cabbage/chicken/rice logs in a huge round pan at your table. It's the one craving I've yet to satiate since my return from Korea.

I mention to a Korean woman at church that I watch Korean shows on Channel LA18 even when they don't have subtitles. She introduces me to a delightful drama/comedy called My Lovely Sam Soon. I watch the show in a weekend and thanks to websites like I'm hooked on Korean dramas (and Japanese and Chinese).

It's now fourteen years after my first introduction to Koreans and I'm hooked on Korean dramas and Korean food and Korean culture. I'll be taking Korean language classes at the LA Korean Cultural Center so I can order food and understand the dramas and because I love the intonation and inflection of the language that is so different than English.

For the last few days I've been reading through my journals starting with the year 1992. I noticed that certain ideas and experiences keep recurring like the Korean one. The Korea thread surprised me that it went back as far as it did. But most disheartening is the thread that tells me I'm still wrestling the same demons that appeared in childhood. However, that's for a different post.

What threads run through your life?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

On Being Loved

These words of Touchstone Magazine's Anthony Esolen are worth pondering as is the rest of his blog post "Fear of Death".
It may be that the knowledge that you are loved sets the heart radically at ease: you can breathe freely, you can see the blessings of age, you can relieve your fear of death with a hope for the abundant life not only beyond death but also here in seed, maybe a mustard seed. You can be free not to be important. You can play -- without turning play into the military "exercise". You can form a community of persons, not bricks. You can laugh at what you do poorly, and do it anyway. You can bid the jihad farewell. You can look at the stars.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Can I have a do over?

Today is a mess and it’s only 11:02 in the morning.

I reprimanded one of my employees for leaving early on Friday when her teammate was swamped with work. The employee became a blubbering wreck, sobbed for over an hour, started to feel dizzy and to see stars, had her blood pressure checked and found it was sky high. I spent 30 minutes calming her down, tryingto make the tears stop. Her crying ceased, but her blood pressure didn’t return to normal so she left early to go to the emergency room.

And now her teammate has to pick up the slack.

Can I have a do over?