The Man Ain’t Got No Culture

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

So WHO stood up for the validity of Geek culture and won? Me. You’re welcome.

Tasha’s school was yet again having their annual slightly tone-deaf “International Day”, in which students are supposed to write about their ethnic (read non-American) culture, and prepare a beloved cultural dish to share with the school. Sounds reasonable? Maybe it did for the first 3-4 years, but by year 7 is was getting a tad ridiculous. Particularly for our family who are just basically mutts. Even on the Chinese side you have to go back generations to find immigrants, and the Jong family cultural dish is take-out in pink boxes. On my side it is just picking random northern european countries that ancestors may or may not have come from in the distant past. Our cultural cuisine was “whatever is quick”. The only lovingly handed down recipe comes from my step-father, and latkes do not lend themselves to potlucks. Also the essay portion would have to be something like, “My mom’s stepdad was a jew from Queens, NY. We think part of the family might have come from Russia, but pretty much every family member is dead or has Alzheimer’s, so we aren’t sure. Anyway we make latkes on Christmas Day most years. We also put a star of David on the top of the tree. None of us are Jewish, but fried potatoes are delicious. Then we all watch the Doctor Who Christmas Special.”

Which brings us to Geek Culture. The school had handed out the flier announcing yet another “Let’s Pretend We Have a Heritage” day and I expressed frustration to the teacher, at which point all of the older kids started chiming in on how they loathe this practice. I said, “The only meaningful culture we have is Geek Culture. I could make Tardis shaped cookies, and Tasha could wear her Inspector Spacetime t-shirt.” And her teacher, who is cool and sympathetic, thought it was a great idea, and said she would ask the Powers That Be if the formula could be tweaked somewhat for the older kids to do things like that.
Needless to say, this went very, very wrong. Next thing I know I am getting a text on my phone from the school saying that allowing Natasha to do something like this would violate the family values of the event and send the wrong message to the other children.

I was pissed.

I was pissed, but I did NOT hit reply. Okay, maybe I did, but I did not hit send. I was good.

I did, however, have an extensive email conversation with the teacher, part of which included this paragraph:

“My own grandmother hated to cook, and did so dutifully and without anything verging on enthusiasm. We have no handed down family recipes. Our Christmas Day tradition is to watch the Doctor Who Christmas Episode. No one on either side of Natasha’s family has a living memory of any family member who was not born in the United States. She is however, a third generation Real Geek Girl. My mom read The Lord of the Rings in 1963 when the only copies available were pirated. She read them all out loud to me when I was five years old. My first crush was on Mr. Spock. When I was 7 she took me to an SF convention. I’ve had an email account since 1989. I have friends in several countries and across the US that I met in the 1990’s on a MUD platform, long before the WWW existed. In Santa Cruz in the late 80’s and 90’s we had “Geek Houses”, which were groups of housemates living together in fully wired communities. The houses had names, such as The Armory, The Institute, Animal Farm etc. Everyone knew one another through email, bulletin boards, and forums. Periodically people would call Food Runs and as many as 50 people would show up at 11pm at the local Denny’s. We would get together for group viewings of shows like Star Trek: TNG or Twin Peaks. Groups like this existed in other places than Santa Cruz. I have a friend who did her dissertation on this very subject. Natasha is a born and bred denizen of the internet. From YouTube personalities to podcasts to memes, she is a product of people who lived for things like technology, fandom, role playing games, SF/Fantasy, and just generally being smart people. When I suggested it I was not being flippant, or making a joke. I was very serious. It is our culture. We made it ourselves.”

Then we knuckled under, said Tasha is maybe 1/32 French Canadian, and made Poutine, which I do recommend. Very tasty.

I was going, with some trepidation, to pick her up this afternoon when I get ANOTHER text from the school apologizing profusely. I am then met at the door by the headmaster’s wife who proceeds to apologize so much it was a tad embarrassing. Bottom line is that if Tasha wants to be a Geek next year, and explain her unique (and previously unheard of) culture, she is free to do so.

Then when I got home I saw an email from the teacher saying this (Eric is the headmaster, Gayle is his wife):

“So Eric asked me during international day if I wanted him to explain to Natasha why they didn’t want other kids dressing up in Spider-Man costumes and I said NO!!! choking on my samosa. At that point I thought I had to mention to them briefly some of the points you said, but not the venting parts. This was to spare Natasha from a Spider-Man joke.
Also, Gayle said she hoped she didn’t offend you. I didn’t say anything, just that geek culture is actually really important to you guys, not a joke, and more complex than they think it is.”

The very thought of Tasha in a Spiderman suit made me laugh. She would have laser eye beam powers of derision.

Laundry Day and Daleks

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20, 2015 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

While mining for laundry in Lamp’s room I came across a particularly rich vein of socks. At least a half dozen “pairs”. Meaning that they are all black because I only buy him black socks, so I use the term pairs loosely. It is funny how much pleasure this gives me. My life is sad.

There are also some stains of questionable provenance. But we mustn’t go there.

When mining for teenaged laundry one needs to take the same sort of precautions one would take for any other sort of mining. First it is imperative that someone else knows you are in there. You don’t need to be in constant two way communication with someone on the outside, but at the very least there needs to be someone who will alert authorities if you fail to return in a timely manner. Cave ins are always a possibility, and your screams could be muffled if you are beneath a pile of laundry, old kleenex, and a metric ton of Legos. Because of this, you should always work from the top down. Pulling a likely looking sock from the side of a pile could easily result in a landslide.

Always watch your footing. Place each foot down gently yet firmly to ensure that the substrate is stable. As always, watch out for Legos. They are everywhere, and unlike guitar picks can deliver a nasty wound. If you see one, be assured that there are 10,000 more in hiding.

Breathing gear is optional, but recommended for any but the most strong of stomach. Food containers can and will have things growing in them that may emit hazardous agents. Try to remember that your goal is only the laundry or you could be trapped for days. Get in and out quickly, yet safely. You can always check pants pockets for money after leaving the hazard zone.

Bright lighting is a bit of a quandary. One needs light enough for safety, and to be able to avoid at all costs stepping IN something, but there are certain things that one would rather view in a softer lighting. If one must view them at all. I find that a single overhead is more than enough and can even be dispensed with entirely on bright days if the window happens to be visible.

Finally, try not to think too hard on where the stains may have come from. Just wash the blanket/sock/shirt/curtains and move on. Too much thought can lead to dark places, and that way leads to madness. However, as I learned after the quail incident, sometimes the reason it smells like something is dead in there… is that something is dead in there.

Anyhow laundry day was a nice break from the partially completed knitted Dalek shaped coffee press cozy which is taunting me from where I discarded it in exhaustion yesterday. It is slightly lopsided so far, and is only about 1/3 complete, but I can still hear it in my head. Obligate! Obligate! Obligate!

I think I may actually be getting better at un-knitting mistakes than I am at knitting them in the first place.

Mourning My Imaginary Gay Son

Posted in Uncategorized on July 7, 2014 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

Recently I got a lot of Facebook love for a quip I made about wanting to turn my son gay. It was in reference to someone else’s snark about how the god botherers are worried everything will turn their kids gay. It was meant to be satirical, so like all good satire it was almost entirely true.

“Lemme tell you, I’ve tried and tried to make my son gay. I raised him in San Francisco. I never put him in sports. I encouraged music and drama. I made him watch Cabaret… nothing. The damn boy insists on being straight. I put him through 9 years of episcopalian boys’ school, for fuck’s sake. Even though we are atheists! I’ve tried to explain that if he insists on being a musician, he could use a husband to support him. I’ve exposed him ad nauseum to the gay agenda. Nada. Now I’ve got a long haired, neon skinny jeans wearing, guitar playing straight teenaged boy on my hands, with nothing to look forward to but years of *girlfriends*. GIRLFRIENDS. The very thing I wanted to avoid.

I am here to tell everyone, I am living proof that you can’t make a child gay.”

Every detail there is actually true, except that I never would try to make my son be anything. (Also, he did do one year of soccer in 1st grade, but that was his father’s fault. And he hated it.) It has always seemed to me an absolutely unforgivable parental abuse to deny one’s own child for being gay. Or straight. I would really struggle if one of my kids came out as Republican, but I can’t see disowning them. Thankfully the capacity to use logic and reason seems to be somewhat genetic, so neither has shown any dangerous conservative tendencies. But I would still love them.

I hope.

Before I became a mother I was confused as to why even some liberal parents would hope their kids didn’t turn out gay. I was told that it was because they wouldn’t wish them to be discriminated against, which makes some sense, but never really washed for me. However, your perspectives on parenting issues often do change significantly after actually becoming a parent, so once my baby boy was born I wracked my brain trying to decide if it would bother me, even the slightest little bit if he turned out to be gay. I examined numerous scenarios, and I just couldn’t see a downside. I wouldn’t just accept a gay son, I think I’d be happy about it. The statistics on the percentage of the population that is gay are questionable, but it is pretty safe to say that the odds of getting lucky are against you. Only a small percentage of mothers are fortunate enough to get a gay son.

Periodically as he grew I would revisit the question in my mind. Would it bother me? At all? And all I could think is “What is not to love?” I wouldn’t have to deal with teenaged girlfriends, that is one big plus. I was a teenaged girl, and I knew plenty of them, and in general? Not a fan. Ditto that I would not have to worry about PREGNANT teenaged girlfriends. Big plus. He is very good with children, so it is likely he will want to be a dad, but that is hardly even an issue anymore. Gay guys have strong networks of friends, and a wonderful culture. And they love their moms. I could SO live with that.

I fantasized about my gay son. He would be gorgeous, of course. He would always know he was accepted by his family, so he would be unconflicted about his sexuality. He would have a series of fun boyfriends, like Lorenzo, who would do my hair. We would go out to tea, my gay son and I. And sometimes brunch, so long as they serve late. We are NOT morning people. Eventually he would meet a nice, quiet boy with a good paying, yet meaningful career. Perhaps a pediatrician. And even though my son would sometimes forget to call me, Josh would be the type to keep in touch and send me endless pictures of the grandchildren.

Sigh.

Of course we love the children we have, not the ones we imagine. Yet for years I tried to ignore the little signs that he might be straight. I told myself that there was plenty of time for him to discover the truth about his orientation, yet I think I always knew. My dream died about a year or so ago when we were backing up his laptop and found some porn in his browser history. Straight porn. I was a little bit crushed. I thought he might just be experimenting, but I knew the odds were not in my favor. I live in San Francisco. I grew up in a gay resort community. My gaydar is above average for a basically straight woman. I had to face the fact that my sweet little boy was straight. His tastes in clothing are certainly… different. He is definitely not a macho guy. He still hates sports and wants to be a musician. He wears his hair long these days and has a wry, artistic sensibility. He doesn’t care what people think of how he dresses, or behaves. He is unconcerned with being popular. He plays guitar. And sings. On stage. In front of people. He is an unabashed nerd.

He is really, really cool.

Holy beer-battered Christ on a stick, I have inadvertently created teenaged girl catnip.

Fuck.

So I utterly love the boy I have. Yet there is a part of me that mourns the gay son I don’t have. It hardly seems fair that there are women out there who are lucky enough to hear the words, “Mom, I’m gay.” and instead  of being properly grateful, they turn him out of their home. Those mothers don’t deserve to have a gay son.

But maybe, somewhere out there, there is an unloved gay boy who needs a mom.

We could do brunch.

The Sibling Wars: Drone Strikes

Posted in Uncategorized on March 31, 2014 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

Now those of you who have been playing along at home know that He Who Shall Not Be Named has another child aside from mine. The child in question is a little girl who is now about 18 months old, and from photos I have seen, is quite adorable. I have not actually met her, or her mother, but I have been in occasional contact with said mother. As fellow baby mommas and veterans of HWSNBN, we have certain interests in common. I actually envy her, as she got out relatively early. But I have absolutely nothing against her or the little girl. I do not believe in punishing babies because their father happens to be an idiot.

Tuki, on the other hand, holds no such qualms. From day 1 of Baby’s existence she has been feeling affronted. Her father, in a stunningly tone deaf feat of being completely, predictably himself, chose to give his new daughter the same middle name as his previous daughter. I have no doubt that he thought that this would somehow tie them together… but if he had ever once paid the slightest bit of attention to Tuki’s personality he would have known to ASK HER FIRST. So (Surprise!) she was royally pissed to have her name “stolen” by the new baby. My attempts to explain that it was actually stolen by her father have fallen on deliberately deaf ears. As far as she is concerned human babies are loud, smelly, annoying and suffer from a distinct lack of fur. On the one hand, as a parent of a nearly teenaged girl, I like to encourage such opinions. On the other hand, I don’t really want her to take out her annoyance on an innocent child. So I find myself in the odd position of championing this baby who belongs to someone else, and trying to get Tuki to see reason. It doesn’t matter one whit if it is “fair” or not that Baby exists. She does. It isn’t her fault. She doesn’t deserve a big sister who constantly bemoans her existence.

Of course there is someone else whose existence is bemoaned by Tuki, and that is of course her brother. Basically this girl would strongly prefer to be an only child, and if only the universe would succumb to her will, it would be so. They are in a near constant state of squabbling, most of which seems (to me) to be driven by Tuki being annoyed at anything and everything that he does.

Most of it… but even the most tolerant and oblivious of brothers is going to fight back somehow. And, well… he is human. So he goads her. In the style of brothers from time immemorial if something annoys her, he does it over and over again. And she is SO easy to annoy! Apparently he does this more when they are at their father’s apartment, because it is tiny and they are all living in each other’s laps. And of course I hear about every offense in intimate detail as soon as she comes home. Just as I hear exhaustively about all the things that Baby does to her that drive her crazy, as if she expects an 18 month old to act with malicious intent.

18 month olds do not act with malicious intent. And I think that deep down she knows that.

14 year old brothers, on the other hand, certainly do.

The other night I was chatting with Lamp, and I mentioned that I am torn between bowing to Tuki’s desire to spend less time with Baby (i.e. get me to ask her father to allow me more days per week), and wanting her to work out her feelings in that regard. Lamp agreed that she does need to do so. He, himself, is quite fond of Baby and enjoys playing with her. He told me that it probably isn’t helping matters any that he has been teaching Baby to do things to annoy Tuki on purpose.

My quiet son had a bit of a sly smile on his face when he explained that he has taught his toddler sister to give him high fives. Which he now has her do with him. Every time she does something that makes Tuki angry.

He said he considers it a long term investment.

That’s no lady, that’s my mom!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 29, 2014 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

During an amusing session of online banter I found myself engaged with several other persons with whom I have no tie in “life”, but with whom I share at least one common interest, namely all being fans of a certain writer. The conversation had veered wildly off topic and a few of us made a succession of rather bawdy comments, at which point someone said, “How do all you ladies know so much about *insert topic here*??? I’m coming over with some beer!”

Ladies.

Prior to that point I may or may not have noticed that all the participants were female (other than the last commenter), but it had not seemed important to me. I hold no rancor for the guy in question either. He was trying to be funny just as the rest of us were. He wasn’t making any sort of value judgement or even making a skeevy pass. I don’t care about that stuff. It is all online anyhow, and I have a really thick skin when it comes to humor. Plus I was the one who took the jokes in a vaguely sexual direction. I certainly can’t complain if someone else goes there. One thing I try hard not to be is a hypocrite.

Still. Ladies.

I AINT NO LADY!

This isn’t the first time I’ve run up against this recently. Another online friend, who is extremely feminist in his leanings, posted a meme talking about what he finds sexy in a woman. The point of it was that the things that are really sexy aren’t the things that are played up in the media, but whatever. One item on the list was “an innocent looking lady who can swear like a sailor.” And I rankled. I did.

Why, I can hear you asking? What is wrong with calling a woman a lady? Isn’t it a compliment?

Well, it IS meant to be. The witty banter I engaged in this evening was on a feed that tends to skew somewhat older than I. I recognize the fact that the use of that L word is intended to be flattering, or at least neutral. Which is why I didn’t actually say anything at the time. I don’t like to get into it with strangers, and I hate making people feel bad, even to make a point. That was neither the time nor the place.

Still. I aint no GODDAMN lady.

Why? Because it annoys me that the fact of my gender should somehow exclude me from any body of information. It annoys me that I am supposed to pretend ignorance on subjects that “aren’t fit for a lady.” It annoys me that even in this day and age “innocence” is considered a virtue, when to me innocence is another word for ignorance. Why is it feminine to be uneducated? On any topic? Why are there words I am not supposed to know? Or supposed to demurely pretend not to know? Why is it somehow sexy to secretly know these words, but appear not to?

I am by nature a curious person. I am. I want to know things. Often the things I want to know are not comfortable things. They are not necessarily palatable things. But they are true things, to the extent that I can make them so. I don’t think ignorance of ugliness is protection from ugliness, but I guess that is just me.

I guess I am just the kind of mom who watches Family Guy with her kids, no matter how old they are, and then answers any questions that may come up. I answer them honestly, and in detail. Until they tell me to stop. This is how I do it. I know it isn’t how most people do it. So I’m the kind of mom whose 10 year old daughter asks me to please stop talking about the best way to dispose of a body when we are in public. I can accept that.

But I am no fucking lady.

Don’t make me angry… you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2014 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

So the first thing you need to know for this story is that Tuki wears a poncho. As in wears it all the time. As in I’ve mended it three times and made myself really proud by refinishing the “brass” plastic buttons using fingernail polish.

She wears it to school.

She wears it on stage.

You can’t get her out of it.

It was really a masterful buy on my part, as I ordered it without first consulting her. That is normally not something one wants to do. She is really picky and pretty unpredictable. I ordered it because I liked the pseudo military styling, and because she really needed a new light jacket. It was a huge relief when she loved it. Other people had complained that because it is a knitted material, like a sweater, that it stretched, but in our case it seems to just keep growing with her. She has been wearing the thing for about two years now.

Jump to Christmas time when my father asked me if I thought she would like a new poncho. I was not certain. After all, love of current poncho does not equate to love of all ponchos. But he decided to order one he thought she would like. He found it on eBay, and it was shipped from the UK. It cost about $30, and shipping was free, so naturally it arrived late. Which was not really an issue. She doesn’t mind late gifts. The problem became apparent first to my mom, who opened it. She took one look at it and said, “It’s tiny!” My dad pointed out the label that said 9-10 Years. My mom said it was obviously mis-sized, so they would have to take it back. My dad pointed out that the size on the label was indeed the size he had ordered, so he didn’t think the company would take it back. My mom pointed out that labels are sometimes wrong.  My dad wanted Tuki to try it on. My mom demonstrated the tininess by showing how it would not come close to fitting over her head. My dad wanted Tuki to try it on. My mom called me and told me it was tiny. I said to send it back. My dad wanted Tuki to try it on. My mom said she was absolutely sure it wouldn’t fit anyone over the age of four. My dad wanted Tuki to try it on.

It was mailed to me.

I took one look at it and knew it would never fit. I told my dad to send me the payment info, and I would deal with it. He still wanted her to try it on, so I waited until she returned from a vacation trip. It would not fit over her head. However, she DID like it… if only they would send one that wasn’t toddler sized. My dad sent me the ordering info. The receipt was signed by “Vilma”. I began very nicely.

——————————

Dear Vilma,

 
My father, David Hathorne, purchased a lovely poncho from you (reference below) as a Christmas gift to my daughter. Sadly, it is very, very much too small. This is somewhat confusing as she is a rather petite 10 year old, not at all a large girl. However, the poncho we received, although marked 9-10, will not even fit over her head, and if it were forced would only just barely cover her shoulders. The item looks to me to be sized for a 4 year old at best.
 
As I said, it is a lovely item. We would love to have one that would fit her. Please inform me as to the best way to proceed.
 
Best,
 
Alicia Hathorne
——————————

Hi there,

I’m very sorry, but we do not have a bigger item in stock. As our return policy, we offer a refund if you are unhappy with your goods in any way. If you wish to post item back we will happily return the money you paid once we receive the item. If you do wish to return the item, please make sure it is returned in the condition it was sent. Sorry for any inconvenience.

Kind regards,

 Vilma Simkiene

 Lotmart UK Ltd

——————————

As this item was very seriously mis-sized, please send me a shipping label for return post. 

Best,
Alicia
——————————
Now it is at this point when Vilma must have bumped me to her supervisor, because my next email comes from “Valdas”.
——————————
Hi there,

 I’m very sorry, but we do not provide return labels to USA. As our return policy, the buyer is responsible for the return postage costs.

If there is our mistake we will return the shipping cost to you once we receive the item back.

Kind regards,

 Valdas

 Lotmart UK Ltd

Unit 7B, Midas Business Center, Wantz Road, Dagenham, Essex, RM10 8PS, United Kingdom

——————————

NOW I AM ANNOYED!

——————————

Dear Valdas,
 I am not certain what you would consider being your mistake. The fact is that the label on the product does say 9-10 years. It is also a fact that the actual garment would never fit anyone over the age of 4. However, I can’t prove this to you without also shipping you my 10 year old, which while tempting, would violate laws in both our countries. At least I assume so. I am not up to date on UK postage law, but here in the states they had to crack down on that sort of thing after several people got into the habit of mailing their toddlers to Grandma’s house.
 
To reiterate my previous letter to Vilma, this is not a case of buyer’s remorse. We actually like the product, or we would if there was a sufficient amount of it to cover a good sized vole. I understand that the problem most likely originated in the factory, by mis-sizing the product, and that you are merely the middleman trying to sell it. However, you are NOT going to be able to sell it again to another 9-10 year old unless what they are really shopping for is a hat. I would be perfectly happy to toddle off and pay to post this to you except for two things: 1) It was a gift. At this point I am paying for NOT having a gift for my daughter, and 2) the quality of customer service received so far does not reassure me that my father would be seeing a refund before Essex is inundated due to Global Warming let alone MY receiving a refund on postage.
 
Now I am more than happy to send you photos of my daughter with this “poncho” perched on her head like an oddly symmetrical headscarf, but I am afraid that at this point I am going to have to recommend that my father request his refund from PayPal and resort to the only recourse of the eBay buyer… the dreaded feedback. But he WILL NOT be the one writing it. I will. If possible I will include the photos.
 
Or, perhaps you could see your way clear to sending me a return mailing label.
 
Kind Regards,
 
Alicia
——————————
At this point I really don’t care any more about sending the damn thing back. Now I am just doing this for my own amusement. I am therefore somewhat surprised to hear back from Valdas.
——————————
Hi there,

 Can you please send us photos of your daughter with this poncho?

 Kind regards,

 Valdas

——————————

 Of course I got this email on Monday when Tuki is at her dad’s. I am cursing myself for not planning ahead and taking the photos at the time of the original threat, but I really didn’t expect to hear anything ever again. So I quickly sent the following:

——————————

Dear Valdas, 

I am so pleased that you replied. Unfortunately my daughter is away for the next two days. Please be assured that a complete photo log WILL be forthcoming by no later than Wednesday evening, PT.
 
However, to show that I am serious, please accept this photo in the meantime of the only family member who is able to get the product over his head.
 
Kind Regards,
 
Alicia 
p.s. Apologies for the photo quality. It was hard to get him to hold still and hold the phone at a reasonable distance. I am hopeful, but not in any way certain, that this will not be a problem when photographing my daughter.  Fingers Crossed.
IMG_0537
——————————
Then, as I had promised (I always keep my promises), I sent this:
——————————

Hello there,

 
So, my daughter is 55 inches tall and weighs 70 lbs, which is dead average according the the government charts for the US. I doubt there is an appreciable difference in the UK. Here you see the extent to which she is able to wear the poncho. The arm holes are here roughly at the height of her neck. Even if she were able to get it on properly, these would be just below her shoulders and useless.
IMG_0538
Here you can see a closer shot.
IMG_0539
Here she is, looking rather adorable. As I said, it does make a rather good headscarf. 
IMG_0540
Kind Regards,
 
Alicia
——————————

Hi there,

Thank you for the pictures. We have refunded you in full for the unsuitable item, you do not have to return it. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.

 Kind regards,

 Valdas

——————————

VICTORY!!!

All for $30.35.

Law and Order: SFOh my god I’m glad that was over quickly

Posted in Uncategorized on December 17, 2013 by Misanthropic Mom's Group

His first mistake was being named Darby. Then he had a Red Monkey.

So I got called in for jury duty. This was the first time since my Tuki was little that I’ve been called, and I didn’t think I could get away with the mommy exemption for a 10 year old and a 14 year old, so I was stuck going in. I actually wouldn’t have minded at all at another time of year, but I was worried about sitting on a long trial over the holidays. I’ve only got the kids with me until Christmas this year, and then they are off with He Who Shall Not Be Named for two weeks. I didn’t want to miss the whole vacation. I considered many ways I could make myself look ineligible, and I probably could have, but in the end my basic aversion to lying kept me in the jury pool.

Initially I was pretty worried about my holiday plans. A couple hundred of us were in the potential juror holding pen on Thursday morning when we were told that the room was going to serve as a temporary courtroom for choosing the jury on a lengthy trial. Fuck. The judge came in and spoke for a while and told us the trial would last until at least the middle of January, so anyone with reasons that they wanted to be excused needed to fill out a request form at the outset. He said that of course the chances of actually being picked for the final jury were slim, but that he would not be listening to excuses after they began the jury selection process. He also warned that being excused from his trial would not necessarily mean being excused in general. Some people would be asked to be in the pool for a different trial, based on what their excuse was. So I decided to see if I could play the childcare card. I didn’t want to risk being on a long trial, even if the chances were slim of being chosen. I asked for an excuse based on the fact that my 10 year old was already home on Christmas Vacation, and that asking Mark to watch her would be a hardship. (They didn’t need to know that she spent the day I was gone teaching herself to make Jammy Dodgers.)

So I did get excused from the Long Trial. I heard rumors that it was a murder trial… did I mention that this was the criminal court building? Even though under ordinary circumstances I’d have really enjoyed a murder trial, I was happy to be let off. Downside: I was asked to return after lunch. No general excuse for me. And then after lunch ALL of us who were asked to return were sent down the hall together to be the jury pool for a different trial. Yep. Every single potential juror had made some sort of case for being excused. Not one of us wanted to be there. We were given the standard rigamarole about picking an initial group of 24 to be weeded out in the process of jury selection. The seats were numbered and people were asked to sit in the seat in the order in which we were called. One guess who was called as Juror #1. At that point I was resigned to my fate.

Jury selection took about 30 minutes. The judge told us it was unbelievably short. I think they kicked off about 5 people and were done with it. The two bright spots were that the judge promised the trial would be over quickly. He told one potential juror with plane tickets for this coming Thursday that she was certain to make her flight. (Although the attorneys kindly booted her anyhow.) The other bright spot was that this judge doesn’t hear trials on Fridays. So we were selected on Wednesday and the trial began on Thursday to resume on Monday and go for the presumably short duration.

So. Yay Me. Juror #1.

At least the seat was in the back row.

I could never have been on a trial that lasted longer than two days. Trying not to form a premature decision was hard. Being unbiased was harder, because the defendant’s name was Darby, and that is almost too douchey for words. Not talking about it was torturous, but even worse was the admonition not to look anything up. I can barely make it through a TV episode without looking something up on the internet. I couldn’t. Even. Google. I might as well have been living with stone knives and wearing bearskins. The pain. The horror…

Anyhow, I won’t go though a point by point of every tiny detail. The defendant was arrested for a DUI. The SFPD predictably screwed up the paperwork, but not so badly that it could not go to trial. The ADA was so young he looked like he was conducting a high school mock trial. He stood there at the desk in a suit that his mommy probably picked out and smiled and made eye contact with each juror, just like he was taught in lawyering class. The defense attorney looked like Ned Beatty circa Homicide: Life in the Street, and he didn’t seem to give a crap what the jury thought of him. The judge reminded me of Joe Biden. Most of the time he looked bored, unless he was telling the ADA how to do his job. (“We have overhead projectors for these things. You might consider finding one. Just saying.”) There weren’t any spectators in the gallery. Nobody seemed to care very much. The defendant was stony faced throughout, and never made eye contact with anyone.

Just the facts, Ma’am. Alright. Nearly two years ago at 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday (which for normal people still counts as Saturday night) a veteran CHP officer was driving on the freeway responding to a complaint that there might be a car moving in the wrong direction. She did not find one. What she did find was a car parked in the “gore point” of an exit ramp. For normal people this is referred to as the little triangular area thingy between the freeway lanes and the exit lane that you aren’t supposed to drive on, but very occasionally do when you really fuck up and almost (not really almost) miss your exit, and then hope that the CHP didn’t see you do it. That part. But this car was parked in it. According to the officer, so close to the edge that the driver’s side mirror was actually over the line into the slow lane of the freeway. She pulled up behind it with all her nasty bright spotlights on and saw no movement, so she got out to investigate. Not having a death wish, and following proper procedure she went around the passenger side of the car. The rear windows were slightly fogged, but the front was clear enough to see a passenger slumped forward asleep. And a driver slumped backward in his seat. Also sound asleep. She rapped on the passenger window and no one moved. She moved around to the front of the vehicle and rapped on the windshield. No one moved. She felt the hood of the car and found it to be warm on a cold January night. She snapped two pictures of him napping with her iPhone. She then moved around to the driver’s side of the car, skirting an active freeway lane, and rapped loudly on the driver’s side window. The driver woke up slowly. She motioned for him to roll his window down. He did not do so. She opened the driver’s side door and immediately smelled alcohol. She asked the man in the driver’s seat to give her his license. He fumbled in his pocket and pulled out several cards. He handed her his Amex card. She repeated that she needed his LICENSE, at which point he dropped all the cards in his lap. She pointed to the driver’s license and told him to give her that one, which he did. She asked if he had been drinking, but he did not answer her. She asked if he had been driving and he did not answer her. She repeated her questions, and he said that he had been driving. He said he had been at a bar in the Mission between 6 p.m. and midnight and that he had “a beer and a Red Monkey.” (Tip: NO ONE knows WTF a Red Monkey is. Eventually a forensic expert told us it is a frou-frou yet lethal mixed drink with various recipes, but that it generally contains about 7 shots of hard alcohol. Seriously, if you are gonna get arrested for a DUI, IMHO  you should be drinking something hardcore like Boilermakers. BUT I did not let that influence my decision. I really didn’t.) She told him to remain in the car and went back to her patrol car and called for backup because she was alone that night and was really meant to be patrolling the Bay Bridge. On her way back to her car she took another photo of his car to show its location, and that it was really parked where she said it was.

Within minutes another CHP vehicle arrived bearing two more officers, jaded 10 years on the force utility belt cop (Seriously, he didn’t fit in the witness chair because all the gear on his belt made him too wide. He was wedged in so tight I was afraid his gun might go off.), and a fresh scrubbed little girly thing who looked like a bunny rabbit and had at that point about 5 months under her belt. Manly cop went and talked to the original Chip, and then went to get Red Monkeyboy out of his vehicle. Miss Bunnycop went to direct traffic to make sure no oncoming cars smashed into anyone. She testified that Monkeyboy had an unsteady gait as her partner removed him from his vehicle and walked him back to their patrol car, where he was cuffed and “helped into the vehicle”. The original Chiplady got the passenger into her patrol car, Manly cop got into Monkeyboy’s car, and they all drove to a safer location. Which was literally around the damn corner. Chiplady then took Unidentified Passenger and left the scene. Manly cop inventoried Monkeyboy’s car and arranged for a tow, and Bunnycop performed the field sobriety tests. Monkeyboy did not perform well on these tests. Monkeyboy was arrested.

The only item of any note found in Monkeyboy’s car was a 750ml bottle of Southern Comfort (More chick drinks! Yuck!), half full. Officer Nightstick did not note in his report, nor could he recall, where in the vehicle this bottle was found, but I am guessing that since Monkeyboy was NOT charged with an open container violation it was actually in the trunk. This matters later on a bit, but since I was not allowed to guess at things I did not weigh it into evidence. Now, however, I count it as one more of the many strikes against our hapless defendant.

Monkeyboy was then taken to the jail. He “consented” to a breathalizer test. (Although if you read the fine print on your CA driver’s license I am pretty sure the test is only optional in that you can refuse it, and thereby forfeit your license.) He took this test at least twice. Officer Big Stick said on the stand that he conducted it four times, but we only had records of two. In any case the machine was not able to make a valid reading on any of the attempts because of “insufficient volume”. There was testimony on the stand that the officer witnessed the defendant covering the mouth end of the tube with his tongue during the tests, yet this fact was not in any official report. After 2-4 failed breath tests Monkeyboy was informed that they would need to perform a blood test, and once again he “consented” to this. A phlebotomist employed by a contracting agency was brought in, and Bunnycop officially witnessed the drawing of the blood. She also did not complete all of the chain of custody paperwork entirely properly. On the evidence envelope she neglected to sign her name twice as requesting officer AND witnessing officer, though she did sign it once. On the tamper proof seals to the blood vials she filled out all the information, but failed to initial them. On a procedural checklist (an internal document meant for compliance to procedure but NOT required by any law) she initialed that all the steps were performed properly, even though as noted she had neglected two. Also when she wrote in the date on the checklist a small portion appeared to have been overwritten to correct a mistake, yet was not initialed as such. Bunnycop freely admitted that these were all errors on her part. From that point forward all proper chain of custody steps were performed, the blood was tested, and it was found that Monkeyboy had at the time of the blood draw, 4:15 a.m., a blood alcohol content of 0.14 percent. Monkeyboy was charged under two counts of the CA code of regulations title 17, to wit: driving while intoxicated and driving with a BAC greater than 0.08%.

These are two separate charges, although that makes very little sense. But whatever. Two charges.

Those are the facts that were in evidence. Red Monkeyboy was found passed out in the driver’s seat of his car, parked in a dangerous and illegal location at about 2:30 a.m. He was visibly and pungently intoxicated and admitted to having driven and to having drunk stupid beverages earlier in the evening. Some key things that were NOT mentioned at the time of arrest: Monkeyboy never said or implied that anyone else was ever driving. Neither did he allude to having drunk anything while parked at the gore point.

We got to hear evidence from the three officers, and while they did kinda fuck up, none of them seemed to be lying. We also got to hear testimony from the toxicologist, her supervisor, and lastly the head of the forensics lab for San Francisco. That last was actually really fun. He was charming and vaguely Slavic and obviously not only knew his job backwards and forwards, but really enjoys it. He was a wonderful witness. Old Bully Pulpit the lawyer tried to be sneering at him on cross and failed miserably. He was the definition of an expert witness.

Now at this point I feel the need to mention that I abhor lawyers. I worked for lawyers. With very few exceptions they are not good people. But since there were lawyers on both sides of the case I felt that I could make a fair decision without my biases affecting the outcome. While the defense attorney looked and acted like a man who never uttered an honest word in his life if he could help it, the baby ADA seemed like he needed help tying his shoes in the morning. I know they don’t make wingtips with velcro closures, but I didn’t actually check to see if he was, in fact, wearing loafers. Also, he reminded me of the guys I used to work for. Ridiculously young and naive does NOT equal honest. Really. I never knew a lawyer who could see a loophole and not dive straight into it, even if he had to grease himself up first. (Except for you, sweetie. You know who you are.)

That said, while I found Junior’s attempts to “connect” at best amusing and at worst kinda smarmy… well, he wasn’t an out and out asshole. And he didn’t FUCKING INSULT MY INTELLIGENCE! The Ole Warhorse took every opportunity to mention things that were not in evidence, had no bearing on the case, or were outright lies. He repeatedly implied, but never produced any evidence for the fact, that the phlebotomist in the case had in some way tainted the blood draw. He made wild speculations as to motives. He threw in red herrings. He repeatedly (and I think intentionally) mispronounced the names of the witnesses as a subtle way of belittling their testimony. He misrepresented facts in evidence in what I could only take as a blatant attempt to confuse the jury, and make it seem as if there were inconsistencies that were not there. He did everything in his power to make Bunnycop cry. He tried to bully every witness, and closed his case by trying to bully the jury. At one point when cross examining the toxicologist who performed the lab tests he made reference to something she had said “in the other trial”. The judge instructed us to ignore the statement, and I did not consider it when making a decision, however it made me wonder if he wasn’t deliberately trying to provoke a mistrial.

But none of that was the worst. The worst thing was that I found myself SO disliking him that I was metaphorically bending over backward to try NOT to let it sway my decision. I expected, due to pretrial instructions and the attorney’s opening statements, that Monkeyboy would not be testifying. However, once the prosecution rested, I was actually eager to hear from the defense. Surely there would be some explanation for all the veiled hints he had been throwing at us during his cross examinations of the prosecution’s witnesses. Surely he would either unravel the prosecution’s case, or I hoped, offer some even remotely reasonable alternate scenario in which Monkeyboy could be not guilty. I wanted to hear how there was a case other than in missing initials or veiled innuendo of misconduct, never even entered into evidence, let alone proven.

The Artless Codger put one witness on the stand. An old private investigator that looked enough like him to be his brother (but that I suspect, on the flimsiest of evidence, was actually his longtime spouse, having inadvertently witnessed a really pissy spat between them in the hallway about evening plans.) I thought, oh goody! A real PI. What did he dig up? Had he found evidence that the phlebotomist was a fraud who was using her position to deal meth? Maybe the defendant had a long lost twin who he was protecting. I was ready to accept just about anything at that point.

Here is the evidence he presented. He drove with Monkeyboy to the gore point in question and asked him to park in the same spot. He then got out of the car and took some pictures of the car. One picture showed the car to be in approximately the same position as the bad iPhone photo taken by Chiplady. Another from a different angle showed that the car was NOT, in fact, parked with its driver’s side mirror extending into traffic. He opined that the original photo appeared to show that it was, but that was a result of “parallax distortion”.

That’s it. That was the end of the defense case.

Fuck me. Seriously?

On the one hand… Yay! I’m going home today. Two days and DONE!

On the other hand, SERIOUSLY???

The head of forensics for SF, Dr. Utterly Charming showed with solid math and science that a man of Monkeyboy’s build simply COULD NOT have had a blood alcohol level of 0.14% at 4:15 a.m. without having been much drunker when he drove that car to the gore point. Three police officers witnessed that he was impaired between 2:30 and 3 am, but was NOT exhibiting increased impairment. Even if for some blindingly unlikely and stupid reason he was sober when he drove to the gore point and decided it was a good place to park and get drunk in his car, he would had to have stopped drinking by 1:45 am to reach a peak of intoxication by 2:30. The hood of his car was warm and his windows were relatively unfogged at 2:30 a.m. So even given the completely UNREASONABLE doubt that he was not drunk BEFORE he arrived and chose that particular spot to party down… it STILL doesn’t add up.

It really didn’t take us long to find him guilty. We found it necessary to go through the motions of discussion and reviewing the evidence because we felt obligated, but only one juror had any doubt at all, and that was based on feeling nervous about declaring him guilty when the police procedure had not been completely followed. Even though that one juror freely admitted he had no real doubt as to guilt, and really just wanted us to note his objections.

We found him guilty. If we had the option to find him Guilty as Fuck, we likely would have done so. He was so very, very guilty.

Still… he pulled over. He did drive drunk, but he pulled over before any damage was done. I can only hope that the judge took that into account on sentencing. We were not allowed to hear that part. We had to leave after we delivered the verdict. And I did a stupid thing after the verdict. I looked at his face. The face that had registered no emotion other than, perhaps, stubborn anger during the trial had crumpled a little. One person, who I can only assume was a family member or girlfriend, had witnessed the last hour of the trial, and she was visibly shaken. I have no doubt that he was Guilty as Fuck, but I felt bad for him. It hurt to affect someone’s life in this way, even if it was only two misdemeanor counts. It was really really real. Not TV. Not a book.

When I came home, I told Tuki I was sad because I had looked at his face when we declared him guilty. She said, “Sometimes you just have to dial down your empathy.”

Tuki is so smart it hurts.

Post Script: For anyone that objects to the title of this piece on the grounds that it did not happen at the airport (SFO), the courthouse wifi connection was named SFO-Public. This was very important to me because I needed to play my silly iPhone butterfly game during breaks. Because. So if you ever find yourself in San Francisco near the Criminal Justice building on the corner of Crackhead & Bryant and you are in need of wifi… You’re welcome.

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