Wednesday, August 29

Jury duty ends in triumph

When we went in to the deliberation room after the prosecution and defense counsels’ final presentations, I rediscovered the real value of the jury selection process. It had taken an entire week to put this panel together. Hundreds of people were interviewed for selection. It ended up with fourteen, the jury panel and two alternates. The twelve of us made up a varied cross-section of the citizens of the county. A man who farms 11,000 acres of almonds, a woman who’s a retired executive from one of the biggest farm services companies in the world, a man who drives for United Parcel Service, a free-lance software writer, a schoolteacher, and the sharpest promoter of his own business ever to set foot in a courtroom (more on that later), plus others whose occupations I didn’t find out.

The first duty of our panel is to select a foreperson (used to be foreman, but I digress). I spoke up and said, “If this is a beauty contest, I’m out,” Chuckles. We selected a man whose job is to hire and fire workers for a large industrial construction company. He had been a jury foreman several times and knew the ropes. We had previously listened to the long speech from the judge about our duties and responsibilities; it took the better part of an hour. Our foreman summed it up in twenty seconds: Go down the list of charges, discuss each of them and vote guilty or not guilty on each. We had a general discussion of the case and everybody chimed in with his or her opinion. It was a very revealing conversation as it proved that everyone was paying very close attention during the trial and had a good understanding of the case. One real surprise to me was the man who was off by himself during all our breaks. He never got into the juror banter when we were out of the courtroom. I assumed that since he was the only black man on an all-white jury, he didn’t relate to the rest of us. But in the deliberation room, he opened up and poured out his convictions in a huge gush. He summed up in very quick succession what all of us eventually decided on, and included the reservations he had about the prosecution’s case, the star witnesses’ testimony, the defense’s strengths and weaknesses—in sum, he had the case nailed. We all agreed with his assessment. I tell ya, United Parcel Service has some pretty savvy drivers.

The Sheriff’s Department handles the service to jurors through a bailiff. If jurors need some printed documentation, the court reporter’s notes, some drinking water—that’s his responsibility. I asked if we could get Shiatsu massages and he said no but maybe he could bring in a stray cat we could pet and pass around if need be.

As the foreman read the charges against the defendant and asked for our vote, it was “guilty” from each of us in turn, twelve times each on the four charges. Probably took all of five minutes. I asked if there was a competition for fastest verdict on something like the Guinness Book of World Records. We had finished in maybe twenty minutes since we entered the deliberation room. The software writer volunteered to look that up, but said we probably couldn’t win because that’s really not one of the things that juries should aspire to. But our guy was so incredibly guilty I’m surprised they even bothered to have a trial in the first place. But of course that wouldn’t have been fair or legal. Even in Madera County we don’t have a hangin’ tree outside the courthouse for quick administration of justice.

Oh, before I forget—the sharpest promoter of his business (mentioned above) was yours truly. During the jury selection process the prosecutor asked me what I did for a living. I told her that I worked at a guest ranch in the high Sierra along the John Muir Trail that was private land in the middle of the wilderness and had been since 1885 and had the San Joaquin River going through it and log cabins and tent cabins and hot spring baths and we delivered resupplies to thousands of hikers on America’s most-traveled hiking trail and accommodated guests for a day to a week at a time and had superb dining. All one sentence—no commas.

After the trial, the jury members met with both attorneys in the hallway outside the courtroom. I thanked them for their good work and commiserated with the hapless defense attorney. White-haired, mid-fiftyish, portly, he looked like he belonged in a movie from the 1950s. “You had an impossibly tough case,” I said. “I know,” he replied, “but then sometimes the firm gives me something I can win just to keep my spirits up.” He had a good sense of humor. The prosecution attorney was a trim athletic vibrant woman whose final summation was worthy of an Oscar. She asked if I had a card—she wants to come to the ranch next summer. I gave her my business card. One of the jurors asked for one also. They took the last two business cards in my wallet. Now I have to go get some more in case I make an off-the-cuff sales pitch to some other unlikely group.

Thursday, August 23

The chosen ones

It started a week ago, and took all day today, but finally a jury was impaneled in the Criminal Courts Department Two of the Superior Court of Madera County. Not kidding—it got down to two people out of about five hundred before the two lawyers ran out of challenges (they get twenty apiece) and we had twelve fine citizens ready to pass judgment on some poor schmuck who should’ve known better than to do what he did (if he did it, that is). As a juror on an open case I can’t talk about it but in the end, I won’t be talking about it even then. Some crimes are truly disgusting. Barf bags should be distributed to all of us.

The judge predicted that the trial will be concluded by next Thursday.

I am continuing my pattern of being a single-digit-numbered juror: number 5 last time, number 4 this time. Somehow I have been lucky to constrain my juror number to only odd or even numbers so I can easily remember them. I feel good about that; it’s empowering.

I managed to get the whole courtroom laughing about something I said, but forget what it was. Oh well, the jokes are coming to me so naturally that I don’t have to take notes. Maybe some day a book will be written about Madera County’s Joking Juror. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, August 22

Time for crime

I got notice awhile ago that I would have jury duty this week. I checked in and found out that they wouldn’t be needing me Tuesday but to check back. Sure enough I was to report on Wednesday morning. So I checked in and went to the jury gathering room which holds over a hundred people, went to the back and sat on a hard wooden bench. There were plenty of soft chairs, but hey, this is law and order and justice and should be taken seriously.

I then spent the longest hour I ever experienced in my life. Around me people’s heads were bent forward as they stared at the screens of their smart phones and ebook readers. A couple of people were old-fashioned enough to have gone over to the magazine rack and grabbed something to read. I was stoic—I just observed. I made a joke or two to some nearby jurors-to-be, but mostly sat in silence and watched the parade of people going in and out of the room. Some of them had been chosen and were wearing their juror tags, green for some, orange for others, proclaiming their juror number. There was a 4, a 6, a couple of 9s and a 14! Must be an alternate. I didn’t get to see all the numbers, so I can’t say for sure if each juror covey was complete. I’ll let the judges judge for themselves.

We were told that this was an unusual situation. Seven of the courtrooms were busy, trying all kinds of cases. Normally it’s two or so cases a week, but today’s demand was high. Finally, after marching to two different courtrooms, we got to see a judge who said it was getting late and would we please come back tomorrow morning at 9:30. Odd, I thought since court normally starts around 8:30, but since tomorrow was going to be a heavy juror induction day, there was simply not enough room to get the newbies in while we veterans would be here at the same time. “Please, don’t arrive before 9:30. There isn’t enough room,” begged one of the juror handlers.

I have the feeling I’m going to be sitting on another murder trial. Yuck. I think I’ll wear my Barfo the Clown costume again tomorrow. They hadn’t seemed to have noticed that I wore it today, too, even when they confiscated my oogah horn at the entrance. They must be desperate to get butts in the jury boxes.

Wednesday, August 15

It’s so darned hot!

Going down to the house site every day is a bit too much. The recent high temperatures have been in the triple digits (Fahrenheit, not Celsius) and it simply makes a person wilt. Some of our builders have been arriving at 5AM to work till maybe noon then go home to their swimming pools, lake fronts, river fronts and other cooling venues.

Today I had to go to town on business so I stopped by the house to check on the progress. I had hoped to get a picture of the owl that lives in the great room’s rafters, but he had flown the coop. Probably fed up with having his space invaded by the plumbers installing the fire sprinklers and all the banging of hammers by the carpenters sealing up the under-floor spaces.

A straight-out-of-the-catalog garage by our house builders, but taller

The garage, the boring, dull garage, is actually quite exciting. I think it looks so huge because the walls are so much higher than normal garages’ walls. It has enough space to easily hold the array of batteries we will need to back up our solar-powered electrical system. It just makes sense to put them in the garage rather than under the house. Less of a ventilation problem too (lead-acid batteries emit hydrogen gas when charging, a fire hazard in a confined space). We can put the backup generator on the far side of the garage, making it even quieter in the house when it’s running. It means the wires from the solar panels down the hill from the house will be quite a bit longer, but the whole thing works out better overall.

This morning’s call from Randy, our project coordinator, was a bummer. The bid from the people who wanted to install our roof tiles came in roughly ten thousand dollars higher than we had planned for. Randy checked around, seeking a lower bid with another contractor, but when he factored in all the materials that would be included in the first bid, the second bid was only a thousand dollars cheaper. And the first bid was from real roofers who had worked with our exact same roofing tiles, not people who would be learning on the job. So $18,200 it is. This wasn’t our first shock price-wise. The roof tiles we had already bought cost more than the installation bid, but only by a few thousand. The well pump and tanks and pipelines came in ten thousand higher than we’d anticipated, and the plumbing is going way over our original estimate by several thousand dollars. When do we get a break?

Wait till you see how people get from ground level to the entry door in the center of the right half of the house.
We’re designing it as we speak. It will be beautiful.

We actually already got a break on all the interior doors. They’re solid maple, and oversized: taller than normal doors and wider too. Fifty dollars each! A steal! They had been ordered then never picked up by a homeowner whose house never got built. They hung around for decades, taking up space in a warehouse. I wonder if that homeowner-to-be ran out of money when he/she found out what plumbing, roofing, and water systems actually cost. I can empathize.

Thursday, August 9

It’s been awhile…

Nothing could be more boring than the construction of a garage. It’s a box; ten-foot-high walls, gable roof, big door for cars, medium-size door for people, two slider windows on the sides. Flat slab of concrete with grooves to drain any water tracked in by the car/truck/van/whatever.


So I spared the pictures. Tomorrow was going to feature the plumbing inspection, which would have been really exciting. I had seen that the plumber put a connection on the drain pipes and vent pipes that could be hooked to a hose to fill the entire mess clear to the roof. Then the inspection for leaks would prove that the system was intact from the septic tank clear to the skies above. Problem is, the inspection was today, and I didn’t go down to watch. Bummer. I could have used some excitement.

The plumbing inspection would also include the fire sprinkler system throughout the house, and all the hookups to the shower, toilets, laundry, ice makers, and so on. And hose bibbs—don’t forget them! Wow, this could have been as exciting as a mega-blockbuster 3-D IMAX movie and I missed the whole thing. I MUST keep better notes of the activities around here.

[An aside: There is a really big housefly crawling on one of my typing hands as I speak. He/She is of a variety of flies that has no fear of humans. I have seriously considered making these guys pets, but they die in a few weeks so my affection would be short lived.]

This is a Photoshop JPEG of a screen shot taken with a three-generations-old cell phone. Will miracles never cease?

Speaking of pets, we have a baby goldfish! Only one, so the others must have been eaten. My nephew Pete told me of goldfish in his experience having babies. I am tempted to remove this little inch-long fish from the main tank where there are ten big adults, but I don’t know how to determine if the little guy/gal is weaned yet. Try as I may, I can’t identify its mother by any mammary enlargement. Maybe I was not cut out to be a botanist. I mean ichthyologist. Whatever.

Thursday, August 2

A garage slab is created

I got to the site this morning thinking I was early, but missed the entire first pour from the first concrete truck. Man, these guys must get up around four or something. I guess when you know the afternoon temperature will be over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, you get to work early!

By noon, the job was done and everyone went home. Nice work.

By the numbers

I see how they did it now; the A3s go here…

All the B1s go here. Simple.

Karla laments the soon-to-be loss of this view of the trusses with the 16 by 5 foot “room” where the air handling equipment goes so the house will be cool and warm. Oh well, we do have pictures of the space.