_In many ways my mother was a typical stay-at-home mom teleported directly from the 1950’s. She cooked and cleaned for our family, sold her handmade crafts at local art festivals and, when needed, she helped my dad run his restaurants.
___An occasional Bunco gathering or a Tupperware party at a friend’s home was about as exciting as her life got, so one day, when the mailman delivered a notice for jury duty, you would have thought that she had won a new car on The Price is Right.
___She didn’t sleep for days and every night she paid extra attention to the news so that she would be ready for any questions the attorneys threw at her. My mom was so afraid of coming across as an uneducated housewife that she insisted that we quiz her every afternoon on what the morning newspapers had reported.
___When the big day arrived, my dad took her out for breakfast and then drove her downtown to the federal courthouse, confident that in a few hours, she, like almost everyone else called for jury duty, would be dismissed from the jury pool and sent home.
___We were all in for a big surprise when we picked her up at the end of the day and learned that she had been selected to be on a Federal Grand Jury. To celebrate her impending civic duty, we stopped at her favorite Chinese restaurant for dinner and spent the entire meal listening to her excitement as she told us every detail about the process of being selected for a grand jury and what the difference was between a grand jury and a trial jury. I honestly didn’t think that I had ever seen her so excited in the fifteen years that I had been on this earth.
___On that first day and every day for the next few weeks she came home feeling more important than she had in years. You could see the pride in her eyes and that small change made her simply radiant. I was so proud of how seriously my mom was taking her duty as a grand juror and thought that maybe this was the beginning of a new type of confidence that would expand her life.
___About two weeks into this family experience, I came home from school to find a sheriff’s squad car parked right in front of our house. My heart immediately started racing so I quickened my pace and then practically flew up our front stairs. I burst into the living room to see a deputy calmly filling out a stack of paperwork on our sofa and another deputy checking the locks on our windows. Ignoring both of them I made my way back to the kitchen where my dad was pacing back and forth, and my mother was sitting at the table with tears running down her face.
___Alarmed, I asked who died. My dad shook his head and said that no one had died. He paused for a moment and then added the word, “Yet.” With that, he gestured for me to sit down at the table. Once I sat down, I carefully drew a deep breath and then quietly asked who was going to jail...him or my brother Benny.
___My dad made a disgusted face and waved my words away. He continued talking, his voice kind of shaky, “The grand jury that your mother is serving on was supposed to be deciding whether or not there was enough evidence to bring murder charges against Vincent “The Claw” Corleone...”
___I cut him off, “Isn’t he supposed to be a hit man for the old school Chicago Mob? Is he still alive?”
___My dad got up to pour himself another shot of vodka. After downing it and savoring its warmth he said, “Oh yeah. He’s still alive, and this one...” He pointed at my mom and then got choked up. Starting again he said, “This one, in her first foray into the real world in nearly twenty years...attracts this!” With that statement, he thrust a crumpled paper at me that ended up being an official notification from The Federal Judiciary of The United States of America.
___The notice informed my mother that the names and home addresses of the Grand Jurors on the Vincent Corleone case had been compromised and that it was believed that the Corleone family may try to intimidate the grand jurors but that each juror would be assigned a sheriff’s deputy in a squad car that would be guarding their home and that each juror would now be driven to and from the courthouse in a bomb-proof sheriff’s bus. The letter then said that both protective measures would continue until the grand jury was dismissed.
___What the notice did not say was, “You’re on your own, suckers! If necessary, your next of kin may cash your ten-bucks-a-day Grand Jury Payments in accordance to the percentages stated in your wills. Thanks for playing Chicago Grand Jury! Good luck to you all. P.S. The Mayor’s brother owns The Bridgeport Mortuary and gives discounts to families experiencing unexpected funeral expenses.”
___I didn’t say anything for a few moments, but then I started laughing hysterically. Gasping for air I managed to squeeze out, “Are you fucking kidding me? Everyone knows that the stupid deputy sitting out front in the squad car is the first victim killed in any movie...”
___With this my mother threw her head back and started wailing like Lucy Ricardo. This just made me laugh harder. There was nothing else I could do.
___I am happy to report that nothing ever happened to our family regarding my mother’s grand jury experience, but because few people really want to be on a jury, my Uncle Paulie took this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start holding seminars at the local gin houses, educating fellow drinkers about the dangers of jury duty, of course citing my mother’s experience. He drummed up a lot of business when he invented a third child (my mom and dad only had two kids) that mysteriously disappeared during this time and had yet to be found and returned to our family.
___If you bought him a drink he would tell you what you could say or do in order to get dismissed from the jury pool and believe me when I say that he was so twisted that he never gave the same advice twice and therefore was never caught. None of the drunks attending his tavern seminars ever had to serve on a jury and this made his reputation grow exponentially over the years. After the Corleone incident, I don’t think Uncle Paulie ever had to buy himself a drink again.
___When my brother was eventually called for jury duty, he was too cheap to buy Uncle Paulie a drink, so he went rogue and settled on picking his nose and making a big show of examining his boogers before carefully placing them in an orange flavor Tic Tac box. To this day, he’s never had to serve on any kind of jury.
___My dad, who just couldn’t bring himself to pick his nose in public, settled on pretending that he was hard of hearing and every time an attorney asked him a question he would yell, “What? What did you say? WHAT?” He was always dismissed and sent home.
___My best friend Nicholas was called only once and never served because he had an anxiety attack in the jury room and was sent home. Here’s what happened...
___During the juror’s lunch break, Nick called me to say that he was never, ever going to commit a crime because, “These people are certainly not my peers.” He was sort of whispering, so I told him that he had to talk louder so I could hear what he was saying.
___Quite shaken by something that I had neither seen nor heard, he loudly hiss-whispered, “I SAID THAT THIS IS NOT A JURY OF MY PEERS.”
___Another juror overheard this and called him an asshole. Nicholas panicked and yelled at me that he was sure that he was going to get shanked before the afternoon was over and because of this premonition he wanted me to know that if he should die, he had left me all his Hallmark Christmas Ornaments and that I had his permission to fight his nieces for them.
___I was asking him where I could get a copy of his will when I heard some deputies approach Nick and gently explain that for his own safety they were going to escort him out of the courthouse and then to his car. There was some discussion over whether or not he was calm enough to drive himself home. I quickly hung up before anyone could order me to come and get him.
___My ex-husband Greg was always picked for jury duty. I’m sure that this was because he usually looked so eager and stupid that both sides thought they could fill his head with conspiracy theories and convince him of anything.
___On the other hand, I was always dismissed and never got to serve on a jury. Probably because everyone in the courtroom could see a million questions churning behind my eyes and no one wanted to open that can of worms.
___Time marches on and right after his nineteenth birthday, my son Chris got his first jury summons in the mail. He had to report to the courthouse in downtown Chicago, bright and early on a Monday morning in July.
___Chris was four years old when we moved out to the suburbs and he had little experience navigating downtown Chicago on his own, so my intention was to drive him to the Orange Line stop on Archer and Pulaski and let him experience Chicago’s famous elevated train system on his own. It would take him within blocks of where he needed to be. What could go wrong? Right?
___When the big day came, I wanted to take Chris out for breakfast the same way my dad had taken my mother out for breakfast when she served on that infamous grand jury so many years ago. Chris and I left early and went to a twenty-four-hour diner on the corner of Archer and Cicero that I had once worked at (for one day) when I was a teen.
___At breakfast, we had a very serious and careful talk about the responsibilities of being on a jury should he be selected. When I had answered all of Chris’s questions thoroughly and was confident that he was ready to take on downtown Chicago by himself, out the door we went.
___I pulled out of the restaurant parking lot and was heading northeast on Archer Avenue when we were stopped by a northbound freight train about six blocks from the Orange Line station. Freight trains were usually very long on this railroad track, so I put the car in park and Chris and I continued having a conversation about whether or not he thought graduate school was worth the extra time and money when I noticed a light colored, rusted sedan glide up on our right and settle about one car ahead of us in the next lane.
___The car’s left rear bumper was practically touching our right front bumper, so I had a great view of the entire vehicle (this is important later). After a moment or two the driver’s door opened and a middle-aged man dressed in khakis and a white dress shirt got out of the car and calmly walked to his trunk, popped it open and started rummaging around inside. I was only mildly interested in him until he straightened up holding a black crowbar.
___When he whacked the palm of his hand a few times to test the crowbar’s weight, I knew that shit was going to hit the fan and I knew that Chris and I were going to be right in the middle of it.
___I called 911 as soon as this guy started smashing the hood of the silver Mercedes that was stopped right behind him and right next to us.
___“911, what is your emergency?”
___Very slowly and carefully I said, “My name is Josie Garrett. My teenage son and I are stopped on the west side of the train tracks in front of Bobak’s Deli on Archer Avenue. There is a man with a crowbar attacking the car next to us. He’s just broken the driver’s windshield. I am afraid that he’ll kill him if he gets inside the car. Please send a squad car as quickly as you can...”
___The operator interrupted me, “How do you spell your name ma’am?”
___I stopped talking for a moment and then asked her if she heard what I said.
___“Yes. I did hear you ma’am...”
___“Do you have a squad car on the way?”
___“We’ll get to that in a minute ma’am, now how do you spell your name?”
___I was more freaked out by this 911 response than I was with the crowbar-wielding man who was now calmly sitting in his car doing God knows what. At one point the 911 operator asked me if the driver of the Mercedes knew the man with the crowbar.
___I sputtered, “I don’t know. How the hell would I know that?”
___“Well, can you ask him?” Her tone made it clear that she thought I was the stupid one in this exchange.
___I leaned over Chris and opened the window a crack and with exaggerated mouth movements in case I was lucky and the guy could lip-read, I asked him if he knew the crowbar guy. When the driver of the Mercedes shook his head “no” and threw up his hands, the entire situation changed for me. If there had not been a previous altercation that caused this attack, then this crowbar guy was simply crazy and all of us around him, including Chris and I, were in serious danger.
___I told the 911 operator that the Mercedes driver did not know him. I gave her a description of the crowbar guy, a description of his vehicle and his license plate number. I then said that I had to hang up and that she needed to send a squad car immediately.
___After I ended the call I took a few calming breaths and told Chris that I needed him to get the baseball bat that was in the trunk.
___Chris looked at me incredulously and said, “We have a baseball bat in the trunk?”
___Never taking my eyes off of Crowbar Guy’s car I told him that every Chicagoan has a baseball bat in their car for situations just like this. Chris shook his head as if nothing surprised him anymore and then he opened the car door. I grabbed his arm and told him to close the fucking door immediately.
___Alarmed, Chris shut the door and said, “How the hell am I supposed to get the baseball bat out of the trunk if I don’t open the door to get to the trunk?”
___“Jesus Christ, Chris. There is a crazy man with a crowbar outside. You don’t go outside the car to get to the trunk...” I caught myself before I called him an idiot and instead I gave him further instructions, “Crawl over your seat, get in the back, pull down one of those seats and then reach into the trunk to get the bat.”
___Chris did as he was told and I knew that he had the bat when I heard him ask why there was a gym sock on it. He handed me the sock and of course I immediately yelled at him to put the sock back on the bat.
___He stared me down for a moment and then insisted on delving into the darkness of my upbringing and asked, “Why do you need a sock on the bat, mother dear?”
___Annoyed that I had raised such a clueless innocent, I lowered my voice and tightly explained, “If I swing the bat at him, he’ll try to grab it and pull it out of my hands, but when he tries this, the sock will slip off, he’ll lose his balance, maybe even fall to the ground, but the bat will still be in my hands and I’ll have a few more seconds to try to split his head open...”
___Chris recoiled, “Oh my God! Who are you?”
___I ignored his question. Despite the suburban soccer mom cover, under it all, I was still a streetwise kid from Chicago and my son and I were going to survive whatever this was.
___Everyone in every car that was stopped in front of the deli seemed really quiet. The only sound readily heard was the chugging of the train as it continued its slow roll over the tracks. It seemed as if everyone saw what had happened and we were all waiting for the other shoe to drop.
___Crowbar Guy had left his door open and I kept an eye on his left leg, which was outside the car, firmly planted on the ground. I kept alternating my watch between his leg and my rearview mirror, hoping that I would see the lights of the requested squad car before I saw Crowbar Guy get out of his car again.
___On one security sweep I did a double take. In my rearview mirror, in the row between my car and the Crowbar/Mercedes Drama, I saw a young man in blue jeans and an open plaid shirt staggering toward us. He was in a stupor and trying to open a car door, any car door. He was barefoot and covered in blood from head to toe.
___Not taking my eyes off the blood-covered man coming up behind us, I asked Chris if his door was locked. He asked me why. I told him to turn around.
___“What the fuck! Who’s that?”
___“I don’t know. Call 911 and hand me the phone.”
___“911, what is your emergency?”
___Oh. Fuck. Me. It was the same operator. We were all going to die.
___“Hey, this is Josie Garrett. I called you about ten minutes ago regarding the man with the crowbar on Archer Avenue that was smashing a Mercedes up. Do you remember me?”
___“Yes ma’am, I do.”
___“Great. We have another problem. There is a different man, barefoot and totally covered in blood, staggering around in between the stopped cars over here. He is trying to get into someone’s car, probably for help. I would also send an ambulance. You have sent the squad car, right?”
___“Ma’am, is this man connected to the man with the crowbar?”
___I thought for a moment, “I don’t know. I don’t think so... but... I really don’t know.”
___“Okay then, let’s start again. How do you spell your name?”
___“I WANT TO SPEAK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR!”
___“Okay ma’am, please, just calm down...”
___I looked up just in time to see Bloody Zombie Guy pass by our car and try to get into the Crowbar Guy’s car. Crowbar Guy pushed him away, drew his left leg into his vehicle and shut the door. Zombie Guy pounded on his window and then threw himself repeatedly over the hood of Crowbar Guy’s car, all the while sliding around in copious amounts of his own blood.
___I guess what goes around comes around...
___Just then I heard police sirens and saw an ambulance coming. At about the same time, we noticed that the train had passed and the railroad crossing gates were going up. I shifted into drive and followed the rest of the cars heading northeast on Archer Avenue. We all drove on as if absolutely nothing unusual had happened.
___Welcome to Chicago folks! Hope you enjoy your visit....