Monday, May 15, 2017

when podcast worlds collide

A few weeks ago, my buddy Kari turned me on to the podcast, Breakdown, by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Bill Rankin, with whom I have fallen in love.
I'm not sure why I have gravitated to the kinds of podcast that show, no pun intended, breakdowns in the criminal justice system across the US. Well, maybe I haven't really thought about why.

I love mystery novels. My sad lack of imagination (thinking about ooey gooey things with Michael Fassbender does not count here, I think) means I will never be a detective but I love seeing how their minds work. As crime novels shifted into including perspectives of the criminal and victim, they got juicer and more fascinating. I love Nordic Noir, cozies, Regency and WW mysteries, anything set in not the US. I have no affection for US crime writers.

I suppose that led into a decent segue into true crime podcasts. I did not care for podcasts. A friend of mine pointed out that there is so much media in the world now and not enough time to address it. He had to abandon podcasts in order to read and watch tv. I have set the reading aside to listen to podcasts and watch tv. Podcasts became essential to my morning commute for the months I had to car it to work because of my foot. I couldn't keep showing up to work with a blistering headache from reading in the car.

I've been trying to remember what came first, listening to Criminal with John on the car ride upstate last year, or Serial. I think it might have been Serial first as I had been hearing about it taking the world by storm in Fall 2014 and I heard in 2016 that Adnan Syed had been granted a new trial. So I binge-listened and was stunned by the insanity that was the Baltimore police and prosecutorial arms. The Wire did not prepare me.

Then came Criminal, which wasn’t really about raw deals, but about, well… criminals! My favorite episode is still The Portrait, episode 25. The blurb on the This Is Criminal website is: "More than eighty years ago, a North Carolina family of nine posed for a Christmas portrait. Two weeks later, all but one of them had been shot dead." I read books about the Lawson family later on. It’s pretty epic.

Anyhoo. Because the internet has to be up in your beewax, I kept getting “recommendations” for other similarly-themed podcasts. I had downloaded NPR One and was listening to Stuff You Missed in History Class, Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, and stumbled on In the Dark. I am on a one-person mission to get the world to listen to that one. If anyone even mentions they like podcasts, I blurt out, “Listen to In the Dark! It will change your life.” That’s the one that moved me into podcasts about breakdowns in the criminal justice system.

Then came Accused, Up and Vanished, and Someone Knows Something. The last one is Canadian. Then Kari hit me with Breakdown and Bill Rankin. Those 3 seasons of heartbreaking cases are not for the faint of heart. Whether you believe in the guilt or innocence of a person, the lack of fairness in pursuing “justice” is … well… criminal. I can’t imagine being caught up in situation where laziness, tunnel vision, or ineptitude determines my fate forever.

My most recent listen is Undisclosed, a kind of Serial-addendum, if you will. Rabia Chaudry, a family friend of Adnan Syed, was featured in Serial. Rabia found Susan Simpson and Colin Miller from their legal blogs about Syed and Serial, and they created Undisclosed. The first season is about the trial(s – there were 2, the first ended in a mistrial after most of the prosecution’s case), the people, the places, the lawyers, the cell phone evidence, and Susan’s amazing catch about a fax cover sheet that turned the case on its head. It also covered the post-conviction relief hearing and the outcome. I won’t spoil it if you don’t know.

She could not have found 2 better people to podcast with. Rabia brings a lot of heart to the show. She has known Adnan since he was a child and he is her brother’s best friend. She is also a lawyer, although not a criminal one. So she knows things and actually asks Susan and Colin very intelligent questions about procedure.

Susan is amazing. She is unafraid to express her outrage at the State for its misrepresentations. She doesn’t sugar coat her opinions. I like her bluntness and her well-reasoned rants about those misrepresentations.

If I didn’t have Susan Abraham as my Evidence professor at New York Law School, I’d want Colin Miller. He must be an amazing teacher. He brings the legal and his case citations are on point. I really cannot say enough good things about this team. As a lawyer, I find the paths to their conclusions fascinating. I love their passion because I love what I do as well.

Between season 1 and 2, they covered other legal issues related to wrongful convictions. Colin interviewed Bill Rankin and I died dead. I wish I loved research as much as they do because who wouldn’t want to experience the satisfaction they get from the results. I like the kind of in-the-weeds work I do, and I am very fulfilled when I see fruition from my efforts. So I guess I understand why I like these podcasts. I get it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

hashtag bazodee for bazodee - for danna

When I first saw the trailer for Bazodee, I had planned to take John and Derek to see a movie set in Trinidad that included Carnival, which they ain't ever going to see, trust me. Well, maybe Derek will, but I not getting my hopes up over here!

But then Danna said she was coming to NY for one night and do me and my man want to lime with she and she man? My man had something or other so it was me and dem. It hit me during the day of the night we supposed to lime that she might like to go see the flim so I rang her hotel and we arranged to meet for dinner close to the theater in Times Square in case we felt like it.

Best decision ever. That movie needs to be seen with a Trini.

Now, here is my deal. I am not a big fan of Trini behaviors at cinemas and on airplanes. That is my cross to bear. I yell at the screen, sure. In my house! Where I annoy no one but my husband who annoys me more because he and Derek comment about everything. In the Trinidad portion of Naipaul's A Middle Passage, some cinema is showing To Have and Have Not and the star boy ask the star girl where she from and she say, "Trinidad and Tobago" and an audience member shouts out, "You lie!" And we all die dead.

Funny as that is, I have issues with people talking and yelling at the screen when I trying to watch a movie I pay too damn much money for. However. This was a mighty exception and going with Dann was inspired. She is refined and elegant and goodly, but can be dutty when the mood sets. She not easy.

When we went to buy tix, the tix person said plenty people buying, so we better hurry and go get our seats. Thankfully, we had already eaten dinner so we didn't need to join the long-ass line for popcorn. Our theater was empty when we got there and we got the best seats smack-dab in the middle. And then the place turn into the Trini posse stand from the Oval!

We had the best time. The movie was beyond adorable and much much better than I expected. The production value was incredibly high and Danna was shouting out places she recognized. Ok... maybe not shouting, but she was on like a socks. Even I, who rarely ever leaves PoS whenever I go back, was recognizing all kinda beach and ting.

Also Remy. Em... where they hiding dat all this time??? Dread! He shoulda be in every scene. 

Ok. Plot. A little bit of Much Ado About Nothing. What? I pay for that English degree, you think I ent going to use it here? Damn lie. 

Also, spoilers.

Anyhoo, there was the enemies-become-lovers trope that was silly but cute. There was the evil Prince John who got some comeuppance and got good in the end. I think I went to school with that fella, but I can't remember him too good. 

Machel and Natalie were in it to win it. Machel as a romantic hero was surprisingly believable and convincing. He even managed to contain his Machel-ness in the performance scenes, where Lee de Leon was making a tentative comeback and not really sure about his waist. Lee loves being on stage, just like Machel but he doesn't have Machel-confidence and he is afraid of failing. So when he performs "You" he is lovely and oddly restrained, which is perfect. If you looking for dutty Machel, wait till he come back to the Garden

Machel and Natalie have terrific chemistry. As a brown girl who had a ting with a rastaman in another life, it doesn't take much to convince me that inter-racial relationships can happen. I'm also in another kind of inter-racial relationship, as is Danna, so we were happy to represent! 

The star couple were too sweet together. And although the movie was a musical it wasn't a Bollywood Juhi-Chawla-runs-through-the-trees kinda movie. It is set around Carnival and shot right at the beginning of the season when the energy was fresh and high in the country. 

So the theater. Surprisingly more restrained than I expected. There was a back row click, as expected, and they jump up to everything. When the star girl get ketch out, someone bawl out, "party done" and we dead. And the flim deserve the clap it get at the end. (Why people does do that I not sure, but this time it was def about the experience of seeing it as much as for the movie itself.)

But the bes was when me and Dann were leaving the theater and were so into the talk that we couldn't find the exit! Danna call it: "We so Bazodee!!!" For reals. We had to take a minute, stop laughing, and try to make our way back to the street! It was a process. 

So I want to see it again, and see it with Danna and my own Trini posse. I downloaded the soundtrack yesterday and it's on repeat on my iPod and on Spotify in the office so I can wine like a champion in my sexy office chair. So don't hate on the movie because it from Trinidad or it have Machel in it or just because you is a ass. Go see it and enjoy being a Trini for 101 minutes in your life.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Cox in my hoo-ha

So the Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, signed into law an anti-abortion bill known as HB1337. Sigh. I've pasted the requirements of the bill below for your reading displeasure. The toughest part for me is the requirement that the mother listen to the heartbeat of the unborn: Provides that informed consent for an abortion must be obtained in a private setting. Provides that a pregnant woman considering an abortion must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone at least 18 hours before the abortion is performed and at the same time that informed consent is obtained.

That is shameful emotional manipulation. The government cannot and should not and must not be allowed to con a woman in accepting a pregnancy she cannot afford, having a child conceived from an act of rape or other sexual violations, or the myriad of other reasons women choose (see that word?) to terminate a pregnancy.

You have no right. You have no right to tell me what I can and cannot do in a situation where I have to make a terrible decision by making sure to up the terrible-ante through emotional means. How awful to make me, force me, to hear the unborn's heartbeat to ensure I provide "informed consent" so I know I'm killing a baby? Because I didn't already know that? Because I'm trying to distance myself from this so I don't fall apart and die from this choice I am making?

Women are outraged and decided to attack with snark. The FB page Periods for Pence was created with one of the earliest posts on March 28 providing the justification: Fertilized eggs can be expelled during a woman's period without a woman even knowing that she might have had the potential blastocyst in her. Therefore, any period could potentially be a miscarriage without knowledge. I would certainly hate for any of my fellow Hoosier women to be at risk of penalty if they do not "properly dispose" of this or report it. Just to cover our bases, perhaps we should make sure to contact Governor Pence's office to report our periods. We wouldn't want him thinking that THOUSANDS OF HOOSIER WOMEN A DAY are trying to hide anything, would we? We can ALL CALL HIM AT 317-232-4567. REPORT THOSE PERIODS! You should really let him know, since he's so concerned. It will only take a few minutes of your day, but it lets them face an undue and unjust burden, for a change!

So women from all over the United States are calling the Governor's office to inform him how this month's periods are going. It's rough going for the phone-answerers in Pence's office. The office has actually directed callers to Rep. Casey Cox's office as he authored the bill. I'd love to know how and why Cox decided he had a place in the collective uterus of Indiana. I don't know why there is this overwhelming need to legislate women's choices. It's more than telling me what to do with my body. It is telling me what choice I HAVE to make. We're no longer in a time where women have to use abortion as a form of birth control. But women make this choice for reasons that are incredibly personal and painful and sometimes hopeless. I'm sorry, but a white, wealthy male in a government office is never ever ever going to understand that.

Abortion. Requires the state department of health to develop certain information concerning perinatal hospice care. Requires physicians to provide information about perinatal hospice care to a pregnant woman who is considering an abortion because the unborn child has been diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. Requires documentation as a matter of informed consent to an abortion that the pregnant woman received the required information about perinatal hospice care. Provides that the gender of the fetus and the medical indication by diagnosis code for the fetus and the mother must be reported on the pregnancy termination form for an early pre-viability termination. Prohibits a person from performing an abortion if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of: (1) the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus; or (2) a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability. Provides for disciplinary sanctions and civil liability for wrongful death if a person knowingly or intentionally performs a sex selective abortion or an abortion conducted because of a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other disability. Provides that informed consent for an abortion must be obtained in a private setting. Provides that a pregnant woman considering an abortion must be given the opportunity to view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone at least 18 hours before the abortion is performed and at the same time that informed consent is obtained. Provides that a written agreement between a physician performing an abortion and a physician who has written admitting privileges at a hospital in the county or contiguous county concerning the management of possible complications of the services must be renewed annually. Requires the state department of health (state department) to submit copies of admitting privileges and written agreements between physicians to other hospitals in the county and contiguous counties where abortions are performed. Requires that certain forms must include lines for the signature of the physician or other provider and the professional credentials of the physician or other provider. Provides that a person who knowingly transports an aborted fetus into, or out of, Indiana commits a Class A misdemeanor, unless the aborted fetus is transported for the sole purpose of final disposition. Provides that a miscarried or aborted fetus must be interred or cremated by a facility having possession of the remains. Requires a person or facility having possession of a miscarried or aborted fetus to ensure that the miscarried fetus or aborted fetus is preserved until final disposition occurs. Specifies that: (1) a person is not required to designated a name for the miscarried or aborted fetus; and (2) information submitted with respect to the disposition of a miscarried or aborted fetus that may be used to identify the parent or parents of a miscarried fetus or a pregnant who had an abortion is confidential and must be redacted from any public records maintained under the burial permit law. Specifies that miscarried and aborted fetuses may be cremated by simultaneous cremation. Excludes the final disposition of a miscarried or aborted fetus from the law governing the treatment of infectious or pathological waste. Makes conforming changes. Provides that the performance of an abortion solely because of the race, color, sex, disability, national origin, or ancestry of the fetus or a violation of certain statutes protecting the right of conscience regarding abortion is a discriminatory practice for purposes of the civil rights law. Defines fetal tissue. Prohibits an individual from acquiring, receiving, selling, or transferring fetal tissue. Makes it a Level 5 felony to unlawfully: (1) transfer; and (2) collect fetal tissue. Establishes an exemption for the criminal penalty of unlawful use of an embryo if the transfer or receipt of a fetus was requested in writing by a biological parent for purposes of an autopsy.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

My FB posts on Ras Nijinsky in Drag as Ana Pavlova by Peter Minshall and Ja-Whan Thomas

First post: Saturday, February 6, 2016 

The Dying Swan - Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova. A Mas by Peter Minshall and Jha-Whan Thomas.

So I finally take a little sit-down to watch this video because I can't see the mas any other way. I am a Trinidadian who is an American who loves the ballet. I love the husband and children and whatnot, but the best part about moving to NYC has been being able to go to the ballet. And the rueben, but that's another post.

I've also seen Pavlova's Dying Swan on YouTube, as well as a video performance by my favorite ballerina, Uliana Lopatkina of the Mariinski Theater. I will see her perform it live for the first time later this month at Bam Theater when the Ballet Mariinski pays tribute to Maya Plisetskaya, Pavlova, and others. Lopatkina has 2 nights all to herself and I am attending both. I became a member of Bam when I realized that Ballet Mariinski takes up its winter residence there. I almost froze my ass off 2 years ago to go see Swan Lake with Lopatkina. I was tired and sleepy and frozen, but I made it and she was glorious. I cannot imagine the emotions this time around.

But that was a fairly long digression (and it's my wall, so I can digress) away from this mas. So back to Bom.

I read that Thomas took 3rd place in the King of Carnival and some other fellas get real vex because that is not what a Carnival King is and how he is just a fancy-up moko jumbie and the other fellas who place after third place had real costumes and so on. I didn't know if to twist up meh face at the sour grapes or find more head to roll meh eye in.

Even the designer of the winning costume had shite to talk. According to a Guardian story, "Marcus Eustace, the designer of the competition’s eventual winner Psychedelic Nightmares, worn by his brother Ted, described Minshall’s high placing as “ridiculous.”

“Put it this way, if you call that mas, how would it look if next year everybody play moko jumbie. That is not a mas. That is why the stands are empty.

“You have people building all kinds of expensive costumes and they coming tenth and 11th, and a moko jumbie come third,” Eustace said after the results were announced early Wednesday morning.

This is the fella who win the thing.

The actual costume-carrier was a little more sportsmanlike: Ted admitted that diversity was welcomed in the competition. “It takes all kinds to make up the pot,” Ted said after being crowned Carnival King for the second time since he began participating.

Remember Tan-Tan and Saga Boy in 1990? Sixteen-to-20-foot tall puppets wining on stage and Tan-Tan run away with the Carnival Queen crown. People did vex then that the Carnival King and Queen people (who does produce this show?) let Saga Boy come on stage as part of Tan-Tan's walk (and wine) after he break up in the semis and was out the running for King.

Two things happen following that win. I decided that if I ever play mas, it would be in a Minshall band so I could experience some real mas. The next thing was Mr. Man get a work with the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Oh. One more: Janet Jackson totally tief him in her Escapade video. Google it. About a minute, 37 seconds in.

But, world acclaim aside, for me, Minshall's creation was a small slice of heaven. And there was actually something behind it. Sometimes you listen to the commentators tells the designer's "story" and you wonder what the fucking fuck? That float is supposed to represent what? Em... I not so sure that all that ribbon really mean what he thinks it mean. Worse for that actual band. I not so sure you should tout your bikini costume with beads and a feather headdress as having some kind of deeper meaning. It is what it is. A bikini costume with beads and a feather headdress. With maybe a staff in case you can't find somebody to wine on for a hot second. And, face it. You paying all that money not for the bikini costume with beads and a feather headdress, but the accompanying rum, pelau, and a place to pee.

I am still close enough to the generation that came before the bikini mas. Don't get me wrong. I love the bikini mas. I love watching up a hot woman wine up on a man. Or a staff. I love the collection of beads and color and jumping up on stage from the comfort of my bed. I love the next-day pix by the lech photo-take-outers who get to go up on stage and get a free wine. But Trinidad Carnival didn't always used to be like that. All the ole mas had a story and it getting hard to find. George John did a Midnight Robber for me and I died dead. Minshall did pretty mas but told a story with the design. And it was always stunning. And inventive. And unique. And real mas, by any definition that doesn't involve a bikini wax. And maybe Mr. Eustace is younger than me and just don't know that.

Maybe he also doesn't know when I Googled "Marcus Eustace Psychedelic Nightmares" I can't find a pix of his costume. What I did find was this: If veteran mas-maker Peter Minshall enters the Carnival King competition with a costume comprising only “two crocus bags”, the crowd would applaud simply because of the legacy he has built. And it is because of this nostalgia that people have they are not willing to accept the fact that Minshall’s presentation this year is not worthy of a third place finish in the King of Carnival competition. That is Eustace defending his earlier comments.

And what does Minsh have to say? Well, Judy Raymond has begun to tease her interview with Peter Minshall in tomorrow's Express. Thank goodness the paper is online, sad as the design and surf experience is. Once they don't cut off the woman's words or cock up the upload, is me, a cuppa, Judy, and Minsh tomorrow morning. I bet anything she sit back and just let the man talk, the most effective way to interview a Trinidadian in my book. I have a book because I interviewed plenty artsy people when I was at the Guardian, so I am actually not talking out my ass. And I like reading anything Judy writes, so win for me.

Second post: Saturday, February 6, 2016 

So I write all that blather [above] about The Dying Swan - Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova. A Mas by Peter Minshall and Jha-Whan Thomas. And I send it to THW. If you cannot remember, THW is The Hot Woman.
I love that woman to the back of beyond. She not on FB so I email her the post and she What's Apps me to give me the down low on what SHE did with this costume. I. DIE. DEAD.

She is my ride or die. She was so intimately involved with this mas and I want to tell everybody that I am exactly once removed from it and I found out after I wrote that post which took 2 days of writing in my head before I actually began to type it. Mightn't mean much much to you but she would know.

She have a friend in the Trini sense of the word and he practically single-handedly raised the money to build the mas. That is no easy feat in a country that produces great artists but won't help produce the great art. THW tells me how she "clean that damn swan by myself on hands and knees." Nice nice.

So there you have it. My love and her friend were part of a very tiny handful of people (it had 2 other women and 2 fellas in actual production and another fella who sew all the feathers) who brought The Dying Swan - Ras Nijinsky in drag as Pavlova a Mas by Peter Minshall and Jha-Whan Thomas to life. Is like it was me!

Third post: Sunday, February 7, 2016 

A very nice lady made it possible for me to read Judy Raymond's stories in today's Express. I am so glad I wrote and posted my bit yesterday before I read Judy's because people go say how I tief she. And, let me tell you, I would take that as an effing complement.

She answered a few questions I had. I couldn't figure out if Minsh had a band this year. Turns out, no. He designed Ras Nijinsky as a king for another band, which is amazing in itself. She also told me that the stilts were carved into ballet shoes en pointe. She also elicited great detail from Minsh about the production of the costume. From that interview, Judy's own account of seeing the King come together - a delightful read by itself - and THW's inside info, it really is like I was there.

I could see why Marcus Eustace vex, though. No one wrote tenderly about the backstage experience of his king the way Judy wrote about the 3rd place contestant. No one examined the way his king got into a character the way she described how Ja-Whan Thomas did. No one put him in his place the way this lovely paragraph did: Thomas is the third king to step out under the lights, after great wheeled contraptions that the masqueraders can barely drag into laboured motion. Where they were earthbound, this is a creature whose element is air. Thomas is a man transformed. This woman really has an evocative way with the word.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jury duty in NYC

So last year, I got called for jury duty. The Commission felt that because we were so understaffed and my boss was on maternity leave, I should postpone it.I get a one-time postponement for 90 days, so I did, for March 30 this year.

Bright and early Monday morning, I show up. I've been boasting about my Secure Pass since the day I got it. I love that thing. I can get into any court in the city without going through security and it is a Godsend. Especially when everyone is trying to get into the building at 111 Centre Street for 9 a.m. I just waltzed right in. Love it!

The night before, I called, as per the jury summons, to find out where I'm supposed to go. I find out that I can be there for at least 2 days. Wtf? Where did it say that on the summons? Nowhere, that's where! More about that to come.

At exactly 9a.m., the court officer opens the doors to this enormous room that could easily seat 300 people. There are 3 overflow rooms as well. It was a bit weird. I went right up in front, saw a plug, sat down and prepared to read for the day.

The court officer then announces who should leave the room: people in the wrong county had to leave; anyone who had a felony conviction cannot serve; anyone who was a student and was missing class to be there, and anyone who couldn't fully commit to serve for TWO FULL DAYS,  POSSIBLY THREE, had to go over to 60 Centre to reschedule. We would have to sit there for 2 days. TWO days! Did I mention we're understaffed at work?

I decided to stay. There was never going to be a good time for jury service and at least the work peeps were prepared for this week, in case I got picked for a case. I didn't want to reschedule for 90 days because I knew how things were at work this week, not 12 weeks from now. And after 2 days, I was done for 6 years. And I really doubted anyone in his right mind would pick an attorney to decide his case.

After some form filling, the court officer came back to announce that by being there we were committing to the minimum 2 days or the duration of a trial. She said a civil trial is normally 7-8 business days and a criminal trial normally 3-4 business days. I didn't think much of it because I was convinced that no one would want an attorney on a jury. Who would want some uppity Mrs. Know-it-all trying to influence other jurors by possibly misinterpreting the law? Not I, said me.

Then she called out about 40 names, and I was one. We were escorted from the 3rd floor to the 12th floor, Part 1234, a criminal court. I barely read a page of my book. It wasn't even 10 a.m.

We were escorted into the courtroom. The defendant was charged with attempted robbery in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. The judge read the indictment and told us that she expected we'd be there all of Tuesday to hear the case and deliberate on Wednesday. Should it go longer, we wouldn't be back until Monday, April 6, as she had no court on Thursdays and Friday was Passover and Good Friday. The court clerk then called 18 names, and I was one.

Ooookkkkkk. As soon as I say I'm an attorney, and one who works for the city, the defense counsel would kick me out. She'd have to be crazy to pick me. I wasn't looking forward to heading back to the panel room to sit there for another 2 days, but I had a book, access to my email, and there was a vending machine. It could be worse.

Then the voir dire. We were given a list of about 15 questions: are you native New Yorker; what do you do; where do you work; what does your spouse/partner do; do you have kids; have you ever been in conflict or had negative experiences with a cop or know anyone who did; have you had any experience involving the NYPD or did someone close to you have one, whether as a victim, perp, or eyewitness; and what do you do in your spare time?

They didn't seem invasive, but they really were. Of the 18 people there, 15 of us had either been a victim of a violent crime or had a spouse/parent/child who did. I was the only person who had my situation resolved: a homeless man hit Derek on the street 8 years ago. He was arrested within minutes and eventually given 6 months plus time served. No one else got that kind of closure. Nearly all of them, except mine and 2 involving spousal abuse, were robberies with the threat of violence.

People were pretty brutally honest. It wasn't just the 18 of us plus the court (judge, clerk, lawyers) in the room. The rest of the pool that was initially called was still sitting there.

At first I thought we'd never get past the first seat. The judge excused the first person who felt she couldn't be impartial because she was the victim of a crime that was never resolved, and the second person who felt he couldn't put aside his and his friends' experiences with the cops to be fair. Finally, a dude got in the seat and we could move on to seat 2.

By the time they got to me, things were going smoothly as we knew what the judge was looking for in the answers. I had to recount Derek's incident, of which I was an eyewitness. I told them what I did and where I did it and how it involved the NYPD. Right. I going home. The attorneys asked some questions that could easily have not been asked. Can you find someone guilty of weapons possession if there was no weapon recovered? Things like that. They were just generally directed at the jury and no probing of the questions we answered was done.

When the voir dire was done, the room was asked to step outside for 10 minutes, and when we were called back in, they asked the 18 of us to go back into the jury box. The clerk said that if we heard our name called, to remain seated because that meant you got picked. They called 14 names, and I was one.


Oh dear. This was not supposed to happen. Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney looked pretty pleased with themselves, as if each picked the best jury ev-ah. But, there we were - 12 jurors and 2 alternates. Of the 12, there were 4 men and 8 women, and the alternates were a man and woman. We were sworn in and then ushered into the jury room to sign some stuff and be told not to talk about the case.

It was pretty surreal. And exciting. Work was pretty decent about the whole thing, and no one expected it to run more than 2 days.

So, Tuesday morning, we show up for 10 a.m. Well... 13 of us do. After waiting an hour, we all began to wonder aloud why we're still outside the courtroom. Maybe they're going to settle and we can go home. Maybe the defendant hadn't arrived as yet. Half hour later, we're told that we're waiting on a juror. WHAT? There are 2 alternates. Kick her off and pick one of them and let's get this show on the road!

Finally, at 11:40, we get called in. The judge is livid with the juror who kept us waiting and really reamed her out. She made her apologize to the room and told her that if she was even 5 minutes late for the duration of the case, she would be cited for contempt of court. Yikes!

So we finally start. The prosecution and defense make opening arguments and the prosecutor calls the victim, goes through the event, walks him through his 911 call and the video surveillance from the store. He was the manager of a store in SoHo. The defendant came in minutes after he opened the doors, walked around the store, threatened the manager, showed him a knife, told him he was going take merchandise, and tried to shove the manager to the back of the store. The phone rang and the manager instinctively went for it, the D cut him off and put the phone in his pocket. It stopped ringing and then immediately started again and the manager told the D that it was his corporate security calling to see if he opened and if he didn't answer it, they would call 911 immediately. The D tossed him the phone and ran out. The manager called 911, cops came within minutes, got a description, and picked up the D a couple of blocks away.

We break for lunch and then 3 cops testified to pretty much the same thing. It was just overkill. The defense attorney cross-examined the manager, but couldn't shake his story one bit. She looked unprepared and defeated. I'm sorry to say, it was pretty pathetic. The jury notices bad lawyering. If you're not convinced your client is innocent, how in hell are you supposed to make 12 strangers believe it?

The prosecutor was very prepared and thought quickly on her feet. I think 3 cops saying the same thing was a bit much but she wanted to put on 4, so I was grateful that we were spared. The defense attorney stared at her papers for so long between questions and took longhand notes whenever the manager answered a question, it was getting tough not to roll my eyes.

Today, Wednesday, the prosecution chose not to kill us with cop testimony and didn't put on the 4th officer, and rested. The defense did not call any witnesses. Defense made the first closing argument and put forward the dumbest alternate theory on the planet: it didn't happen. The manager lied. Um... as my cat says, what now?

The prosecutor shot that puppy down asap. Then we were re-read the charges, given jury instructions, and read the definitions and elements of the crimes.

Jury instructions are pretty much what you see on tv: defense doesn't have to put on a case; the burden is on the people all the time; verdict has to be beyond a reasonable doubt but not all doubt or to a mathematical certainty; cop testimony is not given more weight; judge's questions not to be given more weight; verdict must be unanimous.

The best bit was the description of the crimes and the elements the people had to prove. The prosecutor had to prove intent to commit robbery using a dangerous instrument for the first charge, and possession, knowledge, and intent to use the dangerous instrument for the second. Then 12 of us were sent off to deliberate and the two alternates were excused.

Our seats were chosen at random, so the man who got seat 1 was the default foreman. He seemed surprised. I guess we all thought we'd vote or something but it made sense for a day-long trial not to have to go through that, especially since it could be a lengthy process as we'd have to get to know one another a bit. The court officer escorted us into the tiny jury room, took our cell phones, and told us that we had to deliberate all together. If one if us went to the (en suite) bathroom or an officer stepped into the room, we had to cease deliberation.

So we took a straw poll and only one person thought he was not guilty on the attempted robbery and another was unsure. However, the split was bigger for the criminal possession of a weapon. I asked if we could get the elements read back to us because I wasn't sure the people made the case that the D intended to use the knife. Most people agreed with me: 7 not guilty, 4 voted guilty, and me unsure.

So the foreman made a list of the evidence we wanted to review. While no one actually believed the defense's alternate theory, she did raise a question in our minds about who was shoving whom on the tape. So we asked to see the video, hear the 911 call (again, just to hear the manager - the defense said that he fought with the D and called the police ... well, she never said exactly why he called the police), and have the descriptions and elements read back to us. We had to go back out to the jury box for that. As we walked back into the jury room, a court officer told us that they were working on getting water for us.

We started on the first charge. The unsure changed her vote after we came back in, so we just had to work on the 1 guy who didn't believe the manager and thought the D didn't come to rob the store. Here's where having a lawyer on the jury is debatable. I was constantly asking him, whenever someone raised a point in support of guilty, if he changed his mind. At first, he refused. He simply refused to even think about what the others were saying. And they were saying good stuff.

So I summed up all their arguments: the manager's testimony was credible and consistent, even where he made a mistake, he was consistent. The defense didn't shake him. The defense had the opportunity to raise her idiotic theory on cross and did not. The guy was clearly shaken during the 911 call. He forgot his address and almost gave the operator his cell number. He stammered and had to slow down. A cop testified that he was clearly shaking and sweaty. He also had no reason to lie. He was as disinterested as they come. He called 911 seconds after the D left the store, gave a description, and immediately showed the cops the video which corroborated the description.

But convincing him the manager was credible wasn't enough. So we went to work on whether the D had intent to rob. Man, those people were just great. It wasn't so much that we wore him down, but he seemed genuinely convinced by the reasoning. Again, Mrs. Esquire with the articulation. The D came into the store and moved to the most expensive merchandise; he called the manager over to him because the manager was always close to the door and by calling him closer, the D could control him; the situation was clearly unplanned and not going the way the D thought it would; the phone ringing really threw him, especially when the manager said it would be corporate security; and there was enough on the video to corroborate the manager's testimony. Plus, the D had come to the store before the manager had opened it. The manager was running late that morning, so the store was not open at 9 a.m. as usual, even though he was inside. He saw the D come to the door and try to open it, and leave after realizing it was locked. The D came back 20 minutes later. And the video showed that.

So, the holdout was convinced. 12 votes for guilty of attempted robbery in the first degree. On to the 2nd charge.

I changed my vote from unsure to not guilty. I said I wasn't convinced that the D intended to use the knife. I believed the manager that there was a knife and he saw it, but I didn't believe the D intended to use it. I said that I thought he felt he could strong arm the manager with threats (to break his jaw) and when the manager didn't believe him, the D showed him the knife to be more convincing. He took out a folding knife from his sweatshirt pocket, with the blade still inside, and when the manager put his hands up and took a step back saying that the merchandise was not worth his life, the D put the knife back in his pocket. He never took it out again. At some point, he chucked the knife in a sewer or garbage can and it was never found.

Two of the 3 guilty votes changed to not guilty after I made that little speech. The remaining holdout said she had doubts but she felt that he would have used the knife. The foreman asked her if she had equal doubt because if she did or had more doubt about him not using it, then she had to go with not guilty. She admitted that she had more doubts after hearing what the rest had to say and changed her vote.

The foreman recorded it and sent to the judge. And we finally got to chat. I said that it was very collegial and not at all like "12 Angry Men" and everyone laughed and someone said that was also about "where's the knife?" We all speculated on whether the defense would poll the jury, and if we'd have to go back to the panel room or not. We talked about the defense lawyer and they asked me what I thought. It was also unanimous that she really did a poor job of defending that guy, especially with such a well-prepared prosecutor. She did not have to put on a defense, but the prosecutor met her burden with the robbery charge that really hinged on the manager's testimony. When the defense cross-examined him, that was her only opportunity to advocate for her client and it was like watching paint dry. She was very lucky that we genuinely didn't believe the D intended to use the knife, because the prosecutor made a strong case for intent to use. Just not beyond a reasonable doubt.

Then we got called into the jury box and the clerk asked the foreman for the verdicts. Then the defense asked to poll the jury, which was just embarrassing. We were thanked and escorted out to a different elevator than the one the public uses and were told to go home. Yay!

So that's me for 6 years. I was very happy to do my civic duty and I think we were a very smart and fair jury. No personality clashes, no one made anyone roll her eyes at dumb comments, no one just wanted to get out of there, or just be contrary. Really a great experience with intelligent folks.

But we never got that water.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I does miss dem bad bad

Quentin, boy, I wish you was there last night so we coulda brace Mr. Walcott and tell him you was Ismond's favorite. Kayrein, girl, I did miss all yuh bad bad last night. I think about Pat and how she did talk about Walcott like she siddong right dere next to the man while he writing. I could still hear she say "Maria Concepcion" in that way she had. St Lucians living in and loving Trinidad.

I wish I coulda tell him about dis Indian chick who thought she was Shabine and she red fren buss out a stupid-ass laugh. I coulda taste the Doshman curry and feel Skinny head on my shoulder telling me how she still hungry even though she pack 2 pot spoonful a rice and peas for she lunch. I did know den I was happy.

But, wha ha' happen was...

Last night (4/9/14), John and I went to see and hear Derek Walcott read his own work at the 92nd Street Y. There was zero information about the program itself so it is only when we got there that we found out who would be introducing him and reading with him. Some Brit poet whose name I cannot remember and never heard of, who say he was a student of Walcott at Boston University in the early 80s, did the introduction. He and Caryl "Caz" Phillips read with Walcott.

I met Caz Phillips in the late 90s, I think. Time plays funny tricks with me these days. It was definitely after 1996, when I graduated, and before "The Mystic Masseur" came out in 2001. Anyhoo, the point is that he was adapting Naipaul's novel for the big screen. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala had been first touted to write the screenplay. Merchant-Ivory Productions was behind the flick, and had worked with Jhabvala through 3 Academy Award Nominations and 2 wins, including "Howards End," one my favorite movies.

But, I digress. Back to Bom.

So Ruth (cuz we is pardners now, ent?) felt she couldn't do the screenplay justice and suggested Caz because he from St Kitts and know Trinidad and whatnot. At the time, I was working full time at the Guardian and part-time with the Prof. Prof convinced me to take a day off work to go on what essentially became a lime by car.

By whatever machinations that make these things happen, Caz and Ismail Merchant came to Prof's house and he was to take them on a little road trip so Merchant could scout for locations to shoot the movie. I nearly die dead when I realize it is Ismail Merchant. I nearly die deader when I laid eyes on Caz. How I kept it in my pants was only out of respect for the Prof, who already thought I was a 'ho!

So, the 3 a we jump in the Prof's car and head into Central, where we stop at the worst hole in the wall bar and drink what was possibly the best Shandy of my life. I was having a quasi beer with Ismail Merchant and this incredibly hot man!!! I did not know what to do with myself, I tell you. We spent the day driving all over the place and even went down to La Brea to see the pitch lake, which was the first and onliest time I ever see it. It was breathtaking.

All of this flooded back as soon as read in the program that Caryl Phillips would be introducing Derek Walcott. I wanted to find a way to talk to him, to remind him of one of the best days of my life, an unforgettable experience for a chick like me. I had not actually thought about that day in any kind of serious way since Merchant passed away in May 2005. I was preparing to move to NY, so he didn't get that much play. I did grieve for a man I met, so full of life and film and everything. 

But yesterday, so much more came back. Before law school, the three best years of my life were the ones I spent at UWI. I made great friends and met amazing people and developed a lifelong love for West Indian literature, particularly Naipaul, Sevlon, and Walcott. Even poetry, my nemesis. I wasn't a lover but I took every single poetry class the faculty had on offer to try to kick it. I think it worked. A little. I discovered Mikey Smith, Martin Carter, and practically all of "Voiceprint!"

So this Brit tells some funny stories about being a lazy git and being lured to BU because they "had Derek Walcott." He said he didn't know who that was so he went to the library and got a book and that was the end of that.

He introduced Walcott and my heart broke to see Caz push him out in a wheelchair. That was quite a blow. He is not a l'il fella! He looked so frail and he shook. But, as John pointed out, when he began to read, he was so strong and fierce.

He read "The Schooner Flight," one of my favorites. It tells the story of Shabine, who becomes tired of Trinidad because it is becoming corrupt, so he leaves on a schooner to see if he can recover from his disillusionment. Walcott said that the committed a little "thievery" by fashioning the opening lines of "Flight" from the opening lines of William Langland's medieval poem,"Piers Plowman." 

That little confession took me back to Dr. Patricia Ismond's class at UWI. I think she did the Walcott portion of a class I was taking with Dr. Gordon Rohlehr, on three major West Indian poets. I never forgot that she said that Walcott used the language of the colonial masters, almost mimicking them and abandoning the Creole, to craft his own work about Caribbean struggles. And he take real pong for dat!

But I didn't intend this to be an essay on Walcott's poetry. It's just that seeing him last night brought back so much that I am not sure I have room to feel all of it. He read more of his work, and Caz and the Brit did too. It was funny to hear the Brit say "macauel" and "kaiso." I wanted to run up on the stage and say, "Let me read one, nah man!"

I did really want meh UWI posse to be dere with me. I wanted we to go up to de man and tell him how we know Gordon and Pat and Ken and they helped we to see de place for what it was. Is. Is not like anything change since 1993, or 1973, or 1953. Ah did just want dem to be dere with me. Is 20 years now we leave de people university but it just take reading one man name on a piece a paper to bring it back like we did never leave. Like I is still 20, with legs up to meh throat in the blue short pants. Like Quentin's pelau, and Kayrein's fried chicken, and the curry I does still dream about. And my tiny Indian Shabine, who does love me like I love she.

We discovered something together and I wanted us to see it again, 20 years later, so we could go in a bar and drink some beers and talk about what we used to talk about. I can't re-discover Walcott, or Naipaul, or Carter, but I could re-live when I did, with the people who were right there with me.

I wish dey was dere.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Meeting the Mayor at Gracie Mansion

On December 18, I got an invite to meet the new NYC Mayor an an open house event at Gracie Mansion, where he will reside during his term. A couple of days before that I read about that event and that tickets would be on a first-come, first-serve basis. I never do well with things like that, so although I really wanted to go, I ruled it out immediately. Getting that email was so exciting. It's like the universe new! All I could think of as to why I got it was because I was on his mailing  list as a campaign worker.

To be fair, I did very little. I made some phone calls and talked to some people. What I got out of that was a real sense of the man and his City experience. I do not deny, either, that his family had something to do with it. Even in this day and age, being in a mixed-race family is not easy. I loved that Derek can see it from the White House and in his own back yard.

So I wasn't about to look this gift horse in the mouth. I hoped it would be a networking kind of thing, so I secured 3 tickets, as Derek was supposed to get in without one, for me, John, and my friend Jess. I worked with Jess at the Waterfront Commission and we just hit it off first day. I've always counted myself as lucky when I make a friend at first sight. I've been very fortunate in my female friends and Jess is no exception.

Perhaps I should have taken a fellow NYLS alum (Jess went to Brooklyn Law), but she and I had dinner 2 days before and she reminded me she went to Wellesley College, where Chirlane McCray, aka Mrs. Mayor, also went. Again, it felt like the universe was lining stuff up, so I asked her if she wanted to go with us. She was kinda meh.... JK!!!!!!! She lost her mind! And said yes. She's a big fan of Mrs. Mayor and she works for the City. What could be better!?

Sunday, January 5, dawned, chilly and rainy. We met up for 11am to wait for doors to open at noon. Smartest idea I ever had was to get there early. There were people in front of us and I don't even want to know what time THEY got there. Brrr. But I discovered later that 5,000 people showed up. We were definitely in the first 100. Whew!

The cold and rain wasn't the worst it could have been and for that I am grateful. However, none of us prepared our feet as well as we could have. I have never experienced such toe agony in my life! I was wearing stocking and fairly thick socks, but I wanted to die! Moving my toes around just made it worse, especially my left foot, for some reason.

There was a little ticket drama that got sorted reasonably quickly. We stood out in the cold for about 90 minutes before we got inside the mansion proper. It is a lovely place. I read one person say that it doesn't seem like the kind of place a family can really put their feet up. I have to say from what I saw, I agree. But we only saw a few rooms. We did see the dining room and it was a rather severe place for a close family to really enjoy themselves over a meal. Eight bathrooms sound lovely, but I don't really the de Blasios.

By the time we got to the room just before meeting the Mayor, aides were practically shouting at us to take our coats off for pictures. John had offered to hold all our coats as he wasn't getting his picture taken, but aides seemed to lose their minds when they saw him. It's like no one prepared for someone actually deciding not to pose with the Mayor! It was kinda funny. They had him actually cross in front of de Blasio when the 4 of us were in the picture-taking room. I have no idea why they did not direct him to go behind the photographer and gathered media, which could have been done. If anyone even suggests that there was a guy that was so rude to cross in front of the Mayor I will personally hunt them down and slap them up. He had no choice and he didn't care and he didn't have to. He had even offered to step away from the roped off area, which also would have been fine. Protocol is weird sometimes.

So here's why I think I got to be the media sensation! A few minutes before, de Blasio made a short statement to the press in the room and took the closest guy in the line to stand with him and be interviewed. Said dude was a white architect from Manhattan and had actually visited the mansion before. Not the best use of a photo op!

Brown pride served me well yesterday! I may not have been able to use the event as a networking tool, but I still made an impression! This article has the best summary of what happened with me and Derek  and is pretty accurate. What it left out was easily the best moment of my little time with de Blasio. I said I work for the City and am volunteering because I don't actually have a paying job. I gave the Mayor a sweet side-eye and he laughed, along with everyone else.

A really nice bit came just before I said that. Someone asked me what I'm doing and I said I just graduated law school (I already said I was 39). I was just about to say I went to NYLS and passed the summer Bar when the Mayor and everyone in the room began to cheer and applaud. I almost died dead!

I was so glad I was able to get a photo on my own and then with Derek. When I said I saw this as a once in a lifetime sort of thing and I brought my 11-year-old because he's old enough to remember this, de Blasio made Derek come over and chatted with him. Derek answered reporters' questions so confidently and loudly, it was adorable. He even got to tell them he went to Harlem Academy.

To say I was elated by the whole experience is the understatement of the last 6 days of the year!!! People said they felt rushed but I did not. De Blasio put his arm around me and he did not let go until he was done. It was endearing. And he is one tall man. Derek had told John that he didn't want to take a picture alone with the Mayor because he is so tall. He was happy he got to be in the pix with me and not have to stand by himself. I can understand that. The man is huge!

Jess even got a chance to chat with him a little. She told him about the Wellesley connection and to give Mrs. Mayor her regards. He actually asked her for a business card, which sadly none of us had. Both Jess and I got held up by the press after our chats to talk more: how long did we wait? we were cold? how do we spell our names? We both got to give our jobs a little shout-out and that was nice. Never hurts. Jess even told them that she and I met interning at the Waterfront Commission.

So, contrary to the majority of news reports, the cold wasn't so bad, except for toes, we saw a bit of the mansion, had a highlight of an experience with the Mayor, who chatted us up, and no one shoved us along. Normally, I get terrible anxiety about doing things like this, but not this time. A new Mayor in my new home was to good of an opportunity to let slip by and I am so glad I got to share it with Derek and my wonderful woman friend, Jess.