My Problem With Jury Duty

I was recently called to jury duty at a Federal Court in Los Angeles. Because it is a Federal Court for the Southern California District, I would have had to go to downtown Los Angeles to serve -- a distance of over ten miles. As I was without a car at the time, that would have required me getting up very early – I was expected to report at 7.45 am—and traveling in the dark by two busses and a subway. I’ve attended jury selection before in my area, and because there is a State Court in downtown Beverly Hills, a short distance from where I live, easily walked to from where I live, this had never been a problem before. However that would not be a solution this time.

As the weeks toward my proposed service neared, I found myself becoming more and more annoyed. I could, if needed, solve that car problem. I could even bear to take that public transportation and since I’m a senior, complain about the four hour travel time if I was selected and see what happened.

So no, that wasn’t the problem. That wasn’t what was getting me riled up. But something was, and every time I thought about it, I became angrier and angrier. This was very much unlike me: I’m an easy going guy; perhaps too much so for my own good. So what was going on?

Then I happened to read an op-ed piece in the LA. Times. It was about Global Warming, but it began with the writer speaking about her stint at jury duty and how simple that had been because, unlike the many complexities of Global Warming, she and the other jurors had been given a clear cut rule on what the law was they would have to apply to their case by a judge.

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Visiting My Papers at Yale

Two summers ago I was in New England again, attending a literary conference at The University of Rhode Island, and then doing readings up and down the East Coast for my newest book. Since my rented car would take me right past New Haven, I decided to stop into the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University to look at my papers.

At my age, one begins thinking about collecting what one has carelessly left lying around for decades: at summer cottages, in notebooks, presented to old boyfriends, in hard drives all over the world. I know there are stories, reviews, essays, and poems, out there somewhere. I thought maybe someday someone would say, Hey Felice, what about a Collected Poetry? I’d only published two books of poems, The Deformity Lover, and Window Elegies, a chapbook. Another hundred had appeared in print since then, the last being “His Diagnosis” about my friend, Robert Ferro. After that, poetry was no longer possible for me. But there were earlier poems, many I’d left unfinished, hanging. They were inside spiral metal notebooks with chartreuse covers, and those notebooks were at Yale.

Just to clarify, I didn’t go to Yale; my papers went there. I was barely sixteen when I graduated high school. My folks made it clear I wasn’t going away anywhere and in fact that I was staying home and working for my father. Unknown to them, my college counselor had applied me to The City University of New York, and I’d gotten past the rigorous requirements and into Queens College, a free school; I’d even gotten a small scholarship. So that’s where I went. I moved to Alphabet City among immigrants and cockroaches, junkies and thieves, and I went to college taking two trains and a bus each way.

 However thanks to scholars George Stambolian, Jonathan Katz and John Boswell, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which collects American Writing Groups like the Transcendentalists and Gertrude Stein’s Paris circle, collected the works of the Violet Quill Club, the writing group being honored tonight.

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Night Visions

Introduction to the photo-collection, Night Visions, published by Bruno Gmuender Press.

Like the poet Robert Frost, I am one who has been acquainted with the night. Acquainted only, because who can understand never mind thoroughly catalogue the many moods and atmospheres, delusions and chilled delights, imprecisions and peculiar visions unique to those hours when most folk are safely abed and it becomes greatly unclear who’s haunting who, the quick or the dead.

For many years, I would polish off most of my prose late at night, after tea, certainly, and when possessed and unable to tear myself from my notebook or computer screen, long, long hours after dinner. In the unceasing noise of cities especially, a sort of surcease from incessant sound would descend with the persistent softness of those halos of humidity around streetlights, once midnight had imperceptibly passed. At times it might even approach the effervescence of a sigh. I would rise and throw on outerwear, my mind now pleasantly vacated, and I would seek the loneliness of soaked sidewalks, the interminable tarmac of avenues, the fleetingness of glimpsed bridges: looped lines of steel filigreed frosting upon the never quite ebony, electrically illuminated, shadows high in the sky.

Other people arrived within that encrusted private-life I conspired to make alongside night with the suddenness of strayed asteroids. A limousine might speed to a curb and stop to disgorge revelers, masqued, in tuxedos and brilliants, the laughter even more hollow for the echoes of iron side-walls. Or, a doorway would smash open upon stucco and a couple tumble out onto a lintel, limp with used gaiety, Courvoisier, cheap “blow,” and sidle slowly into a hiccoughing heap of torn clothing. Once a cobalt sedan shuddered to a halt at the cruisiest pier on the Hudson near dawn, myself hidden from the driver’s view; he sat, nothing but silhouette, erratically reddened by the tip of a sucked-in cigarette. Ten minutes later, his back door creaked ajar, then quietly shut, and the Ciera crept off, leaving behind the gift of a silver clad corpse. One rhinestone shined pump, spot-lit upon the embankment, slowly spun on a toe.

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Other Essays

Other Recent Essays by Felice Picano
Available for publication upon request

 

Another Berlin Story

Similar to autobiographical essays in True Stories
     appx 3300 words

 

History is Memoir/Memoir is History

For the 2011 Saints & Sinners Festival
     appx 3800 words

 

Introduction to Looking Glass Lives

Inadvertently left out of the 2010 Bold Stroke Press reprint
     appx 2800 words

The Marchioness

Miss Harriet B. Elder
The Daily Mail & Times
Ulvertston, England

December 5th, 189-

Dear Miss Elder,

You called upon me yesterday eve with the news that my father-in- law, the former Earl of Ravenglass, had arrived at a peaceful end, at long last, in the prison chamber where he was kept for the past seven years. You asked if I might be able to add to the obituary of this former Lord of the British Exchequer and low-fallen great man for your readers by giving some personal anecdote or other that might serve to make him more sympathetic. I find that I am not able to do so without further tarnishing his name, but upon reflection I recalled –indeed I had never forgotten and had written down in my girlhood diary – an incident regarding his wife, when she was Marchioness, from some years ago that you might find revealing.

It was in the year 184- and my Aunt Blassage from Lancaster, visited my family in the rectory here, upon the Ravenglass Manor estate. After she had gone, she left my mother as a gift, a lovely lacework collar, made in the Isle of Man, where Aunt had recently journeyed. My mother declared it beautiful if a great waste of money. She went out insufficiently to wear it, and anyway a Vicar’s wife, as Aunt B. should well know, oughtn’t to display such Vanities upon her Person.

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