Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lucky Juror Number 13

Salvatore Vuono
Jury Duty! How Fun!

Recently, I was able to see our legal system at work. And I’m not talking about having to write a big fat check for a speeding ticket from Wisconsin. Not that I have ever had one.
No, I got a juror questionnaire in the mail. Hot damn! I filled it out immediately, sent it in, and waited anxiously. Approximately 4 seconds later, the county called me for jury duty. So fast! I marveled. All the other juror prospects must be either rearranging their sock drawers or washing their hair. Well, they wouldn’t know what they were missing. I felt so lucky and excited and chosen. My husband just gave me funny looks.

The day of my new legal career dawned bright and sunny. I had a whole extra half hour that morning, so that was exciting. I dallied around the house, petting the dog, drinking extra coffee to get my brain ready for all the legal puzzles I would surely be solving, and lining up an extra word find book in case I finished the first one, what with all that delicious free time.

After I reached the downtown area, I realized a much smarter way of using that half hour would have been to spend it looking for a parking spot, as it seemed every citizen in town--and a couple hundred from out of town--had business down at the courthouse.

If the parking deck was any indication, I estimated that there must have been approximately 700 people who had been called for jury duty that same Tuesday who actually showed up. I ended up parking somewhere in south Detroit.

We were all crammed into a area the size of a fitting room at a department store, except it was a little smaller and didn’t have mirrors. There were, however, some televisions, and we got to watch a stimulating movie about the justice system. I took meticulous notes until I saw I was the only nerd doing so.

However, I was excited because a) there was free coffee, b) I knew that I would get a big whopping check for $13 and daydreamed of how I would spend it and c) I got to do some serious people watching. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I got in enough people watching to last me a very long time, which means that I wouldn’t have to travel to Wal-Mart to get my fix.

After a couple of hours of swilling free coffee and getting lost find the ladies’, my name was called and I was taken with about 50 other people into a courtroom for possible inclusion as a juror in a criminal case. Name after name was called and once they had questioned and accepted 12 jurors, I was smugly packing up my books and magazines, cerain that I would be excused. I would go home to go online and spend my $13 on Amazon.
It was not to be. Would that I had this sort of luck in the lottery! In a room with approximately 35 other prospective jurors, guess whose name got called next. As an ALTERNATE. Not even a real juror, but an ALTERNATE, lucky juror number 13.

The jury questioning was very interesting. Here’s a sample of what they asked the REAL jurors:

Lawyer: What is your name? Where do you live? What’s the biggest problem facing this area? Are you related to any law enforcement people? Do you have pets? Are you a citizen of the United Sates? Can you breathe on your own? Are you human?

Here’s a sample of what they asked ME:

Lawyer: What is your name? How many hours do you sleep at night? Ever had a charley horse? Do you believe in aliens? Ever flush a goldfish? Are you regular? Do you suffer from tennis elbow? What is your favorite color? 
Of course, I drew the line at that last one. Even I have my dignity and the whole color issue…well, that was just WAY too personal.

For those of you who don’t know, the alternate juror is like the pale, skinny kid in gym class who gets picked last for basketball or softball. It’s the punishment juror. You are forced to stay in the courtroom all day long, listen to all the same testimony as the actual jurors, take the same breaks and yawning the same yawns, but when the state and the defense have both rested and if the jury of twelve is ready, willing, and able to go into the jury room and begin the REAL jury work, YOU would go home.

Today, the 12 real jurors were all ready, willing, and able to deliberate. To make matters worse, now after listening to all that testimony and forming opinions, I was not even able to find out who they were going to vote off the island, because I was DISMISSED. Like an attorney’s used Kleenex or a judge’s broken shoelace.

At any rate, after being thanked profusely by the court, I was excused and free to go. I was given two days’ worth of jury pay, minus the cost of the paper used to print the check.
However, I was gifted with a lovely certificate, suitable for framing, congratulating me on serving. My eyes filled with tears as I swear I heard the song God Bless America. I was so honored that it took some of the sting out of the fact that I wasn’t even able to find out if the defendant was guilty or not guilty.

Never one to let things go, however, I found out through some tricky internet sleuthing that the jury ended up voting exactly the way I would have…not guilty.

John Grisham would have been proud.

(originally printed here:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cold Sores and Dry Shampoo

It began innocently enough.  A minor itch.  A slight twinge.  A little tingle.  I started to fret.  But maybe it wouldn’t happen this time.  After all, I had gotten through other bouts of illness without developing one—maybe this would be one of those times.  
Dream on. 
It was not to be.  At work, I felt the no-mistaking-it tingle heralding the new arrival, and a look in my compact mirror confirmed what I already knew:  I was witnessing the birth of the world’s worst cold sore.  
Fever Blister.  Herpes simplex.  It all sounds different to the ear but in the end, they are all the same—a gigantic cootie cluster on my lower lip, half an inch from dead center.
Maybe it wasn’t so much a birth as a coming home, however.  After all, the only place I ever, ever get cold sores is in that very same spot.  Same lip.  Every time.  What skeeves me out even more is the fact that despite my OCD antibacterial hand gel application efforts, despite wiping every touchable hard surface at home and at work with antibacterial wipes, despite bathing in Lysol and gargling with bleach, I got one anyway.  
Remembering backward, I realized that I had seen a coworker sporting a fever blister a week or two before.  The "ewww" factor has been racketed up a notch.
Typically, the day before the spot actually makes its debut there is also quite a bit of pain, especially on the Chris Cacciatore unique pain scale.  I'm not saying I'm a big baby but even a hangnail will wake me up at night.  Throw a cold sore at me and it’s grounds for calling in sick.
The last time I got a massive cold sore was during a…you guessed it…cold.  My defenses were down; I should have seen it coming.  I had felt crappy all day at work, and suddenly, my entire bottom lip looked as if a chorus line of bees had stung it in unison.  That night at home, the pain was so intense that I was forced to start my obituary.  
The next morning, surprised to find myself still alive, I realized that due to all the tossing and turning I did the night during the world’s worst night’s sleep, I had overslept.
For those who have no time for a quick shower, it’s dry shampoo to the rescue.  Or so I thought.
I had picked it up on a whim, this Tresemme dry shampoo.  I had overheard a conversation while sitting at McDonald's writing one afternoon.  It's normally a great place to write because you can tune everything out except this time, when two young women were talking about their hair, it caught my attention, mostly because they were actually pronouncing it "her".  That word was accompanied by lots of patting of said "her".  The conversation was animated as they discussed hair products but came to a standstill when one told the other she washed her hair daily.
The other said back, "You'll dry your "her" out!  Don't do that, girl.  Use some o' that dry shampoo.  You won’t believe how it perks up your hairstyle on days when you are skipping a day, or maybe you're just too lazy to wash your hair.”  
What?  A new way to be stylish while still allowing me to be lazy?  Sign me up.  I actually found some at the store on the way home.  Now, normally, I don't take much advice from people sitting in McDonald's but due to the above referenced illness, I’m game...and since I overslept, what better time to try it?
Getting ready for work that morning, squinting through the cloud of agony my lip was causing, I read the directions and applied the dry shampoo to my own "her" accordingly, then brushed it out as instructed.
This is a product that I will never, ever buy again.  I have a dreadful feeling it had been moved from the Halloween section of Wal-Mart into the hair section, as it obviously was meant to be used to make white stripes in my hair for a Bride of Frankenstein costume.  Despite vigorous brushing, I couldn't brush the white out and ended up with not only white hair but a very pink scalp.
not so fast, Romeo.  This chick is taken.
Thanks, random strangers at McDonald's.  Moms always said don't eavesdrop and I should have listened.
It worked out in the end, however, because coworkers were too busy trying not to stare at my white streaks to even notice I had a cold sore.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


...wrote this on September 18, 2012, for Prompt Club. Still effective.

The alarm clock disturbed her dream.  She groaned.  Why did the best dreams always occur in the six minutes between snooze buttons?   McSteamy had just bent his head down to hers.  His breath was warm on her face and his lips were almost touching hers when the buzzing alarm intruded. 


She barely had her eyes open as she made her side of the bed and shuffled down the stairs to where her pitiful slice of heaven existed; the coffee pot and the pack of Salem Slim Light 100’s she left in front of the coffee pot the night before.  She stroked the pack of cigarettes.  “Hello, darlings.” She let out a dry, sad chuckle at her own joke.  She shouldn’t feel this crappy in the mornings at just 50 years old. 

Joan poured the coffee that had automatically made itself sometime between the second and third snooze buttons, added cream and then grabbed the ashtray off the counter. 

She sat down with her two vices and lit the first of many cigarettes for the day and inhaled deeply, the acrid smoke nestling into her lungs and making her cough up what her husband would have referred to as lung butter.  She got up and spat it into the garbage can, careful not to look at the sputum. 

She missed her husband. 

Of course, if she wanted to see him again, all she had to do was quit smoking. 


Months earlier, they both had been sitting at this very kitchen table, having the age old fight over smoking. 

Bert had seethed.  “What is it going to take to get you to quit smoking?  Do you have any idea what you’re doing to your body?  I quit twenty years ago.  If I can quit, anyone can.” 

Joan rolled her eyes.  “Don’t be so friggin dramatic, Bert.  I’ll quit when I quit.”  She avoided his eyes, remembering a few days ago when she had coughed blood.  It had actually scared her into not smoking for almost a whole hour.   

Bert rolled his eyes and spoke as if to a child.  “Yes, but I quit.  For you.  But you seem to want to smoke every single cigarette ever made.  When do WE matter?”  At that, Bert had reached over and covered her little dainty hand with his burly one while he looked into her eyes.   

“Joan, I married you for a reason.  And that was to spend my life with you.  I don’t want to see it cut short by these damn things.”  He shook his head sadly.  “Will you at least try to quit?” 

Joan sighed.  After 20 years of marriage, she knew her Bert and he wasn’t going to drop it.   

“Fine.”   It’ll never happen. 

He slapped his hands together and hooted, then skipped over to his coat, withdrawing a brochure.  He waved it at her as he approached. 

“This.  This is going to be the answer for you.  One of the guys at work talked about it; how great this program was for him.”

The slick brochure was colorful.  It showed healthy people cavorting around soccer fields, the obvious message being “look, we’re not short of breath!”  It made vague promises about helping kick the habit for good.  Curiously, only couples could apply.   

“I’ll make the appointment!” chirped Bert, as he ran down the hall to his office. 


The doctor took her weight, height, looked down her throat.  Snapped a chest x-ray and muttered to himself right in front of her as he read it.   

Joan couldn’t take the silence.  “Well?” 

The young, solemn looking doctor patted her knee.  “You can do this.  You have to do this.  You have the lungs of a 70 year old woman.  If you want to make it another 40 years, you will quit today.” 

Geez, don’t beat around the bush, Doctor.  She avoided her husband’s eyes.  

“What do I have to do?” Joan asked. 

The doctor reached over and plucked the pack of cigarettes out of her purse.  “First off, you’re going to leave those with me.  Second, you are not going to smoke again.  Ever.” 

Joan laughed.  Really.  Just like that.  You wouldn’t know if I smoked, anyway.”  She waved a careless hand in his direction. 

Suddenly, the young, solemn looking doctor leaned forward and grabbed her chin in a cruel vise grip.  “Joan.  Listen to me.  Your husband has just paid me an exorbitant amount of money to help you quit smoking.  You will quit.  And if you smoke even one cigarette, we will know, and there will be consequences.  Do you understand me?”   

Holy crap.  He was serious.  “What consequences?” she squeaked out. 



That first night went well, with ghastly cravings from time to time, but she put on a brave face.  I got this. 

The next morning, she got up with her husband, made the bed, and packed his lunch for the workday.   As she handed it to him, he gave her a gentle smile as he tucked a piece of hair behind her ear.  “I’m so proud of you.”   

She ran upstairs the second his car pulled out of the driveway.  Did he think she didn’t have a spare pack?  Shaking her head, a smile curved her lips.  Knowing she had a forbidden pack of cigarettes was almost orgasmic.  She stood in the bathroom and inhaled deeply, exhaling out the window.  Just this one.  The nicotine coursing through her system made her feel faint.   

The phone rang.  She gave a guilty start and threw the cigarette in the toilet. 

She recognized the doctor’s voice immediately.  His message was short and sweet.  “Joan, we know.”  The phone went dead.   

Joan’s heart was in her throat.  Gee, he sounded awfully sinister.   

She threw away the rest of the pack and debated telling her husband about her slipup.  I’ll decide when he gets home. 

Several hours later, right about the time she expected him home, she received a blocked, concise text message.  “You smoked.  We have your husband.” 


She drove as fast as she could back to the smoking cessation clinic.  The sign had been taken down.  No lights were on.  She pressed up against the window and felt fear as she saw the interior was completely empty of furniture.  She banged on the window anyway.   

“Please. It was only half. I threw the rest away.  Bert!  Bert!”  She slid to the ground, sobbing.   

She huddled all night long near the window, ignoring the stares of passers by, only going home, alone, when dawn tinted the sky a light, smoky gray, heralding a new day.