by: Alan Fox
The real life story of a day spent in Jury Duty with Donald Trump…
It’s just after 8:30 AM when I come above ground and head for the famed Law and Order steps at 60 Centre Street. My red-lettered summons instructed me to arrive by 9, but I left early, hoping to get inside the courthouse before the media circus had time to pitch its big top. I’m too late. CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX – they’re already here – cameras on shoulders and tape recorders in hand, jockeying for position along the middle handrails, hoping to snag tomorrow’s headline from The Donald. It’s strangely deja vu-ish. Last week I passed a pack of pre-teen girls, camera phones ready, hanging out in front of a high-end hotel in the Meatpacking District.
“Who are you waiting on?” I asked one of the moms nearby.
“One of the One Directions.” Beat. “The one with the hair.”
Life is sort of funny sometimes…
“Who are you waiting on?” I imagine myself asking a reporter as I climbed the stairs.
“One of the candidates for the Republican nomination.” Beat. “The one with the hair.”
Normally, the winding security line at the courthouse has all the energy of family members waiting to view an open casket. Today, strangers are actually talking to each other (I know, in NYC of all places), often times interrupting themselves mid-story to glance out the glass doors, hoping to catch the exact moment when The Donald would arrive.
“Think he’ll come in a helicopter?” I’m asked by a woman wearing a sun hat indoors.
“Who?” I said, playing dumb, mostly to amuse myself.
“You didn’t hear? The Donald is coming.”
Or was supposed to come. He had yet to arrive by the time I was ushered through the metal detectors. I had given up on my brush with “greatness” by 9:30 and I assumed The Donald was given a private holding tank filled with Eastern European supermodels. I was wrong. Following our first break, I felt the jurors on either side of me sit up straight. When I glanced up from watching David Simon’s new HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero, it was as if God himself had planned this moment to convince me to vote Republican. There he was, shoulders back, arms slightly swaying, squinting like he was staring directly into the sun as he sauntered across the room. The Donald had landed in jury duty, and little ol’ me was a mere 46 cushioned office chairs away.
“I’d like to address the elephant in the room,” said our supervising jury clerk, laughing as if she too couldn’t believe The Donald was in her jury pool. She reminded us that as New Yorkers we encounter different socioeconomic classes on a daily basis, and she urged us to respect all of our jurors privacy before adding something to the effect of, “We are all celebrities in my opinion.” Well, nobody in my phone wanted a picture of the Korean woman that borrowed my pen.
What’s he doing? What’s he like? Does he have armed security? What’s his hair like? Is he orange? Get a picture. GET A PICTURE. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD – GET A PICTURE! Texts, emails, and Facebook messages drained my phone battery at a blistering speed. I reminded my friends and family that they were a simple Google search away from seeing every angle of The Donald that one could ever hope to see. Yet, they still wanted my picture.
“The lady in charge told us to be respectful,” I texted one family member.
“Well then get a selfie with him…respectfully.”
By the time we were cut for lunch, the mix of curious tourists and cable-news funded paparazzi had reassembled on the front steps. I reached the exit before The Donald, and as I bounded down the stone carpet, I couldn’t help but notice every face I passed had that sort of salivating desperation that my neighbor’s dogs used to have when I was running late to feed them. I felt bad for those sweaty faces, and I fantasized about one of them pulling me aside.
“Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox….any clue where The Donald might eat?”
“No, but my mom sent me a text saying if I invited him to lunch she would reimburse me.”
“So your mother is a Trump supporter?”
“What….no, I just….no comment, no comment!”
At the end of the tunnel of notepads and sweat stains, The Donald’s limousine was idling (in a clearly marked No Parking Zone) ready to whisk the him to wherever billionaire Presidential hopefuls take their two hour jury intermissions. Hundredaires like myself take our breaks at chain sandwich shops, so I looped around the car, and headed north on foot. I reached for my phone, pure habit, and waiting for me was a tweet from a cable news producer.
“Are you really in the jury pool with The Donald?”
“I am,” I typed back, feeling my posture straighten with a twisted sort of pride.
Then things got strange. That tweet transformed from a schmuck dealing with backpack sweat, to an amateur field reporter in the jury pool with The Donald. Over the next few hours, the producer had the very same text questions that my friends and family did. What’s he like? What’s he doing? How’s his hair? The producer asked for pictures, just like my family (“doesn’t have to be a selfie, how about far away?”) and each time the question made me feel worse than the time before. Look lady….he’s not juggling flaming gavels in the corner, he’s just sitting there with his eyes closed.
Requests for information on what The Donald was doing built until the point I was asked if I would like to do an on-air interview. I was offered car service, to a legitimate news studio, to be interviewed by a legitimate reporter, about my day on duty with The Donald. Re-reading the offer gave me that icky feeling you get when you lie to someone you love. I texted a friend for advice.
“idk,” he texted back immediately, “but brahh, you’re about to be famous.”
And that made me feel ickier so I texted the producer that I had a commitment. Which I did.
“What if we had a news van there?” she asked.
After a long hesitation I responded, “Sure.”
I was told to talk about his demeanor and his hair because the segment was a “humorous look at how nobody gets out of jury duty.” I got the sense this was code for, “our station doesn’t support The Donald so let’s mock him a little if we can.” The jurors were dismissed at 4PM, but my interview wasn’t scheduled until later, so I sat on a metal picnic table, sipping a two dollar can of Diet Pepsi, wondering what version of myself I should play. Do I give the interviewer what they want? Maybe claim to have seen his security team skinning an endangered species of Alpaca for a new toupee, or suggest that in person his skin tone is Oompa Loompa-esque? Maybe I’ll go viral! Or maybe I should tell the truth? Tell them the day was boring, he seemed friendly, and the whole thing felt like a massive circle jerk by a culture that’s turned journalism into a manufacturing industry, and the news into a disposable product.
I was still undecided when I moseyed into News Van Village, and found my point of contact for the segment, sitting in a soccer mom chair, fanning himself with his hand.
“You were in the jury room with Trump, right?” he asked as he mic’d me up.
“So did you talk to him or….”
“Then why the fuck are we talking to you?”
My sentiments exactly. Why the fuck are we talking to me? Better yet, why the fuck are you guys even here? Everyone mocked the idea that they were about to interview a kid who never got closer than thirty feet from a presidential candidate, at jury duty, over a year and half before the elections, right up until the cameras started rolling. Then we all pretended to take the whole thing seriously. Because that’s what we do. We as Americans, we lie to ourselves.
As a jaded 20-something, all I truly believe about Democracy is that we get the candidates we deserve. Just like our candidates, we earn our coverage of them. Everyone points the finger at the media for ruining journalism, but the media knows it’s reporting on a facade. The producer, the reporters, the camera men – they are just doing what they’re paid to do, providing round the clock content for a monster that’s always hungry. We want pictures, they get the pictures. We click on the pictures, then ask for more pictures. But why are we all so captivated by The Donald going to jury duty? Because we, the narcissistic citizens of the United States of America, think our President should be just like us.
The Donald has skipped jury duty in the past (and paid the fine) because it’s not worth his time to sit in an air conditioned box for seven hours with underemployed, aspiring artists, like me. And I don’t blame him. But this past Monday he sat around and wasted a day because as Americans, we love to fool ourselves into believing we’re all the same. I kept thinking about what the jury officer said, “We’re all celebrities in my opinion.” No, we’re not. I don’t care what self-help memes tell you, we are not all stars. Some people have nude pics leaked to the world, and some people just send them to their Tinder matches. And that’s OK. Do we really want the person in charge of nuclear weapons to be just like you and me?
Recently, Trump was quoted as saying he doesn’t need to discuss policy because people don’t care about policy. It’s sad how right he is. We don’t care that much about his stance on the economy or immigration, we just want to tuck ourselves in at night with the knowledge that The Donald had to sit through the same civic duty that we do. We convince ourselves that makes him one of us, and somehow that makes us feel safe. But he’s not one us and know how I know? After I gave my best impression of a level headed news reporter on camera, there was no limo waiting for me in the No Parking Zone out front of the courthouse. Just a handshake from a long time journalist who seemed disappointed in his industry, and a sinking feeling that I was now part of the problem. I’d had my chance to be honest on camera, but instead I closed my eyes and played along with the lie. And if we play along with lie, then we have no right to complain about the government, the media, or the society we earn.
But hey, I was on TV, right? I’m just like a celebrity….or better yet, celebrities are just like me.