When I approach the metal detector at an airport I die a little thinking I’ll be the guy to set it off. This has nothing to do with my mighty robot heart, my supercool telescoping metal appendages, or the high levels of mercury in my bloodstream from all the sushi I cram down my gullet. I’m just a nervous person who feels guilty for no reason at all and I know I’m going to make that damn thing beep. I’ll be pushed against a wall in front of everyone as the security team pulls all sorts of things I didn’t even know I had on me from my pockets – knives, sex clamps, drugs I took in 1994, German pornography (the worst kind), blueprints for an intercontinental ballistic missile, the missing half of a magical amulet – you get it.
My friend Jessi told me she has the same issue when leaving a store. “Are you ever scared you’re a secret klepto? That you stuck something into your pocket without paying for it and you didn’t even notice?” Absolutely. I don’t trust myself at all. That guy’s been holding me back with his stupid shenanigans my entire life. He would totally do something like that. “Every time I leave a store I just know the damn security thing is gonna beep for me,” she says.
I’ve done loads of illegal things in my life, all semi-victimless crimes, few of which I feel sorry for. I’ve taken drugs, committed hilarious acts of vandalism, and driven my car through the city like a Dale Earnhardt on a bender, yet I’ve never once shoplifted because I couldn’t carry the guilt. I can’t steal, cheat, or hurt someone intentionally who doesn’t deserve it — not because I’m afraid of any legal consequences (but let’s face it: my first day in jail I’d be the guy wearing lipstick) — but because I would absolutely crucify myself with guilt. I am a Shaolin master of self-flagellation and my kung-fu is unstoppable. I felt guilty watching Schindler’s List, and not because I had anything to do with the holocaust, but because I totally look like someone who would have.
Last summer I was summoned for jury duty in downtown Brooklyn. It was a huge inconvenience, as it is to everybody, but I was excited as it might have been a chance for me to play out my “Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men” fantasy, where I’m the sole voice of reason in a room full of cold and bigoted jurors, indifferent to the fate of some poor inner-city kid. I’d get to slam my fist on a table and say things like “Damnit, man, a kid’s life is at stake! Who here among us has never made an illegal right turn on red!?” I would make an impassioned speech that would change the minds and lives of everyone in the court and rock the very foundation of our justice system to its core, and all my fellow jurors would feel humbled and impressed by my obvious moral superiority and the eventual Time magazine piece written about me would inspire a movie in which I’d be played by James Van Der Beek giving the comeback performance of the century. That kind of bullshit. So, yeah, jury duty –
I showed up at the courthouse early in the morning ready to do my heroic civil duty. I breezed through security, and entered a pen full of hundreds of other bored, inconvenienced New Yorkers thinking that I’d be done with the case in time for dinner and could go back to my happy life of building websites in my underpants in my cave of an apartment. No such luck, we were told. The trial I was a jury candidate for was estimated to last for seven days to a month. An entire month?! That’s like seven dog months. Immediately, people lined up to dish out their excuses. People were claiming sick relatives, planned holidays, irritable bowel syndrome, work emergencies. Brand new horrible diseases were created in that very room for the sole purpose of avoiding public service. But me? I sat there like an idiot, without an excuse in my noggin. Because sitting at the end of the long wooden bench I was on, like a curly-haired angel, was Felicity herself, the actress Kerri Russel. And yes, angels do carry Blackberries.
I’ve crossed paths with Ms. Russel several times in my life, so surely it was fate that put us both in the courtroom together. I’ve seen her walking in the East Village once or twice over the years, we’ve eaten at the same restaurant, and I once physically stopped my friend Aaron from bounding over rows of theater seats to accost her, a star-struck monkey off his leash. So this was an interesting development for me. There are countless celebrities in New York, but why do I keep running into Felicity? Truth be told, the only thing I’ve ever seen her in was 30 seconds of her TV show in which a kid got splattered by a bus – which was just ten kinds of wonderful. So, I decided that I needed to see why the gods kept putting us in the same room together. I accept how creepy that sounds and am comfortable with it.
There we were: Drewbacca and Felicity, ready to right the injustices of the world together. We would have seven days to a month to become the best of pals, to play pranks on the other jurors, to laugh with one another as I performed Chaplain-esque feats with my food in the courthouse cafeteria. It was going to be great! But would we be assigned a boring case? Would we have to yawn through some drawn out civil suit in which some land whale was suing McDonald’s for making their McNuggets too delicious? No! As our luck would have it, we hit the jackpot. Ours was a case in which the defendant stabbed another human being NINE TIMES! Could the day get any better?
After the first round of juror interviews we were given a recess for lunch. I wandered around downtown Brooklyn for a bit, read a some of my book and stuffed a falafel in my face before returning to the courthouse. When I found myself back in the line at the security checkpoint I realized I was standing about three people behind Ms. Russel. I wondered: should I say something? In New York it’s a big faux pas to violate a celebrity’s personal space, so what could I use as an opener that wouldn’t seem creepy? Every line that popped into my head just made me sound like a deranged stalker. She passed through the metal detector without incident and began to collect her things, so I realized my window for an introduction was closing quickly. Anxiously, I put my laptop bag on the security conveyor, held my breath, and shakily walked through the security gate. There was no beep. Phew. Hurry, now, Felicity is getting away!
“WAIT RIGHT THERE!” someone yelled. It was the security guard working the X-Ray machine.
I froze. Suddenly, there were two guards at either shoulder, their hands gripped around my arms. Felicity slid her purse around her shoulder and looked back at me: a criminal, a terrorist, a subhuman Breaker of Rules. She got on the escalator watching me, her Blackberry to her ear, a frightened look on her face as she disappeared through the ceiling.
“COME HERE, son.” The X-Ray man waved me towards him and pointed at his monitor. On the screen was the fuzzy green outline of my laptop bag, in the center of which, was a shape any twelve-year-old boy would recognize. It was the unmistakable outline of an honest-to-God ninja throwing star.
“Did you just bring a NINJA STAR into a NEW YORK STATE SUPREME COURT!?”
My bladder nearly exploded. I was going to backfire in my pants. HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING TO ME!? I’m a 35-year-old man! How could I have forgotten there was a ninja throwing star in my bag!? Why did I even own a ninja star? I haven’t been attacked by ninjas since 1997.
I stammered. “I swear to God I had no idea that was in there! It was a gag gift for a friend, like a year ago.” This was true. I had purchased it online, along with some pornography, as a birthday present for a buddy of mine. Clearly, neither the ninja star nor the pornography ever made it to him.
The guard pulled the ninja star from my bag and held it up to me. It was shiny, spiked, probably forged in a rusty trailer by some methed-up redneck from the melted toys of his waterhead children. “What were you thinkin, son? Are you stupid?”
What was I thinking!? Wasn’t it obvious? Clearly, I’m an assassin. I was going to throw that ninja star right into the face of a star witness, in what was to be the most awesome and nerdy courtroom murder ever.
“Yes! I AM! I am very stupid! I SWEAR TO GOD I had no idea that was in there., I SWEAR! Please, what can I do to make this go away? Please let me walk away right now. I am a good person.”
The guards released their grip on me and started laughing. Everyone in line started doubling over, cackling, howling with laughter and pointing at me as a tide of sweat ran down my face taking all of my dignity with it. “Look at that dumb motherfucker!”
“Get out of here,” the X-Ray guard said. I grabbed my laptop bag and high-tailed it to the escalator.
“You take care now, Ninja Star!” one of the guards yelled behind me.
And so I ascended the slowest escalator in the world, a crowd cackling behind me, knowing I’d have to go through that security checkpoint, past those same people, every morning for the next seven days to a month.
The next time I get called up for jury duty I’m moving back to Canada.