Sunday, February 27, 2005


This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Huge Pot Shipment!

It is my habit to get off the freeway as soon as possible when driving to work and continue the rest of my journey on the back roads. Even though I really do like to drive, taking the scenic route to and from work is what makes the 22 mile commute each way bearable. Instead of sitting in crawling traffic, I get to see rolling hills, cows and the occasional deer.

The other morning when I was driving to work, I saw a "Huge Pot Shipment" sign. I had to look twice before it dawned on me that I was passing a nursery and they meant garden pots and not marijuana pot. Either way, the sign amused me and amusement was just what I needed. After having been off work for the past month, I was not eager to return.

Don't get me wrong. My boss is nice. The people are pleasant, though there is that one woman who insists on regaling us all with her treasure chest of dumping bromides and pictures of herself tongue kissing the unattractive couple she is dating. I guess every office has one of those. No? You mean I'm just lucky? Go figure. Yet still I was dreading my return to corporate life.

It's not that my work is the worst possible vocation imaginable. It's not like I work in a coal mine or as ho for some drug dealing pimp. It's just that the work itself is, well, stupid. I think the problem is that it is not at all creative (and I mean that in the loosest sense of the word) or intellectually stimulating. It's the equivalent to being paid to pick lint from my navel.

Of course, that is not all bad. As far as jobs that any trained monkey could do go, I actually get paid pretty well. I have a nice, big cubicle by a window. If I climb on top of my desk and stand on tip-toe, I can even see the tip of Mt. Hood poking through the trees, if it's a clear day. Also, because it takes so little of my resources, I have time to think about important issues like the taxonomy of nerds, dorks and geeks or what I would write if I were writing a gothic novel. It gives me time to daydream that one guy who makes my insides melt and consider what my dog is really thinking as he hoards the rocks he's collected in the garden in an unused cat toy. What it doesn't do, however, is fulfill me in any kind of way beyond making sure I have enough money to pay my bills at the end of the month.

The thing that amazes me is that in this corporate culture, it seems that a lot of people seem to feel similarly. I am sure I have mentioned here that I was on a Grand Jury for month (I mention it every where, because I am all about jury duty now. Justice is my life!) Out of seven of us, only two were happy with their jobs. Everyone else felt somehow underused, underappreciated or underchallenged.

Serving on the Grand Jury was different. The grand jury I room has become like an idyll to me, despite its dirty chairs and the mystery smell left by one of our meth addict witnesses. Unlike my real job, I actually learned a lot there. For example, did you know you can trade shrimp for crack? That's what one of our rent-a-cop witnesses from Albertson's told us. Apparently bags of frozen shrimp is a high theft item, because addicts can trade them for drugs. Who knew?

And you know what everyone else on the planet but me knew? I will tell you! If you ever go to a strip club it is gauche to tip less than $1 per person in your party. This was learned the hard way by the patron who had a glass tumbler smashed into his face by an irate stripper.

I also learned that the prisons here dye their underwear pink to keep prisoners from stealing them and what the phrases "tweaker trade-in", "wangster", "crack in the crack", "pippi tart", "cop-knockin/knock-n-talk" and "1234" mean. More importantly, I learned that there are women who would name their twins Orangello and Lemongello, because their favorite foods are orange and lemon jello. Frankly, I don't know how I lived before jury duty!

Most of all, though, I was reminded just how fascinating (and sometimes awful) human beings can be - from the burglaries who got caught by leaving their cigarette butts (aka dna) at all of their robberies (this reminds me so much of the Italo Calvino story in which two gluttonous robbers are finally nabbed in a bakery, when they can't leave without stopping for a snack) to the 14 year old abuse victim who was trying valiantly to be such a grown up as he talked about his meth-addicted dad, but still ended his testimony by suddenly morphing into a little boy before my eyes as he asked us, "Did I do okay?". I don't think I've ever wanted to hug a stranger more. Those are the sorts of moments that break a person's heart. They're the kinds of moments that make a person want to become more engaged, to stop other little boys from experiencing those sort of things or ending up like the shackled gang member who sat and talked to us for over an hour as he tried to explain to us how he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You look at these boys, and you wonder what kind of futures they have, what kind of future any society they build is going to have. If you have an conscience, you wonder what can be done to keep them from becoming the next decade's abuser or OG. It can be depressing, because there really are no easy answers. As depressing as it can be, it is an experience I highly recommend for everyone who gets the chance. It's an eye opener. It makes a person think and continue thinking, even after life has returned to normal.

The funny thing is that after month of being engaged and observant, I thought I would hate work when I finally had to go back. Now I'm not saying that I love it, but it's not nearly as horrible as I was expecting. Something that the experience awakened in me is still awake. I find myself observing people more closely, wondering what their stories are and wanting to do something more substantial, something that matters. Where that will lead me, I don't know, but it makes me feel like I am on the verge of something, and I like that.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Crime Scene

Last weekend the police were at my house. I have to say that I am really impressed at how quickly they responded. You see, when we got up Saturday morning, we found that someone had dumped some sort of air compressor in our front yard. Because jury duty paranoia makes me think that everything is stolen and that anyone toothless is a meth addict who steals to feed his habit (I always knew grandma looked shifty!), I figured that it was probably stolen. I called the non-emergency line and was told that an officer would be dispatched. He got here well within an hour (probably closer to a half hour), which I think is pretty quick, considering no one was being maimed, murdered or otherwise mistreated. Although he arrived without a tank, SWAT team and sans siren, I was able to find it in my heart to forgive him, because he was very nice. His assessment was that the item was definitely stolen and had been dumped in our yard by the thief (or perp as I like to call them now that I have a month of criminal justice experience).

It seems like there is a lot of that in my neighborhood these days. My car was broken into about this time last year, and my neighbor's house was recently broken into. His thieves even stopped to have snack in his kitchen. From what I understand, a lot of these crimes are meth related. I had read and heard a lot about Portland's meth problem, but it's not until I started my recent tenure as Clerk of Grand Jury I that I realized how pervasive it is. I would estimate that about 80% of what we hear involves at least some mention of methamphetamines (and sometimes crack, but usually meth). I also learned that just as Troutdale is the Gateway to the Gorge, S.E. 82nd Avenue is the Gateway to Meth Country. If I've learned anything at jury duty, however, it's that meth makes people crazy. Well, that and that a meth user's teeth can make the Brits look like Nobel prize winners in the advancement of oral hygiene.

So, GJI paranoia aside, chances are the stolen compressor we hosted has some sort of meth connection. If there is one thing that I regret, however, it is that my Grand Juror status played too small a role in the investigation of this crime. It should have gone down a little more like this...

A police car comes tearing down the street, sirens wailing. The tires screech to a halt in front of my driveway. The officer gets out to survey the perimeter and easily finds the crime scene, because that section of the yard has already been cordoned off with yellow tape.

My mom opens front door and goes out to greet the officer. I put down my donut and stick my squirt gun in the front of my skirt and grab my badge. Ok, technically it is not so much a badge as a sheet protector holding a piece of paper emblazoned with my picture, name, "Grand Jury I" and the dates of my service, but I am sure it was meant to do more than protect me from having to go through court house security every time I enter the building. Really, badge, temporary I.D., it's all the same. Either way, the law is my life.

As she is explaining what happened, I walk out, flash my badge and say "Clerk Martina, GJ I. I'll take it from here. What have we got here? A possible Burg I? Rob II? Have you called for backup yet to make sure the perp isn't still somewhere in the vicinity?"

He says, "Uh, no." You can tell he has attitude. I sigh dramatically and mutter something under my breath about damn cops.

The officer gives me a look of pure disdain. It's okay, though. Everyone who's ever seen "T.J. Hooker" knows local law enforcement doesn't like special services busting in on their beat. I tell him, "Look, man. We can do this hard or we can do it easy, but I'll tell you right now, the D.A.'s not going to be happy if we have to do it hard. It's my job to keep scum like this off the streets. If you want to help, help, but if you don't like it, step aside. And don't think I won't have your ass supeonaed when this goes before the Grand Jury. I know Schrunk, I can make it happen. Now back off and get me a donut, so I can think!" Reluctantly, the officer relents and I take charge of my crime scene...

Seriously, though, the officer who came out to our house could not have been nicer or more professional. Over the course of the past month, I've really come to gain a lot of respect for what it is that law enforcement in my city does. The District Attorneys have, for the most part, impressed me as well. All of these people do an incredible job for what often works out to be little reward (beyond perhaps power or the satisfaction of doing something good for their community). They endanger their own safety to be rewarded with hostile witnesses and the dreaded lame brain rent-a-cops

As evidenced by my donut jokes, I hate to stereotype, but it just seems to me that the percentage of dorks among store security guards, loss prevention people and bouncers is awfully high. Every time one testifies, I have to think of the old In Living Color skits with Jim Carey as convenience store security lisping "Woodchuck to Grey Squirrel" over his walkie talkie. I'm sure there are some who are nice, but most just come off as blow hards.

Anyway, rent-a-cops aside there are a lot of really great people out there working for the betterment of our communities. My town is great in many ways, but has a lot of others where it could use some betterment. The meth problem on the East side (as opposed to N. and S.W., which are crack and heroine country respectively) is out of countrol. That shit makes people crazy. It also contributes to a lot of the theft and crime in this city. Hopefully we'll be able to do something about it. I know I'm thinking a lot about the subject these days, but more about that later.