Archive for January, 2006

So I hopped the No. 4 MTA bus at 7 a.m. and got down to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse for my jury duty with plenty of time to spare. Once the paperwork was completed and my juror badge was clipped to the collar of my jacket, it was all about filling the void of time that was only broken on a couple occasions with the juror assembly room personnel calling for everyone’s attention over the PA system and reading off a bunch of names.

I didn’t make either of those panels. So in between I plowed through the newspaper, crept through the first few chapters of Curse of the Narrows, listened to some Sounds From The Ground tunes on my iPod and tried to ignore Regis and Kelly being broadcast from the small TV across the aisle.


Finally the PA came to life again asking for everyone’s attention for a panel that came complete with “special instructions” and sure enough my name came up near the end of the roll call.

And what were those special instructions, you ask? That I am to report to Department 309 on the 14th floor of the Central Civil West Courthouse on Commonwealth Avenue near Wilshire at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

While my first instinct was disappointment at being made to abandon such a smooth public commute away from downtown for this less-familiar new place, it didn’t taint the combined relief at 1) landing on a panel, and 2) not having to hang around the jury room anymore.

Of course, other prospective jurors didn’t take it as well as I did. One man expressed his “shock” at not being excused, and another lady tried to protest saying she couldn’t afford to be on a jury. Both were met with stoney, unsympathetic looks from the assembly room workers.

I’m just wary enough to think that I may be in for a longer haul… that this new courthouse might be host to a trial that might be expected to take longer than normal (typically five to seven days) and that despite announcements that all selections are random, my current unemployed status might right up their preliminary alley.

I did manage to squeeze a $14 weekly MTA bus/rail pass out of them before leaving. Technically the passes are only for people who end up on juries, but I pointed out that sense I have to return tomorrow — and to a second location — I should be granted one. They acquiesced, even though I still might not make whatever jury I’m being pitched towards. If not, my service is done and I’m a $14 pass richer. But I’m still hoping I get to use the pass to get me to and from a jury box.

Anyway, with the remainder of the day all mine, I walked through downtown and ended up here at the Central Library where I had a salad and now am debating whether I’m going to head home or hang here awhile.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, I’m off to jump into the jury pool — and actually wanting to! That’s right, I may very well be the only person there who doesn’t want to be anyplace else and actually wishes to get on a jury. I’ll personally be affronted — not relieved — if I am excused or dismissed.

I got my iPod and laptop charged, I’ve shed any sharp objects and fire-starting items. There’s a bottle of water holstered in a side pocket of my case and inside a box of raisins, a protein bar and a couple servings of pretzels… and what else? Oh, my current book Curse of the Narrows (which I discussed a few days ago).

Since I’m busing it, I’m debating bringing a camera (other than my phone’s cam) as I won’t have a car to stash it and I believe they’re pretty much prohibited. Pity the courthouse doesn’t have day-use lockers… but then again I could go stow it in one at the YMCA a few blocks away. We’ll see. Just get me empaneled first!

I feel like the nerd wanting desperately to be picked for a dodgeball team… except in this case it’s jury duty. Today should have been my first day to report to the Stanley Mosk courthouse on Hill Street downtown. I got my notification around Christmas and went through the motions to register.

Given my present unemployment sitch, for once I was actually looking forward to the process and was even hoping to get on a jury. But when I dutifully — some might say eagerly — called this weekend and plugged in my ID number and PIN I was told my services weren’t needed.

“But you don’t understand, I want to be a juror!” I yelled at the recorded voice, but all it could give me in consolation was that tomorrow was another day and I should call back after 5 p.m. today to see if I could come play then.


There’s the school of thought that cautions us to be careful for what we wish, and I may very well be called on to be a part of tomorrow’s pool or Wednesday’s or Thursday’s or Friday’s. But I’m cool with that. I want this new discovery. There was just something about getting it started today — Monday — that seemed so appealing. Kind of like a work week, maybe. I vaguely remember what those were like.

Anyway, I think part of the juror registration process should include a 0-to-9 scale in which prospective panelists are asked to guage how interested they are in being jurors (0 being none and 9 being gung-ho). Certainly the vast majority of citizens would punch in a zero, but I’d bet there are people like me — however few — who would actually punch the niner and welcome the opportunity. At least then those people could be given priority and that could help depopulate the pool of some people who object to the service or truly have better things to do with their time.

Doesn’t it seem that a jury made up of more peers wanting to be empaneled would be a good thing?

UPDATE (6:08 p.m.): I’m in! Checking just now I found I have to report bright and early Tuesday at 7:30 a.m. Cool!

So it’s Sunday and that means my scale was a-callin’ me out for our regular weekly showdown. I did well this week, with three consecutive days consuming less than 2,000 calories, but still I stepped to my nemesis with a mixture of trepidation and fear as to what series of glowing red numbers would show up on its tiny display.

Planting myself fully onto the tiny platform the three zeros stayed put for an eternity, as if the little mechanism that calculates was having trouble figuring out how to fire. Did I lose a pound? Two (that was my guess)? None (yikes)??? Perhaps I even put some back on (double yikes)?????

Then the numbers came up and my jaw dropped. That couldn’t be right. I stepped off the scale, reloaded and fired again. The numbers were the same and my jaw dropped again. Once more I disembarked and reboarded, even moving the scale to a different section of hardwood in case some warp in the floor was influencing the thing.

Same again. The scale read:


I’d lost five pounds — FIVE!!! — this past week, for a total of nine in three weeks. Hawesome!

Murderball. What a phenomenal film. Watch it and try to whine about anything without feeling foolish.

There are times when I finish a book and go in search of my next read, either at the library or a bookstore, and I get this sinking feeling that I will never find anything worth reading ever again.

Thankfully, now is not one of those times. Whenever I finally finish Michael Crichton’s State Of Fear, I have not one but two on deck. The first will be Curse of the Narrows by Laura M Mac Donald, a new book examining the Halifax disaster in 1917 when the munitions ship Mont Blanc bound for the war in Europe exploded in Halifax harbor after a collision with another vessel.

On December 6, 1917, two war ships, a Belgian relief ship, Imo, and a French ship carrying munitions, the Mont Blanc, fatally collided in Halifax Harbor. Incorrect signaling and misunderstanding between the two ships led the Imo to strike the side of the Mont Blanc. The Mont Blanc, which was carrying 400,000 pounds of TNT, 300 rounds of ammunitions, along with other explosive ingredients, caught fire and drifted closer into the city of Halifax. Before the fire could be put out, the Mont Blanc exploded creating the “biggest man-made explosion before the nuclear age”. The explosion killed over 2,000 people and injured 9,000. The explosion caused $28 million in damage – 326 acres of the north-end of Halifax’s waterfront had been destroyed.

Oddly enough I only learned of this tragedy because of its use in an Anita Shreve book Susan just finished reading. Awhile ago at Susan’s suggestion I read one of Shreve’s novel, Sea Glass, and while there’s no denying the author’s talent, I just didn’t find her too compelling and I’ve kidded Susan about “Anita Zzzzhreve” on occasion. Guess I should just shut up about that seeing as without Shreve I wouldn’t have found out about it.
Like me, Susan had never heard of the Halifax explosion and I became intrigued by the scope of its destruction. A web search divulged Mac Donald’s book on the subject and thankfully the library had a copy of it, which I checked it out on one of my most recent visits only to leave it dutifully on my desk while I trudge through Crichton’s latest concoction.

I’m sorry, but State of Fear just isn’t working for me. Like most of his novels it’s highly readable and Crichton as usual does thorough research on the topic driving the book, but it seems he failed to devote enough time to coming up with characters I give a crap about or a decent plot. Instead he gives us Peter Evans, a mostly clueless 30-something lawyer who has somehow managed to survive a plunge down an Antarctic crevasse, a flash flood in the southwestern United States and now the bite of some sort of highly venomous octopus in his L.A. apartment and the only thing I as the reader have to show for it is a bunch of lectures and graphs and footnotes about how global warming isn’t really happening.

Fascinating it isn’t. Disappointing it is. But I’m two-thirds through its 600 pages and I can’t give up now. But I have been cheating. No, not with Mac Donald’s Halifax narrative, but with a book of Susan’s by Marc Ross titled Dangerous Beauty, which is subtitled “Life and Death in Africa: True Stories From A Safari Guide.”

Susan had recommended this long ago but I refrained from reading it prior to our Africa trip primarily because the book includes Ross’ first-person explanation of the 1999 trek into Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest to view mountain gorillas there when they were attacked by Rwandan rebels and eight people were murdered. The deaths made headlines around the world and I’d read the stories, but I left the book alone not want anything discouraging me from our plans to go to Rwanda.

Since I pulled it off its shelf a couple days ago, I’ve been tempted to toss Crichton’s book into the recycle bin and just dive in, but other than a taste here and a few pages there, I’m set on finishing what I started and then holding Ross off in favor of Mac Donald because there’s a due date on her book.

We’ll see if that works out.

I’ve found something that’s been working for me in this the beginning phase of my quest to get, as I call it, “hipster thin.” It’s perhaps a reverse-psych way of doing business, but what I do is keep a candy bar on hand. Out in the open. Dangerously close.

I first tried it early into Week No. 1 of our diet when I was suffering from some severe chocolate withdrawal. I was at a gas station and so I gave in and bought a 460-calorie, kingsized Fastbreak bar (one of my favorites). The good news was that I didn’t scarf it. Instead of devouring it on the ride home I left it untouched, bringing it inside and setting it out in the open on the corner of my desk where it then stayed miraculously untouched for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 days until my wife and I split it for dessert.

The cool thing was that it was never really a test not to eat it. It was there at arm’s length whenever I was at my desk, but I never felt taunted by it. In fact, it was a nice shot of empowerment that I didn’t fixate on the thing.

But even better was the the candy bar’s long range as a deterrent. On several occasions it prevented me from making a rash purchase whenever I was out. If I was at Vons getting groceries or the corner store picking up a newspaper and suddenly overcome with the urge to buy that chocolate chip cookie dough or that package of Zingers, instead I would reason that there’s no need to buy such junk when I already have a fix waiting for me at home.

It worked like a charm. But in the wake of that Fastbreak bar, my resolve was showing signs of cracking. First came the commercial for those peanut butter-filled Hershey’s kisses. But damn! I could barely contain the chocolate beastie in me from purchasing five pounds of them at Costco last week. A couple nights ago there was another ad on TV for some sort of Reese’s peanut butter cookies. So good did those look that I proclaimed I was going to dive into a bag of those should I have shed three more pounds by my next weigh-in this Sunday (but at least I set the bar to an amount that I’m not likely to acheive… I’ve only lost four in the first two weeks).

Then came yesterday’s trip to Trader Joes. I managed to avoid eye contact with the majority of the containers of chocolate-covered raisins, nuts, et cetera, but I admit I fondled the tubs of cark chocolate chip cookie dough and and Belgian chocolate pudding. But I put them back. Because I’m tough like that.

I did cave in and purchase a container of triple gingersnap cookies (serving size of six equals 140 calories). And last but not least my desk’s northwest corner is once again home to a candy bar:

Candy Bar

Specifically a Trader Joe’s Organic Dark Chocolate Truffle bar comprising three total servings at a grand total of — yikes! — 540 calories (note to self: check Cybele’s Candy Blog to see if she’s had chance to review this item).

It’s already done its job today. At Vons grocery shopping this afternoon I didn’t even think about grabbing anything even remotely chocolate related. No need, when this 3.5-ounces of decadence is standing guard at home. I can’t guarantee it’ll be on post for as long as the Fastbreak bar, but we’ll see.
About my desire to be so-called “hipster thin?” When I joined my wife in this weight-loss undertaking my goal was and still is to lose 30 pounds by July 1. I felt very fit a couple years ago at 230 (even though by strict weight-to-height chart standards that still means I’m grossly overweight). However, I’ve decided I’m not going to stop there. Next stop after that is 215 by October 1, with my final destination to be 200 a year from now, by the end of January 2007.

Why? First and foremost I want to enable my good health and contribute to my well being so that I’m around for as long as I can be for my wife and my daughter and my friends. On a more personal level, it’s quite simple. All my adult life I’ve tried and failed to get down to 200. In fact, I’ve only come close once and for the countless other times, I’ve never felt so able to achieve it as I do now. Thirdly, and I’ve written of this before: it’s a tremendous positive to be so empowered. Even though it’s only four pounds I’ve already lost (and however much else this week), it feels like 40. There’s an elation and a self-satisfaction that all the pizza and pie in the world can’t replace. And lastly, is pure vanity. I just want to look good. I want my self-perception and reality to be balanced for once in my life, not be at opposites. I want to wear clothes, not have them wear me and I want to have the confidence not to wear them, too.

It could be that having been so disappointed with my body throughout my life (going back to junior high) there’s no way of resolving the battle of how I see myself versus what’s real and that I could very well get down to 200 and still be magnifying flaws that no one else sees.

That may happen. I’m not saying this will be a magic cure-all to my ability to be self critical. But then my plan isn’t to become some Hollywood ideal. You won’t find me trying to sculpt a six-pack out of this belly. What you will find is the absolute joy I’ll be feeling at stepping on a scale and seeing myself minus 60 pounds… and all the baggage that went with it.