Saturday, April 7, 2018

Short Story: "Tulips"

Today, I found myself with a lot of spare time. Like all dang day. So, I decided that today would be a creative writing day. I wanted to take a break from the screenwriting and try something a little different.

Many moons ago, I purchased from Amazon a fun little gift for myself called THE WRITER'S TOOLBOX. It is, in a nutshell, a game for writers. You are given a starting sentence, some writing prompts, a conflict idea, and a number of other random suggestions to use in your story.

I wrote the below. It's not a comedy, which is my usual preferred genre. It's also not edited, so if you find a typo or grammatical error, give yourself five points. Huzzah.

WARNING: Language

A Short Story by S.K.Deal

“I put tulips under all the pillows, and then I set fire to the house.”
There were so many things I couldn’t reconcile about what Sheila had just told me. But right now I wanted to know one thing.
“Why put tulips under all the pillows?”
“That’s your question? I burned down a house that killed a family of four and you want to know about the tulips?”
“Technically speaking, the family was dead before you burned the house down. It wasn’t the fire that killed them but the handgun.”
“Well, if you’re gonna get that fucking picky about it, it was the bullets really. What difference does it make?! I killed them all!”
“No one is disputing that. But I want to know about the tulips.”
She sighed and rolled her eyes at me. I was proving to be a disappointment during our lunch conversation today.
“Tulips symbolize the innocence that has been restored to the soul of the departed. That’s why you find them in every funeral home.”
“That’s lilies.”
She stopped and stared off into the distance while feeling around on her plate for the third-quarter of her tuna fish sandwich. Finding it, she slowly slid it into her mouth and bit off a piece, still unblinking. Between chews, she mumbled, “Shit, you’re right.”
“Did anything else happen in the dream you had last night?”
“I found a diamond bracelet in the back of his car.”
“The husband’s car? Or the teenage son’s car?”
“Gerald’s car.”
This was something I was not prepared for. I’d visited with my sister in the sanitarium every week for the past three years and never once did she talk about Gerald or what happened the night he died. Not even when I asked her.
“Your husband Gerald?”
“Yep.” She continued to slowly eat and chew her sandwich and not blink.
“Was it yours?”
She stopped chewing and stared at me. “What the fuck do you think?”’
I lowered my eyes and she went back to chewing and staring off into the distance. I lightly suggested, “Maybe it was a gift for you?”
“Maybe. The tag on it said To Tiffany. Maybe he thought my name was Tiffany.” She stared at me again, this time with enough anger to spit. “Do you fucking think he might have?!”
“Probably not.” I wiped the partially-chewed tuna from my sleeve.
“I told the police about it, but they never found it. Said I was making up lies again. For the insurance money. It wasn’t even mine so how could I collect the insurance money for it?" I shook my head and rolled my eyes, signaling I shared her opinion. "I bet that fat bitch cop took it. She looked like she’d snuck a lot of crap from the evidence room. Jewelry, cash, drugs. Obviously half the donuts from the break room. Hayley used to do that at work. Except she was about as big as a stick. As ugly as one too.”
“I believe you.”
She swallowed, finally, and looked up pleasantly. “You do?”
“I do, Sheila.”
Her smile turned dark quickly. “Why? Is it because you knew about Tiffany? You knew and didn’t tell me?!” She started to raise out of her chair. I glanced back at the guard who was on duty in the dining hall. He wasn’t paying any attention to us. I’d have to get out of this one myself.
“No! I didn’t know! I just believe you! I always believed you!”
She sat back down, considering me. Then noticed the last quarter of her sandwich and went back to happily eating. She was always happiest when eating so I let her eat in silence.
When she was done, she asked me a most peculiar question.
“Do you think Gerald’s in hell for cheating on me?”
“Yes. Most definitely.”
“Am I going to hell for killing him?”
“It is a sin; however, if you ask the priest to be forgiven, then you can go to heaven.”
“I don’t believe in priests or God.”
“Then there’s no hell.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you ate the meatloaf they served last Tuesday.” She let out a howling laugh at her own joke. At least a half-dozen other patients laughed along with her. Not because they heard or understood her joke, but they were mentally deranged as well and enjoyed a good laugh.
“That’s funny, Sheila.”
“You know what else is funny?”
“What’s that?”
“What happened that weekend in Duluth.”
“Du-Duluth? When did you go to Duluth?”
“Oh, I haven’t. But you have.”
“Once. For a conference on advancements in laser-eye surgery. It was quite astounding really! The guest speaker was world reknown surgeon James McCardle.“
“Really? So you did leave the hotel room long enough to attend some of the conference?”
“What are you talking about? I was at the whole conference. The hotel wasn’t that nice anyway.”
“Funny. That’s not what Gerald said.”
“Did he stay at the same hotel that I did?”
“Well, he had to to fuck you.”
“I—I never slept with Gerald.”
“Really? Tiffany?”
“My name is Brenda. I’m your sister Brenda.”
“That’s what it says on your birth certificate. But on the hotel registry it was Tiffany. Tiffany and John Simmons.”
“Yes! Because that’s what he told me! And Gerald wouldn’t make it up.”
“Gerald made up stuff all the time!”
“And how would you know? Huh? Tiffany?”
“Because you told me he did. And you don’t lie, remember?” Sheila looked at me with disgust. I’d caught her in her own hypocrisy. “I think lunch is over now.”
“No! Not until I say it is. I still have my grapefruit.”
“Then eat your goddamn grapefruit.”
She pouted. “I will eat my goddamn grapefruit.”
Winnie, an elderly patient, came wandering over. She interrupted at least once every lunch. Usually halfway through the cottage cheese. She was late today.
“Look what I got, Brenda!” She held up an old Danielle Steel novel.
“How nice. Five Days In Paris. How was it?”
“I haven’t read it yet. I just got it today.”
“She’s had it for at least a year,” Sheila mumbled. “It’s all she reads.” I threw her a look to knock it off. Winnie was a sweet, harmless Alzheimer's patient. Well, harmless now that she wasn’t behind the wheel of a car. That poor dog.
“Maive is looking for you.” I pointed to Winnie’s roommate and she wandered over to show off her “new” book. Probably for the tenth time today. Maive had dementia herself and wouldn’t remember. They were a match made in heaven.
“Speaking of Paris,” Sheila said while fighting with her plastic fork to stab the last piece of grapefruit, “ever been?”
“Nope. Never.”
“I mean the Paris in France. Not in Texas.”
“I didn’t know there was one in Texas. But I’ve never been to either.”
“Huh. I wonder who he went with.”
I wanted to ask who, but I knew who she meant. For three years I wanted her to talk about her late husband, and now I’d give anything for her to stop.
“Do you smell peach pie?” I asked, looking around.
Sheila pounded her fist on the table. “Don’t try to change the subject.”
“I’m not. I want peach pie. Harvey! Is that peach pie?!”
“No! It’s apple!”
“Oh. I don’t like apple.”
Sheila grabbed my arm and I pulled back, nearly knocking over my chair. “Who did he go to Paris with?”
“I don’t know!”
“I know you know. You know everything.”
“I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about! Stop it! Frank! Frank!!”
By the time the security guard came over, Sheila had released my arm and was back in her chair.
“Sheila’s being difficult and it’s time for me to go.”
“You haven’t eaten yet.”
“That’s ok. I’m not hungry.”
“Girl, you never eat your lunch. Let me get you a to-go box so you can take it with you.”
“That’s ok. I don’t…” But he was already gone.
Sheila laughed. “See. You’re not going anywhere.”
“What is wrong with you today?”
“Me? Nothing at all. I’ve never felt so free. Now that I know the truth. And I’ll be leaving here soon enough. Tiffany.”
“You’re crazy, Sheila!”
“I’m crazy? That’s funny, considering I’m not the one in a crazy home.”
“Because you put me here! You killed Gerald and blamed it on me!”
“You confessed to it all to save your poor sister. Your guilt for sleeping with my husband made you do it!”
“You bitch!” I lunged over the table for her, wrapping my hands around her throat. “You couldn’t stand that he could love me more than you!” The guards pried me off before I could choke her to death. “No! She’s the killer! She did it! Not me!”
“Come on, Brenda. It’s time to go back to your room.”
“No! She killed her husband! She killed him! He loved me and she killed him!!”
“No more lies, girl. Let’s go.”
The last thing I saw before they dragged me out of the dining hall was Sheila waving to me with an evil smirk on her face and a diamond bracelet around her wrist.

That's it for me today! Enjoy the weekend!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

My (Short-Term) Life as a Federal Juror

I feel like I should warn you. I'm going to ramble. Like, a lot. More than normal. But I've had information trapped in my head for five days and if I don't get it out, I'm going to go crazy. This is my mental purging.

My (Short-Term) Life as a Federal Juror

From February 5th to February 9th, I performed my civic duties as a juror in a Federal Civil Case. It wasn't something I wanted to do. In fact, my husband can tell you that I was a raging lunatic the whole time. The case, the driving, the weather, everything seemed to be designed to push me to the brink of total panic. But I was picked and I was doing it. Even if I had an anxiety attack the entire time.

I couldn't talk about the case at all until it was over. We weren't even allowed to discuss it with our fellow jurors until deliberation. Now I can share with you the details of...

The Case of Hicks vs. the Town of Vestal

The short of it... On Halloween 2011, Wayne Hicks shoplifted a pair of women's sneakers from Famous Footware in Vestal, NY, ran to his car to escape, Office Fiacco placed himself directly in front of the car to stop him, Mr. Hicks ignored all verbal orders, turned on the car and hit the officer while trying to flea the scene. He ended up getting shot five times by Officer Fiacco and Sgt. Kennedy, who was directly next to the driver's side door.

For this case, Mr. Hicks was claiming:
1. the officers were excessive and unlawful in their use of deadly force,
2. that the Town of Vestal failed to train their police force properly in the use of deadly force,
3. that the Town of Vestal failed to report the use of deadly force properly and mishandled evidence,
4. that he should be awarded $767,000 in compensatory damages for his pain and suffering,
5. and that the jury can consider making the officers each individually pay individual punitive damages to the plaintiff. (I honestly have no idea who was going to be paying #4. Probably you and me, taxpayer.)

I used the term "use of deadly force" three times in the above bullet points. I heard it approximately 4.6 million times in the course of the five day trial. I'm only slightly exaggerating about that.

"Use of deadly force" is, essentially, when a police officer draws his weapon and shoots someone because his life or another person's life is being threatened. And that's the ONLY time he's allowed to do that.

The plaintiff claimed the cop wasn't in front of his vehicle at the time and he never struck him. So, if the cop wasn't in front of the car, his well-being wasn't in jeopardy, and then use of deadly force was illegal. Our job was figure out the truth.

It's Matlock time!!

I'll spare you all of the details... that we heard over and over and over again for 5 days... heard so many times that we started to answer the witnesses questions for them. (OMG! Lawyers love to talk!) Strike that, 4.5 days. Wednesday, we were only in court until 12:30 and then the judge dismissed us because of A WINTER STORM. Yes, I drove home from Syracuse during A WINTER STORM. It was awful. Extremely awful.

And you know how on T.V. and in movies lawyer give their closing arguments and it takes maybe... two... three minutes. Nope. I didn't time it, but it had to be like twenty minutes. Each. And there's a rebuttal that was easily fifteen more minutes long. If you're a lawyer and reading this, I can tell you definitively that by the time you get to closing arguments we have already made up our minds and we hate you. Hate you with all the passion that an emo teenager hates pastels. Hate you like you're a puppy murderer. I mean, seriously, you're killing us.

And don't stare at me! Seriously, whatever-your-name-was! Mufasa... Morrisey... sorry, it wasn't a common or catchy name. The lawyer from Chicago. You stared at both me and the guy in front of me the whole time. When we broke for lunch, Tony and I looked at each other and said, "That was creepy!" Your eye-contact was not helping your case. Neither was the ashen-black jacket and bright blue tie you were wearing. What the hell was that about?

That reminds me. I have prizes to give out.

#3 Officer Fiacco's dark grey suit with a leprechaun green shirt and tie. You made that work and I thank you for it.
#2 Sargeant Kennedy's steel grey suit with lavender shirt and matching purple-blue tie. Great job! You were a scary no-necked cop that I hope to never see again, but you wore a heartbreaking suit, so points for that.
#1 MR. TOM MURPHY!! For the 3-piece light grey suit with the smashing grey, black and bright pink tie. That was my runaway favorite. You looked like the most dashing lawyer from Alabama I've ever seen. (Note: He's from Syracuse. Just didn't look like it.)
HONORABLE MENTION: Tony! The only juror to dress up. He wore a shirt and tie everyday. Sometimes with a V-neck sweater over it. The rest of us dressed like we normally do for our jobs. Jeff wanted to wear sweatpants and bring some popcorn and Blue Light into the courtroom. Jeff and I think a lot alike.

DISCLAIMER: The awards played no part in determining the outcome of the case. We spent a lot of time in the courtroom listening to and watching these people. The mental fashion show kept me from screaming out, "I DON'T WANNA DO THIS!" and just bolting from the room.

Let's get right to the best part...


Ok. I might have hyped this up too much, but that's how I feel about it.

On Friday afternoon at approximately 2:30 p.m., we'd received all of the information about the case and instructions from the judge on how to proceed. We left the courtroom for the jury room and started deliberations. On the table before us was a stack of papers with all the police reports, investigation drawings and findings, the hundreds of photos taken of the evidence and scene. Our job was to talk amongst ourselves, debate the facts, decide which witnesses to believe and who not to believe, and render a verdict.

As I saw it, it all boiled down to one thing...

Was Officer Fiacco in front of the car when Mr. Hicks stepped on the gas? Or was he on the side of the car? If he was in front, he was in imminent danger and both he and Sgt. Kennedy were reasonable in their use of deadly force. If he wasn't in front, the shooting was unlawful.

It's easy to get embroiled in the other facts. Hicks stole shoes... he ignored the officers' orders to stop... he ignored all their orders to show his hands, to turn off the car, to get out of the car. You could easily say he brought this upon himself. You could also say in hindsight it was excessive to shoot a guy five times for the misdemeanor of petit larceny. But the facts before and after don't matter. We were instructed clearly about that. The law states a police officer can only pull out their gun and shoot someone if their life is in danger or if someone else's life is in danger. Everyone, including the cops, agreed that being in front of the car when he accelerated made the shooting lawful, being to the side was not. So, that was the question.

Unfortunately, not an easy question to answer. The facts could be interpreted in different ways. There were too many things that relied on witness statements.  "He hit me."  "I didn't hit him." Who do you believe?

Just to get the ball rolling on the deliberations, we took a vote. "Was it unlawful?"

Yes - 1, No - 7

There was one hold-out. I won't say who it was because he was an intelligent man and he had a right to his opinion. And his opinion had a lot of validity to it! Like I said, this wasn't a clear-cut case. Many, many times over the days my opinion swayed with the evidence we were given. By the time we got to the end, I felt it was clear to me. (That answer was No, by the way.)

"Ok, let's talk it out."

To everyone's credit, they were empassioned in their stance but they were also polite and open-minded with regards to people's opinions. Everyone got to talk about the situation as rational adults. After a few minutes, it became clear that the issue for the one hold-out was the positioning of the trajectory rods. And honestly, he had a damn good point about them.

Trajectory rods are used by the State Police Department in determining from where bullets are shot from. In this case, they were used to determine the angle the two bullets from Officer Fiacco's gun entered the windshield but could not the distance from the windshield. The photograph the plaintiff's lawyer showed us time and time again was from the front of the car. The rods looked kinda high and to the side. It would have been extremely awkward, if even impossible, for Officer Fiacco to be in front of the car and take those shots. But other evidence -- the tire marks, the handprint and polished spot on the bumper -- proved the Officer was in front of the car and did get hit.

Those rods though. No one could explain them.

The author's artistic rendering of a photo. 
I know. She has no talent for this.

Except maybe one person. Juror #7.

I have a damn-near-useless Associates Degree in Math because that was the subject I excelled in. When State Police Inspector Ryan gave testimony on day one about the trajectory rods, I was really into it because it involved mathematical equations. At the time, I thought, "Dammit. I could have been a crime scene inspector. That job sounds fascinating!" As a result, I remembered one super-important fact.

At the point of entry, the trajectory rod for the first shot was at a 46 degree horizontal angle to the windshield.

I asked for the stack of evidence photos. I flipped through them. I found the photo we'd been shown so often. Then I found more photos of Mr. Hick's car with the rods in them. Inspector Ryan had taken over two-hundred photos of the car. Almost all of them were unused during the witness questioning but were still entered into evidence, making them just as important... if not more... to the facts of this case.

There was one particular photo that I prayed someone had taken. A photo I thought might clear this up. And I found it.

"Um, guys. You might want to look at this. It's a photo of the car from overhead showing the true angle of the rods over the hood. The photo we saw in the courtroom has a misleading perspective. The first trajectory rod isn't as close to the windshield as you think. It actually travels out to the right corner of the car. And considering Officer Fiacco is left-handed..." I left them to figure out the rest as they quickly passed the photo around. Even people who were already in agreement with the No-answer were stunned. This photo was the missing piece we all needed.

Seriously, her artistic skills suck!

I will remember until the day I die when the hold-out looked at the photo. He set it on the table, sat in a chair and stared at it with complete wonder.
"I would like to change my decision. I see now that you were right. I really didn't know. It looked so far out to the side in the other picture. But it clearly wasn't."
He seemed almost embarrassed. He didn't need to be. We were all fooled by the first photo.
"Dude. It's ok."
"We couldn't explain the rods before this either."
"This is what deliberation is about."
"Jeez. What else didn't they show us?"
"I think this firmly settles it in everyone's mind now..."

Office Fiacco was in front of the car when Wayne Hicks tried to drive away. Fiacco was in danger at that time. The use of deadly force was lawful.

I looked over at Jeff, who had been sitting back in his chair mournfully wondering if we were going to be stuck in this room all weekend. He tipped his head to the side and gave me a smile.
"I've watched a lot of Matlock over the years."
"I think we're gonna get out of here soon."
"You're welcome."

Jim, our jury foreman, filled out the paper and the clerk gave it to the judge. Deliberation was over. And we did it in less than forty-five minutes. After a quick reading of the verdict in court, we were sent back to the jury room one last time. Judge Sannes came in to thank us personally and answer any questions she could. She was the nicest Judge and she always had a smile for the jury. I hope I'm never in court myself, but if I am, I hope it's hers.

At 3:45, I passed through security for the day. I wished the boys on guard a farewell and thanked them for being so awesome. To my favorite guard -- whose name I regretfully never got -- the one who jokingly picked on me every morning -- I said, "See you in two years!" If I do get called again in two years, I have a feeling he'll still be there. And he'll still pick on me for being early for breakfast.

I happily skipped out of the building... a building I loathed to enter everyday... a building that caused me a lot of stress... and I thought to myself...

I cannot believe I'm going to say this, but I'm so fricking happy I got picked for jury duty. It's taken over 28 years, but I finally got to use my math degree for something important. The Universe did have a reason for me to be here. I AM THE MATLOCK OF SYRACUSE!!!

Admit it. You want to see this show.

Author's note: I have no idea why I was so obsessed with Matlock throughout the deliberation. Matlock wasn't a juror. He was a lawyer. But honestly, Matlock is just really fun to say. Matlock!
Maybe I should have gone with Rockford.

Did you hear that? She thinks she could be me!

Some things still seem a little unsolved to me. We came up with a lot of questions about the night of the incident that no one ever answered... nor would ever answer as we had to use what we were given.

How could the plaintiff have claimed to have never seen the second cop when he was standing slightly before him? How about his cop car which was right up close to the side of the plaintiff's car? With the lights on? At night? How do you miss that? Where were the photos of the tire marks? All we had was the expert's word for it. We wanted photos. Are court cases really all about which lawyer can outsmart the other one? This is effed up.

But for me, there's one question that will burn in my brain forever. And one day, maybe this summer, I will go to Vestal, I will visit the Police Department and I will request to see Officer Fiacco. Then I will ask him ... WHY IN THE HELL DIDN'T DEFENSE SHOW US THAT OVERHEAD PHOTO OF THE RODS?!?!  It would have cleared up the mystery of the shots. It negated everything the plaintiff was trying to prove. They purposely tried to mislead us. 

And he'll probably say, "I know. They're lawyers. That's their job."

To be fair, Office Fiacco probably has no idea what the defense was going to do. The lawyer was likely involved with the D.A.'s office, who led the criminal grand jury case about this back in 2012 where Mr. Hicks was found guilty of assaulting an officer and sentenced to 6 years in jail. (Something I googled after the fact. No googling allowed during the case. And no one brought it up during our week in court.) To be fair, maybe defense wasn't allowed to admit the photo. There were some really weird things going on with this case. It seemed like defense was limited in what they could do. Or maybe that lawyer was just an idiot. I don't know.

I do know I would have been a kick-ass crime scene investigator. Dammit.


The Pros of being a Federal Juror in Syracuse

They treat you like Royalty!
Seriously. You were a lanyard that says Juror everywhere you go and people you don't know and who have nothing to do with the case are super-nice to you. I had total strangers, who obviously worked in the Federal building, say to me, "Thank you so much for serving." And they say it like they mean it. After five days, I know why. (See the Cons below.)

You get breakfast, boatloads of snacks, a stocked fridge of non-alcoholic beverages, enough coffee and creamer to drown yourself in.

I won't kid you. I can be bought with a basket of vending machine food. And we had it available 24/7. You name a snack, it was probably on that jury room table.

Security knows you. I mean... THEY KNOW YOU.
Why is this a pro? Because it's kinda cool to walk into the small entrance area that resembles security at an airport and have security say, "Come on around. Your early today. How was the drive from Auburn? We don't need your I.D., Ms. Deal. We know you." Meanwhile, my brain is going, "I have never met you before!!"

The security and court clerks in the Federal Building are made up of retired U.S. Marshalls, troopers, and ninjas. They are the coolest guys and gals on the planet. They talk to each other constantly and they remember everything. Serving as a juror can be unsettling at times because you have to be wary of the people around you. You cannot come into contact with either parties in the case and it can make you a little nervous, or at least awkward. With the clerks watching over me, I have never felt so safe in my life. Plus, they're pretty funny guys. I admit it, I'm gonna miss those smiling faces in the morning who are just waiting to razz me. "You're two hours early. It's not snowing." "Shut up! It might!"

My fellow jurors were hilarious!
I don't know if it's the situation we were presented with (being trapped in the Federal Building together), or if I just got lucky, but all of the jurors were funny. I had a good time with them!

I conversed mostly with Jeff. (I noticed I've got a lot of funny friends with that name.) He was going on 30 and kind of a tall guy. We were the early birds because we liked to have breakfast in the jury room and get settled for the day. Tony would come in early too and we'd all sit around talking about our favorite places to eat and what we liked to drink. (Life is all about food and drink, folks.)

I was juror #7 and Jeff was #8, so we sat next to each other in the courtroom. If he started to click his pen, I threatened to stab his leg. If he thought I was falling asleep, he'd nudge my chair then tell me the judge told him to do it. We debated if our shared monitor was touch screen like the witness one was. For five days, we were dying to drawing a dick on the monitor. When the older defense lawyer couldn't get the projector to work and had to get the young plantiff lawyer to help him out, we'd break into giggle fits.

The sidebar music they played was John Denver and everytime it came on, all of us would groan. Judge Sannes apologized to us for the music. We were using another judge's courtroom because hers was currently under construction and she didn't pick out the music.

There was one juror that deserves special mention. Her name is Laura Wright. But you might know her better as LAURA HAND. She's a journalist and has been on WSTM for over 45 years. She's a local celebrity and a true inspiration for any woman --- anyone at all, actually --- who's interested in a career in journalism. The fact that she was picked to be a juror on this case was bizarre. SHE'S A JOURNALIST. SHE KNEW THE CASE. SHE REPORTED ON IT SIX YEARS AGO. SHE REMEMBERED IT. Laura has an amazing memory and she's still sharp as a tack. She's also incredibly heartwarming and witty. It was a pleasure to meet her and work with her as a juror.

The Cons of Being a Federal Juror in Syracuse

Driving to Syracuse... in February.
If you get summoned, I suggest you request to be deferred to a less snowy month. And they will do that for you! They are actually extremely accomodating. At least in the Federal courts. I can't comment about the County courts.

Sitting... forever... listening to lawyers... omg.
It's not like TV or the movies. No one really gets in each other's faces. It might get a little tense, but it's short and non-confrontational. And while that's good for a nervous person like me, it's boring AF.

We (the Jurors) heard the same questions so many times that we started answering them.
"Did he have a gun?" NO!
"Did he have a knife?" NO!!
"Did he have a weapon on his person at all?" FOR THE EIGHTEENTH-HUNDRED TIME, NO!!!

And if a lawyer says, "I'll be brief," be forewarned! It's going to be a minimum of twenty minutes. When you enter lawyerland, time is not held in the same regards as in the rest of the world.

And honestly, if I hear "Can we agree that..." or "With regards to..." or " I correct?" one more time, I'm gonna start twitching convulsively. We started using it when we talked to each other.
"Can we agree that the cafeteria on the 5th floor sucks?"
"Objection: Hearsay."
"Overruled. You may answer the question."
"My sandwich was good."
"You got a grilled cheese and you ordered a grilled chicken, am I correct?"
"I rest my case."

You're going to physically and mentally shit-the-bed.
When my stomach started rumbling during the first morning session, Jim (juror #6) would snicker at me. He said it was far more entertaining than the case. After that, I ate two breakfasts just so it wouldn't happen again. In fact, I ate constantly. Sometimes to make sure my stomach wouldn't bitch at me, and sometimes out of stress. I gained five pounds this week. FIVE EFFING POUNDS.

Plus, leave the fitbit at home. You are not going to get your steps in. You sit in a courtroom for 6-7 hours. On breaks, you hang out in the jury room. There's no room to walk around in there. You could try, but do you really want to be that asshole? During lunch, you could walk around the building or downtown. But did I mention it's February? We had two storms during our stay there and the other three days, it was bitterly cold. We usually went to our section of the cafeteria and ate. (Yes, we had our own section of the cafeteria so people wouldn't interact with us. Felt like I was in some kind of zoo. It had real purpose, but still... awkward!)

As for the stress... holy cow! As I've mentioned before, I was nervous throughout this. Not just about the weather and driving, but about the case and the people involved. Serving as a juror is about three light-years outside my comfort zone. The Pros I mentioned above definitely helped a lot.


If anyone gets summoned to Federal Court in Syracuse and has questions about the process, (ie. jury selection, what you can do or can't do) I am more than happy to talk about it. The court provides you with great information when you're summoned. I had no problems parking or finding my way. It was super easy; no confusion. But sometimes it's nice to hear about it ahead of time from someone who went through it. Especially if you're a mental case like me.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Great Bee Affair of Summer '17

How's everybody doing?  Did you have a good summer?  That's great.  I've got a story for you.  You may have heard it, because I thoroughly enjoyed telling it to everyone.  It's a lot better with my visual recreation of events, but I think I can still tell it here with flair.

This past summer, our observant neighbor sent my husband Drew a text message along with a pic of the side of our house.

You have bees.

With the appropriate amount of moaning, groaning and cussing, we traveled to the side of the house and noticed sure enough! Bees. Yellow jackets, to be precise. Nasty little bastards!

Drew's immediate response:  Carefully tear off the siding and gingerbread molding to reach the nest and remove the bees.
My immediate response: 

What we did was go to Lowe's and buy every yellow jacket killing device they sell because ripping apart the outside of the house wasn't in our summer plans.  Plus, that gingerbread molding is very delicate and there's no way it would last.

Strangely enough, most of the devices worked.  We sprayed toxic waste in there.  We used some kind of hive foam.  We hung up a trap that looked like a bedazzled medieval torturing device.

Seriously. Look at this damn thing. 

Eventually, we were left with but two yellow jackets that seemed to not want to take the hint and die.  I let them live as an example to others.  

"Go forth and sing your song of the horrors you have witnessed here so that others of your kind will know this as the place of death! Any who invade shall die!"

I literally stood in my yard and gave this speech, including dramatic arm gestures. Someone should have recorded my Oscar-worthy performance.

Later that week, my fearless knight Andrew the Brave traveled out into the kingdom to moweth the grasseth.

Seriously, have you seen Drew mowing the lawn?  We live on a piece of land the size of a median strip.  He has an electric mower and a long extension cord because he doesn't need it to be any further from the house than about fifteen feet.  By the way, if you can get away with it, the electric mower is great.  There's no gas smell and it's never broken down.  Two of our neighbors have borrowed it over the years when their gas-guzzling grass-chompers have died.

Anyhoo, Drew was mowing the lawn when suddenly he comes flying into the house...


Drew goes immediately into the downstairs bathroom because it's the only room in the house with adequate lighting.  Every other room in the house is dim as hell.  Like you expect to see an Emo kid cutting themselves in the corner, or that slimy-haired girl from "The Ring" scurrying across the floor.  My house is lit like a low-budget thriller starring C. Thomas Howell, Liv Tyler, and the black guy from Stargate: SG1.  (He was the best actor on that show and he never said a damn thing.  Love him!)

But back to the horror movie we're currently starring in.

"Got stung where?"
"Under my eye."
"Are you kidding me?"
"It was one of those yellowjackets.  Is there a stinger?  Is there a stinger?  Is there a sting--"
"Hold still!!!"

I inspected the teeny-tiny bump under his eye.

"No stinger.  Do you want me to finish mowing?  I will."

And I meant it too.  I have no fear of bees and they ignore me.  They obviously recognize the estate Queen when they meet her and treat her with reverence.  But Drew the court jester?  He's up for grabs.

"No.  I'll keep mowing."
"Ok. Stay away from that side of the house."

Five minutes later...

"Again?  I told you to stay away from them!  Where did you get stung this time?"

I travel to the bathroom to find my husband in the process of dropping his shorts and his briefs.  With one foot propped up on the toilet, he bent over and I found myself face to face with my husband's gay-terrain.

I can now officially declare that there is not one inch of skin on that man I haven't seen.

"What the hell were you doing out there?"
"I think I ran over a ground hive."
"Did you try to stick your dick in it, or something?  How would a bee have gotten into your underwear?"
"It flew up my shorts."
"And into your underwear?"
"There's a lot of uncharted territory back here.  Can you give me a clue of where to look?  Your nutsack?  Your taint?"
"Somewhere here."  

He jabs at the point where his leg and manhood meet.

"Is there a stinger?"
"Is there a stinger?!"
"I don't know.  I can't stop laughing long enough to look for one."
"No!  And there's no bee in your shorts.  Are you sure you got stung?  Maybe a pube got caught on your underwear and it freaked you out.  While I'm back here, do you want me to shave or wax your undercarriage?"
"You're kinda chafed. I have some moisturizer--"

He pulled up his shorts and turned to find me trying to hold back my laughter.  It probably looked like I was having a stroke.

"Do you want me to mow the lawn now?"
"No.  I'm almost done."
"Well, try not to flirt with anymore insects out there, ok?"

You would think this might be the end of the story of how my husband was molested by a ground bee.  But...

Two days later...


His face had swollen to the point that he was unrecognizable to me.

It legitimately freaked me out.  Everyone I saw at work I screamed at violently.


One trip to the doctor later, Drew was on some good meds.  He was back to normal in a couple of days.

This was a day later. His eye was much worse.

In the meantime, you know I had to ask...

"I still don't think you got stung in the taint. Do you want me to check to see if that's swollen too?"

This time leaving the briefs on, Drew dropped his shorts.  He didn't even have to bend over for me to see that yes, he had been stung in his upper inner thigh.


I'm such a loving and supportive wife.  And you are welcome for it.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Life: Let's Do Some Catching Up

It's been a while, my friends.  Hope you're enjoying your summer.  Mine has been busy.  Here's some crafty projects that happened since we last spoke here.


This is a new project. My sister contacted me because a friend of hers made custom decals for cars, tumblers, etc... She asked if I could do this with my Silhouette Portrait. I said, "Can I???" After a little googling, I found that YES I CAN! I ordered the material from Amazon and I made my first decal today.

That is a Pirate Queen decal. The photo doesn't show it well, but the crown is a metallic gold.

And it's here. On the back of our CRV today. It seemed appropriate since that vehicle robbed me of $990 today because some thingamajig broke. (Drew explained it to me, but I refuse to listen. Not because I can't understand how cars work, but because I don't want to know. I just pay for it. I'm his low-rent sugar-momma. Haha!)

At any rate, it was a bit tricky making the decal, but I'm super pleased with it. Like my sister, I've never cared for stickers and decals on cars. Now I want to cover it with my own designs!!!


While my mother was here in May, we made some bridal shower cards.

Here's a selection of other cards I've made.


Not much to tell here. I'm currently enrolled in a Master Screenwriting class with ScreenwritingU, the same company I took classes with last year. I very much like their online classes. This one is a doozy though. 18 months. It started in May and I've already seen a huge improvement in my writing. Happy!


Here's some highlights from the past five months.

March 2017 - Boston

I LOVE BOSTON!! I think everyone knows that. I was feeling a bit antsy to get back, so I talked Drew into going to Boston for a long weekend.

It was cold and wet. It was March in Boston. I was just happy it wasn't snowing.

We stayed at the Hilton near Faneuil Hall. across the street from the hotel we Mr. Dooley's. A wonderful Irish pub.

I got an Irish dinner, which is really just an Irish breakfast but with french fries.

William H. Macy entertained us on guitar. (No, it's not really him.) 


After dinner, we walked around. It was bitterly-cold, but I didn't care. 

Breakfast for the next two mornings was at The Black Rose (or Roisin Dubh). Again, an Irish pub. We are quite partial to them. This was Drew's favorite part of the trip. It was right about the corner from where we were staying.

My pictures are crap. I know. I don't take them to share with people but as a reminder to myself of what we did. My memory's pretty bad. I should try to do better with the pictures though since I end up sharing them anyway. Ha!

That night, we went to a hockey game at the Gahden... excuse me... Garden.

Tickets are stupid-expensive. It was still quite a bit of a splurge to get us two seats in the front row in the top balcony. I figured it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I didn't want to be worried about cramming myself into a seat in the middle of a row. We had some leg room and a great view!

Don't let the score fool you. The Bruins won, but the Devils played better. Look at the shot statistic up there. The Bruins shot 40 times and still only managed to beat the Devils by one.

My favorite part of the game?? The Samuel Adams bar!! They serve a beer called Brick Red there. It's a beer they make but serve only in select locations around Boston. This is one of them. And it is probably one of my favorite beers ever. It was perfect. And if I ever want it again, I'll have to go back to Boston and stalk them.


It snowed.


This is "Just Joe." He's a musician we've seen at a few wineries -- White Springs & Ventosa. He's excellent and very entertaining. If you're looking for something to do, find out where he is and go have a listen.

This awful picture is "My So Called Band." They play 90's pop and rock. An amazing band. Why is the picture so crappy? Because they were at the del Lago casino and I could not be bothered to get up and take a closer look. The seats at The Vine theater there are the most comfortable things I've ever been in.

The reason we went was because:
A. We'd hadn't yet been to del Lago and wanted to check it out.
B. The drummer is my friend Kelly's cousin and a lot of her family was going. Since I know a good chunk of them, I decided to tag along and support the band!

And the lead guitarist looks just like Louis CK from where I was sitting. That's a compliment. I love Louis.

Drinks at del Lago are outrageous, but they passed out t-shirts to everyone who came. I don't even like t-shirts, but I love free stuff. So, in my mind, it was a wash.

Oh yeah, and the bathrooms at The Vine must be right next to the kitchen, because it smelled just like Cornell Chicken in the bathroom. I mean, JUST LIKE CORNELL CHICKEN!! So much so that I snapped this pic and sent it to my sister with that bit of info. I like to keep her informed. Haha!

I might have had a few of those expensive beers. Hey, I'm worth it!


My parents came and stayed with use for two weeks in May. I posted quite a few pictures on Facebook of their visit. My favorite part of their stay was the daytrip we took to Niagara-On-The-Lake. If you've never been there, it's a lovely village about 30 minutes from the Lewiston Bridge. There are all kinds of shops. You can visit Fort George. They have a wine trail. Lots of theater. The Shaw Festival (named after George Bernard Shaw) is held there.

I made everyone try on hats in the hat shop.


We got the kayak's out! It has been a few years, but we hit the water on the first nice day. I don't think we've had a nice day since. Poop.

The house is looking cheerful. Drew stained the porch and re-painted the white. We even hung up some flower baskets, which are blooming quite nicely still. Normally, all plants die in our custody. I credit the NEVERENDING RAINS for keeping them alive.  

And that's it for now. I'm gonna boogie. I have homework to do and I'm a little behind. That happens during the week. I usually catch-up on the weekends.

Enjoy your summer.

~ Steph