Rob Taylor: Got Milk? Answering the Hard Questions
May 12, 2008
On a day that inconvenienced many, Jane Doe squirmed in a chair that seemed deliberately uncomfortable. But she didn’t mind. In fact, if she could be anywhere, it would be in that very chair.
She was potential juror number two, second seat in the front row. No one knew that she was a “Law and Order” junkie, that the jury summons was the most exciting mail she had received in months, that she knew just what to wear that day – a pinstripe business suit, smoky eye shadow and jewelry that did not call attention to itself. No one knew that this was her lottery.
The defense attorney dressed appropriately, Jane thought ” an Armani suit, red necktie and black wingtips. He fussed over a legal pad, flipping through it like a Rolodex. At first glance, he appeared flustered or disorganized, almost human. The snapshot impression soon gave way to an entirely different vibe – one of power. He looked seasoned, like he was working on his hourly fee, like his time was more valuable than anyone else in the room.
He allowed a full minute to tick off the clock.
“Jane. It is Jane, right?” he asked, removing his reading glasses with great fanfare.
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“Jane, when you go to the grocery store, do you buy the milk carton in the front of the cooler or do you reach around back and buy the carton with the latest expiration date?”
With the spotlight baring down on her, blotches suddenly penetrated her makeup. She glared at the Armani clown – deciding that he was a dweeb after all – and waited for the gavel to drop, for logical minds to prevail. Not even Judge Wapner would allow such a ridiculous interrogation, but like everyone else, the judge just stared at Jane and waited.
“Milk?” she said, buying time, hoping for another question that required intelligence.
“Yeah, milk. You know, the stuff you pour on cereal, stir in your coffee, put in bottles for babies.”
Jane wanted to curse. Instead of discussing crime and punishment, justice and equality, she would match wits with a modern-day Barney Fife over two-percent milk. Images of Holstein cows, Gateway computer boxes and the entire state of Wisconsin raced through her mind.
He was toying with her, legally insulting her. Why? She had done nothing wrong. The biggest injustice was that there would be no quid pro quo, no chance to return the favor and rake him over the coals.
“Got brains?” she would have asked him, already knowing the answer.
But she was the one under oath, not him. She had to answer. Flustered, she crossed her legs, wondering why the county couldn’t squeeze more comfortable chairs into the budget.
“I buy the carton with the latest expiration date,” she said carefully, wondering where this was going.
But there was no explanation. The lawyer simply moved on to the next potential juror and left her hanging.
Ten minutes later, she was dismissed from the jury. Fearless Fife cracked a smile and nodded as she made her exit. Jane hoped to meet again someday – in a dark alley.
To this day, she often ponders the milk question during bouts of insomnia. What’s wrong with picking the milk carton from the back of the cooler? Was she too picky?
Too observant? Was it personal? Did the lawyer go to the grocery store at odd hours, when all the late-expiring milk was picked over? Sadly, life’s great conundrums cannot be solved at four in the morning.
Months passed before she went milk shopping again, though the lapse had nothing to do with her courtroom drama. That day, she stood paralyzed in front of the milk cooler, second-guessing herself. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t bring herself to take the front jug.
“Stupid lawyer,” she said louder than she should have, reaching around back, snatching the freshest jug. Nearby shoppers dispersed, deciding to buy milk later.
Jane was only buying milk that day because her boy was coming home from college for the weekend. The milk was for him. Her husband might have a glass or two, but not Jane. She hadn’t tasted milk in years. Ironically, Jane was lactose intolerant.
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