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Musing #42: Why It’s a Great Time for TWELVE ANGRY [MEN] in NYC, and What It Means to Me (Part II)

Excerpted from Playing with Fire: How Junk Science Sent Claude Garrett to Prison for Life, by journalist Liliana Segura for THE INTERCEPT, 02/24/15:

[One juror] said that “the other jurors hated [Claude], even before his testimony.” [The prosecutor] capitalized on this — he “made sure that emotion controlled the courtroom, not evidence.” [This juror] had tried to argue for a not guilty verdict, he said, but only one other person took his side. As deliberations went on, he was becoming exhausted from working his overnight shift at work and then coming to court. His income was in jeopardy and he did not want to forgo his scheduled visitation with his daughter. So [he] finally gave in, even though “no juror could give a motive” for why Claude would have attacked [his girlfriend], “and then lock(ed) her in a laundry room to die from a fire,” he wrote. For all the [prosecution’s] emphasis on [arson accelerant] pour patterns, in the end, the fire science had not been discussed among the jurors. It had simply come down to “a picture of a drunken redneck that did not deserve a woman like her.”

#InverseTwelveAngryMen

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Welcome, dearest readers, to Part II of Musing #41: Why It’s a Great Time for TWELVE ANGRY [MEN] in NYC, and What It Means to Me. I’m mostly done with the evasive-but-barely-veiled liberal sociopolitical commentary, I swear. What follows is 95% non-controversial history and personal anecdote.

Part I was “why it’s a great time.” This is “what it means.”

So, y’all did your assigned Googling (and/or, ideally, screening) of TWELVE ANGRY MEN [1957], right?

If yes, good. For we’ll be delving into detail.

If no, uh…

*** SPOILER ALERT!!! ***

You were forewarned.

A major plot point of the dramatic work in question hinges on the sights and sounds of a Manhattan elevated train, or “el” — something which has technically not existed since the Third Avenue Line was closed in 1955; uppermost reaches of the 1 train and lowermost reaches of the Metro-North commuter rail, notwithstanding.

Capture

“A Third Avenue Line train passes Cooper Square in the 1950s,
with the Empire State Building in the background.” — Wikipedia

The original, Emmy-winning TWELVE ANGRY MEN teleplay by Reginald Rose — from whence cometh both Rose’s legendary screenplay and Sherman L. Sergel’s far inferior stage adaptation — was written circa 1954. This does not mean, however, that a properly-dramaturged script is incapable of functioning contemporaneously in the 21st century.

Sadly, the tropes endure.

And now, a relevant autobiographical digression.

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I lived in Spanish Harlem — a/k/a SpaHa, East Harlem or El Barrio; the area north of 96th Street and east of Fifth Avenue — for six years in the early aughts, beginning on my 22nd birthday (which was two days before 9/11). And life below the poverty line in the last veritable Manhattan slum was other than glamorous.

OK, fine.

It was squalor.

But that wasn’t the fault of the spirited ethnic ghetto I called home for one contiguous sixth of my ridiculous life; a home I could afford, for and to which I’ll be grateful in perpetuity.

OK, fine.

It was partly due to the ‘hood’s abysmal condition and the chronic stepping-over of unconscious crackheads — yes, literal ones — lying supine on my stoop. (They were nice people, by the way.) It’s hard to muster any gusto for the Sisyphean task of cleaning a dark, dank, stank, garbage-strewn, vermin-riddled, hundred-year-old tenement with crumbling, paper-thin walls and neighbors who dump their dirty washing water on the hallway floors.

The foul water dumping still boggles my mind. Had they no toilet?!

Legitimate possibility.

For six straight years, I tossed mice still living on the traps to which they were stuck out my living room windows. No one cared. Such is the ‘hood.

But slum livin’ or otherwise, ultimately, I can blame my years of lazy SpaHa putrescence on no one but myself, my bank account and a small group of equally poor and Pigpen-ish, collectively enabling (but ever dear) former roommates.

OK, fine.

I confess to being the second-grossest of the lot.

pipen

So sorry, former roomies, for all the years of filth!

I was, in the first of my two rodent-infested SpaHa hovels — the one from which I banned my visiting parents, in abject shame — a kitchen-dweller. The lone barrier between the foot of my bed and the fridge was the garment rack that functioned as my closet. The long edge of my bed was only (barely) obscured from the front door by a heavy, brown wicker “Chinese” shade.

Later in that same tenancy, I moved my bed into the actual closet.

$400 a month for Manhattan, people!

The apartment most relevant to TWELVE ANGRY MEN, however, was my second SpaHa rathole — the one situated parallel to the Metro-North tracks — depicted below:

1alg-metro-north-jpg

Corner of East 103rd Street and Park Avenue, building closest to the elevated train.
(Left side of the pic, south side of the street.)

I lived on the fourth floor of 102 East 103rd Street from 2004 to 2007. And when I say my apartment was parallel to the tracks, I mean on the same horizontal plane. When I lay in bed, the tracks were level with my body. I used to joke that it was “cinematic.”

belleville-house

LES TRIPLETTES DE BELLEVILLE [2003]

And by “cinematic,” I meant “deafening.”

My one daily respite from the cacophony of rushing trains fell — in conjunction with the Metro-North’s schedule — between 1:56 and 5:37AM. If I left my non-air-conditioned-bedroom window open overnight, I’d be jarred into Hellish consciousness by a sudden, awful din circa 5:40AM every day. Once so arrived, there’s no getting back to sleep. Consequently, I slept with that damn window shut for three straight years…regardless of climate.

charlie

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

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Knowing what you now do about my life in the ghetto, you can near-fully appreciate the degree to which TWELVE ANGRY MEN tickles my fancy.

Thus, here’s presenting a few choice snippets of personally ticklish dialogue:

On the Pervasive Stench of Garbage in the ‘Hood

Juror #5: I’ve lived in a slum all my life. . . .
Juror #10: Now wait a second!
Juror #5: I used to play in a backyard that was filled with garbage. Maybe it still smells on me.

On the Right to Disagree in the United States (a point from Part I)

Juror #11: I have always thought that a man was entitled to have unpopular opinions in this country. This is the reason that I came here. I wanted to have the right to disagree.

On the Deafening Din of “El” Trains

Juror #8: Did anyone here ever live right next to the el tracks?
Juror #5: I’ve lived close to them.
Juror #8: They make a lot of noise, don’t they? [#5 nods.] I’ve lived right by the el tracks. When your window is open, and the train goes by, the noise is almost unbearable. You can’t hear yourself think.

On Lawyers (for whom I work in real life)

Juror #5: Lawyers can’t think of everything.

More on that Deafening Din

Juror #4: So the el train would have made a low rumbling noise. El trains screech when they go around curves. So the old man could have heard a scream, which is high-pitched. And it is a tenement and they have thin walls.

On the Dank Darkness of “Tenement Halls

Juror #11: I do not live in a tenement, but it is close and there is just enough light in the hall so you can see the steps, no more…

On Casual, Sinister, Everyday, Hundreds-of-Years-Old Racism (a further point from Part I)

Juror #10: Oh, sure, there are some good things about them, too. Look, I’m the first to say that. [Other Jurors start walking the fuck away.*] I’ve known a few who were pretty decent, but that’s the exception. Most of them, it’s like they have no feelings.

*Stage direction paraphrased.

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Penultimate point!

Part I promised “the story of mine own actual service on a New York City jury.” So here’s that, briefly:

During my second SpaHa rathole tenancy, I wound up on a jury with a friend from college. (This is a city of eight million people. That’s insane.) And one of the first instructions to the jury was, “Don’t go look at the scene of the accident.”

1alg-metro-north-jpg

Coincidentally, the Actual Scene of Said Accident

What are the odds?!

It was a week-long civil case in which a drunken cyclist was suing the driver of a cab into which he had plowed whilst careening carelessly through the tunnel beneath the tracks. This idiot legitimately sustained a head wound so ghastly it had to be seen to be believed; a straight-up dent the size of a baseball. But the whole thing was entirely his own damn fault.

We knew it was his fault because of the mad-convincing star witness, who had been the cabbie’s JFK-bound passenger. This witness flew back from Los Angeles a year after the accident to testify on behalf of the driver.

The witness was an Orthodox Jew. The cabbie was Palestinian.

Let that sink in.

Yeah.

Unanimously, we gave the plaintiff bupkis. And it felt great.

QUOTING MYSELF: “If you are other than an idiot, you understand and appreciate the honorable power of both the vote and all that goes with trial-by-jury…including jury service.”

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Lastly, but ever first in my heart: I love TWELVE ANGRY MEN because it reminds me of my dad, who once played “Juror #7.”

Warden

Jack Warden as Juror #7

Dr. Kheal 1971

Dad, Being Awesome in College

Webber

Robert Webber as Juror #12

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And Me, in the Same Role

Until next time, “Damn all racists, and don’t shirk your jury duty!”

Stacy
@IvyLawEditor#StacyStills

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