Pool and virus

Pool table in our apartment lobby

This pool table reminds me of my favorite Stephen King novel, The Stand.

The ball on the table hasn’t moved in almost a month.

 Long before any government said we shouldn’t hang out together, our apartment building banned people from its common spaces to stop the spread of the virus. Not that we hung out all that much anyway, but a round of eight ball might ease our boredom in the afternoon.

Here’s why that lonely cue ball reminds me of The Stand.

In the novel the Army sets off a pandemic that kills almost everyone when a bioweapon flu called Captain Trips escapes the lab. One solider panics, escaping as the gates are closing to seal the facility. He carries the virus into the world. That sets up a good guys versus bad guys scenario that is typical of King’s novels.

In an early scene, one of the last people left alive in the Army lab is sitting in his office looking at images on the surveillance cameras of the cafeteria where a man has died face down in his now congealing soup. The flu has stopped normal life and nothing will ever be the same for the novel’s characters.

As we walk across the lobby bridge to head up to our apartment after our daily walk, I always look down at that ball on the pool table. It’s become my congealing bowl of soup.

We’re not in a King novel. There’s no battle between good and evil with the good guy winning in the end. There’s only washing our hands, staying away from other people and waiting it out.

King’s novels always show the resilience of people. We’re experiencing that resilience with neighbors bringing food to neighbors, calling each other and saying Hi to strangers on the street from six feet away. We will get through this without a battle to end our novel. Just diligence. Normal life will return.

By the way, the ball moved last night.


Viva La Resistance!

Fort Necessity

Resistance to Donald Trump’s whacked out policies comes in all forms, including scarves.

It’s evident at the Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington, Pa. The park commemorates the skirmishes that sparked the French and Indian War, which then ignited a world war.

As we entered the small visitor center, I noticed the National Park volunteer behind the counter was knitting a beautiful multi-colored scarf.

Volunteer with climate change tapestry. She’s using a linen stitch to knit in the different colors on the scarf.

I’m a knitter. Knitting is a universal language. I’ve met knitters in Mexico, and even though I don’t speak Spanish, we exchanged knitting techniques.

Forget the historic battlefield. I immediately wanted to know what the volunteer was knitting, what kind of yarn she was using and what stitch.

I’m knitting a scarf with colors representing climate change, the volunteer explained. Volunteers across the country are knitting the scarves as part of a tapestry project to show visitors how climate change affects the national parks. The different colored yarns represent daily temperature for a year. Blue yarn represents cooler temperatures. Yellows, reds and oranges represent warmer days.

One scarf represents the year the park was founded and the other will be the current year, she explained. They’ll be displayed together so that people can easily see how the park’s climate has changed, she said.

That’s cool. A small act of resistance.

Climate scarf

The resistance to the Trump, though, goes further.

Later Joe went back to buy a postcard at the small park gift shop. He got to talking to the volunteer again.

National Park rangers have long kept track of the weather statistics for their parks, she explained. The collected information was uploaded to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s databases, adding to the agency’s knowledge about the nation’s weather and climate.

Two weeks after Donald Trump took office rangers were ordered to stop tracking the climate, she said. They were told it wasn’t their job to collect information on the climate.

That’s when the volunteers stepped up. They now keep daily records. When the Climate Denier in Chief leaves office, the information will be dumped back into NOAA’s databases, she said.

Viva La Resistance! Whether it takes the form of a scarf or recording data for future generations.


Gym Class

I had intended to write a post about a little community park we found in Erie, Pa., but instead I’m writing about gym class.

This morning I watched my granddaughter do gym online. She didn’t move for 45 minutes.

Grace goes back to full-time, in-person school next week. She can’t wait to see her friends and get back to some semblance of normal. I can’t either.

Joe and I are back living in her family’s basement for the week. We’re supervising Grace and Charles as they attend class online. Charles doesn’t go back until Nov. 16, just in time for the Thanksgiving break.

This morning Grace sits on a chair pulled to the kitchen table. She sits like a frog with her knees up by her ears. She’s early for online class. There’s a note from her teacher. She’s going to be late. The younger students are already in school and she’s supervising the morning arrival chaos.

Ten minutes later the teacher shows up online. The class does the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher begins reminding students when they need to be online when Grace’s computer decides to update. Five minutes later she was back online, having missed some announcements.

Now it’s time for a “special,” gym.

Up front let me say I have a lot of respect for teachers, including gym teachers who get a bad rap. I know in your mind you hear a big “but” coming. Here it is.

This teacher took 20 minutes to get a video about soccer skills online. She explained that she was on a different computer. She works in different buildings and for some reason the computer in this building wasn’t working with her video.

 Grace played with her hair.

 Finally catchy music started. The video glitched. The kids offered ways to fix it. I glanced over Grace’s shoulder at the screen showing a ball between two feet. It was a demonstration of soccer footwork.

Teaching soccer, online.

When the video finished the teacher suggested students practice their footwork, in the house. Those of you who know how can juggle the ball practice your skills, she suggested. Or you can turn a laundry basket on its side and shoot balls into it.

Of course you need your parents’ permission, she added.

I heard a chorus of mothers’ voices in my head: “Don’t play ball in the house!”

If you want you can go down to the basement, or go outside to practice, the teacher suggested. The kids point out it’s 30 degrees outside this morning.

Grace doesn’t have a soccer ball. She doesn’t play soccer and neither does her brother.  She sat watching as the one or two students already on teams practice.

The teacher, meanwhile ate an Egg McMuffin, drank coffee, munched a donut and had a sports drink, according to Joe who was watching the screen.

This a teacher Grace likes. I don’t want her not to like her.

I have a very readable face, which I’m trying to keep neutral. Inside I’m thinking how unprofessional. This isn’t teaching the kids anything about exercising or being healthy.

Grace tells me that last year when they had class the teacher often drank coffee and talked with other teachers while the students were doing drills or exercising. Teachers go to work early and they have to eat breakfast at school, she says.

The teacher plays another video. This time the kids are supposed to exercise. Some kids do planks, some do jumping jacks. I suggest Grace exercise. No one else is exercising, she says continuing to play with her hair.

The video ends. We’re going to be together for class next week, the teacher says. We’ll have to be socially distanced. What activities would you like to do, she asks.

The kids suggest they have a shoot out or play games with balls or hula hoops. They could bring in their own equipment to be safe, they tell the teacher.

The teacher puts the kibosh on that. I don’t think the principal will allow you to bring your own equipment. We can’t use the school’s equipment because I’d have to disinfect it between each class, she says.

Joe, Grace and I look at each other.

Why can’t she give the students spray bottles filled with disinfectant and have them wipe down the equipment, Grace asks us. We saw some bottles at Lowe’s for $1 a piece, she says.

The class ends. Grace has a break between classes.

She puts on her jacket and heads out to her swing. She’s out in the fresh air pumping her legs for 20 minutes before returning to the computer for class.

Later today we’ll probably ride bikes to the school playground. Grace will climb the wrong way up the slides. She’ll scamper up the climbing wall and hang on the monkey bars. 

That will be her gym class.

Voter fraud

As a reporter with more than 35 years of experience covering elections for newspapers large and small in New York and Pennsylvania, I have one word for President Donald J. Trump’s assertions that elections are rigged: Bullshit.

I’ve covered village elections in a rural New York county where only 13 people showed up to vote for trustee. If voter fraud was going to take place it would have happened there because no one was paying attention. It didn’t.

In my first election as a reporter in the stone age before computers,  I drove door to door to schools and churches in suburban Philadelphia with a flashlight in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other copying down final vote tallies posted on polling places. At the time papers had to tally the votes themselves in order to find out who won.

(I talked my way out of trouble that night when a curious cop shined his big flashlight on me copying the vote totals off a door at an elementary school in Lansdale, Pa. )

The next year I watched election officials from across the Montgomery County race up the courthouse steps in Norristown to get the counted ballots to the election bureau as quickly as they could. Plenty of opportunity for votes to get lost on the ride in. They didn’t.

Election officials, regardless of party affiliation, are a pretty straight bunch. At the polls, they’re the grandmothers you see year-after-year, at least one Republican and one Democrat. They hand out the ballots, answer any questions and generally point you in the direction of the elementary school bake sale fundraiser to hit on the way out after voting.

It’s your friends and neighbors who count the votes at polling places.

The results are sent to counties, who in turn send them to the state. The winners are unofficial until the official count is done, usually a week later.

Trump and his cronies would have you believe that mail-in ballots will be a problem.

Election boards across the country are about to be deluged with absentee ballots. Many of those ballots will be posted by first time absentee voters, like me, who don’t want to stand in line with strangers during a pandemic.

I got my mail-in ballot three days ago. I’ll be very careful in filling it out. I plan to drop it off at the official ballot box at the Allegheny County board of elections well before any deadlines. And I know it will be counted.

The reason our election system works so well is because we trust our neighbors, our friends, to do the right thing and count our ballots correctly.

Trump doesn’t trust anyone. And he doesn’t want you to trust anyone either.

Joe goes back to teaching

I’m sitting at my daughter’s kitchen table as I write this.

Nine-year-old Gracie is typing on a computer with one finger. Her school district is not doing in-person instruction, although it is doing in-person football. Her mom and dad both work outside the home. Gracie and her brother have been doing online classes, at home, alone.

We’re here to provide support for the kids and comfort to the parents that their children are learning.

It’s Monday morning and Grace is sitting in a red t-shirt from the church Christmas play and pink flannel pajamas. Her legs are scrunched  up like a frog’s in the chair. She’s one-finger typing a piece of fiction. It’s a writing assessment. She was supposed to have it done last week.  Her first online meeting with her fourth grade teacher is 11 a.m.

Grace has an hour to get this done. In this she’s like her grammy. I can’t do anything unless I’m under a deadline.

Grace stops typing to pick a loose piece of skin off her finger.

I tell her she’s procrastinating. Teacher Joe gently tells her to get back to work.

She types a little, stops to ask how to spell some words and then we drift off into a discussion of when the wheel was invented.

I tell her she’s procrastinating. Joe gently gets her back to work. Click, click, click.

“What did they have at the cider mill back then?” she asks out of nowhere. Apparently the story takes place at a cider mill in 1914. There’s more discussion.

She’s procrastinating, again. Joe nudges her back to work. Click, click, click.

The typing stops. Grace points to the small chalkboard on the wall behind the kitchen table. “Mom never fixed that,” she says of the outdated menu.

Joe encourages her to go back to work. Click, click, click.

Joe goes into the living room to read the morning papers on his computer. He gets up after two minutes, wanders into the kitchen, and surreptitiously looks over Grace’s shoulder. 

He wanders into Charles’ room. The 11-year-old middle schooler had to be online for Spanish class at 7:50 this morning. At one point Charles has turned his computer screen to the ceiling. He is lying on his bed with his eyes closed listening to his teacher.

Joe nudges him out of bed and back in front of the computer.

Class is over and Charles announces he does not need to be online again until 9:30. He wants to play with the dog. Joe tells Charles he’ll take care of Ringer, and to go back to work.

Joe is outside and I can hear Charles stretching and moaning. He’s begun to work on another project and has five minutes before his next online class.

Grace finishes her story. She copies her work and sends it to her teacher.

She moves on to math work that should have been done Friday. There’s a lot of complaining about rounding numbers and the number of problems that must be done. I’m no help. I don’t know how to patiently explain rounding numbers. Joe and the bouncy dog come back in.

We’re all talking at once. I tell Joe to help Grace. Grace is complaining. Joe is explaining rounding. The dog is barking.

It’s 9:30. Charles comes out of his room and warns us to be quiet. He’s in class.

This is education in the time of covid.

Why We Need Biden-Harris

As I watched  the first night of the Democratic National Convention multiple reasons for voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were running through my head.  It would be easy to list all of the reasons to vote against Donald Trump but I would rather vote for something. The Democrats chose to use the preamble to the constitution as the central theme of this evening and that started me thinking. What is it We The People need?

We The People of the United States, In Order to form a more perfect Union … need a president and vice president who can reclaim a government that is failing on every level.  Who have experience in government and know how to operate the levers of power to bring about change.  The last three years have proven that a complete outsider cannot steer the congress and direct the government.  Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will end Trump’s practice of appointing unqualified hacks to rundown our government and push for legislation that benefits all Americans not just special interests. 

…In order to … establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility… We need leaders who recognize the rights of all citizens and residents of this country.  Our President must support the rights of the people to protest and speak out against what is wrong in our society.  The Oval Office should speak out for racial justice and not equate hate groups with legitimate protestors.  Presidential statements should address policy differences not attack opponents as being “nasty, unintelligent or Un-American.”  The President must recognize that the police and military were created to serve and protect not suppress and control the people.  Criminal justice reform must include demilitarizing and restructuring police departments.  Joe Biden and Kamala Harris recognize these needs and are prepared to undo past legislative mistakes to insure Justice for all Americans.  They will speak to our “better angels” instead of our baser instincts.

. . . In order to . . . provide for the common Defense . . . We need a President who recognizes the importance of our history and place in the world community. Our President must have a foreign policy based on our long term needs and interests, not just what is good for today. In an ever shrinking world the United States cannot have a go it alone policy.  We need to support our allies and oppose those who don’t share our values.  We cannot just build walls to seal ourselves off from viruses, climate change and cyber attacks. None of these things can be stopped by walls.  Joe Biden will return us to a foreign policy based on mutual respect and alliances. He will cease pandering to Russia, Turkey and North Korea while insulting and ignoring traditional allies. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have plans to battle these threats with the help of our allies and international organizations instead of using tariff wars, saber rattling and cozying up to dictators.  They will foster cooperation with the World Health Organization, rejoin The Paris Climate Accords and cooperate with international organizations rather than continue Trump’s reckless go it alone policy.

. . . In order . . . Promote the general Welfare and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Prosperity . . . we need a President who recognizes the dangers we face from the raging virus, climate change, racial and economic inequality.  Joe Biden recognizes that we must control the virus before we can fix the economy.  He favors clean energy and  a return to the Paris Climate Accords over the continued use of fossil fuels.  His plans call for a steady reduction in the use of coal and oil.  Biden’s platform plans on undoing systemic racism and changing the way we police our fellow citizens.  His economic plans extend health care to more Americans, raise pay and strengthen unions.  His tax programs would raise my taxes but would stop giving gifts to the wealthy at my expense. 

Finally, We The People need Joe Biden and Kamala Harris because they display compassion, honesty, integrity and a desire to promote the interest of all Americans. After 4 years of Trumpism we need those characteristics to restore our country, rebuild our spirit and move forward into a better future.  On November 3rd vote for Biden-Harris and a better tomorrow.

Celebrate our true heritage this July 4th

Yesterday Donald Trump stood in front of Mount Rushmore and spoke about strong and proud Americans who protect their heritage. In doing so he calls on scared and weak Americans to defend an artificial history based on half-truths and misinformation. Strong people are willing to see their past leaders as real people not demigods. So who were these men Trump stood in front of yesterday?

George Washington was integral in creating a nation that offered the promise of liberty and justice for all. Yet as a slave owner he denied those blessings to African Americans. He called on congress to pass laws protecting the rights of American citizens, while dealing fairly with Native Americans. In 1790, 91 and 94 Washington used troops to suppress Native Americans. Certainly, Washington has a mixed and complex record of dealing with people of color.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men were created equal. In his personal life he failed miserably in extending those rights to anyone but white males. Jefferson owned and sold slaves freeing them only at his death. During the revolution Jefferson proposed removal of the Cherokee west of the Mississippi. As President he encouraged selling goods to Native Americans on credit and then claiming their land when they failed to meet this obligation. Jefferson’s actions fall far short of the inspiring words we celebrate today.

Abraham Lincoln has a clear record of being opposed to the spread of slavery but he was not an abolitionist. He ran for office arguing he would leave slavery alone where it existed. In his first inaugural address Lincoln clearly said he believed he had no authority to end slavery. His Emancipation Proclamation freed only those slaves held in areas still in rebellion. Lincoln left slaves alone in Tennessee, New Orleans and other conquered territory. He never mentioned slaves in Union states like Maryland at all. Lincoln’s writings and speeches give no indication he saw freedmen as equal to whites.

Theodore Roosevelt has a complex and confusing relationship with people of color in this nation. Roosevelt publicly called for slow and gradual movement towards economic and social equality. In private he used racist language and spoke of white supremacy. Roosevelt presided over a period of economic growth and prosperity during the creation of our industrial nation. At the same time he did nothing as the ugly hand of Jim Crow was hardening its grip on people of color in this nation. Statues raised across this nation, during this time, honor traitors who fought for the right to own their fellow man. His treatment of Native American populations was one of oppression and land grabs.

This is the American History I tried to teach my students for 27 years. The story of imperfect men building a nation that keeps moving towards the promises enshrined in our founding documents. Today we need to honor what the four men on Mount Rushmore got right and keep working to correct what they did wrong . We should recognize Washington and Jefferson as the founders of our nation. Lincoln should be celebrated for preserving the Union and the end of slavery. Roosevelt should be recognized for helping to build the industrial nation and the modern presidency. However we must acknowledge the failure of these men in the areas of racial and social justice. This in not tearing down America as Donald Trump alleges but a recognition of who we really are. Strong and proud Americans will honor this legacy not the false heritage Trump wants to protect this July 4th.

Coming off the hill

signs on the hill

I got texts from out of state friends after a riot in Pittsburgh following the murder of George Floyd. Are you ok? they ask. I’m fine, we live on a hill far from the action I text back.

Isn’t that the point? I think to myself. I’m an old white lady who lives on a hill. A place of privilege, where I can look down on the city choosing to participate or not with the people who live there.

Sure I serve meals at a homeless shelter and fold clothes for the free clothes closet at the Send Relief Center at my church. I serve meals to the community on Sundays and hand out packages for the food bank. But, that’s again from a position on the hill.

On my hill I don’t know what it’s like to be stopped by police because I drive through a neighborhood, or closely watched in a store because of my skin color, or stalked while jogging. No one will call 911 when I ask them to put their dog on a leash at Grandview Park.

I don’t worry that a police officer will pull me out of a car, falsely accuse me of resisting arrest and kneel on my neck.

I don’t want anyone to worry about all of those things. I want our country to change. I want to change. I want people to be accepted for who they are, not for what they look like.

It’s time for me to run down the hill and be the change I want to see.

Mom’s scissors

My scissors

Packing up my knitting junk this morning made me think of my mum.

I’m almost done knitting my daughter’s sweater. Yards of cream colored yarn have become a fabric of cables and texture. All I need to do now is sew up the seams. That means I no longer need the knitting needles, ball of yarn, measuring tape, stitch markers and all the other doo dads I use when I knit.

I started packing everything away when I noticed how many pairs of scissors I have in this one bedroom apartment. Ten.

I have kitchen scissors for cutting flower stems. Yet, I’m just as likely to pull a knife out of the drawer to cut something.

I have scissors with black handles for cutting wrapping paper and opening packages that come from Amazon and LL Bean.

There are the scissors I bought from a friend selling scrapbooking supplies, an expensive investment that produced two pages of a scrapbook for my youngest daughter. That fad died quickly along with my patience.

The purple handled scissors are for cutting fabric. I don’t sew anymore.

The small silver scissors clip quilt threads. The gold embroidery scissors snipped threads when I had a passion for crewel. I had forgotten about them until I went looking for all the scissors in the house for this blog.

The blue handled scissors live in the bathroom.

I have beautiful bronze colored scissors made in the shape of a stork.

Stork scissors

I spotted them on the website for London Loop, a yarn shop in London. They were French, the website said.  I had to have them. It was the one souvenir I wanted from our trip to London. I dragged Joe on the Underground to the quaint back alley shop, where the scissors lived in glass case. They were a wonder to use.

I lost them six months later.

I found a replacement online made by a Chinese company. The same bronze stork handle, but smaller. That made me think the whole Paris to London scissors may not have been all that unique.

 It was fun, however, tracking the replacement scissors as they traveled from Chinese warehouse to Chinese post office, to plane to the U.S. through customs, to our post office, to the house. Three weeks and $20 later.

Almost a year later I spotted the original stork scissors on an end table at my daughter’s house.

 Apparently I’d left the scissors at her house. They migrated out of the basement where we sleep when we visit and up the stairs before finding rest on the end table next to my son-in-law’s chair.

Sarah thinks Chuck probably used the Paris to London scissors to cut fishing line.

I never use my most special pair of scissors.

Mum’s scissors

My mother was a nurse. Her scissors are stainless steel, curved with a blunt end that slips under bandages to cut them away without nicking a patient’s skin.

Mum carried her scissors in her uniform pocket when she was at work. At home, they lived in her purse among half sticks of gum, errant pennies, pens and tissues. She had them professionally sharpened every year.

Those scissors were a vital tool, as important to her as the watch with a second hand she used to calculate a patient’s heart rate.

I  wasn’t allowed to touch mum’s scissors. They weren’t for cutting out paper dolls, coupons, cloth, or construction paper. All those things would dull blades that needed to be kept sharp for work, I was told.

My mum’s been dead for 22 years. I don’t use her scissors. They’re too important I guess. They live in my knit bag, along with scissors that look like storks.

Coronavirus comes to the Hannagans

Tissues in search of a nose

The coronavirus has hit the Hannagans.

I don’t have it. Joe doesn’t have it. No one we know has it.

The little virus causing so much havoc around the world has changed the way I deal with people and the things they touch.

Two weeks ago for the first time I grabbed an antiseptic wipe to wipe off the handle of the grocery cart in the Giant Eagle. I’d always thought people who did that were paranoid or silly. I’ve become one of them.

There were no large bottles of hand sanitizer on the grocery shelves. I bought a half dozen of the little ones you attach to your purse or backpack.

I read a lot of what I call apocalyptic literature where a virus, zombies or political upheaval turns the world upside down and puts us back in the stone age. I know how to prepare for the end of the world as we know it.

Two weeks ago I snuck in extra canned tuna into the grocery cart and told Joe we needed more canned veggies sneaking in those as well. I’m actually stocking up in case we get quarantined.

The following shopping trip Joe admitted that he’d been thinking the same way. We bought more canned veggies, a large bag of rice, noodles and extra spaghetti sauce. I haven’t added extra toilet paper to the list, but I have stocked up on cough syrup, Tylenol and tissues. We’ve made sure we have enough of our medications to last a month.

I stretch my long sleeves to cover my hands when I open doors in public bathrooms. I flush toilets by using my foot to karate kick the button or push the lever. (Don’t laugh, some of you do the same!)

I sing “This Land is Your Land” in my head when I wash my hands for 20 seconds.

This week we started bumping elbows with friends we meet at church.

Then there are the things I’m noticing about others such as how close we stand next to each other and strangers.

Grabbing a chai at Starbucks on the Ohio Turnpike I stood at least 6 feet away from the group ahead of me in line. I watched the barista push her hair off her forehead, scratch her nose and pour the tea into a cup before she handed it to me. The chai wasn’t contaminated, but I wondered what bugs her hands had left on the paper cup.

I’d never thought of that before.

When we arrived at a friend’s home for Sunday dinner, he went in for a big hug. I backed away and offered an elbow. He made a joke about it, then hugged me anyway. I stiffened.

Since Charley’s immune system is already compromised we’re trying to avoid her getting sick, Joe explained.

We’ll we’re not staying 6 feet away from each other, he replied with a laugh. I had already taken a couple of steps back bumping into the couch.

We’re not changing our other routines. I have a movie matinee date with a friend later this week. We’re still volunteering to serve community meals. We have tickets for the Empty Bowls fundraiser for the foodbank next Sunday.

We leave for Florida in our motorhome after my next treatment later this month to visit with friends and family, and do some disaster rebuilding with Nomads there.

I’m not paranoid about a virus, maybe a bit silly.

So, if you’re not my family, don’t expect a big hug when I see you. You’ll get a hearty elbow bump instead.

Jury Duty

I was excited to be summoned to jury duty.

Most people don’t say that. It’s a pain in the butt. There’s no fame or fortune linked to it. The $9 a day isn’t enough to pay for parking, let alone lunch, in downtown Pittsburgh.

I’m an old reporter and I thought it would be exciting to be in court again.

And the irony wasn’t lost on me when I took an oath to be impartial in listening to evidence senators acting as the jury in President Trump’s impeachment trial were being asked to do the same.

Allegheny County’s criminal courts are in a beautiful ancient Romanesque building centered around a courtyard and linked to the old county jail by a bridge my mother called the “Bridge of Sighs,” when she worked there as a nurse in the 1970s.

Entering the courthouse is like going into a dungeon. All dark with old signs that haven’t changed since the 1930s.

The jury room is up several floors in a big courtroom.

We jurors entered the room like we were entering a church for a funeral, except there was paperwork involved. No one spoke to each other and if you did it was quietly, respectfully. Except for the girl behind me complaining that this was her fourth time in two years she’d been summoned.

Paperwork  signed, vouchers handed out, we awaited our fate. It’s a roll of the dice. One day or one trial.

Courts in New York state where I worked for 30 years are very simple, there’s no romance to it.

The court clerk begins the session saying “All rise. This court is in session the Honorable XYZ presiding.”  Blah, and business begins.

Pennsylvania is a commonwealth, a more English definition of government.

“All rise,” sang out the court clerk. “The Court of Common Pleas is now in session. The Honorable Judge Edward Kozlowski presiding. All those with business before the court draw near and be heard. God bless the court and God bless the Commonwealth.”

The judge sat down. Then we sat down.

The judge explained what was expected of us and left. I read one of four magazines I brought with me. (I  knew it was going to be a long day.) I could see a woman in front of me knitting. (Man, why didn’t I bring mine along.)

The young man next to me looked bored. I handed him a magazine. He told me he was worried about his job working in a warehouse. He earned about $15 an hour and he wasn’t sure his bosses would pay him for the time off if he got picked to be on a jury. Nine bucks a day in jury pay wasn’t going to cover him.

About 15 minutes in they called the first 20 of us to a separate room for jury selection. I was juror 20. We filed into a room where two defendants and their defense teams and prosecutors looked us over.

This was jury selection for a big trial. The clerk read the charges. The two were accused of a mass murder that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard barbecue.

I vaguely remembered something about it. We weren’t living in Pittsburgh when the shooting took place in 2016. It was obvious everyone else in the room knew exactly what case we were being asked to sit on. https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/after-4-years-wilkinsburg-mass-shooting-case-comes-down-to-3-week-trial/

The clerk handed out a four-page single spaced witness list that had more than 100 names on it. It looked like cops in three municipalities would testify.

The judge warned us we would be asked to serve 10 to 15 days on the jury.

The judge, defense and prosecutors left the room. They called the first juror for questioning. Fifteen minutes later they called the next juror, the young man I’d been chatting with.

We waited some more. I fidgeted. I had a blood test and treatment scheduled for next week. I flagged down the clerk as she collected the witness list.

I’d be more than happy to serve on the jury, I told her. But I have stage 4 cancer and treatment next week. If you could tell me when the court’s day normally ends, I could call and reschedule them to later in the day?

She patted my hand. There’s no problem. They won’t let you miss your treatments, she said.

A little while later they sent us out to lunch with orders not to go to the courthouse’s fourth floor and not to say anything to anyone about the trial.  We wandered out, smokers lighting up when they hit the sidewalk.

An hour later, we were back in the room looking out at downtown through the big windows and trying to figure out how to pass the time.

The clerk returned. Turns out they only needed two more jurors. You’re free to go. Thanks for your time. Your check will be in the mail.

The chatty young man had never returned to our room.

The trial lasted almost three weeks. The charges against one defendant were dropped the day the trial began and the jury acquitted the second. It’s a big scandal. People want justice.

I wonder if the chatty young man still has a job.