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Sunday, Dec. 01, 2002
It arrived a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still shaking my head as I sit hear and read the notice for the umpteenth time.

It’s the Feds. They want me. They desire my presence. And if I get flippant about it they’ll toss me in the pokey (for a period not to exceed three days or a fine of $100, e purbus unum).

It’s jury duty. I’m to judge my fellow man. While I’m a pretty good judge of character, they want to make it official this time. They’ll even pay me for my trouble and pick up the parking tab and gas money to boot. How can you beat that? $40 a day! The very thought of it makes me want to pursue it as a career.

I actually did get flippant about it last time. The city sent me a summons for local jury duty and I was in the middle of a screaming busy work period and I sent them a letter which basically said “No, I’m well and truly sorry but you won’t be getting old Outfoxed this time ‘cause I’m screaming busy.”

But this is the Feds we’re talking about. We happen to have a US District Court here. I know a couple of these judges by name, since in the course of a woodworking career I happen to have installed the wood and the wood-based goodies in their chambers and let me tell you something. You don’t mess around with a Federal judge. I can just picture a Federal judge getting a haughty letter from me, telling him that my busy schedule won’t allow time for his court. Yeah, that would fly.

This is the same court that has ruled on a number of famous maritime cases. The legal ownership of the Titanic was discussed here. Any one of a number of ships with salvageable treasure has been ruled on from this building. Or the more mundane murder appeals or corporate home wrecking. Big stuff, landmark cases. They need my help. They need the opinion of the common man, the view from the Watering Hole, as it were. How can I say no?

I suspect Judge John might be the one saying no. If I happen to get into a courtroom with him, I can just about picture how it will go. Judge John will be sitting at the bench and he’ll do a double take when he spots me in the jury box. He'll pull off his bifocals, lean over and say “’Zat you, Outfoxed? The hell you doing in my court? Get your ass up to my chambers and get cracking on that raised panel wainscot you put in last year!” And my fellow jurists will sort of ease away from me like the pariah I am, and the US Marshals will put a hand over their holsters and things will start to look sorta grim.

“But Judge John, it wasn’t my fault!,” I’ll squeak. “We went over all this, remember? It was the plumber’s fault I tell ye, the plumber!” But Judge John will just get more pissed and he’ll order me taken away and the next thing you know I’ll be down in the basement getting cozy with some dude named Zeke in a 10 x 10 efficiency lodging with hot and cold running cockroaches.

All because Federal judges have perfect recall when somebody messes with their offices.

But I’m innocent. I’m the victim of circumstances, and Judge John couldn’t care less.

It all started when Stu and I got the call to renovate Judge John’s chambers. Actually, they weren’t his chambers at the time, he had just got appointed and they were in the process of moving him in. Since the only way a Federal judge can lose his job is by death or avoidance of taxes (and I’m not too sure about the taxes), Judge John got his appointment because some old crone had finally gone toes up and he got the nod. In the manner of such things, a decree went out that a new king was to be installed and a room should be prepared for his use. Hence, the summoning of the Outfoxed crew.

The old (and by now, dead) judge had served out his time and apparently cared little for the trappings of office. He had simple chambers with painted walls and unremarkable woodwork. But his colleagues, to a man, had opted to upgrade over the years. Every few years another judge would get annoyed that his space didn’t look quite up to snuff and would mutter something like “Huh. Judge Fred just got new doors and paneling and a Persian rug. What’s he got that I don’t got?” The contractors loved it, it was like tapping into the gold mine of all construction work.

Truckloads of mahogany and granite were produced, decorators flourished in an atmosphere of unlimited budgets and questionable tastes and the Courthouse started to take on the appearance of Ali Baba’s castle, as each judge sought to imprint his own sovereignty on the place. And Judge John got the fever even before he tapped the gavel for the first time. His office was to be a mighty sanctuary festooned with raised panel white oak wainscot and a floor of rare tropical hardwood, brass lighting fixtures, pictures of distinguished looking white men and capped with a 4 piece crown moulding, also out of white oak.

(By the way, and before I go any further, let me take to task the nitwits who misspell or misuse the word moulding. Moulding is a shaped or construed article of wood or other building material. Most modernists insist that the word should be spelled molding. Molding is the act of collecting fungus, and unless that happens to occur on a piece of chair rail, it has nothing whatever to due with woodworking. Such is the stuff that drives me crazy in this enlightened age, and I trust you are all suitably edified. Let’s continue now, shall we?)

Stu and I arrived on the scene when the articles of wood (the mouldings! the mouldings!) started to arrive and we got busy. Judge John started to make daily visits to the project, smiling and humming a happy tune as his lair started to take shape. The tasks were pretty straightforward for us, saw the wood and shoot it to the wall type of stuff. Only problem was the fact that other judges were ensconced on the same floor of the building, and more on the floor just below us, so the noise level of our work was a concern. Every now and then a harassed looking clerk would poke his or her head through the door and hiss, “Judge Fred is in chambers! You’ll have to stop making that god-awful racket this very instant!” Which, of course, made us come to a screeching halt and put a considerable dent in our productivity.

I mentioned this to Judge John at one point and he got a crafty look on his face. “That old coot! Can’t take the noise, can he? I’ll fix his ass! You boys just keep right on working and let ME worry about Judge Fred.”

Who am I to argue? We fired up the compressor and the chop saw and let Judge John run interference. As the days went by and the noise got more intense, clerks and Marshals and grim looking patriarchs would file by the office and glare at us but not a word was spoken. Judge John was our champion, and we were untouchable. Right up until the final day.

We were installing the last bit of wood baseboard and it was me doing the nailing, shooting 2¼” finish nails from the gun. I happened to be at a particular place on a wall where some water pipes came through the studs, serving the ornate bathroom where a dirty judge could go to wash his work soiled hands at the end of a day. And I knew the pipes were there, but I also knew that a metal nailing shield was installed to protect the pipes from nail gun toting youths such as myself. It was a building code requirement, you know. Something done on every job. Only trouble was, the plumber had put in a shield that was not quite up to specifications. He was in a hurry that day, I guess, and stuck in a cheap piece of flashing and hoped that Mr. Nail Gun didn’t choose to shoot a nail in that particular spot.

Well, you guessed it. Out of 150 feet of wood base where I could have shot a nail, I happened to shoot one in the very ½” where it would do the most amount of harm. Didn’t even know that I had done it, as the water wasn’t turned on at that time and I basically just shot it into an empty hidden pipe. Ignorance being bliss, Stu and I packed tools and headed home, secure in the knowledge that we were done and Judge John was just hours away from moving into his newly completed suite. It was all to come to an ugly head the next morning when the plumber showed up to turn a valve or two, and then . . .

I got the call early in the morning from a frantic Court building manager. “Ohmigod, there’s water leaking out of the wall and running into the offices below Judge John’s suite! Can you come?”

In my half awake funk, I seem to remember suggesting that a call to the plumber might be more appropriate than bringing out carpenters for a water problem. The building manager got a little more hysterical. “I did call the plumber, he’s here right now! He got the water turned off, but he says it’s all your fault!”

Like I said, ignorance being bliss, I hadn’t a clue as to what he was talking about, but I hustled an extremely grumpy Stu out of his bed and we rushed down to the Courthouse to see what the trouble was. We were the last to arrive on the scene as a rather impressive crowd had gathered, not the least of whom was Judge John himself. And he didn’t look very happy. Matter of fact, he looked downright hostile. I suppose he had a right to, his Gucci’s were getting a bit soaked in the inch worth of water on his brand new hardwood floor,which was starting to warp before our very eyes.

The plumber was going through the contortions of a death dance and pointed a bony finger our way. “You! You guys shot a nail through my water supply line! Look at this mess!”

The non-plussed Stu managed a grunt to the plumber. “Let’s take a look. You’re sure you had your nail shield installed, right?”

“Yes, yes, of course I did!,” from the plumber, a little self-righteously.

So we pulled off the piece of base and whacked a hole in the wall to expose the pipes and the crowd leaned in as one to take a look. Sure enough, there was the hole in the shield and a matching hole in the pipe, beautifully pierced by one of my nails (Stu typically remarked later that while the whole incident was regrettable, it sure was a confidence builder to know that our much beloved finish gun could shoot with that much power . . .). I reached into the wall and yanked out the shield and held it up for all to see, Exhibit A in the court of Judge John.

I was even given to make a closing argument. “See? This isn’t a nail shield, it’s just a lousy piece of flashing. Ain’t much good for anything.” I looked rather pointedly at the plumber, and Judge John looked at the plumber, and the building manager looked at the plumber, who was looking for a place to hide at the time. “Can’t do much with a nail shield that isn’t up to spec. Shame. Hope the office below this one didn’t have too much damage.”

Judge John let out a sigh at this. “No, there wasn’t anything ruined beyond repair. Only trouble is, it’s Judge Fred’s office.”

Judge Fred. Oh my good lord. The one Judge John had called an old coot. The one who had to endure our ceaseless pounding and sawing for a week. Yeah, that Judge Fred.

Without being too obvious about it, Stu and slowly backed out of the room. By the time we got to the stairs, we were in full gallop. I swear, I didn’t know the big guy could move that fast.

So I’m not exactly looking forward to jury duty. Not in that building, and not with Judge John.

I sure hope him and Judge Fred have kissed and made up. Otherwise you might not be hearing from me for a while.

I’d say a year, with time off for good behavior. Wonder if they have a carpentry shop in the hoosegow?

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