Judge, jury and…say what again?

Recently called for a month of jury duty, I showed up at the various appointed times, and actually made the next-to-final cut for two different cases, but never got the nod to actually sit on a trial jury.

Not to say I didn’t leave my mark in Orleans Parish Criminal Court.  OPCH

My second day there, I got the call to go upstairs as part of a pool of fifty potential jurors. We were escorted to the courtroom in groups of twenty-five, and for the questioning, I was seated in the top row of the jury box – an interesting comfortable vantage point to the whole voir dire process.

This particular trial was not a typical situation – it was a cold case; nearly twenty years had passed since the crime, and both the prosecution and defense told us they would be relying on the reliability of possibly degraded DNA evidence, and two-decade old memories for testimony. Both sides acknowledged up front that testimony via hazy recollections and recalled memories presented a variety of challenges.

The defendant sat stoically through the proceedings as the prosecution took their turn at interviewing us. He remained that way through the early part of his defense team doing the potential-juror questioning, though by then he had started making more notes on his notepad – adding a few doodles at times.

The prosecution had moved us through all the basic stuff – occupations, background, our attitudes about a variety of issues, what television crime shows we watched regularly. That part surprised me, but apparently this is standard procedure these days in cases of this nature due to the proliferation of the ‘crime show procedurals’ as one of the prosecutors put it. Both sides said they want juries bloodvialsto understand the science of crime fighting via DNA and other forensics is not as cut-and-dried as on ‘CSI and shows of that ilk’ s one of the attorneys phrased it. When asked, most of my fellow jurors and I were in agreement that was all a very reasonable line of questioning, though a few seemed expressed bewilderment that watching TV would be a factor.

It was interesting.

As this was a cold case, both the prosecution and defense took great pains to note that this trial would hinge primarily on witness testimony – twenty-year-old memories and changed relationships. Both sides also asked a series of questions focusing on how we judged people’s trustworthiness, especially after a lot of time had elapsed. When the lead defense attorney got his crack at us, he said right at the start that we may not find some of the defense witnesses to be particularly likable or even all that supportive of the defendant they were testifying for. He was very pointed in asking us if we felt we could still believe what someone had to say, even if our personal opinion of that person was not very high.  Some of my fellow jurors-in-waiting were very uncomfortable with the prospect.

Me? Not so much.

The defense attorney, an African-American man of about thirty-five who had pretty much stuck to confirming questions about my background and neighborhood of residence to that point, finally got around to asking me about how I viewed people and their credibility.

csalesofjustice“Mr. Lucker” he intoned calmly, “Would it be possible for you to accept and believe the testimony of witnesses who may not seem at first glance to be all that credible, and decide the case on that testimony if you didn’t always find them credible?”

“It depends.  I guess a lot of it would depend on the rest of the equation, how much I did or didn’t believe the other side’s witnesses. ”

He looked at me intently, and his tone turned somewhat quizzical, and very pointed. “Mr. Lucker, are you saying you could foresee a trial situation where you didn’t necessarily believe anything that anybody had to say?”

I shrugged. “I teach high school. I deal with that, evvv. ry. -DAY!”

The place erupted in laughter; even the judge was chortling. The court stenographer actually turned and looked at me. The bailiffs seemed especially tickled, as did all four attorneys. The defendant was chuckling as he scribbled away on his yellow legal pad. The defense attorney smiled, shook his head, looked down at his notes briefly before looking back at me, making eye contact and giving me a little ‘good one’ salute before moving on to one of my partners-in-jurisprudence, still smiling and shaking his head.

I made the initial cut down to ten out of our pool, but did not make the final jury. Nor did I get in the last word.

Wrapping up his juror questioning, the defense attorney revisited a few of us who had made the cut down to ten with a series of final questions – though in my case it was more his pre-follow-up-question salutation that was noteworthy: “One more question, Mr. Lucker. We have already established…” he paused dramatically. “That you teach high school….”

william_talman_raymond_burrThe room was again enveloped in laughter, including mine. I returned the attorney’s ‘nice one’ gesture from earlier, and he smiled.

Touché.  I had been Perry Masoned during jury selection.

So while I never did get to provide much service-to-society in the way of fulfilling my civic duty, I did get a good taste of both sides of our judicial system:

I got to deliver the punchline and play the straight man.


“Bird-bird-bird, bird was the word.” Redux.

Pulled from the musty and cluttered Marchives; in keeping with a Thanksgiving leftover theme, a story I told last year to good response.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving 1979 found me in living in on my own in Marshalltown, Iowa. I had moved there late that summer, having accepted a job at KDAO radio, a typical, small market radio station. I was two-plus years removed from high school and in my second small-town radio gig. As the new guy on staff, I knew I was going to be working on Thanksgiving, but that was no big deal. What was cool was that my old friend Rick Hunter was going to be joining me, making it the first stop on his holiday break journey home to Colorado from his college life in Minnesota.

This was to be my second Thanksgiving on my own, in a small town, but my first with an actual guest – a real opportunity to make a full Thanksgiving dinner. I figured I was up for that, having gleaned a fair amount of knowledge hanging around numerous family gatherings through the years and having assisted my mother numerous times on large feasts. I had a couple of cookbooks, and supplemented with few phone calls home to mom in Denver to help iron out some nuances I wasn’t finding in the cookbooks, by Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, I was ready to go.

I knew my way around a kitchen.

Knowing I had to work from 10 -2 on Thanksgiving, and with Rick scheduled to arrive sometime on Wednesday, I figured I could get a lot of stuff done on Tuesday and just have it ready to go. A phone call with Mom over the weekend had confirmed my planning in this regard, but she also added a key point that I hadn’t thought of: thawing the bird. My initial plan was to pick up the turkey on Wednesday and be ready to go. Mom cautioned that this was a time-consuming process, and that should start thawing the turkey on Tuesday. Fair enough.

Oh yeah. The bird.

Adding to the ease with which my Thanksgiving with honored guest was coming together was my Thanksgiving gift from the radio station management: every staff member got a fifteen dollar gift certificate to the local Fareway grocery store, AND a gift certificate for a free, twenty-pound frozen turkey.


The gift certificate covered the bulk of the non-poultry Thanksgiving essentials for two wild and single college aged guys: can of cranberry sauce, can of sweet potatoes, marshmallows, box of instant mashed potatoes, can of green beans, a pumpkin pie, an apple pie, a package of a dozen bakery chocolate chip cookies (the big ones), rolls, a jar of olives, a jar of pickles, some cheese, sausage and crackers, bulbous turkey baster, a six-pack of Coca-Cola, disposable aluminum turkey roaster – and a bag of peppering Farm Herb Stuffing and a pound of Jimmy Dean Pork Sausage so I could duplicate my mom’s fabulous sausage stuffing.

Keep in mind; fifteen bucks went a hell of a lot farther in 1979 than it does today, and I did have two hungry twenty-year olds to feed.  I had to dig into my own cash to add in a bottle of wine – white wine with poultry, of course.

Oh yeah – the bird.

As with a lot of things to that point in my young radio career, getting a free turkey was kind of  a big deal for a couple of reasons: one, small market radio was not exactly a lucrative gig, and two, popping into a store with a gift certificate from the local radio station was a (minor) sign of small town prestige and celebrity, at least back then. The dang things were huge, printed with a neat border like some sort of stock certificate or something.

There was also  management’s angle, which I was to understand much better as my radio career progressed; they could pay you less, then dole out free stuff from advertisers that they got in trade for advertising, which made the freebies seem like a much bigger deal to the young, naïve employee at no real cost to the radio station. Mission accomplished here on all counts; I was pretty pumped to be supplied with this ‘free’ bown-sack cornucopia. But I digress.

The bird.

There was one phrase on the gift certificate that I interpreted a bit differently at the time than I would now: ‘up-to-20 lbs.’ This of course meant I could have chosen pretty much any turkey in the freezer case, but in my 20-year-old thought process, the gift certificate stated ‘Hey dude, you get a free twenty pound turkey’.

Never look a gift bird in the mouth.

So a twenty-pound bird is exactly what I picked out (a nineteen pound, ten-ounce turkey, to be exact.) The twenty pounders were all gone by the time I showed up at the store Tuesday afternoon. Such is life. Arriving home as pleased hunter-gatherer after my shopping expedition, I knew that my first order of business was to get that rock-solid bird to thawed, roastable condition.

Dilemma number one.

Another digression: the apartment I was renting was on the third floor of an old bread factory in downtown Marshalltown. After the bread factory had closed, new owners had turned the former executive offices upstairs into two apartments, one of which I inhabited. The rooms in the place were spacious enough, with high ceilings, funky old moldings, and big water pipes snaking their way through the place. While the rooms (including the kitchen) were big, in redeveloping the place into apartments they furnished the kitchen like an efficiency apartment; the gas stove was one of those old, narrow jobs and the burners on top were so close together, that if you were cooking more than one stove-top item at a time, you could only use small saucepans or they wouldn’t fit, and you had to angle them oddly so the handles would stay on the stove. The single compartment porcelain sink on legs was also smaller than usual – the plastic dish drainer I got when I first moved in barely fit in it.

Where to thaw the bird?

I had a cheap, Styrofoam cooler, but the turkey was too big for that, so that left me with the option of the bathtub. What the folks who turned this place into apartments skimped on in the kitchen, they made up for in the bathroom; a Chester Arthur-sized, cast iron, claw foot tub with single spigot that took roughly 20 minutes to fill to take a bath in…or to get enough water to cover a twenty pound turkey to thaw. As I was good at following cookbook and turkey label instructions, I kept the bird floating in the tub, periodically refreshing the water level. (Rubber drain stopper not totally efficient, the large, cast iron radiator next to tub accelerating evaporation.)

The first couple of times I used the bathroom that night, I was startled when I flicked on the light and saw that bird bobbing in the tub full of water. But I got used to it.

It was Tuesday night, the turkey was going all Club Med in my tub. I called mom to update her on my progress to date, and did so –commenting about the hassle of filling the tub to thaw the bird. This puzzled her; “Couldn’t you just put it in the refrigerator or a cooler?” (Mom and dad had not visited yet; the Eisenhower-era, white Crosley refrigerator in my kitchen had no room at all for this bird from a width standpoint and the wire shelves were not adjustable.)

“Nope” I replied, “It wouldn’t fit.” There was a pause.

“Well, how big is the turkey?” mom inquired – warily. I told her about my free, nineteen-pound, ten-ounce bird. There was another pause.

What the hell are you doing with a twenty pound turkey!?” I knew that tone of exasperation. 

“It’s what the station gave me.”

For two people!? I thought it was a gift certificate. Couldn’t you pick out your own turkey!?”

“Yeah, I did. It was a gift certificate for a twenty pound turkey – so that’s what I got.”

“Oh, Mark!” She was trying to be cross, but couldn’t totally pull it off. She was snickering (sort of) as I heard her turn away from the phone and tell my father, “Mark has a twenty pound turkey for he and Rick.” After another pause, I also heard my father reply, dryly, “I hope they like turkey sandwiches.”

My mother then calmly tried to explain to me that even for the six guests she was expecting on Thursday, she did not have a twenty-pound bird, and that I had better make sure I had plenty of aluminum foil to wrap leftovers in.

Extra foil had not been on my list, so it was a good, prescient reminder. I ended up needing two extra rolls.

Wednesday arrived, as did Rick. The bird continued bobbing and thawing, a grand time was being had by all. I also had a strong Thursday plan; wake up early enough to get the turkey in the oven, prep whatever else I could, get to the station for my 10-to-2 shift, come home, watch some football and hang with Rick, and then feast.

The only true glitch came in the part where we ‘get the turkey in the oven’.

As noted earlier, my oven was small, and narrow – very narrow. Thanksgiving morning, I plucked the bird from the tub, and began prepping it by cleaning it, taking out the gizzards, buttering it, seasoning it, stuffing it, etc. without incident. I know my way around a kitchen, right? Then Rick awoke, joined me in the kitchen, observed the scenario and said, matter-of-factly, “Is that thing going to fit?”

Well, wasn’t that spatial?

It didn’t fit…at least not at first shove. By the time I got around to sliding the over-loaded roasting pan into the preheated oven I realized Rick had asked a really good question. Fortunately, I had a disposable roaster – not the blue-with-white-specks, rigid porcelain one of my mother’s kitchen – and the aluminum sides were pliable enough to be bent up on both sides, plus get scrunched up against the back of the stove. It took some extended shoving, but we got the bird into the oven without getting ourselves burned.

By the time I got ready to head to the radio station, everything was under control, food wise.

Knowing that a good end-result turkey needs to get its moisture regularly, I had devised a plan that benefitted both me and my listening audience – especially Rick: the first (and presumably last)’ KDAO Bird Watch’. Every twenty minutes during my shift, I would announce “It’s KDAO Bird Watch time!” and remind people in my best Jack LaLane fashion  that it was time to ‘baste those birds’, leading them through the process with the mantra, “And baste, one…two…three…! Baste! One…two…three…” repeated three or four times as I then smoothly segued into the next record, commercial or news update. 

It was a public service and programming coup to the extent that, much to his bewilderment, the guy on the air after me got phone calls of complaint when he failed to announce the bird watch every twenty minutes, and was also later (jokingly?) blamed by listeners for some dried out birds. I don’t know how religiously Rick followed the bird watch, but he must have stuck with it pretty well; that was one fine, juicy bird we indulged in that afternoon (a full pound of butter helped) save for the leather-tough burns on the outside of each drumstick, where they had spent their roasting time shoved up against the walls of the oven.

Baste, one…two…three!  Baste, one…two…three.”

Rick and I enjoyed quite the feast that evening. We ate, watched football, called high school friends in Colorado, ate some more, drank some wine, ate some more.

On Friday, Rick hit the road for Colorado with a load of turkey sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and I can’t remember what else. If memory serves, he took the offered sandwiches grudgingly, as he appeared to be turkeyed out. Me? I had no such qualms…until about mid-December. Still, to this day, I enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers almost more than the initial meal.

Mom was on target about the foil, dad about the sandwiches. Every last nook and cranny of my meager freezer was stuffed with turkey (pun intended) and the last frozen pack made its way out for consumption on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, 1980. Hey, it was a free turkey, right?

My best advice for a successful Thanksgiving feast? Pretty simple, kids; “And BAAAAASTE, one…two…three…! BAAAAASTE! One…two…three…”

Hey, I know my way around a kitchen.

Another phone call anecdote…

A few years back I came up with a rather humorous (at least to me) tactic for dealing with telemarketers that I was convinced would get me placed on a wide array of ‘don’t call this nut case’ lists. In retrospect, that was just a pipe dream – though it did provide me some occasional satisfaction to actually get a telemarketer to hang up on me.

On one occasion, it took a bit longer than usual.


“Hi,is this Mr. Lucker?”
“Yes it is.”
“Hi, Mr. Lucker, how are you today? I’m calling today to speak with you about your home…”
“Hold on for a sec; before you go any further I’ll need your credit card number.”


“Pardon me sir?”
“Yeah, I’ll be happy to listen to any sales pitch you’ve got, but I charge $3.99 for the first minute, and a dollar for every minute after that.”

Pause. (This is the point where they usually hang up on me. Not this time.)

“Well, sir, I’m not sure how that works…”
“Like I said, I’ll listen to any sales pitch you’ve got, but my time is valuable, so it’s $3.99 for the first minute, and a dollar for each additional minute.”
“Sir, I’m not sure we do it that way here…”
But I’m a persistent fellow, so I keep plugging away “So do you want to use Visa, MasterCard or American Express?”


“Well, I’ll have to check with my manager to see how we do that. Can you hold on a moment, sir?”

By this point I am thinking the guy is going to realize what is happening, and just hang up like they usually do when I give them my sales pitch…but not this guy. Then, not only does he not hang up on me,  he doesn’t even put me on hold, so I get the added bonus of hearing his conversation with his manager, brief and muffled though it was.

“He needs a credit card number from us” says sales dude to his manager.
“What?” is followed by unintelligible conversation for about ten seconds and then the manager screams, a quite UN-muffled..

”We don’t give anybody a *(&%$@% credit card number! Hang up the *%$$(%^!# phone!”

All in a day’s work.

A soon-back-to-school, true-story tidbit from the Poetry Marchives:

Small packages

My mom found the dead chipmunk
I had brought home from the lake
at the end of the summer I was ten; a
lifeless stripe-tailed rodent who had
come home with me in a black-and-blue
JC Penney shoebox on which I had
scrawled ‘stuff’ in warning-like, stay
out, black MagicMarker

He sure looked stuffed.

A car (maybe Ivar’s Jeep) had run
him over on the driveway leading up
to Ivar and Lila’s house; caught him
dead-on from behind as he was
running upstream on the sandy drive
flattening his little chipmunk carcass
into a faux- bearskin rug fit for use
by Barbie’s Alpine Chalet fireplace

Absolutely flat, a cookie-cutter
perfect silhouette.

With two sticks, I moved him to the
cement fringe of the garage slab;
the northwoods sun used July to bake
him leaving a clean, tanned hide

By the time my summer at the lake
had drawn to a close he was stiff,
flat, odorless – fit for petting.

He was then slipped into the box,
transported home in our dark-blue
Plymouth Fury (that in the right light
resembled a hearse) where he then
got stuffed under my single-bed
mausoleum and was soon forgotten.

The week before school, archeologist
mom was cleaning out my room, found
the box, called up the block to the
Gilberg’s house, where I was playing,
had me come home.

Mrs. Gilberg stifled a laugh as I left –
‘guffawed,’ she told me years later –
once I had gone out her door, as my
mom had informed her of the discovery

I caught all sorts of hell when I got home –
but at least I never got my hide tanned,
and shoved into a box under a bed.

An anecdote for whatever ails ya’

The other night newly-minted sixth grader Sam and I were at a New Orleans Zephyrs game, enjoying an evening of decent AAA baseball. Mr. Baseball (Sam) had asked me to explain a quirky play that we had just seen, and I did my best to do so. Sam continued to watch the continuing action as I spoke, his eyes never leaving the field. I asked him if my explanation made sense.

“Well, in my defense…”

“What do you mean, ‘in my defense’?” I interrupted quizzically.

“That’s what I say to kids at school when the accuse me of things.”

“Annnnnnd…..what, exactly, do they accuse you of?”

Eyes still glued to game action below, he didn’t miss a beat: “Being devilishly handsome without a license.”

His deadpan delivery was punctuated by the thud of pitched ball hitting catcher’s glove.

“Being devilishly handsome without a license?”

“Yep.” Just a hint of a smile appeared at the corner of his mouth.

“Just plead guilty and pay the fine.”


Play ball.

Lost soul: A Mardi gras moment.

Saturday night, enjoying Krewe du Vieux, (http://www.kreweduvieux.org/) one of the smaller, more intimate Mardi gras parades, when the parade stops for a moment.

One of the parade participants is in a unit that has a wrestling theme, and this guy is holding one of the corner-posts to an actual ring, while shenanigans ensue inside said ring (another story entirely).

The guy (along with all his cohorts) is wearing a full, Mexican-style, masked wrestler head mask…but this guy also sports a vibrant, green and yellow Green Bay Packers poncho. He is standing right in front of me so I holler out the most logical think I can think of:

“We love Brett Favre”!

The guy gives a huge sigh, bows his head, shaking it sadly, says mournfully,

“Gimme about ten years”.

With that, the parade began moving again. Back to the revelry.