Monday, June 11, 2007

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

Well, school's been out for a little over a week. Tomorrow is a state holiday, and Tuesday I start teaching summer school for six weeks. So one of the reasons I wasn't posting much is because I was on summer vacation. Sort of.

School ended on Friday June 8 at 11:30. I had been absent the day before because I was in the jury pool for the state district court. We went through a whole day of jury selection, and we had been told that the day's work would be completed at 3:30. At 3:28 the entire jury, and the two alternates had been empaneled, and we were down to the defense attorney's final peremptory challenge. There were about 25 people left in the jury pool, and we were all keeping one eye on the clock and two fingers crossed as the defense attorney, who had passed on her previous opportunity to challenge, rose to speak.

There's a poker game I often play called "Confusion." It's a five card stud game. It's a high-low game in which are dealt two cards, face down, and turn one of them up. There's a round of betting, and you are dealt another card down, which gives you two down cards, and you again turn one up and bet. You continue in this fashion until you have five cards, four up and one down. At which point you can replace any one card, up or down. What gives the game its special flavor, and its name, is that your hole card is wild. And any other cards like it in your hand are wild as well. In many hands, everything turns on the fall of the last card. If, for example, I am showing J-5-4-2 of spades, my hand looks like its not going to be very good either as a high hand, or as a low hand. But if my hole card is a jack, I actually have A-2-3-4-5 low, and a straight flush for a high hand. Or, supposing I have, say, a nine in the hole, I might choose to replace the jack and luck out with a nine as a replacement card, which looks like it has busted me but has in fact made my perfect two-way hand. So everything depends, ultimately, on the fall of the last card. Often the decision of whether to take a replacement card is based on a feeling, a hunch. In the courtroom on Thursday, I had a feeling. It said, Here it comes.

"Your honor, at this time the defense would like to thank and dismiss juror number 13."

The woman who had been dismissed rose and left the courtroom, the court secretary spun the little cage that had the names of all the remaining members of the jury pool, then reached in and pulled out—here it comes—my name.

So after attending the end-of-school ceremonies on Friday morning, I spent Friday afternoon, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday (Tuesday there were no trials, it's a work day for the courthouse staff to get caught up on pending cases) as a juror in a case about which I am not going to say much, since I don't even know if it has been decided yet. Both sides rested on Thursday, and since I was an alternate juror and no one had dropped out, I was dismissed on Thursday.

Tuesday and Thursday I spent with my wife buying a new car. Our '94 Toyota Corolla had accumulated 125,000 miles and was beginning to feel about as old and creaky as I myself feel most mornings, so we had decided to look for a replacement. I had originally intended to buy a Prius. I would like to think of myself as being environmentally responsible, and I admire Toyota for taking th lead in supporting better fuel mileage cars and would like to support them in that. But then I did the math. A Prius costs roughly $10,000 than a Corolla. Even without figuring in interest, that translates $500 a month for 20 months, or $250 for 40 months. That's a lot of money. Even if the Prius gets double the mileage of a Toyota, figuring gas at about $3 a gallon, I'm going to have to buy $20,000 worth of gas to break even over time. We live on an island. We fill up the gas tank maybe once a month. Even if we bought fifty dollars worth of gas a month, which we don't, it would take 400 fillups to break even. That is, uh, lemme see, 400 divided by 12 equals... 33 years! It would take 17 years just to get half my money back. That's a lot of money to put into a gesture. So in the end we wound up buying a second-hand 2006 Corolla, a former rent-a-car with 16,000 miles already on it, for $14,000.

The third thing I did during my summer vacation was play a lot of chess. I've become a fan of You can play as a guest for free up to a certain number of games, and after that they have several signup plans that allow you to play real competition in real time with a rating system built in. Most of the games are rapid (15 minutes per player) or blitz (five). Most games take about 15 minutes to play, which is just long enough to tempt you to play another, and another. It's been fun.

But now summer vacation is over, at least this leg of it. Tomorrow I have to go to school and get my materials ready for the start of classes on Tuesday. I'm teaching sophomore English, the critical thinking-based course that is my core course and my favorite. That means getting back into the rhythm of teaching, and, hopefully, back into the rhythm of blogging. Wish me luck.

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