Dueling Heartstrings


by Gary Gordon

This was written for program notes for a show at the UnUrban Cafe in Santa Monica in April 1998. I publish it here because I just got summoned for jury duty again, and it's April.

T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month. So I thought about April. April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King was shot dead. April 22, 1970 was the first Earth Day. I walked to school instead of driving, to save the gas. I walked home. Then my mom said "Drive to school and give your sister a ride home." April 1972 I took a bus to New York City to march against the Vietnam War. Daniel Ellsberg spoke and John & Yoko sang "Give Peace A Chance".

April '74 I was in St. Paul, writing an article on the Wounded Knee trial for an alternative paper in Chicago; I got to see William Kunstler work a courtroom. April '75 I was working as a waiter in Atlanta. April '86 I was in my last month as Mayor of Gainesville, Florida.

April '88 I was fired from a comedy gig in Tampa and wrote one of my best plays. April '89 Abbie Hoffman committed suicide. April '90 I decided to move to L.A. Looking back, with the exception of King's assassination, getting fired from a comedy gig, and Abbie's suicide, April isn't all that bad.

In my life, March has been the cruelest month. But that's not what I wanted to write about.

I was called for jury duty last month. I wanted to serve. I was voir dire'd for one trial, an armed robbery. The judge asked if I'd ever been the victim of a crime. I said yes, I was mugged twice and my car's been broken into.

He asked if any friends had been victims of crimes. I said yes, two of my friends had been mugged-- one was almost killed.

I think at this point the prosecution was liking me.

Then the judge asked if any friends or relatives had ever been arrested. I said friends were arrested for drugs, drug-dealing, and for anti-war protest activities.

I think at this point the prosecution wasn't sure.

The Judge asked if any friends or relatives were in law enforcement. I said I once worked with several police officers and often played racquetball with the police chief.

He asked if I'd had any negative experiences with police. I said yes, during anti-war demonstrations.

I'm sure at this point the prosecution was confused.

When the Judge asked what I do for a living and I told him I'm a writer he asked what I write about.

"Injustice," I said.

Now I think the defense was liking me.

Since the case was about armed robbery, the Judge asked about my experience with guns. I said when I was a public official my life was threatened, the police chief gave me a .38 and trained me on the firing range, then a Vietnam Vet friend (one who had been busted for anti-war activities and drug-dealing) also gave me two .38's, I walked around armed with undercover police protection until the threat was over.

At this point no one in the courtroom had any idea of what to make of this. And instead of concluding that these experiences might contribute to a thoughtful deliberation, the prosecution excused me.

The other night on TV Patrick Buchanan spoke proudly of his Catholicism and in the same breath declared that Pol Pot should be executed without a trial. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, Buchanan has dueling heartstrings.

Lately, mine have been dueling. Maybe all my life.

My friend Mark Goldstein says friction should be celebrated because life begins in the tidepools. I know he is right, even as I sometimes yearn for a heart that is at rest. And isn't that part of the duel?

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