Runcible Blog

You thought YOUR bureaucracy was bad?!

I called the jury duty hotline (1-800-THE-JURY) today because the confirmation slip said I was there for only one day when I actually "served" two days. The first time I called, the operator said that because their "system" was down, he couldn't look up my file. But he said I should call back later and that my problem happens all the time. He also reassured me, "I don't want you to think you're dealing with some big, faceless bureaucracy." I felt much better knowing that I wasn't dealing with a faceless bureaucracy while wading through the phone-tree and speaking with a total stranger. I think that line must be part of their script:

  1. "Welcome to the jury hotline, blah, blah, how can I help you?"
  2. "Sorry, the system is down. Call back later."
  3. "This is not a faceless bureaucracy."

The second call, I received a quick and painless response. The operator looked up my name and said she'd file the appropriate paperwork to fix my juror confirmation. That's when I got a glimpse into the comedic government system. She had my information on a computer, but after hanging up she would fill out a paper form, call the courthouse to confirm that there was a mistake, deliver the form to the courthouse in Salem where it would be placed in a plastic "todo" bin on a desk made of Mahogany in a corner office. Within 48 hours, a court clerk would discover the pile, find my form, transfer the contents of that form onto a different form, call up Rusty, the court officer, to ask him to verify what the form contents (because the clerk is nearsighted). After his lunch break, Rusty will return to help the clerk, but by that time the clerk will have gone home for the day. The next day, a different clerk who isn't nearsighted will accurately transcribe my form and mail it to the processing center in Pittsfield. Bear with me...

On the third floor of a small Pittsfield office, a team of government workers receives every juror confirmation from the Commonwealth. They make 4 copies of each (two copies on yellow paper), shred two and a half of those copies, and mail one remaining copy to Boston after sealing it with a special anti-counterfeit wax which contains 16% witch's blood.

Once in Boston, my form makes its way to the Juror Confirmation Headquarters in an undisclosed bunker somewhere underneath the Charles River. There, chemists sample the witch's-blood-wax on my form to verify its authenticity. If it contains at least 15.65% pure witch's blood, they carefully remove all traces of the wax, make another copy of my form on papyrus (for archivability), reseal the form in a new envelope, and mail it to the Jury Hotline call center.

At the call center, my original operator prints out a list of every caller she's dealt with over the past week and heads down to the mail room. Because of the vast amounts of mail and the fact that the system constantly breaks, she must manually sort through the incoming forms, correlating the names with the list she just printed out. When or if she finds my form, she walks down the hall to a "computer room", scans the form into a ca.1992 DOS computer, and views the form on the 12" monitor. Finally, after memorizing the form, she returns to her desk, logs into the system at precisely 1:12PM after the hourly scheduled reboot and types the contents of my form into a new "juror confirmation certificate".

After that, the system takes care of the hard part -- printing my certificate and automatically, automatically inserting it into an envelope! Unfortunately, the postage label component of the system doesn't work as advertised, so another department has to put blank labels on top of the incorrectly printed addresses and write my address by hand. Finally, finally, finally, the Post Office takes it from there!

The system is a technological marvel of efficiency. What's more impressive is that the whole process, from my phone call to the time I receive a corrected form, takes only 6 to 8 weeks! Personally, I'm amazed that humans can work so quickly. I'd love to see the system with my own eyes someday.

Until then, I'll just be glad that my tax dollars are going to such a a well-oiled governmental machine.