Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I realize that I've left some gapping holes in my blogged stories about my single life.  One of them is in regards to a group I refer to as the Poisonous Group.  Centered around my former roommate, Karen, the Poisonous Group had all sorts of bad drama seeping into it and flowing through it.  It was a tight little incestuous group of friends that had come together and bonded through random meetings.  I'll go as far back as I can to explain how it came together, and how it fell apart.  

I had one long-term boyfriend in college, and when that relationship ended, I was lost.  I can't even recall how it came to be that I reconnected with Karen, and old co-worker from our college days, but that was the start of the the Poisonous Group.  She was living with an apparent slob, but they through some wicked cool parties.  I was invited to one such party, a Masquerade.  One thing you need to know about Karen before our story begins, is that she was a computer science major, a programmer, and that her and I bonded over bad puns and nerdy humor.  It was true in college, and continued to be true as the Poison blossomed in our lives.  But the Poison also took our nerdy humor and twisted it to a very dark and un-PC place. You'll see what I mean.  

There I was at the Masquerade party, definitely over my ex-, whom I had been planning to dump for months prior, and ready to start living again!  That is when I met Hill Billy, as I will call him, a tall, lanky friend of Karen's who was all sorts of hick and hilariousness.  Hill Billy and I hit it off pretty quickly, me being attracted to his 6'5" stature, and him being attracted to my fabulousness.  There was a black guy at the party, too, I'll call him Bock, and I point out that he's black because that's a critical piece of the comedy that followed.  You see, it was well-established, in all fun, that Bock was the "token black guy" of the group.  I was comfortable with Bock, we had had some good conversations, and he showed some interest in me, although I didn't like the way he pursued me, so I blew him off a couple times in favor of Hill Billy.  The only problem with Hill Billy was that he smoked - bleh!  I would have to ask him to get a mint, and in my head I was plotting how I would wean him off cigarettes for good.  

Anyways, I was having a good time, and had several drinks, when my blurry vision indicated to my head that Bock had just walked through the door again.  For some reason, at that precise moment, I was wanting Bock's attention, so I cried his name out in excitement, "Bock! Bock!  You're here!  Hi Bock!"  The guy looked at me like I was a lunatic for a moment, as I ran up to him for a hug.  A few steps away, I realized he was definitely a black guy, but he was most definitely NOT Bock.  I was horrified with embarrassment, but I couldn't stop my momentum, and I ended up crashing into him anyways.  I did not know this guy, and now I just called him Bock, whom he would certainly find out was another black guy, and basically jumped on him.  As if reading my thoughts, Hill Billy came out of nowhere and exclaimed mockingly, "Just because he's black, doesn't mean he's Bock!  Not all black guys are named Bock, Laura!"  When I pulled myself together, I explained to the newcomer that I really did think he was Bock, not just because he's black but because he had the same build and the same kind of dress, and that I was really drunk.  I apologized profusely, and luckily, he had a good sense of humor about it.  Hill Billy explained that Bock was our token black guy, and that was why it was confusing because we don't have any other black friends that come around normally.  When we were all laughing about it, I told the newcomer that I would call him Bock II, and hugged him before parting ways.  A few minutes later, the real Bock walked in and I checked myself to make sure I was seeing correctly, then ran up to him and told him about Bock II.  We found Bock II and I introduced them, and then they both sandwiched me in a big squeezy hug.  I was thrilled, for the obvious reason: I was part of a "Laureo".  That's an Oreo with a Laura in the middle.  Karen loved it, and I loved my Bocks.  

The real Bock made another move on me, but Hill Billy came to my rescue, and after Bock witnessed Hill Billy sneaking a kiss, he backed off a bit.  Hill Billy and I dated on and off; it was difficult because he lives so stinking far away, and he never had gas and he never had money to put gas in his car.  Such a whiner!  I would get so frustrated with him: the only reason I couldn't have his arms around me some nights was because he didn't have a stinking $20 to put stupid gas in his crappy car.  I debated giving him an "emergency twenty" to only use when I wanted to see him and he needed gas; that would solve the problem, right?  Except that giving him money so he could come over felt a little too much like paying for sex, and I just couldn't get over that.  

Another guy I met at the Masquerade party was Flipflopper.  I can't remember much about him from that night, all that remains is an image of him, so tough looking, such an asshole on the outside, while playing beer pong so expertly.  I got to know him better a few weeks after that party.  Karen and I, her roommate and her roommate's boyfriend, were all going rock climbing.  As we pulled into the parking lot, Flipflopper came charging at us, and the car stopped, recognizing him as a friend.  Flipflopper crowded in the back seat with me, and immediately started picking a fight.  Little did I know, then, that that would be a theme in an ongoing relationship.  Sheesh!  

We did our rock climbing, and then we went to the pool hall in the same parking lot; that was what Flipflopper was doing anyways, he wasn't rock climbing.  Flipflopper and I fought all night, a love/hate thing.  Karen eventually had a more serious fight with someone, and we had to leave.  

I had a small dinner party / game night at my house, inviting Karen and some other friends.  Karen didn't tell me she had a dog, nor did she ask if she could bring her dog, but somehow it seemed perfectly natural for her to show up at my house with a blonde Chihuahua in her hand.  The dog's name was Penny, and Penny was dressed up in a pink, black and white sweater for the occasion.  I don't often dress my Chiweiner up, but Carly just so happened to be wearing a pink, black and white sweater that matched all too perfectly.  It was freaky.  Not only that, but the dogs instantly clicked, even though neither usually gets along with other dogs right away.  The humans were playing cards when I looked over at my couch and spotted Carly and Penny curled up together like they had always been BFFs or sisters.  Between their size, attitudes, and matching sweaters, their chemistry was surreal.

When Karen's lease was up, her and her roommate decided to split ways.  I was alone in my house now, my ex- having moved out abruptly after hearing me on the phone with Hill Billy.  So I invited Karen to come live with me.  I sold some of my furniture in a garage sale in order to make room for her stuff, and Penny and Carly were united as partners in crime full time. 

While Hill Billy and I were on the rocks, Karen introduced to me a free dating site online.  We turned into something of a way to get out of taking care of ourselves; when we wanted to eat dinner but didn't feel like buying anything or cooking, we'd go on the site and work on convincing guys to pick us up, take us to dinner, only to be ditched once we were through.  This exercise actually landed me an attractive guy, I'll call Slender.  I didn't ditch him after dinner, because he had a lot going for him.  He was a programmer, so good pay, smart, and good looking, not too tall, but slightly taller than me which is worlds better than not as tall as me, in my book.  By this time, Karen and I told each other pretty much everything, and we even shared boy toys when necessary.  So Slender took us both out for drinks one night.  Then I had to go out of town for work, and while I was away, I got a message from Slender that he was more interested in Karen than he was me.  When I asked her about it, she said he had messaged her on facebook but that she turned him down, and she had no interest in Slender. 

Karen started dating a guy she met on the dating site.  I never got to meet him though; the relationship went that fast.  Between my travel schedule and Karen's late night dating habits, he had bit her in the butt, literally, before I got around to meeting him, and she decided that butt biting crossed a line.  I remember the break-up well, we were in the parking lot at Salty Senoritas after having drinks, just the two of us, and I was urging her to move on from him and come out dancing with me at the club.  She didn't want to cheat on him, so she was trying to figure out how to arrange to see him so she could break up with him.  Noble, maybe, but he was still a butt biter, I reminded her.  I finally convinced her to break up with on the phone, but when she called, she got his voice mail and hung up.  I told her, fine, if he's going to ignore her calls, she could break up with him over voice mail.  Karen pondered it, but with my encouragement, and her strong desire to go find a new man that night at the club, she broke up with him in the most hilarious way over voice mail, citing "ass hole biting" as the final straw.  

We went to the club, but other than a few kinda sorta whatevers, didn't really find what we were looking for.  Karen was down, I mean really down, and regretting breaking up with the butt biter.  Then, my friend Rick texted me, inviting me out to drinks with some friends.  I whisked her away to join Rick.  That was the night we met The Beast.  The Beast was one of Rick's friends, although I had never met him before.  He was hilarious, and cool, and a programmer, not unlike a lot of the company I was keeping.  I really liked him, and I think he really liked me, at least an initial attraction.  But Karen and I did the girl thing and went to the bathroom to chat, and she told me she liked him.  I had a choice: I could play every woman for herself, or I could relent and let her get the rebound attention she craved.  I am sometimes too good of a friend, I think.  I told her that I had seen him checking her out, and that she should go for it.  When we returned to the group, I backed off of The Beast, and Rick suddenly became a little possessive of me, putting his arm around me like I was his girlfriend.  Maybe the guys had their own relationship talk while we were away.  Whatever was happening, this was not going my way.  

The night drew on, and it was about time for bars to close.  Seeing Karen and The Beast not quite finished with one another, I proposed an afterparty at our house.  The Beast, Rick, and two other guys ended up coming home with us.  Karen and I were so proud of ourselves!  We brought home TWO guys each.  After peppermint shots in the kitchen (it was around Christmas time), some humiliating attempts at playing the didjeridoo, and Karen showing off some of her Kenpo moves, there was a lull in the action.  Karen then blabbed about how HUGE my king sized bed was, and that we should all pile in there for a group spoon!  This, of course, seemed like a fantastic idea, and the six of us climbed into the king bed, Karen and I in the middle, with two guys on either side of us, all facing in one direction.  There was some groping and, "Who's touching me?" jokes, and we were laughing and teasing and acting all sorts of awkward and silly.  Then Karen instructed us to flip around, so that the other side got groped - pay back time!  The Beast eventually went to bed with Karen, two of the other guys went and slept on the couch and floor, and Rick stayed in bed with me.  Karen came back into the room to tell Rick not to take advantage of me; only partially joking I think.  

It was New Year's Eve, and Karen and I were going to a party hosted by some more of Rick's friends.  The Beast and Rick were our dates, even though I had tried to make it clear to Rick that I was going with him as a friend, for Karen's sake.  The guys dressed all dapper and we wore dresses and the four of us went to Elephant Bar before the party.  We had a splendid time, although Rick was once again acting possessive of me.  Meanwhile, I was still crushing on The Beast, and regretting that I had let Karen nab him away from me that first night.  When we got to the party, I was texting another guy I was interested in, another friend of Karen's I had met at the Masquerade party, we'll call him Gatsby because he looks a little like Leonardo DiCaprio and acts the part of The Great Gatsby to a tee.  Gatsby was, needless to say, very good looking, and had shown remote interest in me.  I was very hopeful he would come to the party and kiss me at midnight, but when he got there, he was obviously troubled with some girl problems, and not very flirtacious at all.  At least not with me.  Gatsby soon found himself in a deep conversation with some chick, and I was a little bit bugged out for having invited him only to be ditched for that wench.  Drama, right?  Well, one of the hosts, oh what to call him, I guess Dapper, he was a friend of Rick's, and he was also very good looking.  And very single.  I had met him on a few occasions, but always when I was not so single, and he had always admired my breasts.  If I could just get near him for midnight...  

30 seconds before midnight, Dapper started the countdown, with a lady friend in his arm.  I looked around desperately, first for Gatsby, and then for, well anybody.  With 10 seconds left, I felt an arm around my waist, and looked over to see Rick closing in on me.  That was it.  I was done.  I pushed him away and said just one word, "No."  Dapper saw me at the last moment, frowned, and then was pulled into a kiss by his lady friend.  Karen and The Beast were making out on the couch.  It seemed like the whole world was kissing someone, except Rick and I, and there I was, arms folded, pouting like a little child.  What had I done?  Rick and I had been best friends for years, and I always sensed that he wanted to be more than friends.  A few of my ex's had been his friends, and I knew he could easily feel that it was his turn, that he had done so much for me we might as well...  I couldn't though.  All I wanted was for the kissing around us to stop, to escape that horrifying moment.  

When it was over, I left the room and went outside.  There was a guy out there who was arguing with his boyfriend, and when his boyfriend left, even though I had no idea who he was, I started to console him, because it made me feel better.  "Men, am I right?"  He laughed, and we struck up a relaxing conversation, and I gave him all the relationship advice I could.  He was comforted, and I felt good about comforting him.  Dapper found me and asked me why I had pushed Rick away.  I didn't want to tell him it was because he was the one I wanted, or Gatsby, or The Beast, or anyone in that room except Rick.  I felt terrible, but I just told him I was uncomfortable and that I didn't want Rick like that.  He said he understood, and that I should probably talk to Rick about it.  I didn't have much of a choice, Rick came out to the patio then, and Dapper and the gay guy left us alone.  

Rick and I got passed it, and stayed friends.  Meanwhile, The Beast and Karen had really hit it off.  The Beast took both Karen and I out for dates, he rubbed my back after rubbing hers, and he poured wine for Karen and I while we sat around and drank together.  We joked that because Karen and I were so close, dating one of us was dating both of us, and The Beast made that come to fruition; The Beast and I even kissed a few times, with Karen's encouragement.  But at the end of the day, The Beast went into Karen's room, and I went to bed alone (most of the time).  We had our group spoons from time to time, especially when Hill Billy came around.  I had tried to call up Dapper and Gatsby, but they showed no interest anymore.  I even hit up Slender again, just to see, but he was burnt out on us.  I was lonely, even with Karen and The Beast in my house, or maybe because they were there.  

It turned out, Karen and The Beast both worked at the same company - both were programmers - but they worked in different divisions.  Still, they were able to go out to lunch a lot together, with several of Karen's teammates, including her boss.  She knew I was lonely, and that Rick would not do, and so she started having me join them for lunch and setting me up with guys from her work.  First, there was Out There.  I call him as such, because he had some real odd philosophies on life.  He is, for example, terrified of the cracks in dry dirt and mud.  He wasn't ugly, he was a little taller than me, fit, and he was a programmer.  I wasn't madly in love with him, but I gave it a shot with him.  The four of us, The Beast, Out There, Karen and I, decided one weekend to go to The Renaissance Festival.  

Now, when I go to Ren Fest, I pretty much plan on staying all day.  It's expensive, but the admission ticket is pricey so you kinda want to get your money's worth.  Plus, there's so much to do and see, and the best part is the joust at the end, so how could you not stay all day?  Well, The Beast and Karen were both in agreement, but Out There for some reason thought that we'd leave around noon.  Umm, no, that is the wrong way to do Ren Fest.  Love always, me.  So against his will, we stayed all day, through the joust.  He was grumpy and standoffish at times, but there were moments when he took my hand, or put his arm around me, knowing that we were being set up.  There was a weird moment, though, when The Beast had left to get us drinks, and Out There not only ignored me, but cozied up next to Karen like they were the ones being set up.  When The Beast came back, Out There made no effort to move away, so The Beast had no choice but to sit next to me.  We were watching the belly dancers, and they were terrific, but the tension in the air was think.  After a few moments, The Beast asked me if I knew what was going on with them, and I shook my head, as bewildered as he was that this guy would openly flirt with Karen in front of her boyfriend, and that she would let him.  After the show, we got a chance to meet the belly dancers and they gave us all a little lesson in belly dancing.  We stood around in a big circle with them and tried it, and that seemed to dissolve the tension; The Beast reclaimed Karen, but Out There never once got close to me again.  

When we got back to our house, however, things got worse.  Out There continued hitting on Karen in front of The Beast, and Karen did nothing to stop it.  The Beast got angry, threatening, yelling, and eventually stormed out before there was a physical confrontation.  The Beast totally could have taken Out There, but why should he when Karen was basking in the flirtations?  I think that's what made The Beast really mad; Karen kept blowing it off like it was nothing, even though it was clearly making her boyfriend angry.  After The Beast left, I tried to make Out There leave, but he said he was too tired and he would just crash here with Karen.  Trying to watch out for Karen, I guess, or for The Beast, I insisted that the two of them sleep with me in my big king bed.  They declined, however, and I'm pretty sure they banged that night.  So not cool.  

Karen didn't break up with The Beast right away, but she did go on dates with Out There.  Then Out There went a little crazy, pushed everyone in his life out, and changed his name.  He got fired a week or so later.  I'm not sure if that was just going to happen because he was, after all, Out There, or if Karen did that to him.  Or something worse.  Either way, I saw him as scum and wouldn't miss him.  

Karen by now had dragged me into kenpo with her; her boss had given us a couple private lessons, since he was now a brown belt.  Igor was also in kenpo with us, and The Beast joined soon after I did.  Around this time, The Midget Saga happened, and you can read all about that in my posts about it.  

The next guy Karen set me up with was Unsocial.  Unsocial literally had a social disorder of some kind, but I didn't find that out until we were more seriously entwined.  I should also mention that there was a friend in this group named Igor.  I had known Igor briefly in college, Igor had also been at the Masquerade party (who hadn't been?), and Igor worked with Karen and Unsocial.  Unsocial, I learned, had just split from his fiancee.  Like, a week ago.  Six year relationship down the drain, within days of me meeting him.  I was certain he was in no shape to be looking for any kind of relationship other than a rebound, but he insisted he was okay.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.  When Karen first showed me a picture of Unsocial, and described him, well, his picture was terrible, he was unattractive, and I pictured him as a super nerdy 40-year-old virgin guy.  I literally thought he was a virgin.  I expected him to be all nerd.  I was not all that excited about meeting him.  In fact, Karen had to lure me to the bar that night by letting me know another guy I had taken interest in would be there.  The guy I was interested in actually was a virgin, or "still carried a V card" as he put it.  But Karen sat Unsocial right next to me, and we actually hit it off, even with V-card guy on the other side of me.  Igor was there, and had set me up for perhaps the greatest one liner in my life.  He said was talking about drink choices, and casually said, "Well, you are what you drink!"  Without missing a beat, I grabbed my glass of Cabernet sauvignon, and turned to Unsocial, "Then I must be a cab, so I can take you home!"  Unsocial and undoubtedly the whole table caught on fire with laughter, and I was really very proud of myself.  I had no idea where that had come from, but it was right on point.  And take him home, I did.  

Karen and I took The Beast and Unsocial home, and we had another one of our now-famous group spoons in my bed.  When The Beast and Karen passed out, Unsocial and I were just getting started making out.  He took off his shirt, and before we got any further, I got up, pulled him by the hand and led him into the guest bedroom.  We spent a glorious night there, and I determined that no, he was definitely not a virgin.  When we went into my room in the morning to pick up our clothes that had been left behind, Karen stirred and woke to see us, partially dressed.  She asked enthusiastically, "Huh, did you guys... spend the night together."  Unsocial and I looked at each, smiled, and said yes.  

Unsocial himself had some interesting philosophies on life.  Intangible assets, he believed, should not be sold for money; things that could be digitally reproduced like music, movies and software.  I found this interesting, especially since he was a programmer.  I would think he would want to be paid for his work.  He also despised musicals, because he believed they had some kind of an identity crisis: they are neither a play depicting a realistic scenario, because its impossible for a random group of strangers to break out into a coordinated song and dance, nor are they a concert which is all about the music.  This was a bit of a problem for me, because, I love musicals, and I thoroughly wanted in a boyfriend someone to go with me to see them all, if possible.  But he was much more attractive then the initial picture I had seen of him, he had a very nice body, was surprisingly stylish, and so smart.  Within a week, we had spent several nights together in my bed, and he had talked to me at length about the various books on my bookshelf, most of them he had read and then some.  I fell for him hard, and within another week, we made it official.  I had a boyfriend!  

It was during our relationship that I had learned he was on the autism spectrum.  We'd be out with our friends and he would just completely shut down emotionally, detaching himself from the group, ignoring us, refusing to talk.  Being a very social person myself, an extreme extrovert, I tried to wrap my head around this.  We talked at length about it, but I never could figure it out.  He pressed me to simply just accept that it will happen, and that when that happens, it is time for him and I to go.  I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I felt like he was worth it.

We didn't date long, though.  I had to go to the dentist for a root canal and crown.  Unsocial had promised to come over after work and take care of me.  I learned a very important life lesson about communicating that day, but because I had failed to communicate why it was so necessary that he come to take care for me, and because he was being anti-social that day, he didn't come.  The problem was that Karen was out that evening, and I was so drugged up I couldn't be trusted behind the wheel, and I didn't really have anything in the house that I could eat.  I was counting on having someone be able to take me somewhere to eat.  I was so pissed at him, that I kicked off a text fight, which I normally don't do.  The next day he texted me something about how we had to talk, and I texted back that if he was going to break up with me, might as well do it over text.  So he did.  It was a deeply passionate relationship, and it crashed and burned just as hard and fast as it had started.  

Unsocial and I talked in person within a week, and he explained in the vaguest of terms how he needed to be free to do things that were not good, and he didn't want to hurt me.  I figured this just meant that I had been right about him needing a rebound, but no matter what I said, he would not admit that was the case.  This went on for weeks, and I clung to the idea that once he got it out of his system, we could get back together.  

Meanwhile, Karen tried to cheer me up by setting me up with another co-worker of hers.  Monkey was a muscular and slightly older man, with a charmingly oversized nose and chin, and a very odd sense of humor.  I knew Karen had something up her sleeve without her even telling me, and when I saw Monkey in the dojo, something about the way he looked at me, I knew I was to be set up with him.  Even without knowing he was a friend or co-worker of Karen's, I could feel him evaluating me in his mind, undressing me with his eyes as he pretended to concentrate on his private kenpo lesson.  After his lesson, sure enough, Karen introduced me to Monkey.  

I resisted Monkey at first; he was handsome but his humor took some getting used to, and he wasn't Unsocial.  I met Karen and her co-workers for lunch one day, sitting at a table with both Unsocial and Monkey, and the conversation consisted primarily of Monkey comparing himself to Unsocial, and trying to convince me that he was the perfect replacement for Unsocial.  In any other context, this would be embarrassing, absurd, and crazy, but this was kind of how the Poisonous Group was; we had no filter, no social etiquette, and no shame.  Unsocial wanted me to be over him, for my own sake supposedly, so he encouraged me to consider Monkey, and agreed with Monkey's points about how he would adequately fill the void left by Unsocial.  It should have been totally awkward, but instead, I saw it as sweet, and I allowed myself to be wooed by Monkey's words.  Our relationship moved slowly, I was still getting over Unsocial, afterall, but Monkey took full responsibility for my happiness for a while, and it was nice to feel taken care of.  

Well, Monkey's sense of humor has a way of going too far.  We had some disagreements, and I eventually threw him out of my house and ended it.  I think it was around this time that Karen confided in me: she had slept with her boss.  Multiple times.  And he was married.  And her boss.  And now a black belt in our dojo.  And she got an STD from him.  Awesome.  I asked her if she was going to end it, and she negated the idea.  He was a twin, and she was talking to his brother in hopes of having a threesome.  Some revelations came with this news: this may be why we got free private lessons from him, and much more sinister, this may be why Out There lost his job.  

Through all these twists and turns, break-ups, odd things happening, kenpo was perhaps one of the only consistent things in our lives at this point.  For better or for worse, we'd all meet in the dojo for our kenpo classes.  This meant that I had to see two of my now ex's on a regular basis, and knew that Karen was actively sleeping with two others.  We made jokes about how many guys we could sleep with in kenpo.  That was the kind of sick humor we had.  I don't think everyone in the group was bad, but Karen certainly was, and her poison infected everyone around her.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Kick Ass Twitter Background Hack

My friends and colleagues can make fun of me all they want; I use PowerPoint to design many of my graphics.  Why?  Because it is so easy to use, so powerful and virtually everybody has it on their computers so it is easy to share files.  I read an article today about why it is important to have a kick-ass Twitter background (  Indeed, the background on Twitter (as opposed to the cover) is often overlooked, yet when viewed on a computer, is incredibly valuable real estate.  If a picture is worth 1000 words, then a good Twitter background is worth at least more than 140 characters.  So this is my hack on creating a kick ass Twitter background. 

Step 1
First, decide what type of design you want. The link above has some good examples.  I'm going to classify them as follows:  
  • Collage of work - This is great for artists, photographers, world travelers and authors.  Show off your best work in your background.  For authors, display your book covers.  For world travelers, show off your favorite pictures / memories.  You can display your collage in several ways:
    • Squared up - multiple small pictures in a grid format
    • Off-kilter - rotate the images slightly left and slightly right to create a tilted look, and overlap the images slightly
  • Header - This is a professional-looking background that focuses on the top.  Have your logo on the side near the top, and some cool pattern and/or stripes near the top.  The bottom should be more plain, one color or a gradient.  
  • Who We Are - For startups and small businesses, this may make the most sense to help convey a consistent message.  Your logo should be prominent on the left side, either near the top or bottom, and you can use the rest of the left margin for words bundled with symbols and basic graphics.  If you have a physical core product, consider showcasing a napkin sketch of the product here. 
  • Philosophy - This is a good branding background.  The idea is to focus less on what specific products or services you offer, and more about fundamental feelings about life.  A simple background coupled with some words of wisdom work great to convey the "why" of your business.  
Step 2
The next step is to lay out your graphics and words.  Open a blank PowerPoint (emphasis on blank).  Add any graphics or images you want to be prominent, including your logo if you want to incorporate it.  I like to use the shapes PowerPoint offers; many of them are very recognizable and can make a big impact if used properly.  When adding shapes, think BIG!  Details will be lost on your users, so don't clutter your background; use bold graphics with thick outlines.  PowerPoint gives you the option to add text to certain shapes and images, but I recommend against this, because it limits your freedom on how to space and shape your text.  Instead, use a free form text box for each segment of text you want, so you can move it around and shape it freely.  If you create the text box and then the shape over it, you can put the shape behind the text by right-clicking on it and choosing "Send to Back", or right-clicking the text and choosing "Bring to Front".  Don't worry too much about what the *right* spacing is at this point, we'll have some iterations once we see how it looks on Twitter, so you can adjust as needed.  The point is to get something up so you can know what needs adjustment.  

Step 3
Third, create one large box to serve as the base background, over the edges of the slide.  Specifically, start in the top left corner of the slide and stretch it to be about 300% of the slide horizontally and up to 200% of the slide vertically.  This ensures that even if the user's browser is zoomed out or the resolution is larger than normal, the background will still fill their screen.  Alternatively, you can make the background tile-able, meaning it would look okay if it was repeated right next to itself.  If you take the tile-able approach (like for collages), then you can make the background as big or as small as you want.  
Remove the border from the box, that is not needed.  For the fill, I generally recommend using a gradient rather than a solid color; the gradient gives a feeling of movement.  For professional-looking backgrounds, use one bright color (olive green, blue, and orange work well) and one neutral color (gray, beige or white).  Alternatively, you can fill the background with an image, so long as the image isn't too busy.  You may want to play with the transparency or coloring of the image to make it more subtle.  When satisfied, right-click on the box and click "Send to Back" to get it to appear behind the other objects you've placed.  
Note:  Yes, I know PowerPoint has the option of changing the background on the slide, but there is a method to my madness in using a box instead.  Later, we will copy and paste all the objects into Paint, and doing so will not grab the PowerPoint background.  

Step 4 (optional)
Fourth, add layers in the form of watermarks or polka dots, etc.  You'll have to be the judge if your background is too busy or not; if you're showcasing a bunch of work then you may not want to add anything, but if you just have a few words and your logo, I'd recommend this step.  Now that you have a base background and some graphics or content in the foreground, I recommend adding watermarks of sorts.  These will reside behind the core content but in front of the base background, and should be even larger shapes or graphics.  Let's say you want to add circles.  Draw a circle and make it pretty big, even going over the edge of your base background.  Right-click on it and choose Format Shape, remove the border in Line Color, and then go to the Fill tab.  Here, I recommend using a solid fill, choosing a color close to your background color, or a neutral color like gray or white.  Set the Transparency to somewhere around 68%, and then tweak it up or down depending on how it looks against your background and foreground content.  When you're done, send it to the back and then send the base background box to the back again.  Make sure to fill the entire background box with these watermarks, so that when viewers are zoomed out, they will still see a consistent look. 

Step 5
Step five is to use select all (Ctrl+A) and copy it (Ctrl+C).  Open up Microsoft Paint (I know, thought you'd never see that again, right?) and paste it (Ctrl+V).  If you don't know where Microsoft Paint is, try these steps:
  • Open the Start Menu, click Run... and type in "mspaint" and click OK.  
  • If you have a Windows button on your keyboard, hold that down and hit R, then type in "mspaint" and click OK.  
Bam!  You have a rockin' background to test on Twitter.  Save the file as a .jpg, .gif or .png, and put it somewhere you'll be able to find it.

Step 6
Finally, you get to see your masterpiece come to life.  On your Twitter profile, click the little gear icon near the top right corner, and choose Settings.  On the navigation bar on the left, select Design.  Before uploading your image, choose the "Theme" that best fits your color scheme; this way the font colors will look better after you've updated your background image.  Then, find the "Change background" drop down and select "Choose existing image".  Navigate to where your image was saved and click Open.  At the time of this writing, Twitter has some message about how you can preview the change before saving it, but that wasn't working for me so I had to click "Save changes" and then refresh the page.  Either way, you should now be able to see how the image looks with all the Twitter stuff on top of it.  

Step 7
Unless you have spacially cognitive superpowers, you probably see something that isn't the right size or isn't spaced well.  This is where the trial-and-error, or iteration, comes in.  You can go back to your PowerPoint, and adjust the sizes and spacing of the content, base background and layered watermarks to make it fit the Twitter page.  Make only a few changes at a time (literally, I recommend making no more than three changes at a time), then repeat steps 5 and 6 to see how it looks before making additional changes.  Make sure to view at the normal zoom, or 100%, but also to zoom in and out to see how the different elements look at the various levels.  The goal is to optimize your design for 100%, but make it flexible to look good zoomed in and zoomed out.

Step 8
Once you're pretty happy with your background, send the link to your favorite graphic designer or artist friend for feedback.  They may recommend additional tweaks to blow it over the top.  

And that, my friends, is a quick and dirty way to make a Kick Ass Twitter Background.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weapons of Influence in the Courtroom: Applying Cialdini to Jury Duty

Perhaps an indication of my somewhat spoiled and privileged life, the absolutely most trying and painful time of my life thus far did not deal with heartbreak, violence or poverty.  The most trying time of my life was being on a jury with, what I eventually concluded to be, low-life idiots.  I struggled to reconcile the events that happened during deliberation with what we were told was our duty as the jury - we were doing everything wrong.  To this day, it brings back painful memories and feelings of resentment and subtle regret.  By the letter of the law, he was never proven guilty, but the jury found him guilty on four counts, sending him into 16 years of jail time nevertheless.  

Robert Cialdini, a professor at my alma mater who happens to live in the same city as me, is considered the world's leading expert on how to influence people.  His book "Influence" details what he calls the weapons of influence, and goes into detail about why, how and when they work, and how we can defend when others attempt to use them against us.  I read the book years ago, by recommendation of my Dad, and even had the privilege of attending one of Professor Cialdini's lectures while I was going through my MBA program.  While the book is now a bit dated, and some of the examples are too old for me to relate to, the principles remain sound and profiteers continue to come up with new ways to apply these weapons of influence.  I just finished re-reading it, and am astounded at how much value I got out of it the second time around.  Even without recalling specifically that I had drawn some practices from this book, I recognize that I have, indeed, incorporated many of these devices into my own dealings with other people.  The most shocking, though, is my realization that Cialdini's weapons of influence explain what happened in jury duty better than any explanation I could muster.  Because I am generally a positive person and I don't like to linger on my negative experiences, I don't regularly think about the jury duty experience unless someone or something triggers me very directly to recall it.  So I probably wouldn't have even thought to apply his weapons of influence to that situation except that one of his examples was an apparently common practice judges use in jury cases that seems to have been used during my trial.  That got the ball rolling, and I started to realize just how many other weapons of influence impacted the final result of that trial.  

The case was about four counts of statutory rape, because the girl was 16 and the guy was 18, but the girl had been begging for it so its not like it wasn't consensual, if it indeed happened.  And there was actually evidence against it even having happened.  That's what made the case so difficult for me - at 16, I think she knew what she was doing and she was horny.   I published my jury duty journal here so you can read my raw experience.  For this blog post, I'll just refer to a few strange things that happened.  

First of all, the most compelling evidence in the case was that a prisoner came in, wearing Sheriff Joe's well-known humiliating pink handcuffs and pink accessories.  The prisoner was unruly and uncooperative and was clearly not here to help the prosecution, even though he was their witness.  The prosecuting attorney asked the prisoner to read from a transcript that was supposedly a conversation had by this prisoner and an investigator.  In it, he essentially admitted to having proof that the crimes were indeed committed.  When the prosecutor asked if the transcript was correct, however, the prisoner denied having ever said those things.  The prosecutor looked at him in disbelief, "You mean to tell me you DIDN'T say those things?  That the transcript is WRONG? Do you want me to get the tapes and play them for you?"  The prisoner continued saying that he never said those things and the transcript was falsified and the tapes weren't real.  After quite an ordeal, the judge actually dismissed the jury in order to have a one-on-one chat with the witness, supposedly to gain cooperation.  When we were brought back in, he was no more cooperative, and were dismissed and brought back a number of times before the prisoner was finally dismissed as a witness.  The judge then instructed us to strike this entire interview from our notes and that we were not to use it as evidence in our decision making process.  

I should mention, too, that I went into the jury duty experience with excitement to see justice at work and a patriotic sense of doing my duty as a citizen of this great country, and all that jazz.  So for me, I wanted to follow the letter of the law to the T, and I felt like I was very objective in my analysis of the case.  This being the only reliable evidence that was ever presented in the two week trial, and having it stricken from our records, that left us with absolutely zero evidence.  Thus, the rule innocent until proven guilty would imply that there is no reason that man should have been convicted.  Anything other than innocent on all four accounts made absolutely no sense.  

The second oddest thing that happened was during deliberation in the privacy of the juror's room.  We started off by taking an initial vote which was split down the middle, but the next morning the vote was slanted towards a verdict of innocent on all four accounts.  We initially got traction in the direction of "not guilty".  Yet over the next several days, I watched in bewilderment as individuals on "my side" flip flopped and changed their decision to guilty, until I was the only hold out.  One might think that if we had started out leaning towards innocent, that the majority would be able to sway the minority, but exactly the opposite happened.  People seemingly in their right minds switched to operating based on false evidence.  

Having revisited this incident with the fresh eyes of Cialdini's genius, I can conclude that a number of weapons of influence worked in the favor of the prosecution, whether intentional or not.  The incident with the prisoner's dismissed account was what spurred me to reevaluate my jury duty experience.  It was this "practice" I came to read about in Cialdini's book; it was the weapon of scarcity, combined a little with the contrast principle.  Having received the information and then having it taken away, jurors tend to put more emphasis on that information instead of disregarding it; even to the point of using that as the only evidence.  So without any other weapons of influence, the judge may have decided the case for us with just this one act.  I had a sense the whole time that the judge didn't like the defendant anyways, so in hindsight, it wouldn't surprise me if the judge used this tactic intentionally, as Cialdini suggests is often the case.  

But there were several other applications of the weapons of influence at work.  For one, the prosecuting lawyer has a stature of being an authority, so when he criticizes the criminals involved in the case, we take the lawyer's word even if it is being denied by the witnesses.  We also had a detective on the stand, and his position also demands authority, thus we trust him more than the convicted felons.  In fact, the juror guidelines forbid us to take the word of a police or detective over other witnesses simply because of their position, but that doesn't mean all the jurors can actually do this in their heads.  The authority principle works on our subconscious, so we don't even recognize when we're giving more credibility to the title than it deserves.  The contrast principle can also be at work here, going from untrustworthy felon to trusted police investigator signals that we can relax now, the nice policeman is going to tell us what we need to know.  

Another weapon of influence at work was liking, or in this case, disliking.  Throughout the trial, there were multiple references to play up the unsavory character of the defendant.  He had DUIs, he had a pregnant underage girlfriend (and he was over 18), he had a malicious pit bull who attacked a police officer, he broke in and robbed the house of the victim.  There were even allusions to, without allowing it to be said out loud, gang-related activities.  All this painted the picture that I think persuaded most of my juror peers:  he's just a piece of shit.  To the most outspoken and adamant of them, he clearly is a horrible person and deserved to be locked up regardless of whether or not he committed these specific crimes.  It sounds ridiculous, of course, even as I write it, but that was the mentality during deliberation.  It also starkly breaks another rule in the juror's playbook, something about prior convictions are not evidence for this crime.  In fact, I think one of the jurors may have said something to the effect of, "Well we know he had sex with a minor because his girlfriend is pregnant, so obviously he must have had sex with the underage girl in this case."  So without even a real conviction, and frankly, I don't know if we even knew whether the girlfriend's baby was his or not, these extremists assumed he was a repeat offender and that we better lock the guy up before he commits more statutory rape.  

What's interesting is that so many people were swayed to the other side, so the principles of public commitment and consistency did not seem to hinder them from changing sides.  Social proof, too, seems to have been dismissed because the majority at the beginning was unable to win over the balance; the exact opposite happened.  The powers of scarcity, authority and (dis-)liking seemed to have overwhelmed the other weapons of influence, leading to illogical accusations and ultimately, convictions.  Convictions that still don't sit right with me today.  Perhaps all jurors should have Cialdini's "Influence" as a required reading before the court proceedings, to better understand what weapons of influence may be used and how to think rationally and defend against them.  Maybe then we can have a just justice system. 

Jury Duty (Summer of 2009)

This is my original, very personal, journal entry I wrote immediately after my unjust experience as a juror.  I am sharing this now to preface my next blog post, but also because it is still to this day a very troubling part of my past.  Having re-read it before posting, I have tears in my eyes once again.  I hope that by writing about it and my following analysis, future jurors can avoid the mistakes that I saw played out.
Count 1:  We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant... on the charge of 'Molestation of a Child' as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
Count 2: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant… on the charge of 'Sexual Conduct With a Minor' (penile vaginal intercourse occurred in van) as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
Count 3: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant... on the charge of 'Sexual Conduct With a Minor' (penile vaginal intercourse in victim’s bedroom) as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
Count 4: We, the jury, duly empanelled and sworn, upon our oaths, do find the Defendant... on the charge of 'Sexual Conduct With a Minor' (oral sex) as follows: Guilty.  Signed by the Foreperson, Juror #3.
The jurors reply that these are their true verdicts.
The jury is polled at the request of counsel for the Defense. Each juror replies that these
are his/her true verdicts.
With each additional announcement of a guilty verdict, shrieks and sobs spiked up over the already intensely emotional crying from behind the Defendant.  A large group of family and friends had come to support him, few of them looked any less intimidating than the Defendant himself.  One young woman, possibly a girlfriend or a sister, couldn't handle it, and darted out the door.  After several more weeks of filings and hearings, the case was finally closed with a prison sentence of 16 years, and the Defendant was ordered to register as a sex offender.   At least eleven people in the courtroom felt that justice was served.  I was not one of them.

I had received a juror summons before, and when I had called in the night before to determine if I would have to show up, my group had been dismissed.  This time around, my group was required to show up.  I let my manager know I'd be gone for a day, but that I was optimistic that I could get out of it.  I wasn't entirely sincere with that sentiment, part of me wanted to sit on a jury just to see what it was like.  And it was decent timing for me, I didn't have anything else going on in the next few weeks, and work had been slow.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad to sit on a jury for a few days.

My GPS brought me to the parking structure for jurors, and I presented my badge and was allowed through the gates.  I found a spot near the elevator on the fourth floor, and made my way down the stairs to the shuttle stop, where we boarded a bus that brought us to the court.  We went through a small security line, similar to that of an airport, and were directed towards a juror gathering area. 

I was glad I brought my laptop, because I was able to log on to work and e-mail and keep up with some of my normal activities.  They questioned our availability for a month-long case, which I turned down since I would be leaving the country in a few weeks.  After filling out a few pieces of paper and turning them in, the morning passed and I was never called for jury selection.  We were dismissed for lunch, after which I still was not called for a few hours.  Shortly before dismissing us for the day, they made one more call, and I was in that group.  I gathered my things and lined up with the fifty others potentially assigned to our case, and we were brought upstairs.  We filled out some information about ourselves and answered questions about our personal lives and opinions.  We were brought back down to the gathering area to await a decision.  The rest of the unselected jurors were dismissed and would not have to return for two years.  Within another hour, we were ushered back upstairs, but this time to a court room, where the lawyers, defendant and a handful of others sat to observe the juror selection process. 

We had juror numbers to respond by, and were asked to verbally answer questions about where we worked, if we were married, how many kids we had, etc.  Then we were asked if we had opinions or experiences that would skew our fair judgment of the case.  We were asked if we knew anyone in the courtroom, be it the defendant or lawyers, or other jurors.  Two of the jurors did, in fact, know each other: one had been a student at the high school where the other was a security guard.

Some of the potential jurors clearly did not want to be selected, and made claims that ranged from slightly unbelievable to outrageous, and the judge called each and every one of them out on it.  He was tough, but not mean.  He made a reasonable case for every situation, and spoke with great authority, but still came off as a kind and good man.  He clearly believed in the values of the justice system and that jury duty was a responsibility of citizenship.  It was actually refreshing to see that, in a society of so much negativity towards our country's politics and systems, someone actually believed in the values that our country was formed on.  I was feeling patriotic, but somewhat indifferent about getting picked.  I really just wanted to know one way or another.

My anxiety was met with sheer disappointment, when we were neither selected nor rejected.  Instead, we were instructed to come back the following afternoon to continue the jury selection process.  Brutal, I thought, two days wasted without even being assigned to a case. 

I went into work that morning, and let my manager know that I should have an answer that afternoon.  We went through another question and answer session, then were dismissed for a break.  Our group had been combined with another group of fifty people, and we were all lined up in the hallway outside the courtroom to hear the final selections.  I had met a few interesting people by this time, and thought that it would actually be cool to spend more time with them, even if that meant serving on a jury. 

I was one of the last jurors to be selected, and by the time the fourteen seats were filled (we had two extra jurors that would sit through the case as alternates), none of the interesting people I looked forward to spending more time with had joined me.  I wasn't here to meet exciting people, I reminded myself, and I convinced myself that a few people on the jury were probably pretty nice. 

It dawned on me now, seeing the 86 people that were not selected, that we didn't exactly have the cream of the crop seated there.  Many bright, reasonable people were probably not selected because they had done or said something during the selection process to intentionally avoid being selected.  I was filled with more anxiety about how the case would go, but I didn't have much time to ponder those thoughts, as we were immediately given instructions and dismissed shortly thereafter. 

We didn't begin until about 10:30 am, so I was able to pull a few hours of work each morning before donning my juror badge once more.  Even while I acknowledged the defendant was innocent until proven guilty, it seemed to me that this would be a relatively clear-cut case; I already guessed that he would likely be found guilty.  I pushed down my thoughts and assumptions, however, and contemplated the lawyers' opening arguments seriously, and weighed the evidence as it was presented by both sides.  Both lawyers, in their opening arguments, admitted weaknesses and holes in their cases, but spoke with confidence that they would convince us of their respective positions.  This was not a case of rape, for example, the girl was consensual in all four alleged acts, but her age made the acts a crime, nonetheless.

When it came to evidence, we were told upfront that we would have little more than testimonies from each side.  It would be a case of whose story is more believable, a chubby girl with low self-esteem who couldn't remember any relevant details, or a man convicted of at least one DUI.  The case turned out to be much more difficult to decide than I expected.

Through the two weeks we spent together, I got to know several of the jurors more personally, and we all got along very well.  Since we held a standing admonition not to discuss the case, our lunch breaks were spent discussing personal lives and telling jokes.  There were some things that happened during the case that were difficult to ignore on our breaks, and we would comment generically about such events, but quickly try to change the subject without being rude to one another.  We never led on to what side we were leaning towards, so it was a complete surprise when it came to decision time that we were initially split straight down the middle!  But I'm jumping ahead. 

The girl certainly did have holes in her testimony, as we were promised.  She couldn't remember dates, times or places, even months or seasons of when the acts occurred.  She said summer, then corrected herself to say fall, then denied she had ever said summer.  It would be easy to believe someone who said, "No, I'm sorry I made a mistake, it was fall actually." But instead, she continued denying that she ever said summer, even when the lawyer pointed out that they had a court record of her saying it.  It was unbelievable how shaky her case was.  Even without the defense side being presented, I was swaying towards innocent on all four counts. 

Some of the questions that were asked of her were clearly foreshadowing future questions and evidence to be presented.  For example, was the defendant circumcised?  She confidently said yes, he was.  He later said he was not, as did a detective who had examined him.  Did he have any tattoos, birthmarks or scars around his genital area?  She said no, again with confidence.  He admitted to a smiley face tattoo on the head of his penis, where she would clearly have seen it had it been there during the alleged acts, and he claimed he got it when he was much younger at a party.  A witness in hand cuffs later claimed he had watched the defendant tattoo his penis in prison, just before the trial in order to falsify evidence.  Lucky us, we even got to examine photographs of his penis to decide for ourselves on the circumcision and tattoo.

There was another piece that seemed to have a backstory.  The girl was asked what color shirt he was wearing in each incident and what time they occurred.  She couldn't seem to remember, colors, places, times, days, months, or anything around the events, so she was useless.  Later, a detective that had pulled the defendant over one night in the same period of one of the alleged incidents was asked about the color of the defendant's shirt, what time he was pulled over, who was with him, if he had a dog with him, what vehicle he was driving, etc.  It never came full circle to a resolution, but it appeared that the defense suspected the state would claim one of the incidents happened the same night he was pulled over for a DUI.  But since that claim was never made, that counter-evidence seemed a little silly.

One of the strangest and most controversial parts of the trial was a testimony from a criminal who was currently serving a prison sentence for all sorts of child pornography related charges.  He sat before us, with chains around his ankles and handcuffs on his wrists, traditional black and white stripes, and Sheriff Joe's famous pink underwear and pink socks.  He wasn't the only witness in handcuffs we saw on the stand during this trial, but he was peculiarly uncooperative and disobedient.  He would answer questions in unexpected ways and eventually blatantly refuse to answer questions, and the questions became more and more conclusive.  Specifically, a transcript of a conversation with a detective was presented to him, and he acknowledged it, but then denied the accuracy of the transcript, even with the threat of an audio recording confirmation.  The transcript reported that he had described a conversation with the defendant about the victim that went something like this:

Witness: "Why'd ya do it man?  You know she's underage!" 

Defendant: "She's old enough to know what she's doing."

The disobedient witness denied this conversation took place and denied telling the detective of it.  After the jury had been dismissed and brought back in multiple times, the witness was finally excused and his testimony was ordered to be stricken from the record.  We were ordered to consider nothing of his testimony, but the damage was done.  We believed what we heard, and it was hard to wipe the likelihood of such a conversation occurring from our minds.  This specific witness was later sentenced to a further punishment for behaving the way he did in the courtroom.  I was a little amused by the ordeal, as much as I could be at least, because I didn't think much of the State Attorney, and he made such a big bravado about the fact that he had not even spoken with the witness, just to prove that no agreement or deal had been made.  Clearly, the State Attorney was not expecting his behavior, and thought that his testimony would be a significant boost to the evidence in his case.  It made me amuse to myself that maybe he should have spoken with the witness prior to trial. 

The trial followed with similarly weak testimonies from various other people, none of whom ever admitted to being aware of any sexual contact or any relationship between the defendant and the girl.  Credentials of all detectives involved were called into question, showing that nobody was really competent in their careers.  Other than the photographs of the defendant's body, we had no physical evidence, and we couldn't even get access to transcripts used in the trial.  The case truly was a matter of who and what we believed to be true, based on demeanor, likelihood of knowing what was going on, motives, etc. 

What I saw was a very real possibility that any or all of these four acts occurred, but no sufficient evidence of any of them.  Therefore, based on our justice system, the defendant should be innocent, because he was not sufficiently proven guilty.  Actually, I didn't even think the girl was being entirely truthful, and I had doubts that anything happened at all, but I can't say that they didn't happen.  I hypothesized, based on the drama revealed to us during the trial, that her mom, an actress, had wanted revenge on the family, and knew that her daughter liked the guy, and figured they had a good story.  The whole thing felt very concocted by the mother, and I had no doubt that, with her close relationship to her daughter, the girl would simply obey orders as best she could.  Regardless, I didn't believe anyone on the witness stand, and therefore had no evidence to sway me one way or another, so my initial verdict was not guilty.

When the presentation part of the trial was over, it was about a quarter to five, so we knew we'd probably have to come back the following day to deliberate.  We thought, however, that if we all agreed immediately, we could be released from jury duty that much quicker, so we took an initial vote.  We first discussed the fact that there were four counts, and discussed how to deal with them.  We decided that there was nothing in the case to prove one over the other, all four would have the same decision one way or the other.  Then we took the vote semi-unanimously using slips of paper handed into the foreperson.  The vote was split down the middle: 6 for not guilty and 6 for guilty.  So we agreed not to talk about it anymore that day and to come back the following morning to start discussing the case.

After thinking it over that night, we decided to take another vote, this time we agreed we didn't care if it was unanimous, so we just raised our hands.  This time the vote had been swayed by one: 7 for not guilty and 5 for guilty.  We started discussing the case and the reasons we felt the way we did.

I was quite outspoken from the beginning, making the point that there is just no evidence at all, therefore the law says we have to find him not guilty.  I even swayed one juror from the "dark side".  I was happy to see that I could talk sense into them, and seeing the vote go my direction. 

Conversation continued relentlessly until lunch, at which point we took another vote.  It was 8 to 4 this time.  I figured we'd come back with fresh minds and new arguing points, and we'd be at a consensus of not guilty by mid-afternoon.  Boy, was I wrong. 

We started weighing the qualities of each speaker, what makes them believable and not, what we think they lied about and what we think they told the truth about, etc.  We decided that the defendant had lied about a number of things, including the tattoo on his penis.  The fact that the girl didn't know he was not circumcised was thrown out, since she clearly had no idea and no other experience with boys/men.  But there were things that weren't right about her story, like how she described one thing to the lawyer and then said it completely differently another time.  Did he knock on her window or call her?  Did he come in through the window or through the front door?  Did he drop her off or come inside to play video games with her brother?  None of it made sense, none of it was useful. 

For some people in our group, it came down to factors external to the case.  We knew the defendant's girlfriend had been pregnant with what he thought was his child, and some of the jurors did the math to discover that she, too, was underage.  Therefore, he was technically admitting to a crime by admitting he thought it was his child.  The thing for me is that there is strict instructions in our jury packet that I felt they were ignoring: namely, guilt of other crimes is not evidence of guilt in this trial. 

There were also other factors, like how some testimonies and questions which were supposed to be stricken from the record hinted at gang involvement.  At least two men on the jury declared the guy is an awful guy and should be punished either way, regardless of whether or not he was guilty of this specific crime, therefore their verdicts was guilty.  One of those guys had previously said not guilty, and had been another more vocal supporter of the not guilty vote. 

I felt like I was swimming against a current; I had been so close and now I was being pushed further and further out to sea.  Nobody seemed to recognize my voice of reason anymore, and I felt like they were turning against me.  It never got personal, not really, but I became more and more offended and defensive.  We called it quits for the day, and returned the next morning with yet another vote going in the wrong direction.  It was now something like 3 for not guilty and 9 for guilty. 

I was being stubborn.  I was pissed and unhappy, not in the least because I was outnumbered but because I thought they were making a terrible mistake: they were blatantly ignoring our laws and what makes our justice system great, or even fair.  I didn't want to be the last one holding out and causing a hung jury.  I feared our judge, who I suspected would push us for a decision even if we said we could not come to a consensus.  I didn't want to draw this out.  Heck, by now, it was nearing the time for me to leave the country on vacation, I couldn't let this go on too long. 

We talked about the stricken testimony of the criminal who refused to say anything useful.  It wasn't what he said that was interesting, but what he was asked.  Those pointed, leading questions, especially the one about that conversation he reported to the detective, that alone was convincing to us.  In that light, I started edging to the point of believing it was likely the events happened, but I was doing so with evidence that we were supposed to be ignoring, which isn't right. 

The jurors made it such a subjective, personal feeling.  Do we believe him or do we believe her?  My latest argument was that he didn't HAVE to prove his innocence, he was already innocent UNTIL proven guilty.  The burden of proof is on the state, and they presented no evidence.  If anything, the defendant's apparent lies about his tattoo made him seem more guilty.  Had we gone solely off the girl's story alone, we would have no feelings at all about it. 

I didn't like the girl.  I didn't like how she carried herself, how she lied, how she seemed to be faking tears.  There were times during her testimony that I swear she was acting like she was having a meltdown because she couldn't remember the story she was supposed to tell - like she was reciting what her mom or her lawyer had coached her to say.  It was very evident she didn't know what she was talking about, concerning anything, and I felt no sympathy for her at all.  Maybe that makes me cold-hearted, but when my fellow jurors seemed to feel bad for her, I was immediately alarmed.  We're going to believe her story because she's a girl?  Because she's a child?  Why would we believe her based on those characteristics alone?  She had no redeeming qualities.  Girls and young women claim they were raped all the time when it didn't happen.  It could have been a fantasy of hers, and maybe she made up a great story and thought she could get away with it.  I just don't see her being a reliable source.

The jurors pointed to the fact that she was confused and foggy on the details as evidence that the story wasn't concocted.  I couldn't believe my ears!  What I know about truth and lies is that it's easier to remember details of things that actually happened, not about stories.  They went on to say that if her stories were mere fantasies she played out, that she would have made it more romantic, citing that the defendant never kissed her as evidence that it was so bizarre she couldn't have possibly come up with the story.  I cried B.S. in vain, I myself was a curious little girl and I imagined much worse fantasies, and even wrote about them and blew the minds of those who read my stories.  The jurors brushed off my argument, saying I'm smarter than her and therefore I can't compare my childhood to hers.  So now we're going to believe her because she's too stupid to come up with a good story?  Really?  REALLY? 

I was far from swayed now, and I started to get huffy.  It was ridiculous.  We had to call it quits again, and we chose not to take a vote that evening.  I'm pretty sure it would have been 1 to 11, but my peers, while they disagreed with me, cared about me as much as newly acquainted strangers could, and I think they were sparing me from the anxiety of being the only one holding out. 

I went to karate that night and beat the heck out of my partners, much more violently than usual for me.  I was very emotional; I did not want to see a man be sentenced based on unfair, unjust arguments.  We had no evidence, the girl being stupid and childish was not evidence.  It ate me up all night.  I put a few notes in my phone, arguments that I would use, almost a speech that I would read the next morning in hopes of throwing one more dagger in the face of injustice.  I didn't even go in to work the next morning, I just went straight to the court when it was time.   

I had rehearsed my argument so many times I had it memorized, but my eyes still swelled up with tears as I spoke the words.  I told them that I sincerely hoped we weren't siding with the girl because we felt sorry for her.  She has a miserable life, we all agreed, but that is not sufficient evidence to convict a man as a sex offender.  I looked around the room as I asked them if they truly believed her story, if they truly believe that he did the crime, and finally, if they truly believed we had sufficient evidence to say he did.  They all agreed that they did.  Not one hesitated.  Not one admitted it was a gut feeling more than an evident realization.  Not one admitted they were using evidence that had been stricken from the record.  Not one admitted they thought he was guilty on the basis of him being a bad guy in general, or that they wanted to punish him for sleeping with his underage girlfriend, a different crime altogether.  They all sat, convinced of their decisions, and knowing that they had each other for strength.

I finally conceded, saying that I did not want to be the one person holding up a trial.  I told them that I thought it was a very real possibility, that it was likely those things happened, and if they believed it, then I would go with their decision.  A few of them pushed back, wanting to ensure that I was comfortable with the decision.  I didn't want to talk about it anymore, I just wanted it to be over. 

The emotions invested in the trial were much more overwhelming than I would have ever guessed.  I was expecting a case that showed he did it beyond a reasonable doubt, and instead was convinced that there was not enough legal evidence to prove his guilt.  Nevertheless, I shamefully allowed the foreperson to turn in our decision of guilty on all four accounts.  We broke for lunch, knowing that all that was left to do was sit through the final proceedings in the court room as the verdict is read, and then we'd be free to go back to our normal lives. 

Even though we weren't supposed to discuss the case, there was still communication, verbal and non-verbal.  I cried a lot, but did my best to hold it together.  I got a lot of hugs.  I got a lot of sympathetic gestures, like, "I see where you're coming from" and "I thought so too, but…"  None of it helped.  I lost respect for a lot of my fellow jurors.  I thoroughly disagreed with them, thinking to myself that they were naive and illogical.  Humans are emotional creatures, that is why we have the laws stated as they are.  We had no proof, but he would be found guilty nonetheless. 

We took our seats in the courtroom, and the judge opened the verdict and looked them over.  We weren't supposed to guess by his reaction whether or not he agreed, but we all felt he disagreed.  He looked surprised, like he didn't know what to do.  I thought he might consider overturning the decision somehow, if there was a way.  I wondered if he would ask to speak just to us privately.  I thought about what our justifications would be, if we were asked.  We were not asked, of course, that is not part of the legal process.  I couldn't look at the defendant, I couldn't look at anyone behind him, or the lawyers, or even my fellow jurors.  I looked straight ahead for the most part, reading and re-reading a sign in front of the judge's stand.  I probably read it three hundred times in the minutes that passed. 

The judge finally read the verdicts, one after another.  Each time he pronounced the word "guilty" a sharp dagger went through me.  Sobs were coming from behind the defendant, but I saw no physical motion from him out of the corner of my eye.  I continued to look straight ahead at the sign, trying to push the room and situation out of my mind.  My outward emotions were still in check, my heart was racing but I looked calm and indifferent.  No tears filled my eyes.  Maybe, I thought, I had cried them all out over the last 24 hours.  The judge finished, and asked if the lawyers wanted each juror to be polled on the verdict.  They did, of course, and we went through one by one saying that we agree to the verdicts.  My eyes starting tearing up as I was called on, but I spoke firmly and loudly, so that I wouldn't have to be asked again or questioned.  We were dismissed very quickly after, and before I could make it out of the court, I had tears running down my face.  I did my best not to let anyone see, but I'm sure if someone had been watching me, they probably would have been able to tell I was emotionally shaken. 

There had been a huge group gathered in support of the defendant, and many of them were intimidating-looking.  With our assumption of gang involvement, we asked to be escorted by security to our cars.  The bailiff seemed surprised, but granted our request without question.  Within minutes, several large security men came to escort us down a private elevator, and walked us through security.  They stood by as we waited for the shuttle, and we saw a young woman run from the court in tears.  I was sure I had seen her upstairs, prior to the verdict reading.  Two of the security guards boarded the shuttle and watched us all the way to our cars.

I got in my car, locked the doors and started driving.  I was crying by the time I cleared the court room, and I was shaking and sobbing almost the whole way home.  As I pulled off the freeway, I started to calm down.  I pulled into the garage, closed the garage door before getting out of the car, and then made my way into the house. 

I was greeted by swarms of thousands of flies.  I didn't know where they had come from or what would have brought them, but I seriously contemplated that god was punishing me for giving in.  I screamed bloody murder as I opened the sliding glass door and tried to get the flies out, and I finally couldn't take it anymore.  I closed the door, grabbed my keys and darted out of the house.  I got in my car and started driving, not knowing where I should go.  I ended up at my karate studio, and I meditated in the back for several minutes, trying to calm my nerves.  I called a friend and talked to him about what had happened, and he lectured me on giving in to the peer pressure. 

I meditated for another hour or so, periodically being asked by my Senseis if I was okay.  One of them sent a few kids into the room to cheer me up, and they did a little, but I was still stressed.  I had a professional meeting that night, so I relented and went to the meeting.  I was about an hour early, so I hit the bar and had at least three drinks in me before anyone found me.  I was joined by a few older men in the group, and chose not to share what was on my mind.  I let them cheer me up and then walked with them to the meeting.  I stayed pretty drunk throughout the meeting and went to bed as soon as I got home.  I definitely don't think I could have slept without alcohol that night. 

The damage was done, but it stayed on my mind for weeks.  We were now allowed to do research on the case, so I familiarized myself with the online records and starting scanning the case minutes regularly.  I saw when that one controversial witness was further sentenced for misbehaving in the courtroom.  I saw when the defense moved for all sorts of things, delaying the sentencing and hoping to have the trial re-tried.  I started praying for a re-trial, and was hopeful that the next jury would do better without having stricken testimonies.  Even if he was found guilty then, maybe I'd feel less guilty.  But the judge denied it all, and eventually ordered him to register as a sex offender.  The defendant was sentenced to 16 years in prison, and I'm still not okay with that. 

He may very well have done it, I can say that I think he probably did it, not as a criminal act but because he was a stupid teenager and so was she, and he just happened to be 18.  But according to law, he is innocent until proven guilty, and my belief stems from evidence that was stricken from the record and not to be considered.  So I don't believe justice was served.  I had once thought it would be interesting to be a juror and see the justice system at work, but the justice system was not employed here.  Justice was not served, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive myself for letting it happen.