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Here & Now

It’s Time for Jury Duty and Peacock Stilettos


I got my jury duty summons today, and I’m really excited. The last time I was summoned, I applied for—and was granted—an excusal. Big mistake. I missed the most bizarre and entertaining case of the century. Picture this: grown man reclining in his lazy lounger in the dark, tossing colorful, round, candy-coated chocolates into the air over his open mouth. He kind of falls asleep and sort of chokes on one of the little devils. Which, the complaint alleges, has forever damaged his ability to play golf and make love to his wife.

Big-gun candy company lawyers, paparazzi and reporters were swarming all over the place by the time the judge threw the case out. And I, potential juror with a front row seat, had to read about it in USA Today.

I would have made a bad juror anyway. What self-respecting chocoholic could bring herself to harm a hair on the head of a chocolate maker? On the other hand, the poor guy was too sleepy to sit up and eat his chocolate.
He clearly had no alternative.

Anyway, I have no excuses this time, and I honestly do take it seriously. Jury duty is one’s civic responsibility, the summons says. Unless, among other things, one is an illegal resident, a foreign citizen, a convicted felon or over 70. I’m not saying these things are equal; I’m just reading the document here.

Sometimes all it takes to make life more interesting is to just show up. Some of us have way too many excuses: too busy, too tired, have a schedule conflict or—the wimpiest—"I’ve never done anything like that before."

What if we were more like Nancy Schwerin? On the second weekend of each May, you can catch this local mover and shaker down at the Great Canoe Dock Race. She won’t be standing among the throngs on the City Dock, either. Or lounging at a bayside table of the restaurant sponsors, The Dock at Crayton Cove or The Riverwalk at Tin City. She’ll be paddling a tricked-out canoe for some worthy cause, disguised as a cartoon character, superhero or a game piece. Seriously. Last year she showed up as that dastardly murder suspect, Mrs. Peacock, from the game of Clue, draped from head to toe in peacock blue, including feather boa, beads and peacock stilettos. She carried her weapon of choice, a four-arm silver candelabra, the Naples interpretation of the game’s simple candlestick. Her partner in crime was Naples dermatologist Lisa Zack as Clue’s Miss Scarlet, in an ooh-la-la red sheath with red fishnet stockings and red pumps.

One year, Nancy showed up as a purple-haired Fembot; another year as the green-faced Elphaba from the Broadway musical Wicked.

So much for one of my favorite excuses: "What would people think?" As it turns out, here’s what people think: What an amazingly fun way for some of the most prominent people in Naples to do something good for a charity without chairing a committee, licking envelopes or making telephone calls.

From my spot on the sidelines last year, I saw corporate CEOs, public servants, restaurant owners and CPAs suiting up alongside super-athletes like father-son race champions Peter and Casey Jenks—not to mention the Seminole Casino Immokalee’s Zig Zag Girlz and burger pals Ronald McDonald, Wendy and the Burger King. None of them missed the excitement due to flimsy excuses.

The Great Dock Canoe Race was created 35 years ago as the last hurrah of the season—or to celebrate the end of it, depending on how exhausted you are. So why are so many of us still standing on the sidelines? This year’s festivities start at 11 a.m. on May 14 at Crayton Cove. The beneficiary is First Book-Collier County, which will distribute more than 200,000 books to underprivileged children from pre-kindergarten through fourth grade. The 2011 theme is Rednecks and Royalty. Nancy and Lisa aren’t revealing any secrets yet, but, says Nancy, "you can be sure we’ll be embracing both genres."

Another excuse I’m fond of involves those tourist trolleys around Southwest Florida. You know the ones—colorful, open-air, vintage vehicles rolling by with eager faces peering out as a narrator tells them who knows what. I had no problem doing it in Rome a few years ago, but my own backyard is different. I might be mistaken for—horrors!—a tourist, and I probably know all that stuff anyway. But what if no locals ever ride along, and the guides are making stuff up? Who will set them straight? Of course, there is the distinct possibility, says Randy Smith of Naples Trolley Tours, that I’ll actually learn something.

Sanibel Island Trolley owner Evelyn Stewart agrees. For example, she asks, do I know the saga of the Sanibel Island Lighthouse? In the 1800s, the citizenry constantly complained to Washington about cargo ships running aground in the shallows around the island. Congress finally sent a lighthouse by barge, in ready-to-assemble parts. Only it seems that they forgot to tell the captain about the shallows. The barge ran aground and sank. Happy ending: Divers recovered most of the parts, and the lighthouse was completed in 1884.

My biggest excuse magnet of all is community service. But maybe there are interesting deeds to be done that don’t require intensive blocks of time.

No problem, says Joanna Fitzgerald, director of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. If I can shop for worms and nuts (for a recently rescued ibis and some orphaned squirrels, respectively), there’s a place for me among her volunteers. If I can help rig a sail or teach a child some sailing skills, Debra Frenkel, founder of Freedom Waters Foundation, would love to have me around. Volunteers with a sailboat might be able to take a child with cancer or other special needs out for a couple of blissful hours. No boat? No problem, she says. Come along and crew.

Really? I think I just ran out of excuses.

Sanibel Island Trolley
(239) 472-8443

Naples Trolley Tours
(239) 262-7300

Freedom Waters
(239) 248-1120

Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic
(239) 262-2273

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