Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Weirdest Government-form Instruction Ever

I admit I wasn't swelling with civic pride when I received a summons for jury duty. I'd served on a jury less than three years ago, and don't have time now for the interruption, especially for the princely wage of $10 per day. Given that the President wants to raise the minimum to $15 per hour, he might first start by a campaign to pay jurors at least that per day.

But OK, it's a privilege to serve on a jury; we should indeed be thrilled when randomly selected (again) to support our fair and uncorrupted courts system, as well as appreciate the reminder that we live in a just and law-governed land. I even enjoyed serving, last time.

Unfortunately, this time the date I was called to appear is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. At least it's not an obscure holiday, like the last day of Passover, Shavuot or Shemini Atseret, all biblically-mandated festivals when normal activity is forbidden. So I set about returning my summons with a request for deferral.

The summons is a single sheet, and to return it, you fold and mail. Except that in bold-faced type, under the return address, were the following stern instructions: 
"Fold in half top portion with this side facing out, sealed with two 1" pieces of tape at the top within 1" of the lead and trail edges OR within 1" of the lead and trail edges within 1" from the top"

There was no period at the end of the command, and only the single comma, leaving unclear whether I should fold in half the top portion, or to fold in the half-top portion, both of which would have been impossible with that side facing out.
 I did understand I was to seal with two one-inch pieces of tape, though I was left adrift as to type of tape (masking? duct? Scotch?) as well as whether one-inch was to be tape width or breadth--or need the pieces be square?

Most baffling were the "lead and trail edges." I'd never heard the terms before, so I whipped out my trusty Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, the one that got me through high school, college, and eight years of graduate school (yes, I have a Ph.D, which leaves me unequipped to return government forms). Despite twelve definitions for the word "lead" pronounced "leed," and four for "lead" pronounced "led," nothing referred to paper or an edge or a trail. has 56 definitions of "lead," (pronounced "leed") none of which have to do with paper, edge or trail. Ditto for "Trail."

So, I asked Mr. Google to "Define 'lead and trail edge'". No definition was offered, even drilling five pages of responses deep. One promising link said "Lead and trail edge haze!!" which accurately described my mental state, but no, the site was a professional printing forum, gleaned from its name, ""

Google did provide me with some images when I refined my search to "What are 'lead and trail edges'?" I'm not sure, but think they were diagrams of the insides of printers.

The last resort was to phone the court. I was prepared for a long triage, to "oprime numero uno," and then endure interminable Barry Manilow oldies looped with assurances about how much they value my call. To my delight, the wait was short, and a seemingly competent woman answered.

I explained my confusion about the envelope command, and asked her to please define  "lead and trail." She got out the form, read it, and...started laughing.

Of course, by then, I was a bit whacko and queried on. Can I use patterned duct tape? Where is the period at the end of the instruction? What if the one-inch tape is greater than one-inch from the lead? What about from the trail?
She did not know what "lead and trail" are. She said to just secure the sheet so it doesn't flop open in the mail, and no punishment would ensue should I egregiously mistape. She wondered aloud who she might approach to clarify this intimidating but nonsensical instruction.

I sense frustration in the making. Trying to simplify government gobble-de-gook is a losing battle, given that bureaucrats and legislators exist for the purpose of creating gobble-de-gook.

Perhaps my befuddlement could have be avoided if response was possible via website.  The Superior Court in which I served previously had such a site; this District Court does not. But then again, government employees write the content of websites, too.