Monday, March 12, 2007

On Being Curt

Jim Utterbug is a host of public radio’s Community Hour. His show has earned high regard over the years, and last year it won the prestigious Radio Activity Award for Best Talk Radio 2006. Listeners throughout the community tune into his show at 10 am every day to hear engaging interviews with featured guests that include celebrities, experts, poets, thinkers, professionals, and officials from the local community.

Today, Jim Utterbug has invited a state court judge to speak on his program. This morning, he was running late to work and did not have time to eat breakfast. What’s worse; he bought coffee at the drive through for the first time, ever, and it spilled all over his favorite work shirt when he had to take a sharp turn. He cleaned himself up, but it all felt like the wrong way to start the day.

When his polite guest arrived at the station wearing a pleasant smile, Jim Utterbug did the best he could to bite back his irritable mood. The interview started with discussion about mandatory retirement versus life terms for judges. That topic was followed by how to make divorce proceedings less acrimonious.

Of course, Jim Utterbug invited listeners to call in to the radio station to ask questions. When someone called in to ask the judge about judicial immunity and appealing her own case to a higher court, Jim Utterbug quickly cut her off because she was talking about her personal dispute, about losing custody of her son. This show was supposed to focus on judicial policy only, not personal cases. After Jim’s curt reprimand, the nervous caller curbed her question to make it more applicable to more people. Jim Utterbug was pleased to move on with a show that would satisfy all his listeners.

Next, a senior citizen called in to ask why state court does not have an option allowing Senior Citizens to opt out of jury duty. The federal courts do have such an option, why not this state court? Jim Utterbug quickly became frustrated with this caller too because he wasn’t getting to the point and wasn't stating why he thought it was important for Senior Citizens to be able to opt out of jury duty. The Senior Citizen said, “Jim, you’re cutting me off, not letting me finish.” Jim responded with a curt, “That’s my job!”

Little did Jim Utterbug know that, later that day, the woman who lost custody of her boy would break down in her psychotherapist’s office. She would tell the doctor she knew she shouldn’t let this happen, but Utterbug’s curt tone shattered her fragile emotions. She would cry for what she felt was “no reason at all,” and that would just make her even more upset at herself.

Little did Jim Utterbug know that later that day, in the afternoon, the Senior Citizen who called in to ask about opting out of jury duty would take his regular afternoon nap at 3 pm and would never wake.

This is not to say that Jim Utterbug should not be curt with his callers and not try to steer their comments to the proper ends so that his show maintains its stellar reputation. This is just to show how little Jim Utterbug knows sometimes. And also, this story might point out that while Jim Utterbug did not let that old man finish, Death did. So, maybe Jim Utterbug is not absolutely clear about what his job is because who is he to determine, really, whether a person is or is not finished?

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