By Mordechai Schmutter
With the Day of Judgment coming up, I bet you’re dying (if you’ll excuse the expression) to hear about my recent brush with the law. Okay, I don’t know if it was a brush with the law; it was more like when you accidentally brush against someone on the street. Either way, I washed my hands when I got home.
It started when I put my name on a list for a market-research company. This is the way a market-research company works: Let’s say Hoover comes out with a new vacuum cleaner, and they want to find out whether the public would like its design, the fact that it’s strong enough to eat an entire sofa cushion, and the fact that it comes with 85 attachments for every conceivable use, including pulling fruit flies out of the air.
So they call the market-research company, which carefully selects your name from their list and calls you up with a million specific questions to see if you’d qualify to be part of a randomly selected group of people. Like for example, they would ask if you live in a home, and whether it has floors. If you qualify, you’re told to come in and receive decent money to try new products and express your opinion. Someone in my shul had told me about this, and I was extremely interested, because I’m actually willing to give out my opinions for free, although I’d never say so to the market-research company.
I’ve gotten a few calls since putting my name on the list, but I’ve never made it all the way through—not because I wasn’t qualified, but because they were looking for diversity, and it turns out that a 32-year-old married male with kids and a home that’s in constant state of—what’s the opposite of repair?—despair, I guess, is not as diverse as you’d think.
But then I got a call last Friday, and I somehow managed to get through the prescreening. I asked what the study was about, and the caller said “social issues,” which I thought was great, because I have plenty of social issues. When I got there, I found out what it was really about: It was a legal thing. I’m not allowed to share details, but basically, Company A was suing Company B, and they wanted us to listen to lawyers on both sides of the case and let them know which of their arguments were valid and which needed work, so they could tweak accordingly. It’s like when I run humor columns by my friends and family before sending them to be published. The lawyers do the same thing. “Is this funny?” they want to know.
It kind of felt like school, where you sit there and not eat and have to pay attention, even though the material is boring and, as far as you can tell, doesn’t really concern you, and then at the end you have to answer questions on it. Except that in this case, you can actually answer based on what, in your opinion, the answers should be, so there’s no such thing as a wrong answer. Like you could say 2+2=8, and based on what most of the class says, that’s what the teacher will teach his class next year.
The marketing people told us that it wasn’t enough to answer the questions at the end of the presentations; we also had to consistently rate the lawyers by pushing a button on a handheld voting device every ten seconds, with “9” meaning “strongly agree,” “1” meaning “strongly disagree,” and “5” meaning, “I don’t know, whatever.” They then acknowledged that lawyers generally take way more than 10 seconds to finish a thought, so if we had to, we could also hit “5” to say, “His sentence still isn’t over,” or “I haven’t formed an opinion yet,” or “I’m sorry, I tuned out for a second there. I was silently counting to ten.”
Basically, we had to decide who was right. I felt kind of like a judge, in a way, except that a judge doesn’t have a little voting device, so if he doesn’t like what the lawyers are saying, he has to throw his gavel at them. And I came to the conclusion, sitting there, that being a judge is actually a lot like being a parent of small kids. No matter what arguments he settled yesterday, the lawyers still come back in whining at him today. “Your Honorrrrrrrr! He’s using legal loopholes!” “Nuh uh!” The only difference is that a judge gets to walk around in a robe all day, and if he starts getting a headache, he can call a recess, and everyone involved will, without further coaxing, run outside to play on the swings.
So I heard both sides of the case, and here’s what I decided: Big companies are evil. At least these two are. Basically, Company A said, “Look how evil Company B is. They did something illegal, they got caught, and then they found a legal loophole to do the same thing again.”
And I sat there and thought, “Yeah! Company B is evil!”
“Therefore,” the lawyer said, “we would like to sue Company B for billions of dollars.”
Wait. Why should you get that money?
But the lawyer for Company A didn’t explain that part. He was busy pushing us on how evil Company B was. It’s kind of like someone coming to you on the street and saying, “Your child is misbehaving. Can I confiscate his toys?”
“No! I bought them for him because I like them!”
Then the lawyers arguing for Company B came in, and he didn’t want to address that point, obviously, because there’s no way he was going to say, “Yeah, we should pay billions of dollars, but not to Company A.” So instead, he addressed the concept of whether or not his company was evil. He basically said, “Yeah, we’re evil, but that has nothing to do with this case. We were found guilty that time, and we learned our lesson. Now we’re all about legal loopholes.”
This went on for most of the day, with the lawyers coming in, one at a time, and pretending they were addressing each other’s arguments when they really weren’t. There were so many facts thrown around that you could kind of miss that they were usually about separate things. And I couldn’t take notes, because I was busy hitting numbers on my voting device, and it was hard enough concentrating with the guy behind me clearing his throat every ten seconds. (I knew, because I was told to count seconds.)
When this was over, we were broken up into groups of twelve, like a jury. (Juries are made up of 12 people, in case they want to, I don’t know, order doughnuts.) The funny thing is that if they’d called me for jury duty, I probably would have come up with a scheme to get out of it. But they called it paid market research, and I was like, “Hey, I’ll go!” because I was hoping for a free product.
It turns out that my entire jury had the same opinions about everything, which was good, because things had to be unanimous. In the end, we had to exonerate Company B, because all their legal loopholes were legal, as far as we knew. A lot of people had a problem with this, because we were letting Company B go. Apparently, they forgot where they were, and thought this was a real jury. So I pointed out that this was just a practice run, and that hopefully, Company A would come away stronger and find something that Company B did that was actually illegal, and maybe win the case. Not that we wanted them to get the money either.
This all probably has something to do with Rosh Hashanah, and the fact that we have like 30 practice runs beforehand so we can get it right. Maybe you should have people sit on the side and push a button every ten seconds to rate your tefillos. (“Did he say that part with enough kavanah?” “I don’t know, I was spacing.”) Thankfully, most of the best words for the job are written already. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of three books, all published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.