Mock Trials In The Land Of the Lost
Project: Documentary podcast following a mock trial team to the national championships.
Location: Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Day 1 - April 8, 2022
Of Squishy Nights and Time Travel
Kevin and I drove through a near-biblical downpour the whole way from Brooklyn to Lancaster and arrived ahead of Lisa and Jason at the oddly-named Slaymaker Lock Guesthouse, our home for the next few days. Kevin noted that Lancaster was looking better these days, and has become something of a “Brooklyn” to Philadelphia. After a quick run to Whole Foods, we got to work making shrimp pasta and salad for dinner. However, much to our surprise and chagrin, there was nary a grain of salt to be had in this "designer-renovated" AirBnB house. It was unbelievable. No salt for the pasta water. No salt for the shrimp. No salt for the lemon and olive oil and salt salad dressing. As I scoured the drawers and cabinets, I thought - who has a house without the bare minimum of salt and pepper in the kitchen? It's insane. There's plenty of Splenda, but no salt. In a panic, we considered scraping the salt-roasted peanuts from the pantry but then just decided to make do. It was getting late and we were hungry. This would never happen in Brooklyn. Kevin texted Lisa to pick some up on the way in.
Lisa and Jason were soon fed and by the end of it, all everyone was full and ready for bed. Lisa was the first to raise an alarm about the bed situation. "Squishy" was all she said, but we all had the same mattress; there was no other choice. Lisa claims they were bought at IKEA, along with everything in the kitchen and the bathroom, but apparently not the hooks because along with the salt, there are no hooks in the house. No hooks to hang your jacket, no hooks to hang a towel, and certainly no hooks to hang your bag of artisanal Himalayan salt rocks. So what is this? A high-end frat house? Kevin, who decided to bunk in the attic, said the mattress was like a waterbed. He gets no WiFi up there.
At breakfast, I realized that I forgot to pack my instant oatmeal, but thankfully everyone else brought theirs. And then we were off to the Lancaster Barnstormers Clipper Magazine Stadium for the national mock trial opening ceremonies. On the way, Kevin and I tried to deduce the origin of the term clipper, and we fell down the rabbit hole of Clipper Ships, Yankee Clipper, Yankee Magazine, and then what the hell is Clipper Magazine anyway? I thought it might be full of coupons that you clip out. I haven't looked yet. Okay, that's exactly what it is.
Anyway, it was cold yet sunny and we greeted Dillard University's team when they arrived full of energy and swagger. In the stands, the 48 teams began to arrive and stake out some territory to cheer on their captains. The very tall trophies were unpacked from their sacred arks and placed on display. Just like on the Stanley Cup, the new winners would be etched into it for all eternity. But unlike in hockey, there’d probably be no insane pictures of the team partying with the trophy in a hot tub full of Miller beer. But who would bring home this prize? Then the Captains had their "parade" and I got a flavor for the event - like a mix of high school theater and varsity sports. There were chants, inside jokes, bad costumes, and even a T-Rex. Maybe there would be a hot tub after all - who knows? It was lit.
Lunch took us to SPROUT of Rice & Noodles Vietnamese Eatery which is way too many words for a restaurant name. They also apparently have two locations, only one of which is serving food, where we got take out. I ordered the brisket pho and on the ride back to the house was taunted by its odor - it was teasing me every minute until we got inside and I could assemble all its glorious components into a liquid Voltron of flavor. What had kidnapped my nostrils was the broth - it smelled like the flue of a fire, smoky and warm. But then, when I cracked open the lid, there was also the scent of spring in the air; fresh greenery, moist soil, dew on the grass, and clean rainwater. Along with the spring rolls and Kevin's food, it all smelled like the hearth of a kitchen, cookies baking, pot roast simmering. I swooned, dumped everything into a big bowl, topped it with some sriracha, and then inserted my entire head. It was amazing. Meanwhile, Kevin had a giant banh mi that looked like a cruise missile, Lisa had "veggie soup," and Jason went for some vermicelli with pork.
I don't know what everyone else did but I had to power nap for fifteen minutes before even thinking of sitting through a trial. When I arose, dazed yet refreshed, everyone was scrambling for some kind of caffeine.
At the courthouse, we made it through the crowds and then up into an elevator that may have been a time machine from the 1970s, what with its rounded chunky wooden railings and strange brown and beige color palette. We must have been in the "new building" which I would call the "bunker building," from all the lovely angled brick walls and threadbare carpeting. Then, like dungeoneers, we kept exploring and made our way through "the transition chamber" of questionable uses and down into the "old building" which is what you'd expect from a courthouse in the county seat of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Marble, brass, polished wood, and a dusty vaulted courtroom in which to adjudicate the masses. Jason was saddened by the peeling paint. I was dismayed by the janky sound system.
Then it was showtime. As we were told many times by the defense, “every conspiracy needs a scapegoat.” Somehow the main characters from "Lethal Weapon," Riggs and Murtaugh, were involved in some shady conspiracy involving cocaine, cash, and a club name "Mystique." I definitely do not remember that plotline from the movies, but maybe time got all jumbled up when we went in that elevator. The whole proceeding came to a screeching halt when someone kicked the vintage microphone cables under their table and static rained down upon us like judgment day. Thankfully a court official came in to "fix it," which in Lancaster means "turn the stupid thing off." Well, there goes at least one of my mic sources. All in a day's work.
The proceedings proceeded and we were treated to some classy high-school acting. Jason wondered why no team came dressed as Judge Dredd. De'Andre won the Tony for the line "I'm a grown man. I drink." Every scheme needs a scapegoat. And then they deconstructed the demonstrative and make closing arguments. The judges then tabulated their notes on napkins and offered advice.
Back home, most of us scavenged the leftovers but Jason went the distance and ordered some “new” food for a later dinner. Unfortunately, the restaurant he had chosen was closed. By the time I went up to bed, Jason had placed a second order, and the smell of fried food nipped at my heels as I ascended the stairs. The ghost of Popeye's must've slipped in behind me and hid under my bed because the room was uncomfortably warm all night, leaving me less than rested for the morning.
Day 2 - April 9, 2022
Star Trek vs Quesadilla
No one slept well last night. I, for one, was too warm, and opening the window didn't seem to make a difference. If only I had thought to turn down the thermostat. Alas, I self-basted on my squishy mattress, unable to cool down, the still air enveloping me like a sticky leather glove. Tired and cranky, I endeavored to move ahead anyway and so Lisa and I became the in-house entertainment while we blasted through thirty minutes of a Peleton cardio class in the living room. The jute rug was not an ideal platform for our jumping, mountain climbing, and split-squatting, but we did our best. Post-workout, the conversation revolved around giving chores to kids, Lisa's illicit past, and Jason's drag-racing close-calls.
Today we were in the "new" part of the courthouse, which I later learned was, in fact, built-in 1976 and would therefore account for the time-travel elevator, the angled brick walls, and the spectacularly tiled men's bathroom. I mean, no one tiles a public bathroom like that anymore - the walls with a "dried orange slice" print and the floor in a brown/tan mosaic like a distant coast at sunset. When I texted a picture of it to my friend he wrote "it's a lost craft." It was glorious.
But the real star of the show was the courtroom itself. Imagine a sunken living room crossed with the transporter room of the starship enterprise, the security council chamber at the UN, and an intimate theater-in-the-round all wrapped in a 1970s community rec center. More chunky rounded wooden accents, paneling at angles, and a carpeted curved ramp leading down into the well of the chamber depositing you into a lighted, domed mini-rotunda. It's here that you'd find yourself in front of a (chunky rounded wooden) railing to address the judge. Ok, I'm down with all the vintage design. But then, while hustling to set up all my mics, Kevin started to speak and was like "what's with all the feedback?" I went to investigate.
It was unbelievable. I've been in some rooms with bad acoustics, but this was phenomenal. When I opened my mouth to speak I was instantly bombarded by the most awful reverb coming back at me from the domed ceiling above. I sounded like my voice was frying inside my skull. It was like a metallic ringing combined with delay and then sent through your uncle's broken spring reverb amp that he never got fixed and has been collecting dust in the basement for forty-five years but won't let you take it off his hands. Ten minutes of this and I'd be confessing to the most heinous crimes just to make it stop. Dreadful and uncorrectable. So, if anyone was in what I called the "circle of doom" then they sounded like one of the many malevolent alien ships hailing the Enterprise and put "on screen." Lisa wondered why courts never consulted acousticians when planning new chambers. Truly, who would design such a place? My one fleeting thought was that it might have been the production designer from Superman 2 (1980), specifically the scene where General Zod is on trial and then imprisoned in that Phantom Zone prismatic glass thing. It sounded like THAT.
Anyway, no one in the court seemed to find it strange, and justice proceeded forthwith, undeterred. Hamilton's team was comprised of mostly twins and anyone else who also looked like the twins. It was a bit uncanny. Both sides went at the case again. Riggs and Murtaugh. Cocaine and cash. Only this time the nightclub owner was played by a Russian. At a certain point, I found myself wondering if the wall behind the judge was retractable, what with the accordion angles. But why would someone do that? Was this whole courthouse some kind of modular behemoth, a shapeshifting hall of justice? I kept recording, but my head was hurting from the echo so I swallowed a couple of Advil and a mini macro bar. Lisa told me to go eat.
At some point, I ducked into the hallway for "lunch" which was brought in from somewhere terrible. All I can say is that I know where all the missing salt went - right into the "quesadilla" I was powering down. Salt and cheese, served at room temperature in a flaccid tortilla, on top of wilted fries inside a styrofoam clamshell. It smelled vaguely like corn chips and salt, like a beach or a kitchen after a storm. But I persisted, hoping that "real food" would make the pain go away. I meditated on the true meaning of quesadilla. Perhaps this was the real thing. Perhaps I had it all wrong. I should enjoy this lunch... I took another slice out of the foam coffin and slowly chewed and closed my eyes. In my mind's eye, I saw a century-old monument in the center of a vast plain, at the end of a long, curved road lined with perfect tessellated hedges, with a signpost so big that it appeared to be from a different, older culture. The monument read: "The Quesadilla - inventor unknown.
Back in the courtroom, Dillard did their best. Someone said "Agent Butters" but it sounded like "Asian butter." I don't know who won. And then it was done. We exited the headache chamber and retreated to the clubhouse on West Walnut Street. Instantly I began to feel better and luckily dinner was fantastic, erasing the tragedy of lunch. Moroccan food from the Southern Market and a glass of Gruner made all the evil sounds but a memory...
May you never have to stand trial in Lancaster.
Day 3 - April 10, 2022
The Purloined Doorknob
Having remembered to turn down the thermostat, we all slept well but I had a very close call in the middle of the night. I awoke needing to use the bathroom but when I went to exit the room, the doorknob came off in my hand. I was now faced with a very difficult choice - try to rotate the spindle by hand (impossible), go through Jason's room (no thanks), or attempt to screw the knob back on and risk popping the whole thing out, waking up the house or leaving me stranded and in need of a toilet (total disaster). Well, first I tried to turn the spindle with my fingers but to no avail - I could not gain enough purchase on it and without enough torque, the thing wasn't going to move at all. My mind then raced to the worst possible solution - could I relieve myself out the window? So, I went all in and hoped that the knob would catch enough on the spindle threads so as to turn the barrel in the lock. Gingerly, I placed the knob on the end of the spindle and began to turn, praying that the thread would catch. Then the moment of truth - it worked. Sometimes you get lucky.
We rose early for Round Four and made our way to the meeting rooms at the Holiday Inn. Jason was right in thinking this room would sound the best, what with all the carpeting, drapery, and low ceilings. So that's a win. In the hallway before the proceedings started, the team discussed running zig-zag away from alligators and then prayed as De'Andre went chapter and verse imploring Father Jesus to lend a hand. Inside the room, a hush fell over the crowd as we waited for the judges to arrive. Dillard was ready to strike.
Judges were approached and evidence was tendered. Something was purloined. There were cutting agents. Poor, poor Officer Riggs, Doctor Jordan Joshua, and of course, Butters. Amaya grilled Murtaugh who apparently was expecting twins. Every scheme needs a scapegoat. I think we all agreed that Dillard probably bested Michigan State in this round, and not just because they were better dressed. Kevin noted that green rarely looks good on anyone. Lisa was dismayed by the denim choices made by kids these days. Jason was fronting that he didn't know the sizing names used at Starbucks (tall = small, etc...). C'mon, man.
After court was adjourned, we brought in lunch from Whole Foods and were roundly satisfied with Kevin's choices of rotisserie chicken, two types of soup, a noodle side dish, and cookies. Bravo.
Later, we went to the stadium where it was way too cold to be sitting outside for a double-stuffed awards ceremony. I was handed a matcha latte to warm up. Did everyone get an award? No, not everyone, but Dillard got one of the best - Spirit of AMTA. Another win. Grant gave us baseballs. I was just glad I had packed a base layer. And there was much rejoicing.
And then we were done. Back at the house we packed up, dumped the sound, and Kevin and I loaded into his car for the ride home. So, is Lancaster the "Brooklyn of Philadelphia?" Does that even make sense? I have no idea, but it seemed like a nice place to visit. Every sound report needs a scapegoat.
And now a poem to close it out:
Row houses all renovated
Hipster food courts
A house with no hooks
But plenty of bare wood floors
I knew a girl
Who never left Lancaster
She was always home
But when she had to leave
She left for Brooklyn
And came back and went out again
What is it about this place?
Also Of Interest
OpenAI has a new image generation engine, DALL-E Version 2, that is mind-boggling. Just as their GPT-3 text engine is changing how we write, this will change how visual art is made. Check out the demo: DEMO
Speaking of Star Trek, there’s this unexplainable NFT-thing: Collectible Starships
There was a totally fungible Cheese Heist in the Netherlands
I had never heard of Patrick Henry College before coming to the AMTA finals, but after looking the school up, I don’t know. Is there a conservative Christian “mock-lobbyist” competition? As for its namesake, Kevin and I did remember “Give me liberty, or give death!” Big words for an enslaver.
This guy got 90 Covid Booster Shots