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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

So, you want to get back to normal?

Traffic on the Long Island Expressway in September.

Traffic on the Long Island Expressway in September. Credit: Barry Sloan

Caught up in cries of "When will this pandemic relent?", we may have forgotten how trying normalcy was.

Life in the beforetime was not just zesty gatherings, perfect restaurants, front-row seats to Adele, and collegial workdays. Life before COVID-19 included the inescapable hellishness now sloshing back into our days.

And as reclaiming joy goes, the special grand jury summons I received demanding I call Tuesday night to find out what time to report Wednesday at the Arthur M. Cromarty Criminal Court Complex in Riverhead really missed the mark.

Booking a seat at a Broadway show or a Yankees game, hopping a flight to Aruba, or at this point, Akron even, or attending a manic festivity with the good side of the family (of course you're on the good side, Uncle Tootie!) were fantasies I conjured.

But what I got was a summons from Suffolk for a special grand jury. It said I had a duty to report. It did not include the obvious fact that after everyone involved in the legal system had guffawed at the idea that a Newsday Opinion wretch like myself might serve on a special grand jury, I’d be sent packing.

So, Tuesday I called, and Wednesday I went.

Returning to going places means getting ready on time. It means realizing we haven’t touched a shirt with buttons on the collar for 14 months, and fuming at a universe where collar buttons fall off shirts untouched for 14 months. It means trying to match socks to belts after an era of "But my ‘Rage Against the Machine’ T-shirt goes with everything!"

If you haven’t started venturing out again, here’s what you need to know: The traffic is back. The potholes are the size of industrial soup kettles. The drag racing and recklessness that came with the empty boulevards and avenues of last spring continue and are infuriating and terrifying now that the streets are again chock-full of vehicles pogoing in and out of mastiff-sized paving divots.

And the workaday rage comes back quickly, too. The thought that went through my head as I went around roundabouts, perplexed by county-complex signage, was, "If I knew where to find the person responsible for this layout and wayfinding, I would tear his or her jugular out with my teeth and shake it in my mouth like a dog proud of a dead squirrel."

That’s the thought that first told me, "Hey, I’m back!"

At the courthouse, things had been normal, sort of, for a while. Suffolk Commissioner of Jurors John Nunziata said that while grand juries had been suspended in March 2020, the county started seating new ones in July, though pandemic protocols made it hard. "We would normally have 300 people in here at a time for this," Nunziata said of the drab room lined with rows of hundreds of blue padded seats.

In my group we had about 30, spread out between blocked-off rows and blocked-off chairs.

While I waited to be dismissed, I texted acquaintances from the law enforcement community, riffing on the possibility that I might serve. My favorite response, from a longtime frenemy, was, "Let you serve on a special grand jury in Suffolk County? I’m not even clear on why we let you live here."

And that felt the most normal of all.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.