Why Life Isn’t Fair (an Occasional Series)
Just two weeks later a very un-groovy cop pulled me over.
“But my speedometer said 65, sir!”
“I clocked you at 72, son.” (As if calling me “son” could transform this travesty of justice into an act of parental concern!)
Even after I courteously explained that I was right and he was wrong, he still refused to grasp the facts, and gifted me with a speeding citation.
I mentioned the situation (yelled) to my car-smart friend, Ray.
“Have your speedometer checked.”
“On a brand new car?”
“It’s a Vega.”
I had it checked and, lo and behold, the speedometer was off by 7 miles per hour! I magnanimously forgave the cop, and prepared my watertight court case.
When the day came, the Bailiff inquired with notable ennui, “How does the defendant plead?”
“Not guilty!” I replied. There were millions of cases ahead me, most of them guilty as snot. Mine will be a refreshing breeze for the jaded judge, I thought.
As I waited, I read from my love-worn copy of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience: “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.”
My turn finally came. “In the case of the Universe vs. Mitch Teemley,” the Bailiff droned, “Mr. Teemley wishes to plead not guilty.”
The Judge motioned for me to take the stand. I did so, with Thoreau benignly nestled in my back pocket.
“What’s your story, son?” (Why does everyone think I’m related to them?)
“Funny you should ask,” I began, “because there really is quite a story—“
“Guilty or not?”
“Um, well, not guilty because, you see, I was driving a brand new Vega and…”
The Judge’s caterpillar brows plunged vertiginously.
“Do you have the certification?”
“Guilty. You can pay your fine at the Clerk’s window down the hall.”
I sat in stunned silence.
The Bailiff motioned for me to leave, so I stood and began shuffling away, but then stopped.
The Bailiff unsnapped his holster.
“I don’t understand!” I blurted.
“What is it you don’t understand, son? You were going 72 miles per hour, were you not?”
“Well, technically, yes—“
“Well, then technically you were breaking the law.”
“But it’s a new car. I didn’t know—”
“It doesn’t matter whether you knew. You were exceeding the speed limit.”
“We’re done, Mr. Teemley.”
“Your honor, can I just ask you a question?”
The Judge’s eyebrows began an eerie caterpillar dance.
“If someone tied you up and tossed you through your neighbor’s window, would you be guilty of breaking and entering?”
“Pay the fine or go to jail, Mr. Teemley.”
The Judge stared in disbelief. When he finally spoke, it was with the same parent voice the cop had used:
“Do you want to go to jail, son?”
“No, your honor.”
“Then, pay the fine.”
“I can’t. It would be wrong.”
“You broke the law.”
“Not knowingly. Maybe General Motors should pay the fine.” The courtroom erupted in laughter. I grinned. “And I’m not your son,” I added under my breath.
That was bad.
Up until now I’d benefited from the Judge’s amused tolerance. But the moment I showed signs of working the room, his tolerance turned to fumes. “I’ll let you change your plea to ‘guilty,’ and you can go to traffic school. Or you can keep your ‘not guilty’ plea and go to jail.”
The Bailiff hoisted a pair of massive manacles.
“Well, I’m not sure…”
“Choose, Mr. Teemley!”
“Thank you. Now go pay your fine.”
“You mean I still have to pay the…?”
The Judge eyebrows plunged.
I hurried from the witness stand. Thoreau bounced to the ground. Was the book trying to escape my craven company? It would have gone to jail!
The Law of Fairness had been broken. I vowed never to let it happen again! Though, I confess I broke my vow several times before breakfast the next morning.
To read more of Why Life Isn’t Fair, click here.