The other day a policeman stopped me as I was driving. The policeman said that the 1982 stickers on my license plates were missing (true) and that I did not have an inspection sticker (also true) and that if he caught me again in such flagrant violation of the law, he would do something drastic. I was tempted to confess all.
"And that's not all!" I would yell. "The headlights are out of line and the turn signals don't always work and I think the front wheel is about to fall off. In addition, I have not paid my property taxes and I don't know how much money I have in my checking account. I have to get an exterminator to kill the mice that live in the oven (during the day) and under the sink (at night) and I need a plumber to fix the toilet which goes drip, drip, drip in the night.
"And there's more, officer. I am wanted by the smoke alarm police for not installing one in my own home and my dog does not have a license. Up until the other day, I was one of the major scofflaws of the western world, wanted by Interpol for a series of parking tickets. I need someone to fix the phone in the kitchen and the furnace in the basement and the door on the garage. Just to do this someone has to stay home between the hours of 8 and 4 for an entire month."
I would bare my soul. I would tell the policeman how I am always making my son late for school (I have trouble choosing the right tie in the morning) and how I forgot to send my father a birthday card this year. I have also forgotten my sister's birthday. This is really something. She is my twin.
I am late with the bills. I have a bald tire on the car and I'm afraid to have someone look at the roof of the house and I am quickly running out of underwear. I need to have a physical and to have something done about my deviated septum and maybe it would be a good idea to have my cholesterol level checked once again.
"That's enough!" the policeman would exclaim. "Under the authority vested in me by grown-ups everywhere, I charge you with gross irresponsibility and place you under arrest." I would then be taken to Irresponsibility Court and people who knew me in the past would come and testify. An early baby sitter would report that I broke a lamp and tried to blame it on my sister (What's a sister for?) and then Mrs. Stillwagon, my fourth grade teacher, would testify that I never did my homework on time.
The judge would look down gravely. In fact, everyone at Irresponsibility Court is grave. He would call more witnesses. The fire chief from my old neighborhood would testify that I started a fire that burned down the weeds. Multo-multo fire engines had to be called and there was even some concern that I was trapped in the fire and had perished. Since I had not, I was punished.
Mrs. Edelman, my sixth grade M teacher, would say that I was the one who went into the cloakroom with Harriet Tanzman and proceeded to give her the thrill of her young life. I was the one who never knew "the place" when called on and I had never had the required No. 2 pencil with me at all times. My Army sergeant would sit stiffly erect and report that my rifle was never clean and my shoes never really shined.
The evidence would accumulate. Shrinks from all over would come to this trial. They would wonder why someone would submit himself to such stress. They would point out that it is easier to do the right thing, to clean your rifle, for instance, then to wait nervously to get caught. In fact, when given my dossier by the Responsibility Police, they would marvel at a lifetime spent avoiding responsibility.
"Guilty!" roars the judge. I am taken away in chains and placed in a dungeon where rats scurry along the floor. I am shown to school children as a warning. Ministers sermonize about me. Rabbis never mention me. I become contrite and vow to change my ways. I am freed.
I shave my beard. I learn how to mix martinis, eat hot cereal, wear pajamas and use shoe trees. I get good at small talk. I read Evans and Novak. I switch to boxer shorts, take up golf, leave my keys where I can find them, take Norman Cousins seriously and stop wondering how come one day my hair is perfect but the next day I need a haircut. It is then that I realize that the punishment has not ended, but only begun.
I am an adult.