True Confessions

(A repeat from 8/16/2011 – which still chokes me up)  Shortly after passing the Illinois bar exam, my wife and I flew to Portland, Oregon, to visit my aunt and uncle and their family. One weekend, we rented a car and drove south into the hinterlands of Oregon.

Upon leaving a small town, I saw birds on the road ahead. I announced to Donna in my best John Wayne voice “watch this” and I stomped on the accelerator. The car sped up 80, 90, 100 . . . Donna is shouting at me to slow down but – hey – I’m 25 and macho. As I approached the birds, they looked up and casually flew off. I rocketed over the carrion they’d been chewing on (“Guess I showed them“). About that time, I looked in the rear view mirror and was surprised to see a car behind us. A police car. #&X@*! I pulled over and stopped. And got a ticket. 108 in a 65 zone. #&X@*!

The bad thing was that I was to appear in court at a time I was to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Illinois Bar (“sorry fellows – I have a court date“). Donna was silent.  Stewing.  At the next town, I stopped. The judge’s name was on the ticket.  So I . . . called the Police Station from a pay phone:

Scott: Hello? Officer, I’m trying to reach Judge ____ . Can you call him and ask him to please call me?

Officer: It’s Sunday.

Scott: I know but it’s important (I gave him the pay phone number).

Officer: I’ll see (Click).

I waited for 30 minutes. The sun was setting. Quiet. Birds chirping their evening hymms. Then the pay phone rang.

Scott: This is Scott Petersen (I figured that was better than “hullo”).

Judge: This is Judge ___ . You wanted me to call (sounds of splashing and children in the background)

Scott: Your Honor, I’m from Chicago. I (explained how I had) just graduated from law school and passed the bar. I was just pulled over by two officers for speeding – 108 in a 65 zone. I am guilty.  But I am supposed to appear in court and I am also supposed to appear before the Character & Fitness Committee of the Bar at that time. I was wondering. . . .

Judge: Just a minute (long silence). All right, Mister Petersen. Raise your right hand. Repeat after me. “I promise that I will never speed again.”

Scott: I will never speed again.

Judge: I want you to promise. I want you to swear to me. . .

Scott: (I raised my hand in the phone booth) I swear. . . I swear. . . I will never speed again.

Judge: Send me your ticket. Mark it “personal.” Remember Mister Petersen – you promised me. (Click)  It was a not guilty over the phone.  No fine.

The Judge could have said “tough kid – you show up or else.” But he didn’t. The lesson therefore became all the more powerful.  Seriously.  And since then, I have never taken a car much beyond the speed limit. When tempted, I am always tugged back to a fall day in 1972. . . . when I made a promise. . . .

A Sixth Grade Lesson

(The RH has been in and out of town.  Here’s a repeat from November 23, 2011). 

 On April 2, 2007, I presented a paper to the Chicago Literary Club on 5 lessons that I had learned in life (see post of August 16th for one). A big one occurred in 6th grade.

One afternoon between classes, I saw Tim H in the hall. In a show of 6th grade bravado, I grabbed him and pushed him bodily into the girls’ bathroom. And I held the door closed – chortling – while screams of girls and cries from Tim resounded down the hall. What happened next occurred in a kind of slow motion though I’m sure it took place in a flash. I felt a hand on my shoulder which spun me around. Suddenly a bright light exploded on the side of my face. My teacher, Mrs. S, had slapped me. Hard.Don’t you ever do that again.” Tim escaped. I wobbled back to the classroom. When I got home, my mother was there – arms akimbo. She knew. . . . Instead of hugging me and spitting about the mean teacher, my mother simply commented that she hoped I’d learned my lesson. I had.

I learned a lesson. It was epiphanal. I learned that there were lines that were not to be crossed. In today’s world, Mrs. S would’ve been summarily fired, the school system would have been sued by some money-grubbing plaintiff’s lawyer and there would’ve been nasty articles expressing righteous outrage.

I tend to think our educational system needs options for teaching lessons (even like this one) — without the consequence. After all, who wins? I sure did. . . . .