Four years ago (shortly after moving into the neighborhood where I currently live), it was brought to my attention that a thoroughly unpleasant individual resided in the house across the street and two doors down from mine. Not only was he known to be crude and obnoxious in his personal habits, it was widely rumored that he routinely and mercilessly beat his three sons. These reports disturbed me, to say the least, so one day I plucked up the courage to go down to his place and tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he had better straighten up and fly right. He didn’t, so I shot him.
Now I’m one of those people naive enough to believe that performing an act of kindness like this for three newly-liberated orphans would be enough to earn me their undying gratitude, but such was not the case. In fact, they seemed curiously mistrustful of me after that.
I suppose their reaction was understandable under the circumstances, and I must admit that I did feel a little responsible for the death of their father (I had killed him, after all). But as I told the children myself (once they’d calmed down a bit), “Look, are we going to continue to dwell on the past and spend a lot of unproductive time discussing ‘how we got to this point’, or are we going to sit down together like men and figure out how to move forward on this thing?” Before long, the boys (who, at that point, ranged in age from eleven down to six) took one look at the smoking gun in my hand and decided to take a fresh look at the facts as they then existed on the ground.
The truth is that once the rental truck finished hauling away all the unnecessary clutter that had sprung up during the unspeakable reign of their despotic father (including a completely outdated plasma TV, a Land Rover with dangerously under-inflated tires, a broken-down pallet of rat-infested gold bullion, and a frightfully miscataloged collection of post-impressionist paintings), the poor kids finally had enough room to run around the house without tripping over hazardous piles of stuff every time they turned around. And since I didn’t see anybody else volunteering to do it, I agreed to store the whole god-awful mess at my house, at least until the boys were old enough to have adult grandchildren capable of looking after it in a responsible way.
Anyway, like I said, it’s been four years since their father’s untimely demise, and even now I don’t feel I can trust them to act responsibly unless I’m personally there to keep an eye on them. For one thing, every time I go out to get them another bag of food pellets at the pet store, they reach through the steel bars on the windows like idiots and try to pick the padlock on the outside of the front door. Even worse, all I have to do is forget to feed them for a while, and within a week or so they start fighting amongst themselves. I just wish they’d learn to take responsibility for their own behavior, so I wouldn’t have to. After all, I only got involved in all this because I thought I could help out. The last thing I wanted was an “open-ended” commitment, for God’s sake.
As it happened, a few months ago, I finally settled on a new approach. I told the boys I’d be “willing to stand down as soon as they were ready to stand up.” They asked me what I meant, so I told them, “Look guys, it’s simple; If you can prove to me your willingness to pool your available resources and share them with each other in an equitable way, I’ll turn the house back over to you, and you can enjoy the boundless fruits of democracy.”
The good new is, they’ve all agreed in principle to the conditions of my offer. Make no mistake — it’s an important first step, yet difficult challenges lie ahead that will continue to test my resolve. Recently, I presented the young men with a draft of changes they must agree to as a prerequisite to earning their full measure of personal sovereignty. These proposed rule changes I refer to collectively as the “Methane Resources Production and Sock Sharing Bill.” Here’s how it works:
Between them, the three boys own one-and-a-half pairs of socks. This means that if they simply stop their endless bickering and divvy up the socks evenly, they’ll find themselves in possession of one full sock each, which is more than sufficient to provide warmth and protection for one of their feet during the frigid winter months ahead.
And that, essentially, is all there is to it.
Yet (for reasons perhaps known best to them), the parties concerned seem unwilling or unable to agree to these simple terms. After months of contentious wrangling over various alternative methods of sharing out the three socks (each of which favors one of the boys at the expense of the other two) they have reached a virtual impasse. Given this unfortunate development, I can only hope that everyone involved will eventually discover in a comprehensive solution a satisfactory means of meeting his particular needs.
But whatever the obstacles that lie in my way, I cannot afford to abandon my efforts, as the well-being of these impressionable young people must continue to be my paramount concern, now, and for the foreseeable future. Failure is not an option…
Author’s note: In the past few days, some irresponsible persons have been posting flyers around the neighborhood accusing me of enriching myself at the expense of the young men under my protection. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that I should (at my own expense, I suppose) double the number of socks available, thus providing all three of them with an entire “pair” of socks. Needless to say, anyone familiar with the less well-publicized provisions of the agreement knows full well that such a profligate waste of cloth footwear is rendered utterly superfluous by Section 914B of the proposed agreement, which unambiguously stipulates that “each party to the said contract (insofar as he is designated a ward of the aforementioned ad hoc guardian) shall, as a show of good faith, undertake (at a time and place agreed upon by said guardian) to amputate his own right leg above the knee with a bacterially-infected oyster knife…”