This kid could outtalk a lawyer

March 18, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd

As an example of the moral degeneracy gripping this country, I offer this ugly little incident that occurred the other day.

The 11-year-old and I were taking a walk when we both spotted a $20 bill in the gutter.

The boy lunged for the money, but I managed to trip him and slow him down.

He got up quickly, but then I elbowed him in the gut as the two of us tumbled into the gutter after the cash.

But he's a very strong boy and surprisingly agile for his size, and he managed to pounce on the bill first.

Then he held it up triumphantly.

Since the money was now in his hands and not mine, this seemed like a good time to teach a lesson about honesty and responsibility.

"Son," I said, "by all rights, that money should be mine. I saw it first. Fair is fair. By the way, sorry about the tripping and elbowing back there."

But the boy would not hand over the money. Instead, he began blabbering something about possession being nine-tenths of the law.

This is the whole problem with the educational system in this country.

Instead of teaching reading and writing and basic welding techniques in metal shop, as they did in my day, the schools now apparently concentrate on pre-law courses.

The result is the unnerving sight of an 11-year-old spouting legal maxims to his dad, who might as well have a small river of drool running down his chin for all he knows about basic property law.

Anyway, the boy was very pleased with himself and ran home to show his mother what he had found.

Of course, the sight of him so happy made me instantly depressed.

It's bad enough to see happy people in the best of circumstances. But to see someone who is happy while you're not is almost too much to bear.

Anyway, back home I delivered a second lecture about honesty and responsibility -- this one even more stirring and heartfelt than the one before.

"Look," I said, "you should probably make an effort to see if any of the neighbors lost that money. How would you feel if you'd lost 20 bucks?"

The boy did not seem terribly impressed with this suggestion, perhaps since it came from someone who had nearly maimed him a few minutes earlier.

Nevertheless, he went off dutifully to knock on the doors of our neighbors.

As soon as he left, I jumped in the car and drove over to the public library at about 75 mph.

There I began rummaging through stacks of law books, finally finding what I was looking for in something known as Black's Law Dictionary.

Under a heading titled "replevin action," it said: "An action whereby the owner or person entitled to repossession of goods or chattels may recover those goods or chattels from one who has wrongfully distrained or taken, or who wrongfully detains such goods or chattels."

Of course, I had no idea what that meant. But it sounded good. More importantly, it contained a lot of big words which would surely confuse the boy and impress upon him the importance of handing over the money to me.

As you can imagine, I left the library in a fine mood. But the mood dissipated when I arrived home and found the boy was now being counseled by his mother.

The two said none of the neighbors had reported losing a $20 bill.

Then my wife, who feels compelled to involve herself in everything that goes on in our home, often to an annoying degree, said: "And he's not giving you the 20 bucks, either."

"Oh?" I said, pausing for dramatic effect. "Tell me, Counselor, are you and your client familiar with the term 'replevin action?' "

Just as I suspected, neither had heard the term before.

Unfortunately, neither one cared what a replevin action was, either, with my wife adding that I could stick my replevin action, whatever that means.

The boy said he was putting the $20 toward a new pair of Rollerblades.

"You know, when I was your age, we didn't even have Rollerblades," I said. "We skated with . . . with old shoes that had bottle caps glued to the bottom for wheels!"

I don't know why I said that. It's just something I always wanted to say.

"You couldn't have been that poor," the boy said. "Grandma said you had a big color TV."

"Yeah, but it didn't even have a remote," I said. "If you wanted to change the channel, you had to actually walk over to the TV!"

Forget the 20 bucks. These kids today, they don't know how lucky they are.

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