That’s Illegal, Isn’t It?

That’s Illegal, Isn’t It?

A short imaginary conversation.

“That’s illegal, isn’t it?” she asked from across the little folding table.

“Yeah, so? If I worried about everything that’s illegal I wouldn’t have any time left.”

“Well, doesn’t the law exist to protect people?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No. I don’t think so. You mean it doesn’t?”

“Hey, look, to the extent I obey the law I stay out of fucking trouble. But a bunch of laws are screwy, or way off the mark. And, no, to answer your question, lots of laws hurt people. They sure don’t protect them.”

“Wow. Are you an outlaw?”

“Hmmmm, dunno. It sounds good, though. Sure, I’m an outlaw.”

“Tell me more. What about murder? Is the law against murder a good law, or a bad law?”

“Look, I don’t murder people not because it’s against the law, but because it’s not cool. It’s just not cool to go killing people for no good reason. That’s why I don’t murder people, not because it’s illegal. It’s an example of my actions matching the law, but by coincidence. What else?”

“I don’t know what else. What other laws make sense to you?”

“Mostly laws that keep one muthafucka from fucking up another muthafucka. Those laws are cool. But laws that tell me what I can or can’t put in my own sovereign body, or do with it, no way. Fuck that shit.”

“Like this?”

“Yeah, for sure.”

“What about the hard stuff? Meth and heroin and crack and all that shit? Is that cool, or are the laws against them okay?”

“Now you’re getting difficult. Purely from a personal point of view, if someone wants to fuck themselves up with that shit, they should have the right. The problem, as I see it, is when what they do impinges on other people. Like, if they OD and leave their kids destitute, or if they cost someone a bunch of time and effort to save their sorry ass. They should at least be billed the true costs.”

“And you think they’d pay them?”

“Damned if I know. Probably not. But let’s say all that shit is illegal, like it is, and they OD. It’s the same deal.”

“Yes, that’s true. But maybe they’d be less likely to do it in the first place, if it was illegal.”

“Do you really believe that? That someone who’s an addict or has an addict personality is going to be deterred by some law?”

“No, I guess not. So what’s the answer?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one asking the questions. So you tell me, what’s the answer?”

“No, I don’t know, either. Pretty tricky, isn’t it?”

“Yup, sure is.”

“Okay. One more. What about tax laws? Do you obey those?”

“I see we’re not done here. Want some more of this stuff?”

“Okay, a little.”

“What about tax laws? I balance the upside of cheating against the downside of getting caught, and I find a happy medium. I wind up abiding by the laws, to the extent any normal human being can even figure them out, and paying what it looks like I owe. Which most of the time is zero.”

“Lucky you!”

“No, it takes some effort to owe no taxes and still be able to live a relatively comfortable life, staying out of dumpsters and shelters and things like that.”

“I see. Did you ever have to dumpster dive, or stay in a shelter?”

“No, but it came close a few times. I have a strong aversion to personal discomfort and inconvenience, and that probably kept me out of shelters as much as anything. And dumpsters stink.”

“What about welfare? Is that okay?”

“If someone really needs help in a pinch. But I think there are professionals who know how to work the system. Of course, the system itself is deliberately flawed in that it was designed to create a permanent underclass.”

“Did you ever get welfare?”

“No. The one time I actually almost applied, when I was living in Chicago decades ago, I was too poor to get welfare. So I gave up on it. It was a formative experience, though, and I’ve been skeptical of government ever since.”

“Wait a minute. Too poor for welfare?”

“Yeah, when I called them they said I had to bring in my rent receipt and my utility bills. I was too poor to rent a place and so had no rent receipt, much less utility bills. I couldn’t afford what it would have taken to get welfare. Only other time I tried to get welfare, sort of, was before that, when I was picking pole beans in Oregon for gas money. They said the county was giving out free food, but when we went there they were closed. So much for the free food.”

“Any other times you tried to take from the government?”

“Those were the only times, other than working for the government. Then, the only way we could get fired was if they held a mirror to our nose and we didn’t fog it. Well, I did get unemployment for a year. That’s different, though.”


“Yeah, ya gotta earn unemployment, plus it’s paid for. By the employer, who’s responsible for why you get it at all.”

“So how did you earn it?”

“I got laid off from the program I ran at American Youth Hostels in New York. That qualified me for unemployment.”

“And you took it?”

“Damned straight I did. I saw it as a grant to a creative person. And also, the people who ran the unemployment office really didn’t want people to find work. I’d have to beg to look at the job lists, and even though there were some jobs I might have qualified for, they’d say, ‘No, no jobs for you.’ So I’d leave and go back the next month and go through the same drill again, and finally they said I didn’t need to come in at all and I could just send a post card every month. I guess to see if you’re still alive. So that’s what I did.”

“No wonder you’re cynical.”

“If that was the worst of it. But of course it’s not. Anyway, you get the basic picture.”

“I guess. This stuff is still illegal, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. So pass it over here and shut the fuck up now with the hundred questions, will you?”

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