What's odd but not beyond belief is that, though our younger daughter moved out more than a year ago, her parking tickets and other problems still come to the house.
The latest is for a street-cleaning violation near the bungalow she shares with her sister. Our daughter says she plans to fight the parking citation based on the change back to daylight saving time, which she claims "might've confused me ... it's worth a try." I might have to attend the hearing for the moment our daughter asks the poor puzzled clerk, "Like my shoes? Anyway, about this stupid ticket ... "
The ticket comes courtesy of Santa Monica, which isn't so much a city as a gauzy way of thinking about the world. I suggested that my daughter mount "a Santa Monica defense," based on the belief that no one is really responsible for her own actions, that there is always some mitigating factor, such as seasonal time changes that no one can follow, or distractions like impending bridal showers.
Or maybe my daughter just had the sniffles that day. More and more, the weeks are packed with stupid distractions that get in the way of leading the totally moral life they might otherwise achieve.
"I mean, wouldn't the world be a better place if we just gave everybody a break?" I said.
"Yessssssssss!" she says, like a beach toy that has suddenly lost all air.
Or maybe she should just sue Santa Monica, the City of Unconditional Love. I'm always urging our children to sue often and indiscriminately, the way good Americans are taught to.
"Have you ever sued anyone, Dad?"
"No, " I say. "And I've always regretted it."
I see them processing this: "Hmmm," they think to themselves, "well, we sure don't want to be like him. We should strive to be more litigious."
There is crazy tension here at the house as we wean our adult children away from insurance plans and traffic citations. Our safety net is more of a subsidy. We want it to be more of a net.
Not long before the ticket came, our younger daughter got a call from the insurer that they were ready to look at the damage done when another driver butt-bumped her at an exit ramp a few months ago. The wheels of justice, and insurance, spin rather slowly in this podunk town. If they spin at all.
That's L.A. I'm talking about, not Santa Monica. Santa Monica is a civic miracle, a gleaming El Dorado, compared with Los Angeles, where they don't even televise the local baseball team anymore. No pro football. No baseball. Not even a bricky old bookstore where I can waste an entire afternoon. If I had a hammer, I'd just level the whole place and start over. No, wait, they do that every other year anyway.
Anyway, three of our kids are now free upon the world, yet their mishaps still find me. Traffic tickets. Insurance claims. College loans they can't quite handle.
I always warned them to never grow up ... no good can come of it.
Exhibit A: Me.
Exhibit B: The little guy.
Now 12, he remains our last holdout against the rigors of adulthood. The more his older sisters try to mother him around, to mold him into a little man, the more determined he becomes to avoid that.
Frightened by girls, essays, poems, combs, veggie trays, snakes, theorems, religion, chores, bees, isosceles triangles and work in any form, young Huck sees the real-world challenges his three older siblings face and is determined not to have anything to do with them.
His latest stand against growing up, which is really more a shtick than a reasoned approach, is to stand in the kitchen and perform what he calls the Puberty Dance.
Wiggling like a windsock, he screams: "I feel funny. What's going on with me? What's wrong? Is it puberty? Noooooo! Not puberty! Please not puberty! What's wrong with me? Help!!!!!"
It's no wonder I dream in French and worry in Latin. For some lives, one language is just not enough.
Meanwhile, the Puberty Dance draws howls from his siblings, while their mother seems to disappear in a coal smoke of hopelessness and despair. Too early for the Chardonnay, she futzes with her wine opener while sneaking dark chocolate from the silverware drawer.
The more she ignores him, the harder he dances:
"What's wrong with you?" his sister shouts.
"I don't know," he yells. "I think it might be puberty!"
This, in fact, is how we celebrated Easter.