The Ex-Con’s Rule

This morning at 6:30 on our way to the park via the Starbucks Church of Mercy, we cruised east down Camelback Road between fields laying fallow and furrows greening with organic arugula. Coming too fast up a dead-end farm road off Camelback was an old red hatchback. It gunned  out onto Camelback without stopping at the stop sign and accelerated west. The driver obviously couldn’t wait to get outta there.

My husband and I lived on that road in a travel trailer after we were married (because it was free). I knew what I’d see if I glanced north to the patch of shade under the three eucalyptus trees Grandpa Ferdie had planted thirty years ago. Red-tailed hawks perch in them. Great horned owls nest in them. Laborers nap under them. Dealers sell drugs under them. Sure enough, a battered pick-up was lurking there.

I drove on. The guy in the hatchback had obviously just paid a visit to The Man. If a cop had happened to be driving by when he ran the stop sign, he’d be out his stash and his freedom.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explains that seven things generally go wrong before pilots lose control of an aircraft. There is usually inclement weather. Sometimes there’s a problem on the ground, say, a faulty navigational beacon, in addition to a mechanical failure on board. Sometimes a pilot near the end of his shift is tired. There’s miscommunication. Errors in judgment multiply. Any of these things by themselves would be fairly inconsequential. Together, they are fatal.

I once dated an ex-con who taught me about this phenomenon long before Malcolm Gladwell came along. He was caught in a sting operation just after his eighteenth birthday with three thousand hits of LSD. “It’s a good thing they didn’t find the rest,” he said, “or I’d still be sweating in a cell block in Bergen County. He passed on an important piece of advice, and it was this: Never break two laws at once. For example: If your license is suspended, don’t change lanes without signalling. If you’re stoned out of your gourd, don’t go over the speed limit.

If you’re going to break the laws of gravity, don’t break the laws of aerodynamics.

Don’t grind your teeth. But if you’re going to, don’t leave your occlusal guard on the bedside table night after night after night. Tomorrow I’ve got an 8 a.m. date with an endodontist. My first root canal. Now please excuse me while I go pluck my nose hairs.

Do you ever break two rules at once?

2 thoughts on “The Ex-Con’s Rule

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