The kind you’re born with, the kind you choose, the kind that teach Catholic school
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The mansion you rent with five others was sold and you
must vacate. The new owner says you can stay until you find your own place.
On the last day you scour the bathroom sink, leave a tap dripping, and cause a flood
which damages floors, the new tin ceiling, and a Persian rug.
Whom do you tell? Do you even tell yourself?
You are shown an old, ivy-clad house in a village far from the world
of information in which you live; the old lady is moving to Crestview Nursing Home, and
offers you tea and white cake with lovely intentions. You have checked comparable houses,
and know she is asking tens of thousands too little. Do you tell her the mammoth barn was
omitted from the appraisal? Do you rave about the condition of the red tile roof?
Do you offer less, knowing she’ll accept it? Knowing, regardless, that you can’t afford this
unless you keep selling cars? At the World’s Largest BMW Dealership,
a young man wants to buy the top-of-the-line model; the payments will take his salary.
Do you discourage him from spending so much?
You are advised to invest in a company doing well with a poor product.
You are sure to profit.
The people who discover your beloved cat injured in a ditch
pay $150 for veterinary care and adopt it. You discover what happened
three months later, and Whiskers recognizes you at their door. Do you
let them keep the cat? Do you pay the vet bill?
You realize that your brother is selling secret information to a foreign power.
He will gladly provide your $50,000 down payment on the house.
Do you take his check? Or do you turn him in?
A friend offers to hook up your cable TV, save you $27 a month. The risk
is slight. It shouldn’t affect your sleep. It’s not worth what they charge, anyway.
You hear a person screaming in the parking lot behind your office.
Do you try to help? Do you bother to look out the window? A stone
has been in your shoe all year. You never bother to turn
the shoe upside down and smack the rock loose, though you limp and favor the leg.
You walk this way all year and all the next and the next.
Jennifer Bosveld once published a chapbook of my poems, and I will always be grateful to her for it. Without her, my words could have been specks of dust carried away on a pickup bumper or blown into Wyoming to be snorted up by a snotty Holstein.
So I was delighted to find, in the same issue as my Readers Write essay on “Habits” [April 1997], her poem “Thus You Have Five Yellow Cards and Still Have Not Advanced: A Question of Scruples.” By strange coincidence, my son and I had just been discussing what is and isn’t moral. He’d said, “TV stars making half a million dollars an episode and then accepting offers to make commercials is immoral.” Our conversation had spread to the rest of my family, and we’d had a lively debate: the capitalists versus the idealists.
Later in the day, I was riding in the car toward Lincoln, Nebraska, and reading Poe Ballantine’s “How I Lost My Mind, and Other Adventures.” Many people think of Nebraska as someplace to fly over on your way elsewhere, so it was startling when Ballantine spoke of Scottsbluff, where I go at least once a week; Chadron, where I grew up; and Alliance, where my husband works. This was more than coincidence; The Sun weaves connections in our lives.