A liberal and a conservative sat before a judge trying to decide which one was the victim.
“Liberals are glass half full people,” said he. “And you negative conservatives are always trying to make things out to be worse than they are.”
“There is nothing wrong with being a realist,” replied the conservative gruffly. “Avoiding your problems is no way to get rid of them.”
They both looked at the judge for confirmation, but he only half paid attention as he was watching the news.
The conservative went on the offensive this time with a moral attack. “Gay marriage, mixing colors, woman voting and dogs with books… all wrong according to some of the Bible verses I may have misconstrued.”
The liberal was aghast. “How can you say such things and be human?” he hissed. “You, sir, should be tossed into the worst kind of prison and made to suffer tortures for your prejudice. You don’t deserve rights. The Bible I misconstrue says people like you should be stoned, and not in the fun way.”
Tempers rising, they only broke glares to glance at the judge for his opinion, but he was leaning forward now, completely absorbed in the news program.
“I’ll cut your funding, you no good lay about!” screamed the conservative. “Try working for your supper from now on you freeloader!” He shook his fist to emphasize his point.
“You grow rich by using the skulls of the poor as step stools, you fiend!” screamed the liberal with equal pitch and punctuation. “You rob widows, children and men who are too sad to work and grow a garden of greed.” The two stepped towards each other, ready for blows.
“Stop,” said the judge, quietly stepping between them. “You’ve asked me to judge who of you is the victim, and after carefully weighing the evidence I have decided. Neither of you qualifies as a victim.” The liberal and the conservative were shocked to silence. He gestured to the television where a summary of the last year was playing across the grainy screen, the voice of a somber reporter making comment on the images as they faded one into the other.
“Unemployment climbs… rising deficit… can’t reach agreements… country in turmoil…” The judge turned the television off and the only sound was the conservative and the liberal breathing harshly. “We have to have a victim…” the liberal started, but the judge cut him off with a wave.
“I didn’t say there was no victim, only that it’s neither of you.” His eyes burned angrily, his lips were set in a tight frown. “While you have sat arguing over the last year it’s the people who have been victimized by your lack of leadership. The people have judged and found you both guilty. They no longer need divisive parties pulling them like puppets into false agendas. They have decided to once again be one people, one nation undivided.”
With a thunderous clap the politicians exploded into ticker tape, and freedom entered.
The dry winter leaves were Pringles chips beneath Rain Man’s feet as he walked toward The Clearing. He wished they were anyway. Pringles were his favorite. He puffed with exertion as he trudged the last few steps up the wooded slope.
“Holy crap, Rain Man, could you walk any slower?” Stokes sat on a milk crate in The Clearing with his eyes and fingers on an iPad mini.
“Stuff it, Stokes. I’ll tell you when I want to hear from you.” He turned to his schoolmate, Zeke, who stood fidgeting at the back of The Clearing. “Zeke, did you bring it?”
“Yeah,” said Zeke. He took his backpack off and brought a broken Nintendo 3DS out of its big main pouch where he usually carried his homework folder and library books. The 3DS was bright red with Pokémon stickers on it. He opened it and put it on a tree stump in the middle of the clearing. Both of the touch screens were covered with spider webs of cracks, and the plastic case was broken in two spots.
“Not that, butthole. My payment,” said Rain Man. “Hand it over, or I’m outta here.”
“Oh.” Zeke fished a bag of Fritos and a glass bottle of RC Cola from the front pocket of his backpack, and put them beside the 3DS.
“You, too, Max.”
Zeke glared at Max as the lanky boy stepped forward from under the tarp tied between two trees at the edge of the forest. Max put a snack-size can of cheddar cheese Pringles and a Coke on the stump.
“OK. It’s time for The Clearing. Stokes, you’re speaking for Zeke?”
“You know I am, Rain Man. Quit acting stupid. This isn’t Law and Order.” Stokes put his mini in his backpack and stood to point at Max. “Max broke Zeke’s 3DS just because I was helping Zeke beat his Pokémon game. His parents should buy Zeke a new one, and Max should get in trouble.”
Rain Man opened the Pringles and crunched into a small stack. “Maxsh?” he spit crumbs through the one word question.
“Zeke and I were in a competition to beat that game. It did Zeke no good to have Stokes help. He complains all the time about sucking at that game, and he’s never going to get any better if he always gets other people to help.”
Rain Man nodded and cracked open the Coke. He took a small swallow and glared at Max. “This is warm.” He took another gulp to wash down the last crumbs and smacked his lips.
“Max is right. Zeke, man up and play for yourself.” He handed Zeke $250 in cash from his pants pocket. “Go get a replacement and don’t tell your parents.”
“Jeremy the Rain Man makin’ it rain cash,” grumbled Stokes. He shouldered his backpack for the short walk back to his house. “Maybe I should tell your parents you’re stealing their money to get snacks to break your diet, Rain Man.”
Jeremy shrugged. “They’ll jushtell m’ to shtop,” he said as he crunched the last of the Pringles.
Matthew E. Morgan
“There will be order in my courtroom,” the grumpy judge growled through his twisted scowl, tapping his gavel for emphasis. “Now where were we?”
Straightening his bow tie, the defendant pointed across the courtroom. “This ‘liberal’ is attempting to mess with a long-standing tradition – one that that we have been pleased to partake of … day after day after day.”
The plaintiff slammed his hands down on the wooden table. “And this staunch and boring conservative refuses to admit that things can change and the entire world isn’t going to collapse over something as simple as the decision at hand.”
“Oh for the love of all that is good and holy!” the judge exclaimed with a bang of his gavel. The long hammer lowered a boom of silence across the courtroom. Satisfied, he looked at the arguing parties and asked, “Will the two of you just stop bickering for a second?”
“Whatever you say, Judge Uberich,” the plaintiff said in a mocking tone.
“That will be enough out of you, Mr. Hess. I’m tired of your constant conflict. Your rash impulsiveness is exhausting.”
“I agree completely, Judge,” the other man said.
“And Mr. Rich, while I appreciate your conscious effort to minimize the conflict, we still have a decision to make. You cannot go through this mediation and just be defensive about everything.”
“I’ve already told you my opinion, Judge,” Rich said. “Consistency is the key. We need to maintain a solid and stationary presence in this matter.”
“Baloney!” Hess exclaimed. “You’re just saying that because you’re a boring, stuffy, old codger. We need to live – to show some excitement every once in a while. Do something different!”
Hess and Rich began yelling at each other with a flurry of indistinguishable terms. Judge Uberich slammed down his gavel. “Order!” The men continued arguing as the judge banged again. “Order! Order!”
“Order!” barked a voice, jolting the white-bearded man from his daydreaming. The sounds of the coffee shop rushed back to his consciousness, as did the smell of brewing coffee. The old man shook his head to clear the fuzz. He then looked behind him at the source of the angry yelling.
Another man stood in line, shaking his hands incredulously. He said, “It’s not that hard of a decision! Are you taking your coffee black or with milk?”
With a twist of his white mustache, the man said, “I assure you that the decision is quite complicated – it invovles the entire self,” he said. “Though I know it can be frustrating; I’m sorry if I offended you and your mother.”
“That’s my girlfriend.”
“My apologies,” the older man said with a tip of his hat. He stared at the couple for a few more seconds. “Hmm,” he pondered through pursed lips, “fascinating.”
“Name on the coffee?” the man behind the counter asked.