Making better decisions

I once spent the Fourth of July in the Sullivan County Jail, watching the Wimbledon matches as a muscled dude did pullups on the television rack attached to the concrete walls. I’d been researching a couple of stories in the Delaware River Valley and decided to sleep out in federal scenic river lands. A pair of town cops stopped by. I showed them the federal law that allowed camping on the riverside. They asked me to also show them my license and registration.

The latter had been suspended because I’d failed to answer a questionnaire. The police had my car towed away, and an animal control officer took my dog to the pound. I called friends in Delaware County who came and got me the next day.

I guess I’ll also have to tell my son, who’s been fielding news of his teenager friends getting grounded for smoking pot and stealing family funds, that I’d also been in jail for shoplifting in my late teens, There was also that college incident in the U.K. involving a stupid drinking game and charges of public drunkenness.


The trick will be to balance the wrongheadedness of past actions against the braggadocio that characterizes confessors in twelve-step programs.

Wrong decisions can seem to arise logically or out of thin air. You blame a pressing deadline for the journalistic slipup that loses you your livelihood. You pass on paying taxes until those taxes grow so onerous you must make deals with various officials, including bankruptcy. A slip of anger almost kills your marriage.

Mistakes are human. Some make few, others operate too loosely. The key, I am telling my kid, is to always take the time to make a good decision. And if that’s not possible, to live up to and admit the fuckups, and move on to better.

So far so good … unless one looks at the greater chains of cause-and-effect that are harder to untangle. As we grow older, these unfortunately become more difficult to analyze and understand.

That isn’t something my boy needs to know yet.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.