Opinion: A fine mess

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My wife and I just got back from a short vacation. The first thing I always do when I return home is sort through the mail. If I have any bills, I take care of them immediately. I hate owing money. I especially hate additional charges for late payments — which is why I was so upset when I found a past-due notification from traffic court. Apparently, I had an overdue parking fine and I was being penalized for failure to mail a check on time.

It was an unintentional oversight. I had put the parking ticket in my back pocket, then threw my pants in the washer, added a capful of detergent, and set the dial to “Heavy Soil.” That’s the last I remember seeing it. It was washed completely from my mind.

Ironically, that night on the news was a story about an 86-year-old man in Arizona who was fumbling through his drawers (which is a disturbing image) and found a $1 parking ticket he got 60 years ago. Like me, he forgot to pay his fine.

Here’s my theory. Henry was, even then, a man with a keen eye for creating a little publicity. He knew someday he’d be an octogenarian (with any kind of luck), and that if he conveniently misplaced the summons, he could pay it decades later when a buck would be chicken feed. He assumed he could maybe pick up some positive press for seniors at the same time. The story made him sound like a hero. There was no penalty levied and the BMV threw him a little party when he paid. The press ate it up. The next day, Henry returned all the library books he checked out in 1950. Once again, all fines were waived.

I thought I had some good ammunition here to plead my own case. After all, my ticket was only a month old, and clearly Henry got big breaks for being a senior. I’m a senior, too. I hoped I could use that in my defense. I picked up the phone…

“Hello, is this traffic court? Look, I have an overdue ticket, but I wonder if you read about Henry, the old guy who didn’t pay his parking ticket for 60 years?”

“Yes, of course we did. What a heart-warming, uplifting, adorable story. We have his photo up on our bulletin board as a lesson to all about the value of honesty. He is so sweet. By the way, who is this?”

“My name is Dick Wolfsie, and I…”

“Yes. Mr. Wolfsie. We have your photo up, too. It’s disgraceful that just because you are on TV you think you can stiff the BMV.”

“Look, I don’t get it. This codger, Henry, doesn’t pay his ticket for six decades and he’s a hero. I’m four weeks late, and you double my fine?”

“Well, there’s obviously been a mistake. We usually triple it after a month.”

“How about if I don’t pay up for a year or more?”

“We’d have to revoke your license and garnish your paycheck.”

“How many years would I have to go before my failure to pay goes from criminal to heart-warming and adorable?”

“You should live so long, Mr. Wolfsie.

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