Years ago I bought a fairly sophisticated tape recorder at Crazy Eddie’s and let them talk me into a 3-year platinum level service contract which promised a loaner during service period, complete replacement with an upgrade if the thing should prove unrepairable When it broke down after year 2, I discovered that not only was there no replacement model, but no more Crazy Eddie. That guy screaming the guarantees out on TV was an actor. There was no Eddie. No one to complain to but the better business bureau responded that they had filed my letter. Where? Under S for Schmuck? Or P for Poor
Accountability is something poor schmucks like you and I have to own up to. If I don’t pay my rent, I am out on the sidewalk and my security deposit is credited toward repainting my overpriced apartment for the next victim. If I miss car payments, well, they’ll come and take the car. Except maybe not these days. They’ll offer me a new deal—a better credit card, debt consolidation for the small price of 25 percent interest, compounded weekly, and all I have to do is pay what…$300 a month? And if all else fails—why, I can declare bankruptcy? So what if for 3 years I can’t get a mortgage? I can still get a loan. There are ads on every subway for schmucks like me offering loans for people with bad credit. With terrible credit. All you have to do is pay. They’ll sweep everything under the rug for at least six months for the price of… what… 3 or 4 car payments? Whatever.
People eventually die. Do their kids inherit debt? They do not. Do they inherit money? They do. I want to know where all of this negative balance goes. Is it simply flushed away post-mortem like reverse sewage? Do people go to debtor’s purgatory after they die? Probably not. So where is accountability? What are we teaching them? That once they are dead even the toughest collection agency will throw up their hands? Why pay? Why be a good citizen? Why not stuff the New York City parking meters with aluminum foil the way I see people do every day. Not me. I’m the one who got arrested for using my kid’s school card in the subway even when I didn’t. When I used my own but by mistake had both in my hand. I was accountable for innocence.
I’ve been married twice. Both involved ceremonies, promises. So what happened? In my first marriage one of us was unfaithful. Where is the accountability? He gets a divorce, freedom—exactly what he wanted. Because adults have learned: it is better to move on than to hold someone accountable. Especially in this forgiving and sophisticated society, where if one commits a crime, the punishment is not written but negotiated. For rich people, it seems, the negotiations are more favorable. Why would a rich person steal like some poor bastard? He doesn’t need the money. So let’s have him make a contribution to cancer, sweep a few floors and go home to his penthouse. But a poor schmuck who actually needs something? Like the guy in Les Miserables who stole bread for his family? Let him rot, because he is guilty. Let him be accountable.
The Enron schmucks—they can pass the buck back and forth like those 3-card Monty magicians. Where is the criminal? Under that Golf Cart? This one? In Dubai? In the White House?
What about the president? Impeachment to me sounds like a word that means vacation. Shouldn’t he have to stand trial as a person for all the crap he pulled as President? Why, if he is ever held accountable and this is doubtful, will he be treated like a misbehaving child who will be sent to his room and deprived of allowance but will actually, in this society, get everything he needs anyway. And what would be the use of sending him to prison? How come Martha Stewart looks better than ever, is rich as ever, still mixing batter on TV with the perfect teeth? And what did she do, anyway, that every hedge fund manager and trader doesn’t do nearly every single day? Yeah, you.
How about these poor kids who are coming back from Iraq all disillusioned and wounded and getting the short stick? Who exactly is accountable, George Bush? Yes, you, on TV. For inventing an excuse to invade a country because Dick Cheney needed to boost his stock interests to new records? Because your father told you to? How about the ones that were killed or maimed by ‘friendly fire’? Put down your Su-do-ku and wrap your brain around that one and see if it doesn’t short-circuit every nerve ending in your body.
I want the next President to create a Department of Accountability. I want it to function like an umbrella, the way I believed the Judicial system was once created. I want everyone to have to answer to it. Not like Big Brother, but like real justice. Not a system all mucked up with people suing people because they can make a buck for nothing—lawyers creaming billions off the top of issues like they are heroes while poor schmucks are getting blown up every day, getting buried in mines, dying from inhaling bad chemicals. I used to believe in justice. Maybe that was the Bible, not the US Constitution and I was mixed up.
No wonder when I tell my kids they are accountable for disobeying rules, for copying homework, for text-messaging answers back and forth during exams, they look at me like I am crazy. Who is going to punish them? The school doesn’t want their drop-out statistics to go up, the teachers don’t want to take the time to compare identical papers and are so overworked, by the 180th essay they all sound the same anyway.
So what’s wrong with me? Today our local wino comes up and begs me for a dollar because his kid is starving and do I ask him ‘WHAT kid? No, I don’t. I feel guilty and accountable. I give the guy a dollar. Even when, on the way home, I see him sitting on the curb with a forty and he gives me the finger. And he’s right. I am honoring accountability in a society where it has become an intangible. Just keep printing up the paper money, issue another credit card. The only people who feel accountable are the ones that somehow feel guilty, right? And guilty people are the bad guys. .So I am truly the schmuck. Tomorrow I’ll give my wino a five. Pass all the bucks. That way when my kids hit me up I’ll be cleaned out and I can point. Go ask the guy on the curb with the colt 45… or better yet, take it to the Department of Accountability in the Unforeseeable Future.