Not too long ago I wrote a story based on the time I composed five pages of fiction (in Latin, no less) for another student in my ninth-grade class. He paid me five dollars; good money, I thought at the time, for less than two hours work.
I could have based the story on the times, in college, when I wrote papers for other students, charging them by the grade, minimum wage for a C, top dollar for A. I didn't do it often, and I only did it for one semester before thinking better of it and giving up that kind of dishonesty.This is a confession of sorts, and that's the point.
They were easy to write, and such confessions these days are not only prolific, but somehow welcomed as good for us all.
Every week, it seems, there is another book about a celebrity's battles with drugs and alcohol. The media are overflowing with features about repentant parents who abused their children or those same children using that abuse as an excuse for their own misbehavior.
The past few months, in particular, have been the season of apology-on-demand by any number of politicians, the most insincere of all coming from the president, and the most hollow from Henry Hyde, an Illinois congressman who, when outed for an extramarital affair, declared, "The statute of limitations has long since passed on my youthful indiscretions," expecting the rest of us to scoff at his accusers or readily forgive him the trespasses committed when we was over 40 (hardly youthful).
Don't expect Fred Snodgrass to admire Hyde for his phony candor. It was his wife Cherie who had the affair with Hyde; it was his marriage that broke up. And don't expect to learn any valuable lessons from any of these orchestrated confessions.
After all, what would lead me to believe my current writing students would be convinced not to cheat because they heard my paid-by-the-grade story? That I would forgive them their frauds because I know how easy it is to cheat? That they would be careful not to cheat in my classes because I was something of an expert who might smell them out?
I remember saying to my classmate clients, 30 years ago, that my writing their papers was acceptable because there was so much cheating going on that a little more didn't matter.
Sound familiar? Our country is full of marital infidelity, so what's the big deal? If every adulterer were forced to resign, there wouldn't be enough workers to go around. Anyone reading this can fill in whatever other such blather he or she has heard recently from the commentators who parade to the microphone on television.
The foreign exchange student we once hosted, when he visited us last week, volunteered this perspective from Germany about the Clinton fiasco: "We think it's absurd. Every powerful man has a mistress."
I doubted the validity of that assumption, but I was appalled at the ease of his acceptance of amorality. It's OK because everyone does it is the world's worst excuse, unless you count "The Devil made me do it."
Make up your own list of what's been deemed OK because everyone does it: speeding, underage drinking, cheating on taxes. Now add adultery, that "youthful indiscretion," for which the statute of limitations runs out.
It's not that simple, getting old indiscretions out in the open. I can write about being a short-term, small-time, professional cheater, but the acts are done. Despite the insistence otherwise, there isn't a statute of limitations on dishonesty, and no amount of public revelation can excuse the choices I and the current public confessors once made.