Weekly Punitive Confiscation

July 25th, 2011

Recently, I’ve been re-reading one of my favorite books, Mark Leyner’s 1992 fiction “Et Tu, Babe“; about halfway through the book the protagonist (cunningly named “Mark Leyner”) runs afoul of the law and plea bargains to a deal that sentences him to “Weekly Punitive Confications”. From the book:

The punishment consisted of having one item confiscated each week. At 10 A.M. every Monday morning, the authorities would arrive in a large truck. They’d read the statement that courts required them to read prior to each punitive confiscation, they’d handcuff us, and they’d put us in the truck … We were then allowed to return to our home. We were never told which items was confiscated. Sometimes it was obvious: the piano, the living room sofa, the wall phone in the kitchen, etc. But often we wouldn’t know what was taken until we needed it and it wasn’t there.

I don’t know if Leyner intended it this way, but I have been thinking about this passage a lot, and I have started to view it as a metaphor for adulthood. As you grow older, things start to fail, and things suddenly disappear, and you have to deal with it. You have to carry on with your day, every day, moving forward even without the thing you unknowingly depended on.

What’s really amazing is how often one single absence creates a domino effect that creates a day full of absences, “for want of a nail” style. Some days, leaving your cell phone uncharged causes you to miss the call that causes you to be stuck in traffic which causes your car engine to overheat.

One could make the argument that this all could simply be a function of having too much stuff — certainly it’s hard to break what isn’t there. But as we grow up, we find some Administrative Lifestyle Detritus to be required; car insurance, bed frames, dental floss. So it stands to reason we tend to spend a lot of time trying to strike a balance between what is essential and what is inessential.

So that’s the plan: Find out what is essential. Everything else gets confiscated.

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