Thursday, January 22, 2009

What Generation Gap?

Much is made of the generation gap, but there is one thing that the young and old can agree upon – no indignity is too small to make a federal case out of … literally. How else can you possibly describe the continuing legal battle between 88-year-old Edna Jester and a junior high schooler by the last name of Tanis.

The next door neighbors’ troubles started innocently enough. Tanis’ footballs, basketballs and probably the occasional brick or two, kept winding up on Jester’s property. In the time honored practice of old people everywhere, she refused to return Tanis’ football last October.

However, rather than just accepting Edna’s stubbornness as being the price of living next door to a “mean, old lady”, Tanis’ father took the extraordinary step of calling the police, who … and this really blew my mind … actually responded to the call. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where the police wouldn’t respond to a murder call, but I digress.

At the “crime scene,” the officers asked Jester to return the ball, but she refused. This is despite several warnings that she would be cited for failing to cooperate. Eventually, the officers were forced to write out a citation, which … get this … she refused to sign. I suspect that she pulled a Fred G. Sanford and said, “I can’t sign that on the account of my arthritis.” Then she probably grabbed her chest, staggered backwards and yelled, “This is the big one, Elizabeth! I’m coming to join you, holding a citation in one hand and this football in the other!”

In any event, left with no other choice, the officers arrested Jester. However, the ordeal wasn’t a total loss for Jester because … and this is my favorite part … the ball has still not been returned to the Tanis boy, as it has been submitted into evidence as part of the petty theft case pending against Jester.

Nor is this ordeal over; not by a long shot. This week, Jester launched the second offensive in this legal battle by filing a civil suit against the Tanis parents for infliction of emotional distress. According to her complaint, the continual “barrage” of foreign objects onto her property has caused her health to deteriorate (I’m sure that being 88 years old has nothing to do with it).

The irony here is that a dispute over a $15 football might result in thousands of dollars of costs for each party. For her part, Jester may be subjected to a fine of up to $1,000 if she is convicted of petty theft, not to mention the legal fees she will incur in getting Clarence Darrow to defend her (I hear they went to high school together). Likewise, the Tanis family must now hire a lawyer to defend themselves in the civil action. Finally, I suspect that the authorities in their home state of Ohio can’t be very happy about expending scarce resources to try an octogenarian, even one as “dangerous” as Jester.

In fact, about the only winner in this situation is yours truly. After all, without people like this, I would have to get a real job. Even the thought of gainful employment makes me clutch my chest, stagger backwards and yell, “This is the big one, Elizabeth! I’m coming to join you, holding a briefcase in one hand and a resume in the other!”

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