Thursday, February 02, 2006

Hot Buttons

I finished watching A Few Good Men a while ago and it reminded me of something that happened in traffic court quite some time back. If you’ve seen the movie, near the end the Jack Nickelson character is on the witness stand, confident and cocky in the knowledge that he’s above being questioned. The Tom Cruise character hits a few hot buttons and Jack starts going ballistic; spilling the beans as he goes off on a tirade. It all kicked into gear with the line, “You want the truth, you can’t handle the truth!”, and went down hill from there.

I wrote a traffic ticket back in the early 70’s to an exchange student from the Middle East who was attending the University of St. Thomas. He was in the masters program to add to his degree in English. I wrote him a ticket for something minor and he tore the ticket up and threw it on the ground. I then wrote him a second ticket for littering and I reminded him, prior to throwing it on the ground, that it had an important date and time for him to either show up in court or pay the fine.

A month later he showed up in court, along with an interpreter. I pulled the prosecutor off to the side and explained that the defendant spoke better English than either of us and had to wonder about the need for an interpreter. The prosecutor made it a point to turn up the heat until a few hot buttons had been activated while the defendant was sitting in the witness chair pretending not to understand English. All of the sudden his ability to speak English came gushing out, ignoring the interpreter and delivering a few poorly chosen insults toward the “stupid traffic laws” and the worthless police department and on and on. It was then that he realized the hole he’d dug for himself as the judge took it all in. The prosecutor rested and we both smiled, a Cheshire Cat smile in the direction of the defendant as justice found his wallet and emptied it.
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