Off The Wall, November 20, 2009

Not long ago, I was reading a legal document that stated something to the effect, “A child must be accompanied according to law.” That’s the way the sentence pretty much read.

Needless to say, my browsing stopped, and I reread that statement over and over again. Was it just me, or was it written as a “self-understood phrase” that most others could easily interpret? Probably, as I see it, that must have been it. But, as I read these words to a friend, he laughed, and blurted out, “Somehow I sense they’ll be a story coming here.” And consequently, I felt compelled to write one. This is why.

First of all, I think it is of utmost importance to point out the definition of the word, “accompanied” – “to be or in association with,” or “to go along with.” Now that that is clear, let’s proceed.

The thing that popped into my head initially was, “A child must be accompanied by his baby brother who he is babysitting, for it is illegal to let toddlers crawl around the grounds of a zoo unattended.” Now, to me, that is a completed sentence, and what’s not to be misunderstood, right?

Here’s another. “A child must be accompanied by his mother while she is shopping for food in a grocery store, according to law.” I may be wrong, but I don’t think there is such a statute. If there was, who would enforce it, the employees stocking shelves, the managers, or better yet, the butcher wielding one of those big instruments for cutting, running after the gals with his carving knives?” Sounds like a nursery rime with which I grew up. Don’t see that happening somehow, law or no law.

Or, how about this? “A child must be accompanied by a responsible adult entering a sports shop, according to law.” Can’t you just imagine a teen or a young adult abandoning the kid and going off and letting the youngster discover goods that may smell good for fishing? Before you know it, little Johnny would be ripping open the packaging, stuffing the plastics into his mouth. He may think they are gummy worms packaged differently. Or couldn’t you see him dumping the bullets out of the packages, spreading shotgun shells everywhere, or just having a wild time in an unguarded area? Kids will do that, you know. I think someone ought to make a law against this type of thing, but, I wouldn’t count on it.

But accompaniment doesn’t always mean something containing life. Little Stevie could be required to have on his person a bracelet, arm band or Band-Aid, for example.

I think you get the picture. Moving on…

Even though I felt something was missing in that original sentence I cited, there were three words that are easily understood, but seldom enforced – according to law.

How many times do we hear the statement – “Oh, you can’t that. That’s against the law.” Yet, 98% of the people who cross my path seem to “resent” being told what they can or cannot do. Looking out my bedroom window, I often count the cars that don’t stop at the stop signs. Very few do. I was standing one day on Jefferson St. at a stop sign discussing something pertaining to a story I was writing. A driver of a vehicle paid no attention to this man in uniform and whizzed right past him, going through the stop sign. The officer on foot commented, “I don’t believe he didn’t stop, even with me being here.”

Instead of using the word “law” at the end of the sentence, let’s insert ordinance.

“A child must be accompanied by a cat or a dog on a leash according to an ordinance. After all, I’ve heard tell, that cats, in particular, are not allowed to run free or they will be “taken into custody” by the dog catcher or someone that has such an authoritative capacity. However, I’ve heard tell by a very good friend that not just one but a number of cats invade his yard on a regular basis, and he’s not happy nothing is done about it.

I believe it comes down to this. Who am I to write legalistic phrasing? Not me, even though I am a college grad. But, it is my opinion that even a person who doesn’t get a degree should be able to decipher “rules” in self-understood language, don’t you think?

- Paul J. Volkmann
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