Friday, June 25, 2010

the judge who dyed his socks

all you elders know this story - the foundation of our society - but maybe your children have forgotten it.

long, long ago in the distant, primitive past a judge of the high court found himself glum. his work seemed to be going splendidly and he was good at it, very conscientious. true, he would hang a man as soon as look at him. that was part of the job. yet whenever he shifted his gaze out to the parking lot, he'd see a pile of ashes and bones. those of himself or another, he didn't know.

deciding he needed a pick-me-up, he visited the local prison, where he had incarcerated so many. everything looked tidy: the cells, the halls, the noose. order reigned. usually this buoyed his spirits and he'd say to himself, 'i'm doing the right thing.' this time, unfortunately, it sent him into a tailspin. the lovely jail seemed sterile. maybe if he sent some flowers?

an inmate with a pail and mop, whistling and smiling, came up the corridor. for a moment, the judge felt he was having an hallucination. a happy jailbird, not to be countenanced! someone was not doing his job. 'old man,' he said, 'how long have you been here?.' 'seventy-five years, ' said the convict with a laugh. 'you take it so lightly,' replied the judge. 'yes, i stumbled on the secret long ago.' said the glowing fellow. he pulled up his pant-leg, dismaying the judge, who thought grey the correct color for such things.

good gravy, the socks glowed with all the colors of the rainbow: iridescent blue, green, yellow, red. the judge told himself, 'there will be a new rule around here.' and he asked the man, 'the secret?'

'ages ago, after i killed my wife and her lover, i arrived here in the deepest despair. i tried to kill myself in every way possible. no luck. and one day, assigned to the kitchen, i had to make popsicles. damned if i would do such a thing, if it made other people happy. i threw my dirty socks in the mix and declared, "that will poison the brew!" unfortunately, a guard came along and i had to rescue my socks hastily. they now looked as you see them. that night, sitting in my cell, i found myself staring at the crazy-quilt feet. suddenly, i felt better. i forgave molly and joe, the two who soiled my bed. and ever since then, whenever i feel merely blue, i gaze at my socks and recover.'

'and the mechanism of this great discovery?' asked the scientifically minded judge. the smiling jailbird scratched his head and said, 'near as i can tell this action switches my consciousness, from judging to pure perception, from the past and future to being here now. i think this must be the reason we have art.'

the judge left the prison heavy-hearted. however, unable to shake the tale, once home, he dyed his socks, dried them, put them on, and stared at them as he lay on his bed. suddenly, he felt a deep peace and dropped into a loving slumber. the next day, as he faced another callous thief, a weeping face, a mouth of decayed teeth and black clouds began to descend, he'd sneak a peek at his feet and feel revived. his judgements became less cruel, even-handed, and sometimes he recommended probation instead of the electric chair.

and that was the beginning of true civilization, the one we live in today.

see more pictures accompanying this story at