Basement justice

"Our washing machine has got to go!" I pronounced, entering the kitchen for supper. "Why, Dad?" asked my 12-year-old son.

"It's become a sock thief," I replied. "I don't possess a single pair of matched hose. Do you know what that does to one's commuter image?"

"There's nothing wrong with that machine," avowed my wife. "All your socks turn up eventually."

"Why don't you and Mom settle this in a court of law like everyone else seems to be doing these days," suggested my 19-year-old daughter.

"Because I don't have a pair of socks to wear to the trial."

"Tell you what, Dad," my daughter offered, "I just happen to be date-free tomorrow night, so why don't I hear your case and render a decision based on the arguments presented by you and Mom?"

"That seems judicious enough," my wife agreed. "I'm prepared to defend my client."

"It won't do you any good," I charged. "I have enough evidence to send your client to the town dump for the rest of its life."

"The court will convene at 7 o'clock sharp tomorrow night in the utility room in the basement," announced the teen-age magistrate.

I hastened to my den to prepare my brief.

"All rise!" ordered my son, the court's newly appointed clerk, as the presiding judge assumed her seat behind the ironing board.

The judge opened a loose-leaf binder. "Would the plaintiff please approach the bench?"

"Thank you, your honor," I said, stepping forward with my briefcase.

My son interceded. "Would you please raise your right hand, Dad, and repeat after me --"

"Your honor, is this necessary? After all, I am your father."

"Proceed," sighed the judge.

"I have documented evidence in this briefcase that the accused is masquerading as a sock burglar."

"May the court see the evidence."

"Here are Exhibits A through Q," I said, dumping an assortment of hosiery onto the ironing board. "Not a pair in the lot!"

"Phew!" mocked the judge, pinching her nose. "Would the clerk please remove this malodorous exhibit."

"Just a moment," cried my wife, "I just washed those the other day!"

"Would you mind asking your client what happened to all the mates to these?" I countered.

"It happens my client is unable to speak for itself," replied my wife.

"Then your client pleads nolo contendere?" I hurled back.

"Order! Order in this court!" my daughter gaveled. "May we hear from the counsel for the defense."

"Thank you, your honor," said my wife. "To be perfectly honest, my client has, on occasion, misplaced a sock or two, but it was not premeditated larceny as has been charged in this court. My client has an exemplary record in its continuing fight against grime, as your judgeship's outfit will show."

"I object, your honor, your testimony is inadmissible!" I charged. "We're dealing only with socks."

"Objection sustained," said my daughter.

"Your honor," said my wife, "perhaps this will help clear my client of any alleged wrongdoing. The other day, while standing in the express checkout line at the supermarket, I was conversing with another shopper about this very issue. She told me she actually saw one of her husband's socks wriggle through the hoseline into the sink basin and down the drain."

"Is this court to believe," I fumed, "that half of my ankle wardrobe is afloat somewhere in the Atlantic . . . your honor, that's the most ridiculous --"

My daughter stood up. "It appears this trial has reached an impasse. We will have a five-minute recess. Will the clerk please accompany me to my chambers?"

"I should have hired a lawyer," I said, sitting down. "I shall have to wear Boondockers the rest of my life to conceal the improprieties of my disparate hose."

"Don't underestimate the power of due process, dear," my wife said soothingly , setting the controls of her client for a load of wash she had put in.

In a few moments my offspring returned from the garage. "The court has reached a verdict," announced my daughter.

"All rise!" added my son officiously.

"It is the finding of this court," the judge began, "that the defendant is . . . guilty as charged."

"Hooray!" I whooped. "Justice is served!"

"However," continued the judge, "the clerk has reminded me that both of the counselors at this hearing are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this month, so this court decrees that a new washer be purchased to commemorate this notable event. This court is adjourned."

My wife applauded. Under the circumstances, I was in no positi on to question the wisdom of such a magnanimous verdict.

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