Yesterday, I found a strange note on my computer that said, “I want to help you in the workshop.” I don’t know how he does that but C.W. scares me at times. I didn’t bother figuring out how to answer since he would show up anyway. I just went out early and hid some of my best tools.
He showed up as I was beginning to route the edges of some wood panels. I stopped the machinery and looked at him. He appeared as a boy of around 12 years of age with a pair of monstrous eyeglasses wearing short britches and a rugby shirt. He ambled in as if he owned the place carrying a three-ring notebook crammed with papers.
“Hello, he said, bending over to inspect the work.
“Be careful, I said.
“What’s this?” he said, reaching for the router bit.
“Don’t touch that,” I said.
He stared at me. “I have to write a paper for school,” he said as if in explanation.
I never know whether it is better to ignore him or play along. “What on?”
“The penal system in America.”
I slumped. “The what?”
“You heard me,” he said, picking up an expensive caliper tool.
“Put that down,” I said.
“Your species shows a good deal of cleverness in designing tools,” he said.
“I thought you said you wanted to help.”
“Initial things initially,” he said. “First tell me what the official policy is in your country concerning the punishment of criminals.”
“Yes. You must have some overriding policy to guide you or else it would what we call in Falloonia ‘Gephledystra,’ or attempting to transport oneself without a destination in mind.”
I removed his hand from a power-saw blade. “Our policy is to apprehend and incarcerate criminals,” I said.
“With no further intent?” He flipped the switch on my table saw and smiled when the blade started to spin.
I rushed over and stopped it. “Intent?” I said as I led him away from the equipment.
“Sure,” he said. “Are you hoping to dissuade them from making further bad decisions?”
“Yes,” I said. “We lock them up so they can reflect on their shortcomings.”
“Unless you decide, I understand, to take their lives.”
“Why are you asking me all this?”
“Just trying to make sense of it.” He picked up a marking knife and began to carve his initials on one of my panels.
“Stop that,” I said, grabbing the knife from his hand just as he started on the “W,”
“So what do you hope to achieve by all this incarceration of criminals?” he asked.
“Achieve?” I said. “We hope to achieve their separation from the social fabric of society.”
“Ah,” he said. “So how is it working?”
He was writing in his notebook now. “So incarceration doesn’t cure their anti-social behavior?”
“I’m afraid not,” I said. He jotted some notes. I couldn’t resist adding, “Indications are it makes them worse.”
“Strange,” he said, walking over to examine an antique “Shaker” table I had been repairing. He seemed entranced by the simple form and balance of the piece. He smiled and then spoke. “How does a species capable of such beauty accommodate such muddled thought processes?”