The motorcycle policeman came out of nowhere (actually, he was behind a sycamore tree trunk) and pulled me over. The fact that I was twenty-one years old and dressed in a cute little purple velvet mini-skirt did not deter him from removing his metal clipboard and boldly writing me a big fat $73.00 ticket for making a Hollywood stop.
Now, mind you, this Hollywood stop was at a rural intersection in Stockton where, in those days, a motor vehicle driver had to be more attentive to wayward goats crossing the road than to meeting another car.
My tears bubbled up like a small Zen fountain purchased to create atmosphere. As I dabbed my dark eyes, now smeared with my mascara and eyeliner, Officer Knickerbocker remained stoic and mechanical and worse, kept writing.
When I went to court to protest my unjust legal blemish (still dressed in the purple velvet mini-skirt), the judge asked me if I knew the rules of the road.
The felons dressed in orange jumpsuits waiting for a legal ride to jail snickered.
The judge raised one bushy gray eyebrow.
Guilty Mrs. Sabraw. I suggest you go back and learn the rules of the road before you take your little tin can, I mean your 1972 Dodge Colt, back onto the streets of Stockton.
I left the court in a huff, my pink flats clicking officiously on the dirty floors of the San Joaquin County Courthouse. My brain started scrolling, not unlike a Las Vegas slot machine searching for three matching cherries. Two cherries and a plum. One cherry and two plums. Three cherries. The mental coins cascaded into consciousness, the bells rang, the point received, but instead of some sage message from God, my thoughts were of grammar. That’s right, Grammar with a capital G.
Some other person in my past had delivered an identical but less expensive message about knowing rules. That person was Inez Whooton, my seventh grade English teacher, a woman whose sole mission in life was to sear Strunk and White’s Elements of Style into hormonal immature mini-people’s mini-minds. She tried mightily to do this.
I was her star student. We had come to a formal agreement in a stern parent conference hosted by the principal: I was to give up my class clown status and she, even when frustrated beyond all realms, would never again throw a chalk laden eraser at me as I attempted to diagram a sentence in front of my peers.
You don’t know a subject from a hole in the wall Miss Block!
The fast-moving eraser was no dangling modifier; it hit the board right below the adjective.
I have come a long way since my 7th grade grammar attack and from my moving violation, but one strong message has remained clear:
Knowing the rules improves your ability to avoid a ticket.
Knowing the rules of grammar improves writing.
Do you see what I am getting at? ☺