My book of vices

Like a lot of folks, I was heartsick to learn that former education secretary William Bennett was nursing a multimillion-dollar gambling habit. I had greatly enjoyed Bennett's many books on the subject of our national moral decay, including "The Death of Outrage," "The De-Valuing of America" and "All Up in Your Business III: Let's Talk Pederasty!" And I didn't want my hard-earned respect for the man to hit the rocks over something as trivial as a few thousand games of Jacks or Better.

So you can imagine how relieved I was when some of Bennett's friends and supporters (like Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post) graciously took it upon themselves to explain why Bennett's behavior really wasn't as hypocritical as it looked after all. As they explained, it was essentially OK for him to blow the equivalent of several fortunes on slots and video poker, simply because, in all of the hundreds of thousands of words he had expended railing against our raging cultural cancer, he had never specifically mentioned gambling as one of its symptoms.

Talk about your close shaves. My heart swelled anew with hope -- not just for Mr. Bennett, but for all of us average Joes and Janes, who might likewise benefit someday from such an invaluable ethical loophole. But then a troubling thought hit me. And it's one that I'm sure has been bedeviling you good people as well: Have I already issued a public denouncement that may end up working against my best interests? In other words, have I shot my fool mouth off decrying some sleazy activity I might want to get in on later?

Praise Jesus, I merely had to take a quick personal inventory to realize that this is clearly not the case. For instance, my record is virtually spotless on the subject of identity theft. Don't believe me? Go ahead and check. Talk to my friends. Interview as many members of my family as you care to. You'll find I have never once suggested that it's actually bad to steal another man's credit card and/or social-security information, using them to fund a statewide spree of profligate Armani expenditures and four-star dining. So if you ever in the future see me doing something like that -- and that's not an announcement that I will, you realize, merely an acknowledgement of the possibility -- I feel safe in saying that the moral high ground will remain mine.

Neither, you may notice, have I taken a discernible stand against polygamy. At no time -- and under no circumstances -- have I bad-mouthed the concept of converting the typical suburban home into a modern-day harem. I've never asserted that, given a choice, one's living room shouldn't overflow with eager concubines whose cosmetic forebears run the range from Christina Ricci to Queen Noor. And not once have I lambasted the idea that these tirelessly nimble companions should forfeit their given names for descriptive titles like Head Cheerleader and Keeper of the Hot Pocket. Remember that simple fact when you're reading the personals section of this or any other newspaper. Should you come across an ad that bears the remotest similarity to the scenarios posited in this paragraph, congratulate yourself on being a regular Hercule Poirot. But don't come crying to me about philosophical inconsistency. Because I haven't said peep about polyamory. I'm sure I haven't. I keep records of this stuff.

Know what else I haven't had much to say about? Pre-emptive vandalism. Oh, sure, I may have paid some half-hearted lip-service to the idea that property damage in general is a bad business. But at no time have I specifically stated that it's a faux pas to introduce yourself to a set of new neighbors by indiscriminately taking a Louisville slugger to their bay windows -- the better to impress upon them that any late-night noise will incur swift and severe punishment. On this vital topic, I am the proverbial blank slate. (This last point is really important to establish, because I'm getting a new place soon, and my real-estate agent says it's always good to have your terms spelled out in writing before you move in.)

The more I think about it, the more I realize that there are countless hot-button topics I've somehow managed to completely avoid. Check-kiting. Aggravated arson. Chat-room harassment. Conspiracy with intent to kidnap. I could go on and on and on. But honestly, I don't want to jinx myself. Because if Bill Bennett has taught me anything, it's that a good gambler never shows his hand.

Hit me, dealer! Hit me!


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