My first brush with the law happened in the parking lot of May Co. in the San Fernando Valley. I was 19 and my mother and I were in my green Monza, which happened to have expired registration tags. This prompted two policemen to pull me over, run my driver's license, and discover it was expired.
"Do we have to do this on a Saturday?" my mother asked, as I was handcuffed and placed into the back seat of a black and white squad car.
"Your daughter has a warrant out for her arrest, ma'am," one of the policemen explained.
My practice of stuffing parking tickets into my glove compartment had finally caught up with me. Years of tooling around town, disregarding restricted street signs and the threatening notices that would follow in the mail had finally manifested in a consequence I couldn't ignore.
In my teens and early adult years, responsibility was never my strong suit. I rarely applied myself in high school and barely graduated because of missing so many classes. I never did drugs or ran with the fast crowd, but I always seemed to drown in an unfocused haze when it came to anything the least bit rule-y. Even after I got arrested and had to spend five hours in a holding cell until my mother bailed me out, I still didn't pay parking tickets which, again, resulted in an expired car registration and yet another hauling into the slammer—this time I was in my early 20s and on my way to meet a friend to try out for a game show in Beverly Hills. It took 8 hours for a friend to come and save my sorry ass.
Even though I was never booked during my two run-ins with the law, I never took getting arrested lightly. I was terrified most of the time, breaking out in a flop sweat every time I saw the police. It never occurred to me to be more responsible back then. I lived in a wispy, unsturdy way, wafting from one near-disaster to the next.
The thing that finally woke me up happened in my late 20s. I was living in the Hollywood hills with my best friend and another roommate.
"Two guys in black suits from the IRS were here today looking for you," Paul, the other roommate said, as I walked in the door from my waitress job. This is when I discovered that ignoring threatening letters from the government is far more serious than crumpling up parking tickets.
It's hard to say exactly how I had gotten to this point. When I think back on the person I was, so scattered and disorganized in every way—not filing taxes, paying bills at the very last minute (or later), writing checks when I knew they'd probably bounce—I often wonder how I shed my reckless ways and gathered up the courage to face the mess I'd made of things. I simply got tired of being afraid of what would happen to me.
Now, in my fifties, I'm the polar opposite of the irresponsible maniac I was back then. I keep track of every penny my husband and I spend—collecting receipts, logging them in the check register and then double-checking our account online. I haven't bounced a check in 25 years. I have files and records and documents I regularly review like a detective, making sure there isn't anything I've overlooked. I guess I've just become a grown-up.
Every time I visit my accountant, I'm reminded of the day I went to see an IRS agent. My recovery from youthful obliviousness started there. As it happened, the agent helped me through every step of making payment arrangements with the government and turned out to be one of the nicest people I'd ever met. Eight years from that day, I paid off every single cent I owed.
During those 8 years, I also paid off all my parking tickets, kept my car registration up to date and started to pay attention to those every day rules and laws of life that others adhere to without blinking an eye. I had finally gotten my act together.
Nowadays, paying bills on time gives me a rush and balancing my checkbook is pure joy. I relish my ultra-responsible, goodie-two-shoes life and feel proud to say that if there's a rule that needs following, you can count on me to be the first in line.