News readers and viewers received an anonymous gift this week.
I need to be careful here because of the circumstances of that gift. A 14-year-old boy was critically hurt Sunday night when the Jeep he had stolen crashed on the Parkway East. A state police spokeswoman said Wednesday morning that she knew of no change in the boy's condition, and I was unable to check with the hospital myself because police do not release the names of juveniles.
The injuries were not believed to be life-threatening, so I pray that the boy will have a very long life, filled with opportunity to redeem himself for this sin.
So how could this incident in any way be construed as a gift?
It's because of what his mother said in an interview with WPXI-TV Monday morning. Although she admitted her son was wrong for taking the car, she blamed the car's owner for leaving the keys in the ignition. Then she topped that deflection of blame with this explanation of her son's theft:
"Maybe he wanted to go further than he felt like walking."
Beautiful, just beautiful.
This sentence is, of course, a classic of the my-boy's-a-good-boy genre, a staple of maternal denial. Had Warren Zevon only heard this line back in the 1970s, he might have included it in "Excitable Boy," his great rock send-up of hands-off parenting run amok.
We in the modern media age are even luckier. We can tweet about this, call talk shows about this, or even use the commentary space below an online story to chime in. When I checked the story Wednesday afternoon, some 15 readers had blasted the mom for her cluelessness, offering variations on the customary complaint about modern parents setting no boundaries for their offspring. [The breaking news story first posted Aug. 12 has a lively 55 comments.]
I've made similar observations. So, come to think of it, did Paul Lynde when he sang "Kids" in "Bye Bye Birdie" when I was a boy. ("I don't know what's wrong with these kids today!") Yes, this, gentle readers, is the gift of which I speak.
We crave, don't we, something we can all agree upon? Don't we yearn for those stories that allow us a snap judgment? Is that so much to ask? So much of the news is so darned layered, so complex. The strife in Syria? The fate of the euro? Who could know enough to make a definitive judgment? How about Alcosan's multibillion-dollar wet weather plan? I mean, I love water as much as the next guy, but how can you get your mind around a number or a project that large?
Every once in a while, though, there's a story in the paper that draws us like tweens to a Justin Bieber sighting. These are rarely the most important issues facing us, but these are the stories that get talked about, the ones that offer that rare oasis of almost universal consensus.
Fourteen-year-old kids shouldn't be stealing cars, and their mothers certainly shouldn't be making excuses for them when they do. Can you imagine what our mothers -- no, even better, our fathers -- would have done to us had we pulled a stunt like that?
This anonymous mother has given us all a prime example of self-evident bad parenting. I'm confident even the newest version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary describes a gift as something that is transferred to someone else without compensation, and a little freely obtained sanctimony every now and again is just what some of us need to keep our spirits up in an increasingly confused and confusing world.
So, thanks, anonymous mom. Your son likely will be charged with auto theft, fleeing and eluding police, and perhaps other crimes, but first we wish him a speedy recovery and better counsel in the near future.
Soon, that story will be forgotten. Others are already stepping up to take its place. No, not the new transit deal. Who has time to read the fine print? I'm talking about the hospital worker who spread hepatitis. He gets caught at UPMC Presbyterian with stolen syringes in his pocket and opiates in his system and then he gets to work in 10 more hospitals in four years? Are you woofin' me?
Surely, he should have been turned in to the police the day he was fired. We can all agree on that before we move on to the Irish suspect in the Pitt bomb case, can't we?
Brian O'Neill: email@example.com or 412-263-1947.