An expensive education from a liberal arts college may not immediately result in the job of your choice but it certainly ensures you will never be able to watch daytime television again. In celebration of my little sis getting married, my mom, sister, and I got our toes painted. While we sipped coffee and soaked our feet in warm water, we caught ourselves listening to the show America’s Court. On this episode, a mother is suing her drug-addicted daughter for the cost of a family heirloom, an emerald ring, that said daughter stole to supply her private oxycotton fund.
Judge Ross to the mother, the plaintiff, “Honey, this case is simple, but you’re not here because you want your daughter to pay for the ring, are you?”
The mother says, “No, Judge Ross. I just want my daughter back.”
Judge Ross then says to the defendant, the daughter: “Jessica, listen to me. You have a drug problem.”
The daughter looks away.
Judge Ross: “Let me say it again. You have a drug problem, and my educated guess is your mom just wants you back in her life and will take the money for the ring in the form of rehab.”
Jessica’s stony exterior breaks. She says, “But I don’t know where to turn.”
Judge Ross offers kindly, “I like to see tears in my court. This is a journey, Jessica.”
—Interruption as bailiff gives Jessica some tissues.—
“We’re going to find you a place to heal.”
Before the commercial break, Jessica was screaming that her mom killed her father by nagging him into the alcoholic mess that sent him drunk behind the wheel that night of his fatal car accident. After a brief stay in America’s court, Jessica and her mom are hugging. They seriously solved what should have been a hugely complicated family situation in 23 minutes.
There are two things about America’s court I don’t understand. First, are real judges as understanding as Judge Ross? And, second, how does a daughter come to hate her mother? How does that happen because when I’m holding that ball of baby flesh in my arms, I feel this otherworldly magnetic field of devotion bind us together and I’m thinking, holy cow, has anyone ever loved anyone else as much as I love you. When does it get so complicated? I kind of think you can always say I love you. Like if someone says, “I’m so mad at you and sometimes it feels like I could hate you!,” can’t you say, “I’m sorry. It’s okay. I love you?”
Anyway, I guess it’s okay if Judge Ross solves all their problems in the time it takes to eat lunch. But the problem with a liberal arts education is it floods the land of the literal with a tsunami of metaphor. So, I leave the salon convinced that America’s Court isn’t just about Judge Ross and Jessica; to me, America’s court is a metaphor for American’s archetypal parent—one who makes toughness sound tender and makes tenderness sound as absolute as a court verdict. We want our parents, and our daytime jurisprudence, to be all kinds of paradox—authoritative but gentle, open but direct. Basically, a good listener who still knows how the show will end.