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Opinion >  Column

The Slice: On a map, it’s east of ‘Wis Virginia’

About 30 years ago, a little Spokane girl told her grandparents she was going to “Westconsin.”

The child rebuffed suggestions that it might actually be Wisconsin. And so “Westconsin” stuck in her family.

Which is why, just recently, a certain 84-year-old looking up Wisconsin in an encyclopedia had a hard time finding the entry at first.

Yes, she was looking it up under “Westconsin.”

Today’s Slice question: In a moment you will be asked to issue an ethics ruling. But first you need to know the story.

About 15 years ago, there was a New York Times vending box near the northeast corner of Sprague and Lincoln downtown. One day, the box accepted my coins but refused to open. This was back when the national edition of the Times cost something like 75 cents or a dollar.

Pushing the coin-release button accomplished nothing. So I walked away. I did not try to call someone to complain.

Time passed. Assuming the vending box surely would have been repaired in the interim, I again inserted quarters.

Same result. It kept my money but did not allow me to obtain a paper. I did not like that.

You might think that would have been the end of my relationship with that box. But you would be wrong.

Sometime later, for reasons that escape me now, I approached it and pushed the change-release button. Several dollars in quarters cascaded into the little finger-tray. I pocketed the money.

Then I tried opening the box. Miracle of miracles, it obliged me. I reached in and picked up a copy. Free.

Now here’s where things get ethically iffy.

In the weeks that followed, I made a habit of pushing the coin-release button, collecting some quarters and then acquiring a free paper. (The door now opened even if you did not insert money.)

I regarded the change I was pocketing as punitive damages, compensation for emotional distress.

It was like playing the slots. The payoffs were modest, but I always won.

Soon the box o’ giving disappeared. But I think about it now and then.

So … How wrong was my behavior? What would you have done? Do I owe The New York Times some money (I’m guessing it would amount to about $15)?

Sometime later I happened to encounter the retired publisher of the Times at a Spokane church. I thanked him for publishing the Pentagon Papers but did not mention the cash I had stolen from his company.

Write The Slice at P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210; call (509) 459-5470; email pault@spokesman.com. The Spokane Canaries could have won the Stanley Cup.

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