If you ever smoked cigarettes, chances are you didn't pay for the first one you ever smoked.
You stole one from your mother's pack. Some uncle said, when you were 9 years old, "You wanna puff on my cigarette?" He thought it was cute. You bummed one off an older worker. A friend. Some guy you were dating.
Which generally meant you started to buy 'em, and you smoked 'em closer and closer together until you punctuated everything in your life with a cigarette. The end of a meal. A cup of coffee. A work break. The end of the day. Waking up.
I didn't pay for my first drink. I was maybe 15. I was at a party. Somebody had a pint of apricot brandy.
Government shutdowns are a little like that first free one, because everything gets easier to do after the first time. The opening day of first grade is horrific beyond imagination, but two weeks in, you're a veteran. You weren't all that sure you wanted to lose your virginity, and it was scary. You've got three kids now.
That's why this most recent government shutdown ought to scare you, because it gets easier to do every time, at least for the people at the top.
Just before the first shutdown (doesn't matter which party or administration,) there was a trembling moment, like that last breath before you lost your virginity.
"What are the American people going to think?" the men and women at the top of things wondered. "Are we ALL going to get voted out?"
Down at the bottom, we trembled at the last breath before we lost it, but nothing really happened.
And it got easier the next time, and like the cigarettes, the shutdowns started to come closer together. And what the hell? Why not? You smoked that third cigarette, and you didn't get cancer. You shut down the government. You started up the government. Nothing happened.
So, you did it again, and by "you," I mean "they," the vast anonymous "they" of the ordinary American worker, as in, "They shut down the government," and "They're closing the plant," and "Then, they sent my son to Afghanistan."
And we no longer debate the rightness or the wrongness of the shutdown, only who caused the shutdown and why. We never consider that the action itself may be wrong. We consider legislation to stop the pay of legislators during a shutdown because we know there's going to be another shutdown.
The idea that we can influence the behavior of millionaire multi-term career congresspeople by stopping their pay is fake populist nonsense. If anything, such a law would mean that lobbyist-owned bribe-stuffed politicians would be most comfortable during a shutdown, while anyone trying to live on their salary would be badly hurt, maybe crushed.
This time, we may get as little as three weeks between shutdowns. The habit is taking hold, and it's going to cost a little more each time. It's like the many bankruptcies of pre-President Donald J. Trump. Maybe the first time he did a dive on his creditors, he took one trembling breath before he grabbed the cash and ran. By the third or fourth time, he barely looked up from his Big Mac as the subcontractors wept on the street 36 floors below his office.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com. Dion's latest book, "The Land of Trumpin'," is a collection of his columns about the sulfurous rise of Pres. Donald J. Trump. It is available in paperback from Amazon.com, and for Nook, Kindle and Google.