JIM:

You can't make this stuff up.

Page one of the June 27th edition of this newspaper carried the headline, "Defendant: Victim chose to be tied to tree." The defendant was on trial for murder. The guy he tied to the tree died. According to the perp, after the victim was caught trashing a girlfriend's house, he was given three choices: arrest, a beating or - you guessed it - being tied to a tree. The deceased chose badly. "He took it like a man," testified the defendant. But after 20 hours, he was a decidedly dead man.

Reading this story brings to mind movies with terrible choices. In "Seven," serial killer Kevin Spacey cuts off the nose of a beautiful super model, then gives her the choice of taking a lethal dose of sleeping pills or dialing "911." Want to guess which she chooses?

Then there's "Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail." The thousand-year-old knight gives the villain first pick from the ancient warrior's grail collection. The bad guy goes for the most elaborate goblet, quaffs a big gulp of the Holy Water… and promptly dissolves into a screaming glob of hemoglobin. "He chose badly," observes the keeper of the cups. Of course, Indy picks the humble, battered tin chalice befitting a carpenter's son, and lives to fight (Nazis, of course) another day.

When our kids were growing up, my wife taught me to always give them a choice, instead of demanding obedience. "Would you rather brush your teeth or take your bath first?" Claire soon caught on and perverted the ruse to her own purposes. "Would you rather (fill in the blank), or be pecked to death by birds?" became her mantra. Since almost anything seems better than going down the path pioneered by Alfred Hitchcock, I always let her have her way. Today, it's "would you like to buy me that expensive wedding dress - the one that just had to be designed with your daughter in mind - or be pecked to death by birds." I can't wait to see it on her.

Joanne and I are watching a series called "The Killing." It stars the same woman who plays Brad Pitt's wife in "World War Z." She always wears an expression as if she expects to be pecked to death by birds at any moment. But never mind her. The really interesting character is a guy on death row who has exercised his right to choose hanging over lethal injection. Apparently nobody has exercised this choice since the needle made its debut. Consequently, the guards are in a frenzy learning how to hang this guy by the book. I can hardly wait.

Choices, choices, choices… as a former boss of mine liked to admonish me: it's like being a kid in a candy store. You can buy anything you want, but you only have one nickel. Or maybe it's more like being the dead guy in the old joke to whom the devil gives a choice of punishments. The joke involves Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski and I can't tell it here.

At any rate, I choose not to.

Claire:

If you're lucky, young life is all about choices. What college will you go to? What will your major be? What career will you have? Where will you live? It's all very exciting looking at the future through the eyes of an eighteen-year-old high school student.

If you're lucky, the choices only get better. Will you live in a swanky apartment or buy a little townhouse? Will you marry the man who proposed to you? Will you have kids, or just lots of dogs and free time? Where will you go from there?

Recently, a friend of mine lamented her lack of one particular choice, and it struck me. She said that rather than asking, "what college will you go to," she wished someone had first asked, "do you want to go to college?" It's a small difference, but a fundamental one, and one that most people these days don't even consider. But it's the root of everything in a young adult's life.

Not everyone has to go to college. To some, that's a scary, even blasphemous position to take. But think about it for a minute. Despite that college is currently foisted upon graduating seniors like some indispensable right of passage - rather than, simply, another choice - college grads aren't doing so well these days. Oh, we're managing, but some of us just barely. Tuition (adjusted for inflation) has increased by 50 percent since 1999, and because Congress was unable to reach a compromise on student loan rates by their deadline, the rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans just jumped from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. With the economy still lagging (to say the least), it seems newer college grads may be in even worse shape than current grads.

Personally, I wouldn't push my child into that position without some very long, serious talks about their plans for the future. And if those plans include a lot of keg stands, I'd start looking into trade schools.

But even my friend, who is exceedingly bright and made excellent grades throughout college - a model student, if you will - wishes she'd been given more choices. Because she couldn't afford the college she went to. Because your "dream school" will only house you for four years before spitting you back out into the world, with nothing more than a piece of paper and a load of debt. Because if everyone has a college degree, if everyone makes that choice because it's no longer a choice, it's compulsory… does it really hold any value?

The choices we make shape who we become, and young adults need to be aware of all the options.