I was about 9 or 10 years old. My school (not my class, the whole school—all five of us, and that included the teacher) were on a field trip. One of our stops was the Tripp County Library.
The library was on the second or third floor of the county courthouse. In my memory, getting to the library meant going past the sheriff's office and the jail, though I may be wrong about the jail part.
Anyway, the courthouse was and is a traditional three-story stone building occupying its own city block, with lawn on either side. On this particular visit, the teacher parked at one end of the block. Eager to show off my scrawny fourth-grade muscles, I offered to carry the box of library books. After a few steps, I realized the box was heavier than I had expected. Pride wouldn't let me change my mind about carrying it, so my next best choice was to take the shortest possible route to the front door. Instead of following the sidewalk, I made a wobbly beeline diagonally across the grass.
As I approached the grand front entrance of the courthouse, I noticed two things. One was a girl about my own age, standing on the steps. The second was a sign that read "Keep Off The Grass."
I staggered up the steps with my box of books, and the girl informed me, "You're not supposed to walk on the grass."
Too embarrassed to admit I hadn't seen any sign until it was too late, I told her, "I know."
"So how come you did?"
"Because it was shorter."
She looked shocked. I went on past her, trying to look as if such deliberate disregard for the rules was second nature to me. Between the box of books getting heavier by the moment, and my uncomfortable awareness of the proximity of the library to the sheriff's office, achieving an air of nonchalance wasn't easy.
Fortunately, by then the rest of the group had caught up with me. I gladly relinquished my burden—at least the physical part of it—to let one of the older kids carry the books. All the way up the flights of marble steps, though, I worried about what that other girl must think of me. In her eyes, I was sure, I must seem like a reckless lawbreaker who had, willfully and with malice aforethought, walked across the grass in defiance of the forces of law and order.
Yet letting her believe in my evil nature seemed better, if only slightly, than the other available choice—admitting I hadn't see the sign and I had made a mistake. Better to be thought crooked than clueless.
Perfectionism? Yes, I've heard of it. Why would you ask?