It's three in the morning and for the third night in a row, the sirens screamed. It's never as loud at three in the afternoon. I know it's just another drill. At this hour of the night it always is. The terrorists only strike where there are crowds. There were no crowds at this hour. The only people up were the drunks, insomniacs and poets. And, now, me and the entire three-county population.
The drills began back in March of 2006, just about the same time members of Congress were connecting the dots between the Downing Street Memo and the Bush Administration as they prepared for an illegal war with Iraq in the name of homeland security. Illegal like jaywalking. To some, laws were irrelevant.
Using the London attacks of 7-7 as the reason, the Homeland Security Office decided to go back to the days of drills like both coasts had done during WWII and the country had imitated during the hot days of the Cold War.
On the heels of the numbers era (9-11, 7-7) came the Terrorist Drill Era, packaged in with many other useless laws in the Patriot Act II. I believed that holding these drills at this hour meant the government was putting an important story on page two. Exhausted from the drill, no one will get past the headlines tomorrow morning.
I once wrote my Congressman expressing this concern. Not out of any true patriotic duty, but because I value my sleep. Two days after I sent the e-mail, my computer was wiped out by the Government Sweep Virus. Looking to block communications between terrorist cells, the Government, with the use of secret warrants, inspects every e-mail sent to Washington and if the author isn't careful with his chosen words, the virus is automatically sent. The Patriot Act II at its best.
Microsoft had promised a version of Word that will underscore these words in red to protect the consumer. It won't matter. The Sweep Virus is updated faster than all anti-virus software because it is the law. The words keep changing.
The terrorists speak to each other in code anyway. These laws have as much to do with security as does yellow cake uranium from Niger. This has the feeling of Big Brother more than security. It looks more like it, too.
As per drill orders, I headed to the streets to await further instructions from the Street Constable. I could not help but notice that the blue hue that invaded the night sky looked like the Apple commercial that introduced the first Mac during the 1984 Super Bowl. Nothing is gray any more.
Again, after the London bombings and the fact that surveillance cameras helped the police to quickly identify the terrorists, the Government ordered cameras installed in every city and town. Homeland Security Official Richard Hutchins's brother owned a company that infused cameras with streetlights, which had to have a blue tint so that it wouldn't wash out what the lens could see. Eldridge Hutchins was awarded the federal contract for this invention. People who owned stock in Hutchins View Corporation became billionaires overnight.
People like Richard Hutchins.
Betsy's Diner was opened and I had no desire to wait for Constable Rollins. He took his job far too seriously, to the point where he would warn people about their particularly perceived subversive behavior because as a public official he felt it was his duty. He bought a new pair of jeans from the Gap the day he was awarded the position. He was the only one who applied.
Juan, my new neighbor, was already at the counter drinking a cup of coffee. "Decaf?" I asked him as I took the stool next to him.
"No, it's the usual. I have to be up at six for. Rollins will be talking for an hour. When he finally gets here, it'll be five. I'm up for the day," he replied.
"Make mine a regular, too," I told Sharon, Besty's younger sister who enjoyed the night shift ever since the drills started. "Tired people tip more," was her mantra.
"You know, this is how it all started in Germany,"
Juan said while staring straight ahead, not looking at me or Sharon.
I didn't like where this was going. I was tired. I just wanted to get back to bed. This was not a conversation Rollins would like or understand. And he had just entered the side door as Juan finished the sentence.
Juan looked down at his coffee. If he looked long enough, he thought, he might be safely in Columbia where the roots of this cup began. Not that Columbia was any more or less safe than America, but it was safer than Betsy's at this moment.
"Aren't you going to answer her question?" Rollins quizzed as he pulled up the stool opposite me, next to Juan. Slowly Juan lifted his gaze and shifted his attention to Rollins who, not giving Juan a chance to respond, continued. "Now you know this is nothing like Germany in the 1930s. We aren't trying to take over Europe, we aren't killing any Jews. In fact, the people we may have to kill are the Jews' enemy! How do you like that? And you are saying we are like the Germans? HA!"
Juan sat silently and continued to stare at Rollins, who by now expected a response. Juan, slowly pushed himself away from the counter and began to walk towards the door.
"Hold on there, son!" said Rollins with a raised voice as he jumped to his feet.
"Look, he wasn't referring to the Nazis…" I began and was quickly shut down.
"You just shut up. I am talking to him. When I come back to talk with you, then you can speak. We are under drill alert at this moment and I am in charge," said Rollins, who was bent down and so close to my face I could smell the I-am-still-drunk-with-passed-out-sleep on his breath.
Unaware of the consequences and more tired than brave, I uttered, "And what about the First Amendment?"
The first blow was a backhand directly across the cheek. The shock of it all made it momentarily painless. I sat there stupefied, watching and not believing as he brought back that same hand as a closed fist squarely to my jaw. I hit the floor and my head bounced on the linoleum as did the spoon from my cup.
But it was the kick that kept me down on the old checkerboard floor. Juan was not close enough to get to him before he called in for the reinforcements on his Drill Network Wireless Line manufactured by a cousin of the White House Chief of Staff. Another Patriot Act II gold mine.
An Alert Call during a drill makes it real. Those responding on the other end believe there is an actual terrorist attack underway. They don't know they are responding to another three-in-the-morning macho drunken asshole. They are responding to the Constable.
Juan had come between Rollins and actions he believed were part of his sworn duty, which was beating the shit out of me. Juan was not protecting a friend, an acquaintance in actuality. But, to those coming to the aid of Rollins, Juan was now a terrorist.
When it was over and Juan was placed in the bag, and as they tended to my broken ribs, I could hear the reporter ask, "Who was the terrorist? What was he planning to do?"
He was planning on going to work, I thought. And they were planning another drill. Because once the truth was known, once they learned that Juan was just a tired American who they'd shot dead, they had to make sure this story appeared only on page two.