Let’s play “What if?”
What if the ATMs stopped working? What if the NSA was interested in my phone calls to the church? What if ISIS terrorists succeeded in cutting off traffic between Chicago and Atlanta? What if the sweet muslim lady who works out with me at the gym suddenly blew us all up?
What if you were pulling weeds at dusk and a helicopter whumped-whumped just overhead and you found yourself bathed in a searchlight?
I try to remain calm, to keep things in perspective,
ATMs regularly run out of money over the weekend. I remember when ATMs didn’t exist. It’s not a big deal. I don’t believe the NSA will ever be interested in any of my phone calls or emails unless an NSA employee wishes to volunteer to serve a night at a winter shelter or wants to write a boring novel about my family or friends. As to cutting off traffic on I-65, the Kentucky and Tennessee Transportation Authorities have succeeded in truncating travel with legitimate construction delays and highway closures, without any help from ISIS. I wouldn’t mess with the sweet lady at the gym — no way! She’s as sharp as a tack, wise and wily about people, listens to all manner of nonsense flying off the tongues of gals as they perspire through their routines, then sweetly says the equivalent of “Every day is a blessing. We are so fortunate to be here working out, to have each other.”
As to the helicopter and why it would spotlight a woman pulling weeds at dusk, you might theorize about the possibility of a nearby helicopter training school. That sounds reasonable. You’d be wrong, but you’d be trying to keep things in perspective.
My daughter Jenny lives in Franklin, Tennessee, home to ordinary people like themselves and also some music celebrities who live nearby. The eight lanes of I-65 run north and south just fifteen minutes from Jenny’s quiet cul-de-sac. The surrounding streets carry only light local traffic. It’s safe to jog, walk dogs, and ride bikes.
I was visiting Jenny’s family on a Thursday. In her yard and the fields beyond, trees were just turning yellow and orange. Autumn’s chill had inspired us to light gas logs. After visiting around the fire and enjoying the waning light glowing through the living room windows, we decided to go out for sushi.
Jenny, her son, and her daughter waited for me in the car, while I put on my shoes. As I closed the back door, I locked it, out of habit, a habit necessary at my house — not at hers. I didn’t realize I’d locked it until I walked through the garage to the car. Did I just lock that door?
“Jenny, do you have a key to the house?”
“No. We use the garage door opener.” She raised her eyes in alarm. “Mom! You didn’t lock the door, did you?”
“I’m afraid I did.”
Lauren and Sam popped out of the car. “Daddy may have put a key in the garage, Mom.” They have the optimism of teenagers. In the meantime, Jenny called her husband, who was driving somewhere between Iowa and Oklahoma on business. “Jim, do we have a hideout key?”
Her face clouded. No hideout key. The kids returned empty handed. They next looked for an open window. Jenny followed, iPhone to her ear, giving a running account to Jim, the only family member with a key.
When Sam discovered an unlocked kitchen window, I bent over to pull some tiny weeds in a path. I needed to be useful and silent, nearby but out of the way during the window prying operation.
Whump, whump, Whump!
A helicopter suddenly hovered above me. Its spotlight slithered along the path toward me, scanned the shrubbery, and stopped on Lauren, her body halfway through the kitchen window. The helicopter angled up and away, its thumping motor fading, circling, then nearing, its searchlight bounding over treetops. And then It was immediately above me. I found myself in a circle of blinding light. Lauren had disappeared into the house, unlocked the door, and emerged from the garage.
Under helicopter surveillance, we jumped into the car and took off, our imaginations running wild.
“They were narcs!”
“Traffic helicopter from I-65.”
“The Neighborhood Watch!”
“Sam, don’t text! We’re under suspicion!”
“Mom, slow down. You’ll attract attention!”
And so it went.
That evening during the Chicken Red Curry and the Dragon Rolls–“Check for listening devices hidden in the food.” The next morning over coffee–“Check the Kuerig for NSA’s fingerprints!” At dinner parties–“The weirdest thing happened…”
Until one day Jenny was telling a neighbor, “You wouldn’t believe…the other night.”
“Oh, that was Aldridge. He does that. He has a helicopter. He lives two doors down from you.”
Neighborhood Watch? No, just out for a spin on a Thursday night.
If he had known us, we could have laughed it off. “He’s just messing with us.” But we didn’t know him and he didn’t know us, which complicates the scenario.
Voyeuristic prank? Honest surveillance? Comic relief? Determined vigilante? Neighborly hello?
We would like to keep events in perspective. Lauren succeeded in unlocking the door. We made a clean getaway. Indeed, that hovering helicopter shifted the focus away from my locking the door. Still, we can’t quite let go of wondering “What if..?”
It’s the not knowing that keeps the story alive, not quite at the Twitter level, but almost.
“Anyone not paranoid in this world must be crazy. . . . Speaking of paranoia, it’s true that I do not know exactly who my enemies are. But that of course is exactly why I’m paranoid.”
― Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast.
“If You’re Not Paranoid, You’re Crazy.” from the title of a feature article by Walter Kim from The Atlantic, November 2015.