”Hey! Pssst! Over here!”
I scanned the parking lot. Then I looked down and saw him, crouching between cars. Me?
“Yes! You! Come here and I’ll give you a story that will make you famous!”
That’s when I recognized my old friend.
You’re the I’m-From-The-Government-And-I’m-Here-To-Help-Y…
You’re not from the government anymore?
“No – I mean, yes! I mean, I’m still from the government, but I’m not here to help you.”
You’re here to what, then … hurt me?
“No – I mean, yes! No! I’m here to spy on you!”
Oh, I see. You must be working for that secret agency that listens to our phone calls, collects records and analyzes our calling habits trying to spot trends and prevent terrorism.
“I can’t tell you, but yes. I thought I’d give you a chance to break the story! I’ll tell you everything!”
Break the story? It’s been in the papers for weeks!
“Seriously? Dangit! I need to get a subscription. I don’t get out much … I just sit inside that hollow tree by the creek, listening to cell phone calls all day.”
You work in a hollow tree? Like, with the elves who make cookies? Nice camo, by the way.
“Yes, and thanks! And no, I haven’t seen any elves. But now that you mention it, I do have a strange craving for Fig Newtons lately…”
So you’re really listening to our cell phone calls?
“I listen to everything! I read text messages, monitor Facebook, YouTube, email, Twitter … I know how many pairs of boxers Dennis Rodman took to North Korea! Nice work on that insurance quote, by the way.”
Thanks. Not that it’s any of your business.
“But it is! Everything is my business. Like those overdue library books…”
“Whaddaya mean, so what? Doesn’t it bother you that I know all about you?”
Of course it bothers me – on two levels!”
Yes. One, that the government is prying into my business, and two, that the government is wasting so much time and money prying into my business!
“Oh, don’t worry about the money. They don’t pay me that much.”
Any amount is too much!
“That hurts, man.”
Don’t take it personally. I’m just saying there are better things you could be doing – useful things – instead of consorting with the squirrels all day.
“Hey, I applied for a mail route, but they’re not in a hiring mode. There’s an opening at the embassy in Djibouti, but who wants to get shot at?”
But we actually need mail delivered and embassies staffed. We don’t need the government knowing about my library books. I’m not a threat to national security!
“How can you be sure? Maybe you’ve been programmed to carry out an unspeakable terrorist act when someone says a specific word … like FREEZE! Nothing? MAYDAY! Nothing? PANDA? Still nothing?”
Nothing. So, that’s all you do? Sit there and listen?
“Yep! Mostly I listen to teenagers talk about who likes who, who’s going where, and like, you know, wearing what or whatever. Teenagers account for about 95 percent of all texts and cell-phone calls. I’m about to, like, lose my mind.”
Of course you are. You need purpose! You need a job you can be proud of!
“I’m working on that. Last week I started school to learn how to fly drones.”
Fly drones where, here?
“Of course here – you think I’m going to move to Yemen?”
But you’ll still be spying on Americans. What do you expect to see?
“Last week we had a practice run, and I spotted a guy out in his backyard, pouring a bunch of black lumps into a big metal cylinder, saturating them with some sort of liquid and lighting them on fire!”
“I think he’s planning to bomb a Fourth of July picnic somewhere! I’m calling for a missile strike on the 3rd!”
I think he was cooking hamburgers.
For real. People do it all the time in the summer, all over America.
“Well, that’s not a threat!”
No, but this is: If you don’t quit sneaking around our parking lot I’m going to take your picture, post it on Facebook and tell everyone where you live.
“OK. By the way, your prescription is ready.”
And then, he was gone.
But keep your eyes open.
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Messenger.