Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Safe At Last From Teen Terrorists At Taco Bell

originally published in the New Britain Herald and Bristol Press, February 15, 2009


People of America, rejoice! I passed my Homeland Security check with flying colors, which means you can safely read my articles without worrying that you’re endangering the security of the homeland or anything.

I’m serious. When I started working for this paper full-time, I expected the HR lady to hand me a thick pile of forms to fill out. And she did.

I did not expect one of the forms to feature the words “Department of Homeland Security” written prominently atop it. Yet it did.

Why, you might wonder, is the identity of the arts and entertainment reporter for a couple of central Connecticut dailies considered a homeland security matter? Good question. Turns out it’s not just my identity they’re worried about; that Homeland Security document is the standard citizenship form everyone in America must fill out to take a job.

It probably makes sense for Homeland Security to keep track of such folks as nuclear-plant operators and secret-weapon manufacturers. The wrong person in a job such as that could cause serious damage. But art reporters? Retail workers? Every single job in America? How does Homeland Security find time to root out actual terrorist threats when they’re keeping files on every teenage Taco Bell employee in the country?

I can’t answer that question; I’m still struggling to figure out why three ounces of shampoo in a flier’s carry-on luggage is fine, while four ounces is a terrorist threat worthy of confiscation. But I have a theory. Maybe “national security” is just a catch-all excuse to justify government involvement in even the most minute aspects of ordinary American lives.

Think I’m kidding? Then consider this: Ten years ago, I would’ve laughed at anyone paranoid enough to say the federal government would claim jurisdiction over the toiletries I take on vacation with me. Today they can laugh at me for doubting them instead.

But I’m drifting away from my original point, which is: My presence here at the newspaper in no way threatens the safety of our country. Though this has more to do with editorial vigilance than anything Homeland Security’s up to. Fact is, I’ve been trying to hide secret security-threat messages in most of the stories I write, but whenever I do this, the damned editor and his so-called “improvements” ruin it every time.

For example, I tried giving one recent story the headline:

popular WEekend

AT The blACK

hisTOry MOnth aRRt shOW

The editor changed this to “Art exhibit reports high Saturday turnout,” then called me into his office and made tsk-tsk finger gestures while he lectured me about brevity, spelling, proper capitalization and other things I’m professionally obligated to care about. I responded with a finger gesture of my own, though I waited until after he’d turned his back.

In other news, unemployment rates have risen again, as the American economy shed another few dozen thousand jobs last month. Which is a terrible strain for the newly unemployed, but consider the silver lining framing those dark economic clouds: with less jobs for the government to keep track of, maybe they’ll have time to pay attention when the next “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside The U.S.” memo lands on some overworked security officer’s desk.