Sunday, April 02, 2006

Reporting from an insecure location

Like it? 
President Bush is listening on the phone. The government's got my library card. Eighteen-year-old computer geeks spy on my favorite Web sites. Every telemarketer knows I own a house and have unconsolidated student loans. Shaw's has it on file that I like Teddie's brand peanut butter and Eggo brand toaster waffles and Shaw's brand yogurt. Netflix has my movie taste — foreign, documentary, comedy — reduced to a math equation. And pretty soon, I won't be able to pick my nose in the Flint without the police getting it on instant replay.

The mayor recently let it slip that he's planning to install security cameras in high-crime neighborhoods. You walk into the projects, you're on film, I guess — so don't dress like a slob.

The idea is to catch criminals in the act and deter crimes. It's worked for every 7-Eleven in America. Those places are swarming with video cameras, and nobody ever even thinks of committing a crime there.

Even as I lament the loss of yet another sliver of American privacy, I have to admit that it's an interesting idea — this way, we'll be able to tell which crimes are committed by gray smudgy blobs in puffy jackets and which are committed by gray smudgy blobs in hooded sweatshirts.

But it does raise some troubling questions. For one thing, is this really a good way to catch criminals — I mean, come on. Really? Like, do we have actual figures to back it up? Figures you found up your ass excluded?

And how long will the police keep the tapes? How much electricity do 20 security cameras use? You know that old saying, "If you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t need to worry"? Do people who say that realize it's actually the most basic argument promoting guilt until you prove your innocence? And how long before the first camera gets tagged by gang graffiti — two, three minutes? Since business leaders in the Fall River Industrial Park are buying these cameras, will they buy us a new one when some kid chucks a hunk of asphalt at one and breaks it?

Friends, these questions have no easy answers. What is more certain is that the comparisons to Big Brother from "1984" are silly. This is simply videotaping people 24 hours a day without their knowledge in their own neighborhoods in case they commit crimes! Sheesh — relax! Besides, in the book, the nation was caught in a bizarre war that had no end. And everyone was addicted to television. And,
uh ... there was an authoritarian government that ... well, lied about its own motives for the war and locked away alleged traitors. And the main character worked at a ... er ...newspaper. Hmm. Wow. OK, let's pretend I never said anything.

It does make me wonder who exactly will be watching these tapes...


Scene: A secret bunker in Fall River. Oh, all right — a converted utility closet on the second floor in Government Center, two doors from the elevators as you exit left. Inside, two henchmen are studying a bank of 20 TV screens showing street corners in working-class and poor Fall River neighborhoods. The two henchmen are bleary-eyed and pounding Dunkin' Donuts Turbos like they're going off the market. On the wall is a poster depicting a shadowy, caped figure labeled "Mystery Mooner."

HENCHMAN 1. Anything afoot there, Gary?

GARY. (studying his TVs) Nope. Just some Portuguese guy on Bay Street painting his concrete lawn green.

HENCHMAN 1. Boy, spring sure is a pretty time of year. (suddenly alert) What's this?

(He watches a father and son play Wiffle ball near Maplewood Park. The kid swings and the bat goes flying — right into dad's crotch.)

HENCHMAN 1. Oof! (taking notes) One for the blooper tape.

GARY. (watching Davis Street) And here comes Sizaltina and her boyfriend, right on time. (checking his watch) Come on, Sizzy, you got four hours until Carlos comes back with the kids.

HENCHMAN 1. Say! That's not Julio with her.

GARY. No, she's so over Julio. Her new guy's nice — more her type. He's got a nice car, buys her flowers. Too bad he's also messing around with her sister.

HENCHMAN 1. You know Carlos isn't the father, right?

GARY. Duh.

HENCHMAN 1. (points to Camera 6) And that he's got another kid with this lady from East Main Street?

GARY. No, that's not Carlos. That's his twin brother, Jay. He used to work for the Mob, and he's trying to leave the life behind, but the money's too good. The thing is, his girlfriend is studying to be a criminal lawyer. She has no idea what he does. Your classic "Odd Couple" type deal. They usually have new episodes, but it's been in reruns for a couple of days.

HENCHMAN 1. (shrugs) I hadn't noticed it that much.

GARY. (sotto voce) Amateur.

(They both start as a mysterious figure appears at the corner of Plain and Pine streets. It's a short gray smudgy blob — wearing a cape!)

HENCHMAN 1. (on a radio) We have a Code Blue in progress! Repeat — a Code Blue!

RADIO. (staticky) What's the location?

(The figure sneaks looks over both shoulders, stares directly into the camera for a moment. Then he lifts the cape over his head, undoes his belt, and moons the camera.)

HENCHMAN 1. (into radio) Oh God! Oh horrors! He did it! The Mystery Mooner struck again! Pine and Plain! Step on it!

RADIO. Let's boogie.

(The Mystery Mooner stands up quickly and dashes offscreen.)

GARY. Zounds, he's getting fast! He's got to have that belt on some kind of quick-release buckle system!

HENCHMAN 1. (pounding the table) I hate that guy! How can someone just ... misuse the security cameras like that! And why doesn't he at least get a body wax if he's going to put his ass on tape?

(Gary pulls up a computer keyboard, presses a few buttons, and we zoom in on an image of the Mystery Mooner's round bum. Gary
touches the screen near a birthmark shaped like a four-piece dinette set.)

GARY. And Bingo was his name-o. (sighing) He can't hide behind those Old Navy jeans forever. He was a little careless today. And he'll be a little more careless tomorrow. And when he does, we'll be there to pinch him. (Stands on a set of phone books to
look important.)
We'll get him yet, Henchman 1. We'll get him yet.

(They nod contemplatively for a moment, sighing away the disgust, then quietly maneuver the cameras to peek into people's bathrooms.)
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