Not long ago, I was waiting for a bus on the corner of Sterns and Bellflower in Long Beach after having purchased two heavy bags of groceries from Trader Joe’s when I suddenly saw a homeland security bus barreling right towards me. It was an ominous beast. It had bars on the tinted window, just like a prison bus, and was painted black. It also had a nefarious Homeland Security logo emblazoned on the side. The logo contained a plethora of esoteric, hermetic symbols that looked like they had been specifically designed to make a paranoid population even more paranoid. The logo looked majestic and stupid at the same time. I wanted to get a photo of me standing in front of it for a potential author photo.
To my amazement, the bus turned the corner and stopped in front of a park only about a hundred feet away from where I was sitting. I couldn’t believe it. Who could pass up an opportunity like this? Even though I could see my own bus approaching, I decided to pick up both of my grocery bags and waddle across the street toward the bus. I happened to have a camera on me at the time (I can’t remember why), so I looked around to see if I could find anyone who might stop and take my photo in front of the bus. I saw an old Asian lady coming out of an office building. I held out the disposable camera toward her and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, could you please take a photo of me standing in front of this Homeland Security bus? I need an author photo.” The lady ignored me, as if I didn’t exist, and kept walking.
I glanced around in desperation, hoping to see someone else. But there was no one. I couldn’t waste too much time waiting for someone else to show up. Besides, who knew how long the bus would stay there? I had only one logical option.
I walked up to the bus, set my overstuffed bags down on either side of me, pressed my face against the opaque window embedded in the front door, and peered inside. Vaguely, I could see the bus driver sitting in his chair reading a newspaper that had been draped over the steering wheel. The bus driver had a black moustache and a power-U of frizzy dark hair ringing the back of his head. He looked like every cop I’ve ever met. There didn’t appear to be anyone else inside the bus.
I knocked on the door and tried to get his attention. I kept waving crazily until he relented and opened the door. “What?” he snapped, as if annoyed for some reason.
“Excuse me,” I said, “sorry to disturb you. Could you take my picture standing in front of the logo on the side of your bus?” I wiggled the yellow disposable camera in the air, like a rattle to a baby.
He looked confused. He just stared at me for awhile, then said, “NO!”
“Oh?” I said. “Well… why?”
The dude said, “I can’t do that!”
“Why not?” I said.
“Uh… oh. Well, thank you anyway.” I picked up the two bags of overstuffed Trader Joe’s groceries and waddled all the way back to my bus stop and sat down. Who knew how long it would take for the next bus to arrive? I was a little annoyed at the man. I glanced over my shoulder at him and was startled to see that he had gotten out of the driver’s seat and was now standing near the back of the bus and staring at me intently. He did this for a long time. I tried to ignore him and read the back of the cereal box sitting in one of the grocery bags. Organic High Fiber O’s contained nine grams of fiber per serving. Hopefully, it would help me poop better in the morning. After reading the entire list of ingredients, I glanced up again and saw that the man was using some sort of hi-tech camera to take a picture of me. He took a couple of shots, then climbed back into the bus and drove away.
Why couldn’t he have done that when I asked him to? After all, taking my picture is exactly what I had requested in the first place! The only difference was that now I wouldn’t have a copy of the photo. I’d have to initiate a complex Freedom of Information Act merely to attain a copy of my own author photo.
Watching the black bus dwindle away into the distance, I began to grow a little angry. After all, his answer to my question wasn’t sufficient at all. “Homeland Security!” It made no sense. In what way did that address the question? In the near future “Homeland security” will no doubt be the catchall response to all queries:
“Why didn’t you do your homework?”
“Who was that girl I saw you with last night?”
“Are you wearing a condom?”
It’s ironic that in the Age of Information we receive less and less information from Those In Authority. All we receive are abstract responses like “Homeland Security!” It’s a distressing situation, growing more distressing by the second.
And to this day I can’t help but wonder what exactly that fine gentleman is doing with my author photo right now.
Of course, if I actually had the opportunity to pose such a question, I have no doubt as to what his response would be.