Dawn will soon be breaking here in Columbus, and I have been awake since 3 a.m.–“the dark night of the soul,” as F. Scott Fitzgerald says in The Crack-Up. I’ve sat in a booth at the McDonald’s on High St. and written a three-page diary entry, and did a C. Auguste Dupin-like wandering around the narrow streets east of N. High St. So, now that I still have some energy, I will devote it to the blog.
Susie and I have become the first bi-generational employees at the Discovery Exchange (a.k.a. the DX, the Columbus State bookstore). She has been on the job there in retail since before I began my latest rush gig. (Classes for the fall semester began on August 31, and I started working the Tuesday before.) When I come in at 5:30 p.m., Susie has already been there for 2½ hours, and usually stays for over two hours after the bookstore closes at 7:30. She and I both have the default job title “cashier,” although neither of us has touched a cash register.
Faithful readers of the blog know that my job at the bookstore is seasonal, only at the beginning of each semester. It had been my hope that Susie would be able to get a permanent job there, whether full- or part-time, once the rush ended. I thought there was a good likelihood for this, since her supervisors have praised her hard work, but that is not going to come to pass. Permanent part-time jobs at the bookstore go to work-study students, with the Federal government picking up the tabs for their wages. So, as of the 11th, Susie will once again be out of work.
She and I have become fixtures at the McDonald’s near the Ohio State campus. In a way, this hearkens back to my time in Cincinnati in the mid-1990s, when I spent many hours camped out in the Subway across the street from my apartment building on W. McMillan St. There are substantial differences, though. Neither of us have established the rapport and camaraderie I did with the Subway employees in Cincinnati, and McDonald’s does not let us run tabs.
Yet, Susie is a familiar site at the Golden Arches, with her laptop in front of her, surrounding by a scatter of books and notebooks. When I’m with her, I have a book or my diary in front of me. We take full advantage of the free refills, of course. (I have been drinking sweet tea, since I am making yet another attempt to abstain from carbonated beverages.) We also seem to be the most normal of the people who camp there–in some cases literally–for hours on end.
In addition to the panhandlers who prowl High St., there is a sizable contingent of teenagers from dark until well after midnight, seven days of each week. A lot of them seem to be genderfluid. (Full disclosure: I am still trying to understand that whole concept. Susie has several friends who prefer the pronoun “they,” and I am still trying to unlearn how I learned gender differences as a toddler: “You’re a boy, you have a penis. Jenny is a girl, she doesn’t.”) Susie and I seem to have adopted a genderfluid person, aged 17, named Tyler, who is very conversant on 1970s and 1980s music, vintage computer games, and horror literature. (They were very interested in the copy of Black Seas of Infinity: The Best of H.P. Lovecraft I had on the table.) Tyler met Susie when she was at a table typing on her laptop, and Tyler thought the bisexual pride flag sticker on her laptop lid was a transgender pride flag.
Like many places that are open 24 hours a day, McDonald’s has many surveillance cameras. They did not help much when someone stole Susie’s wallet. There was footage of the actual theft, while Susie was in the women’s room, but neither the manager nor the police officer who looked at the video could identify the perpetrator. (As is the case with a lost wallet, replacing all the ID cards is the biggest nuisance. Susie only had about $10 in cash, but she had to go to the credit union to get a new debit card, and to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles for a new state-issued ID. I was more upset about the loss of the Subway rewards card I had lent her, which had over 600 points on it.)
It sounds like I am laying the groundwork for a tinfoil hat-type rant about the lack of privacy and how Big Brother is everywhere (and here I would insert a mention of the two-way telescreens in Orwell’s 1984), but I am not as obsessed with that as many people, on both the Left and the Right, seem to be.
To me, fear of surveillance is the moral panic of the decade, much like the loony reports of rampant child abuse in daycare centers during the 1980s (I highly recommend Richard Beck’s book We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic in the 1980s for an examination of this), the rumors of a vast Satanic underground network in the 1970s, and the fear of alien abductions and black helicopters in the 1990s.
I have actually taken offense at the fact that I am probably not under government scrutiny. One Facebook poster pointed out that if the NSA is not investigating and spying on you, you’re not doing enough. Every decade or so, I send a Freedom of Information Act request for anything they may have on me, and end up highly offended when the Attorney General’s office sends back a letter saying there is nothing.
And that is surprising. When I applied for employment with the U.S. Postal Service, and later the IRS, I was afraid that a letter I wrote when I was 18 would surface. I had written to Selective Service after I registered for the draft–and I let them know it was under protest, and in the letter I said that if I was drafted, I would give classified information to the Soviet Union and to Iran (This was in 1981, right after the Iranian hostage crisis ended, and when Ronald Reagan–he of the double-digit IQ–was talking of the “evil empire”).
And my ongoing games with Selective Service didn’t rate a file, either. They instructed that I was to inform them of any change of address, so I began filing change of address cards whenever I left the house–to the store, to Burger King, to church–complete with the addresses of my various destinations, and then filing another card when I came home. When I moved to Boston in 1982, I sent in a change of address listing an address that would have been midway in the Charles River, between Cambridge and Allston.
It ended when they sent me a letter care of my home address in Marietta. To this day, I do not know its contents. I wrote ADDRESSEE DECEASED–RETURN TO SENDER on the envelope, dropped it in the mailbox, and never heard from them again. Their bureaucracy was too lazy or inefficient to request a death certificate or obituary to prove this.
I am not denying that surveillance exists. It is, however, hypocritical that the same Republicans who were all for it after 9/11, when it was called the Patriot Act, and who vigorously supported the wiretaps and mail interceptions Richard Nixon authorized in 1971 against people who committed the heinous crime of opposing the Vietnam War, are now the shrillest voices against the NSA. I have no right to be outraged if I get in trouble for something I have posted on Twitter or here in this blog. It is accessible to anyone with a router, and that is its purpose and intent. If, however, I get government attention as a result of a diary entry, or a snail-mail letter to a friend, then I have the problem.