by JANET GILMORE
The story you are about to read is absolutely true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the facts and some of the places. And a few adverbs. And one dangling participle. I’m a columnist; that’s how we roll.
It was cold in the city the other day. The half-inch of snow must have frightened people. The streets were empty, but a little snow did not, could not, deter the person who walked up our driveway to our front door.
Knock, knock, knock. My husband, Hugh, peeked through the slats and saw a nicely-dressed woman on our doorstep in front of our humble Chestnut Hill residence. He thought she was a Jehovah’s Witness and started to tell her we were busy and didn’t want to talk, but she showed him an I.D. badge with her name and the U.S. seal on it.
“Good afternoon, sir. I’m from the National Security Agency. I’m doing a background check. Just want to talk to you for a minute. Do you know E—- M—-?”
“Yes, she lives nearby”
“Can you tell me some things about her?”
Hugh said, “First, I only have good things to say about her, but even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t say them because her parents are friends of ours.”
I thought the government stopped sneaking around and asking your neighbors about you during the Age of Aquarius. Wrong.
Think about it. Would you like the Feds asking your neighbors about your character? Suppose you never mowed your lawn, or didn’t clean up after your dog or hadn’t returned those hedge clippers (yet)? A neighbor could easily blow your security clearance over a grudge or on a whim.
“Is there anything you can tell me about E—-?” the N.S.A. woman inquired.
“She’s very intelligent, hard-working, pleasant, courteous and friendly.”
“Has she ever caused any police incident on this street?”
The N.S.A. woman tried several more ways to find out if E—- was a “known disturbance” in the neighborhood.
Known disturbance? This kid’s parents love her. She does her homework, walks her dog and smiles politely when we see her. She babysits.
“Well, sir, if you hear of anything, let me know. Here’s my card.”
Hugh closed the door. He went downstairs to e-mail E—-’s father right away. Why didn’t I know anything about this visit? I was home at the time. Hugh told me later that the lady in the nice suit kept looking to see what was going on in our house.
Just over Hugh’s shoulder, in the living room, I was jumping around like a crazy woman. Falling snow has given me a feeling of irrepressible energy and longing since the first time I saw it through my classroom window many decades ago, and the teacher said, “Don’t look outside, boys and girls.” That ridiculous sentence simply wound the spring tighter and tighter and created the strongest desire from that day on, to be turned loose and run outdoors whenever it snowed.
I looked out our back window and saw the lovely snow falling; I had to blow off some steam. What’s the cheapest, quickest thrill a housewife can have on short notice? Of course — vacuuming!
On my way to get the vacuum cleaner, I put on a videotape of the opera “Carmen.” Naturally, I couldn’t hear the music over the vacuum cleaner, so I cranked up the volume. That meant that in order to hear myself, I had to sing VERY loudly, which I can do. And did.
I’m not an opera singer but I was having a ball. Just Hoovering my habitat, hanging out with Placido Domingo, watching the snow fall and singing at full tilt. The house seemed cold, but I barely noticed until Hugh closed the front door and I felt warmer. “Were you talking to someone at the door?” I asked. “Who was it?”
Hugh told me the whole story. “I didn’t even notice the door was open. Do you think the N.S.A. heard me singing?”
“You were hard to miss,” said Hugh.
“Do you think the whole story about E—- was a ruse? Maybe one of our neighbors complained about my singing. They can’t arrest you for singing off-key; can they?”
Hugh said, “Maybe they can if it’s opera. This IS Chestnut Hill, you know. Maybe they’re pretending to check up on E—-, but they’re checking up on US for some reason. What if they determine that I’m OK, but the housekeeper is questionable? She plays opera and sings loudly while vacuuming, risking a police incident.”
Just then E—-’s father e-mailed us that, in fact, E—- was applying for a summer internship involving mathematics and cryptography. He thinks that despite the spy-versus-spy aspect of our home visit, the N.S.A. is very careful about whom they hire.
Coda: I e-mailed this story to an ex-hippie friend, now an optometrist, who advised, “Get out of town NOW! Don’t spend time packing; take the first flight to a friendly country, preferably one with a long, white deserted beach and groovy cocktails. Tell Hugh you’ll contact him later. Tell him that if he really loves you, he’ll understand. Good luck. It was fun being your friend while it lasted. Bye.”