When I saw the news footage, I panicked and called 911 and was given a menu: “To report an emergency in progress, press one. To report a past emergency, press two. To report an emergency now in the making, press three. To hear this menu again, press four.” I pressed one and heard canned music. It was Bob Marley singing, “Everything’s going to be all right.”
While on hold there, I dialed my nephew Ben on another line. As soon as he answered, I said, “My house is on the evening news!”
“Really,” he said. He sounded skeptical, which annoyed the hell out of me.
“Yes, really. There’s footage of guys in black masks having a stand-off with the police in front of my house. There’s even a caption underneath showing my address!”
I looked back at the screen. One of the masked terrorists shot at the police, and now there was a full-scale gun battle. The noise was all around me. It sounded as if I were in a war zone.
“I’m having a little trouble hearing you.”
“I’m in the middle of the OK Corral here!”
“Try turning down your TV.”
I grabbed my remote and, after a few blunders, I found the volume control and turned it down. The sound of the gun battle faded away.
“Uncle Bob, do us both a favor and look outside your house,” Ben said.
“But I don’t want to get hit by a stray bullet!”
“You could get hit by a stray bullet just sitting there watching TV. Just take a look—you’ll be fine!”
I went into my front bedroom and gingerly lifted the blind a couple of inches. There was nothing outside other than an old guy walking his Chihuahua, which had on one of those ridiculous little coats. “What the hell is going on, Ben?”
“It’s something they’ve been able to do lately. They take an image of your house off the satellites and then superimpose alarming events in front of it—like terrorists and protesters and various minority groups attacking your house.”
“How can they call that news?” I asked indignantly.
“It’s not news. It’s an advertisement, probably for some kind of security system.”
“Can they do that?”
“Well, evidently. I think their reasoning is that it’s not false advertising because it’s something that could happen. It’s way sleazy, but there you have it.”
Sure enough, the footage finished with a logo for a security company and a voice that said, “Protect your house and your loved ones. Surefire Security Systems.” A little box on the TV that said, “To order, press one on your remote.”
I turned it off with a scoff. “Thank God you’re around,” I said, and then the phone vibrated. “Hold on. I’ve got another call.”
I pressed the button on my phone and heard a male voice, “Nine one one. What is your emergency?”
“I’m sorry, it was a false alarm. It was some crazy ad on the TV.”
“So there is no emergency?”
“Please refrain from calling when there’s no actual emergency. If this happens two more times, you’ll no longer be eligible for 911 services.”
“What?” The call was ended. I switched back to my nephew. “I can’t believe it. Nine-one-one just hung up on me and threatened to cut me off!”
“That’s because they privatized it. It’s happening all over the place. Listen, I’ve got to go,” Ben said. “But call me anytime you have trouble understanding something—okay?”
My doorbell rang at 6 a.m. the next morning. “What the hell?” I muttered, coming down the stairs in my pajamas.
A very attractive couple in their mid-thirties in dark blue uniforms and badges stood at my doorstep. The man had closely cropped hair, and the woman’s hair was in a cute little ponytail. What were the police doing here? Did it have something to do with the 911 call? When I opened the door, I realized that what I thought were badges were actually logos for Surefire Security Systems. The black and white car in front of my house, which looked very much like a police car, also had a Surefire Security Systems logo on it.
When I opened the door, I asked, “What’s this about?”
The woman answered, very polite but very serious, “You ordered an installment last night.”
“No, I didn’t!”
“You did, sir,” said the man, sounding just like a policeman. “You watched our advertisement and then pressed the button on your remote for a free security evaluation.”
“Must have been while I was futzing with the remote. Well, I didn’t mean to order an evaluation.”
“But it’s free! Here’s our brochure,” the woman said, smiling warmly and handing me a glossy pamphlet. On the front was a photo of a well-dressed elderly couple—the woman in a nice sundress and the man in golfer’s clothes, standing in front of their well-manicured house on a sunny day. “May we come in?”
“Well, okay, but just for a minute,” I said.
They introduced themselves as Amber and Craig.
“Why, your home is so beautiful!” Amber said, looking around. “Not like many of the places we visit!”
“Why thank you! Please, sit down.”
Before I knew it, they had their briefcases open, and their literature spread all over my coffee table. It had details of all their “security packages.”
“Look,” I said before I really looked at it. “I don’t think I need any security system. I have locks on the doors, after all.”
“May I show you something?” Craig asked.
Before I could answer, he pulled something from his briefcase, walked over to the front door, and began sawing. There was a high-pitched squeal, and I smelled hot sawdust. I heard something thump on the floor. He picked it up and brought it over to me. It was the piece of my door with the doorknob and the lock.
“What the hell?” I yelled.
“Don’t worry. We’ll replace it. I just wanted to show you how easy it is to get into your home.”
“I’m calling the police!”
“You mean 911?” Craig said. “Good luck with that!”
“What Craig means to say is that you deserve better than public police protection,” Amber said, patting my hand. She was wearing nice perfume. I didn’t know that policewomen or security guards wore perfume. It was a nice touch. It kept her femininity intact. I also noticed that her pants fit very nicely. Policewomen often tend to wear baggy pants that don’t show off their figures. Her voice brought me out of my reverie. “Public police protection is really for—well—the public,” she continued. “People who can’t afford real protection. You’ve got a very nice house that you’ve worked hard for, and you deserve to feel secure—certainly more than the rank-and-file people. You know who I’m talking about. The people who work at menial jobs or are unemployed because they never bothered to make anything of their lives.” As she said this, she patted me on the arm as if to acknowledge that I had made something of my life.
She showed me a computerized mock-up of my house with security gear in place. It showed my house and yard surrounded by a 20-foot fence with blazing security lights in place that looked like they could cut through steel. “You’ve got an impenetrable fence—virtually nothing can cut through it—and the security lights can illuminate your doors and windows and anything else you want.”
“Is it controlled by some kind of remote-control device?” I asked.
“A simple app on your cell phone,” the man said. “We also set up cameras along the perimeter as well as in problem areas like your basement and your shower, where you’re most likely to get attacked in your own home.” The thought of that sent shivers down my spine. “You can call up security images from the cameras on your TV or even your iPad or cellphone. Incidentally, you can also use your cell phone to lock and unlock the doors, and you can change the code in case anyone gets hold of it.”
I began to wrap my mind around all this new information. Sure, I lived in a safe neighborhood—or did I? It was a nice suburban neighborhood with nice families. Most of the people I saw walking by my house were familiar—except for a few of the people. Not only were they unfamiliar to me, but for reasons I won’t go into, they didn’t look like they belonged. And suddenly I wondered, what exactly were these people doing in my neighborhood?
I pointed to the barbed wire on the fence in the mock-up. “Do I really need that?”
“It’s optional,” the woman said. “But ninety percent of our clients eventually opt for it.”
I ordered the deluxe package. Amber said I could pay by credit card, PayPal, or direct deposit from my bank account. I opted for direct deposit because I have a habit of forgetting to make payments. She had me sign a waiver permitting them to do whatever it took to protect my security.
“In the past, we were charged with things like trespassing while we were just trying to do our jobs. Some people say they want to get tough on crime, but when push comes to shove, they chicken out. I’m guessing you’re not one of those guys,” she said, winking at me.
The next day, I went to the public library while they overhauled my house. I leafed through a few of the magazines and then got antsy and called my nephew. I thought he might be impressed.
“Hey, Ben! It’s Uncle Bob!” I called out.
A middle-aged woman of color reading a book in a nearby comfy chair looked up and continued watching me.
“Hi, Uncle Bob! ‘Sup?”
“Well, I spoke to the folks at Surefire Security Systems, the people who ran that ad, and they’re overhauling my house!”
When he finally responded, his tone was dull and fatalistic. “You didn’t.”
“I did! They’re installing a big fence, lights, and security cameras! It’s great!” I looked up to see the black woman still staring at me intently. Why was she paying attention to my private conversation? How was it any of her business?
“Uncle Bob, let me ask you something. What’s the crime rate like in your town?”
“What, are you kidding me? There’s crime everywhere—violent crime! It’s all over the news! Just last night a family of four was brutally killed—I even saw the blood!”
“Was it somewhere near you?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure the news report even said where it was.”
“If you’ll read the actual statistics, crime—especially violent crime—has been going down for years. Decades, in fact. And I doubt your town is any exception. Have you or anyone you know been the victims of a crime?”
“Well, someone lifted my wallet last year.”
“Did someone lift your wallet or did you simply lose it? Did anyone use your credit cards?”
“No, but I put a freeze on them immediately.”
“Then you don’t know. My advice to you would be to cancel that security overhaul as soon as possible.”
“It’s already been done. Besides, I can afford it. Where’s the harm?” Then I added, I’m sorry to say, “Maybe if you owned your own home, you’d understand.”
“Listen, I gotta go, Uncle Bob. Talk to you later.”
Click. I realized then that I had offended him. I should have chosen my words more carefully. When I put my phone away, the black woman was still staring at me. Hadn’t anyone told her it was impolite to stare?
When I returned home from the library, there was an enormous fence around my house. Amber, who was on the other side of the fence, pressed a button and the gate glided open with a loud but pleasant hum. It was almost like magic. I stepped inside, and she closed the gate again. She took me on a deluxe tour of my property—the fence, the lights, and the security cameras.
“If you want to give me your phone, I can install an app that does all this,” she said.
I did, and she I watched as she worked diligently on my phone for about ten minutes.
“There!” she said and handed it back to me.
“Beautiful and intelligent!” I said, grinning. She laughed and gave my shoulder a playful push. “If you’re single, I should fix you up with my nephew—but he’d have to clean up his act a bit!”
She showed me how to work on the controls, handed me a small manual to go with the app, and gave me her card. “I’m your security representative. Feel free to call me any time of the day or night!”
“Oh, I will!”
When I wasn’t watching Fox News, I was checking out the views from the cameras. It was kind of hypnotic. I was surprised by how many people passed by my house, and how many of them were total strangers. Some of them were staring toward my house. What were they looking at? Were they casing my house for a possible burglary? Well, good luck with that! I thought.
When it came time to go to bed, I pressed the “off” button on the TV remote. It wouldn’t turn off. Nor could I turn down the volume. I called Amber and asked if Surefire Security Systems had done anything with the TV.
“We did. We don’t want you missing any important security alerts. There could be rioting in the streets, and you wouldn’t even know.”
“That’s a risk I’m willing to take. How do I turn it off?”
“Mr. Wilson, when you hired us, you agreed to let us do whatever was necessary to guarantee your security. We have your signed waiver, and we take our commitments very seriously.”
I was too tired to argue and didn’t want to sound like a crabby old man to Amber, so I let it go. I slept with earplugs in.
I slowly got used to having the news on all the time. Well, most of the time. When I got sick of hearing about criminals, terrorists, pandemics, and the threats living inside my refrigerator, I put in earplugs. I made peace with my new life until one night when I thought I’d like to take a break from the news and go for a walk. I stepped outside, stepped up to the gate, and pressed the “open” button on my phone app. Nothing happened. I immediately called Amber to complain.
“Whatever are you doing going out at this time of night?” she asked. “Do you want to get mugged? Don’t you realize that half of all violent crimes happen at night?”
“It’s a chance I’m willing to take!” I growled.
“But it’s not a chance we’re willing to take, Mr. Wilson. You entrusted us with looking after your safety!”
“But what if I want to get something to eat?”
“If you scroll down in the app, there’s a home delivery menu.”
“Ugh!” I said and then dialed my nephew.
“This user has been blocked,” came a recorded voice.
I called Amber again.
“My, you’ve been very busy, Mr. Wilson!” she said coyly.
“Look, I just tried to call my nephew, and his number was blocked! I’m guessing you folks have something to do with it!”
“Would he be Ben Wilson on Washington Street in Salem?”
“Yes—how did you know?”
“It’s our business to know. I’m afraid your nephew is on our ‘Do not call’ list. He’s been involved in some anti-government protests, and we feel that he’s not a safe contact for you.”
“I’ll decide who I can speak to!”
“I suggest you reread the waiver, Mr. Wilson.”
I ran outside again and began rattling the fence. “Help! I can’t get out!” I screamed, and waited for someone, even a stranger, to come by and rescue me.
About the Author
Rob Dinsmoor is the author of three fictive memoirs: Tales of the Troupe, The Yoga Divas and Other Stories, and You Can Leave Anytime. He also co-authored a children’s picture book titled Does Dixie Like Me? His story in Lowestoft Chronicle, ‘Kundalini Yoga at the Arkham YMCA,’ was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Recently, he appeared on stage on The Moth Story Slam. He lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Visit his Website at www.robertdinsmoor.com.