THE DEN – Stay down! Don’t go near the windows! I need a periscope to see what’s going on. You may ask why I am hiding under the couch. It’s because the entire neighborhood is under a Take Shelter Alert. It seems a gunman is stalking Running Rats Acres, shooting at people. Cops are swarming the area. The SWAT team is here with its tanks, artillery and submarines. (Like many an American town, mine has received vast amounts of weapons from the Pentagon to fight terrorism, and this time they really need them.)
To begin at the beginning, a few hours ago on this pleasant spring Sunday morning, I was watching the talking heads on TV pontificate about Trump and Hillary, Hillary and Trump, Bernie and Hillary and Trump. Since I can multitask, I am also reading the Sunday papers all about Trump and Hillary, etc. Then the phone rings, which is unusual at such times since most people I know are sleeping off Saturday night’s Christening. Maybe it’s my wife, who has gone to church. No, it’s our daughter. “Dad, there’s a shoot-out in your neighborhood. Everyone is supposed to stay inside.” Huh? These things happen in other towns or even in mine, but always in other areas, not here. Oh, sure, we’ve had Bowie knife tournaments, bikers’ disputes, even a riot or two over Girl Scout cookies, but a cops-and-robbers shoot-out? Besides, we have a neighborhood alert system, so if anything untoward happens, such as a lost dog or pillow fight, a recording immediately goes out over phone, email and tom-toms telling us what the emergency is and what action to take: “This is your emergency alert system. Some rain or maybe a heavy dew is expected over night. Swim for your lives!”
I hear a thump-thump sound — helicopters. No, I am not paranoid, and those aren’t black coppers sent by Ross Perot to take me out — and not to the ballpark. Somebody is over reacting. True story: A few years ago a community around Sugar Land called 911 when their cable went out. This must be a similar case. Then my talking heads on TV seem to have a yellow banner running at the bottom of the screen. “Police action near the intersection of Fat Cat Circle and Blue Blood Blvd.” That’s right across the tracks in Nouveau Riche Estates, but still too close. Bit by bit the story trickles out. About 10:30 this morning, some guy wearing black shorts and no shirt, started shooting randomly at people. A constable showed up and his patrol car was shreded by gunfire. He decided help might be needed, and soon support poured in. Why not? It’s a slow Sunday morning and not much else is going on. The fuzz combs the neighborhood while more shots are fired. It turns out the gunman is armed with a pistol and an AR-15. We all-weather night fighters will explain that the AR-15 is a semi-automatic gas-operated rifle first developed for the U.S. military. Eventually civilians could purchase them and, as the NRA will tell you, every family should have at least three or four AR-15s in case some guy wearing black shorts and no shirt, starts shooting at you.
The phone rings again. It’s my friend and neighbor, Calpakis the Wily Greek. He says the cops are now backed by sheriff’s deputies, constables and the 82nd Airborne Division. “Do you have a gun?” he asks. “No, but I still have my bayonet from my days as a Marine infantryman. Do you have a gun?” “No, but something better. Landmines.” There is no traffic on the streets. I see the TV now shows live shots, so to speak, from the battle, and viewers are informed everyone should stay off the streets and away from windows. Ring-ring. My wife says, “I can’t get to church and the police won’t let me go home. Maybe I can get around a back way.” Hope she took her passport. Again I ponder this unreal situation. I live in a leafy, comfortable area which, real estate agents tell prospective buyers, is generally free of Viking raids, Comanche uprisings and outbreaks of ebola. This shoot-out may happen elsewhere, but it can’t happen here, as Nagasaki told Hiroshima. I crawl to the refrigerator to see if we can eat lunch here instead of following our original plans and picking up something. Not much luck. I crawl back to the den. The TV is showing more cops, and announces that a police helicopter has been hit by bullets five times. Bandits at ll o’clock high! A gas pump at a filling station across the street is hit by a bullet and goes up in smoke and fire. My wife arrives at home safely, her passport stamped.
We must now ponder just what is happening to our happy society when a calm, even dull, urban neighborhood can be turned into Baghdad-on-the-Bayou. A few years ago a local TV station — it was the Fox station, obviously — ran news programs showing almost nothing but crime news, entitled “City Under Siege.” Even today our local TV stations run news programs almost exclusively showing shootings, apartment house fires and high-speed car chases. Recently one station hit pay dirt: a reporter was covering an apartment house fire when a shooting occurred there. If a car came racing by, pursued by a fleet of patrol cars with red lights and screaming sirens, it would have been a television trifecta. But in this case, I like to know just how close the bullets are coming.
Now it’s all over. The cops start leaving, the helicopters are gone. It is safe to leave the house, so people start jogging and walking their pet pythons. Wait. The phone is ringing: “This is your neighborhood emergency alert system. There is a police action in our neighborhood. Stay indoors and etc. etc.” I keep thinking, if only Nagasaki had a few AR-15s.
Ashby is huddled at firstname.lastname@example.org