How to Survive in Ashcroft’s America

Write an article like this one to throw them off my scent – if he’s inviting attention to himself, surely he can’t have anything to worry about?. . .

Put off bug exterminator visit until apartment is cleared of five feet high stacks of Internet printouts, hundreds of envelopes with novel excerpts waiting to go out, and books on Hitler’s henchmen and variants of fascism stacked high against the walls; the washed-up blonde Southern high-wire act who came last time seems prime TIPS recruiting material. . .

Go into massive denial about bug infestation that has already occurred five months ago; it might have to wait until 2008. . .

Contemplate ordering copy of The Anarchist Cookbook because it tells you what you need to do to know if your place is bugged – aren’t you supposed to drag a microphone over your head to catch the high-pitched squeaks of surveillance equipment or something?. . .

Cancel that thought because thirty years later new technology probably makes all surveillance-detection tactics irrelevant. . .

Stop years-old habit of driving at minimum forty miles per hour on freeway (a perverse form of aggression?) because it might draw unnecessary attention from cops. . .

Speaking of driving, take the weekend to empty Beemer – which doubles as office, filing, and storage space – of multiple novel manuscripts with subversive-sounding titles, hundreds of rejections from fiction editors, unopened piles of returned mail from Hollywood agents (what was I thinking?), and flyers from three years ago advertising contemplated editorial services that I never actually offered – clean out car in case a cop stops me, for no reason at all (which is the only reason they stop you). . .

But don’t unload at night: last time the Neighborhood Watch/TIPS guy stopped me for backing into parking space on the other side of the lot, thinking I was taking flight from him. . .

Worry about traffic ticket fifteen years ago for doing sixty-five on the Pomona Freeway – I’m pretty sure I paid it off, but unlike every other trivial activity, I don’t have a written record of it: what if it’s turned into a warrant or something? That would be enough to put an end to my brilliant career. . .

Think of calling Los Angeles Municipal Court, but retreat in horror because it is just this sort of weird request they’re waiting to pounce on as evidence of suspicious activity. . .

Consider getting an analyst job at Goldman Sachs for two years to pay off $37,000 in unpaid student loans. . .

Write this off as bad idea because I wouldn’t last an hour at Goldman Sachs; still, nice thought (to my parents) – and it should yield a best-selling memoir. . .

Ponder the folly of hanging out with poor artist girls when old-money Waspy Connecticut sugar mama could be useful on more counts than one: relax, it’d only be till 2008! (this would serve the dual purpose of fulfilling recurrent older woman fantasy). . .

Look through alumni directory for first girlfriend at college, whom I haven’t spoken to in almost a decade, to ask her if she’ll “store” my manuscripts in case “something happens to me”; tell her she doesn’t have to do anything, just keep it on her hard-drive, take it with her to Australia or Canada or wherever she’s headed off to, as long as she doesn’t tell anyone; engage in long email exchange with her as to why I would be considered important enough for something to happen to me; fail to come up with a satisfactory answer (to her) but like the preemptive tactic anyway. . .

Approach all my friends, some of whom I haven’t spoken to in years, with similar request, because this personalizing of apocalyptic fears is such an ego boost. . .

Cross everyone off my list of friends except those who immediately agree that I should definitely be concerned, for good reason, and that they’ll be “honored” to keep my stuff until the danger passes. . .

Wonder if I should file a Freedom of Information Act request with the FBI to see if they have a file on me from ten years ago as a college activist. ..

But isn’t that likely to make me hot instead of cold and trigger an inquiry? Why would I be asking for it unless I had something to be concerned about? All right, save that for informational (and bragging) purposes until after 2008. . .

Instead of selling old IBM computer for whatever I can get, beat it down with a hammer and dump it at a landfill sixty miles away because I’ve heard that keystrokes, documents, Internet visitation habits can always be recovered. . .

In a panic attack at three in the morning, dump all my porn in the garbage bin; later that same night, feel foolish about it (too high a price to pay for security, and besides most of it borders on the literary), and recover as much of it as I can without feeling yucky; all porn today seems to be weird, kinky, Ashcroft-provoking – they might draw the wrong conclusions. . .

Wonder where I’ll seat the FBI agents when they visit me at five in the morning (isn’t that when they’re supposed to knock on your door?) since every inch of space is taken up by papers and books. . .

If those activist groups invite me to debate Hitchens in Berkeley, should I take a plane? Too dangerous. Take a train? More dangerous. Drive? Most dangerous of all. Spend hours and hours obsessing about this dilemma…

Label apartment mailbox with non-existent “Emily Bernstein” and “Shauna McBride” alongside my own name to give the impression that I’m not a lone, single guy of the wrong age (that vicious mail delivery guy looks like an incipient profiler). . .

Get rid of the McBride label because living with two women sounds really suspicious. . .Get rid of the Bernstein label too because when she doesn’t get any mail that’ll look suspicious . . .

Calm down about it because I get plenty of mail from impressive alma mater, asking for money (as if I have any). . .

Refuse to engage in any conversation with pesky students (drawn by my magnetism, no doubt) at the library, because who knows who might be an informant? Or might be tempted to become one? And because I can’t keep my mouth shut, and can’t not talk about politics, I should disengage from all personal human interaction. . .

Occasionally visit National Review and Weekly Standard sites in case library Internet habits are being tracked; just to throw them off. . .

Assure worried mother in Poughkeepsie that they don’t do anything to writers and intellectuals and artists; they care about activists, and I no longer believe in activism: since I’m sure phone is being tapped, this note of confidence is likely to make them leave me alone; tell her that the last person they’d want to touch is me, because I’d write a best-selling memoir about it, exposing their dirty business. . .

Realize that they prohibit detainees from profiting by writing about their experiences; still, to put the thought in their mind that I might do something like that (at least after 2008) should make them think twice…

If they do take me to a naval brig as an enemy combatant, wonder what reading material I’d be allowed to take with me; if I could take only one book with me what would it be? No two ways about it: I could finally finish A la recherche. . .

Stop shopping at Middle Eastern stores for delicacies because those are exactly the kinds of places where they make random sweeps; with my recent run of bad luck, they’d let all the illegals go and get me instead. . .

Slip into denial about the quality of my recent fiction: publishers are afraid that my stuff is too controversial, and they’re scared to touch it – wimps! – instead of admitting that I need to head back to writing school…

That’s not a bad idea; I should start a graduate school application to Berkeley just in case. . .

Just in case what?. . .

Stop using gun-loving, Bush-honoring barber as once-a-month one-person focus group; yes, he’s invaluable as key to pulse of middle America, and although I’ve never disagreed with him and let on what a flaming lefty I am, can I take the chance anymore?. . .

Draw hope from Gramsci, Laski, Chinaski. . .

But reconsider lifelong antipathy against having offspring; if own intellectual career can be nipped in the bud, relying on superhuman genes to do the trick in the next generation might be worth a second thought – especially if it’d be a brave little girl like the one who plays Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. . .

Is it okay to say “little girl” in Ashcroft’s America?. . .

Ask editor to delete reference to barber, in case he happens to read this; even in Ashcroft’s America it’d be nice to keep getting a decent haircut.

Anis Shivani studied economics at Harvard, and is the author of two novels, The Age of Critics and Memoirs of a Terrorist. He welcomes comments at: Anis_Shivani_ab92@post.harvard.edu

 

Anis Shivani is the author of Why Did Trump Win? Chronicling the Stages of Neoliberal Reactionism and This Is the Only Way to Solve the Immigration Problem: A Radical Human Rights Approach. A History of the Cat in Nine Chapters: A Noveland Logography: A Poetry Omnibusare forthcoming in early 2019.