Lists Upon Lists

The Men in Charge are making lists again. Lists of Americans who may not fly on airplanes. Lists of Americans who visit libraries, and what books they read. Lists of Americans who attend protests, and lists of Americans with names similar to the names of convicted felons, or who were born around the same time.

Most Americans aren’t concerned: they don’t fly on airplanes. They don’t visit the library or read books. They sure as hell don’t go to protests, and they’ve never gotten a felon’s birthday card by mistake.

What’s the problem?

The problem is lists are like rat’s teeth: they never stop growing. Our nation learned this once when the Red Scare happened, and anybody with the faintest affiliation to anything even remotely a gauche of center ended up on a list. It could be a list of members of the Pasadena Lawn Bowling Club, didn’t matter. You ended up on one of those lists, and the next thing your application for credit at the mattress store was turned down. “We don’t bed Reds,” the clerk would darkly intone, and there you were, sleeping on the davenport without any idea why.

You think you can’t end up on one of these lists, or that it doesn’t matter even if you do? Anybody can end up on a list. You take a local check at your yard sale from a swarthy guy who claims to be collecting old Patti LaBelle LPs. What if that guy is on the FBI Swarthy Guy list? What if he spends his spare time making anthrax? You may never know, but the FBI will add you to their list of People He Has Transactions With. How about if you’re behind him in line at the 7-11 when a surveillance team takes his photo?

Agent 1: “Who’s the person behind him? The one picking her nose?”

Agent 2: “She could be passing microfilm to him, concealed inside nose potatoes. Let’s put her on the list.”

Even if you agree with everything the Administration is doing, you can end up on a list (for example the list of people born without cerebrums). And if you’re on a list, and that list intersects with another list, you will end up on two lists, and that makes you somebody to watch: you’re a connected dot.

Maybe you’re somebody whose computer needs examining while you’re away. Maybe your boss will be told about you, or your bank. All kinds of things can happen, because nobody really knows what all of the lists are for. The people who use them are just looking for patterns. According to chaos dynamics, they will find the patterns they are looking for, just as conspiracy theorists do. But this isn’t conspiracy theory. These lists are real, and they are in use today.

20 Wisconsin anti-war activists (not an inherently violent group) were recently detained and searched at an airport because they were on a “No Fly” list. Did you know there is a “No Fly” list? The activists missed their flight; ironically they were going to meet with their congressional representatives, who did not see fit to search them when they finally showed up. Nobody knows who maintains this list; it’s just there, and names are added to it all the time.

Dozens of other Americans have been detained in a similar manner in recent months. They’re all on two lists now: the list that got them detained at the airport to begin with, and another list of people who were detained at airports, and probably a third list of people who show up on at least two other lists. The cycle never ends.

And it’s not just a question of having to take the bus instead of an airplane: what if you once hosted a birthday party at which a kid named Jos? Padilla showed up? Kind of moody boy, kept gnawing the lawn furniture, but he was in your daughter’s class at school, so. . . Mr. Padilla has gone to permanent, no-trial prison. You bet his derriere was on a list or two, and once they get done researching his past, your derriere will be on a list as well. A scary list. A suspicious derriere list.

Will you wake up one morning to discover your free life is over, and you now have no right to a trial, or your family, or anything, ever again? You think being on the Reader’s Digest mailing list is bad, try the Jos? Padilla list.

“But,” you chuckle, “I would never allow my child to consort with ethnic children of any stripe.”

It doesn’t matter.

Maybe you have the same birthday as him, or you were on the same airplane one day. Lists get longer and longer. They multiply. They feed on names.

Just remember this: Santa Claus has a list of who’s been naughty and nice, and it has been verified on two separate occasions. If the Feds get hold of that list, there may be a nasty surprise waiting for you on Christmas morning.

BEN TRIPP is a screenwriter.

He can be reached at: credel@earthlink.net

2002 by BEN TRIPP