Appropriately enough the year was 1984. I was fourteen years old and in tenth grade. In many ways, this year was definitive for me-it was, in fact, one of the worst years of my life. It seemed that no matter what I did, or where I turned some new disaster lurked to engulf me. Without going into too much detail, my parents got divorced, my mother came down with a serious illness and was hospitalized in Atlanta. I was left to my own devices and held it together as best I could. My biggest concerns were making sure my older sister’s coke-head friends didn’t steal too much of my food and money, and finding a way to get to school (I admit I could have taken the bus, but I thought I was too cool for that). Needless to say, such experiences, combined with the natural mental latitudes of adolescence, made me wild and woolly-a kid loosely adopted by the Downtown Athens community like some feral mascot. The more traditional institutions were less accommodating, and as I seemed hell-bent on crashing and burning, most of the folks I knew from church or school just stood back and watched.
Up to that point, the crazed anger I felt at a system that had failed me in a vast manner expressed itself in typical teen-age nihilistic self-destruction. There was no higher calling to the extreme rebellion I felt welling up inside of me with beautiful, elemental fury. Little did I suspect, incident and cause would be laid up at my feet.
It was the Ides of March. I was downtown with some friends, drinking a beer and getting ready to go see a band play. At that time Athens had a local TV station that aired live footage. The TV crew was going around asking folks what they were planning to do on the Ides of March. It just so happened that my English class was reading Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, so of course, the play gave me what I thought were great ideas for a clever answer. The TV crew came to our table and asked my friends and I what our plans were, and I burst out with an exclamation that we should do to Reagan what was done to Caesar…although I must admit, I didn’t express myself too eloquently. Instead, it was just teen-age me saying dumb teen-age things. I was pretty pleased with myself at the time, very sure that no one could top what I said. I don’t really remember the rest of the evening-presumably, I hung out, saw a band play and probably tried to meet college girls.
I forgot about what I said-didn’t think there was too much to ponder on, really. A few weeks passed uneventfully. I played around with theater when I was in High School-the production at the time was Jesus Christ Superstar. One day, practice let out early and my mother showed up (she wasn’t in the hospital yet). Usually she picked me up late, and practice let out early-so this meant she was realy early. And that meant, of course, that I was in trouble. The thing was, I couldn’t for the life of me think of what it could be.
It turned out that, whatever the problem was, there were men at the house who wanted to talk to me-and my mother couldn’t tell me about what. That was particularly chilling-as my mother was my only real advocate. I racked my brains for what it could all be about this time.
Two men waited for me in my own house. One was a fat guy with a broken arm-local law enforcement. The other was a poster child for the SS: gigantic, dressed in a dark suit and tie, square jaw, perfectly combed blond hair and blue eyes. He asked me if I was who I was and then told me to take a seat-again, this was in my own home. It turned out he was FBI and they were investigating me. They had seen the film footage where I made my comical remarks about the Ides of March. Remarks, I would like to reiterate, that were obviously made in jest. This from a local show in a small town on a Friday night on a station that no one (or almost no one, it would seem) watched. I was too shocked to be scared-the situation was surreal, like watching myself in some weird indie movie.
What I said was against the law. What about freedom of speech? Well, apparently, that’s open to interpretation. Technically, because of legislation enacted during the Kennedy administration, I was on the wrong side of the law-again. A lot of people today have lionized Reagan and his era as some sort of Golden Age. It’s their answer to the Kennedy Camelot. Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t that great. The nation was reeling from recession, the Cold War was stepped up so that WWIII and subsequent nuclear Armageddon seemed inevitable. All the environmental concerns I was raised in during my 1970s’s childhood were tossed out the window. Callow materialism gripped the land-the hippies had grown up to sell insurance and bought their kids designer clothes.
Here I was, a fourteen year old boy, trying to hold his own in the world, and the FBI decided I was enough of a threat to national security that I was worth investigating. They said the reason it took them so long to find me (two weeks or so) was because they assumed I was in college. After that, they looked through local High School year books and there I was-positively identified by a school teacher that was trying to date my mother. They knew who I was, where I lived, who my associates were. They took photos of me: my front and my profile. They gave me a hand-writing test. I was on record. Nothing else came pursuant; fortunately, I lived in the US and so a black bag wasn’t put over my head and I wasn’t dragged off into anonymous oblivion for insulting El Presidente.
When they left it took awhile for me to realize no real prosecution was going to take place. A colossal sense of relief fell on me as I felt that for the first time in recent memory, I was given a break. My father called and asked me what I’d done now. Nothing. I’d done nothing. Except open my stupid teen-age mouth and say stupid teen-age things. And to my surprise, Big Brother really was watching.
Years later, the US government talked its citizenry into going to war with the nation of Iraq. They did so with fraudulent evidence and deliberate fabrication of the facts. As a result, thousands died (20% of the casualties were children, by the way) and millions were displaced. Illicit spying on Americans by their own government was engaged-a person I know even said “as long as you’re not doing anything, what do you care?” Under the excuse of war, kidnapping and torture were also employed by a government that people assume is responsiblebecause they assume it is accountable. Countries are destroyed and private corporations are given contracts to re-build them. The cost of oil triples. Health care sky-rockets. The free press is just another business interested in profits. And the pockets of one percent or so of the population are lined with yet more gold.
Sometimes, I look back at myself when I was fourteen-1984. It was one of the most formative years of my life. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin: “Those who are willing to sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.”Read More