Pictures at an Interrogation

Dear Attorney General John Ashcroft, Thank you for putting up the surveillance camera in my building’s laundry room.

I know you didn’t personally choose that particular camera from the back of some Soldier of Fortune magazine and mount it on the wall all by yourself. You have better things to do, like hunting down Al Qaeda suspects and praying in your office. But my super would not have been inspired to install 27 cameras around my apartment house if you hadn’t created the Patriot Act. It’s because of this that I need your help.

See, today, old Mrs. Haversbruck left her rubber girdle melted all over the only dryer that wasn’t already going, and I had 20 minutes to dry my clothes before leaving for traffic court. Ordinarily, I would have ripped Mrs. Haversbruck’s gooey rubber undergarment out of the now useless dryer, stomped on it, removed the duds from the other dryer, dried my clothes in that, then kicked the hell out of both dryers, to teach them a lesson. This would have freed me up to get to court in time to weasel out of another $175 traffic ticket, and go off whistling a happy tune.

But life after 9/11 is not so simple, Mr. Ashcroft. Today, I remembered your camera. I didn’t want you to think I was some fanatically marginal queer (which I was until recently). So here I am, Mr. A, sitting patiently, waiting for the dryer to finish, and missing my court date. They’ll probably issue a bench warrant for me.

All this makes me lastingly enraged at Mrs. Haversbruck, who, to my knowledge, has never harmed a fly. How should I deal with my anger, Mr. Ashcroft?

Dear Mr. Ashcroft,

Kudos for answering my anger management problem so quickly!

You see, I’ve just read about your prosecutions of U.S. citizens José Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, both jailed indefinitely without charges or access to attorneys because you’ve designated them “enemy combatants.” Nifty idea! That’s what I’m going to do to old Mrs. Haversbruck! Now, when you look into my laundry room, I’ll be sitting there demurely, but with a certain fixed expression on my face, as I internalize your police state:

Eight plainclothes agents pound on Mrs. Haversbruck’s door. A trusting soul, she lets them in. “Grace Haversbruck? We believe you’ve planted anthrax-laced undies in a public rotating de-moisturizing device. Come with us, terrorist.”

Mrs. Haversbruck’s calico cat mews satanically, and Mrs. Haversbruck is taken to a detention facility, far from her family. No laundry privileges — ha!

Honorable Mr. A,

Funny, but I no longer feel like visualizing world peace. The more I sit here in the laundry room, the more I feel like visualizing Mrs. Haversbruck’s detention.

Day 2. For hours, soldiers mercilessly interrogate Mrs. Haversbruck, dressed only in a melted girdle. “Why do you want to kill us, Mrs. Haversbruck? That’s not an American name. Were you born in this country? Were you wearing a red girdle when you marched in the 1946 May Day Parade?”

I do not allow Mrs. Haversbruck to see her attorneys, who threaten to take me to court. Following your example, I face them down. “Mrs. Haversbruck don’t need no stinkin’ trial,” I sneer to some ACLU thug, stubbing my cigarette out on his briefcase. Paraphrasing one of your own attorneys before the Supreme Court, I add: “The old doll’s interrogation gives her the only chance she needs to explain herself.”

But Mrs. Haversbruck remains suspiciously quiet, asking only that someone feed her cat.

Yoo hoo, Mr. Ashcroft,

See me? I’m the one by the Maytags, reading The New York Times. It’s loaded with good ideas on how to treat prisoners. Your name isn’t always mentioned, Mr. A. Still, your presence is deeply felt.

Haversbruck Detention, Day 9. Suspect refuses to cooperate. We’ve tried everything. Kept lights on 24/7 in suspect’s three by four-foot cell. Woke suspect up by throwing vicious police at her.

I can’t tell you about the electrodes, Mr. A.— that’s classified. But, following the example America has set with the Koran, we ripped up a Torah in the suspect’s presence. This produced marked results, as the terrorist began hurling invectives at us in a frighteningly ethnic manner. We have no other choice now but to regard her as an enemy combatant.

Dear Mr. Ashcroft,

Here in the laundry room, there’s time to think. I think I should kill old Mrs. Haversbruck. I know you’ll understand. See, the more Mrs. Haversbruck suffers, the more evil I see her become.

Not to worry, Mr. A. She won’t be missed. Everything done to Mrs. Haversbruck has already happened to Iraqi and Guantánamo prisoners, and the American detainees. Lots of it in the mainstream media, and nobody here bats an eye.

Joke: Why did the “good” Germans, after World War II, keep denying they’d known what went on in the camps? Ready? They’d all been watching Fox News!

Seriously, Mr. A. I am now ready to face my parking ticket and possible jail term. But, since we’ve shared so much, could you maybe arrange some sort of community service for me? Like, going around the city, putting up surveillance cameras?

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