Can we agree that we live in perilous times? Maybe not Franco-Prussian War perilous. But at least peri-perilous. I know I’m terrified most of the time, and not just because of those Eddie Money Geico commercials.
OK, so the U.S. attorney general has assured Americans that the White House will not shoot fire from the sky at citizen noncombatants. And it’s not like he’d lie about that. However, he nowise defined what it means to be a “noncombatant.” Are you, dear reader, a “noncombatant”? Are you certain? Don’t you first have to know whether you’re at war before answering such a question? I think so. And many of you will learn the answer to that question while pursuing your studies.
Allow me to provide some context.
I’m old enough to remember when David Letterman was funny. Back when man first learned to make fire, when dinosaurs roamed the Staten Island Mall, when Stupid Pet Tricks weren't merely stupid but some pre-post-ironic commentary on Middle America — yes, even before climate change was like a thing, Dave’s audience was composed of robust and bibulous college kids just like you. But not like you. Because you’re you, yes? And they, they were legions of debauched hooligans whose idea of a “good time” now staggers the imaginations of Chicago aldermen and megachurch preachers alike. (I would go into detail, but this is a family website, and even my euphemisms would induce seizures in garden gnomes.)
Fast forward to today, which, granted, is just yesterday's tomorrow, and tomorrow I'm supposed to be in Jersey. But today, “bad behavior” has been redefined. Parents no longer worry whether their daughter will come home from her Ivy League school “expecting,” or with a smug hobo named Earl. They no longer shudder at the thought of bailing their first-born son out of a Mexican jail for “familiar touching” of the mayor’s daughter, or for hiding baggies in places normally reserved for gastroenterologists.
It's 2013, and in 2013 contraception is as accessible as a communist in an English department, and the mayor’s daughter owns a posh Dunkin Donuts in La Jolla. And the war on drugs? It's been replaced by the war on . . . everything else.
One advantage to the old ways was that we could all agree where the foul lines were drawn — what was naughty and what was nice, what was sick and twisted and what was just an old episode of Hee Haw. Gross behavior was strangely uniform in its repellant nature, and we could all be appalled as a community, knowing whom to stigmatize, whom to shun, whom to marry off to that "cousin" who looks like no one else in the family.
Good times . . . good times . . .
But no longer. Today, destructive behaviors have been redefined by our government, by those civil servants whose job it is to chastise, humiliate, and reeducate. The eyes of the State are upon you, and you may be breaking laws you didn’t even know existed, rules you had no idea were — like climate change — a thing. Parents can no longer keep up with all the ways their kids can go wrong and so just sink into a state of ennui and acedia, now available gluten-free.
So I offer a warning to those of you busy studying, pursuing your dreams, convinced you're of no interest to the authorities, "off the grid" — or perhaps off to the Caribbean or Commack, Long Island, for “a good time” on Spring Break. With your guard down, and your guardians far away, you may be unwittingly violating the rules of engagement that have been set by such vice admirals of public morals as Mayor Bloomberg of New York, the First Lady, the current vice president, at least one previous vice president, and the editorial pages of most major news organs not currently being sold to the Philippines in exchange for jai-alai equipment.
• Have you been known to let your air conditioning run incessantly, and at temps that would allow you to hang meat?
• Do you regularly order the Egregious Big Slurp, even though your A1c currently goes to 11?
• Do you think a trans fat is some kind of protected minority?
• Do you think Prius is a cure for benign prostatic hyperplasia?
• Do you like to relax with a good cigar and a copy of Leviticus 15?
• Do you pour enough salt on your food to make Lot’s wife look like a phony?
• Do you think an AK-47 makes a nice Valentine’s Day gift, and that an ammo clip of fewer than 50 bullets is a waste of a good Saturday?
• Is your idea of recycling what Lance Armstrong will have to do if he wants all those medals back?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, or just started drifting off, wondering if this whole “Internet” thing is a fad that’s gotten way out of hand, like college or flossing, you're at war with our culture — thus a citizen combatant, and in the government’s crosshairs.
How can you protect yourself from a sudden burst of fire headed in your general direction?
Here are some quick tips.
- Your carbon footprint is probably on record somewhere at Langley or the Dean's office. To obscure any evidence of its growth, consider buying this nifty gadget. Also tell whomever may ask that you helped facilitate the Current TV sale to Al Jazeera.
- Let's say your BMI has more digits than a circus act at Chernobyl, or you just happen to enjoy a liter of Super Fizz and a barrel or two of potato chips every now and again. Announce that you're running for governor of New Jersey and promise you'll give the president a big hug when it counts. Also let it be known that you saw Sleeper and are getting a jump on the science.
- Remember to hide your pornography. Don't give me that look. You know what I mean — Gun and Ammo, Field and Stream, RifleShooter. Tuck them inside the pages of Yoga or Tricycle and you should be fine. But if you do get caught with the stuff, insist that you never read the articles but only look at the pictures.
- Smoke only those substances that can be prescribed by an orthodontist in Oregon.
- Beware your "study group" friends and traveling companions. They may be double agents. One way to out them is to ask "telling" questions: "What's better for the flu: Oreos or gummi bears?" "Who was the first man to shoot a penguin from a speed boat?" "Is it all right to mix paper, plastic, and fissionable materials?" If you receive by way of response a blank stare — run. Run like you're being chased by someone from The View.
But let's say it's too late: you've been outed by the school paper, the Crimson Lapdog, as an enviro-criminal, a junk-food junkie, a gun nut. Signals are relayed to Washington. A meeting is held in an undisclosed location. Decisions are made. Buttons are pushed. Faces are made. Aspersions are cast. Kidneys are transplanted. Strange dances go viral on the Google. In short, you're given the virtual mark of Cain. Suddenly, you hear a strange whistling sound just east of Eden — a heat-seeking missile singing its sad song.
Well, you can get on your cell and confess to your parents that the family dog was never lost, just sold to a neighbor kid for an exfoliating mitt and season 4 of The Simpsons. Or you can pull on one of these cool hats. (Full disclosure: they're not all that reliable. Don't ask. I said don't ask.)
You can also try whipping up a quick post on Facebook, to the effect that your windmill came broken in the mail and you're having trouble coping. (Attach a photo of a puppy or a sad clown.) If time is on your side, the authorities may cut you some slack.
Let's say you manage to elude detection but still fear for your future. Consider switching your major to film or theater, with an eye toward becoming one of those celebrity megastars. Then you can drive a Lamborghini to your AA meetings, smoke like a 30-year-old barbecue, eat pork-fried meningitis, shoot real pigeons in church with an Uzi, throw away more shoes than there are feet in Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha,” and buy a house that takes the power of ten thousand suns to heat -- just so long as you make one of those stupid YouTube videos come election time making fun of Sarah Palin and George W. Bush.
In which case, tomorrow is all rainbows and unicorns.