You probably don’t know this, but of the 1,944 reports of suspicious activity in New York City last year, 1,212 can actually be attributed to me alone. I was always on the lookout. If someone said, “Good morning, Jason,” I’d answer, “Yes, we must indeed keep a watchful eye on the enemies of civilization who walk among us.” When I look back on my year of vigilance, certain accomplishments seem to stand out.
The man seated next to me on the N was writing—but not on ordinary lined paper. The words were distributed in a grid of some sort, with the segmented rows and columns intersecting at shared letters. I suspected that, once the cipher was filled in, the words would reveal something about a plot, and, chillingly, I was right: “Transfix algae glee. Select Reaganomics barker. Wipe nearness croutons stationary Clarkson.” And on and on. I tried to stay calm. I debated whether I should strike up a conversation with this person just so he’d know he wasn’t blending in as well as he thought. Would that fluster him enough to make him abort his mission, or would he simply unleash, right then and there, the Armageddon he had stashed in his Men’s Wearhouse shopping bag? I decided that the smartest course of action was to notify the conductor, so I did. She just rolled her eyes at me as if to say, “When will these wicked people give up their murderous enterprises?” Sadly, I had no answer.
The evening news had no report of a nuclear device being set off. You’re welcome, Tri-State Area.
On a routine patrol of national landmarks, I spotted a cluster of five so-called tourists casing the Empire State Building. Could it have been mere coincidence that, in all the pictures they took of each other, that particular historic skyscraper just happened to be in the background? They noticed I had been looking at them and asked if I would take a group shot. “Sure,” I said. While pretending to position them in the viewfinder, I discreetly scrolled through the camera’s stored photos. It was just as I thought: The Empire State Building was only one of the targets. The conspirators had already collected surveillance images of the Chrysler Building, the Guggenheim, Angelina Jolie’s wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s, breakdancers near Central Park, and some guy pointing at his beer in a hotel room. I immediately called the police. Since this report was the 342nd such call I’d already made that year, I was automatically put into the priority voicemail that had been set up especially for me.
I witnessed a businessman using a laptop computer. I notified the FBI.
At Union Square, I saw a police officer patrolling the subway platform—but I wasn’t necessarily buying it. I remembered how a policewoman barged in on my bachelor party several years ago. For reasons the precinct captain would later be unable to explain, the officer tore off her leggings in one swipe and began gyrating to Mötley Crüe’s “Dr. Feelgood.” It’s one thing for a lone pervert to infiltrate a private get-together; it’s quite another for a coordinated group of criminals to appropriate our trusted law-enforcement uniforms. So, I walked over to the cop and asked if he knew the Al Qaeda secret handshake. See, if he said yes, he would give himself away as a terrorist; if he said no, he would still give himself away, because who else besides a member of Al Qaeda would need to lie about it? Apparently, a third answer is, “Have you been drinking this evening, sir?”
A pregnant woman boarded the M6 bus and sat down across from me. I considered her belly. Was I seeing something? Should I say something? What is a womb nowadays, a snug gestation chamber or nature’s ammo dump? What made me nervous was the fact that the more I stared at her, the more she fidgeted. It was as if mere intense observation and note-taking by a total stranger was enough to make her uneasy. I couldn’t have an intrauterine dirty bomb on my conscience. I had to tell the authorities. I didn’t think they’d do anything more than ask her some questions or detain her at Guantánamo until she brought the baby to term, but I couldn’t do nothing. Nothing is just what they want.
I phoned in a tip to the homeland-security hotline. I’d been acting suspiciously lately. I’m probably harmless, but you can’t always tell. I could be anyone.