Things look a lot different when you're on high alert

November 20, 2001|By Mark Cloud

ATLANTA - I'm on high alert. Don't ask me for what. I can't reveal that.

Suffice it to say that I have concluded, based on information developed, that someone somewhere could somehow do something really, really, really bad sometime. And don't ask me the source of my information. You'll just have to trust me when I say that it's credible.

I can, however, tell you some of the things I've been doing while I've been on high alert.

First, I've stopped using talcum powder after showering. Sure, I'm not quite as fresh as I used to be - moister than I prefer in certain areas - but who knows what's in that powder. As I like to say, better chafe than sorry.

I've also instituted a new mail-gathering technique. Now, rather than simply grabbing the mail out of my mailbox and then opening it on the kitchen counter, I have my wife do these things.

Further, I've instructed her to place any suspicious items - letters without a return address, envelopes containing anthrax spores, anything from Ed McMahon - into a sealed plastic baggie and then to hurl the baggie onto our neighbor's property.

Although I don't live in California, I've been keeping an eagle eye on things each day as I cross the pedestrian bridge leading to the food court where I get lunch.

Just the other day, I saw something suspicious near the entrance to the bridge and reported it to the mall security guard.

Fortunately, it turned out to be just a half-eaten hotdog that had been lying near a trashcan for a couple of days.

Thanks to my alertness, the guard was able to take care of any threat it posed by simply kicking it off the edge of the foot bridge.

And at work one day, I saw a guy trying to enter the building without an ID card.

I stopped him and asked to see his identification.

As he stepped past me into the elevator, he said something about being my boss and how we don't have ID cards anyway.

But before the elevator doors closed in my face, I told him that I had credible information and was on the highest alert and would be watching him.

Most recently, though, I've primarily been on alert for any doctors in Oregon who give drugs to terminally ill patients to help them carry out their wish to die peacefully and painlessly.

There's no bigger threat to our country's safety right now than when two doctors agree that a patient has less than six months to live, has voluntarily chosen to die and is able to make health care decisions.

Those simply aren't the kinds of decisions that we American citizens can make on our own.

We need the federal government to intervene in that sort of situation because ... because ... it's not legitimate. And don't ask me why it's not legitimate, you'll just have to trust me that I have credible information on that one.

I must clarify that even though I'm on high alert, I've also returned to a state of normalcy.

Which is to say that I'm once again doing everything I used to do before I started being highly alert, only I'm now doing it with a sense of doom and foreboding, a vague and ambiguous unease, an inarticulable gnawing fear in my gut.

Don't ask me how long I will be in this normal yet highly alert state. That sort of credible time-line information has not yet been developed.

Mark Cloud is a staff attorney for the Georgia Court of Appeals and a free-lance writer. He lives in Atlanta.

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