|19th century French mugshot (MMA)|
Talk about your unnecessary and wasteful government meddling. Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan is appealing a judge's overturning of Illinois' community notification law — one of those laws modeled after New York state's "Megan's Law," requiring that local residents be informed when convicted sex offenders move into their neighborhoods.
Is that really necessary? You mean there are people who don't just automatically assume that their neighbors are criminals and perverts? Who smile and greet them over the hedges without wondering what sort of nightmare atrocities they are secretly perpetrating behind their ghastly floral-print curtains? Who don't glance into their open garages, searching for pentagrams and manacles and drums of acid?
I don't believe it.
For my part, I am always on constant alert for criminal activity on the part of my neighbors, without any prompting from governmental authorities. In fact, I wish they would notify me about the neighbors who definitely aren't criminals, so I could stop worrying about them.
As it is, the slightest sound from next door and I am ready to snap into action.
"Honey, call DCFS!" I yell, leaping from my easy chair and waving my index finger. "The Schmendersons are abusing their kids again."
"The Schmendersons don't have any kids," my wife replies, wearily.
"Aha! So you've fallen for their little scheme," I say, eyes glittering. "That's just what they want you to think, isn't it? The kids are chained in the basement, weaving baskets, waiting for us to rescue them."
|Metropolian Museum of Art|
"The Schmendersons don't have a basement," my wife says. "We've been through this."
"Aha! So you've fallen for . . ." I begin, but she cuts me off with a harsh look.
In addition to being suspicious by nature, I can't stand the thought of being caught unaware. I've seen too many stories where, the day after the maniac is brought into the police station, screeching and frothing in a cage, the boob neighbors are trotted out blinking before the bank of news cameras.
"Gee, he seemed so normal," they gibber. "Yup, I heard those screams and thuds and struggling sounds in the middle of the night, and something that sounded like a radial saw. But I just thought it was the television."
I can see the headline: "Schmenderson House of Horror" with my picture low on the page: eyes wide, mouth agape, tie under my ear, and the caption, "Neighbor: 'I suspected nothing.'"
This must be avoided. Careful monitoring of one's neighbors, after all, is one of the stoutest corner posts of civilization.
That's why so many wackos come out of farm country and the empty expanse of the Great Plains. They are unobserved, left to their own devices, and they know it. If Ted Kaczynski had lived here, not in rural Montana, people up and down his street would have turned him in as a Unabomber suspect years ago.
"I happened to be walking my dog in the breezeway next to his garage," the hero would report. "And I heard a funny noise. So I stacked some boxes together and stood on them so I could look through the transom. And sure enough, there was Ted, at his workbench, filing away at something that looked kinda like the trigger mechanism for a bomb. So I went through his garbage, and there was a receipt for . . ."
Constant vigilance, after all, is what makes for a safe society. We are always being tormented with the statistics from crime-free Japan, where there are about 12 murders a year and where if you drop your wallet on the street good samaritans will wrestle each other to see who gets the honor of returning it to you, elaborately gift-wrapped. What we aren't told about is the intense effort required to maintain that level of safety. When my brother moved to Tokyo, he didn't know the proper way to wrap his garbage when he threw it away. He discovered the proper way, however, after his neighbors formally complained to his boss, who then called him on the carpet and told him to get with the program.
Just this year, our neighbors to the west built a nine-foot wooden fence between our properties, without so much as a "boo" to us beforehand. "You think they are going to top it off with searchlights and concertina wire?" I asked my wife, as we watched the monstrosity going up like worried East Germans monitoring construction of the Berlin Wall. It was my impression that the wall was about two feet over code, and we briefly considered turning them in to the city.
But that seemed so unneighborly. You don't want to antagonize people — you never know who you're dealing with. Psychotics are everywhere, waiting to explode at the slightest provocation.
And besides, I figure the wall protects us from them as much as it protects them from us. And a good thing, too. I've had my doubts about them. They are quiet people. They keep to themselves. That's always a sure sign of trouble.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 12, 1996