Remember When Everyone Wasn’t in Contact With the Russians?

First it was reported that the National Security Adviser had discussed sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador.  Then it turned out that the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser had held numerous meetings with the Russian ambassador, supposedly to establish a line of communication with the Kremlin by connecting two cans with a really long string.  Then it was rumored that the President’s campaign manager had met with Russian intelligence officials, not “knowingly” but thinking they were landscapers giving an estimate on clearing brush in the campaign manager’s backyard.

A foreign policy adviser to the campaign denied having meetings with Russian officials, but then admitted meeting with the Russian ambassador, explaining that “meetings” is totally different from “meeting” because one is plural and the other is singular.  And it was rumored that the founder of a major security company secretly met with an unidentified Russian rumored to be close to the Russian President, and while it was rumored that the founder was not involved in the Presidential campaign, he was rumored to have been a major contributor, and was rumored to have been close to the President’s chief strategist, and was even rumored to be the brother of the President’s education secretary.

The Attorney General, when he was advising the campaign, had spoken twice with the Russian ambassador, but claimed he had done so not as campaign manager but as the result of a wrong number.  And a former adviser to the President admitted that he’d communicated with a hacker persona called “Guccifer 2.0” that may have been a front for Russian intelligence, but could have just as easily been a new operating system for men’s leather shoes.

This was all bad enough.  But then the mayor of my town was said to have spoken to the Russian ambassador about weakening NATO and adding a traffic signal at that busy intersection near the supermarket.  And my daughter’s math teacher was reported to have sold arms and protractors to the Russians for $250 million.  Our favorite pizzeria was temporarily closed while the FBI reviewed the sauce for microphones.  And even the greeter at our Walmart was questioned because a customer—exactly who was never revealed—testified that instead of “Hello, welcome to Walmart,” the greeter had said “Zdravstvuyte, dobro pozhalovat’ v’Walmart.”

A special investigator appointed by Congress issued a subpoena to the local library branch for “records of all patrons who borrowed War and Peace or any other ridiculously long Russian novel” (although that subpoena was eventually quashed by U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit).  And my paperboy was implicated after his smartphone was confiscated by federal agents working undercover (although they kept getting so many popup notifications to backup to the cloud that they gave up).  There were even reports that my neighbor had been in talks with Russian scientists about a new type of genetically engineered grass seed that would give him the nicest looking lawn on the block.

These reports, releases, revelations, and rumors pommeled me, one after another, for months.  I felt like I was living not in America but in a far-flung province of the Russian Empire.  Then one morning I woke up feeling especially lonely and sad.  I realized that everyone—from the very top levels of government, to those neighbors who leave their garbage cans out by the street even though it’s not garbage day—had been in contact with the Russians.

Everyone, that is, except me.

Remember When You Could Fire the FBI Director Without Getting a Lot of Flak?

So the President has fired the FBI Director.  I’m surprised it took this long.  Maybe the FBI Director owed the President money for a lost bet, and the President figured as long as the Director was still in Washington, I’ll have a better chance of collecting.

In the second season of The Apprentice, there was an episode where the contestants were tasked with creating a dog grooming business.  at the end of the episode the businesses were reviewed by the host, our current President, and he decided that they very worst performance was that of a contest named Stacy.  “Your charity was the Kitty Kat Shelter.  Why would dogs care about cats?  Stacy, you’re fired.”

Almost immediately, there were calls to appoint a special investigator to investigate Stacy’s ties to cats.  It turned out that two months before she appeared on The Apprentice, Stacy had met in a hotel room with a Maine Coon and two tabbies.  Her aides had originally denied the meeting but a few gray and orange hairs were found on her jacket.

Then there were calls to investigate the cats.  At first no one could find them.  But one of the cats was caught posting photos on Facebook of a party where Stacy and the President were in attendance.  The cat was issued a subpoena to testify before Congress, but his attorney sent a message that his client was sleeping and would not awake for several years.

Then there arose a rumor that there were videos of the cats paying Stacy in return for her designating the Kitty Kat Shelter as the beneficiary of the dog grooming business on The Apprentice.  The videos were also subpoenaed.  But the cat’s attorney replied that the tapes were no longer in existence, but were of the cats just squeezing into baskets and so were completely useless (although still very cute).

The whole affair was dying down and the media were about to give up and go back to covering Nicole Kidman’s strange clapping at the Academy Awards.  But then they got a break.  The President tweeted that “These cats better hope their breath doesn’t smell like tuna fish!”  This tweet was considered unusually enigmatic, even for the President, and breathed new life into the investigation.  Soon a connection through a company that manufactured tuna fish was revealed.  It turned out that the President, early in his career as a real estate developer has owned a piece of a tuna fish company and had used cats for quality control.  When the cats complained about the low wages and infrequent changes of kitty litter, he locked them in a room and made them taste tuna fish all day long, permitting only 12 hours a day for naps.

After the company went bankrupt and the cats escaped when someone opened the door to grab the paper, the cats later blackmailed the President into paying them.  So he came up with a scheme to funnel money raised on The Apprentice to these cats, using Stacy as a pawn.  When Stacy threatened to reveal the real reason why a dog grooming business was benefiting a bunch of cats, the President fired her, claiming the reason was her poor management skills and bad decision-making.

When all was revealed it had the making of the greatest scandal since Watergate, encompassing all levels of government and the animal kingdom.  No one thought that the President would be able to bounce back.  But then House of Representatives passed a bill cutting aid to people who clap strangely (and their dependents) and everyone forgot about Stacygate.

Happy Mother’s Day to all Mothers!

Remember When the President Lived at the White House?

It was nearly 100 days into his presidency, and Donald Trump had spent half of his weekends as president at a private resort in Florida.  There, in addition to playing golf, he held cabinet meetings, met with foreign dignitaries, and, while enjoying a candlelit dinner on the patio, reviewed evidence of North Korea’s ballistic missile testing.  Many people criticized him for not spending enough time at the traditional home office of the nation’s chief executive.  But the press secretary assured the nation that the president “carries the apparatus of the White House” wherever he goes.

As the weekend trips to Florida continued, the criticism continued.  They complained and complained and drew charts and tables showing how much more President Trump spent on travel than President Obama, than Franklin Roosevelt, than Abraham Lincoln.  On the last day of Trump’s presidency, a major newspaper posted a graphic showing that, on average, Trump spent more on travel in five minutes than George Washington did in his entire life.  And so it was believed that this was the end of the dual residence president.

But the next president wanted to spend weekends in a cabin in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  Although a cabin in the woods was much quieter a fancy Palm Beach resort, so many tree houses had to be built to house the secret service, White House staff, and visiting dignitaries that the eastern meadowlarks and three-toed woodpeckers had to be relocated to the nearest Best Western, to the annoyance of animal rights advocates and hotel cleaning staff.

People figured that after a resort president and a nature president, it would be the end of the president spending half his time as president living someplace other than the White House.  But the next president announced in his inauguration speech that he would be spending weekends in a cave.  He assured the American people that because the cave had only one entry way, far fewer secret service agents would be required.  And this was true, although cabinet members disliked having to sit upon rocks during meetings rather than chairs.

After the cavern president, people were no longer surprised at the president choosing to spend time at an alternate residence.  In fact, they began to expect it.  Getting to live wherever the president wanted became one of the perks and political prizes of winning the election.  During the presidential campaign season, political commentators would analyze the candidates’ likely choice of residence alongside their views on domestic and foreign policy.  And it was not uncommon to overhear ordinary people saying things like, “Yes, I think it’s time that America had a president who lived in the Cinderella Castle at Disney World.”

The “Presidential Residence Agent” became a permanent position on every presidential campaign staff as the candidates became more and more creative in their choice of residence.  The effort paid off.  One president wanted to spend his term voyaging under the seas like Captain Nemo. The army corps of engineers built a special submarine residence called the Nautilus which the radical liberal Marxist Leninist media dubbed the “Thought-a-Less.”  And after that was a president who opted for a crystal palace at the North Pole, modeled after Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. There was international tension because of the proximity to the Russian border. But we removed our opposition to Russia’s plan to turn the Caspian Sea into a giant samovar, and crisis was averted.

And then there was the president who did not like to travel.  Don’t ask me how he got elected.  Obviously someone tampered with the voting booths.  But nevertheless there he was, ready to move in to the White House and occupy it as his only residence…and it turned out that someone else was there.  The White House had been shunned as a residence for so long that it had been leased to a group of elephant trainers, and the new president and his family had to live at the Hampton Inn in a room next to the eastern meadowlarks and three-toed woodpeckers.

———————

Sources:

https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2017-03-20/spicer-golf-part-of-being-president-but-potus-doesnt-always-play-on-trips-to-courses

http://www.adirondack.net/wildlife/birding/

Remember When You Could Have a Private Email Server?

I am going to make a confession right now. When I was a cashier at 7-11 one summer years ago, I had a private email server. There, I said it. My actions were wrong and I am sorry.

When I commenced employment in that position, I had been provided with an email account on the store’s server installed right behind the Slurpee machine. But I hardly ever used that account. At work I had to stand up and sell people coffee, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and, of course, Slurpees. It was usually so busy that I had not any time to check email, and at the end of my shift at 10 p.m., I had to quickly bring that day’s leftover doughnuts to my friends who were starving and had money only for beer.

So it was a matter of circumstance that I hired a consultant to set up an email server at my home. Do not think that it was easy. I was still living with my parents and in the same bedroom I’d had since childhood, with the Disney character wallpaper, Superman sheets on the bed, and Thundercats light switch cover that I’d obtained as a favor in a Happy Meal. There was not a lot of space in the closet and I had to relocate my comic books and Boy Scout uniform at considerable inconvenience both to myself and my staff.

After a long day at the cash register I would return home to conduct my business. As you will see from the more than 40,000 emails that have been turned over to the State Department, I never discussed anything classified or that would compromise national security. The Saudis were interested only in some Power Bars, and the photos of potential drone strike targets were in fact from a particularly tense game of Battleship that to this day I swear I played with integrity.

Much has been made of Protocol 32, which mandates, in pertinent part, that all 7-11 business must be conducted on 7-11 servers. I do not deny the text of the rule, and since that time my staff and I have worked tirelessly to come up with a decent excuse. The reason I did not strictly follow the rule is that I did not read it. The package of materials that I received during orientation was shoved under my bed, and in the midst of all my duties and feeding my drunk friends free stale doughnuts I forgot about the rules, until my mother last year served me with a demand to take all my “junk” out of my old room or else I would face environmental clean up costs.

Nevertheless, my conducting of 7-11 business on a private email server was a violation of the rules, and for that I am sincerely sorry. But I assure you that at no point was the nation put at risk. I never told anyone how long the hot dogs are left on those rotating cylinders or who was really responsible for the irritating music that was always playing over the loud speaker. You can all sleep easy, and I hope that we can now all move past this, into a brighter future where my campaign for register clerk at Pita Pan will not be dogged by distractions that have nothing to do with the real issues.

Remember When People Liked Gluten?

The Scheisskopf Gluten Company was not having a good quarter. None of the recent quarters had been good. Brayden Scheisskopf, the current president, sat in his office, at the large desk made entirely of gluten resin, and pored over the figures in the latest financial sheets that the Chief Financial Officer had emailed him. The numbers were terrible. Sales of gluten had been plummeting for years, and were now so low that even the illegal offshore shell companies were having no effect.

Brayden rubbed his face and stared at the wall of portraits, showing four generations of Scheisskopfs as they oversaw their empire of gluten. He felt their looks of disappointment. “I’m sorry,” he said to them.  But what could he do against the tide of history?  Gluten was just not being consumed anymore. “You know how these things go,” he often said to the shareholders. “First one person decides to go gluten-free, then another. Next thing you know all the restaurants have the letters ‘GF’ on all the items on the menu.”

He opened his top drawer and took out a large bag of gluten chips. He always thought better on gluten. He chewed slowly, savoring the elasticity and springiness of the wheat-extracted protein. Why couldn’t people appreciate that?

Suddenly he sat up. “That’s it!” he shouted to the stern faces in the portraits.

Converting the Scheisskopf Gluten Company’s gluten factory into a theme park took nearly a year and more than a few clever maneuvers in the company’s accounts. But once it was done and “Glutanica” opened for the first time, the critics were silenced.  No one could have anticipated the success of the theme park.

There was a gluten rollercoaster. And kids could have their picture taken with “Glutus,” a giant fluffy grain of wheat, who was really two undocumented workers, one standing and working the legs and the other sitting on his shoulders and working the arms and head, and both dreaming of a better life and a parking space closer to the entrance.

There was also ride where people were strapped into a giant raft and sent down a river of gluten-extract. The substance was far thicker and bouncier than water, and the smell was not altogether unpleasant, somehow combining the odors of corn flakes and cow manure.

In the center of the theme park was a big pit of gluten where the kids could swim and play while the parents could have a few minutes of relief to play with their smartphones, and a ride where people rode on a little carts through a fairy tale castle and shown all the different ways that gluten is used around the world, with mechanical puppets singing, “Gluten glues the world together/Good in nice or stormy weather.”

And there was a large chamber with long elastic bands of gluten, arranged in crisscrossing patterns and in many layers from floor to ceiling, so that kids could climb in it like spiders on a web.  There was a height requirement for adults, too, although this came under some criticism as being age discriminatory, and a lawyer was able to make a name for himself by arguing at the Supreme Court that there was no rational basis why an adult could not enjoy hanging upside down from large bands of gluten as much as a child.

The park’s ticket sales more than offset the loss in sales of edible gluten.  Until the company was sued by Disney.  Apparently, Disney had bought the rights for turning gluten into an amusement park from Michael Scheisskopf, Brayden’s father, in exchange for a trip to Disney World for his whole family.  Brayden remembered that trip, and although it was a shame that Glutanica had to close its doors, no one could argue that the Scheisskopf family had not gotten something valuable in return.

Remember When Presidential Campaigns Did Not Go On Forever?

Presidential campaigns were going on forever.  No sooner would one president be sworn in than people would already start talking about the next president.  It was theorized that the problem was that the campaigns lasted so long that people got bored of all the candidates, including the candidate who eventually won.

So it was decided that the Presidential campaign would last one day.  No one was allowed to do any campaigning – no speeches, no debates, no visits to factories or bakeries or diners or ice cream parlors – until Election Day itself.

Several weeks prior to Election Day, anyone who wanted to be a Presidential candidate could sign up by paying a $2 fee to put their name in the hat.  Then, the day before Election Day, the Chief Justice of the United States would mix up all the names in the hat, and pick two.  These were the two candidates – one Democrat, and one Republican.  It did not matter what these candidate’s real positions were, or what party they had been affiliated  with during their career leading up to the Presidential race.  One had to be the Democrat, and the other had to be the Republican.

These two names were picked at midnight on Election Day, and the first debate was at 5:00 a.m.  The two lucky candidates had to quickly familiarize themselves with the platform that they were supposed to adopt.  The main task was to make sure that they didn’t agree on any issues.  So as they studied their positions from midnight to 5:00 a.m., they often called each other up.  “Hey, so are you against starting that war in whatever that place is?  Oh, you’re for it?  Okay, then I’ll be against it.  Glad I checked.”

After the 5:00 a.m. debate it would be time to raise money and run commercials slinging mud at the other candidate.  Given the little amount of time available to raise funds, checks could not be accepted because of the time required to clear.  Only credit cards, debit cards, and transfers between PayPal accounts would work as valid campaign contributions.

Then at 9:00 a.m., with all the money raised, the two campaigns would set out making TV and radio ads that would cast the other candidate as a totally incompetent and unethical hypocrite who cared more about himself or herself than the American people.  Because there was so little time to produce these ads, there was only time to take an existing ad and splice in the names of the candidates.  The ads were really identical except the two names would be in one order in one video, and the in the reverse order in other video.

Then at noon the two candidates would go on their book tours.  They would appear on talk shows with their new books where they discussed how their simple backgrounds and professional adversity had molded them into the perfect President.  Since there was only one day to appear on the shows, the candidates would have be guests at the same time, sitting at opposite sides of the host’s desk, each holding up their book and sipping from their mugs of coffee.  The host’s main job was to prevent the two candidates from talking at the same time, so the host would turn to one and say, “Now you talk,” while holding up a hand to the other, and then would turn to the other and say, “Okay, now you go.”

At 2:00 p.m. there would be another debate, usually featuring at least one scandal that had been leaked at some point during the day, and the targeted candidate would have an opportunity to look grim and admit that “mistakes were made.”  At 3:00 p.m. the candidates would eat a late lunch at a local restaurant, serving locally grown food on plates manufactured in China.  And by 4:00 p.m. the candidates would be shown at home with their spouses and children so that the American voters could see how ordinary and down to Earth they were.

Finally, at 5:00 p.m. the polls would open.  Americans could vote until 10:00 p.m., at which time the vote tallies would be open to legal challenge.  At 11:00 p.m. any legal challenges had to be ended, and at midnight the new President would be announced.

Everyone would watch the announcement with great excitement.  It would have been a very exciting 24-hours.  And just after the announced winner gave the speech thanking supporters and offering best wishes to the loser, the TV stations would automatically switch to a regularly scheduled program, and no one would speak of campaigns for the next four years.

Remember When It Was Safe to Eat Processed Meat?

The President of the Happy Swine Processed Meat Company was not having one of his better days.  He sat at his desk, atop which stood an anthropomorphic plastic sausage, the company’s mascot, head in his hands.  There was a knock at the door and in walked the President’s assistant.

IMG_1065.JPG “Sir, I came as soon as I heard,” the assistant said.  “I knew we could never trust the World Health Organization.  And after all the nice things we said about it.  How dare they say that eating processed meats causes cancer?  That should be a matter of personal choice.”

The President shook his head.  “No, it’s over.”  He looked at the mascot, a sausage beaming a huge smile.  “We are just going to have to find a different way to bring people the magic of processed meat.”

The marketing campaign for the “Desk Sausage” was received initially with skepticism.  The idea of a having a real sausage on your desk to keep your papers from flying off was seen as rather unorthodox, especially since the sausage would leave little grease stains on anything it touched.  Yet thanks to a couple of intrepid celebrities, within weeks everyone had a Desk Sausage on their desk.

“I don’t know how I got anything done without it,” said one customer in one of those candid customer commercials.  “I can’t explain it,” said another.  “It just makes you want to do more work.”  Said a third, “The Desk Sausage has changed the way business is done.  We recommend it to all our clients.”

Soon the Happy Swine Processed Meat Company branched out into other products, making Desk Bacon, used to cushion one’s elbows from an especially hard desk surface, and Desk Salami, which was pulled out of dispensers like Post-It notes, and used as bookmarks, or placed between the fingers as a way to reduce stress during a hectic day.

One could travel the entire country and not find an office untouched by Happy Swine office products.  As people lunched on kale, beet greens and chard, they had sausage, salami and bacon keeping their work space organized and chic.  Desk Hot Dogs were particularly good monitor risers, and the gift that everyone wanted that holiday season was the 2016 Corned Beef Planner, known for its distinctive cover and briny pages.

By the following year, Happy Swine office products were global.  It shipped to more than sixty countries, and its products were known for surviving even the longest and most difficult journeys without a single change in appearance.  So successful was the transition, that people forgot that processed meats had once been sandwiched between slices of bread instead of staplers and paper clip caddies.  Happy Swine was more successful than ever, and it now praised the World Health Organization, for breathing life into a dying company.

And then the World Health Organization released its report on kale, and Happy Swine’s unchallenged domination of office gear was at an end.

Remember When You Couldn’t Reconstruct a Rat Brain?

The day we all knew was coming is finally here.  Scientists have reconstructed a rat’s brain.  I immediately phoned my research assistant. “Are you reading this article?” I asked. rat

“Sure am, boss.”

“They’ve really ratcheted up the competition,” I said.  “Time to show the world what we can do.”

“You got it, boss.”

When this news about the rat brain came in, we had already been working on reconstructing a cat brain for some time.  We had hoped to announce our findings before Team Rat announced theirs, but had allowed laziness and a “Game of Thrones” marathon to distract us from our mission.  But time was of the essence now.  There could be no more procrastinating.  I asked my research assistant to show me where we had left off in our work.  He led me to a cardboard box filled with little folded up pieces of paper containing mostly sketches of cats.  I recognized the pen strokes as my own.

We borrowed a neighbor’s cat, a cute little gray and black striped tabby with green eyes, and observed her for a few days. We wrote down everything she did. My assistant and I worked in shifts.

The first step was to program the eating function.  Cats have a very distinctive way of eating.  They won’t eat just anything, and won’t eat it in just any particular way.  The rat brain decision tree, I’ve no doubt, had just one branch: Is it edible? If yes, then eat. But our decision tree had branches upon branches upon branches. Is it food? If so, then is it wet food or dry food? If it is wet food, is it from one of the premium brands or is it that generic store-brand stuff? If it is the generic store-brand stuff, then walk away with nose in the air. If it is the premium brand, has it been placed on a plastic lid not too close to the toe-kick on the lower cabinets?

Next we had to program the cat’s daily rounds about the house. After eating, go from the kitchen, to the dining room, to the living room, to the basement, then circle back along the perimeter. If there was a desk or table in the cat’s path, we had to program jump. If there was anything on the table, we had to program the cat to rub her face against it.

But the trickiest part was programming where the cat would want to sit or lay or curl up in the shape of a woven trivet during the day. There were so many places in the home, and this cat that we had observed seemed to go from spot to spot without rhyme or reason.  It was just impossible to decipher why the cat chose the back of the couch in one moment, and then the owner’s bed in another moment, and then the middle of the kitchen floor in another moment. Only by resorting to Heisenberg Uncertainty and related laws of quantum physics could we introduce enough randomness to simulate the perambulations of a real cat.

At last the reconstructed cat brain was ready.  Consistent with the ethical principles of our field, we invited an audience of actual cat owners and seated them before two screens: one screen showing a text-based description of the actions of the real tabby, and on the other screen was a text generated by our reconstructed cat brain.  We did not the audience which was which.  If we could fool these humans into not being able to tell the difference between the real cat and the computer cat, then our mission would be a success and we could brag to those rat brain scientists.

The programs started, and immediately both screens described the cats as going to sleep.  And when the text “wake up and stretch” appeared 14 hours later, the audience was gone.

Remember When the Internet Was Anonymous?

Today marks four years since I started this blog. Seems like just yesterday. Thank you all who have read this blog and taken the time to comment. I know that I don’t post as often as I used to, but I’ve got a few big projects I’ve been working, and I’m going to share one of them with you very shortly. In the meantime, enjoy this post.

The Director was sitting in his office, enjoying a pumpkin spice latte. He did not like pumpkin flavor, but it was the law of the land that pumpkin flavor must be consumed in the fall.

There was a knock at the door and an intern entered.

“Sir, I’m sorry to bother you. But do you remember when we demanded that all social media websites turn over all of the personal information and preferences of their users? Well now they say they are not producing the information.”

“They’re not? I was afraid of this. All right, time for Plan B.”

“Sir, you don’t mean…”

“Oh, yes, I do. House calls.”

The media at first was skeptical of the government’s new program, whereby they sent government agents to canvass the neighbors, door to door, asking the inhabitants for their personal information. Many pundits thought it an intrusion on people’s privacy, while others thought it a patriotic duty and a chance to expose themselves to some new germs.

Analysts on both sides, however, agreed that people would not want to reveal their personal information to an agent of the government who showed up at their doorstop uninvited and in most cases without even a bottle of wine or piece of fancy cheese wrapped up in nice paper.

So they were really surprised by the responses. People provided their names and ages, of course, and their email addresses and phone numbers, and where they like to shop, and what they think about the things that other people’s kids do, versus the things that their own kids do. They asked about music tastes and food tastes and whether they were more likely to choose a table or a booth when offered both at a diner.

The program was so successful and the responses so thorough, that the government turned it into a reality tv show.

“You know, usually I go for the booth. If I’m offered both, I go for the booth.”

“So you’d classify yourself as booth in response to question 19a?”

“Well, now, sometimes I don’t feel like a booth. I gotta be honest, I like booths. But sometimes – I don’t know – I just feel like a table.”

“So would you classify yourself as a hybrid booth/table? There’s a choice for that.”

“Well, you know,” he says with his finger in his mouth, and looking up at the ceiling. “Now that I think about it a little more, I’m not sure if I ever chose a table over a booth when offered both. I think I was thinking of something that happened to my mother. Maybe I really am a booth guy after all.”

In fact, so effective was the government program that the social media websites started offering the government money for the personal data of the citizenry, in hopes of offering content that would attract more viewers. The official answer was no, but then some Congressmen and Senators got into a bit of hot water over selling of personal data to social media companies, and had to do penance by reciting the 80s pop hit single “Safety Dance” a cappella, including all of the instrumental sounds, before every session of Congress.

Remember When Your School Got Its Own Tank?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of the school district that obtained an armored vehicle – actually, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle or MRAP if you want to impress someone – from the United States military through its Excess Property Program.  The vehicle was free, and the district had to pay just the cost of transportation, which was $3.95 for regular ground, or $5,000 for 2-day express.Tank1

I remember when my school got its first tank, the graduating seniors’ class gift to the school they loved so much.  At the dedication ceremony, the Class President, Class Vice President, and Class Risk Assessment Manager spray painted the sides of the tank with “Woo Hoo Class of Awesome!  To Thine Own Self Be True!”  There was an after-party, mainly for those three people, where they ate pizza and discussed what they were going to do with all their Barron’s review books.

Some concerned parents managed to have the tank classified as dangerous, so the school had to keep it under strict lock and key in the A/V room, along with the televisions on those tall skinny carts.  The School Tank, as it came to be called, was taken out for special events like Homecoming, where the Homecoming King and Queen would ride atop the military vehicle, holding flowers and wearing their crowns, and waving to the crowds in the stands.

The following year, a neighboring school district, a rival in football, basketball, and Monopoly, got its own tank. It was larger and shinier than ours, and at the Memorial Day parade, at which all high schools in the region could march in whatever formation they liked as long as it met federal safety standards, their tank got more cheers from the crowds of parents and siblings.

Over the summer, the school diverted some funds earmarked for social studies books and ordered up another tank. This one was bigger and shinier than even the tank that our rival had obtained. Next to our first tank, it was a giant. We started calling them Big Tank and Little Tank. At lunchtime now, the school paraded the two tanks, sometimes Big leading, sometimes Little, around the track. All students could look out the window and see the two tanks parading.  The tanks were driven by students, and for some reason this job attracted the same students who were in charge of the audio/visual technology.

At the Memorial Day Parade, Big Tank and Little Tank rolled down our town’s main thoroughfare in triumph. Parents and siblings cheered loudly and the day appeared to be ours. But then a sound…a buzzing chop-chop sound filled the air and all were quiet.

And then we saw it. A helicopter with a bad drawing of a wildcat – the mascot of our rival school – spray painted on the side.  The tank was rolling on the street, directly underneath the helicopter, with balloons floating from the nozzle of the gun.

This was absolutely the last straw. Classes were cancelled for a week while school officials sold books and some desks where the chair and desk are fused together to get another military vehicle. As we sat at home and wished we could be back in English class reading Wuthering Heights, we speculated on what the new vehicle would be. What could be more impressive than a helicopter?

The Warren G. Harding High School Air Craft Carrier was delivered via overnight courier. Since our physical school building was not that near the water, we had to be relocated to a coastal town on the bay. It was a lot windier but we didn’t get as much snow.

One night our radar caught a few blips off the coast of Madagascar. Our commanding officer, who was also the official wearer of the school mascot costume at home football games, ordered our battleship and guided missile cruiser – gifts of the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, respectively – in for a closer look.

“Identify yourselves,” Kevin said into the microphone, which no one except him seemed to know was not connected to the unknown ships.  “Prepare the guns,” he said to the crew, who were making posters for a pep rally. “This could get ugly.”

Our ships were moved into position and guns aimed. Now we were worried about the math test in third period and the possibility of war.

“Man the cannon!” Kevin said. “Ready, aim…”

“Wait! Wait!” said the Class Gluten-Free Bake Sale Coordinator. “What’s that on the side of the ships? I think it says…Go Wildcats?”

Yes, it was our dear rivals from the neighboring town. Looks like they had obtained for themselves a navy. Had it not been for the unsteady block printing and pathetic drawing of a wildcat on the sides of the ships, we would have launched on them and probably have had to make up our math test.  The near risk of war marked a turning point in the relationship of our schools, and I can safely say that today we are not rivals but allies.

Editor’s Note:  It turns out that the San Diego School District has returned the armored vehicle.  I hope they kept the receipt.