Not long ago, I was waiting for a bus on the corner of Sterns and Bellflower in Long Beach after having purchased two heavy bags of groceries from Trader Joe’s when I suddenly saw a homeland security bus barreling right towards me. It was an ominous beast. It had bars on the tinted window, just like a prison bus, and was painted black. It also had a nefarious Homeland Security logo emblazoned on the side. The logo contained a plethora of esoteric, hermetic symbols that looked like they had been specifically designed to make a paranoid population even more paranoid. The logo looked majestic and stupid at the same time. I wanted to get a photo of me standing in front of it for a potential author photo.
(This article is an original piece from Cryptoscatology, republished here with permission.)
To my amazement, the bus turned the corner and stopped in front of a park only about a hundred feet away from where I was sitting. I couldn’t believe it. Who could pass up an opportunity like this? Even though I could see my own bus approaching, I decided to pick up both of my grocery bags and waddle across the street toward the bus. I happened to have a camera on me at the time (I can’t remember why), so I looked around to see if I could find anyone who might stop and take my photo in front of the bus. I saw an old Asian lady coming out of an office building. I held out the disposable camera toward her and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, could you please take a photo of me standing in front of this Homeland Security bus? I need an author photo.” The lady ignored me, as if I didn’t exist, and kept walking.
I glanced around in desperation, hoping to see someone else. But there was no one. I couldn’t waste too much time waiting for someone else to show up. Besides, who knew how long the bus would stay there? I had only one logical option.
I walked up to the bus, set my overstuffed bags down on either side of me, pressed my face against the opaque window embedded in the front door, and peered inside. Vaguely, I could see the bus driver sitting in his chair reading a newspaper that had been draped over the steering wheel. The bus driver had a black moustache and a power-U of frizzy dark hair ringing the back of his head. He looked like every cop I’ve ever met. There didn’t appear to be anyone else inside the bus.
I knocked on the door and tried to get his attention. I kept waving crazily until he relented and opened the door. “What?” he snapped, as if annoyed for some reason.
“Excuse me,” I said, “sorry to disturb you. Could you take my picture standing in front of the logo on the side of your bus?” I wiggled the yellow disposable camera in the air, like a rattle to a baby.
He looked confused. He just stared at me for awhile, then said, “NO!”
“Oh?” I said. “Well… why?”
The dude said, “I can’t do that!”
“Why not?” I said.
Robert Guffey is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University – Long Beach. His most recent book is Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (OR Books).