Day 19: Pretend to be a secret agent.Posted: January 19, 2011
Being a secret agent requires, as I see it, perpetual paranoia: one must see secret messages and hostile conspiracies everywhere; one must question everything, trust nothing, and even wonder whether one is actually one’s own enemy.
Yesterday evening, browsing through the pictures on my phone, I came across this. I have no idea what it is – beyond it being, obviously, a painting of some sort – nor where it is, nor why there’s a picture of it on my phone. I don’t like it, though – it’s full of dark and sinister foreboding, and I keep seeing glaring eyes and gaping mouths full of fangs in it, though they come in and out of focus. Not an auspicious way to start my secret agent-cy – there are already unknown forces trying to kill me (or to warn me of impending danger? how am I supposed to know?).
When I got to my office this morning, this was hanging on my corkboard. As a stormtrooper, he clearly represents the sprawling, oppressive, irresistible power of the Empire – a dire warning that the forces working against me are powerful beyond my ability to understand or escape. But he’s also one of the scout-troopers from Return of the Jedi, and therefore he also represents an Empire on the verge of defeat at the hands of the Rebel Alliance and a tribe of small, jabbering bears. What does it mean? Are the forces working against me so vast, so powerful, that they are beyond my comprehension, or are they tottering on the edge of collapse? I can’t know unless I know who left the message, and how much that person knows about Star Wars – and these are things I don’t know, and in the absence of knowledge, I must assume the worst.
There was free food in the English department this afternoon – fajitas left over from some reception or other – but I didn’t eat any of it. What if it was poisoned? Never mind that everyone else was eating it – what if they’re all in on it, what if they’ve all taken the antidote? I haven’t actually eaten anything today – if I didn’t grow it or kill it myself, how can I be sure? And what if my vegetables had been poisoned while they were in my garden? I can never eat again.
Teaching class was extremely stressful; I was in a room full of people I didn’t know, and they were all staring at me with blank, inscrutable expressions – though whether this blankness was due to boredom, or stupidity, or malice, I don’t know. I have to assume it was malice, though, because I’m a charming, engaging teacher, so it couldn’t have been boredom.
The train ride home was excruciating – there were hundreds of people crammed into the cars, well beyond capacity, and there was, therefore, no way to escape should I have been attacked. As people disembarked, there was more room to maneuver, but I also noticed a man stealing furtive glances at me. He was dressed all in black, talking on a cell phone in something that sounded like the bastard child of German and Basque. He got off at the end of the line, just like I did, and his car was only a few spaces down from mine. I expected my car to blow up when I started it.
It didn’t, obviously, but the man from the train followed me to the grocery store, and eyed the contents of my basket (when we passed one another, which was suspiciously often) with a knowing disdain.
I’m home, now, and exhausted – constant
paranoia vigilance is hard work. I don’t expect to survive the night – mysterious house fire? grizzly bear? assassins? NINJA ASSASSINS? – but if I do, I’m going to make a mental note not to pursue a career in international intrigue (because what else would I do with a PhD in English literature?). I’m just not cut out for it.