It is much easier for the supreme egocentric to find conspiracies outside of his day-to-day life. Not because he has trouble seeing connections in the events that happen around him, but because every person, animal and natural occurrence that enter his vision seem to strive for his attention or for a means to sabotage him.
Unlike the clinically paranoid, however, he lacks the freedom of complete insanity. Therefore, inklings of interconnectedness must do constant battle with his sense of logic. Such conflicts are fought almost inevitably to a stalemate, leaving the egotist with a sense of worry but an uncertainty about any specific plots against him.
Then there are those happenings that are suspicious enough to break the cycle of self-absorption and self-doubt. My own underfed voice of reason told me to dismiss the pickup trucks that parked beside my house only to drive quickly away when I walked outside.
It spoke up again, advising that I disregard the same few cars taking slow-paced laps around my home. But the voice grew quieter as these events became simultaneously more commonplace and more bizarre.
Eventually the impulses of paranoia and the cries of logic began to tell me the same thing: I was being watched…
The notion was really not so incredible. As a child I remember my parents discussing a still-present neighbor who’d roam the streets with his truck and his gun, looking for crimes to stop. Though he was the only confirmed vigilante in the area, there were many other houses that proudly displayed the banner of the Neighborhood Watch.
The only real question was what had brought their attention on me. My oldest and most geographically convenient friend had fallen in and out of drug dealing around the time of the surveillance hike. Perhaps the Watch mistook our friendship for a business association.
As for myself, I’ve been known to engage in antisocial behavior, though I am careful to do so outside of the neighborhood.
Another possibility is that I’m experiencing the effects of a general rise in security. The election of President Obama has created an eerily militant response in much of the white lower class. Though I have not yet examined bumper stickers for political affiliation, I’d think that people keeping tabs on their neighbors are similar to those who shout down speakers at health care rallies.
For whatever reason, I had drawn the collective, ever-judging eye of the community and had much work to do to regain inconspicuousness. At one point in my quest for obscurity I stumbled on a flier organizing a meeting for the Valley Drive Neighborhood Watch.
The discovery was thrilling, being the first piece of empirical evidence of the Watch’s existence. More importantly, it provided a chance to infiltrate their operation.
After having armed myself with several pre-made answers to likely questions, and with a sinister little black and silver deer gutter, I headed to the meeting place in Ypsilanti High.
The confederate flag-wearing maniacs I had imagined were strangely absent from the conference. In their place were about seven people, ranging from slight to average build; their hair was either gray or dyed.
The initial response was one of relief, until I listened closely to the conversation. A uniformed police officer sat at the head of the circle taking notes on all the dirt these people eagerly revealed about their neighbors.
“There is a problem house on McKinley and someone tells me there’s another on Merrill, and I’m keeping a close eye on the one by my house,” said a small, bearded man identifying himself as Hal Wolf.
“So I’ve been writing down makes and models and license plates of [their] cars… Not when they’re out there of course,” Wolf said.
Acting as a liaison between these auxiliary spies and higher rungs of the establishment, the cop asks specific questions about the location of the house. She takes the information down in her notepad, a record for future oppression.
Though the mud is flying freely the cop gives periodic words of encouragement such as, “Remember, it’s not about being nosy, it’s about knowing.”
A number of houses had been ratted out to the police, yet there were still no clearly stated instances of wrongdoing. The procedure of the witnesses seemed to involve labeling the building as a “problem house” then making the claim that the owner was likely dealing drugs. The best that the Neighborhood Watch could do for proof was to show that the occupant kept erratic hours.
“I don’t know, they seem nice enough … but cars are coming and going all times of day,” was the explanation a bespectacled man named Dennis gave for his suspicions.
After gathering all the useful information, the police officer went through a cordial string of goodbyes then left. Almost as soon as the door closes behind the uniformed frame the focus of the room shifts toward me.
A large woman clad in an orange floral-print dress rolls forward with outstretched finger. “Excuse me … Yes you. I’ve never seen you before. Who are you, now?” Her tone is that of a death threat covered in powdered sugar.
Powerful urges tell me run to the door but I remember my calculated answers just in time. The response is only a half lie. I tell her I’m a reporter for The Eastern Echo working the crime beat. I go on to say I live in the area and like to keep my ear to the ground. Momentarily satisfied, the Watch members converse among themselves.
An intense feeling of vindication floods over me as they proudly discuss the evictions that they caused.
Not only had my conspiracy been proved right, my fear of the vigilantes had been lessened. It was a major relief to learn I was being observed by little old ladies and quiet middle-aged men rather than gun-toting hillbillies.
Suddenly the dialogue breaks and the orange woman turns to me again. “So, Ben, where did you say you live again? It was somewhere on Hewitt.”
Unwilling to reveal my exact coordinates, I reply that I am on the opposite side of the high school.
“Ohhh. That side has a different Neighborhood Watch. Those guys are very serious about it. I wish we were as organized.”