The Color of Confusion

8/4/2004

Last Sunday, the Muse returned from Deep Wood. Three days, severed from TV, cell, email and all that hot air of D.C. My only distractions, the green above, the brown below and the legions of life forms that dwell in between.

No Bush, no Kerry, no Kobe and no nothing to do but watch curious critters and treasure moments basking in the colors of life. What I could not have known is that my backwood bliss would soon be shattered by the colors of terror.

Once home, I flipped on Fox for some fairness and balance. And there stood the honcho of the homeland looking very dark, even for such a dour man. He spoke slowly, coldly. “The quality of this intelligence…is rarely seen, and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity..”

“Yikes,” I said, “we’re at Orange,” while feeling shame for still being in the cowardly Yellow mode. This is wartime, it’s Code Orange. Time to get in the High Condition it signifies. (I know another definition of “High,” but that surely is not what Secretary Ridge has in mind. I just hope my fellow Americans get the distinction as well).

Whatever, I’m Orange now, and it’s time to take action. I look back to Fox for wisdom. The breathless reporter says, “that’s right, the Secretary says the threat is severe.”

Now I’m befuddled, the Fox lady just said the threat is “severe.” And Severe goes with Red. The Secretary just made me High, or Orange. Maybe Fox got it wrong.

I tune to the local station where my mayor and his crack task force are giving a presser. But something is wrong, the Fire Chief is wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Where’s his fancy hat? Is this a disguise to fool the terrorists? Is this somehow connected to the “High” designation?

An assistant takes the mike; she’s dressed like a waitress at Bennigan’s. “You should be vigilant,” she said. “Be on the lookout for strangers with cameras.”

At this, I wince. I think of shameless days spent walking through D.C. with a dangerous Nikon zooming brazenly at magnificent monuments and sculptures. “Could I have helped to cause this?”

But my despair is replaced by another thought: this is Washington, D.C. and this is August and that means there are tens of thousands of people here with cameras-many of them from “other countries.” I have an unsettling vision regarding the first cousin of the word “vigilant"-vigilante.

I flip back to Fox to see how the folks in New York are handling being Orange. Mayor Bloomberg looks infinitely more credible in coat and tie. “We were already in condition Orange,” he says, completely contradicting Secretary Ridge, who said, “the United States government is raising the threat level to Code Orange for the financial services sector in New York City.”

Reeling, I run to the laptop and point the browser to the Department of Homeland Security’s Web site. Surely the Internet will have it right. Wrong. The “Threat Advisory” graphic has not been updated to reflect that millions of Americans should now be High, not Elevated.

So I click on “Advisories and Information Bulletins.” Wrong again, the most recent advisory was nearly a year old. I click “Banking and Finance.” Wrong thrice, I find primers on identity theft and counterfeiting-but not squat about a threat to blow up giant banks.

By now, CNN has tracked down the one guy who always brings calm and clarity: Governor Howard Dean. He’s saying that the whole thing was contrived to divert attention from the charismatic juggernaut that is John Kerry.

Thanks a lot Howard. Saying there is politics in Washington is about as illuminating as telling us there are monkeys in the zoo. Nonetheless, the Governor’s words ignite the pundit class. All hope of thoughtful analysis is lost. “Did to, did not, did to…” they said.

I crawl in bed sketching a day that began with fawns and hiking sticks and ended with dogs and machine guns. I still don’t know whether to be Elevated, High or Severe. And I damn sure haven’t figured out that Hawaiian shirt.

Monday morning and I bolt awake. A new news cycle has dawned and with it, perhaps, enlightenment. I tune to Today. My instincts are correct, there sits Secretary Ridge to tell me and America what all this really means. And this is what he said: “It’s a ten.”

Not Yellow, not Orange, not Red, or even a Hawaiian motif. Now there’re calling it a ten. But at least I finally got it figured out. We are living in the color code of Confusion.

Now I’m gonna go find me a tourist.

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