Illustration by Anthony Casto
Lots of people wonder if the FBI has a file with their name on it.
Me, I’m certain the feds have a manila folder stamped CORSAIR, GARY J.
In fact, the CIA may also have a dossier with my name on it. If not, the NSA surely does.
This isn’t paranoia talking. I’m in a database all right, sure as Hassan Izz-Al-Din is.
I’m not proud of being a marked man, a tarnished citizen who will surely be strip-searched the next time he tries to board an airplane.
I have no one but myself to blame. I made a mistake. We all do. I just happened to make mine in the premier convention facility in North America, 2.5 million square feet of architecture a few minutes from downtown Chicago.
Looking back, it’s easy to pinpoint where I went wrong. Oh how I would do things differently if I had a do-over.
But on June 4, 2004, I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was thinking about becoming famous as I strolled through the glass doors of McCormick Place with a battered briefcase in my hand.
“I enter a nobody,” I remember thinking. “I will leave as a somebody.”
I also thought, “If only I had five arms, I could carry this danged briefcase and the four boxes I need to bring inside.”
Out front, my wife anxiously sat behind the wheel of our idling car. She was certain a policeman would appear at any moment and tell her to move along.
It was a valid fear. I noticed several uniformed officers inside McCormick Place as people scurried to and from the convention center’s 170 meeting rooms. Security was tight. And there were surely cops outside monitoring traffic, not far from the drop-off zone where Gwen waited.
I found an inconspicuous place to stash the briefcase and hurried outside.
It took a few minutes to unload the bulky boxes and stack them. I’d have to make two trips. With one box under each arm, I re-entered McCormick Place. And immediately realized something was wrong.
I spotted six police officers with my first glance. Two were on radios, one was walking briskly toward me, one was ascending the escalator, two were scanning the crowd.
“Could be anything. Purse-snatcher, bomb threat, maybe even a streaker,” I thought as I lugged my boxes toward the planter I’d hidden my briefcase behind.
One of the walkie-talkie cops reached the spot before I did. He looked worried.
“Do you know anything about this briefcase?” he challenged me.
“I sure do,” I replied dopily. “It’s mine. I left it here because I couldn’t carry it and these boxes of books at the same time.”
“What’s in it?” he thundered.
“Papers. My hotel information, a map of Chicago, my checkbook, some press clippings, a bottle of mouthwash. Oh, and some deodorant and a toothbrush.”
The National Book Expo was a big deal. I wanted to have a minty mouth when I greeted the thousands of readers who would pour through AuthorHouse’s Discover New Talent exhibit.
“Man, are you crazy?” the cop bellowed. “You heard of 9/11? You can’t just go around leaving briefcases unattended in public places.”
Never crossed my mind. Hello, McFly? Anybody home?
“Man, we were ready to take that briefcase and blow it up!” the cop snorted.
Imagine, fragments of my checkbook scattered all over Lakeshore Drive.
Things quickly returned to normal after the officer stepped back and radioed the “false alarm” to officers preparing to evacuate the building. I thought I heard him use the word “idiot.”
So I’m guessing there’s a file on me. I’m pretty sure the government tracks stupid.