||Careful: The FB-eye may
Creative Loafing Atlanta
July 17, 2003
"The FBI is here,"Mom tells me over the phone. Immediately
I can see my mom with her back to a couple of Matrix-like figures
in black suits and opaque sunglasses, her hand covering the mouthpiece
like Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. This must be a joke, I think.
But it's not, because Mom isn't that funny.
"The who?" I say.
"Two FBI agents. They say you're not in trouble, they just
want to talk. They want to come to the store."
I work in a small, independent bookstore, and since it's a slow
Tuesday afternoon, I figure, "Sure." Someone I know must
have gotten some government work, I think; hadn't my consultant
friend spoken recently of getting rolled onto some government job?
Background check, I think, interviewing acquaintances ... No big
deal, right? Then, of course, I make a big deal about it in front
of my co-workers.
"That was my mom," I tell them. "The FBI's coming
for me." They laugh; it's a good joke, especially when the
FBI actually shows up. They are not the bogeymen I had been expecting.
They're dressed casually, they speak familiarly, but they are big.
The one in front stands close to 7 feet, and you can tell his partner
is built like a bulldog under his baggy shirt and shorts.
"You Marc Schultz?" asks the tall one. He shows me his
badge, introduces himself as Special Agent Clay Trippi. After assuring
me that I'm not in trouble, he asks if there is someplace we can
sit down and talk. We head back to Reference, where a table and
chairs are set up. We sit down, and I'm again informed that I am
not in trouble.
Then, Agent Trippi asks, "Do you drive a black Nissan Altima?"
And I realize this meeting is not about a friend. Despite their
reassurances, and despite the fact that I haven't committed any
federal offenses (that I know of), I'm starting to feel a bit like
I'm in trouble.
They ask me if I was driving my car on Saturday, and I say, reasonably
sure, that I was. They ask me where I went, and I struggle for a
moment to remember Saturday. I make a lame joke about how the days
run together when you're underemployed. They smile politely. Was
I at work on Saturday? I think so.
"Were you at the Caribou Coffee on Powers Ferry?" asks
Agent Trippi. That's where I get my coffee before work, and so I
tell him yes, probably, just before remembering Saturday: Harry
Potter day, opening early, in at 8:30.
So I would have been at Caribou Coffee that Saturday, getting my
small coffee, room for cream. This information seems to please the
"Did you notice anything unusual, anyone worth commenting
on?" OK, I think. It's the unusual guy they want, not me. I
think hard, wondering if it was Saturday I saw the guy in the really
cool reclining wheelchair, the guy who struck me as a potential
James Bondian supervillain, but no: That was Monday.
Then they ask if I carried anything into the shop -- and we're
back to me.
My mind races. I think: a bomb? A knife? A balloon filled with
narcotics? But no. I don't own any of those things. "Sunglasses,"
I say. "Maybe my cell phone?"
Not the right answer. I'm nervous now, wondering how I must look:
average, mid-20s, unassuming retail employee. What could I have
possibly been carrying?
Trippi's partner speaks up: "Any reading material? Papers?"
I don't think so. Then Trippi decides to level with me: "I'll
tell you what, Marc. Someone in the shop that day saw you reading
something, and thought it looked suspicious enough to call us about.
So that's why we're here, just checking it out. Like I said, there's
no problem. We'd just like to get to the bottom of this. Now if
we can't, then you may have a problem. And you don't want that."
You don't want that? Have I just been threatened by the FBI? Confusion
and a light dusting of panic conspire to keep me speechless. Was
I reading something that morning? Something that would constitute
The partner speaks up again: "Maybe a printout of some kind?"
Then it occurs to me: I was reading. It was an article my dad had
printed off the Web. I remember carrying it into Caribou with me,
reading it in line, and then while stirring cream into my coffee.
I remember bringing it with me to the store, finishing it before
we opened. I can't remember what the article was about, but I'm
sure it was some kind of left-wing editorial, the kind that never
fails to incite me to anger and despair over the state of the country.
I tell them all this, but they want specifics: the title of the
article, the author, some kind of synopsis, but I can't help them
-- I read so much of this stuff.
"Do you still have the article?" Probably not, but I
suggest we check behind the counter. When that doesn't pan out,
I have the bright idea to call my dad at work, see if he can remember.
Of course, he can't put together a coherent sentence after I tell
him the FBI are at the store, questioning me.
"The FBI?" he keeps asking. Eventually I get him off
the phone, and suggest it may be in my car. They follow me out to
the parking lot, where Trippi asks me if there's anything in the
car he should know about.
"Weapons, drugs? It's not a problem if you do, but if you
don't tell me and then I find something, that's going to be a problem."
I assure him there's nothing in my car, coming very close to quoting
Rudy Ray Moore in Dolemite: "There's nothin' in my trunk, man."
The excitement of the questioning -- the interrogation -- has made
me just a little bit giddy. I almost laugh out loud when they ask
me to pop my trunk.
There's nothing in my car, of course. I keep looking anyway, while
telling them it was probably some kind of what-did-they-know-and-when-did-they-know-it
article about the buildup to Gulf War II. Trippi nods, unsatisfied.
I turn up some papers from the University of Georgia, where I'm
about to begin as a grad student. He asks me what I'm going to study.
"Journalism," I say. As I duck back into the car, I hear
Agent Trippi informing his partner, "He's going to UGA for
journalism" in a way that makes me wonder whether that counts
Back in the store, Trippi gives me his card and tells me to call
him if I remember anything. After he's gone, I call my dad back
to see if he has calmed down, maybe come up with a name. We retrace
some steps together, figure out the article was Hal Crowther's "Weapons
of Mass Stupidity" from the Weekly Planet, a free independent
out of Tampa. It comes back to me then, this scathing screed focusing
on the way corporate interests have poisoned the country's media,
focusing mostly on Fox News and Rupert Murdoch -- really infuriating,
deadly accurate stuff about American journalism post-9-11. So I
call the number on the card, leave a message with the name, author
and origin of the column, and ask him to call me if he has any more
To tell the truth, I'm kind of anxious to hear back from the FBI,
if only for the chance to ask why anyone would find media criticism
suspicious, or if maybe the sight of a dark, bearded man reading
in public is itself enough to strike fear in the heart of a patriotic
My co-worker, Craig, says that we should probably be thankful the
FBI takes these things seriously; I say it seems like a dark day
when an American citizen regards reading as a threat, and downright
pitch-black when the federal government agrees.
Special Agent Trippi didn't return calls from CL. But Special Agent
Joe Parris, Atlanta field office spokesman, stressed that specific
FBI investigations are confidential. He wouldn't confirm or deny
the Schultz interview.
"In this post-911 era, it is the absolute responsibility of
the FBI to follow through on any tips of potential terrorist activity,"
Parris says. "Are people going to take exception and be inconvenienced
by this at times? Oh, yeah. ... A certain amount of convenience
is going to be offset by an increase in security."
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