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Am I superstitious?


There’s that thing about nothing new under the sun. Somebody said it once and so people say it – “There is nothing new under the sun!” – but people say it and they’re wrong.

I do what it is I’ve always done. For nineteen years now, people come to me, thirty-five a week (can you believe it?), which is a hundred fifty a month which is eighteen hundred a year which is nearly thirty-six thousand people in nineteen years. They’ve all got their fears, their angers, their monsters who will rip away these people’s homes and children and jobs and their security.

People always say sorry for their tears.

These people get sued by credit card companies. They drop the kids off at their ex’s five days late. They do battle with landlords over windowsill mold, and it’s harmless mold too, really, but they insist it’s killing them.

It’s nothing new. It’s just my job.  

But now there is something new. It started last November. Just one at first. He was a young black man and the first thing he ever said to me was “I’m not crazy,” which is a very strange first thing to say.

CLIENT:         I need to get a restraining order. Or I need to sue. Or I don’t know. There are people watching me.
ME:                 Who is watching you?
CLIENT:         I am not sure. My neighbors, maybe.
ME:                 How do you know they’re watching you?
CLIENT:         They whisper to me through the floors and through the walls and sometimes through the ceiling. They laugh at me.
ME:                 How do they see you?
CLIENT:         Through my phone, I think.
ME:                 What have you done about it?
CLIENT:         I quit my job because they’d shown me naked to my co-workers and I felt stupid.

It was just one person, though. He was paranoid, schizophrenic, I suppose, so easily dismissed and forgotten as an outlier. But soon came another – a very old, well-dressed white lady – seemingly as different from the first person as was possible yet relating the same story precisely: Strangers. Watching. Laughing. Phone. Then came another, a recent immigrant this one, telling the same story through a translator.

And then another. And another. Et cetera.

Finally I went to an old gray lawyer who’s seen way more than I have. She sat like Buddha behind her Mad Men-era office desk.

ME:                 Bobbie, have you been getting a lot of people who say they’re being watched through their phones?
BOBBIE:        Oh, well, it’s full moon.
ME:                 No, I mean like consistently, all the time, for two months now…
BOBBIE:        (shrugs) It’s full moon, Harry. It has a pulling effect.
ME:                 But I mean, even when it’s not full moon. And, and… And anyway, the whole moon is there all month, even when it’s not full, right? It’s not as if half the gravity goes away when we can’t see half the moon!
BOBBIE:        It’s full moon.

This was not the answer I was looking for. Not that I knew what answer I was looking for but I knew I would know it when I heard it, and this was not it.

I went to another lawyer, this one rational, young, and bright. He set down his Ruth Bader Ginsberg bio as I walked in.

ME:                 Luigi, have people been coming to you saying they’re being spied on through their phones?
LUIGI:             Well, they are.
ME:                 I’ve just- Wait, what?
LUIGI:             That’s why I don’t have a smart phone. We’re all being monitored.
ME:                 By whom?
LUIGI:             (shrugs)
ME:                 Well, I’ll start telling the clients that you’re handling all the conspiracy theory interviews. Thanks, man.

I am to be damned, then, with the burden of something new under the sun. I sit in a dark office beneath the Harris County Law Library, confronted by hordes of people, surrounded on every side by those believing themselves watched. No one will save them from the Watchers. No one will save me from the Watched.

It’s hardly even something new at this point. It’s just my job.

Comments

  1. That is crazy, no one is watching through a phone! But I wish you would stop staring at me through my computer...

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    1. I know all of my cams are covered with tape, just in case.I mean, saying it out loud, it sounds a little nuts, but... just in case.

      Delete
  2. Sounds like some of these people need legitimate psychological help. But some probably just need to be told this isn't an issue we can solve with legal battles anymore.
    Also, next time you see Luigi, tell him he's still not safe. Everyone around him still has smartphones. Also dumbphones are just privacy theater, for the most part.
    Man, I wish we could just dismiss this as paranoid ramblings...

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    1. I have this idea for an experiment where I'll say the name of an author I have never google searched - Ernest Hemingway, maybe - and then, after a few days of this, check my google ads to see whether he starts popping up.

      Granted, rigged google ads aren't the worst of all possible worlds, so far as iphones are concerned, but I still have to know.

      (Actually, it looks like A Beer for the Shower already conducted such an experiment, below.)

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  3. They're watching you through your computer monitor and your TV screen too Harry...just make friends with them.....tell them what they want to hear.......don't do anything you wouldn't do in public. I think my cat is spying on me for them. What can I do about that?

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    1. I don't really do anything that couldn't be public.Other than talk to myself a lot, but now that I have a cat, I can pass it off as talking to my cat.

      The odd thing about these folks is that they don't think it's the government or advertisers listening to them. They think it's a group of unknown people (or sometimes their neighbors) who are trying to really do them harm and embarrass them.

      I'm a little obsessed with it.

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  4. I have a problem with the contention that there is nothing new under the sun. Einstein, of course, explained clearly that "under" has no meaning without a plane of reference. For instance, at this moment the sun is "over" me (it's 1008 hours) while for you, on the dark side of the planet, it's "under" you. All of which is a good way of making you feel paranoid.

    You can thank me later.

    The best thing I did to myself in years is to leave Fakebook. My own writing is going on not too badly.

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    1. We haven't internalized most of the intellectual developments of the past few hundred years. I've thought about the fact that I don't use most of the informaiton I know about the world in my daily life - I don't think of solids as mostly empty space, for instance.

      Up and down aren't really up and down, they're in and out, right?

      I've been online a lot less than normal. The least in more than a decade, surely. I think I feel better, although it's making me realize how much I've let my offline life suffer and decay.

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  5. And that's PRECISELY why I don't have a smart phone.

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    1. There's always a good reason to be paranoid if you only look around a bit. Still, I was sort of hoping that when I posted this, everyone would say, "Oh, that show [insert show name here] came out in November and that's where these people are getting their ideas!"

      So we're back to the people I interview having somehow clicked into some kind of Zeitgeist not obvious to the rest of us yet.

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  6. I don't have a smartphone, but not because I'm afraid of one, I just can't really afford one.
    I used to be more alarmed about the amount of watching that goes on back when I used to do things that weren't legal.
    I mean the AT&T trial in Vaughn Walker's court was what? 2006? That's 12 years we've known they have the wherewithal to spy on everything that goes across the internet. I remember at the time there were those AT&T billboards that had the slogan "Your world, delivered" and all of them in Oakland and Berkeley were graffitied with "to the NSA".
    Maybe I'm so old that I never instinctively just shared everything about myself online, or perhaps I trained myself for many years to not get caught by the cops and just sort of dragged that behavior online with me back in 2003, but I've rarely been worried about being spied upon.
    In fact, AT&T was the only internet available when I lived in a warehouse space on Peralta street, and they were terrible as an ISP, with the network going down every other week or so, and I used to joke about it that the goddamn NSA should just pay for the physical upgrades the network needed in West Oakland because it would be cheaper and less hassle for them than sending an agent with a long lens camera to the upstairs office of the concrete factory across the street all of the time just to avoid interruptions in their surveillance of me.
    Or maybe I just grew up with a mother who worked for criminal defense attorneys and had an actual grasp of what is entailed in the surveillance of anyone by law enforcement or private investigators.
    All kidding aside, I have very limited tolerance for that stuff these days. Of course it's not in my job to deal with it, but it really does chafe on me way more now than when I used to get high. Thankfully, I only have one friend who I see very often who is prone to those ways of thinking, and he's a good friend, so we just pretty much avoid talking about subjects that we would argue about, like politics or mass surveillance...

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    1. Back in the days when we just thought they were listening into our phone conversaitons, I used to joke that whatever poor G-man was assigned to me had the worst job in the government.

      Then one day, I got pulled over by a cop. When he brought me back my license, he made a comment about how he "used to be in some socialist groups, too." I always wondered what he'd found when he ran my name...

      If there's a conspiracy out there planning to ruin my life, well, it's too late. I did it for them a long time ago!

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    2. My friend Jack used to talk about the international conspiracy to discredit him, the Get Jack Foundation. Dial 1-800- GET-JACK. He was circumspect in his comedy, though, saying that although he knew that some of us were feeding information to the Foundation, he figured that he probably got the odd beer or cheeseburger from our ill-gotten proceeds, so he had made peace with it.
      That and his bit about "The cops are in the cupboard. But you can't just go look in the cupboard, because then they'll know you know and who knows what they'll do then..."
      Yes, I used to run with a bunch of self-described "recreational paranoids".

      -Doug in Oakland

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    3. The paranoids used to be people on recreational drugs. I'm not sure whether the drugs made them paranoid or whether the fact that they knew the government was doing crazy things to track down recreational drug users made them that way.

      Or maybe the good drugs allowed them to make connections the rest of us missed.

      Now, technology has made us all like that. Jack sounds like he was ahead of his time.

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    4. "Jack sounds like he was ahead of his time."

      When they threw him into Soledad North for 21 months for selling a half-ounce of weed to an undercover cop who had followed him from SF to Chico State, where he was an art history major, the entrance examiner wrote in the margin of his test "A brilliant but misguided young man."
      And recreational drugs?
      Yes.
      Or as he himself would say: "Hell yes."

      -Doug in Oakland

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  7. The Watchers, according to Marvel Comics, are gigantic blue philosophers who live on the moon. They're not the most pleasant types, but they don't interfere. If they're tattling on us, it's to some alien overlord and not the deep state. Assuming this isn't a diabolical piece of misdirection by Marvel, of course.

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    1. There are "Watchers" in the book of Genesis. I think they're generally tied in to the Sons of God, which are the relics of pre-Judaic gods (or angels, depending on who you believe) and the fathers of the Nephilim.

      On the other hand, blue giants on the moon watching over me is sort of comforting.

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  8. No, no, your smartphone doesn't watch you, it just listens to you. My favorite is when the wife and I are sitting on the couch talking about, for example, this upcoming year's garden. How the wife wants to get some hanging planters and hang some flowers in the living room. And maybe rearrange the furniture. And then I get on Instagram 5 minutes later and see what's new... here's a meme. Here's a picture from you. Oh, now here's an ad for hanging planters. Then there's an ad for home design, where they've upgraded someone's living room.

    Yeah, that's not creepy at all. What's most amazing, though, is some doofus actually sees this on his phone and thinks, "Wow, thanks phone!" and starts clicking on all of those ads.

    If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go buy a standing rotary telephone and lug it around with me everywhere in a military issue backpack.

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    1. Are most of your google ads just amazon trying to sell your own books to you?

      I have always had this image of Bruce Springsteen getting online and all the ads he sees are for "Born in the USA" or something.

      But seriously, the idea of apps listening to me for content is a little eerie.

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  9. I'm with Luigi, we've hit a point where the paranoid schizophrenics are being vindicated. It has to be really satisfying. Imagine being Client and reading a story about warrantless wiretapping and metadata collecting and screaming "SEE, I TOLD YOU! Now who needs medication?" It has to be the best feeling. Or really frustrating when the dog you're talking to still suggests suicide. Bummer. Now I've depressed myself. See what you've done. Now I need to book an appointment with you.

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    1. Years ago, I knew a guy who thought he was being watched. One day, he brought in his mail to me, and on each envelope was stamped, "Inspected by Homeland Security."

      Granted, this happened because his paranoia had inspired him to send creepy letters to the government.

      But it confirmed his paranoia.

      Or else he could tell the future. One or the other.

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  10. I think we're being watched everywhere we go! Geese, even my neighbour has cameras all around her house. I joked with her one day and said, well, you'll being seeing my ass in the air when I'm gardening! LOL! Even if you're not being watched by your smart phone, there is probably someone taking videos of you. But, I'm not paranoid! LOL!

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    1. Haha... That's right, I think. Even people who aren't being watched by others are keeping tabs on themselves.

      My brother has set up cameras all over his house. We were trying to throw him a surprise party once and he was watching us set up over his house cams.

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  11. As you know, I watch too much youtube. Of course, youtube (google) knows my youtube habit and probably many more too. It bothers me a little but not much.
    Recently, I watched an old clip of Andy Kaufman. It reminded of how conspiracy theories were better in the "old" days when they were not all political.

    Since you have played games with your blog identity, you might agree the best solution is to play games with the companies tracking you. The part of this tracking/watching that bothers me the most is when the companies use it to control you through targeted demanding suggestions which is what most ads have become today.

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    1. Even beyond all of my old online personas, I often wonder who google ads think I might be.

      I do Social Security Disability hearings, mostly for peoplewith HIV/AIDS, and when I'm researching words in client medical records, I end up seeing AIDS drugs. I took Spanish classes and suddenly ended up with ads in Spanish. I took theology classes and ended up being shown products geared towards the Christian faithful.

      So I'm a hardcore committed Christian who speaks Spanish and has HIV.

      And sometimes a Muslim woman, or a lesbian homeless person.

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  12. I see you. But I can't see you properly from that angle. Would you please set your phone with the screen not tilted? And don't set there while you are eating. I can't eat that, and and showing it to me has to be some sort torture. I know you are not that kind of person, are you? You'd not torture a friend with wine and chocolate, would you?

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    1. If you're watching me, you are seeing plenty of wine.

      Years ago, when Steve Colbert was still on The Daily Show, he was making fun of the Bush-era domestic spying. He had a sketch where he lost and keys and therefore threatened the President so that he could ask the officers who came to arrest him where his keys were.

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  13. I'm so boring no one would ever bother to watch me. I don't have a phone and the only thing I seem to do when I sit in front of my computer is fall asleep

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    1. You're just trying to lull the people watching you into a false sense of harmlessness. Once they give up, the really rebellious stuff starts.

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  14. I remember as a teenager being told not to try so hard to come up with something new in my writing because there's nothing really new under the sun. This was in a time when computers were first entering the private sector. Nothing new? BS!

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    1. My brother and I were talking recently about how Bob Dylan recently said he thoguht that there was nothing new happening in music. We decided that meant he had just given up. I'm middle aged, I guess, and I still find music that is breaking new ground on a semi-regular basis. You just have to want to look for it.

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    2. I know what you mean. Lately I've been exploring Industrial Dance, which apparently is not the same as Industrial Rock, and Festival, which in an electronica that likes to put on airs and call itself Tribal part of the time. I was surprised to discover this actually made me more current than my kids. As for the radio, I was listening to the most cutting edge station in town for the nostalgia factor. They were playing an Arctic Monkey's song I got tired of last year.

      Nothing new? Only if you close your eyes.

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  15. If they want to watch me thro my phone then go ahead. I know who'll get bored first .

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    1. I'm with you there. By which I mean not that I'm with you, watching you on your phone but rather, I agree that people would get bored watching me.

      That's the thing: I believe some of these people had been doing things they were embarrassed about and then later thought they saw someone laugh near them and connected the two things: "This person saw what I did that was embarrassing!"

      I don't know.

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  16. Just a question: Are these people in addition to your normal caseload, or has your caseload not increased? After all, paranoid delusions, by and large, tend to have certain common characteristics, so perhaps this idea that phones are part of the watchers' playbook might be currently popular, and therefore people with mental illness are more inclined to see things this way. If your caseload has not increased, I suspect that there is no new wave of mental illness, just a currently fashionable way of it playing out.

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    1. I was reading CG Jung's autobiography this weekend, and he was saying that the same tendency that made people believe in Jesus Christ 2000 years ago make people believe in UFOs today.

      So you could be right: Spy phones could be the way that pre-existing conditions are interpreted.

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