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?
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.