Winter 2013 — THE POTOMAC

Droning On

  Jean Roller

LoBrian McPheeters would have broken the mold—had there been a mold in the first place. And he was keenly aware of his unique specialness.

His mother had been one of those mothers whose entire mission in life was to convey to her offspring the all-important fact that there was no one in the world quite like him. And the related all-important assumption that someday the world would know how special Brian McPheeters really was.

And while it was certainly true that there was no one in the world quite like Brian McPheeters, the sad fact was that his specialness was really rather ordinary. He had no great talent in athletics, art or music. He was of perfectly functional intelligence and had an average build. His face was forgettably symmetrical. His taste in everything, mainstream. His hair was brown; his skin was white; his favorite food was pizza. He did have three freckles on the palm of his hand, which is quite rare indeed, but no one but his mother had noticed that yet.

Brian McPheeters wasn’t the type of person who had a particular dream—though he did have a very keen sense that he would someday be a famous and/or rich and/or powerful something or other sometime, somewhere. And in preparation for that day, he did spend a significant amount of time practicing his interviews with Oprah and Katie Couric and even his witty exchanges with Jon Stewart.

“Would you believe, in high school I couldn’t get a date?” he would say.
And his interlocutor would say, “You? Not get a date? Well, I bet those silly girls are sorry now!”

And they’d laugh together at those poor girls, who just didn’t know how close to complete happiness they’d been.

But Brian McPheeters never got the chance to be interviewed. Most likely, he wouldn’t ever have been interviewed anyway. Most likely, he would have gotten older and either transferred his specialness on to his children, converted his specialness into contentment or bitterness, or drowned out his specialness by turning up the volume of the television. But he never got the chance to do any of that, either.

Just two months and three days after his seventeenth birthday, while he was still completely full of untapped potential, Brian McPheeters got delayed a bit from leaving school. The soda machine stole his dollar without ever dispensing a Coke—a claim that he had to make to the school secretary, the vice principal, and the principal himself before they called for Mr. Evans, the burly janitor to come give the machine a good shake. The Coke came loose, but, of course, upon opening it, it fizzed over and Brian McPheeters got his second-favorite pair of jeans soaked in brown syrup. By the time he’d gotten himself all cleaned up, the only car left in Madison High School’s parking lot was Brian McPheeters’ old, beat-up 2020 Honda Civic. It wasn’t much too look at, Brian McPheeters would admit, but it still ran good and got eighty-two miles to the gallon.

Brian McPheeters set his Coke on top of the car and threw his backpack in the back seat. He plopped down in the front seat, plugged in his home address, and was about to press “Go” when the warning bell dinged and his car informed him that there seemed to be an object on the car’s roof.

Brian McPheeters shook his head at himself. What a character he was—going through all hassle with the soda machine just to leave his Coke on top of his car. It called for a FaceBook post.

Brian McPheeters got out and took a picture of the Coke. Then he typed: omg. 20 min. of fighting soda machine, and I almost drive off w/o my C. lmfao.

He paused just a moment after completing the post. No one can know for sure why he paused. Was it to see if anyone “liked” his post? Was it to actually l his f a o? Was it to contemplate the absurdity of fighting for recognition from his fellow humans? Perhaps he even had an epiphany. If so, it was rather poorly timed. Because at exactly 4.32.15, Brian McPheeters became the first United States citizen to get shot dead by a foreign drone.
So precise was the shot from the drone that the Coke can remained perched on top of the Civic, which was also completely undamaged (the dints, as the insurance company pointed out, had been there before.) But where Brian McPheeters had stood, there was only a small crater. The only piece available to identify was a thrice-freckled hand, which, it was rumored, still clutched the door handle.

Of course, Brian McPheeters made national news that night. The country was shocked. Granted, United States citizens had been shot dead by United States drones for years. But rarely on home soil—only a few dangerous fugitives and four alleged terrorist leaders in South Dakota had been shot dead by a drone on US soil. And those, of course, were just killings. Necessary for public safety. No different, really, than being shot dead by a human police officer.

But a foreign drone, that was totally different. That was unacceptable. Brian McPheeters’s mother was furious. She demanded an explanation from her government. Her government demanded an explanation from the foreign government. The foreign government said their explanation was completely legal but partially classified. After further political pressure, they did issue an apology stating that it may have been that they neutralized the wrong target—after all, we all looked so much alike. Turns out, the burly janitor, Mr. Evans, had somehow procured an ingredient that could either be used to kill cockroaches or in biological warfare, and they had good reason to believe the latter. There were, after all, still roaches in the building.

The foreign government generously gave their sincerest condolences to the victim’s family and reminded the victim’s government that they were still indebted to them, by the way, so it would be best to accept these heartfelt condolences with understanding. And so the government did.

But Mrs. McPheeters did not. No, the woman who had talked Brian McPheeters onto the best little league baseball team, who had enrolled him in the best summer camps, and who was in the middle of editing his college applications suddenly found herself with fury in her heart and time on her hands.

She started FaceBook groups and organized rallies and stirred up controversy and badmouthed foreigners and did everything she possibly could to bring attention to the death of dear, special Brian McPheeters. She even called for the head of the foreign government’s head and got ahold of Mr. Evans’s pesticide and made plans, big plans, for revenge.

And so, just two months after the untimely death of Brian McPheeters, Mrs. McPheeters became the second United States citizen to be shot dead by a foreign drone.

The foreign news outlets covered the incident in just a line or two. Government officials called it a just killing, necessary for public safety. Most of the foreign citizens never saw it, and only a few of the ones who did—undoubtedly bleeding–heart United States sympathizers—marked the news “dislike.”

But what else could they do? What was done was done. It didn’t make sense to get too worked up over Brian McPheeters. He wasn’t any more special than anyone else, after all.

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