“Don’t say anything seditious,” my father-in-law said as we stepped off the escalator. “This close to the White House, they monitor everything.”
“Must take a lot of people to do that,” I said, trying to joke with him.
“They use computers,” he said, catching my eye. “They have software that can recognize certain words.”
“So let’s just say ‘pudding’ when we mean anything bad,” my wife said. “I’d sure like to give the president some pudding.”
“Right up his backside,” I added.
We laughed but her father scowled. “It’s not funny,” he said. “They’re rounding up journalists.”
“I think that’s in Sudan,” my wife said.
“Not just there,” he said.
“Are they rounding them up to give them pudding?” I said. My wife laughed.
“We are a nation that fears its government,” he said.
“Are we?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said, with a condescending smile.
“I don’t,” I said. “I mean, I don’t agree with them or really like them, but I don’t fear them.”
“That’s because you’re dumb,” he said.
“Dad,” my wife said.
“What is it that they’re doing that we should be so afraid of?” I asked.
He laughed again, flashing me a troubled grin.
“Seriously,” I said, scanning a collection of newspaper boxes we were passing. “Look.” I grabbed a newspaper. It said “Free Press” across the top. “‘The Occupation of Iraq Costing $720 Million Each Day,’” I read aloud. “Why haven’t these people been locked up? They’re journalists, of a sort.”
He was at a loss. “They must keep off the radar.”
“They’re right there,” I pointed at the newspaper box. “For anybody to read.”
“But no one reads it,” my wife said.
“So,” I said, “it’s there. No one’s stopping it from being read. The Washington Post might not say these things, but other places do. Just because people are too lazy or fickle to find those places, that’s not censorship.”
A sullen silence settled over us.
“Seems to me,” I said, unable to let it go, “it’s a pretty twisted thing to compare ourselves to countries with governments that do censor the press and do lock up journalists. The people in those countries have real problems, and here we are trying to act like we’re the truly oppressed ones because we have so much freedom we have to actually make an effort to sort through our options. These guys are in no danger,” I added, holding up the newspaper, “except maybe of not selling copy.”
My father-in-law was silent and flushed. My wife strode beside me, not making eye contact. My sudden rage was wasted on their ignoring profiles. I scanned the buildings, trying to calm myself. Finally, after a long moment, my wife commented,
“I think you’re full of pudding,” and we laughed.