The evening of Friday, December 3rd, found Our Hero in his apartment, with no immediate plans of leaving Newark, despite everything in the last entry. What would it take? you might ask.
It so happens that I have the answer to that one. It would take a visit from the FBI.
So I was sitting at the computer, as is my wont, probably looking around the Web, when I heard some loud knocking on the door. Nobody ever knocks on my door. I'm on the third floor, and I don't get any visitors. It had happened only once before, and that was when the smoke alarms went off; apparently somebody on the second floor burned some food or something.
"Who's there?" I asked.
"It's the police," I was told, "open up!"
I opened the door, and saw several people in vests that proclaimed "FBI" in large, unfriendly letters. Or at least that was the case for those among them who did not have very impressive firearms slung across their chests, obscuring my view of the letters. And they said, approximately, "Who are you? Who else lives here? Let's see your ID, and mind if we look around your apartment?"
I would like to say that I demanded to see a search warrant.
I would like to say that I stood firm.
I would like to say that I replied, "Nay, varlets! Thou shalt not pass, nor shall I answer any questions, unless thou givest me cause. 'Tis thee who must needs show identification and authorization from the justice of the peace, not I! For this is my home! And we are in America! The Constitution itself notes that I have an inalienable right to due process! Accost me not, and stay ye out of my closets."
I would like to say that I did that, possibly in more modern English, for I greatly admire people with enough moxie to do so. I consider them heroes.
I am not a hero. I folded like a cheap tent in a hurricane. I scurried for my wallet, let them run my ID, invited them in, and let them look around to their hearts' content. And I answered a stream of questions to the best of my ability. Yes, I lived alone. No, I hadn't left the house that day. No, I hadn't seen the neighbors that day. I'd left the apartment only to check my mail. No, during the sixty seconds it took to check the mail, I hadn't seen any of the neighbors. No, I didn't know anything about the neighbors. Yes, I could confirm that the neighbors included men, women, and children. No, that was the full extent of my knowledge. No, I hadn't bought any electronics on the streets of Newark that day. Yes, I was sure. No, I didn't know what the neighbors did, nor had I noticed any particular noises from downstairs. Yes, really.
Eventually they and their submachine guns—or whatever firearms they actually were; I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a javelin, but cannot differentiate them much further, as I am the very model of a modern flaming liberal—left the apartment, and I retreated to my home office to freak out on Twitter.
Perhaps twenty minutes later, they returned to take another look and ask a few followup questions. They said I was in the clear, but they were still wanted to know a bit more about the neighbors and/or electronics. And I once again explained that I had no particular knowledge of the neighbors, and hadn't bought any electronics in the area.
And then the FBI guy who was doing most of the talking said, "if you don't mind my asking, why on earth are you living here?"
And I explained that the rent was cheap and there was plenty of room for my books, and...
"But," he pressed on, "did you not do any research on the neighborhood at all?"
I granted that apparently it hadn't been enough. But, I said, it wasn't as if I'd moved here from the country. My previous neighborhood had been Crown Heights! Before that, East Boston! I grew up in Far Rockaway! I have experience with places with bad reputations!
He shook his head and said—and this is a direct quote—"This is Beirut."
Well, I do have a month-to-month lease, I said...
"At least you were smart enough for that," they said.
Umm, yeah. That was it, foresight.
They asked whether I went out to eat in the neighborhood, or if I ever walked around the neighborhood, and expressed surprise that I had not already been harassed or assaulted. They advised against any local activities short of barricading myself indoors.
At some point they noticed the Darth Tater on a bookshelf and admired it. I explained that it had been a birthday present. One of the agents said one of the other agents should take a picture of it, which is the point that I realized that the curious handheld device that other agent had taken around the apartment was probably some sort of camera.
On their way out, they helpfully pointed out that my locks were terrible, that it was only a matter of time before I was burglarized, and that I really ought to replace them with better ones.
I'm not saying that the FBI agents were a troupe of actors hired by my siblings to scare me straight—aside from being far-fetched, this would seem to be ruled out by the following night's visit by a few cars' worth of police officers to the downstairs neighbors, but not me—but if they were, they couldn't have done a better job of hitting every bullet point in the script.
In Part V, Our Hero scans the real estate listings under "Out Of Dodge."