The Spy Who Blogged Me

How we learned to stop worrying and love surveillance

Stranger 01 / Photograph by Shizuka Yokomizo, provided by Cohan and Leslie

It’s another busy afternoon at SpyTech. A young man discreetly inspects cameras hidden in teddy bears and clock radios. A chatty fellow wants to see miniature voice recorders, even though, as he loudly proclaims, he’s not planning on buying anything. A woman comes in with an elaborate rented apparatus that needs repairs; her dog chewed through a wire, putting an abrupt end to a student art project involving cameras affixed to pets. Finally, Ursula Lebana, the owner of this midtown Toronto business, manages to break away from a customer on the phone who wants to buy a cellphone signal jammer. They are illegal in Canada, she tells him.

I ask Lebana how things have changed since she opened Canada’s first spy store back in 1991. “People who came into the store at that time were quite shocked,” she tells me. “They never realized cameras were that small. They said, ‘Oh my God, that’s scary. And isn’t it terrible to monitor the nanny? Where’s the trust?’” Sixteen years later, business is booming. “Now people say, ‘Oh, I want a hidden camera,’” says Lebana, who has since opened SpyTech locations in Ottawa and London, Ontario. “They are more willing to use them now. They’re more familiar with it. I’m even getting repeat customers: a girl came in, and she had her first baby, so now she’s monitoring the nanny like her father did sixteen years ago, which is nice.”

Cozy stories of intergenerational nanny monitoring aside, there are lots of ways to characterize the ongoing revolution in surveillance technologies and attitudes, and “nice” isn’t one of them. But on second thought, maybe Lebana is on to something. In the almost two decades SpyTech has been selling miniature cameras, micro-recorders, semen detection kits, and computer monitoring packages, we’ve gone from fearing Big Brother to wanting to be him. Where’s the trust? There isn’t any. But don’t worry. There’s a new world of ubiquitous, self-directed surveillance to make sure we all play nice.

When George Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in the late 1940s, the possibility of a future totalitarian state would have seemed very real. The Nazis might have come up with something like an all-knowing, all-watching Big Brother had they prevailed in their quest for world domination and Aryan purity. Or if not the Nazis, then maybe Stalin’s USSR, with its micromanaged citizens told what to eat, watch, and think. Orwell wrote at a time when informants, wiretaps, and secret agents bugging apartments were seen as the difference between us and them.

But Hitler was defeated, and the Berlin Wall crumbled. The spectre of an evil government using surveillance to control every aspect of its citizens’ lives receded. Today the new enemy is “terrorism.” Surveillance, no longer a symbol of totalitarianism, is seen as a helpful tool in our never-ending “war” against an amorphous enemy who can appear anywhere, anytime. So it is that almost every day, surveillance cameras spring up in trouble spots and bad neighbourhoods, with very little protest. They are ubiquitous. We’ve stopped noticing them. From activists, academics, and government watchdogs, we get a steady stream of alarming reports, books, and speeches, but few of them are asking the right question: if surveillance is everywhere, if 2008 feels so much like Nineteen Eighty-Four, why doesn’t anyone care?

An abc News/Washington Post poll conducted in July 2007 found that 71 percent of Americans favour increased video surveillance. Good thing, because in the United States there are an estimated 30 million publicly and privately operated surveillance cameras creating 4 billion hours of video a week.

The UK leads the Western world in police use of closed-circuit television (cctv) cameras. Estimates suggest that there are more than 4 million cctv cameras nationwide watching town squares, highways, and busy shopping malls. Far from being anti-surveillance agitators, British citizens are by and large sanguine about cctvs. In fact, there’s even a Home Office initiative called the Safe Cities Program that has doled out hundreds of millions of pounds in grants to cities for cctv anti-crime projects.

Canada’s numbers are harder to pin down. As Ontario’s SpyTech suggests, the private surveillance business is thriving; more and more homes, daycare centres, schools, stores, businesses, and apartment buildings are monitoring their premises and properties. Initiatives like Bell Canada’s recently discontinued Home Monitoring service demonstrate the steady mainstreaming of surveillance. For a monthly fee, subscribers could fuse Bell’s Sympatico Internet service with customized warnings on mobile devices, such as a text message to your cellphone informing you that your elderly parent failed to activate a motion sensor. Finally, though nowhere near UK and US numbers, police surveillance cameras are in use in at least fourteen Canadian cities.

A look at cctv in Toronto is a peek into the probable future of surveillance in urban Canada. This past winter, the police held a community meeting to discuss installing cameras at the troubled intersection of Bathurst and Queen. Meanwhile, up to 10,000 cameras will be installed and activated this summer in Toronto’s subway cars, streetcars, and buses. When the Toronto Transit Commission revealed its surveillance plans, citizens shrugged and went about their business. It took Privacy International, based in London, England, to register a complaint. A cbc Radio producer who attempted to do a piece on the police surveillance cameras installed in Toronto’s club district told me he gave up on the project partly because all the bright-eyed young people he interviewed under the giant domed cameras were universally positive about the watchful presence of authority.

Stéphane Leman-Langlois, a University of Montreal criminologist and a member of the Surveillance Camera Awareness Network, conducted focus groups in a crime-ridden downtown Montreal neighbourhood where police cctv cameras had been installed. Residents were asked to discuss their feelings about safety, security, and the cctv cameras. Langlois discovered that the cameras simply weren’t a concern. Issues like privacy and state totalitarianism were never raised. “The only conclusion about the perception of surveillance,” Leman-Langlois tells me, “is that they don’t perceive it. They don’t see it as surveillance at all.”

Just how blasé are we about a practice that, for decades, has been inseparably conjoined with tyranny? And what happens to a society that stops worrying about surveillance and starts asking for it?

In search of answers, I decide to visit the Surveillance Project. Based at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, it’s the only research lab in Canada devoted exclusively to the sociological study of surveillance. I expect to be met by grey-haired talking heads lamenting the death of a privacy nobody seems to want anymore, but instead I find a young graduate student doing research on Facebook users. Another Ph.D. student, teaching fellow Jason Pridmore, is about to defend a dissertation on loyalty and reward programs. Professor David Lyon, a long-time surveillance researcher and the founder of the project, is studying the current government trend toward biometrics. Since when did social networking, Air Miles, and better passports get lumped in with wiretaps and surveillance cameras?”

When I go into a classroom and I ask my students, what is surveillance, they think of cctv cameras and the fbi,” Pridmore explains. “They don’t think of the mundane activities they do when they go to the cash register and they’re asked, what’s your phone number? ” He discovered that we participate willingly in programs, such as Air Miles and Aeroplan, that record and sell information about our everyday purchases. We rarely, if ever, think of this as surveillance. As Pridmore tells me, “I did a survey that concluded that there is no correlation between people’s privacy/surveillance concerns and use of loyalty programs.” His survey subjects have pretty much the same indifferent attitude as the Montreal residents Leman-Langlois interviewed about cctv cameras in their neighbourhoods. “I think,” Pridmore says, “people are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t really notice.”

Indeed, we seem to consider things like loyalty programs and even cameras on the street as value-added bonuses — the free stuff we get for working nine to five, paying our taxes, and taking the time to shop around for the best deal. If I’m not doing anything wrong, why would a little surveillance bother me? In fact, surveillance actually helps me. “There’s a whole bunch of people who say, ‘Yeah, I’m giving up something, but I get so much back,’” says Pridmore of loyalty program users. “And then there are people who are complete advocates — ‘Yeah, it’s great. They tailor things to my needs.’”

The revelation is not that the owners of schemes like loyalty programs are watching us — we already know that. What’s becoming evident now is that we actually enjoy being watched. Where once people might have balked at the idea of a corporation tracking their purchases, today we see it in terms of “something for nothing.” And why not let some faceless company know what I had for breakfast?

Surveillance caters to the two opposing, prevailing desires of the twenty-first-century consumer-citizen: we want the freedom to discover and reinvent our unique selves, but we also want mass-produced options that make lifestyle transformation quick and easy. The more the decision-makers know about us, the more they can tailor their decisions to fit our individual needs. The more surveillance seeps into everyday life, the more we reflexively facilitate our own monitoring, enhance the possibilities of prefab individuality, and earn points for a free trip to Florida in the process.

Allowing companies and governments to trade in the minute details of our likes and dislikes seems fairly innocuous. But as Nineteen Eighty-Four reminds us, it was only a few generations ago that the Nazis used the computing savvy of IBM to collect similarly innocent information about its citizens. Hitler’s fascists, operating in a democratic, capitalist society, wanted to know things like occupation, religion, place of birth, names of parents, uncles, aunts, cousins. Once the population was thoroughly and exhaustively chronicled, the world’s first genocide by database began. Given that, can we really — even as a society of lifestyle consumers who have trouble seeing past the next bargain bin — be that sanguine about surveillance? I need another point of view. I need to talk to someone less likely to accept that surveillance is now part of the casual infrastructure of our everyday lives. I arrange to speak with Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada.

When I reach Stoddart in her Ottawa office, she doesn’t reassure me. She tells me that “the public is really concerned about their privacy,” but it is also segmented. “People have different expectations of privacy, and highly personalized views on not only what people know about them, but also what they should know about other people.” Without coming out and saying so, she more or less agrees with what I learned at the Surveillance Project: people are happily choosing to jettison their privacy in return for the comforts and conveniences of different kinds of surveillance. “The private sector, which is now the main consumer of our personal information, offers us such rewards that it’s very easy to forget what’s happening with that information,” says Stoddart. “So it feels like the surrendering of our personal information is in fact a good thing.”

Does it feel like it’s a good thing, or is it, in the minds of most people, just plain and simple a good thing? When else have we had the opportunity to trade the mundane details of our lives, stuff that we never imagined had any value in the first place, for everything from free flights to more friends? Stoddart notes that Canadians are complacent about surveillance because “we haven’t seen too many major foul-ups, too many blatant injustices. People are starting to realize that if there’s a problem there’s a place they can go for redress.” An example is surveillance in the street. “Police have been listening to the privacy commissioners about how to use these cameras. Public authorities are listening to me, albeit reluctantly, and we are developing safeguards and rules.”

We’re secure in the knowledge that the Privacy Commissioner and her provincial counterparts are watching the watchers. But our naive notion of benevolent surveillance carefully monitored by government-appointed watchdogs blissfully ignores recent history. Even while locked in global warfare with the Communist threat, the United States, that bastion of democracy, was using Soviet-style surveillance tactics to infiltrate and intimidate everyone from civil rights activists to alternative newspapers to Hollywood screenwriters. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada’s principal intelligence service, csis, spied on anti-globalization activists. Bell Canada recently announced the theft of data containing contact information for 3.4 million clients. Since 9/11, there have been countless stories of abuse in North America and Europe under the auspices of homeland security.

In one or two generations, we’ve gone from fearing Big Brother to barely noticing him. Sure, the political landscape has changed, and corporate surveillance has become part of an infrastructure that enables our preferred lifestyle of conformist individuality. But the extent to which we’ve accepted outside scrutiny into every aspect of our quotidian existence suggests that our attitude to surveillance is not simply the product of temporal shifts. Surveillance is now woven into the very fabric of our culture.

To understand how this happened, let’s go back to Orwell’s classic novel. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the characters are monitored via “telescreens” in every room. That was science fiction to Orwell, but today we call them televisions, and we do indeed have them, if not in every room, then in nearly every house. The difference is that we don’t fear television as the agent of an oppressive state. Rather, we embrace it. The biggest change in the social climate from 1949 to 2000 has been the rise of television. Television, unlike the ominous telescreen, didn’t turn us into people who were always being watched. First we had to become addicted to watching.

It was television that taught us to truly accept watching the lives of others as an everyday phenomenon. Some of TV’s biggest, earliest hits featured real families pretending to be fake families: 1951 gave us I Love Lucy, starring Lucille Ball as a wacky housewife longing for the spotlight that belonged to her bandleader husband, played by Desi Arnaz. The show featured the real-life married couple, who even managed to work their second real-life child into the series, with the televised fictional pregnancy synchronized to the actual birth of Jr.

Fast-forward to Seinfeld, and you get a show about a New York comedian named Jerry Seinfeld, played by New York comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The only successful spinoff from Seinfeld is Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show that purports to be about the real life of Larry David, the real-life producer who co-created Seinfeld. From the beginning, television audiences were asked to reconsider the separation between actor and person. Are they really that different? And if real people who play themselves are entertaining, why not just jettison the artifice of acting altogether?

Candid Camera, the long-running show hosted by the avuncular Allen Funt, did exactly that. Funt actually started out in 1947 on radio doing Candid Microphone before moving to the then barely born television industry the next year. In many ways, Candid Camera was the first incarnation of the genre we now know as reality television. It mixed predetermined elements with the unpredictable reactions of “real” people. It also, like today’s reality shows, depended heavily on the techniques of surveillance. “One of the luckiest discoveries I ever made, as far as camera concealment is concerned,” wrote Funt in his 1952 memoir, “was a small wonder known as a two-way mirror.”

In various incarnations, Candid Camera would stay on the air for fifty years. It would wind down just around the time of the reality TV explosion of 2000. A mere fifty years after Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was published, Big Brother would go from a chilling symbol of totalitarianism to the punchline title of a reality show broadcast in various indigenous incarnations in sixty-plus countries. Big Brother and its contemporaries, like the Survivor series, continue to rely on Candid Camera’s original formula of setting up fake scenarios that nevertheless bring about “real” emotions. While Candid Camera used hidden cameras, the new reality shows, paralleling our own deepening relationship to surveillance, operate on the principle of ubiquity — so many cameras so much of the time that both participants and viewers gradually forget that they’re there at all.

Candid Camera made surveillance funny and dramatic. At the same time, scripted, fictional television was conditioning audiences to the notion that we should have ongoing access to the intimate lives of others. Today clever producers are merging the hidden-camera aesthetic of Candid Camera with the ongoing, addictive intimacy of the sitcom/soap opera. The result is a new genre of reality television sitcoms. These include, but are hardly limited to, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Hogan Knows Best, Gene Simmons Family Jewels, and House of Carters. If you haven’t seen these shows, imagine Desi as a geriatric heavy metal star, Lucy as a busty blond who thinks Chicken of the Sea is poultry, and Jr. as a bloated teenager with a personal trainer and designs on his own spinoff. Then, as now, we love to peer in on the daily doings of others. Then, as now, we’re more than willing to believe that what we’re watching isn’t really, isn’t completely, fiction. Fifty years after Desi and Lucy played themselves on television, character and actor have finally become one and the same. The bastard offspring of I Love Lucy have turned surveillance into the family (show) business.

In an age where celebrity is a lifestyle and all lifestyles are for sale, the message is clear: surveillance is something to aspire to, not fear and avoid. Furthermore, all lives are worthy of surveillance, no special talent is needed, anyone can and should apply. At a reality TV convention in Nashville, I meet Steve, a retiree from New Jersey. His favourite reality show is Big Brother. “These are people like me,” he tells me. “You think, if they can do it, I can do it.”

From loyalty programs and cctv cameras, we learn that surveillance can be convenient and even helpful. From television, we learn that surveillance is entertaining and, moreover, an accessible way to turn your life into your own product and achieve celebrity. So why not integrate the possibilities into one complete package? Welcome to the twenty-first century, where interactive surveillance fuses convenience, entertainment, and security into ongoing programs of corporate-enabled self-monitoring.

Consider the work of Justin Kan, the San Francisco entrepreneur behind Following in the footsteps of such online voyeur pioneers as Steve Mann (creator of WearComp and WearCam) of Hamilton, Ontario, and Jennifer Ringley of JenniCam (the first person to offer live broadcasts from her living space twenty-four hours a day), Justin has developed a new entertainment paradigm: “lifecasting.”

I call up Justin for an interview. He’s at a coffee shop, a fact I know before he tells me, because on my monitor at home I can see everything he sees. So can anyone else who happens by his live broadcast. I watch Justin leave the café and walk home. There, he puts me on speakerphone so his audience can hear my side of the conversation, too. Immediately, that audience, all comfily logged in to an adjoining online chat room, starts commenting on my questions and Justin’s answers. Lifecasting creates a never-ending interactive soap opera featuring live people in real time. It’s the nadir of personal surveillance, and, according to Justin, it’s the future.

“People fundamentally like having relationships and watching other people. Something like is a low-cost In an age where celebrity is a lifestyle and all lifestyles are for sale, the message is clear: surveillance is something to aspire to, not fear and avoid.
41 way of having a relationship either with me or other people on the show, or with the people online. It’s almost like a coffee shop, except it’s easy — you don’t have to go anywhere. It’s TV plus Internet chat.”

Call it surveillance with benefits. You spend so much time observing someone else’s life that you actually start feeling as if you have a relationship with that person. Come to think of it, maybe you do have a relationship with your favourite lifecaster. Justin talks about his “long-time fans” who answer the questions “newbies” pose about “bathroom, sleep, sex.” These fans also have strong opinions about the choices Justin makes. “I was at a cable industry trade show, and someone said, ‘Justin doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s not a good networker; he doesn’t get what trade shows are for.’ Or ‘He should have asked that girl out on a date.’ I have a guy who watches a lot, and he’s like a father, and he says, ‘Justin, you don’t eat rice.’ He’s called me ‘boy’ in the past. It’s a little awkward — you don’t really say that in real life. Sometimes he says, ‘You need a spanking.’ I think, ‘I’m a grown man, but thanks a lot for your opinion.’”

It’s easy to dismiss Justin and his retinue as extrovert freaks seeking fame and attention. But what Justin is doing verges on mainstream. Check out now, and you’ll find 20,000 or so other people sporting their own channels. They are on a continuum of self-surveillance — think blogs, think personal podcasts, think uploaded videos to YouTube, think the “Hal is…” one-sentence update-your-life feature on Facebook. There are millions of people on this continuum. Maybe even billions.

We create our profiles, entice into the doings of our everyday lives, and reap the rewards of self-surveillance. Surveillance Project Ph.D. student Dan Trottier tells me that the social networking site Facebook actually offers two kinds of surveillance for the price of one: “peer-to-peer surveillance, stuff like Facebook stalking,” and “more conventional forms of surveillance, like consumer surveillance.” In his research, he’s looking at “how those two kinds of surveillance mutually augment each other.”

Trottier’s research is just getting started, so I decide to do a bit of fieldwork myself. I check in with one of the many of my Facebook “friends” I’ve never met: Jeff White, a freshman at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He tells me that although the majority of his fellow students use Facebook, no one he knows has ever read its privacy code, and only a few have adjusted their profile pages to limit access. Furthermore, he tells me that although his peers suspect that teachers, parents, and even the police are sometimes on Facebook, putting up pictures of yourself at the right party waving a bright red cup in front of your bright red face is now something of a necessary ritual. “We’ve created a Facebook rite of passage where you can look cool on Facebook by posting that kind of stuff,” explains White. “I would say half of the college pictures show cups in them. You can look cool, just like you would if you bragged about it.”

Or else you think you’re looking cool, only to find out that everyone else is looking at a different picture: you passed out on the bathroom floor looking like an idiot. Widespread personalized surveillance of self, friends, peers, and neighbours leads to any number of ethical quandaries. “Perhaps the greatest challenge now,” Jennifer Stoddart tells me, “is the possibility of all citizens surveying each other. It’s the kind of thing you can do by surveying your neighbour in the backyard.” The rules don’t apply to the multitudes of cellphone-camera-pointing bloggers, social networkers, YouTube uploaders, and nanny cam enthusiasts — you have to sue. The state has no business in the webcams of the nation, and that’s why the neighbour filming us mowing the backyard in our underwear and posting the video to YouTube scares us more than a drugstore tracking our birth control purchases. The last thing we want is to be the next Star Wars Kid, on the wrong end of somebody’s unregulated camera. We want to appear in control even when we’re portraying ourselves as out of control. After that, pretty much anything goes. Wired magazine reports that the future of commercial online pornography is amateur: Jeff White’s peers all grown up, but still seeking to trade their privacy for attention.

The movement from fictional television, to broadcasting “reality,” to interactive surveillance is an insidious one. You’re encouraged to brag about your exploits, but you might also lose your job, get arrested, and have some ill-considered online photo or blog post hanging over you for the rest of your life. Those are by-products of surveillance as convenience and entertainment, but the bulk of us see them as benefits, not detriments. In the age of surveillance, the rule of law still applies, petty criminals are easier to catch than ever, and information about a potential bad date is just a click away. Not only have television and its interactive offspring taught us to enjoy watching other people go about their private lives; television has also taught us to equate surveillance with law and order. Quite simply, the bad guys on shows like csi, Law & Order, and 24 are always under surveillance — and good thing, too, because lawbreakers don’t deserve privacy.

In January of this year, Newfoundland computer store owner Dave McGrath captured the theft of a $275 computer processor on his surveillance camera. He notified the police, then put the segment up on YouTube. People all over the world watched the video, more than 40,000 times. And from the 100-plus comments, it’s clear that most of the people watching did not tune in because they thought they could identify the perpetrator. So why look at the clip? Or maybe the question is, why not? With its potential for voyeurism, lurid violence, and plots too crazy to be made up, the whole process is entertaining. No wonder the nightly news now regularly shows surveillance footage. No wonder so many people go to video upload sites to get their fix of real crime in real time.

“On the news,” says Stéphane Leman-Langlois, “they call for help to the public: can you recognize this person? Or they show risky behaviour: this is what happens, so you shouldn’t do it. Or here’s a pickpocket in action, and in thirty seconds the police are going to jump him. So the message is, this video is very helpful for policing purposes.”

Surveillance as entertainment, surveillance as a benevolent aspect of law enforcement, surveillance as value-added service. According to Leman-Langlois, the overall result is not just a change in what we consider entertaining, but in what we consider a proper response to the problem of crime in our society. “We’re perceiving crime more and more in terms of insufficient surveillance. We used to be trying to figure out the root causes of crime. But now we are saying people are committing crime because no one is watching. The criminals wouldn’t be doing this if the cameras were there.”

Listening to Leman-Langlois brings me back to the stories SpyTech owner Ursula Lebana tells about her satisfied customers. Stories about people being harassed by death threats and vandalism until they install hidden cameras that, inevitably, catch the perpetrator. Stories of the next-door neighbour turning out to be the guilty party in the mysterious case of the repeatedly mauled garden. Stories of the boss secretly recording the firing of a problem employee and, when the employee freaks out later and threatens to claim she was fired for not responding to the boss’s advances, calmly pulling out his pen voice recorder and playing back the evidence.

These are stories of problems solved because of surveillance — problems that might never have even come up if surveillance had already been in place. As Bill Gates puts it in his memoir/meditation The Road Ahead, “I find the prospect of documented lives a little chilling, but some people will warm to the idea. One reason for documenting a life will be defensive. If someone ever accused you of something, you could retort, ‘Hey, buddy, I have a documented life. I can play back anything I’ve ever said. So don’t play games with me.’”

The presence of surveillance in all aspects of everyday life has had a strange effect on the consciousness of Canadians and citizens throughout the Western world. Over the past twenty years, ubiquity has become acceptance, and acceptance has become adoption and adaptation. We’ve adopted the logic of surveillance and adapted its goals and methodologies to everyday life. We’ve done so largely because seemingly disparate phenomena such as police surveillance, Air Miles, Facebook, blogs, gps-enabled cellphones, the War on Terror, and reality TV all put out the same message: surveillance is good for you; only the guilty worry about their privacy. Today surveillance is seen as a kind of twenty-first-century panacea: it cures crime, saves time, prevents lies, makes you laugh, and a teaspoon a day makes the lonely blues go away. Moreover, it has always been with us in one form or another, so what’s the problem?

“People have always gossiped,” Jennifer Stoddart reminds me. “They’ve always leaned out the window, surveying each other. What we have to be concerned about is the technological means that enable us both to look at our fellow human beings, and to propagate the knowledge we have. Some of it should be off limits in a society that respects human rights and dignity. And that’s where the challenge is.”

Stoddart quite rightly links the age-old tradition of gossip to the rise of a surveillance culture. We watch ourselves and each other not out of some perverted impulse to violate human rights, but for the same reasons we gossip about the neighbours and celebrities we’ll never meet. We do it because we’re anxious to connect to each other, desperate to be legitimized and noticed (preferably onscreen where everyone can see), and unsure of the intentions of the people who live all around us. We’re not afraid of the surveillance state or losing our privacy; we’re afraid of the gaps in our culture of surveillance. We fear the moments when, unobserved, unrecorded, and unexhibited, we virtually disappear. There are limits, but we’re not sure what they are anymore.

Back at SpyTech, I’m waiting patiently for Ursula Lebana to return from yet another phone call. I contemplate the guy near me at the counter. He’s exhibiting a keen interest in the clock radio cam. Sensing an opportunity, I sidle up next to him. “Pretty cool, huh?” I say. He nods. “So what are you planning on doing with it? ” Reluctantly he looks up at me. His face is red. He’s sweating. “Uh . . . ” he stammers, “domestic issue, girlfriend thing . . . ” His gaze swings from me back to the clock radio cam and finally to the door. Abruptly, he makes a break for the anonymity of the street.

Hal Niedzviecki
Hal Niedzviecki is a writer, speaker, culture commentator, and editor whose work challenges preconceptions and confronts readers with the offenses of everyday life.