Vigilance at home = security Hoping this letter finds you well and at the top of your game. I am writing to let you know that I am doing all I can to keep my family on the alert in these troubled times.

Yesterday, it was Big Trash Night, and my neighbors had as usual put many large and fascinating items out for removal. One particular object caught my eye and I pulled a U-turn in the street. I am grateful that your ever-watchful minions chose not to arrest me for my vehicular peccadillo.

The object in question was a giant stuffed grizzly bear. I opened the hatch of my 17-year-old Japanese-made economy car (I promise to purchase an SUV as soon as I can) and made my way to the toy animal. It was so large I could barely fit it in my car!

I was soon inspired as to what to do. I returned home and was relieved that my family was absent. Locating my ladder, I leaned it against the apple tree in my front yard, ascended with the stuffed grizzly bear and placed it high in the branches.

Then, last night, I called my two sons and told them to find a flashlight. “What for, Dad?” my youngest, an 11-year-old, asked.

“I heard something in the tree in the front yard,” I replied, deadpan. “Must be a raccoon or something.”

Ever eager for wildlife interaction, my boys found the flashlight and the three of us tentatively approached the apple tree. They shined the light into the tree and the effect was more dramatic than I could have consciously designed. The glare of the flashlight, coupled with the nimbus of golden light created by the street lamp in the background, created the unearthly specter of a giant brown hairball.

My boys screamed and ran into the house. Moments later, they returned with their mother, who, too, was afraid. It was only when my brave wife approached the chimerical hairball from the frontal perspective that my jape was revealed.

After the laughter of relief subsided, both sons vowed to “punk” me sometime this summer.

I want you to know, Mr. Ashcroft, this grizzly bear incident is only one of many such activities in which we are engaged. For months now, we have placed a hand-sized plastic spider in strategic locations — dishwasher, laundry basket, pillows, etc. — so that the unsuspecting person can come upon said spider and be instantly stricken. The stuffed grizzly bear takes our spider tricks to an elevated level.

I feel proud that this type of activity is actually a way to teach my sons to never let down their guard. It is a dangerous world, and anything we parents can do to continue to horrify our children is a plus for our nation. Call me a Patriot Activist.

While I’m writing to you, I want to clarify the following incident that you no doubt monitored. As you know, my 11-year-old recently graduated from elementary school and received a “Presidential Award” for his good behavior. The certificate was signed by your boss as well as Secretary of Education Rod Paige.

I apologize for my reaction at the school ceremony when the president’s name was mentioned, as the sound coming from my mouth could have been interpreted as a hiss. In truth, I was absent-mindedly attempting to mimic the sounds of the soon-to-hatch cicadas, who are, to my mind, nothing but a metaphor for terrorists anyway. I want to learn how to talk with their leader, so I can get information from them, and even perhaps coax one to come in the house and scare my sons in the bath or shower. I in no way meant my hiss to be associated with President Bush’s name, nor do I know who actually muttered the phrase “No child left un-awarded.” It must have been the liberal-looking guy beside me, though I do admit my lips were moving when he spoke.

I also feel compelled to apologize for the snort that expelled from my nose when Secretary Paige’s name was cited. Despite the fact that this is the same Paige who likened teachers to terrorists not long ago, I did not intend my snort to be derisive or in fact coincide at all with the mentioning of his name. My mind was elsewhere, dreaming of a country where freedoms are protected by a government who has the power of surveillance over all its citizens.

If we’re not doing anything wrong, then why would we care if you’re watching?

Not me. My snort was one of triumph, of inspiration, of respect for the decisive leaders lording over our government. It was a soaring snort of transcendence, a nasal bark of reverence and awe.

I feel so strongly about this, I want to offer, on this page, my fingerprint, as I have never been arrested and thus no file exists. That I know of at least.

I offer it so you know I’m on your side, that I’ll do everything I can to fill my home with alertness, and to watch for cynical hisses and snorts from those around me. Please, though, make sure you use a full image of my fingerprint for your file; not just a portion.

Yours in solidarity and fear,