this is based on a recent experience in Southern Florida
The Gilded Cage
“I don’t see your name on the approved list,” snapped the security guard. “Who did you say you were visiting?”
“My Great Aunt Agatha,” I answered. The guard looked up her name in a computerized list and rang her number. “Apparently, she forgot to register my name with you,” I said.
“Yeah, right,” he said. He was obviously having a bad day.
I was traveling in southern Florida and had stopped in to visit my Great Aunt. She was residing in Millenium Hills, a large retirement community, north of Miami. Millenium Hills was a gated community for active and semi-active retirees and while in Florida I had decided to visit my Great Aunt.
While the guard dialed her number I noticed that the number of cars behind me waiting to clear security had grown from one to ten. The driver immediately behind me was drumming his fingers impatiently on the wheel. I looked more closely at the guard and his partner. Didn’t they see that line of cars growing longer?
The two men reminded me of Mutt and Jeff. Mutt, the taller one, was clearly an anally retentive individual as his uniform was pressed and starched, his shoes polished and his posture rigid. He was clearly a stuffed shirt. Jeff, on the other hand, was short and paunchy and had a protruding potbelly hanging over his belt. Both had badges sewn on their sleeves that identified their employer as Vachenbutt.
Vachenbutt. Weren’t they the ones in charge of security at Area 51 and other military bases, I wondered? If so, the country was in greater trouble than it realized. No wait! That was Wackenhut that contracted out its services.
“The line is busy,” Mutt said. He glared at me as if I were some bum trying to bilk the elderly. He tossed his nose in the air as if it were a bother to be troubled by the likes of me.
“She must be on the computer,” I said.
Mutt looked at the growing line of vehicles. He clearly didn’t know how to handle the situation.
Anyone who has been through a security checkpoint knows that they aren’t dealing with the brightest bulbs in the chandelier. After all, that a four-year old who is on the no-fly list and accused of being a terrorist doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the system.
It has been my experience that by and large and with a few exceptions most security guards aren’t exactly at the top of the intellectual totem pole. Mutt and Jeff clearly sat at the bottom. Mutt pulled out a three inch thick book of rules and regulations and thumbed through it. The line of cars grew to eighteen.
“I never had a situation like this before,” he said. He tried calling again. The line was still busy.
“Pull over to the side,” he pointed after a good ten minutes perusing the instruction manual had produced no clear direction on handling this situation. The line of cars had grown to 23.
I did so and tried calling Aunt Agatha on my cell. Again a busy line. There was no way I was going to sit there in the hot Florida sun and keep calling my Aunt. I looked back at the security booth. Mutt and Jeff were too busy with the backed-up stream of cars to watch me. I looked at the perimeter of the compound. It was surrounded by a long chain link fence about waist high.
The devil made me do it! Glancing behind me to make sure I was unobserved I climbed over the fence and found myself inside Millenium Hills.
The place was huge! It must have covered several hundred acres. There were about twenty or thirty communities that must have been named after members of the Board of Directors. Names like St. Quentin, Andersonville, Folsom town and Alantraz graced the neighborhoods.
Each locale had several buildings that looked like they had been imported when the Soviet Union fell. Big and sterile, they housed 500 to 1000 residents. My aunt lived in Andersonville.
There was no way I could find Andersonville by walking around. The place was too big! I walked down the main street and came upon a distressing scene. A security guard in a black golf cart had stopped a little old lady with a walker. The golf cart had a large whip antenna sporting a yellow pennant flag with a large black eye. The guard had asked for her to produce her ID.
“You know, Mrs. Jones, that you must have your ID on you at all times. It’s the rule and rules are here for your safety and security. What would happen if a terrorist got in?” The guard lectured her about how important it was to follow the rules for security and safety. He ended by saying that although the rules were inconvenient, they were there for our security.
“I just forgot this morning,” she trembled.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll forget the fine this time and drive you back to your home and you can get it. Remember, that you need your ID to get into all the facilities.”
He helped her climb into the little golf cart and they drove off. From the top of the cart a small black portable radio slid off. I retrieved it. The guard had placed it on the top of the cart while talking to Mrs. Jones.
I was horrified! This was America, not the Soviet Union. We don’t need to be carrying “papers” around to show to any thug that demanded them.
“Hey! You! Where are you going?” I turned. It was Mutt and Jeff running down the street after me. Waving their arms, they ran toward me. Or at least Mutt ran. Jeff sort of waddled, his belly bouncing like the proverbial bowl of jelly. Sweat ran down his round face. They didn’t look very happy.
I did what any sane man would do when pursued by two crazy people. I ran. I dove between two buildings and stuck my head around to see what was happening.
Mutt and Jeff having lost the trail momentarily hesitated while Jeff spoke into his radio. I listened on my radio. “Intruder penetrated facilities. Last seen on Main Street in Folsomtown.”
Within seconds fifteen or twenty carts raced toward the scene. While Jeff explained the situation, Mutt walked over to the grassy area behind the sidewalk.
It was a bad day for Mutt. As he stood on the grass, trying to figure out where his quarry had gone, the sprinkler went off. Unfortunately Mutt was standing over it. A soaked Mutt ran to avoid the sprinkler which followed him in a circular pattern. “Cha, cha, cha,” went the sprinkler.
“Damn, damn, damn,” went Mutt.
His shiny leather shoes slipped on the grass and he fell directly into the sprinkler. A soaked and grass-stained Mutt rose swearing like a truck driver.
One of the things I learned through my early scouting days was that if you are pursued by the enemy, one of the safest hiding places was in a tree. Chasers rarely look over their heads. I climbed a tall oak. From my vantage point I was able to see much of the area.
I had an idea! I spoke into the radio. “Intruder seen at Andersonville!”
Immediately, all the carts raced toward Andersonville. Like a swarm of bumblebees, they congregated in the center of the neighborhood. Now I knew where Andersonville was!
“Negative,” I radioed again. “Intruder spotted behind the large swimming pool behind the club house. The swarm raced to the club house. Having located Andersonville, I decided to have a little fun. I directed the swarm to the 18th hole of the golf course, the furthermost point away from Andersonville.
From my vantage point, I saw Vachenbutt security gather on the 18th hole. Among them were Jeff and a very pissed off Mutt. Mutt bent down over what he apparently thought was a foot impression in the grass. As he studied it he squatted down for a closer look.
It was really a bad day for Mutt. Again the sprinkler went off directly into his butt. It was the mother of all colonoscopies, the matriarch of all enemas. It lifted him two or three feet in the air. Mutt fell to a wet grassy surface. He rose with more stains. I guess the Vachenbutt name was really appropriate.
I descended the tree and proceeded to my Aunt’s place. Aunt Agatha welcomed me at the door. “Melvin! It’s so good to see you. Come in, dear. You look like the heat is getting to you. Let me fix you a tall glass of iced tea and some of my homemade cookies.”
“Thank you,” Aunt Agatha. It is a bit hot out there.” I tugged at my collar. As we visited for an hour or so and as I enjoyed several glasses of iced tea with tinkling ice cubes, I occasionally directed Vachenbutt security to different areas of the compound.
Leaving, I sent Vachenbutt to a distant location of the compound, climbed the fence and drove off.
Looking in my rearview mirror, Millenium Hills had a golden glow from the setting sun. I guess Millenium Hills, like America, was a gilded cage.
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