Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg

A weeklong electronic journal.
March 8 1999 10:00 PM

Jeffrey Goldberg

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I don't want to create the impression that I'm paranoid, but big black helicopters are circling my house as I write this. This is not an unusual occurrence. I don't mean writing--which, these days, is highly unusual--but the big black helicopters.

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When I covered night cops at the Washington Post, my colleagues and I, in the interest of reportorial efficiency, divided the city into two sectors. D.C. residents either lived on quiet, tree-lined streets or on trash-strewn, drug-infested streets. There was no such thing, in the night-cop playbook, as a quiet, drug-infested neighborhood, or a tree-lined, trash-strewn neighborhood.

But when we moved to American University Park (Motto: "A Second-Tier Neighborhood for a Third-Tier University") a couple of years ago, I realized that there is such a thing in D.C. as a national security neighborhood. These neighborhoods are tree-lined and decisively un-trash-strewn, but they are not quiet, on account of the black helicopters.

I first thought we owed the sky patrol to the presence of Sandy Berger and, reputedly, Tony Lake--no one has ever seen him, so who knows?--in our immediate vicinity. Then I thought the helicopters had something to do with the naval security station a few blocks over on Nebraska Avenue. What the Navy does there is a mystery, but it involves large antennae that disrupt the smooth functioning of car alarms, and most probably cause the gradual liquefaction of vital bodily organs (where are Mulder and Scully when you need them?).

But then the guy who installed our fence, a retired NSA official--that's what spies do when they retire, install fences--told me that our house sits directly below the route the Marines use to test the president's helicopters. If this is true, then the president has something like five dozen helicopters.

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I personally choose to believe that the black helicopters are the advance guard of the New World Order. Or that--and this is my standby explanation for anything creepy or unexplained--they're out to get me because I'm Jewish.

There are advantages to living in a national security neighborhood. Most mornings, I can get a sense of Osama bin Laden's plans simply by jogging near Sandy Berger's house. If the security is especially tight, I know that it's not a good time to visit the national monuments, or our embassy in Kampala.

Berger lives about three blocks away, between our house and Turtle Park, the playground that serves the local cell-phone and Land Rover set, and I don't especially enjoy getting eyeballed by officers of the Secret Service Uniformed Division (one of Washington's finest oxymorons), to say nothing of the ununiformed agents in black Ford Expeditions (black again!) who watch as I wheel the stroller down the street. But the earpieces are pretty low-key about their mission--they're guarding a man who hasn't taken his name and address out of the phone book, after all--and I'm not one to turn down the additional police protection a potentate brings to his neighborhood.

I am, you may be getting the idea, highly security-conscious, an outgrowth of my paranoia, which, truth be told, predates the appearance of Cossack-filled black helicopters hovering above my house.

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Paranoia might be the wrong word, actually. I'm not so much a paranoid as I am a worrier. I come from a long line of worriers--my great-grandfather was the sainted Fretter of Minsk, and my grandfather, may his memory be a blessing, was to worrying what Mark Spitz was to swimming. Which is to say, the Jewish champion.

It's appropriate that I disclose my propensity to worry on a Monday, because Monday is worry day for me. I have to worry about what I'm going to do the entire week. I have to worry about what I'm going to do next week. I have to worry about car-bombers parked somewhere between my front door and Turtle Park. I have to worry about security at our embassy in Kampala. You get the point.

I usually start worrying Sunday nights, except that last night I took a David Mamet line to heart and postponed worrying until this morning. The line was spoken by Richard Dreyfuss in Lansky. When asked if he worried, Lansky responded, "You show me someone who profited from it and I'll do it."

I had a very Mamet weekend. We saw The Old Neighborhood at Theater J at the DCJCC Saturday night, along with 200 other Jews, all of us paying to see tsoris we can get for free at home.

I have more to say about Mamet, but the black helicopters are back, and I can't concentrate. I'm leaving now to do the only thing a man with security and Mamet on his mind can do, which is go to Virginia to shoot guns.