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GROUND ZERO PLUS 1111 DAYS,--New York, NY, Wednesday, September 29, 2004--Getting served a subpoena is not a pleasant experience, even when the one you get is a big mistake.

I brave out daily a battle with the Beast of Terror. Often I'm not brave at all. There are times when I cling to thin threads of belief and hope that I won't fall into the Beast's lair, and if I do, not too far.

Yesterday was such a close call.

Subpoena:  a command to a witness to appear and give testimony
Subpoena: a command to a witness to appear and give testimony

I answered the buzzer to our apartment in the East Village expecting it to be the building super who was going to do some work in our bathroom. Instead, a woman yelled into the intercom that she was here to serve Mr. McKenzie a subpoena, and to let her in.

Of course, I didn't. As far as I was conerned, the Beast of Legal Terror was camped out on the stoop of my apartment. I was now a prisoner.

I sat on my couch and tried to figure out if there was anything in my life that might have crossed the line into the subpoena world. The closest I could come up with was AXA Financial, a company I am accusing of Acts of Corporate Terrorism. I wracked my brain trying to figure out what I might have said or done that deserved a subpoena. I drew a blank, but these days, one never knows.

Part of me wanted it to be AXA so I could fight the giant insurance company that violated my rights in court, but another part of me was cautious. What if it wasn't AXA?

Who could it be?

What could it be for?

A few minutes later a loud banging began at my door, joined by a shrill, angry voice chanting, "Mr. McKenzie! Mr. McKenzie! I have a subpoena for you. I know you're in there. I'm not leaving until I deliver it to you."

I listened as a prisoner might the footsteps of the guards at Abu Gharib prison in Iraq. The Beast of Subpoena Terror was at the gates, holding in her hand an accusation of some crime, filling my brave TerrorHunter being with Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.

I was afraid of the unknown and intimidated by the idea someone picked me out of the crowd to indict. I was also complacent about whether I should open the door or just sit on the couch and wait for another day when the subpoena server would catch me off guard.

Accused, one wonders about his or her general guilt even if innocent. I find it always interesting that no matter what, there is a moment when the accusation forces one to do a quick moral inventory to see if indeed a crime was committed even though no memory of it exists.

I felt impotent, powerless.

I felt impotent, powerless
I felt impotent, powerless

I sucked in a deep breath and opened the door. I decided to not be myself, but to pretend to be the brother of myself. I knew it was a frail ruse, but my instincts were to not accept any subpoena until I knew what was going on. I opened the door as one might the cage of a fierce Beast.

"Mr. McKenzie?" the woman said, holding a folder. She looked like a subpoena server, haggered, emotionless, angry. I knew I couldn't bolt past her and race down the stairs even if I wanted to.

"No, I'm his brother. Can I help you with something?"

"I need to know when Mr. McKenzie will be here, so I can serve him. I was here Saturday and talked to the neighbors." She held up the folder as though it were some shield blocking my path to escape.

"What is this all about?" I inquired.

"I can't tell you. When will Mr. McKenzie be home?"

"I don't know," I restated, "but as his brother, can I accept it?" I was dying to know what was inside the folder.

"No...I must deliver it to him personally."

That's when it happened. The subpoena server stepped back and gave me a long, hard look. I looked at her oddly, because the roar in her eyes seemed to flicker. She opened the folder and glanced into it, then back up at me, then again into the folder.

"You're not black!" she exclaimed.

The subpoena server made a "horrible mistake"
The subpoena server made a "horrible mistake"

I looked down at my arms and shook my head: "No, not today."

The man I'm after is named Preston McKenzie," she said. "And he's African American."

"Well, the best I can do is Scots Irish," I said. "Unfortuantely, just white people live here."

I thought for a second this was a ploy. I kept my guard up.

"Oh my God," she said earnestly, "I've made a horrible mistake."

In the next few minutes the mistake was unraveled. The man she was looking for was an African American with a different first name. The address was this one, but, I assumed, the picture in her file and the pictures inside the hall of our apartment and door are littered with grandparents and grandchildren, all of Scot-Irish descent. No African Americans line the gallery walls.

"Here, let me give you his Social Security Number and birthdate, so you can fix your records."

I rattled off "my brother's" social, forgetting I was pretending to be him. She wrote it down.

"One thing," I said as she profusely apologized for banging on the neighbors' doors this past Saturday in search of me. She offered to tell them she had made a mistake, but I quelled her embarrassment and told her notto bother, I would do it.

"What is it," she replied.

"Will a herd of other subpoena people come after you, thinking I am the Mr. McKenzie on your subpoena? Is there any way to expunge my name from your subpoena hunting list?"

She cracked a faint smile. "Don't worry, I'm in charge of the case. I'll do it."
"Thanks," I said, and bade her goodbye.

I felt a bit like Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam
I felt a bit like Cat Stevens, now Yusuf Islam

I felt a bit like Cat Stevens, the former singer turned radical Muslim that was recently denied access to the United States.

When you're on a Black List or a Subpoena List, you feel like you've been disenfranchised from your world, an outsider, a leper.

I had just been Fair Subpoena Game for some violation of some law I still don't know about--a technical mistake regarding the issue of black and white. Ironically, just the other day I wrote about the dilemma of "black" versus "white" and now I was part of the story, living it in a different way.

I thought about the many people whose names might be close to a Terrorist name on some Watch List, or anyone who was singled out for something they didn't do because of the way they looked or their proximity to a scene or incident.

Just a few weeks ago the police threw nets around people standing near demonstrations and like the fishermen who catch dolphins by mistake when they are hunting for tuna, the innocent got canned.

Terrorism is a lot of things and yesterday I got a bit closer to it.

Was The Beast Of Terror warning me (or you)?
Was The Beast Of Terror warning me (or you)?

As I was telling a friend I met at Starbucks about the incident, my friend, Howard, looked at me and said, "So, you ducked the subpoena bullet because you're white. You're lucky."

He went on to tell me if they had served me I would have had to go to court to prove I wasn't black and wasn't this Preston McKenzie fellow, and it would have been a huge hassle.

Then I thought of the target of the subpoena. Was he truly guilty or a victim caught in a web of intrigue?

Then I realized that maybe the incident was just a reminder about the fragility of civil rights, and how in a moment a person's world can go from "normal" to "abbynormal," as the word is used in Mel Brook's movie, "Young Frankenstein."

I went back to writing and wondering. Did the Beast of Terror send a messenger to remind me that my day was coming...that soon the subpoena would be right...for me...for something I did that I didn't know I did?

Who knows.

Just remember, someone out there may be walking around with subpoena for you.


Go To Yesterday's Story: "Cutting The Tonails Of The Beast Of Terror--An Act Of Cowardice By U. S. Military Officers In Iraq"




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