The Box                                                                   GREEN  10.1

      After a quiet but tense Saturday, the national anxiety level begins to crank back up another couple of notches. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are both on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, warning that more terrorist attacks are coming, lurking, right around the corner. There is plentiful talk of bridges and dams, power grids and food supplies. Pakistan, presumably with a little prodding, issues a warning to the Taliban that if they don't surrender Osama bin Laden within three days, they will face massive military action from the United States.
      The American people are totally down with this course of action. USA Today releases a poll which shows that most citizens would support retaliation against the Evil Ones - as these shadowy individuals are now referred to - ’even if it means a lengthy war that would cost many American lives and lead to an economic recession, higher taxes and further terrorist attacks on the U.S.’ Whew. Of course, most citizens have already lost track of the question before it has been completed, but still...
       It’s may not be cloberin' time yet, but it's getting close. The Bushies begin to hint that Afghanistan may not be the only country that needs to be taken down a notch or two.
      It is certainly unseemly to be overly concerned with material matters, but a lot of Americans do seem worried about the reopening of the stock market on Monday morning. Being right in the middle of New York’s attack zone, the market has been closed for an unprecedented four days. On Saturday, Warren Buffett is on the OpEds, urging people not to sell, and Sunday morning brings the odd spectacle  of ministers across the land telling their congregations that it would be a mighty patriotic time to buy. It doesn’t matter. Surely enough, first thing Monday morning, the markets come tumbling down, even though the administration has trotted out Allen Greenspan in his pajamas to deliver a surprise breakfast-time interest rate cut.
      Bush gets what may be the best sound bite of his short presidency, holding forth that his personal view on Osama bin Laden was best captured by the Old West posters, WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE: [Your name here].
     Early Tuesday morning, office copiers are alive with the sounds of solidarity, excited employees printing out copies of their own personal wanted posters. Thousands of variations on the theme have sprung into existence on thousands of  personal web sites overnight.
      People are talking about many things today, but chief among the topics is 'When are we going to go after them', ‘them’ being a rather nebulous concept, currently defined as anything from a man to a country to a religion.


      Lex, the old civil libertarian, has been consumed this morning with the legal manipulations taking place a few miles up the street at the Department Of Justice. Things are happening so fast!  Who would imagine government work proceeding with such speed?
      There is much to be taken care of. For one thing, the Bush administration has decided that the DOJ should greatly expand its power to incarcerate immigrant suspects and potential material witnesses. Sounds more than reasonable to Mister John Ashcroft, former tenor with the illustrious Singing Senators. As a matter of fact, Mister Johnny has decided that DOJ should and will hold any suspicious immigrants for as long as they damn well please, and without bothering to charge them with anything, if that’s any of your business. And without bothering to tell anyone either, because really, it isn’t any of your business.
      The Justice Department has made an executive decision to set the acceptable time limit for incarceration at Infinite. DOJ is also seeking wider latitude for phone taps and email interceptions that are ordered for use against terrorist suspects, but the way Lex interprets the news, these measures could be used against almost anyone. Once it's law, it will always be law – that’s the law of the law. Tying these common threads together into a bizarre little knot, mid-morning on Tuesday, while catching a smoke with Melinda, Lex finds out that someone somewhere had told her boss's secretary that they had heard from a reliable source that 'Infinite Justice' was going to be given the nod as the new operation's code name.
     “That’s a lot of justice,” she remarks.
     On Wednesday morning, Lex is reading the Early Bird reports about the first overseas deployment of U.S. Air Force and Navy personnel, when up walks Anima Mundi,
Mr. Rangler's despicable secretary, peering around the corner of his cramped little cube, and telling him to come to the front office for a meeting with Mr. Rangler. In fifteen minutes.

     Fifteen minutes is just about enough time for Lex to run down the stairs, smoke a quick one, then return with his chastised face on. He won't be running back upstairs, though; that might make him sweat, and he'll be damned if he's going to let Rangler jump to the conclusion that he's sweating because he's nervous.
     I’m not nervous, Lex thinks, I just don’t care anymore.
     It is another unseasonably warm day. They keep coming this month, one beauty after another. Lex daydreams about how pleasant it would be to lay on a nice chaise lounge and bathe in the sun. He imagines his body turning bright pink and radiating with heat. He smoothly slides open his pack of Salem Lights and flicks out a cigarette, lighting it while ambling the few feet to one of the five foot wide, two story tall concrete support columns. Their surface, encased in glossy polished black granite, will be cool to the touch, and Lex can lean back against it while watching the fountain create constant concentric ripples across the surface of the pond.
      "Hello Thompson."
      Oh my God.
      The cigarette nearly falls right out of Lex's grimacing mouth when he looks around to see a smiling Rangler waiting on the shady side of the column, his hand extended for a shake. Oh shit, it’s a trick. Rangler tries a soul brother shake, just to throw Lex off, but Lex correctly assesses that the man is a fakir and quickly responds with some fancy improvised thumb moves of his own. Rangler looks crisp and is immaculately dressed. He is wearing a pair of dark-lensed shades, which give him an immediate edge up, in spite of the bungled handshake.
      There is a low buzz in Lex's head. He wants to look down and check his zipper.
      "Thought I might run into you down here,” says Rangler, still wearing a big-time smile. "Just my manager's intuition, I guess. Why don't you and I, Lex - may I call you Lex - why don't you and I get ourselves a little exercise. Take a nice stroll around the pond and have ourselves a little chat."
      "Sure. Let's do that." This is the meeting that Lex has been anticipating for days. The other shoe is dropping. Lex is still in full surprise mode, and doesn’t want to say anything that might cause him to look rattled.
      Because he’s not rattled. He just doesn’t care anymore.
      "Lex, what's that you're smoking?"
      "Well, these sir, these are Salem Lights. They've got this flattering new packaging. Look at the special side slide-open box. I think you'll be impressed. May I offer you one?"
      "Yes, Lex, thank you very much. It is a very nice box, I agree. Quite green. I like that in a box."
      Rangler slides open the pack and the motherfucker proceeds to extract the special cigarette with the green filter.
      Lex reacts somewhat unsteadily. "Sir. You can't have that one sir. That's the green one." He catches himself right at the edge of panic. "Perhaps you didn't know."
      Rangler replies with direct but non-threatening eye contact. This man is deranged, he thinks. How could I ever have considered him a threat?
      "Didn't know what? By the way, why don't you call me Bill, Lex. For today. For the next few minutes, at least. Hell, you know what, you can call me Bill forever if you want. I don't care. It's okay. You're entitled. You are my elder. And you've certainly been around DSA far longer than I have."
      "Well, Bill, sorry to be abrupt like that. Little silly of me, I guess. Just a little… quirk of mine. The fact is, there is one and only one green filtered cigarette in each pack. They're kind of special. They're my lucky cigarettes. I save them for special occasions."
      “Lucky cigarette, huh?” Rangler laughs. Lex plants an imaginary foot squarely in Rangler's balls.
      “Mr. Thompson, you are something else. I guess you already know that…” Rangler gently places the green cigarette back into the pack, which Lex is now holding onto with both hands. Rangler studies the pack like a box of Whitman Samplers and pulls out one with a white filter.
     They are briskly walking on the path around the pond now, smoking in silence. Lex is not fond of moving at this pace, so he purposely begins to slow down, causing Rangler to decelerate in order to keep in sync. Lex can be as passive-aggressive as the situation demands. Half way around the pond, Rangler comes to a halt. There is no one near by.
     “May I see that pack again, Lex?” 
     Lex hands over the Salems without comment. He supposes Rangler wants to bum another. Rangler turns the box over in his hands a couple of times, appreciating the space-age design. Then he starts exploring the slide function, rapidly opening and shutting the pack. On the last slide, he starts to shake the pack, and speaks excitedly. “Better look out, Lex. Hoo-hah! I’m going to take the green one!”
      Very funny. And more than a little embarrassing. While Rangler chuckles, Lex makes sure to wipe all traces of expression from his face. I am not going to appease this asshole, he thinks. Lex catches Rangler squarely on the jaw with an imaginary right hook.
     “You know,” says Rangler, turning serious, “We are at war now. Think of it, Thompson, we are at war. We might not know just exactly who we’re fighting yet, and we may not know just exactly how the war will be waged, but the fight is starting nonetheless. From what I hear – and this isn’t privileged information that I'm giving you, Lex, you just have to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV once in a while – this is a war that could last for a very long time. It could last for the rest of our lives. And that's assuming we both have long and healthy lives, which I for one would not consider a forgone conclusion.”
     “I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but every body is important to this agency. We have no nonessential workers. And if we do, by God, it’s time for them to get the hell out. We’re all foot soldiers in this battle. We will be a team. We are a team.”
     “Take a closer look at this box, Thompson.”  At last, Rangler hands him back his goddamn cigarettes. Lex immediately removes the one with the green filter and lights it up.
      Rangler plucks the pack back out of Lex's hands and holds it lightly between thumb and forefinger, eye-level in the two feet of space between them. “Lex this box is a metaphor. Did you know that?”
      “Maybe you can explain it to me, Bill.” Lex was starting to feel more than a little impatient. Punish me already. He knew what was coming. He would pay good money to avoid hearing this man’s business philosophy.
      “This box represents reality, Lex. Let’s agree that it represents our current reality, here at the Information Operations directorate of the Defense Supply Agency.”
      “Allow me to share some of my thoughts with you, Lex. You'll come across a great many people in your life who will tell you that you need to think outside of the box in order to do great things. I'm sure that you were indoctrinated into that sort of thinking years ago. Where did you graduate from Lex? Was it Yale or Strayer? I keep getting the two mixed up..."
     “You know,” says Rangler, turning serious, “We are at war now. Think of it, Thompson, we are at war. We might not know just exactly who we’re fighting yet, and we may not know just exactly how the war will be waged, but the fight is starting nonetheless. From what I hear – and this isn’t privileged information that I'm giving you, Lex, you just have to pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV once in a while – this is a war that could last for a very long time. It could last for the rest of our lives. And that's assuming we both have long and healthy lives, which I for one would not consider a forgone conclusion.”
     “I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but every body is important to this agency. We have no nonessential workers. And if we do, by God, it’s time for them to get the hell out. We’re all foot soldiers in this battle. We will be a team. We are a team.”
     “Take a closer look at this box, Thompson.”  At last, Rangler hands him back his goddamn cigarettes. Lex immediately removes the one with the green filter and lights it up.
      Rangler plucks the pack back out of Lex's hands and holds it lightly between thumb and forefinger, eye-level in the two feet of space between them. “Lex this box is a metaphor. Did you know that?”
      “Maybe you can explain it to me, Bill.” Lex was starting to feel more than a little impatient. Punish me already. He knew what was coming. He would pay good money to avoid hearing this man’s business philosophy.
      “This box represents reality, Lex. Let’s agree that it represents our current reality, here at the Information Operations directorate of the Defense Supply Agency.”
      “Allow me to share some of my thoughts with you, Lex. You'll come across a great many people in your life who will tell you that you need to think outside of the box in order to do great things. I'm sure that you were indoctrinated into that sort of thinking years ago. Where did you graduate from Lex? Was it Yale or Strayer? I keep getting the two mixed up..."

     "But the point I want to make is, we can’t do it, Lex. We can't think outside of the box. That’s the old world school of approaching a new situation. There’s too much space outside of the box. What ever would we think about?”
      “I’ll tell you the truth, Lex. Man to man. We work for a very important corporation. The most important corporation in the world, I think you’ll agree. Our mission is a massive one. Our customers are the soldiers and sailors who will be laying down their lives for our freedom and way of life. That’s who our customers are, Lex. And the shareholders of this great corporation are the glorious and patriotic men and women of these United States.”
     Lex doesn't want to be chain smoking, because it might make him look nervous, which he most certainly is not, but he is itching to pull out another Salem. He has ground out his current cigarette on the sole of his shoe, and placed the butt inside of his jacket pocket.
      "Look outside of this box, Lex. All that space. It’s the whole world. It's unfathomable. It's infinity out there. How could we ever hope to know anything so vast?"
      Rangler now opens his own cigarette case, a sleek silver case that he draws from his jacket's inner pocket. A rough edge catches a silk thread, and he pretends not to notice as a hole is born.
     These cigarettes were far more special than Lex's cigarettes. They were trimmed with wide golden bands that separated the filter and tobacco, and they were perfectly round, more round than any regular cigarette could ever be. Designer cigarettes. Very beautiful. These were personally cut for connoisseurs of tobacco - short filters and wide circumference.  Lex could not help but covet them. Rangler extends the open case to Lex.
      Lex could not refuse.
      "Hey, this is a really fine looking smoke you've got here, Bill." Lex lit one and sucked in the smoke. Mild. Refreshing. Delectable. He was glad that he had sufficient self control to keep himself from asking where these fine, fine cigarettes had come from. That might have given Rangler the false impression that he gave a shit.
      Lex was feeling almost happy now, partially seduced, and it was a sensation he did not want to experience. Not here. Not now. He thought of Winston Smith’s delight in standing close to O’Brien during the Five Minutes Hate. This simple mental exercise helped him to restore his perspective.
      “We’re lucky. We have other people who can look outside of the box for us, Lex. They’re our corporate officers. President Bush. Colin Powell. Donald Rumsfeld. Condi Rice. They can act as our eyes and our ears. They have much more information than we will ever have. They can look at the box from a distance and bring it into perspective. They have a clarity of vision that we can only imagine.”
      “Take a minute to look around you, Lex. Most of our people here at the agency are deep inside of the box. Unlike you and I, they don’t even know that they’re in a box. They don’t even know that the box exists. They just proudly fulfill their function. Take a look. They’re much like these cigarettes.” He slides open the Salems to demonstrate.
      “That’s not a lot of diversity, Bill. They’re all white.”
      Rangler gives a patient smile. “You’re a funny man, Thompson. I guess you already know that. But I don’t need comedians. I need foot soldiers.”
      Rangler finally lit the designer cigarette that he had removed earlier. The silver case went back into his pocket. Rangler studied Lex and smoked for a minute before speaking again.
     “You are very much needed here, Lex. You have a very important job to perform.”
     “There's an important factor that I left out of my equation. Do you know what that factor would be, Lex?" Lex is pretty sure that Rangler neither expects nor desires a response.
      "Somebody has to think about the box. Packaging, Lex. The box,” he says, holding up the pack of Salems to eye level before tossing them back into Lex's waiting hands, “can be much more important than what’s inside of the box. Presentation is everything.”
      Rangler flicks his butt an impressive distance, sailing it into the pond. He was apparently preparing to leave.
      “I'm not going to call you a silly little man, Lex. That would be unkind of me. The briefing you did last week was bullshit. We both know that. But I have to admit one thing. It was a beautiful box.”

      Lex had been demoted in a appallingly brutal way. In theory, in the cold dark thinking of what he conceptualized as the corporate mind, he had been soundly humiliated, although in all fairness, he had smoked one of the finest cigarettes that had ever been his pleasure to inhale.
      Lex had been given the Keys to the Dungdom. Pants Down to the World, Baby. The silver tongue. A one way ticket down Hershey Highway. His new job title was going to be Business Presentation Manager for Core Practices, i.e. PowerPoint Boy, Snuffy, The Guy with the Giant Printer, Loser, Dead Man Drawing.
      Of course Lex would never think of admitting such an outrageous thing to any of his colleagues, but this was truly a dream come true for him. Full time PowerPoint? Ha! Punish me some more, Cueball. He did, in fact, get a giant printer in his cubicle.. It took up the rest of his free cube space, but boy was it fast, and the color reproduction was perfect.