Having hit the midlife skids, I was pondering what new profession I might pursue (hold the applause) when I stumbled across the federal government's anti-terrorist rewards program. All I have to do is turn in a terrorist and, bingo, it's rum drinks and pink beaches ever after.
Not that I need the competition, but the program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice, is called Rewards for Justice (www.rewardsforjustice.net). You can win, I mean earn, as much as $25 million if your tip results in a stymied attack. All you have to do is be alert.
Radio and print ads make this detective work sound pretty tempting, AND, according to the ads, even I, as a woman, can do it!
"You, as a woman and perhaps a mother, may be in a unique position to act against international terrorism," goes one print ad with the headline: "Can a Woman Stop Terrorism?"
In another ad, Mohamed Atta, the suspected ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, is pictured but not named. The accompanying text reads: he lived among us, attending classes, shopping at the mall, eating pizza."
Someone should have noticed that his behavior was odd: "Was it the way he was asking questions about things way out of his league?" the ad asks. "Or the fact that he insisted on learning to pilot a plane even though he apparently had no talent for it?" Hmmm.
Of course, any well-trained woman would have noticed these things right away. Another clue not mentioned, but I've been doing my homework, is when a non-blond male named Mohamed Mohamed asks to take flying lessons but says he doesn't need to learn to take off and land, just glide. Go ahead; give me a pop quiz.
The State Department suggests several categories of people who could be useful in preventing future attacks, including parents, teachers, commuters, health-care providers, students, employers - OK, just about anybody but terrorists. It didn't mention government officials either.
I clicked three categories I fit into: frequent traveler, parent and "I want to help stop terrorism."
If you're like me, you probably didn't realize that as a parent you have a unique opportunity to stop terrorists. According to the State Department, terrorists sometimes have families, too. Yes, it's true. And because they (terrorists) tend to move frequently, their children often enroll in schools during the middle of the year and may leave before school's out without much notice. Are you getting this?
As a frequent traveler, we apparently need to be even more paranoid than usual. It's not enough to be honest when asked whether anyone else asked you to carry a bag. Now we have to be vigilant around anyone we didn't know before 1990, just in case he turns up later with a box of chocolates for your Aunt Gert.
Oh, jeez, you didn't tell him you were going to visit your Aunt Gert, did you?! Big mistake, because:
"Terrorists know that travelers have become increasingly sensitized to the dangers associated with the acceptance of packages or gifts from strangers," says the State Department. "Accordingly, terrorists may attempt to cultivate contacts days or weeks prior to asking a traveler to carry a package or luggage on board."
In other words, take nothing with you. Better, stay home and never talk to anyone ever again.
Other tips I found enlightening: Terrorists seek anonymity by living among large student populations. They like to work at hospitals, data-processing facilities, chemical plants, AVIATION CENTERS and security installations. They sometimes drop into or out of specialized courses with topics such as chemical compounds and formulation, AVIATION, law enforcement and security procedures.
Finally, terrorists often lack conventional banking relationships and often depend on a variety of financial agencies to obtain cash, which they prefer for most transactions. They usually seek short-term accommodations, share a room, try to keep others from inspecting their rooms and leave suddenly.
I know what you're thinking. Your children are terrorists, too.
Indeed, my husband and I live a block from a university campus; my youngest son just dropped out of chemistry and is transferring to another school in January - the middle of the year. My two grown stepsons just left unexpectedly after a short visit, during which they shared a room, kept the door closed and borrowed cash, which they said was for lunch and gas. Sure.
This job is going to be tougher than I thought, but as frequent traveler, a parent and an American who wants to stop terrorism, I'm duty-bound. Goodbye, dirty socks; hello, pina coladas.