Recently, in our spare time , the wife and I have been watching the television show 24 on DVD. As my pop-culturally literate readership already know, each 24-episode season of this hit Fox TV show portrays 24 hours in the life of government counter-terrorist field agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), with each episode comprising a single real-time hour in the course of the dramatic efforts to foil some murderous terrorist plot that endangers the lives of thousands of innocent citizens, his family, or the President.
Solutions to the problems at hand often require Jack to engage in a range of tactics that are usually death-defying and selfless and almost always disapproved of by someone higher on the food chain who can strip him of his job for insubordination. The threat always imminent, Jack never has the time to wait for his plans to be approved by his superiors, and every season we've seen so far has involved Agent Bauer leading an undermanned and uber-dangerous secret mission or using extreme measures to extract critical information from un-attorneyed witnesses.
(Please, spare me your politics, I know each season is a 24-hour advertisement for the Patriot Act.)
The wife and I have made it to "Day 4" (the fourth season). Usually it is the little lady in our relationship who becomes unduly affected by violent or frightening audiovisual stimulation, but it is my existence which has been permeated by the fabric of 24. I am now suffering the tortuous side effects of 24.
First, there are the vivid dreams and nightmares that put me at the center of some high-stress terrorist attack. In one, I am exposed to lethal bioterror agents. In another, I am assisting agent Jack Bauer in a desperate attempt to locate and disable a nuclear device set to detonate at any moment. In perhaps the most terrifying, I am fighting online attacks launched by terrorists to crash the internets just to prevent fans from visiting the Land of Yajeev. The horror.
Second, influenced by the no-nonsense all-business manner of the agents working for the counter-terrorist unit, I now answer my phone simply by stating me last name or, sometimes, Jack's: "Bauer." When the person on the other end of the phone doesn't know how to respond, I shout back, "Come on! I don't have much time here. Do you know what's at stake?! What is it?" Like Jack and his comrades, I rarely say "goodbye." I just hang up when I sense the conversation may be over. In the land of 24, energy is at a premium, and talking expends energy. Think of all the energy one could save over a lifetime if they cut the social niceties and just never said goodbye. Plus, just like Lloyd Christmas, I hate goodbyes.
Third, whenever I enter a presumably empty room, I do so as stealthily as my awkward, chubby little body will permit, wielding imaginary gun and flashlight. Once I round a corner into a new room, I silently hand-signal my imaginary backups to come in behind me: "Go! Go! Go!" I mouth, breathlessly.
Finally, last night I led a late-evening covert operation to Hollywood Video to procure Season 4, Disk 5. Driving through freezing rain and snow, I checked my rear view mirror several times to make sure I wasn't being tailed. I even took a more circuitous route along some side streets rarely used to ensure no one was close behind. When I arrived at the video rental establishment, I sprinted to the door, in the sort of crouched run Jack Bauer does when he's trying to avoid visual detection. I lightly rounded the corner, sending my imaginary backups in ahead of me. Once I determined there was no immediate threat, I located the target. I found the disk and swiftly carried it to the cinamistas (I don't know what those movie store employees are called--but I know Jack would know). I handed the floppy-haired cinamista the disk, my membership card, and credit card (I may have been wiser to pay in small unmarked bills). I glanced around, mindful of the security cameras recording my every move. "Yeah, let's make this quick," I told the man behind the counter.
The man took my membership card and entered some information into his computer. He glanced from the monitor to my membership card to my credit card to face. He stalled. The jig was up. I didn't know what the jig was, but it was up. I just knew it. "Is there a problem, Officer?" I asked, feigning humor.
"There just might be," he said, conveying a troubled facial expression to his co-worker at the neighboring register. I prepared for an ambush, hand on imaginary holster.
"Well, what is it?" I asked coolly, though my heart was racing.
"This card has been linked to someone else... to a Terry Giancola."
"What!? There must be some mistake. Who is this Giancola?"
"I don't know sir, but this card isn't yours."
"I've never let this card leave my pocket. You have to believe me. Someone is trying to set me up. Someone who desperately doesn't want me to leave this building with this DVD. Now, I want you to authorize this rental. Do you know what is at stake?"
"I'm sure it was just an honest data entry mistake, sir," he lied, furiously pounding his keyboard.
"Look. I have to retrieve the information that is on the disk you are holding. Either you rent it to me, or I'll have to take you into custody."
"Okay. Here's what we can do. I can issue you a new rental card."
"You do that," I answered, becoming more suspicious that this was just some stalling tactic to keep me in place while whoever this rental store employee worked for made his or her way to the location. "And hurry!"
The seconds stretched to minutes. Finally, I leaned over the counter, grabbed this man by the collar, and asked him, "What is taking so long?" Obviously believing he was in danger, he aborted his mission to keep me in place and handed me my credit card, new membership card, and, most importantly, Season 4 Disk 5. I let go of his collar. He took a step back, relieved, and wiped the sweat from his brow. I looked both ways and slipped out of the store while the other patrons huddled in fear around the perimeter of the building.
I knew what needed to be done. I had to find this Terry Giancola. Who was he? Criminal or victim? Who was trying to prevent me from retrieving the disk? What did they not want me to see? I did what I thought Agent Jack Bauer would have done: I rushed to central command/home... and watched 24, Season 4, Disk 5, episodes 17-20. With the wife and dog. They're the only ones I can trust right now. I'm still not entirely sure about one of them, though... they were on the ones who knew where about my covert operation.
As we settled into bed to watch the DVD on my computer, I closed my eyes and watched the digital clock, emblematic of the show, count off the time, beeping with every second.
..... 8:59:57 ..... 8:59:58 ..... 8:59:59 ..... 9:00:00 .....