So I go to get my driver's license renewed the other day, excited--as any Ohio motorist would be--at the prospect of owning one of those slick new models with not one, but two, ID photos and that cool hologram that reads "DON'T DRINK AND DRIVE." I mean, talk about your helpful reminders!
I've got my hair combed (so my normally unkempt visage doesn't break the camera); my glasses on, for a change (so I can make out those tiny letters in the vision test); and the requisite $10.75 (which I've been saving up for the past four years) in cold, hard cash.
But first, there's the little matter of whether or not I might want to donate any organs should I have the misfortune of getting the life crushed out of me in a heap of twisted metal on the interstate.
"Only my Hammond B-3," I tell the clerk, who registers a puzzled look that quickly turns into an expression of outright pain. She mutters something that sounds suspiciously like "asshole."
Would I like to donate a buck to some organization or other? (I can't remember which.)
And do I want to register to vote, while I'm at it?
"Not as such."
Then comes the Big Question: Am I addicted to drugs?
The entire room falls silent. Two-beat pause as I clear my throat.
"Besides caffeine, you mean?"
And that's that. My inquisitor cheerfully accepts this denial at face value, proceeds to process the application, and sends me on my way with a newly minted plastic permit marked (if I'm translating the cryptic coding correctly) "NOT ADDICTED TO DRUGS."
Which is the way it should be in this country that insists, against all the steadily mounting evidence to the contrary, in calling itself the Land of the Free: The Man (in this case, The Woman) asks you a question, and then trusts that--unlike our word-parsing president--you'll actually tell the truth when you answer!
Somebody tell that, please, to the people who run the Highland school district down in Medina County.
These bozos have decided to take a bite out of student "substance abuse," as it's euphemistically termed, by randomly testing kids who play on the high-school and middle-school sports teams. Not, mind you, to see if they're learning anything in class beyond what's necessary to maintain that "D" average and squeak through on the mandatory state proficiency exams--but rather, to see if they've been taking drugs!
One of the district's honchos was interviewed on Channel 8 two weeks ago, just after the new policy was announced, and he allowed as to how, as a father, such Big Brother tactics troubled him: He wasn't too crazy about having any son of his forced to comply with what is clearly an invasion of privacy, the very sort of thing that is outlawed by the Constitution--or so, at least, we've been led to believe all these years.
But as a school administrator, this guy went on to say, he understood that this controversial practice was "absolutely necessary."
To which one of the station's newsreaders, in closing out the piece, proceeded to give halfhearted assent--something to the effect that, well, it's "for the kids' own good."
Now let's put aside, for a moment, this glaring example of the Ted Henry Syndrome--the noxious tendency of our local talking heads to abandon any pretense of journalistic objectivity by offering comments on the news they're merely supposed to be reporting, the way they so routinely do nowadays--and look instead at the substance of that idiotic statement:
How, I would ask, can putting kids through the indignity of making pee-pee in a cup, for no other reason than to prove their innocence, possibly be considered "good" for them--by any stretch of the imagination?
I speak from experience on this question, having had--like most American workers hired since 1988, when Congress mandated substance-abuse screening as a condition of employment--to submit to such an ordeal.
The company nurse handed me a cup and read off a long list of draconian directions ("Do not run water!" "Do not, under any circumstances, flush the toilet!") designed to thwart any tampering with the "evidence." Then I was ushered into the clinic's single-stall lavatory and told to take a whiz.
With no running water to disguise it, the sound of my racehorse-like flow splashing into what is known as the "urine collection cup" echoed off the bare tile walls. And had I yanked open the door in midstream, I'm sure this woman would've fallen in.
Most of my fellow wage slaves, she informed me afterward, take the test in stride--that is to say, without complaint. Some make a wisecrack about the absurdity of it all.
But I found the whole business more than a little disturbing.
What the company was saying to me was that my word meant shit. And that, I'm sure, is a message that won't be lost on the Highland student-athletes who are singled out for this invasive exercise.
What we're teaching these kids--our future leaders, remember?--is simply this: that they can't be trusted.
And no amount of self-esteem bolstering, which the schools are so fond of these days, can make up for that bottom line.
What's scary is that the U.S. Supreme Court has, in effect, upheld this nonsense. Just two months ago, the justices rejected an appeal by a group of Indiana teenagers and their parents, letting stand a ruling that permits drug testing in the Hoosier State and two others, Illinois and Wisconsin, for students who participate not only in sports but any extracurricular activity.
Put another brick in the wall, people. Right up there with those so-called "sobriety checkpoints," e-mail snooping, "no-knock" drug searches--and a thousand other incursions into the civil liberties we used to think were absolutely inviolable in America.
And where, I ask you, is the ACLU when we really need it?
I'd much rather see this organization, which represents our last line of defense, wading into these important battles than wasting precious energy protecting the likes of Klan members and petty criminals who happen to be pregnant.
Gore Vidal, the novelist and political essayist who's also been known to turn in a credible job of acting on occasion (check out Tim Robbins's great film Bob Roberts, for example), has an eye-opening piece in a recent issue of Vanity Fair titled "The War at Home."
Read it, my friends.
David Sowd's e-mail address: