My Brush with the Unabomber
by Keith Stattenfield
It was January, 1995. Bill Clinton was in the Whitehouse, X-Files was beginning to climb in the television ratings, and a madman called the Unabomber was sending packages to professors and other people associated with the computer industry. Loretta, my signifigant-other, and I were busy buying presents and getting ready for the holidays. Then, one day, it arrived.
A package. An interesting package. Perched at a jaunty little angle in the mailbox. Wrapped in brown paper. About the size of a VCR cassette. With our address printed neatly on the outside; four dollars worth of 31¢ stamps, and no return address. A very interesting package, indeed.
Now, a bit of perspective, so you don't think I'm a total moron. Some guy up in Sacramento has just been killed by the Unabomber. The FBI has issued a warning to people associated with the computer, airline, and timber industries to be wary of opening suspicious packages. I am in the computer industry. Apple has kindly forwarded this warning to all of it's employees; who knows, the unabomber might be a Macintosh user and he might be getting really tired of that system error box or something. And, every night on the news they're talking about this guy and how it's only a matter of time until he strikes again. He hasn't released his manifesto yet, but he's promised to start picking off people like the FBI at Ruby Ridge.
But, it's the height of arrogance to assume that I, a mere cog, an underling, a person of no huge consequence to the world as a whole, would somehow be important enough for a random serial killer to send a carefully constructed, individually autographed, hand crafted bomb. I have to get this in here, before too much longer, because otherwise you're going to assume that I'm not aware of how big a load of crap I'm postulating here. There's a perfectly rational explanation for this. It's a belated Christmas present or something. It must be. It is.
But there's no way I'm going to open that package. I don't want a Christmas present, belated or not, badly enough to die. So, I did what any rational person would. I ignored it.
So, the package sat in the safest place possible: on top of the television in the living room. Every day, Loretta and I would see the package. Every day, Loretta and I would look at each other and say "It's a present." And, every day we'd decide not to open it. This went on for about a week. Then, I'd had enough.
So I did what any rational person would do. Not open the box; for god's sake, it's a bomb! I called everyone who might have decided to send Loretta and I a present. I knew where it was mailed from, because the zip code of the post office which cancelled the stamps was clearly visible. It was mailed from the zip code 60666. The Zip Code of the Beast, as Loretta and I called it. Which, by the way, happens to be the post office inside Chicago, OHare international.
Not a post office in Chicago near O'Hare airport, but the post office inside the airport. Nobody uses a post office inside an airport. Certainly no rational person. Which points to only one explaination: some nutcase has sent me a bomb from inside an airport! And the unabomber hates airports! It's part of his fiendish, twisted plot, that's what it is.
But, just to be sure, Loretta and I called everyone we could think of who might have sent us a Christmas present. Mostly, this was my family, cousins and such, since many of them are in Illinois. We told each one the story. They each thought I was nuts. They all thought it was humorous. Not one of them had sent us a package.
So, it's a week later. We've still got an unopened package sitting on the TV. And by now Loretta and I have completely convinced ourselves that it's from the Unabomber. Which means it's a bomb. An unopened bomb. Addressed to me. Personally addressed to me.
So I did the only logical thing. I called the police. The Santa Clara police, since I figure there's a protocol to this kind of stuff and it would be improper to bother the actual FBI. Besides, I don't want the FBI to have, written in my dossier, something like "Thought the unabomber was after him. Ha!" The Santa Clara police sent over a very nice Sargent, who didn't believe a word I said. He picked up the package; shook it; heard it tinkle; and heard me explain that I understood that it was the height of arrogance to believe anyone wanted me dead. He didn't think it was a bomb for a second. Had he his way, he'd have ripped the paper off the darn box right then and there shown me what it was. I, of course, knew that if he opened that box he was going to die, because the Unabomber wanted me to die and this poor cop would be the innocent victim.
So he took the package away. A couple of hours later, our doorbell rang. He was back. In his hands, the package. Opened. There were no pleasantries. He said "It's a windchime" as he handed it back to me, and then turned and walked away. As if he couldn't look me in the eyes without laughing out loud, and cops take a pledge against laughing in the face of the public if they can at all help it.
So, we've got a lovely windchime now. It hangs in the library, which isn't as stupid as it sounds because we have a ceiling fan in there so it tinkles every once in a while. And, the moment he said "It's a windchime", I knew who sent it. A nice pair of friends we hadn't bothered to call because, well, we don't exchange Christmas gifts. We called them. They said Merry Christmas. They thought it was humorous. And they promised to use a return address the next time.