I recently received a digital camera as a gift. I’ve never owned one so after I got it out of the box I spent the better part of an evening playing with it. It’s a very cool toy – but I quickly realize I’m way behind the digital photography learning curve. Heck, I remember when Polaroid Instamatics were a big deal.

My roommate, a technology snob of the first order, showed me how to get my new gizmo working. Noting my inherent klutziness, he warned me to get a camera case before I broke the thing within a week. He also suggested I buy a bigger memory card if I wanted to take more than four pictures.

So the next day I get in my car and head to the suburbs. My plan is to hit the big box store near my brother’s house, buy the stuff I need, then visit him to show off the camera. As I pull into the store’s parking lot, however, I’m greeted by a sight I don’t see every day.

A man is pointing an M-16 at another man’s head.

“Holy shit!” I yelp, bringing my car to a stop.

Because I’m encountering a situation I’m not used to seeing, a few seconds pass before my brain processes the information coming from my eyes. Fortunately, before my bowels get the signal to evacuate, I realize the man holding the assault rifle is wearing a windbreaker with the words “Federal Agent I.C.E” emblazoned across the back. The man he’s prepared to obliterate is laying face down on the asphalt being handcuffed by another policeman. Twenty feet away, another group of heavily armed men are patting down two extremely unhappy looking fellows.

Rather stupidly, I park my car three spaces away from an official looking SUV bristling with communications gear and get out. The burly man guarding the truck gives me a hard look. Since he’s cradling a submachine gun I decide to give him a wide berth. Maybe I should’ve parked a little further away. I decide to put some distance between me and all the heavy artillery.

“What happened here?” I ask a stunned looking middle aged couple gawking at the unfolding scene.

“I have no idea,” the man says. “We were getting out of our car when all of a sudden WHAM! – all these cops showed up.”

A cute red haired girl wearing a baseball cap on her head and a gun on her hip walks past me. She looks like a college student, but unless Glocks have become the new fall fashion, I doubt she’s a co-ed. A scrungy older looking man with an unkempt beard and a badge hanging from his neck is walking next to her. With his blue jeans, flannel shirt, and aging hippie pony tail, he looks like an undercover cop straight from central casting. All the agents have tense, hard looks on their faces. Whatever happened, they were prepared for trouble.

“These aren’t local cops,” I say. “They’re Feds.”

“How do you know?” the man asks me.

“Their jackets have the initials I.C.E. on them,” I say. “That’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Homeland Security.”

“You think they’re picking up illegals?”

“Not packing that kind of firepower.”

I look over at the handcuffed men. They’re all sitting on the curb being questioned. From my vantage point I can’t tell if they’re Hispanic or Arab. A soccer mom is taking pictures with her cell phone camera. I suddenly remember the digital camera in my pocket but refrain from taking any pictures. I’d hate to have my new toy confiscated in the name of National Security.

Several more agents carrying M-16s walk past us. “Oh my God!” the bystander’s wife yelps. “Look at those guns! They’re huge.”

“Yeah,” the husband mutters.

“Mike let’s get out of here,” the wife pleads. “All these guns make me nervous.”

“You’re right. Let’s go.”

The couple walks away. I decide to follow them and head into the store. As I walk though the automatic doors I see a security guard peering at the police action outside. He looks like a kid on Christmas.

“No one’ll be stealing cars out of the lot today,” I say to him.

“You ain’t kidding,” the guard replies laughing.

After a few minutes of searching I find a one gigabyte memory card and a camera case and head to the register.

“Would you like to open a store credit account today?” the cashier, a young girl, asks me.

“No thanks,” I reply. “I just want to get out of here.”

The cashier looks at me funny. “Is something wrong, sir?”

“Don’t you see the men with machine guns outside?” I ask.

“Are you kidding me?”

“Take a look.”

The girl looks outside. “Oh my God!” she says. “What happened?”

“Terrorism? Gang activity?” I say shrugging. “Who knows?”

“Wow,” the girl says. “Unreal.”

I walk out to my car. To my surprise an agent is taking a picture of my license plate with his cell phone. I knew I should have parked farther away. Now I’m being cross checked against a database of murders, thieves, and terrorists. The only thing they’ll discover is that I’ve been accused of being a rude waiter. Hmmm…… I wonder if the NSA knows about my blog? Probably.

I ignore the agent, get in my car, and drive away. As I drive past the armed men milling around the entrance to the parking lot I smile at the irony of it all.

The store I’m shopping at is TARGET.

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