My buddy Hank just plain dropped out of sight after he took early retirement two years ago, so I decided to stop by his house and check on him the other day.
His wife Shirley met me at the door, loneliness written all over her face.
"He's downstairs on the computer," she said with a sad shake of her head, showing me to the steps. "Been there for most of the past two years."
The musty, shag-carpeted former rec room was dark but for the dim light coming through the basement windows and the glow of the computer screen.
"People need to get a clue," Hank said without looking up at me. "They just don't get it."
"Don't get what?" I asked.
"They don't understand what's happening to us," Hank said. "Haven't you been reading my e-mails?"
No I haven't, I said. I read personal e-mails, but when people send forwarded mass e-mails, I just delete them.
I didn't say that I might have read his e-mails, but the large red capital letters and the commands to "Send this to all patriotic people who care about our freedom!" clued me in that they were a little on the fringe.
Turns out Hank, like thousands of moderately old men who retire too early, has made it his full-time ministry to forward e-mails to his friends and relatives about our impending doom.
"Did you know that there are plans already in place to force all American women to wear head coverings?" Hank said, fully serious.
Yep, our Muslim socialist president is using global warming as a pretense to implement sharia law. Once he takes away everybody's hunting rifles, we'll be powerless to stop him.
Governors will be replaced by ayatollahs. Lutheran churches will be fitted with minarets and turned into mosques. We'll all have to wear turbans. It is just a matter of time.
In fact, there's a county in Wisconsin that is already making plans to pull the snowplows off the roads during the Feast of Ramadan in 2014.
What do they know that we don't? Why are people ignoring these signs?
All the time I've known Hank, he's never cared much about current affairs, politics, or for that matter, any sort of learning. In his free time, he watched football and burped.
Now, however, thanks to two years of reading and forwarding panicked e-mails, he is something of an expert on international affairs.
Those who don't see that our way of life is threatened are "dangerously naive," or "duped by the media elite." These are fancy words Hank never used to use.
Hank sighed and turned wistful.
"You know, we had it right on the playground," he said. "We knew how to take care of things."
I remembered well how Hank used to "take care of things."
"If people got out of line or got a little weird," he said, "we'd take them out back and straighten them out."
"You remember the time that prissy Pearcy Nelson wore a pink shirt?" Hank asked. "We took care of that!"
Yes, they did. They held wimpy Pearcy down over by the merry-go-round and made the poor ugly girl kiss him over and over. Every noon hour for weeks!
"That fixed him!" Hank said, relishing the memory. "You don't see him out marching for no rights for weirdos!"
Nowadays, Hank said sadly, the big guys on the playground can't do anything to enforce conformity and normal behavior. "Nope," he said, "these days those politically correct people call it 'bullying' or 'harassment' and throw you out of school!"
So, with nobody policing things and making sure the weirdos and commies and foreign exchange students and new kids with strange last names know their place, everybody thinks they have rights!
"That's where it went wrong," Hank said. "We used to keep those people in check. Now they're running the country."
An oppressive sense of Hank's impotence filled the room.
I made a move to leave. Hank turned back to his computer and pulled up the latest panicky all-capital, red-letter bulletin.
"People need to realize," Hank said in a suddenly scholarly tone, "that the only thing we have to fear is the lack of fear itself!"
Either that, I thought to myself, or we should worry about angry old men glued to their computers in their musty basements, longing for the days when they mattered.