The next phone call was from the Secret Service.
They were on their way to talk to Connie and me. After changing my underwear, we ran around cleaning up the apartment. What do you serve the Secret Service? Milk and cookies? What does one wear to an interrogation? – a bathing suit for water-boarding? While cleaning up I discovered Jeremy’s notebook that he had left behind. It was a diary of blank pages except for the first page that read, “People can’t change. But politicians must change.” Yikes! This could be incriminating evidence. Connie suggested we hide it and offer it only if they ask for any of Jeremy’s personal belongings – so I slipped his diary under a sofa cushion.
A few hours later, two Secret Service agents straight out of Central Casting appeared at the door, their square shoulders packed into black suits with thin ties. White cop, black cop. Good cop, bad cop. The four of us sat at the kitchen table. Sara Lee, anyone? The good cop explained, “We have to follow up any threat to the President of the United States. We suspect something is wrong with your nephew.” “A Messiah Complex,” the other agent chimed in.
Jeremy was being held in a jail in Newark. Instead of boarding a bus to Toronto, he had boarded a bus to Washington. Somewhere on the New Jersey Turnpike he approached the bus driver and said those two words you never say in the same sentence, “I’m on my way to see the President of the United States and there’s a bomb on the bus.” The driver immediately pulled over and evacuated the passengers. Jeremy was arrested for Public Endangerment, Terrorism and a threat to National Security. It turned out that being paranoid, he thought the bomb was for him and that people were trying to kill him on his way to Washington.
The bad cop’s eyes narrowed and he asked me, “How well do you know your nephew?” Trying to show I was the good uncle, I explained that I had always been Jeremy’s confidant, at which point Connie kicked me under the table. I had forgotten that the first World Trade Center bombers were an uncle-nephew team. Then, the agents asked if Jeremy left anything in the apartment that might give them some insight into his character. Connie told them that he left his watch in the bathroom when he took a shower. More questions. More cake. An agent handed me his business card and said to call if we have any more information or insights. Their black patent shoes clicked up the hallway and out the door. I changed my underwear again. I phoned my sister and told her that the Secret Service just left, and that I just realized I didn’t give them Jeremy’s diary that I hid under a sofa cushion.” Connie was madly scribbling and held up a sign, “Careful. The phone might be tapped.” Gulp. I was running out of underwear.
For the next few weeks, I ended every phone conversation with, “…and I love the Clintons.” I thought anyone on the streets of New York wearing a trench coat or sunglasses was following me. I asked for advice from my neighbor, who happened to be a judge. He laughed and said I was more paranoid than my nephew. Jeremy’s arraignment was coming up so I called a friend who worked at Court TV and she advised that it’s helpful for a relative to show up to an arraignment. She suggested that I meet with his court-appointed attorney ahead of time, tell them the situation and try to get Jeremy into the medical wing rather than with general population.
A few days later, I schlepped out to Newark at 7:00 in the morning. I climbed the steps of the cavernous brick courthouse, passed through metal detectors and into a labyrinth of terrazzo hallways searching for Jeremy’s Public Defender. I found a short, bald man in the Public Defender’s Office that I had mistaken for a broom closet. As he packed his briefcase, I told him Jeremy was a Canadian citizen with mental problems charged with Public Endangerment and Terrorism. I pricked up my ears for legal advice but all the attorney could say was, “Oh no.” Apparently, this territory was as new to him as it was to me.
The courtroom was like a foreign land to me with vintage fixtures and banks of wooden seats where hundreds of thousands of nervous tushes must have sat over the years. I took a seat where Jeremy could see I was there to support him. And then, in shuffled a perp-parade of hulking tattooed men in orange suits and handcuffs. And there at the end of the line was my nephew from Thornhill. I tried to get Jeremy’s attention so he would know I was there, but from the blank look on his face I suspected he was prepping for his sermon on the mount. I strained to see his attorney confer with him since he needed Jeremy’s permission for psychiatric evaluation. The attorney turned to me, put his finger up to his head and made that crazy little circle with his finger.
From 10AM until 4PM I waited for Jeremy’s arraignment. Finally, six hours later, he was called up to the bench. He was quiet and polite. In our attempt to get him into the medical wing of the jail, the judge asked Jeremy if he would agree to a psychiatric examination. Jeremy smiled and shook his head. His attorney looked at me and shrugged. My nephew was escorted out a large oak door. I returned to Manhattan, worried that this nice Jewish boy from suburbia was now in ‘the system’ and even worse – in New Jersey. (To be continued)