Got a badge? You can badger me.

Last month the United States Senate confirmed Anne-Imelda Radice, Ph.D., as the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services — a presidential appointment — which leads me to ask: What’s a guy got to do to get interviewed by the FBI in this joint?
Radice lives part-time in Lincoln, and so some of my neighbors were interviewed by the FBI as part of the background check. But did the feds ever knock on my door? Nope. And so I am just a little bit hurt.
Granted, I couldn’t pick Dr. Radice out of a police lineup of museum professionals. But when someone in my town is put in charge of the Institute of Museum and Library Services, I expect to be in the loop.
The Institute, for those among us who do not collect curator trading cards, is the primary source of federal support for our nation’s 122,000 libraries and 15,000 museums. According to the organization’s Web site, the group also does a whole lot of empowering, enhancing, sustaining and convening (yes, convening).
But I also wanted to be interviewed because I think FBI agents are incredibly cool. And when they’re played by Jodie Foster — think Clarice Starling from “The Silence of the Lambs” — they are both cool and hot. I hate to show my age, but when I was a little boy I watched the old “F.B.I” television show with Efrem Zimbalist Jr. faithfully. I can still hum the deep bum-bum-baa-bum that marked the starting music. I hum it badly, but I hum everything badly.
I might actually know more people in this town who were interviewed by the FBI about my neighbor than who have actually met her. Vaneasa Stearns owns the General Store in the center of the village, and so (of course) she got to be interviewed.
“At first I thought the agent was a liquor inspector,” Stearns says. “She had a definite presence about her. She had the look of someone who was highly trained.” The agent flashed Stearns her badge, and then asked if there was someplace private they could talk. Stearns took her to the unassuming supply closet behind the counter, where Stearns told her everything she knew about Dr. Radice, which was … nothing. Stearns has never set eyes on the new director.
Nevertheless, Stearns still admits the experience “was really fun. It would have been more fun if Tom Selleck came in. He’s cute. The next time I’m interviewed, I want the agent to look like Tom — though that’s no reflection on the agent who interviewed me.”
Just for the record, Selleck did appear in a 1973 episode of “The F.B.I.,” so although it is highly unlikely that Stearns will ever be questioned by Tom Selleck, Selleck has probably met Efrem Zimbalist Jr. He might even have interviewed him.
Stearns’ husband, Dan, also spent time with the FBI. He’s an electrician and had done some work at Dr. Radice’s home. He hadn’t met her either, but he still got to see a badge flashed in his direction and taken outside for questioning.
Kate McGowan, an executive with the United Way of Addison County, came home one afternoon and found a card waiting for her from the FBI. “That got my attention,” she said. McGowan once was the subject of an FBI background check herself because she had an internship with the Internal Revenue Service when she was 18. Her work these days with the United Way is clearly a sort of atonement.
Unlike Dan and Vaneasa Stearns, McGowan actually does know Dr. Radice. She and the presidential appointee aren’t exactly girls in the hood, but they have had amicable conversations that have transcended brief discussions of the weather. “The FBI interview made me feel like a good citizen. There’s a real disconnect between what goes on with the federal government and what we do daily as citizens. In that regard, it was very eye-opening,” she said.
Well, I want to feel like a good citizen, too!
So, the next time one of my neighbors receives a prestigious presidential appointment and the FBI is doing a background check, will I remember this slight? Not a prayer. Especially if I get to meet Jodie Foster.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on April 2, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of eighteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Guest Room. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, and The Double Bind.

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