The breakfast pace was slower than usual for No. 1 son. Pancakes fell apart on the griddle. Change for lunch money was a scramble. Books wouldn't jam into his backpack. At 7 a.m. that Friday, I still was not showered. The day looked to be sliding downhill fast.
At 7:02, that was confirmed. The doorbell rang. I charged down the steps, water jug in hand, thinking our oldest son had made a dash back for something forgotten. I opened the door to find a linebacker in a blue sport coat. He flashed an FBI badge, just the way they do in the movies, and asked for my husband.
Apparently, he didn't expect this to startle me speechless.
He waited a minute, then hit me with the question again.
Yes, my husband was home. And, in case the agent was interested, I wasn't particularly thrilled - especially today, when we were struggling mightily to meet bus and work schedules. I considered this an intrusion. He, on the other hand, apparently considered this all in a day's work. The agent was neither apologetic nor rattled. I shut the door while he waited outside.
Terrorism and its associated fears already had reached suburban Pittsburgh. The FBI visit came on the heels of the discovery of the Lackawanna Six. Still, I had never expected the hunt for terrorists to land on our doorstep.
Our white-bread neighborhood is across the street from the country club. It's a place where cops usually wave as they ride past. The worst crime in recent years was high school kids draping trees with toilet paper after some football game.
Now I stood twitching in my nightgown as son No. 2 scampered upstairs, like Paul Revere, to tell his dad.
My husband, dressed in his best bed-hair and toothpaste splatters, was excited. He asked the agent in, and offered him a cup of coffee and a pancake.
This, for a man who was checking to see if my husband was a terrorist.
The agent's visit was a shock but not a total surprise. A week before, the answering machine had bleeped out a message from Trooper So-and-So of the Terrorism Task Force, who was calling about our 1955 Chevy. Great, we thought. Somebody wants to buy it.
Not quite. The car's plate was in question, and my husband's whereabouts.
Had he ever been in New York?
OK, said the trooper, there must have been a mistake. That will be the end of it.
But now an FBI agent was sitting in our kitchen. My husband, who had the prescience to save the trooper's phone message, played it back for the agent. A funny look flickered over the agent's stony face for a split second.
All the while, No. 2 son's eyes were as big and unblinking as the CBS icon. Totally silent, he had eaten only two pancakes.
The agent expounded: A state police sergeant in New York City had caught sight of someone videotaping a tunnel - was it the Lincoln or the Holland? The car he drove had a particular license plate number. He stated the number.
Except that's not our car's plate.
The FBI traced the plate to an antique and classic car dealer about two hours away. The vehicle identification number for that plate matched the one for the car he'd sold my husband about 18 years ago, before we got the antique plate that's on the car now. The New York cop's report never described the car, which was part of the problem, the agent said.
"The guy was Middle Eastern looking. You're obviously not," the agent said. Neither was the car dealer, though the agent said he did some fine work.
But, I asked, what if my husband's middle name was Ahmet? What if he was Middle Eastern?
The agent shrugged. "There's nothing we could really do," he said. But if we had been up to foul play, we'd know we were on the agency's radar screen.
They have to check every lead nowadays.
So, I continued, if the neighbors were mad at us and called the cops to say we were doing something, such as....
"Making a bomb in your garage?" the agent inserted helpfully. Yeah, he continued, they'd had a few of those. They'd checked them out, too.
My husband, the conservative, smiled like the Cheshire Cat, satisfied that the government is checking up every lead - even one as improbable as himself.
But this videotaping incident had taken place last December.
"If I were going to blow up the tunnel, I would have done it by now," I told the agent, still miffed.
The linebacker took his armful of files, promised we'd never see him again, and disappeared into his nondescript car.
My husband kept smiling. Son No. 2 didn't like the visit. It had cut heavily into his pancake consumption.
Still, he had enough time to hang out the flag before the bus came.