Good news, bad news — who can be sure?

When Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced the government was elevating the national threat level to “High,” I put on my code orange helmet and braced for impact like every forward-thinking American. As I finished duct-taping the plastic sheeting over my boarded up windows, I remembered how easy life had once been.

It had been a simpler time in American history. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was finally wrapping up, Al Gore’s presidential endorsement allowed us all to sleep a little easier, and Sen. Paul Simon’s death left Tucker Carlson the last remaining bow tie wearer in the country. But the best was yet to come. Hearing early morning rumors over the cable news channels that we had caught the nefarious dictator of Iraq, I paced around my living room awaiting a conformation from Paul Bremer. I hadn’t been this concerned about DNA since my last court-ordered paternity test.

Pictures ran over the airwaves of our doctors checking to see if Saddam’s hair plugs were growing in all right and if those “four-out-of-five dentists” who recommend Trident after meals really knew what they were talking about. Sure, his coif was unkempt, his beard needed a trim, and his fingernails were filthy, but he was in custody and America was once again safe from harm.

Or so we thought. I was firing my AK-47 into the air when my neighbor raised his head over the fence to tell me I had false hopes of peace. After all, he informed me, there was little evidence Saddam was leading the insurgency in Iraq, U.S. and coalition forces were still being targeted and killed, we still hadn’t caught the guy who was directly responsible for Sept. 11, terrorist plots were still being planned by Islamic fundamentalists on a daily basis and American hatred throughout the world was at an all time high.

Sure, he was right, but what a buzz kill! Here I am, standing there with three more clips of ammo yet to be joyfully fired into the sky, and he tells me not to get overly optimistic. Furthermore, every CNN ex-general on television agreed with that same line of rationale. This led me to question whether these supposed experts simply had the same kind of loudmouth jerk living next to them as I had living next to me.

The days of the week slowly passed by, and the high of Saddam’s capture was quickly wearing off. Democratic candidates like Howard Dean and Wesley Clark echoed my neighbor’s obviously anti-American drivel, saying the capture of one man would not lead to a safer America. Just to prove them wrong, I began wearing my seat belt while driving to work, connected a surge protector to my computer, and stopped discharging firearms in public places. But still, commentators and editorialists continued to diminish my hopes of eternal peace and prosperity for the homeland.

Only one potential bright spot came late in the week. President George W. Bush informed the world that Libya had agreed to allow inspections of their weapons of mass destruction programs. I suppose I should have been more excited, but that whole Libya thing seems so ’80s.

In my mind, Qaddafi went out of style with leg warmers and The Thompson Twins.

Starving for more news of captured or killed tyrants, I finally gave up. America still was not safe. Reports of Dick Cheney’s pheasant hunt couldn’t quench my thirst for blood, and molestation charges filed against Michael Jackson failed to touch me. I accepted the fact that the world was as dangerous a place today as it was on Sept. 12, 2001.

Still, the apprehension of Saddam continues to remind me that we are making progress in the war on terror. He encouraged all Iraqis to fight to their deaths, while he escaped to his honeymoon suite six feet underground. Tonight, as I take an inventory of my canned food and shotgun shells and lie awake in the fortified bunker that was once my living room, I’ll be thinking to myself: Saddam sure went out like a coward.

Ryan Misener is a grad student in business.