Well, that was unsettling.

Life has returned to normal in St. Paul. But I can't say I will ever again enter a Wild game without a small part of me remembering how the place looked under military occupation.

As the Republican National Convention fades gently into memory and lawsuits, it seems instructive to ask how we so easily acquiesced to the militarization of an otherwise peaceful, midsized American city, all in exchange for face time on "The Factor." That's the message I got from Mayor Chris Coleman, anyway, in what may well have been the first morning of the last chapter of his governance of the city. He had agreed to half an hour on Minnesota Public Radio the morning after the convention, something of a train wreck of an attempt at damage control.

A little like Sally Field accepting her Oscar, a little like Bill Clinton telling us he did not have sexual relations with that woman, the mayor managed to say everything except the obvious -- that the people of his city had just experienced a police state, and for reasons not entirely clear. The air above the Sears parking lot may have still smelled like a bear attack averted, but Coleman was sticking to his script: St. Paul had narrowly missed obliteration at the hands of bad guys the likes of whom no town had ever seen. And here I really should just let the mayor speak for himself.

"We had press conferences from anarchists who said we are going to create chaos in St. Paul," he said. "We had a gentleman who is a self-proclaimed ultimate fighter saying 'I'm going to split a cop's head open.' They had guns, knives, machetes, Molotov cocktails. ... This was not just a couple of people. This was one of the most coordinated, orchestrated efforts in the history of this country to try to create chaos in a community, and to shut down political dialogue." In other words, St. Paul had become host to people of whom some may have been holding rudimentary implements of battle, one of whom may have had a thing for the WWF, planning to delay several tour buses set on hearing Joe Lieberman sell out his party. Well, get me NORAD.

There were so many things wrong with the mayor's assessment: the hyperbole, the panic, the unfortunate lack of perspective in the face of civil conflict. And how about that clever reference to "dialogue" at the Xcel! What a cut-up. But surely there was no greater takeaway that sad morning after, as we nursed a great big terrorism-hysteria hangover, than the sense that another mayor had been punked by the Cheneys in Homeland Security, the fear mongers determined to get us looking at each other as the enemy within.

My experience with the siege of St. Paul followed a couple of hours of some really super music. It was late on Tuesday, and I had cut out of the Provention Concert early to have a look at the Xcel before driving home. I had listened to Jeremy Messersmith, the New Standards and Haley Bonar from great seats. I even bumped into Haley in the lobby. Life was good. Then I stepped outside the Fitzgerald and into a creepy black hole of totalitarianism. You know, kind of like stepping out of a Coldplay show and into Tiananmen Square, 1989.

I had heard there would be fences, but I stupidly assumed I would be able to at least see the Xcel. No soup for you! After nervously passing Mickey's Diner, now garrisoned behind two rows of fences on loan from the U.S. Department of Stuff to Use When Putting the Hammer Down, I got as close as the Dorothy Day Center before having to backtrack. Apparently the scary Ultimate Fighter Guy had triggered the sort of fencing that provided RNC delegates with their very own freeway entrance and provided for pedestrians, of course, only le bird.

Until RNC week, we had never needed to learn the breaking point for our freedoms. Now, thanks to some yabbos with bandanas around their faces, we know the moment at which St. Paul authorities will rescind the ability to walk on public streets free of intimidation and disillusionment with one's country: Three broken windows at Macy's.

But at least we were on "Hardball," right? Again, I'd better not paraphrase.

"This convention has been an unbelievable success for our community," Coleman told an admirably tough Kerri Miller on MPR. "I've gotten calls from my friends across the country saying, 'This is incredible. ... We were watching 'The Daily Show' and we saw the skyline of St. Paul behind Jon Stewart's head, and the broadcast of MSNBC from Rice Park ... I was talking to the British ambassador the other day and he said, 'Yeah, I was listening to the BBC last night, and they were talking about St Paul, Minnesota.'

"You know," he continued, "they don't talk about St. Paul very much on the BBC, but for the last five days they did. And somewhere across the globe people were sitting there going, 'St. Paul, that sounds like an interesting place to visit.'"

You like me! You really like me!

And all it took was $50 million worth of St. Paul's finest dressed up like Darth Vader.

Paul Scott is a writer in Rochester, Minn.