But I Guess You Got's To Choose
June 21, 2005
“BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- On April 25, Gregory Despres arrived at the U.S.-Canadian border crossing at Calais, Maine, carrying a homemade sword, a hatchet, a knife, brass knuckles and a chain saw stained with what appeared to be blood.”
American immigrations, alert as pit bulls on crank, unsleepingly attentive to the security of the homeland…let him in. And indeed, why not? Everybody has to be somewhere. It’s a law of physics.
I have lived in Guadalajara, Mexico, with a splendid Mexicana, Violeta, for almost two years. She put herself through university by working three jobs, after which she lived by teaching Spanish to gringos. She has a daughter of thirteen, Natalia, who is exceedingly bright, no more than ordinarily intolerable for a teenager, and the star student in her school. The kid reads more books in a week than the public schools of Washington read in a year. Or would, if they could recognize a book.
I would like to take Vi to Washington for a couple of weeks to meet friends, see the city, and listen to Honky Tonk Confidential, a bar band which, second only to Mark Twain, constitutes America’s chief contribution to world culture. I probably can’t take her. She probably can’t get a visa. Certainly the State Department makes it so disagreeable to try that I won’t subject her to it.
But if she had a chain saw….
“Anthony [a spokesman for Immigrations] conceded it "sounds stupid" that a man wielding what appeared to be a bloody chain saw could not be detained. But he added: "Our people don't have a crime lab up there. They can't look at a chain saw and decide if it's blood or rust or red paint."
Calling it stupid is unfair. Surveys by the State Department show that over ninety-nine percent of owners of chain-saws put red paint on them. I mean, what else would they do? People who have spent time in Canada know that most owners of chain-saws also carry swords. It’s just common sense. You never can tell when you may be involved in a sword fight. I can’t.
Now, I understand that the United States has a problem with illegal immigration, and I understand that a country has every right to control its borders. But…might not a little common sense be desirable in matters governmental? (Of course not. But this is a theoretical column.)
Consider. I, despite my picture, am an embarrassingly respectable journalist with a record of thirty years of writing, both on staff and off, for grimly respectable organs of communication. I still do. This doubtless demonstrates poor judgement, yes. Journalism is less reputable than, say, than selling bridges in New York, though better than stealing hubcaps. Still, reporters do not import Mexican women to be table dancers in San Antonio.
It’s curious. If I came in with a suitcase that said “Weaponized Ebola,” and told them my name was Ahmet, they would let me in because they didn’t want to profile. If Vi showed up with a gory hatchet, perhaps trailing strands of flesh, they presumably would say, “Right this way. Would you like citizenship while you’re at it? A photo op with the President? Foot massage?”
Despres of the chain saw was a naturalized US citizen. Me, I might be choosier in who I naturalized. But then, I guess I don’t understand security. In fact, I’m sure I don’t. It may be that when you have spent years watching people come across a border, you learn to distinguish between dangerous bearers of bloody weaponry, and harmless ones.
Now, going to the Fear Box–excuse me, the Consulate--for anything at all is unpleasant. Nobody wants it to be, but it is. Used to be, you showed your passport to the Marine guard who said “Thank you, good day sir,” and made you feel as if it were your embassy or consulate. Now you are the enemy. There’s the usual terrify-the-rubes business of removing your shoes, watch, fillings, frontal lobes, prostate. Then, reportedly, you talk to someone behind bullet-proof glass. All god’s chillun scared to death.
Some of these examiners, again according to common report, are friendly and courteous. Some are not. A good one may say civilly, as one did to a friend married to a Mexicana, “Look, you need to convince me that she’s going to come back. What have you got?” Fair enough.
“The decapitated body of a 74-year-old country musician named Frederick Fulton was found on Fulton's kitchen floor. His head was in a pillowcase under a kitchen table. His common-law wife was discovered stabbed to death in a bedroom. Despres…was arrested April 27 after police in Mattapoisett saw him wandering down a highway in a sweatshirt with red and brown stains.”
An ideal immigrant. You know, just like Einstein. He would increase diversity. But for god’s sale don’t let a Spanish-teacher in. The consequences would be imponderable. Suppose that, in a crowded train station at rush hour, she began to explain the preterite tense? Worse, suppose that people learned it. This would set an unwholesome precedent, and constitute a threat to the teachers unions and thus to the entire educational edifice.
How could I establish that Vi wanted to come back? Well, she has an aging father she cares for. Unfortunately the poor guy can’t walk. We’re supposed to bring him in with a wheelbarrow? Vi has Natalia. Thing is, every Mexicana has a daughter. What’s that prove? I once bumped into a State Department type who knew about such things, and said, well, how about if I put up a $20K cash bond for her return? No, can’t do that. Too easy.
And so often now officials at the borders and airports are just plain unpleasant. Vi doesn’t need it. She has heard the horror stories of being jerked around at the border from friends with visas. A friend of mine always has his Mexican wife taken from him at the border for questioning in separate rooms. For this we pay taxes.
Of course if Vi swam the river, she could get welfare, schooling for thirteen illegitimate offspring, a driver’s license, medical care, and be eligible for a dozen consecutive amnesty programs. How sensible. Like outlawing smoking while paying farmers to grow tobacco.
Best I can come up with is to buy her a chain saw at Wal-Mart, chop a goat up with it, get her a sword, a garrote, and some anthrax, and they’ll let her across, no problem. Maybe a severed head in a pillowcase, just to be sure.