Saturday, September 15, 2007

Odyssey -- Part VI

So, things are wrapping up for me and Pockets. It's very late on Friday night, and I'm bringing disgrace to Las Vegas' famous maxim by blogging from the 51st floor of some hotel on the Strip. Reflected in the mirror, through the window behind me, is the Bellagio, which Brad Pitt and George Clooney once so handsomely robbed--in the distance, behind it, the Palms, site of Britney's crime against humanity. We came for the spectacle, but the spectacle, and the $20 unagi-avocado rolls have gotten the better of us, so we're holed up in our hotel room, catching up on some sleep.

The last couple of days we were in the Grand Canyon. Miraculously, yesterday we rousted quite early and set off for a hike in the South Rim. The Grand Canyon's a strange place, not the least because it exceeds your expectations in this God-affirming sort of way. I think we took a hundred pictures, mostly because we couldn't get over the sight. Today, before heading out of there, Pockets and I stood on one of the lookout points and gazed out at one of the jutting ridges. An elderly Korean couple had ventured out onto the ledge. The woman was dangling her feet over thousands of feet of nothingness, and the man sang a plaintive Korean song into the echoing void. It was strange and beautiful. After they left, we conjured up some strength and climbed down to the same ledge, but Pockets' flip-flops and my neuroses precluded us from making it as far as that old couple. How old have we become?

The day before we spent in Tucson. Not much to report from there except that if you miss the exit for downtown, God help you. We walked around campus a bit, and I looked for someone to talk basketball with, but all we encountered were a few interesting bugs and some sun-burnt sorority girls whose scales had never tipped into the triple digits.

But don't be bored, dear reader, because the day before was a doozy We spent the night in El Paso, and I thought it wouldn't be a half-bad idea to venture into Mexico. We parked our car and took the Bridge over to Juarez. Pockets bought the molcajete she'd been talking about for months, and I thought long and hard about buying a lucha libre mask. Juarez itself is pretty typical border-town I suppose, but both Pockets and I couldn't get over how much it reminded us of Pakistan, and how much--in a strange and nostalgic way--we liked it. After a couple of hours, we collected our purchases and made our way back over the Bridge to the land of dripping honey, flowing milk. Pockets made some joke in the line--the obvious one about our heritage, my unkempt beard, and I snapped at her unkindly. It was in the back of my mind. It was there, but I had been downplaying it. Here we were, making our way back over the border, on September the 11th.

Now, I had insisted that we take our passports with us. You don't have to take your passport with you--that's the official rule, but the last two times I've crossed back into the country from Canada, I've been asked for it, so I know not to take chances. I know official rules don't apply to everyone. Pockets and I waited in the line with your odd tourist and loads of day laborers. Each flashed his or her driver's license and was sent along--literally, no questions asked. When our turn came up, we offered our driver's licenses, and the border agent started to look them up and down with some vigor I hadn't seen before. Pockets then told her we had our passports too, and she said, "Oh, yeah. If you have your passports, that'd be better."

She looked over Pockets' and looked over mine: Visa from the Republic of Pakistan. Visa from the Kingdom of Jordan. I knew the drill. She got up out of her seat and asked us to follow her into the office. We did as we were told. What followed was interesting. She sat us down, in a room with a Mexican guy with his ear bashed in and his hands in cuffs, and took our passports to a colleague. Loudlly, they discussed a "discrepancy" in Pockets' passport. That's the diversion. Another border agent showed up, and looked over the passport too. A female agent took Pockets to a side room, patted her down, and had her count the money in her purse, before dismissing her. But I waited--with the cauliflower ears guy and another guy in wrist-and-ankle shackles. The border guy tried to make "small talk" with me, as he was trained to, and I knew there was nothing wrong with Pockets' papers.

"So, what line of work are you in?...Oh, you're a lawyer. Where'd you go to school?"

I gave flat, informative answers: "I'm going to be an attorney. I just graduated from the University of Michigan Law School." He smiled and nodded. Another border agent--yes, a fourth agent--came up, and asked, "What nationality?," and the original agent stared daggers at him for his faux pas and made a big show of saying, "American. See?," while shoving our passports in his face. That made me laugh a little. It was for my benefit. Heaven forfend I begin to think I'd been racially profiled.

A fifth agent--a bit older--then appeared. He was unnaturally friendly. He explained to me that there were new rules and regulations, and that anyone in the "secure area" had to be patted down in a private cell, and then I said it. I couldn't help it. I tried to bite my tongue, but I just couldn't. I stood up and I said, "Don't worry about it. I know the drill." It bothered him. I could tell. He was just doing his job. He was being perfectly nice. I wasn't supposed to draw any attention to what was going on, but there--big mouth and all--I had. He stayed quiet for a few minutes as he led me into the cell by the back wall. I put down the post cards I had bought and Pockets' molcajete, and I put by hands against the wall, and I pressed my forehead against the cinderblocks. I spread my legs apart before he told me too. I wasn't kidding. I know the drill. He did his pat down, and continued with the small talk:

-What kind of lawyer are you going to be?
-I'm going to be a first year litigation associate with a law firm in San Francisco. I graduated in May, and will begin work in October.
-Oh, great, great...Where'd you go to college?
-I went to Duke University in North Carolina. I graduated in 2000 with a degree in Political Science and English.
He had to confirm I went to Duke, so...--You didn't play lacrosse, hunh?
-No, sir, I didn't. I believe there's a lot wrong with the lacrosse team, but Nifong should be punished for the various ways in which he overstepped.
He had to confirm I went to Michigan, so...What's up with your football team?
-Well, honestly, while the loss to Appalachian State was devastating and the loss to Oregon embarrassing, if you've been following the team for the last few years, you'd see that Michigan is slow on defense and the coaching staff is rooted in an antiquated style of play. We've lost every bowl game in the last four years, and will continue to get annihilated by the likes of Ohio State, unless Carr resigns.

The frisk ended. I was led back into the main room. A few more questions about my parents, where I went to high school, when I got married, what kind of work Pockets does, etc. Then...Hey you're a lawyer, let me give you this questionnaire.

I was sent on my way, and while part of me felt sad for our country--after all, four border patrol agents spent 20 minutes this past September 11th dealing with me and not with the various threats our country actually faces--I thought to myself, goddamn, it's good to be reminded who you are and who you're never ever going to be.


booksie said...

You should try to publish this, it's so beautifully written. Seriously.

cold4thestreets said...

You're too kind, Booksie. I feel even worse now for the various type-o's in the original draft.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Booksie. -M

Rachel said...

I shudder to think what would happen to the guy crossing the border with a "suspicious" name and complexion who ISN'T a sports fan.

seriously, i would have never passed those McCarthy-era tests on what was going on in sports, and it seems that the methodology has changed little. you aren't american if you don't follow football. AMERICAN football, that is, not that thing they call football in the rest of the world.

E said...

have you been talking to the nytimes? bc look at this:

anyway, there really aren't any words to describe the contempt i feel toward INS/USCIS/DHS or whatever the eff they call themselves nowadays. every time i pass through JFK i cringe bc the non-citizens are herded into an inexplicably less-air conditioned area - in the same room, no less - with fewer customs agents than the citizens. more often than not the agents will talk down to us. sometimes i am spared that treatment once they realize i speak english, but it pains me to watch them treat the others whose language skills are lacking.

i was once at lunch with a jordanian dude whose wife is iranian-american and he shared some insane stories about how they have been treated in the past.

sugarpockets said...

having never stepped foot in the big house, after c4ts told me about the sports quizzing, i thanked my lucky stars they never asked me about michigan football as they were patting me down. And i feel like border patrol would just not have understood the concept of barnard--plus, what sports could they have asked me about?

E said...

softball? ay-o!