Wednesday, February 23, 2005

BKBA - "When I Stare Into The Abyss... I Get... Dizzy..."

(Throwback blog...)

October 28, 2004

"When I Stare Into The Abyss... I Get... Dizzy..."

Why go to Boston?

Who gives a shit.

Why not.

"A secret, psychotic, society, somebody-save-me;
Addicted-to-drama, so even mama, couldn't raise me..."


- "What If I Die Tonite?", 2Pac

"I'm no fool, just a darkie with a death-wish."

- BK


Cherubically clean-shaven, bespectacled, and blandly devoid of fashion sense on my person and in my luggage, I set off. In the bus station, a young, devout-looking, bearded and ethno-skully'd Muslim stares at me eating a $1.69 Whopper Wednesday's Whopper, until I finally returned his lengthy and curious stare, which he broke. A couple of hours into my $191 and 14-hour Greyhound journey, we arrive at the U.S. border. Tensions rise among fellow Canadians, and even the bus-driver has an authoritative urgency about his voice. There's something unsettling about reaching customs at 1 am, when they have time to kill.

In line discussing the weather, sports, travel, and deliberatly-light politics (dangerous segues I end immediately) with a 20-year old white kid and a 30-something Haitian emigre, the Haitian spoke in French to a couple of black ladies who'd been specially separated and made to wait on a bench. We knew not their issue, and neither did the Haitian, or at least he brushed it off at the time. I'm glad I spoke to the guys: I had an airport customs form given to me I'd filled out that they didn't, and it included my passport number, which I was prepared to say I'd committed from memory. I had my passport but didn't want to use it, as it contains Visa's from around the world, and from places theoretically much more suspicious than Toronto. Since only 14% of Americans have passports, and arguably the majority of those are richer and more educated than border guards, I didn't think mine would be viewed favourably: how do you answer questions honestly about why you travel, other than saying "'cause it's fun dammit!" They didn't have the customs form, so I planned to keep it and my passport to myself unless asked for them, and use my driver's licence and birth certificate as proof of citizenship - another reason I didn't fly. As back-ups, I also had credit card statements, a jury-duty form, bank statements, pay-stubs, a health-care card, drivers-licence-renewal form, a bland-accent capable of higher-octaves, and other official Canadiana.

My turn was next, and the "good cop" customs-officer at the desk and I began breezily discussing the Red Sox win and ensuing party. I showed my home-grown knowledge by mentioning the possible resurrection of Harry Caray, and how my dad used to say to our American relatives during the Blue Jay's heyday: "Ha! Our Americans are better than your Americans!" As he turns to his computer-screen and jokes that it was actually a television to watch the game, my face relaxes into a naturally worried state, one caught by a small camera pointing right at me sitting on the desk. I wasn't guilty, but I wasn't sure if that was the burden of proof being sought these days.

After being cheerfully waved through, my next encounter was with "bad cop", a giant bald white-guy who looked like he got bored of torturing small animals as a child, and moved on to small children. His mini-me doppelganger stood ten-feet to my right on suspicious stand-by, tapping the William Tell Overture on his gun. It was time to switch from confident Canadian to groveling pussy, and inside my Polo Sport boxers I felt smooth like a G.I. Joe.

As He began to go through my giant green backpack, He irritably comments on the difficulty of the job. I suggest a zipper on the side He could use that would gut it like a fish, advice He ignores until later. He asks me some tough questions, as part prison-guard, and part guidance-counsellor. I'd stated that I was unemployed and had been discussing making the trip to visit a friend for a while, so now that I had the time it was as good a time as any. He irritably asks if I'd mentioned this to the previous guy, and was disappointed by my answer: "Yes, and he said that while I could look for a job in Boston I couldn't take one, but the thought hadn't crossed my mind." Still, with coldly-curious concern He then asked how I am supporting myself, to which I replied my savings: He cautioned I couldn't do that for long. He then asked why I quit my job, to which I responded I didn't like it. A stroke of good luck hit, as I had forgotten to secure 380-grams of schwag and bland business cards, which He found in a secret compartment in the top part of my bag, and which I remarked I was surprised to see. As He slowly flipped through all the business cards and found one with my name on it, He confirmed it was me, and moved on.

He then asks what kind of job I'm looking for, to which I replied I was applying for a few jobs, but wasn't sure. He then asked me again more forcefully: "What do you want to do!?" My reply betrayed the confidence of a broken-man, as I responded: "Honestly, I'm not sure."

Then He found an older full-notebook in the bottom of the green bag, which he held up triuphantly before flipping through the pages with a great and malicious zest: "What's this!?" I fumbled for a reply: "well, see... I write... you know, I write poetry, songs, stories... I mean... I don't want to say "I want to be a writer", because, well... you know... I mean-- um... well-- you know..."

As He stopped looking at the book, and He looked up at the flailing faggot floundering for words, He rolled His eyes, and took mercy upon him, and finally pronounced: "You're done." Mercifully, I looked upon His benevolence, and said: "Thank you sir", packed up, and moved on. It was a good thing he'd found the red-herring-in-a-black-book-in-the-main-green-bag, for if he'd found the green-book-in-the-red-backpack-in-the-green-backpack-under-red-T-shirts, the one filled in the last two weeks with among others the B-word (that rhymes with "push"), and the F-word (that rhymes with "fuck"), it is quite possible I would've received an all-expenses-paid trip to Syria.

(Don't know if I would've seen much in the hood though, nah mean?)

Now I've gotta ask myself: do I burn the books? Mail them home? Shove them up my ass for the return trip? Fortunately I've got a week to answer this delicate question, none of the options are appealing.

As we board the bus and leave with what seems like slightly less human cargo, we made our way towards a rest area in Buffalo, where a stranded 29-year old Native lady flirting with me guesses I'm a 20-year old: you gotta love them cougars. Over coffees and smokes we shared our recent stories: a 25-year old from Panama studying English in Toronto had been taken in the back, I mentioned I had a similarily stylish set of hip hop/skater-threads like his that I'd left home for just this reason; a 22-year old slim goateed Muslim kid on his way to Florida to look at universities, remarked, to put it succinctly: "Still?"; and so on. The Haitian was in a good mood, as we'd discussed most warm-weather people naturally are, and we said goodbye to him as he was staying there to catch a flight. Later, as I switched buses in Albany, in leaving I said bye to the 20-year old white guy, and clasped hands with a handful of dark-skinned people I'd either met or exchanged volumes with through glances.

We all knew our rights under God, and we all guessed our rights in America.

There is an uncomfortable malaise here, and a sullen mean-spiritedness about those in positions of power. It seems power without discretion is fashionable, rules and civility are impediments to a necessary control, and control is accepted to combat fear. While both political correctness and Devil's advocate-accuracy demand I say not all 300-million people are like this, anecdotal evidence exists. From the stares that only those who've experienced racism can understand; to my bus driver in Albany opening the door and then shutting it again when I reached for my backpack; to the same Native woman who'd been promised a job out of Buffalo in Europe that she left her beloved Philly for, only to have them not show up; to a simple respect for human instincts and feelings over incontrovertable empirical evidence. Races of all races dismiss charges of racism at their own peril: these people are here, and to live in fear of them is to live in fear of your own country.

What does this mean? I can't argue it with you, I don't have the time, patience, or will to overcome dismissive caveats. Besides, I don't know what it means: only you do.

There's another article called "Handguns and Hand-Rolled Cigarettes" in the offing, I hope, to delve into who watches the watchmen, we shall see. Meanwhile, if you're still here I hope you enjoyed this journey, and if you didn't, I hope you still think it was worthwhile.

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