As the action winds up here at Auticulture and I prepare to launch the new site, I want to wind up with a very old note, an account from 1999 of an encounter with “Agent Johnson” and other officers of US Immigration. The purpose of sharing this old journal entry is to illustrate a point that I consider to be timely in 2021, as the system close and crunches around us:
Here in the belly of the beast, angels walk amongst us.
Espiritu Santo, April 6, 1999
New destination. The writing is on the wall, things are greatly, desperately worse than I had feared or even imagined here in the US, and clearly it is no place for me to be. Oh well. Back in the belly of the beast again, being chewed up and about to be shat out, let’s hope as rapidly as possible, and let’s really hope in the direction that I choose, and not straight back to the UK. Even so, it looks pretty much a dead cert I’ll be spending part of my birthday in a holding cell and the rest of it on a plane. Whoopee! Still, the main consideration was always to make birthdays unforgettable landmarks or “turning points,” so in that sense I could hardly have done better. I feel huge compassion for the lost and damned, here in their midst, and only mild despair, otherwise more or less complete acceptance. I tell myself that 1999 is a year of cataclysms and maybe the West Coast is due to sink into the ocean in a few weeks. Whatever happens, I have no doubt at all that within such a time I will not only have accepted this disappointment but come to be glad of it. It’s another in the now ceaseless series of life lessons that my journey has become.
I am now waiting to see the Immigration supervisor, who has a game leg and walks with a metal stick. He tells me I was refused entry into the US this time because I was refused last time. No longer eligible for visa waiver program, which in retrospect I really should have seen coming. What threw me off was the visa application form which I filled in months before and its “within the last 5 years” clause. (I was last refused entry over 5 years ago). So all this could have been avoided if only I’d been a little more careful and efficient, either got the goddamn visa or found out about the facts re: visa waivers. On the other hand, I have confirmed for myself—if it needed to be confirmed, which is doubtful—the state of affairs re: New World Order 1999, and have allowed myself to undergo one more severe test of stamina, patience and endurance: how to act and even think like an angel while beset on every side by demons. No regrets, no time for regret, onward: Mexico, Peru, Brazil, here I come.
A very nice lady, Ilene, has taken my case; she tells me the dread “narcotics” word is featured in my file and so I can pretty much write off the US from my travels.
One Hour Earlier
I was waiting tensely in the Immigration line, happily much shorter than expected, all dressed in my dark green suit specially for the occasion. I went to the booth and gave the man my passport. While I was waiting for him to check it, a black woman resembling Oprah Winfrey gave me a very cold stare, indicating things to come. The man looked through my passport briefly and was on the very point of picking up the stamp (I heard it rattle under his touch) when something on the computer screen caught his eye.
I could feel my heart pounding through my jacket. I’d said my prayers already, so there was nothing else to do now. After an agonizing time, he called the black woman over and said, “Is that him?” Clearly they had some record of me on the screen, presumably from the last time I was refused. About now, I realized that I was sunk, but I retained some small hope that something would come to my rescue. The passport numbers didn’t jibe, and the woman found a stamp in my present one saying it was a replacement. This previous number didn’t jibe either, because that one was a replacement too (I had lost several passports in the previous few years). I began to hope, madly, that the fact I’d lost so many passports would trip them up and I’d slip through the net.
I was told to wait by the wall then led off by a prissy lady with a loose, flowery skirt, a pinched face and frizzy hair. She told me to sit down. I started to read, or pretend to read, Paul Bowles, but didn’t have long to wait. A Mexican guy called me over, asked me why I’d lied about not being refused before. I assured him it was a simple mistake (a lie, of course, but with a decent rationale: the 5-year “loop” again). He asked why I’d been refused, and I procrastinated weakly, not wanting to bring up the deadly M word again, at least until they did. I prattled about property in New Mexico, saying I didn’t really know why they refused me. He said they were going to check my records and to sit down, this will take a while.
Half the immigration officers here are Mexican; it’s ironic, chilling if you want to think about it that way. But I find my desire or need to see things in a paranoid light (“us and them”) has miraculously all but totally left me. I feel like a new man, a new awareness has descended upon me and I feel no anger or contempt for these people, nor even for the “system” or agenda which they represent. It all seems not only futile but somehow absurd, simply to be missing the point. Yet I did have pangs of it with the very first guy who took charge of me, a black man who was surly and officious from the start and essentially treated me like a criminal, if not a dangerous felon.
He ushered me about with grunts and waves of his hand, ignored my questions (about whether or not I was going to get in), asked me details about my height, weight, etc, as he filled out a cyber form then finally took me over to a newfangled fingerprint machine, at which point I knew the game was definitely up. I had asked for help from the angels, and they had, I felt, let me down. This guy was slightly aggressive as he fingerprinted me, obviously not enjoying his job and resenting me for “making” him do it. I felt tangibly how close he was to hurting me, how little I would need to do to cause him to brutalize me. He was tensed up and ready for the slightest sign of resistance from me, and kept barking “Relax!” because he couldn’t get my hands to move the way he wanted them to. I assured him very calmly (more than once): “I am perfectly relaxed.”
I began thinking about how wonderful it would be to know Mr. Spock’s “Vulcan pinch” and just knock this cretin out, take my passport back, and waltz out of there, into the US (probably never make it through customs, however). This led to the idea of actually attacking the guy; not that it occurred to me to do it, but just the idea that this was the level things had reached: either succumb totally to the inexorable oppression of the moment, or . . . attack without mercy. Of course, this left me no choice at all.
The black man took my photo, three times, face front and both sides. But each time it didn’t come out right. Before the last time, I put my crucifix back in my ear, having taken it out on the plane. This was not for the sake of the photo, it had simply occurred to me that, since it was all over, there was no sense pretending anymore, and that I’d need all the spiritual protection I could get. As a result, the cross comes up clearly in the final photo. I smiled a faint, Mona Lisa-esque smile into the camera also, but it was so faint that it didn’t show up.
Two guys came by and told the black guy to do the photos again and get the top of my head in this time. One said, on hearing that this was my second refusal: “Why don’t we just deport the guy?” He then addressed me and told me formally that I would not be allowed into the country again unless I had a visa. This was considerably less than I was expecting to hear.
I was feeling a powerful and strange mix of sadness and pity, along with a sort of contained wrath. As I looked into the camera I thought of Marilyn Manson’s words: “When I’m God everyone dies!” and the sense of vengeance gave way to a sense of pity, if not mercy, for the dreadful day of fire and judgment I envisioned, that was just as surely out of my hands. Later, the same guy was fingerprinting and photographing me AGAIN, and the black woman from before passed and greeted him. I saw a silly smile pass across his face and felt a flood of such compassion and sadness that I very nearly broke down and wept. I wouldn’t have stopped myself either, and if someone had asked me why I was weeping, I would have said, “Because all this ends right here.” In a way, it did.
The black man told me to relax again, obviously very stressed now (he was hopelessly inept at his job and couldn’t figure out how to work the PC without help from other passing officers). When he finally got the computer prints, he led me off for a final, manual printing, with black pads and whatnot. Once again, he told me not to “fight” him, just let him move my hands for me. Every time he did it, as when I let myself be photographed, I had the unpleasant sense of being a sort of puppet, pawn, or object, much as livestock must feel in the hands of unfeeling farmers.
I had asked for a glass of water but the guy ignored me. “Did you hear me?” I asked. He said he’d get it when we were done, but he never mentioned it again. After the last fingerprinting, I asked if I could use the loo and I saw him pause and stare into my eyes. Either he was just pissed off at the bother of it all or else—as seemed more likely—gauging if I was bullshitting him, planning to commit suicide, etc. (I thought while peeing that it was probably part of his training: “If subject requests to use the bathroom, look closely into his eyes for signs of subterfuge.”) After that he had me wait in a small room, leaving the door open. I took out my notebook and began to write, taking mild pleasure in the possible effects such an act might have on them. It was then that the supervisor came limping along with his game leg and spoke briefly to me in a not-hostile manner. Minutes after, Ilene showed up and the whole experience began to change.
Ilene was friendly from the first. She found my situation—my being refused for having smoked pot (or more precisely, having admitted to it) several years before—to be frankly “silly.” I told her I was glad someone agreed with me on that one. I asked her at once about the possibility of going to Mexico and she said it was doubtful but she’d see what she could do. She asked if I’d been offered a glass of water or fed, so I told her no, and she took me to get a drink from the fountain, Then she went to ask a friendly lady behind a counter about the possibility of getting a ticket to Mexico; the lady (also Mexican) referred her somewhere else and off we went, to a transit lounge and into a tiny partitioned office at the side, where another Mexican lady sat working frantically at a computer, and where Mr. Johnson was also stationed (temporarily).
The lady was at first very doubtful about the possibility of a partial exchange of my ticket (Miami-San Francisco-Barbados) for one to Mexico, and insisted I would need an onward ticket from Mexico also, otherwise I would get “bounced back” to Miami. The option of a return Miami-Mexico, obviously the cheapest option, was not an option at all, because of course, I was no longer welcome in Miami (apparently it didn’t matter if I couldn’t use it and would be a damn fool to even try). So she found a ticket going on from Mexico to Costa Rica, worked out a difference of $313 to pay.
I had $150 in cash, $100 in traveler’s checks, then the 75fl and 5 UK pounds, which if exchanged came to about $50, making $300 in all. So I was still short, even assuming I could change the foreign currency. Ilene assured me that Immigration would never let her take me out the airport to go to a cash machine. It was then that Mr. Johnson, apparently possessed of greater authority, offered to accompany me. Immigration, as it happened (of which both Mr. Johnson and Ilene were representatives), had all of nothing to say about all this.
The meeting with Mr. Johnson of US Immigration, Miami, has to rate as one of the most truly eerie and beguiling experiences of my life. He joined the troupe of Immigration personnel who essentially made it their business to help me, not only to get out of the country (obviously in their interests), but also to get where I wanted to go, Mexico (clearly not in their interests).
In my entire experience of him, Mr. Johnson showed no emotion at all. Not even when he responded to the idea of my spending my birthday in jail with a decisive “That’s not right!” When he led me to the cash machine at the other end of the airport, he walked briskly and silently towards our destination, and only started talking when I set the ball rolling by saying (looking out the great glass walls at Miami airport), “I guess that’s all I get to see of America this time.”
Mr. Johnson thought I was Dutch because I had a few Dutch guilder on me. When I set him straight, he told me I shouldn’t have any problem getting into the US as a UK citizen. So I told him the score, that 6 years ago I’d been taken aside and grilled and admitted to once smoking dope in my life. He suggested I could buy a visa the way Colombians do. I quipped, “I just have to tell them I didn’t inhale, right?”
At that point, Mr. Johnson launched into a steady and dispassionate denunciation of President Bill Clinton as a liar and a fraud. He was clearly extremely committed to his position on the subject, yet again he spoke without any apparent emotion, save for perhaps the faintest, lurking trace of rage.
As we boarded the elevator, I responded that, if Clinton was a liar and a fraud, at least everyone knew it by now. “The problem is that the American people are too stupid,” Mr. Johnson responded. “They don’t want to know the truth.”
“That’s certainly true,” I said, adding, “He’s only got one more year, anyway.”
“Thank GOD!” he spat, with total vehemence.
Mr. Johnson is hoping for a decent president after the weasel Clinton is done; preferably a Republican. I asked him what he thought of Reagan and he dismissed him with a snort; ditto Bush, who barely even merited the curling of a lip. He said, “We haven’t had a decent president in this country since Kennedy. That’s why they shot him.”
I stared at him with faint bewilderment that this was an Immigration officer speaking. After a pause to consider how far I could take this, I said, “Yeah, but if the people who shot him are running the country, it doesn’t look too hopeful, does it?”
Johnson just looks at me and says nothing, doesn’t nod or shake his head or gesture in any way at all. But somehow the look seems to say: “You got it, bub.”
This was a curious sequel to a conversation I had with Ilene, the friendly Immigration lady who took over my case and eventually made it possible for me to get the flight to Mexico (by effectively setting the step which everyone else then fell into). She told me that her mother (93 years old) couldn’t stand “Slick Willie,” as she called him, and considered the country well on its way to hell, with him at the reins. When I brought up Mr. Johnson later, Ilene said simply, “He’s an extremist.” And when I asked Ilene the same thing I’d asked Mr. Johnson (how she could reconcile herself to working for a man she despised), she said more or less what he had said: that she wasn’t working for Clinton but for the American people. I realized this was a standard bit of doublethink cum self-justification, and let it pass. To Mr. Johnson I said: “I guess most people hate their boss, anyway.”
When I got back we counted the $ and as I didn’t have the right change, Ilene put in $3, and the other lady the 9c! I quipped that it would have to be a birthday present, but I was really impressed with the extent of Ilene’s kindness. She in turn quipped, “Can you tell we want to get rid of you?” As Ilene was leading me back to Immigration, a guy at ticket desk asked if she needed anyone to put me on the plane. She said she’d do it, and the guy quipped: “You might fall in love with him.” She replied “I probably did already.” All I could think to say to this was, “Aw shucks!”
The final touch of perfection was that the flight was leaving in a couple of hours, which gave us time to track down my bag and finish off the paperwork, keeping Ilene busy a time while I was writing in my journal. She asked if I wrote all the time and I told her it was a compulsion. She said “It must be very relaxing.”
“Maybe. It gives me something to do at times like this, that’s for sure.”
Ilene, along with another officer (the Mexican who’d first quizzed me) agreed to put down as “reason for refusal” simply “having been refused before, needed a visa,” and not to bring up the drug question again. The Mexican also seemed to think I shouldn’t have any trouble getting a visa if I applied, and I was now beginning to feel more like a misunderstood poet than a criminal. I was so impressed by the whole thing that I told Ilene so. I said, “God gave me one bit of bad luck then loads of good. Maybe God doesn’t want me to be in San Francisco.” Ilene agreed. She’d brought up the G word in a nice way before so I figured she was so inclined.
I also told her that I’d started off the experience feeling like a Jew in Nazi Germany, and wound up feeling like a prince. She laughed and wanted to know who it was that had treated me poorly, if I knew his name. I didn’t, mentioned he was black (the only black guy I’d encountered here), then regretted immediately having “fingered” him, and said he was alright really, just inexperienced and a bit stressed. She said it was mostly stupidity that made them act like that: the minute they got their uniform, they became self-important asses.
Now I am alone again, waiting in the front of the Immigration dept, feeling fine. I’m going to Mexico! And the experience that began so nightmarishly, with me sat numbly fantasizing about waking up in the Peacock suite, Red Victorian Inn, San Francisco, finding it all to be just a dream, has ended up with me feeling absolutely grateful for the revelation and the pleasures which this experience has given me. And what is infinitely more, the very fact indicates that I have truly attained a new level of understanding and of functioning within the earth realm, if that’s not too highfalutin a way of putting it.
I am here, the Universe is my friend, at every step and every turn I find this to be so. In the very bowels of “Babylon” itself, I have found the Spirit to be working, as must always be the case, in “mysterious ways,” i.e., contrary to how I hoped or expected. I began feeling that the old “us vs. them” dichotomy was all-too-true, after all, but now I just don’t know. If I ignore the actual result—that US Immigration denied me entry to the country I planned to live in—then the experience en totem indicates that the spirit is indeed triumphant, and that the line between us and them is now indecipherable. However “evil” the agenda within which these agents are working, the agents themselves —judging by this experience—are most assuredly on the side of the Spirit.
Mr. Johnson is the most haunting example of this, because it seemed like his personality might go either way, depending on the circumstances. Towards the end of our little exercise, we were heading back with the money I needed for my ticket to Mexico, standing on the conveyor belt, when he decided to waste no more time (my plane was due to leave soon). He started marching forward at a rapid pace, telling the people in front of us to move out of the way in an almost frighteningly robotic fashion. His tone was not officious or aggressive, but totally unfeeling and devoid of all human timbre, and the people jumped out of our way with bewildered expressions on their faces.
As I followed behind this strange terminator-angel, I added “Coming through!” in an effort to lighten the mood some, while also rather enjoying my association with this bizarre authority figure. At that moment, I had the sudden, overwhelming certainty that Mr. Johnson was not a human being at all, but a perfectly designed imitation, a synthetic being. The feeling was fleeting, and I can hardly credit it now; and yet, it was accompanied by the very clear sense that Mr. Johnson was a completely and utterly soulless cog in some agenda mysterious and unfathomed: not that of the US government, but something else. Hence his hatred of Bill Clinton, and also his helping me get to Mexico, were functions of this alternate “agenda,” functions of his programming.
When we got back to the ticket office again, I thanked him. He just said “No problem,” in a fairly friendly yet eerily curt, clipped tone of voice. Maybe I will never know for sure about the strange and beguiling case of Mr. Johnson, but I will say this: if such things as imitation synthetic human beings actually do exist, then I am quite sure that I met one in the amenable, unforgettable form of Mr. Johnson.
When it came time to leave, I asked Ilene, if I sent her a postcard at Immigration, Miami, would she get it? She wrote her home address down instead, on the little dossier file with all my stuff in (passport, tickets, refusal forms, etc), and told me she thought she’d like to see something I’d written, even if only a postcard. She asked me if I’d always known I wanted to be a writer. I told her what Bill Burroughs said: Writers don’t choose, they are chosen. She found this especially interesting.
When I wondered how I’d got on such a busy flight (no standbys), she told me that American Airlines had to take me, since I was being refused, and that someone on the flight would actually be “bounced” so I could get on. I felt mildly guilty about this, but only for a moment (there are several “bouncees” apparently, and all of them get paid off).
She took me right onto the plane and gave the dossier to someone to hold onto until it took off, in case I tried to jump off the plane at the last minute. These were her strict orders, obviously, and she told me a horror story about an Egyptian guy fleeing his family from Cairo who had to be sedated and tricked back on the plane to Egypt, told—aptly enough—that he was being sent “to Hollywood”!
To hell with fame and glory, it’s time to chase the Spirit again.