Yesterday, I became an American.
I arrived in this country just over six years ago — in the late summer of 2012. My first experience of it was in a Motel 6 in Kalamazoo. A room with bulletholes in the door and blood in the sink. Then across the drought struck mid-west, a place where wheat as far as the eye could see stood stunted and dead, ready to be ground back into the earth. From there, into Wyoming, a land that will kill you as soon as look at you. After that, the bizarre salt-flat utopia of Salt Lake City. We left its Mormon cleanliness for Nevada’s truck-stop brothels and gambling dens. Then, California. Green and gold. A land that just seems to burst with life after the industrial waste, drought, hard spaces, rich religion and cheap sin that preceded it. Our first stop was Donner Pass. Here, people had eaten each other to survive. They died anyway. But what can you do? This is America and we’re all cannibals. On a road swirling down through mountains, we headed into the Central Valley. Sacramento. There, I met up with my wife. My new life.
Our first house was there. Bought cheap at the bottom of the crash. My wife had made a decision. Her immigration to Canada had stalled. The city was eating our money. We figured that we had about one shot to do something else and we decided to take it. She left Toronto for her hometown, Sac, to buy a house. Almost every night we skyped and went over prices and the day’s defeats. Investors had recognized the same opportunity that we had and were moving aggressively back into the market. She had to wrestle with them on every attempted purchase. We wondered if we were too late. But she came through. As always, she came through. I honestly have no idea how she does it but, when she puts her mind to something, she comes through. And it was a great little house.
But I was happy to leave that great little house. Sacramento takes a lot of shit and I have no desire to add to that. It wasn’t for me. The problem is, partly, when you live in a city, you start to get some stupid ideas. You think that moving to the country or suburbs is a good idea. You imagine a garden. You don’t realize how fucking boring gardening is. No one tells you about lawns. Lawns are a nightmare. You end up pushing around an ever-breaking lawnmower like some character out of a Beckett novel. You have to talk to your neighbors. You can’t even step out the front door without some sort of interaction. There’s a dopehouse on every side, a ho-house across the street and your redneck neighbor is getting emboldened by the Trump campaign. Motherfuckers are fighting in the street at eleven in the morning on a Tuesday. In my memory, the whole thing plays like Death Grips. At the time, it felt something like prison. There are times in my life where I may have been as isolated and out of joint as I was in Sacramento. But it was a long time since those times. My time in Sacramento was a memory of them. At some point, I had some sort of breakdown. Physical, mental, spiritual. I just cracked. It was a bleak depression in bright sunlight. 110 degrees and I just could not get right.
The market rebounded. Our little house was worth more than we ever expected it would be. No one ever went broke by selling too soon. So we sold. We fucked off.
Los Angeles. K-Town. It was great to be back in a city. I felt like I could breathe again. We moved into Janky Palace, a sort of McMansion apartment complex. Fuck it. We had some money. We were up on the game. And, if your ship is going to sink, you might as well sink on the Titanic. I found work at a grocery store. Not the most glamorous thing but it pays some bills. Slowed the leaking of money. My wife found work in a school. I went back to school. Got promoted to the meat department. Wife finished her BA and found a better job. She’s now finishing her masters. And, suddenly, the ship isn’t sinking quite so fast. The motherfucker might even be floating. We might just survive yet. My wife and I have a sort of motto – “We’ll be normal soon.” It’s not a thing we believe. It’s more a humorous statement of our condition. Normal is always just around the corner.
And, yesterday, I became an American.
I didn’t do it without help. Individualist narratives aside, no one can do much without help. Individualism is a delusion afforded to those with the luxury of company. It’s very easy to feel like an individual when you’re surrounded by your people. When you give all that up, move to some strange country and are by yourself, you realize that you’re not an individual. You never were. You are made out of your people. Being away from them is psychic amputation. Amputation is sometimes necessary. It sometimes helps. We may even be like those lizards who can grow back their tails. It’s still amputation.
So, yeah, I had a lot of help. My wife, my family, my friends, all of the usual suspects. A lot of luck too. The market conditions played into the whole thing. The low rent I was able to pay in Toronto. The job I had there. Various random occurrences. Sometimes shit just works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. What can you do? What you can.
None of this is to say that becoming an American is some sort of accomplishment. It’s not. I’ll tell you what it is. It’s a fucking relief. After living six years in a place, first without any status, then with the limited status and protections afforded by a green-card, while anti-immigrant sentiment swells around you, it’s a relief to have some more legal protections. It’s a relief to finally share a citizenship with my wife. There has always been a border between us. That border is now gone. We’re both Americans.
You know what else it is? It’s a fucking responsibility. Being a citizen in a place like this means taking some responsibility for the shape it’s in. Now, you don’t need to be a citizen to do that. I don’t even think that you really need to vote. I’m not one of those people who thinks those who don’t vote can’t complain. People should always be able to complain. But, for me, the political rights I have as a citizen feel a lot stronger than those I had as a green-card holder. I can’t be deported based on an arrest. My status can’t be stripped. (Probably – who really fucking knows, these days?) I can join a political party, vote and have whatever fucking opinion I want without it instantly being foreign. If anyone thinks it is, that’s their goddamn problem. If they get all ‘love it or leave it’ I can, like any American, respond with a solid “Fuck you, make me.”
Of course, I always could. But yesterday, at around nine in the morning that became official. Me, along with 3080 of my closest friends are now licensed to say “Fuck you, make me.” A judge told us so. Not in those exact words but, you know, that’s what I heard. But I heard a lot. It was a strange ceremony.
To start with, before even entering the place, I bought a folder for my certificate at half-price from some guy with a brown box on a street corner. What’s more American than getting a deal? I don’t know where it came from. A deal is a deal.
Once inside, we had to pass through some security but, thankfully, less than you usually find at government functions. It was basically just a metal detector and a bag scanner. No outside food or drink was allowed in but I had a banana in my bag. The security guard shouted “HE’S GOT A BANANA!” The other guard let me keep it on condition that I would not throw the peel on the ground because someone could slip. My first pledge of the day was to avoid comedy. My next was The Oath of Allegiance. In this, one renounces their loyalty to foreign princes and the like, promises to defend the constitution and take up arms in defense of American and all that sort of thing. We raised our hands and took the oath. The judge declared us all Americans. Some people started crying. I can’t blame them. Everyone who was in that place had been through shit to get there. And with that oath, that shit had been through. We could move on to new shit.
The new shit started fast. That fucking maniac of a president of ours showed up on a screen. He shouted at us, in the dark, about loyalty. For the only time that day, I withheld applause. I even clapped a few times for the video of “Proud to Be an American.” Awful song. Don’t recommend it. But nowhere near as bad as this hopeless dipshit.
Some foreign born army guys got recognized. They marched to the stage. When they were told “TEN FORWARD!” or whatever it is, where they’re all supposed to turn and face the same direction, all crisp and military, they all turned in different directions. This, of course, was straight comedy and, for many of us, our first real act as Americans was laughing at the military. After they received their certificates, they tried it again and, this time, only one of them turned the wrong way. Still funny. More laughter.
Of course, this is sort of the thing. I really want to love America and, in some ways I really do. But America just can’t help getting in the way. It’s like, you’re all reflecting on the ideal of America and then that goddamn representative from The Hallucination Regime shows up to shout a bunch of crazy nonsense at you like you’re auditioning for a spot on one of his third-rate reality shows. Then they play some awful goddamn song. Next thing you know, the whole death cult military worship begins. And none of them can even get their act together. I love this country but it can’t seem to turn around without stepping on its own dick. In some ways, that’s part of what I like about it.
But, on the other hand, I have some disdain for it too. There’s a lot of things that piss me off. Things that go way against my conception of this country and what it could be if it only tried. At the time of writing, there is a caravan of refugees heading up through Mexico to our borders. This is being met with a lot of fear-mongering. But, honestly, naturalizing that entire caravan would be what — about morning’s work in LA? Like, it could be dealt with. Instead, something else is happening. America is becoming small and fearful. It’s terrified and angry at these poor sons of bitches. That’s not the America I like. It’s not the America from the movies. The USA from the movies knows how to deal with this. You root for the goddamn underdog. You cheer them on to the finish line. And you freak the fuck out when they make it and raise them up on your shoulders because you’re a goddamn American and that’s how you respond to a montage of struggle and overcoming.
For fuck’s sake — these people are fucking Rocky! This is how the American crowd is supposed to respond to Rocky! Like, give your fucking head a shake and give them their shot. That’s all they want. Their shot! Give it to them!
Instead we get what? Some small minded, fraidy-cat, cartoon villain type bullshit. Where’s your eye of the tiger, America? I hate to say that you’ve lost the eye of the tiger, but you’re afraid of a caravan. That’s not even the eye of kitten. That’s like a baby snake eye or some shit. Let them in. Give them their shot. Win or lose, buy them a Budweiser. Be a goddamn American.
After all those videos and announcements and oaths and pledges and songs, the woman on the stage had to start shouting at people to sit down because we weren’t done yet and there was another important announcement. I don’t think they sat down. All that freedom probably went straight to their heads. They thought they had the right to leave or some shit. Anyway, the announcement was eventually made. I can’t remember what it was, which is too bad because apparently it was important. We were assigned lines to collect our certificates. After that, we had to then walk around the entire auditorium to reach the exists that were actually about twenty feet from the lines. But there was a rope. And American or not, you’re not allowed to fuck with a rope.
I came down the escalator. My wife tells me that it was surrounded by cheering crowds when we new citizens first started coming out. But by the time I got there, probably about number 1500 of 3080, it was just a tired crowd. But there was a party outside. A lot of hugging and crying and hotdogs and tacos for sale everywhere. So I had my banana.
That was about it.
Yesterday, I became an American.
And, however I feel about this place, however pessimistic, cynical or merely realistic about it that I get, I always sort of feel this way too: That we’ll be normal soon. And that might be what this whole big, stupid unweildy mess is about.