Jude the ObscurePart IIIhave two vignettes from my lifetime of dealing with borders, and border-crossings, and the American demand that borders should be pure --- that borders constitute not only a place for keeping out the bad, but as an instant "means" test (those who don't have to money for passport and visas can't pass. Those who do, do.)
I went to Europe for the first time when I was twenty-five. I lived on a beach in Spain, near Málaga, where I drank cheap red wine, rode the trolley into town, smoked wretched Faro cigarettes, wrote a book, and gazed soulfully at the everfolding sea. This was long before Spain had been opened by the Franco government to foreigners, so the few of us who were there had the towns and beaches mostly to ourselves.
When --- after a year --- it was time for me to return to the United States, I flew from Málaga to Madrid, from Madrid to Paris, and from Paris to New York. I had the few clothes I had brought with me, and my old Royal typewriter, and my manuscript, and a couple of books I had picked up in France. Among them were several novels by the Russian masters, along with The Black Book by Lawrence Durrell and The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet. These last two had been banned in America by the Sex Police.
When I went through customs at what was then called Idlewyld (now called JFK), the U. S. customs agent opened my suitcase, pulled out the books, and riffled through them. He looked at me with a steely eye and said, "What'cha got here, boy?"
"Well (cough)," I said, "just some books I am interested in."
He looked at me for a long moment, and then he said, "Listen to me, buddy. I don't care about this Tolstoy or Dosto-whooski, but as far as these others, I got some advice for you." He threw the books in the suitcase, jammed it shut, and shoved it over at me. "Change yer taste in literatoor, son. (Pause). Got it?"
Thirty-five years later I am waiting, as usual, at the border at San Ysidro to get across so I can get to my office. Five agents and a very large black dog are checking the cars in the lane next to me, and the dog suddenly gets very interested in a small blue sports car. The agents get the driver out, and stand him up, with his hands on the top of the car as the dog burrows further into the car.
It wasn't the dog or the man that attracted my attention after they found what they were looking for (evidenly some marijuana). No, it was the agents. After the dog had made his discovery, they started laughing and cheering, giving each other the high-five, lavishly patting the dog, hooting and hollering.
As they led the man away, I began thinking that something was wrong. These agents believed that they were onto something; that they were truly helping to protect the hope, and the future, of the United States. It was very little different than my customs agent advising me to change my taste in literatoor.
For he, like them, was sure, very sure, that he knew what was wrong with those countries beyond the borders of the United States; he was sure he was going to protect our country from the sickness of the rest of the world. His enthusiasm showed that he had no doubts at all that he, the official representative of the moral police, was right. Like him, the San Ysidro cheerleading squad were paid --- and paid fairly well --- to protect us from evil. They, like him, would never in a hundred years be able to guess the origin of this evil.
Like the bishop who burned Hardy's books, none of them could see that they and their homeland were twenty or thirty years behind the times; that history had already passed them by; that their moral stance was now just a shadow; that the world had begun to move on --- and that sooner or later, we (our country, us) will have to move along too. The handwriting and the drawings are on the wall --- for those who choose to look.
As I watched them howling in glee at their tiny victory, I remember thinking what had transpired was no better than the tale of victory, as described by Wellington:
"What a glorious thing must be a victory, Sir," said a questioner.
"The greatest tragedy in the world, Madam, except a defeat."--- Carlos Amantea