I’m living a stone’s throw from the San Francisco International Airport
where I works as a cog in the National Security-Industrial Complex. April
to August was a battery of federal law, gun smoke, beatings, planes,
rubber stamps and Bad Guy-inspired seriousness interrupted with a surf
session in Florida, a many beautiful days next to a pool in Georgia and
sneaking up on Lena in Federal Officer uniform. Since then its been a
blur: squinting into the sun on the way to work; thousands of sixty-second
conversations; a workweek that never really ends and never really begins;
you know: the usual.
All is well if somewhat surreal. Daily I develop skills which are so
specific to government and law enforcment that their only direct use in
private enterprise is on the black market. That’s not entirely true, but
almost. The difference between Customs and Immigration is this: Customs
catches things, Immigration catches people. If it’s likely to run away,
it’s my problem; if it’s likely to be sold, it’s theirs. If it’s likely to
run away and get sold it’s my problem if it’s human, and Public Health’s
if it’s not.
I work an insane number of hours each week, and get paid… well, I get
paid. The job isn’t without its perks – I get health care, paid vacations
and a union that will defend me if I get sued for doing my job (offer
expires with the Homeland Security Act of 2002). In the afternoons and
evenings I have time to read between planes. My co-workers are generally
friendly folk (if uniformly my seniors).
“But what is it you do?” you ask.
I exchange pleasantries with hundreds of passengers each day, making them
smile, laugh and otherwise welcoming them to the U.S. Right behind the
smile and friendly energy is a stern interrogator looking for the would-be
immigrant presenting a stolen or altered passport, a counterfeit visa or
otherwise misrepresenting the purpose of their visit. These undesireable
folks, if they are so unlucky as to discovered and sent off to men and
women so insulted, overworked and assaulted by the stupidity of the
general public they have become very angry. “’Once it goes up, who cares
where it comes down? That’s not my department,’ said Verner Von Braun.”
Some get sent home, but most are eventually released into the U.S.
The irony of the job is that after hundreds of conversations I go home to
an empty studio and blank social calendar. It seems those I knew in the
Bay Area in the past have all left (every last one) leaving me to my own