tale of exile by marinus horn, as told to louis michaelson
In the anxious gasoline-rationed summer of 1974, 1 was awarded my Master's degree from a California State University. I awoke from thesis-and-orals trance to realize that my student visa was about to expire. I had come to the U.S. five years earlier as an under graduate and had moved straight from my B.A. at the University of California into grad school. Now I was going to have to go "home" -that is, back to the country of my birth, which I had been trying so hard to forget about. Like most Northern European nations, mine was in those days a pretty comafordable place, with a cradle-tograve welfare state, a low rate of violent crime, and the prospect of subsidized further education if I wanted it. It was also repressed. conformist, rainy in summer and icy in winter, and very dull. I decided to stay on in California-forget the rest of the country-by hookorbycrook.
Hook was out: I had not been trained as an aerospace engineer or a portfolio management specialist, so no company was going to write an affidavit claiming the irreplaceable uniqueness of my potential contribution to the American GNP. In fact. I had virtually no saleable skills other than fluent English, a knowledge of my chosen field of scholarship sufficient to get me a low-paid job in a junior technical college, and a certain talent for oral sex. I decided to try Crook: that is, find someone to marry.
Alison, my girlfriend of four years, was off the list. She was plausible enough, with an Ivy League B.A. and WASP credentials, but she was allergic to marriage after a messy divorce a few years back. Also, what if they found out she was a part-time dominatrix, or checked her criminal record and discovered the speeding tickets, the two prostitution busts, and the arrests for demonstrating in support of the Black Panthers! Then there was my ex-lover Naomi. She too was a somewhat shell-shocked veteran of the late 'sixties counterculture --a surrealist poet, on-and-off spiritual seeker, and anarchafeminist- but had managed to stay out of the official spotlight. Better yet, she was currently my housemate, living on welfare with a dazed alcoholic screenwriter in a big old North Oakland Victorian. We would even legitimately have the same address; and if Immigration gave us one of those notorious third-degree interviews about our personal habits, she would know just what I ate for breakfast and which side of the bed I slept on.
I'm not sure what combination of substances Naomi had ingested that day--she had a formidable appetite for all sorts of psychotropic agents-- but rather to my surprise she agreed to become my official spouse. What a pal. I thought. Sure enough, a week or two and a blood test later Naomi came with me in a thrift-shop dress and her one pair of nylons to the Alameda County Courthouse. We got hitched by a grey little Republican judge whose indifference to us was so complete that his face has smudged in my memory like a greasy thumbprint. Then we went home and drank tequila.
Next we had to go to the dismal chamber at the Immigration and Naturalization Service offices on Sansome Street where aspirants to the Promised Land filed Petitions for Permanent Resident Status. In those days one had to stand for four or five hours in a serpentine line defined by blue vinyl ropes. with no place to sit down, in order to reach a bored clerk who took the fee and stamped the papers. The long counter was adorned with eaglesealed official threats about falsifying information and with one of those posters showing a kitten dangling by its front claws from a bar and captioned "Hang in there. baby."
Alas. Naomi felt unable to heed this patronizing advice any further. Ten months later, one week before the interview at the INS, she got a Real Job with a Financial District company. Unmoved by all my pleading, she refused to come with me to Migra Central because the absence would look bad to her boss. Needless to say, despite my short haircut and new tweed jacket, my solo appearance before the crisp, Mormonoid young INS official lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. Further detracting from my attractiveness as a Good Alien was a fat, dog-eared dossier on the agent's desk, whose title I read upsidedown with a ghastly feeling of sudden free fall. It was a copy of my FBI file, packed with fun facts from my days as a campus radical during the Let's-Crater-Cambodia Era, not to mention my more recent media-guerrilla hijinx. The Mormonoid smirked a bit as he said he would have to take my case under consideration.
Another long wait--about twenty-two months, actually. By this time I had moved in with Alison, while Naomi and her writer boyfriend Kevin were living downstairs from us in another apartment. During the interim I had gone to great lengths to make it appear that I was living with Naomi in their flat, in preparation for the inevitable visit from the INS investigator. I left my books in her shelves, my clothes (improbably labeled with my name) in the chest of drawers, and actually sat with ever-increasing awkwardness in a corner of her living room every evening from 5:30 to 7:00. prime time for La Migra. Kevin dis coursed amiably enough between chugs of Bud about the bit players in the Six-o'clock Movie, but Naomi stepped around me as if I were a cat-turd she hadn't yet had the stomach to scrape off the floor. Finally neither of us could stand it any more. So when the INS foreigner-finder showed up, I wasn't there. Naomi told him I was just upstairs visiting the neighbors-which in a sense was true. (What he made of Kevin, who had hair to his waist and smelled like the bottom of a keg-tub after a frat party, I'II never know.) He didn't stick around to find out if she was telling the truth, but left his card and said he'd be back. After I climbed down off the ceiling with the aid of half a pint of schnapps. visions of deportation jangling in my brain (ohdeargodthey'llmarchmeouttotheplaneinlegironsl"llnevergetbackherenever) l decided it was time to get an expensive lawyer.
I say expensive because I had already tried cheap Leftist lawyers and found them unsatisfactory. The first, a referral from the Lawyer's Guild, was a weedy, earnestly liberal fellow with a preppy manner that was about two sizes too large for him. He made sympathetic noises and advised me to fly home and start over. The next two I visited worked for Legal Assistance offices in Latino neighborhoods. They were brusque, cold, and utterly unhelpful. After all, they intimated, I was a gringo --an Aryan in fact--and middleclass, so my problems were trivial. But my new attorney was the goods, an immigration specialist for over thirty years. A large. rotund, owl-faced man in his early seventies with cigar ash down his vest, he pressed the tips of his fingers together and remarked in an undiluted Bronx accent that this was indeed "a matta of some deli-cussy." Calmly, he advised me to divorce Naomi and marry Alison. Then, he said, we could "draw a veil" over the previous marriage.
Luckily I had gotten a straight and quite lucrative job while waiting for the Sword of the State to drop, while Naomi was unemployed once more. I was able to ship her off to friends in Reno, where she established residency after two weeks and was able to run our marriage through the Nevada Divorce-o-Mat. Over the phone she complained bitterly of how bored she was with no Kevin, no drugs, and not even enough pocket money to go gambling, but she did it.
That was the easy part. Getting Alison to marry me was quite another matter. Her marriage allergy was intensified by the fact that our relationship was, as you Americans say, circling the drain. We had long since parted ways ideologically, she having turned into a New Age Joy-Junkie while I stuck to my anarcho-marxist guns. More important, she had been seeing another man, a charming if somewhat dissipated actor, two nights a week for about a year. From this fellow she had acquired herpes, the gift that keeps on giving. Of course, she vehemently asserted when we both got those nasty little blisters that I had given it to her. This was because, some three months earlier. I had finally, in exhausted retaliation, fallen in love with a wonderful Rebel Girl named Morgan --smart, sweet, and honorable. And (suitably rubbered) I was passionately entwined with Morgan whenever I got the chance, alternating lovemaking with pillow talk about Hegel and the Labor Theory of Value. But despite Morgan's unhesitating offer to marry me, and precisely because I adored her, I couldn't take her up on it. The whole thing was too new, and she was only twenty-one to my twenty-eight. Not only that, but I had almost finished paying for Alison's graduate training as -- what else --a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor, which made me imminently dispensable to her. To call our relationship "troubled" would be like describing Mike Tyson as "touchy."
Never one to let logic or equity stand in her way, moreover, Allson had become frantically jealous of Morgan. For some reason this green-eyed fury intensified when I, ironically equipped with a dozen red roses, popped the question. Finally, after cursing me almost continuously for three days, Allson sullenly agreed to tie the knot. We were married on her lunch hour.
The next day I had my lawyer file the petitions with the INS. He swept through Sansome's Inferno in a genial cigar-scented breeze, brushing aside bureaucrats like dry leaves: you could almost see them diving under the desks when he appeared.
Alison and I passed the ten months or so between petition and interview in alternate crockery smashing Armageddon and fake cheery mutual tolerance, humping our respective extramarital honeys on the agreed nights (though Allson, losing what shreds of cool she had left, took to calling me at Morgan's place at two in the morning and whining about being lonely). Still, we found out once again what had always held our seven-year struggle together: lust. Under these bizarre conditions we had sex that, while not involving sheep, rubber masks, baguettes. or Boy Scout uniforms, was emoiiona//y kinky and lurid in quite indescribable ways. This may be why on the day of the interview Alison put on her protoyuppiest outfit (over black lace Frederick's of Hollywood underwear; she couldn't do it completely straight), I slipped on my new Italian suit and red silk tie, and we sailed into the drab little office hand in hand in true ruling-class style.
I noticed right away that my file on the desk was slim as a televangelist's alibi and brand new. The examiner caught my glance and announced sheepishly that my original file had been "misplaced." (I've always like to think that Old Deli-Cussy had called in a favor and had had the file shredded accidently-on-purpose). Under these conditions, with both of us so clearly articulate, well--scrubbed, and gainfully employed members of the Master Race, the interview was scarcely more than a formality. The examiner shook my hand and welcomed me to the United States.
Not too long after that I came home unexpectedly early one afternoon to find Alison being buggered in our bed by one of the actor's buddies. This solidified my resolve to extricate myself as soon as possible and give myself over to Morgan and True Love. But I didn't dare pack my toothbrush, Goethe's Selected Works, and leather jockstrap until I got my Green Card. For all I knew they had found my old dossier again and determined to come get me at the earliest opportunity. I had to stay put with my lawfully wedded wife. Understandably, Morgan got tired of waiting and went off to Labor History grad school in Boston. Even more ominous, before she left she had met a handsome and charismatic young revolutionary closer to her age than mine and had taken quite a shine to him--while he had, with the painful obviousness of youth, fallen as hard for her as I did. We detested each other: if looks could kill, we would both have been shrinkwrapped in styrofoam trays.
At last the little plastic-coated, computer-coded card arrived in the mail. Terminally exasperated with Alison and frantic that I would lose Morgan, I moved out within a month. At this point, naturally, Alison decided that I was her One True Love. With my Smith 8 Wesson .38 she staged tearful suicide vigils which I was summoned to interrupt at all hours of the day and night. Then she threatened to turn me in to the INS and demanded hush money. In between these outbursts she radiated pheromones of such potency that (against what I laughingly call my betterjudgement) I more than once succumbed to her undoubted if neurotic charms. But I didn't move back in: and one morning I came over to find her voluptuously damp and disheveled and the editor of a local up-market glossy scurrying around in the Pendleton bathrobe she had shoplifted for me last birthday. My services, it seemed, were no longer required.
Then the roof fell in. Back in Boston, Morgan had yielded to her ardent young admirer, who had moved out there to be with her. I tried even/thing I could to detach her from him--impassioned declarations by phone, sheafs of love poems, broken pleading -- but after much agonizing back-and-forth she decided to stay with him. I was heartbroken. But I had my little green Ticket to Opportunity. I was a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States, at liberty, equipped with a Master's degree, a suit, and a functioning set of glands and erogenous zones. Now let me tell you about my next two marriages. . .