Today was a fantastic day. My lovely wife Pascale finally submitted to the American dream by taking the Oath of Allegiance. For a strong- minded independent, it was a big step after twenty years of being here. It wasn’t absolutely necessary; but I was sick and tired of her telling me how to vote! There were several other good reasons of course. Perhaps she can opine elsewhere on her motives. In any case, to properly participate in a democracy as a citizen, one has to take the complete plunge. Thanks to America for providing the opportunity.
However, the baptismal experience itself was a mixed blessing, to say the least. I don’t think Pascale will write all this down, but I feel compelled to exercise my right to free speech “tout de suite”. In addition, I believe that if I write this down now, it will cause laughter somewhat later down the road, when the memory is blurred, but the psychological scar remains. And most of all, this public bleat may cause other would-be citizens to be better prepared.
The process really begins when you complete a form, in this case many moons ago. Eventually you are asked for an interview. The supplicant takes a rather pathetic test on the US Constitution and history. The curriculum is a classic nation-building diatribe, diced with a contemporary dose of political correctness- pas de problème- for a well educated Frog, née Pascale.
Eventually a letter arrives from the bowels of the US Federal bureaucracy to invite Pascale (or maybe you) to a ceremony at a US federal courthouse. In this case, it simply stated that the applicant should arrive at the courthouse at 9am. There is a list of various bits of paper to bring and several comical questions to answer on the attached form. Had Pascale been a prostitute since taking the test? Is she in a communist organization? Is she a drug dealer etc…? I would imagine that any self-respecting drug dealers or brothel-keepers are honest when asked, especially by the US government.
Bob Dole Federal Courthouse in Kansas City, Kansas
We parked the car, full of expectation in a parking lot close to the Bob Dole federal court house. It was easy to see that several clusters of foreigners were circling around the US government megalith seeking the entrance. Having read “The Wisdom of Crowds” I knew that we should follow the majority of the gathering herd. A friendly US government policeman announced that we couldn’t bring cell phones into the building. How helpful and pleasant he was, saving us from a lengthy back and forth walk in the summer humidity. The shuttle was short for me. Pascale entered on her own while I did my manly duty as carrier of our smart phones and photographic devices. ( I really don’t know why we can’t take them in. I have been to visit other Federal buildings most recently -100 F Street- and was left in full possession.)
Next we entered the edifice through the usual metal detector security in a motley line of Indians, Nepalis, Malays, Bulgarians and so forth. Ultimately corralled into room 180, the holding pen normally set aside for the jury, the families and turncoats gathered, some in their Sunday best. I gave up my comfy chair for a mother with babe-in-arms. A pregnant woman was eventually made way for by another seated fellow after her mother declared, ‘pregnant woman’, with exactly the right guilt-making tone.
At this juncture, the room filled with perhaps two hundred and fifty people, no one knew what would happen next. I suppose that if you were a Vietnamese boat person, this would all be normal. Standing against a wall, I chatted to a pleasant Mexican woman who had given birth three days before. We both hoped that we would be done in forty five minutes. We both knew that the bureaucracy moves in mysterious ways, as Kafka has pointed out. I didn’t raise the Kafka concept, since she was already anxious.
At about ten minutes past the hour, a man in a blazer started making announcements. Apparently they were going to deal with the ninety five nearly-Americans fifteen at a time. The families would stay in the jury room, though they would be able to visit the cafeteria. It would take at least an hour before the ceremony, which they would be allowed to witness. Sometimes his instructions were mangled by the cries of infants, but we got the drift.
Kissing Pascale, I made my escape, chatting to the friendly policeman on the way out. He had visited Edinburgh when he was a sailor. “Lovely”, said I, as I hastened to get my book. The book, “Mrs Hemingway” was actually at home. However, it was essential that I finish it and keep myself occupied lest I do a Timothy McVeigh or some such.
The drive home was punctuated by one red light that I accidentally ran. The return with the Economist and Naomi Wood novel was accomplished without such obvious rule-breaking, except perhaps a slight misunderstanding regarding speed limits. It is amazing what you can accomplish in a 2004 Dodge Neon.
On return, when I looked in at the throng in room 180, every seat was taken, so I wandered about. Serendipity took me to an elevator and the nice white middle class people pressed the button for the top floor- number six.
It was a pleasant and inviting floor with a fresco describing the history of Kansas. But I was drawn around the corner to an open door that just happened to be the Federal court room where the proceedings, the very highlight of the day, were due to unfold. I strode into the room, making eye contact with official looking people and was lead by instinct and their micro body language signals to a soft chair in the front row of the observer corps congregation.
In just a few minutes, the new communicants strode in to take their assigned seats under the sacred dome. Next the families came in and some unknown privileged people took their place in the jury space, a raised podium to the side, much like a secular choir stall.
After much shuffling about, a female mâitre’d took several of the proto-citizens through their routine. The young latina official would call a name and the congregant would rise and declare the nation from which they hailed. After a dozen had been put through their paces it was decided that everyone understood the routine. Brilliant.
It is worth noting that a group of old men and a boy also came in to sit in the choir stall. They wore tricorn hats and heavy blue regalia in tribute to the rebel army of the 1770s. They were clearly self-satisfied with their blue coat dress-up role. I was imagining that I could take them all on as the last remaining red coat, but dismissed such fantasy when we rose for Judge David J. Waxse.
Bearded, paunchy, dark voiced and wise, Waxse started on a serious note and gradually worked up to jollity, especially when he got the order of the proceedings screwed up. Unfortunately I didn’t have my smart phone or otherwise I would have recorded the discourse. They read out the names of the nominees and managed to garble all but the latins and anglo saxon names. How could one pronounce Pascale Branka Simunich as Pocsalll Brink Simonovitch? (You had to be there to believe it). But now I knew why recording devices were banned.
The service continued with some singing, pledging, oath taking, marching of the old men in procession with flag and musket and extraordinary speech making by a man who one would imagine was lampooning the classical world-ignorant American, except that he was not. He is the genuine article. Scott Kaufmann, a friend of one of the judges for twenty years, advertisement for America, cheered us all up by referencing money, the stock market, freedom of speech, right to carry weapons and so on. Jollying the doctors, analysts, homemakers, retail associates and scientists along, he was kind enough to use crude hand-written white cards to make points about why America was so great. He wasn’t very good at statistics either.
Kaufmann illustrated at length that the rest of the world is crap. He didn’t use the word “crap” but he openly cited Glenn Beck as his source as to why America is great, so it was as good as. In following this partisan road, he managed to point out that Cuba was awful on account of their poor pay ($20 per week) and that the French only give 1000th of the money to charity that Americans do. Several other countries were dissed but the country that donated the statue of Liberty, that warned their friends not to go into Iraq, that sent a fleet to tip the balance in the Revolutionary War and so on was slighted the most- probably don’t get many French in the US immigration queue. What a welcome for Pascale.
What did the Canadians, New Zealanders think, now freshly minted? Hmmmm. I just don’t know. Hopefully they loved the old Gipper since Scott Kaufmann cited Ronald Reagan three times in his biased blarney and continued with his self-serving conceited drivel.
Scott Kaufmann, we will never forget. Scott Kaufmann, we will never use your financial advisory firm; and the audience will likely never vote in your preferred direction. Dear oh dear, how unfortunate. You also knocked our faith in the judge. Did Waxse know that you are such an arse? Let’s hope not.
But at the end of the day, Mr Kaufmann, you did make it a memorable occasion! God Bless America. Congratulations Pascale!