Swimming to Manhattan

A personal journey to Spalding Gray’s Memorial Service in NYC
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
April 13th, 2004

by John Boland (aka ‘Ratz Garcia’)

Dedicated to Kathie, Melissa, Theo, Forrest … and Spalding

Day 18 – This Day is Dedicated to American Immigration (TDIDTAI)

( recommended music – Custom’s Man (Coming into Los Angeles) by Arlo Guthrie)

Author's note – as I edit this, I know that today is the private Memorial for Spalding in Sag Harbor. This is what I write right now…
to Spalding:

it is a spring day
at the sag harbor church
we both aren’t there

I am flying to NYC today. There are three significant things:

  1. meeting someone cool or neat on the plane or in bar
  2. getting past immigration
  3. arriving in the Bowery
  1. didn’t… usually do… at least in the bar…
  2. immigration – this again is going to have to have background stories… am I surprised?

When I lived in the national capital of Canada, by the name of Ottawa, a friend had some temporary dead end job with the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police – name copyrighted by Disney), so I said, run my name – see what comes up…

Two things – when I was a kid (13) and into short wave radio, Radio Peking used to send me all kinds of neat stuff, the little red book and glossy mags. RCMP had me listed as possible communist sympathizer. And when I was in university a long time ago (30+years), I was in a friend’s room when the police unceremoniously removed a bag of awesome black hash – that was there (not mine).

So last fall, I decided to go to the annual detective fiction writer conference called Bouchercon (see my web site for short story Murder at Bcon) which happened to be in Las Vegas that year. So in Vancouver airport, they run my name – guess what came up? - I don’t have a fucking clue, but I had to go to the ‘special’ office which was just a line up of people that U.S. Immigration was trying to turn back. For example, there was a woman who was Canadian and owned a condo in Hawaii. They turned her back cause they said she might decide to ‘live there’…So they call me in, ask me where am I going and why. I have my registration to the conference, my hotel confirmation email, and enough cash not to starve or have to beg. They didn’t believe me. They asked if I was on meds. I gave them the letter from my psychiatrist, listing my meds, what they were for – anxiety, depression – and that I was real stable. That wasn’t enough. It wasn’t specific enough about whether I was a danger. I got sent back, dragging my luggage and duty free Cointreau. I phoned my shrink on my cell and interrupting him (a big no no), got him to fax a letter to the airline saying glowing things about how undangerous I really was. I dragged everything back to the special office – but maybe I got this faxed from a fake… so he called the secretary to ask her if she had sent a fax and was I stable? Then he had to take it all to the boss. Yep – got thru, went back to get my Cointreau (this had taken 4 hours – good to be early – met some really nice folks in bar, watched 8th and 9th inning of great baseball playoff game and got really drunk and caught flight…)

Fast forward – Toronto to NYC – Immigration.

Now, guess what comes up on the screen? “You were turned back in Vancouver on your way to Las Vegas… You’ll have to go to the ‘office’.” Great – now I’m on the permanent office list.

In office. Signs all over about you’re being taped and videotaped.

“Yes, I need to point out that everything for now on is being taped and videotaped.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You were turned back last year in Vancouver.”

“Yes, sir.”

“What happened?”

I told him about the letter from shrink, getting another one faxed – I left out the cointreau and nice woman going to Hawaii.

“Do you have a letter?”

Now this letter was iron clad. Even was on recycled paper. It had official shrink stamps, and initials and made me sound like the greatest person on earth who unfortunately was taking meds. Once again left out the Buddhist shit about only killing an occasional mosquito, tent caterpillar and as many flying black ants as possible.

This was about the time of the loud speaker. You know how in airports, you’ll here ‘would Mr. Smith please report to garble garble for urgent message. The garble garble is located on level garble garble.’ Repeats every few minutes. Well the Toronto Airport is brand new ($3 billion to build and the airline was bankrupt) – 2nd day open – if I’d flown the day before, they gave out free tickets… So the loudspeakers were working just fine.

“Would Mr. Boland please report to Gate 3 immediately for imminent take off …”

I very kindly said to Mr. Custom Man, “Um, excuse me, Sir but that’s my name they’re calling. My flight is leaving…”

He didn’t look up.

“I know what your name is. It’s on the screen here.”

I decided not to ask what happened if I missed my flight.

“I’ll have to take this to my boss.”

“Would Mr. Boland please report to Gate 3 immediately for imminent take off …”

And I’m looking extremely relaxed as someone looks at the video screen.

“You can go thru.”

I run to the gate. The staff fall all over me with kindness. I ask if they have any free flights left. No…

“Well, I really hate flying. Could I get a drink a bit early? Thanks. A double cointreau on ice…”

I arrive at La Guardia. I’ll just say one thing. Fuck the ground transportation. Get a cab. Costs $2 more, takes 17 minutes whereas ground transport took me three hours.

Funny thing in the big wagon. Sitting beside a good looking businesswoman who had Marriott written all over her personality. We stopped at the uptown Marriott but she didn’t get off. So I commented that why would anyone staying at the Marriott take this shitty transport. She later mentioned she was going to the DOWNTOWN Marriott which as it turned out was the stop after the Bowery. When she looked at it, I could see she wanted to put me up at the Marriott. She looked sad, worried and distraught.

I said “I write about hobos. I have to live the fuckin part…”

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