[lit-ideas] Re: Sunday Wotsit

  • From: David Ritchie <ritchierd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Sun, 22 Feb 2009 00:05:14 -0800

I should say at the outset that I passed the citizenship test with flying colors, and this is worth celebrating; I'm finally and officially beyond the sea-washed sunset gates, also the mighty woman with the torch. Note in the spelling, the absence of "u."

At the interview I was able correctly to name... or to name correctly is probably better American...two wars which America fought in the twentieth century. Having studied the guide, I knew that Vietnam counted officially as a war, but to be on the safe side, just in case the lady didn't agree that that long-term friendly-fire event, or whatever the heck that unfortunate containment thingy actually should be called, was in fact a war, I began with World War One and finished with World War Two.

Right answers.

Next I correctly reported the number of voting representatives in the house--435--bet you didn't know that.

Asked who the "father of our country" was, I tempted fate a bit and asked, "metaphorically speaking?" You see I was buying time; my mind was running off with the possibility that George III was actually the rather poor father of "our" country, now "one of my" countries. I mean, it was he who pushed his sons to rebel and thus to establish independence.

How exactly does one father a country?  And who with?

What was the other question? Can't remember... I was so busy keeping in the foreground of my brain the fact that a fellow named Publius joined Alexander Hamilton and James Madison and someone else in writing the Federalist Papers, which was about the only hard thing to remember on the test, and which consequently I feared being asked. Had I been invited to name one state that bordered Canada, or one state that bordered Mexico, or what my state capitol was, or who the current president is...ah...now I remember...I had to know that John Roberts is Chief justice of the Supreme Court. Not difficult.

So after the quiz--that, BTW, is an interesting word to look up-- and after I had affirmed that I was neither a member of the Communist Party or a Terrorist--yes, they did ask, and I'm pretty sure the letter t was capitalized--and then sworn that I had entered my birth date a'right, and so on... I was offered attendance at a ceremony at two that afternoon...and asked if maybe I wanted fries with.

"Is there another time available?"

"I am only authorized to offer that time."

A pretty clear hint.

"I'll be there."

No time to round up the family's paparazzi, but plenty of time to worry about how the following restrictions would ruin my day. Between the time I passed the test, say nine thirty a.m., and the swearing-in ceremony at two p.m., according to the form I was prevented from:

*practicing polygamy...I decided to leave this to those who are naturally good at it *joining the communist party...I have a mind some day soon to throw a communist party *knowingly committing a crime...since a crime consists of actus reus and mens rea, apart from manslaughter, it's very hard to commit a crime unknowingly...but I did walk to the appointment because the document specifically mentioned that traffic offenses might count
*getting married
*promoting prostitution
*selling drugs or marijuana...which caused me to wonder what actually marijuana is *being a habitual drunkard...though time was short, one might, I suppose try *smuggling illegal aliens across a border...with two classes to teach, this seemed like a stretch

Settled into the waiting area for the swearing ceremony, we waited, powerlessly. Then a woman came to "inwite" us to climb or take the elevator to the "fast" floor, for the ceremony. As an old hand on this frontier, my sense was that we were already on the fast floor; what she meant was the second floor. But he was from India, so like Emma Lazarus, we cut her some slack. I climbed to whatever floor it was and stood in another gloomy place. It was then explained that friends and family should go into the next room first. This caused great confusion among the assembled populace, all of whom had, of course, passed the English test. Translators went forward to ask where they should sit and what exactly was meant by this confusing instruction.

When these issues had been untangled, I was placed between a French guy, who had been forty years in this country, and a guy from Laos, who had delayed getting citizenship for thirty years. The second guy worked for the post office. He was on a lunch break. He had been an auto mechanic, but that was too hard, so now he had a first rate government job. He thought he might return to work at about six p.m., at the end of lunch. I asked what department of the post office he worked in. "Passports." I asked when might be a good time to apply for a passport. He said it tended to be slow in the middle of the day...which is when they're open, and, of course, which was the bit he was currently missing.

We were told that we would watch a movie, but all we got at first was a blue screen and a soundtrack featuring "America the Beautiful." Eventually they solved the projection problem and out-of-focus images of Ellis Island rolled along for about ten minutes. They must have played something other than "America the Beautiful," but I can't now recall what it was. Neither can I remember the point of seeing the movie. That we were part of a long tradition perhaps? That late nineteenth century immigration was like ours? That New York's waters no longer produce the best oysters in the world?

We then stood to renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, a statement that puzzled me. I've never been a fan of potentates, but dual citizenship is the deal I was offered, so I wasn't sure whether I was renouncing all allegiance, or possibly fifty percent of my allegiance, or perhaps my allegiance to Arsenal Football Club. Before I could get a handle on this, as we Americans say, we moved to my willingness to perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by law. Also my ability to defend the U.S. with my arms. I took this to mean, possibly, that I would continue to teach real good, and to keep my duck punt gun's touchhole dry.

I pledged allegiance, with my hand over my heart, which felt pretty Roman, as would have the original extended arm salute if, indeed, Rex Curry is right:


I joined the America of Woody Guthrie and Utah Phillips and Stephen Foster and Eubie Blake and indentured servitude and all the versions of freedom that followed.

And so, now, onward.

David Ritchie,
Portland, Oregon

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