Wednesday, October 29, 2008

In which Birdmonster returns to Canada, or at least its border. Then the suckiness began


Amongst the record-defying majesty of dolphinboy, the pre-prepubescent gymnasts of the host nation, and the perfunctory ass-whoopings of American Basketball, I rediscovered my fondness for the Olympics this past summer. There's something incredibly fascinating about the fittest people from every cranny of the globe competing in events as patently bogus as trampolining. And, like many people, I found myself not only rooting for my home nation but for plucky athletes from Monaco, Guam, and unpronounceable former-Soviet Republics. That, I think, what the Olympics are supposed to be about: spirited competition on the one hand, global tolerance and unity and other hippie-type shit on the other. I wasn't rooting against anyone, certainly. After all, most Olympic athletes recede into the shadowy obscurity of Home Depot after spending two weeks competing and screwing and subsisting solely on McDonald's. So I cheered for everyone. I felt good. I was a Citizen Of The World. Not anymore though. From now on, I root against Canada.

You heard that Canada? From now on, when a Canadian diver bellyflops after losing her equilibrium on the high-dive, I laugh. When the Canadian hockey team plays Russia, I root for Ivan Drago's man-spawn. John Candy? I just threw King Ralph out the window of the van. I defenestrate you, King Ralph. SCTV? Forget it. You're gone. And don't bring up Alex Trebek. He and I are no longer speaking. Not until he brings back the mustache, at the very least.

See my fine northern neighbors, it's not that I hate you. In fact, I've enjoyed the company of nearly all the Canadians I've ever met. I like Neil Young. I like the Arcade Fire. And syrup. I like that too. But the people who work your borders? The English language, colorful as it is, cannot fully express our sickened anger. Words like "hateful," "petty," and "punchable" come to mind. So does "anus-brained."

A couple years back, we had a dust-up with the Border Patrol in Windsor. (I've linked it here and found rereading it weirdly cathartic). Long story short is that we ran into a spiteful, bitesized powertripper who, after identifying the Cheeto detritus on the floor of our Chevy as weed, tore the van apart in hopes of finding some way of fucking us over. He succeeded in that we didn't declare our merch at a window of a man who couldn't speak English and never asked us about any commercial goods at all and could therefore claim we were "accidental smugglers" and attempt to legally extort about a thousand dollars from a band that was playing for dinner, drinks, and hotel money. Ever since, he's been my first round selection in the "People I'd Pay Good Money To Watch Eat Shit" draft.

Today, we met his sister. If not his biological sister, his spiritual sister. If not that, his wife, and if so, their children will destroy us all.

It went like this:

We drove across the 96, across crossed not across? the Bridge to Canada, and we got up to that first window where the English Mangler began our travails last time around. I was driving; we were prepared.

"What's your purpose in Canada?" he asked. "To play music," we replied. "Do you have any firearms?" he wondered. "Of course not," we answered. "What's in the van?" he ventured. "Instruments," we told him. "And merch! For the love of God, we have merch." He smiled. He looked like Victor Krumm from Harry Potter 4 but in the end, he was on our side.

Next up were the customs agents, cohorts of the vile little fuck who sent us away during our last attempt to breach the Canadian border. They brought "the dog" who barked wildly. While agents were scurrying through our van looking for pretzels and puffy cheese things that looked like narcotics, we chatted up the other three agents who stood around getting paid. We learned that once, when Keith Richards was rolled for heroin in Toronto, part of his sentence was community service by way of a benefit show at the very place we were supposed to play that night. We sat by calmly while a female agent looked through my bag that contained a motley collection of Stephen King books, canned ham, and Cracker Barrel car games. We smiled. We joked. We reveled in our shared humanity. Sure, they destroyed the interior of our van looking for our phantom booty, but they found nothing. After all, we'd spent twenty minutes vacuuming the van out a Citgo for just such a contingency. We were, as I said, prepared.

These agents gave us a couple forms, made us pack up our van, and sent us Immigration. We were riding high. "This band is unstoppable!" I thought. I smiled. Almost done. This here's the easy part.

Then we met Her.

I use this word to denote only the gender of the anus-brained bitch-beast who would have been edited out of an especially absurd Kafka novel. In fact, it all begins with novels. Knowing from experience that the Canadian border crossing can be an interminable affair, we'd all brought the books we were reading into the building, having read all the Canadian Border Patrol pamphlets ever printed last time we were detained. Literature in hand, we walked into her lair.

It went like this:

"Is there a reason you have those books?" she asked. Not "hello" or "can I see your paperwork?" but "Is there a reason you have those books?" Asked it, in fact, in the tone of a woman who's spent the last six years fighting a malt liquor hangover.

We looked at each other. "So that we've got something to read while we wait," we said.

"You don't need those. Take them to your car."

"Can't we just take them to the waiting room so we---"

"ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME?!"

This was going poorly.

"TAKE THEM TO YOUR VEHICLE."

In hindsight, I wished I would've peed on her through that space they push documents through. That would have at least given her a reason to treat us like shit. If you've heard the expression that someone obviously "woke up on the wrong side of the bed," it's definitely apt here. Except, she probably doesn't sleep in a bed. She probably sleeps in a cave littered with baby skulls.

But I didn't pee on her. None of us did. Instead, we split up, sending some back to the car to deposit the hated read-y-things and while the rest of us pushed her our passports.

Basically, what you need to picture here is this: there are three rooms. On the right is Customs, the left Immigration, and in the middle is a plastic holding pen where the sad victims of bureaucracy wait to be yelled at by anus-brained bitch-beasts. After dropping off our books and passports, we all gathered there, noted the defeated souls around us, and felt a keen sense of foreboding. After about five minutes, Dave noticed she never took our immigration papers and went back in to give it to her. From my vantage point, everything was muffled talking and gesticulating. Dave came back and informed us she hadn't started processing anything because she was, quote, waiting for us to get rid of our books. Now, that makes sense! Thanks, sug.

So we waited. We waited and didn't read since books are illegal in Canada. I contemplated "upper decking" the place---which consists of taking a crap in the upper chamber of a toilet, the part that doesn't flush---but then discovered their toilets didn't have tanks on top. Of course, I had to ask permission to even use the bathroom, which was at first denied because I asked the people at Customs (a full eight of them sitting there doing nothing) who said that they couldn't buzz me in, regardless of the sign that said "ASK CUSTOM AGENT TO BUZZ YOU IN." Immigration, he informed me, had to let me shit. I laughed. I shat. I rejoined my bandmates in the plastic holding pen.

"Birdmonster," she called through the intercom. Dave went in.

Here it's important to know about the two types of clubs, as far as the Canadian Border Patrol is concerned. One are exempt clubs---clubs that sell tickets, host shows regularly, and, if they are small enough, do not require work permits to come play. The other are non-exempt clubs, clubs which, from the government's view, are really just bars that sometime have shows and that you do need a visa to play. Make sense? I didn't think so. We were informed that the club in Toronto was exempt while the one in Montreal was not.

"Well, we played that club last time without a permit," we said. She didn't care. She looked up the club on the internet and she didn't think so. "Which website?" we asked. She didn't remember. "Our tourmates went through two hours ago with identical paperwork," we offered. We were informed that they didn't. Of course, they did. Of course, reality has little power in a place such as thing. We offered to cancel the Montreal show; Anus-Brain said she wouldn't believe us. We tried calling some clandestine Canadian organization that determines which clubs are exempt; they were closed. We showed her our contract and our paperwork that said the club was exempt; she refused to believe these legitimacy of said papers. We called our booker and the club, begging for help.The club (the Zoobizarre in Montreal, for the record) tried to be helpful.

"I could fax her our Myspace page," he suggested.

"Eh?"

"Well, that's what I did with the Rumble Strips. They can see our schedule and our size and that we have a whole bunch of shows and that we qualify as exempt."

Now, that's an idea...I guess.

So we got the fax number and the fax arrived. Bitchdevil looked at it intently, the tiny obese gerbil of her brain spinning itself to exhaustion. She summoned us once again. Pete, at this point, had been crowned our "Spokesperson," because she refused to speak to all of us, apparently worried about burdening us with her brilliance more than once, so Pete alone went in and absorbed the brunt of the jackassery.

It went like this:

While the fax she received, the contract we showed her, and the exemption paperwork she was given suggested that everything we'd said was Gospel, the ineffable website she couldn't remember claimed otherwise. These competing verdicts boggled Anus-brain's mind. She decided that our situation should be deemed "confusing" and that in a "confusing" situation, she was allowed to do, well, whatever the fuck she wanted to. Which, in case you're playing along at home, was kicking us the hell out.

Of course, Pete asked for her supervisor. After acting extremely put-out by the suggestion that she may not have acted in good faith, she let us speak to a woman who was simply a more polite flavor of worthlessness. She told us that since she wasn't there during our first conversation with Anus-Brain (a feat which would have required omnipotence), she couldn't necessarily overrule a verdict based on an arbitrary, still unknowable website, which made about as much sense as everything else had up till this point. We were then "asked" to sign a form which said we were "allowed" to leave a country we never actually fully made it into. We tried to stall for a call back from our booker or some other deus ex machina but were told that if we waited around after being asked to leave we'd be detained---in other words, if we didn't leave, they wouldn't let us leave.

So we left. We came back to America, where the beer is cold, where the S'barro's is barely warm, and where we can travel to and fro without being subjected to the sort of logic that would confuse Lewis Carroll. We canceled Toronto and Montreal, not because we wanted to, but because Canada hates us and everything we stand for. The question is: do we, like Jesus of Nazareth, turn the other cheek? Or do we, like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, nurse an unhealthy grudge that will eventually drive us to grimacing vengeance?

I think we'll sleep on it.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm slow, but what do John Candy and King Ralph have to do with anything?

But Jesus, after a story like that, even the most hardened Berkeleyan can only say one thing:

USA USA USA USA (ad infinitum)

brett said...

I began reading expecting some real Canadian border empathy. Then I realized my Canadian border woes were nowhere near so appalling. Sure, it took forever, and sure, I read a shitload of pamphlets. I can't really emphasize that enough, I'm halfway to an international law degree. Where my story differs however, is that we screwed ourselves and given the literal incredibility of our story, the border guards were relatively kind. They feigned a little indignation, but you could see in their eyes they understood our hubris and were jealous of the fact that rejecting us meant that we got to go back to America (where the border guard was quite friendly) and they were stuck being Canadian.

And, I'm afraid, anon's got you on the Candy/Ralph thing. The fat (American) man you're thinking of goes be Goodman. Can I interest you in an Uncle Buck joke? Better still how about one centered around Who's Harry Crumb?? How dare you Levy such a false claim? (I hope Dave's listening.)

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