Stunde Null, Part 2
The sequel to Stunde Null, Part 1
Moreover, it made no game-theory sense for me to tell the truth. The only good outcome for me was getting scott free and however increasingly remotely, that was only possible if I kept lying. Everything else was pretty much the same bad outcome. So I just played the game as long as I could. Just as they also played intimidating and antagonistic as long as they had to.
So I was happy to discover that the same ability of abstraction that allows me to read or think or program for hours on end allowed me to detach from the whole thing and treat it as a game that I had probably already lost, so why not play it for fun now? And it was, indeed, in a bizarre sense, fun — flow.
Until they got into my computer (and my iPhone). That was the part that still angers and shames me the most. Anger, because my computer is not just a tool, as it is for my father say; it is as intimate and integral a part of me as my neocortex and I felt just as violated as if they could read my thoughts and stare at my naked psyche. Shame, because I should have known better, I should have been more careful. Because I know how to protect and hide a computer (they were barely computer literate themselves, I was almost helping them troubleshoot their crappy system afterwards). I had read Little Brother for crying out loud. I should have known better.
There was a point in the interrogatory where things started to look good. When they seemed to ran out of questions to ask and I had spun a tall but ultimately possible tale. Good officer Czech even suggested to bad officer Herrera (who was such a physical, corpulent man I didn’t stood a chance against his left pinkie) if they shouldn’t just consider believing me for now. At that point some other previously unknown officer shouts through the door for them to take a look at something. That’s when I first realized they had opened my computer and were rummaging inside it shamelessly. They read to me some undeniable emails by me and some colleages — “This project’s due for today.” “You’ll have to meet with so and so in order to deliver this and that.” I had just been working remotely on a project in Mexico, I was due at work next day. Game over.
“Do you live and work in the United States?”, they asked me again. Long pause. “Yes”, I said. And what happened next I’ll never forget. It was as if everyone, me included, exhaled a collective held breath. As if a very tense performance had just ended and the spent actors all dried their foreheads and bowed down awaiting the applause. They patted themselves in the back and some even congratulated themselves (the whole office had been all about me at this point). I even told them how fascinating I had found it all. They were all smiles. From that point on I was treated with nothing but a very impressive professionalism and even occasional kindness.
They asked me why I hadn’t applied legally with so many options available (?), even marrying an American (!), I looked like such a nice, smart boy. I explained them how my being a college dropout had complicated that. They told me they would be very lenient with me, that I should just go back to Mexico, finish my degree and come back legally. I told them I’d rather go to London now and they were genuinely concerned. “But why?,” they even asked.
From that point on it was all protocol and we chatted through it and even joked. I liked them and I think they liked me. They were not bad people they assured me, I’m not a lier, I assured them in return. Petersen did me a follow up questionnaire. “I was about to go home when you came… now it’s going to be hours.” She said, not visibly any worse for it. “I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s okay, I’m going to get paid overtime.” “Then I’m not sorry,” I smiled, she guffawed. When asked if I had any fear or concern about being returned to my home country, I answered “Only parental.” and she laughed and passed the joke around.
I wrote her the title of a bunch of essays and books she should read, of keywords she should google. I tried to learn how she thought about her job, how she felt about what she had done, how she lived with herself. “I probably shouldn’t say this but whenever we catch someone I’m… excited, satisfied.” “I have no problem with people coming to my country legally but the law is the law.” The law is the law. It was a phrase she repeated often with the childish confidence of never having questioned the subject. I take it you don’t believe in free markets then? I ask her and she answers she’s never really understood what they were. That strikes me as if a
doctor or a nurse poisoner operates without ever understanding what or why she’s doing what she’s doing.
“Do you have any claim to a US citizenship?” “My claim is that I claim to be a US citizen”, I answered. That I can earn a living and contribute to this society, that I have friends and colleagues here, that I belong here — I would have liked to have added. She wouldn’t budge until I answered no, which was the only thing she wrote on the transcript.
At one point she tried to say that employers hired illegal immigrants because we were cheap labor (so what?) but that argument had little weight with me as she learned I had earned some $23 an hour, as an intern. Several more officers and cops would remark on that salary. The cop who would later deliver me to the airport told the airport officer, “He was making $23 an hour, can you believe that?” I asked the airport officer how much he made an hour and he just said “Lots, lots”.
Anyway, we finished the questionnaire. I was going to be allowed to “withdraw” my application to the US, the most lenient option available. They would confiscate my visa but I would be able to apply for another in a year. They were very careful about my stuff, packing back everything and counting my money and putting it in an envelope closed with tape, across which I stamped my signature. I trusted them and they trusted me, I went to the outside bathroom unescorted and was allowed to make as many calls on my iPhone as I wanted but the signal was very bad and there was no data connection. I called my parents and assured them I was alright. I left 2 voicemails to my 2 best friends in San Francisco only, as I’d later learn, to scare the hell out of them.
Herrera, who was now perhaps the friendliest of them, took my 10 hand fingerprints in a cool machine that graded him on how good he took each one. Machine grading man. All very, very reminiscent of Daemon as it would be for the rest of my captivity.
Since there weren’t any flights back left I would have to spend the night in a detention center and fly back in the first flight available, at 9AM. I spent an hour or so just chatting with a friendly 48 old female officer whose name I never learned but who told me the story of her life unbidden. She was of Mexican ancestry, 3rd generation, and this was the last place she ever expected to be. She didn’t like what she did, it made her queasy and unhappy, and she was only there because customs had recently merged with immigration.
At about 11pm, the cop arrived who would escort me to the detention center. He thoroughly searched me for weapons as he would do again back at the detention center. Like all American cops I’ve known, they both scare and sadden me by how wary they seem of me. 3rd-generation lady insisted I should be able to take a book with me, which had been an early request of mine. Cop agreed though he knew they wouldn’t let it in the detention center so it was pretty pointless. He was curt and professional and, again, wary. He never ever gave me his back. I say goodbye to Herrera and tell him smiling they were all “Great bad guys!”. He laughs not expecting the goodhearted backhanded compliment.
I was off to one of the most fascinating parts of the experience. He handcuffed me, which made me feel like a criminal for the first time. Fortunately there was no one outside this late at night but I’m pretty sure I would have beamed rather than lower my head in shame. He was in great shape and instead of speaking signaled or patted me. He drove me on a black civilian van adapted at the back for carrying prisoners. Not a word was spoken the whole 20 minute trip. Instead, there I was taking my first look at Phoenix through a black mesh, in a black civilian van, being escorted by a blackly clad cop who could haven been a J.Lo dance partner, listening to hip hop idolizing gangstas and Kate Perry’s I Kissed a Girl. Unreal doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Boy, I’m blabbering. It’s just that I remember all so vividly. Third and final part upcoming in a few hours!