I’m approved to visit the California state prisons at Susanville and Salinas but not Pelican Bay where I’d hoped, and still hope, to visit my friend Jack Morris, a resident of Pelican Bay’s infamous SHU or Security Housing Unit. Pelican Bay sends me a form letter saying, “According to the Department of Justice, you have failed to list your complete arrest history.”
My application had apparently been forwarded by Pelican Bay to the FBI, an agency that began tracking me back in 1962 on the basis of the political affiliations of my youth, I suppose. Pelican Bay had thoughtfully stamped my FBI file number on my visitor’s app: FBI-22648IRA5 and AO2109784, whatever these latter identifiers signify.
For the record, and although as a kid I kept regular company with commies of all kinds, I am, philosophically considered, an anarcho-syndicalist, the only political theories that have ever resonated with me, although reading Marx in my formative years has been kinda like eating forbidden fruit in that ever after absorbing the old boy’s explanation of the way the world works I’ve seen it his way as the truest explanation there is. I always liked Eugene Debs, a democratic socialist, and I’ve admired everything I’ve ever read about the old IWW, but I’m no Leninist. Never have been.
As for arrest record, jeepers, creepers, who’s had their peeeeepers on meeeeeee, a harmless old beatnik whose first arrest as an adult occurred, I think, in 1959 and whose last occurred, I think, in 1995 for a grand total of, I think, a dozen or so, all of them but one — a barroom scuffle — occurring in political protest contexts.
What now, then? Do I write to the FBI to update me on my own interfaces with the lowest levels of the national security state? I even can’t remember all of them, and even if I could, and even if I wrote them all down, do I get to visit Jack? I’ve always been flattered that the G-Men have taken such an intense interest in me, and I have no hesitation in declaring myself not only an enemy of the state but capitalism, the two having become interchangeable in America after Honest Abe, but still I thought one’s belief systems were one’s own free enterprise in the land of the not-so-free, so what the hell is this? And me, an honorably discharged Marine, a homeowner, a man who rotates his tires, a patriot in his bones?
Fresh off my rejection by Pelican Bay, and still commuting between Boonville and Eugene as the Missus and I complete our move to the north, last Saturday I flew from Eugene to Frisco, via an hour’s delay in the hot, stuffy overcrowded Portland airport. As directed by Alaska Airlines, I had arrived at the Eugene Airport an hour before a little plane was scheduled to depart for Portland with me on it. The little plane with me on it had “The Great City of Redding” emblazoned beneath the cockpit’s port window, a clear indication of severe delusion and maybe even a bad omen.
At the gate to the transit area, a grim-faced cop says to me, “Mr. Anderson, you’ve been selected for a security check.” Lucky me, I reply, before noting that the cop is clearly a member of that potentially lethal sub-species known as Limited Ability, Automaton Personality Type. No playing around with this character or its off to the cement side room for the full monte bend over and spread ’em keester search. The cop waves a wand at my front bod. He tells me to turn around where he waves the wand at my rear bod. I hear a child say, “Look, Mommy. A bad man.” Then the cop runs the wand under my armpits, and sticks it in the area of my pills which, even in my youth were never grenades. “Your wallet, please.” Your mother, you prick, I don’t say.
He asks, “Why didn’t you put that stuff in your pocket in the tray?” I forgot, I reply. The cop glares at me. “What’s this thing?” he asks, holding up an inflatable rubber cushion I sit on for long-distance drives. It’s a life raft, I reply, explaining that I don’t trust Alaska Airlines’ seat cushions to float if the plane goes down in the Columbia. Another glare.
“Turn your wasteband out towards me.” He stares at the stitching for a long time before ordering, “Take your shoes off.” I’m wearing sandals, officer. Bunions, you know. I hike a lot. Our Savior wore them too, you know. But just as I was picking up momentum to lay some *serious* tedium on him, the cop silences me with, “*Whatever* you’ve got on your feet, take it off.”
Better stop messing with this nut, I tell myself. I don’t want to miss my flight outtahere. The little girl pipes up again. “Mommy? Is the bad man going on the air plane with us?” Mom says, “It looks like it.” I wonder how many more defective parents there are in Eugene. Finally, the cop says, “You can put your shoes on. Thank you.” And thank *you*, officer, for keeping America safe.
BRUCE ANDERSON is publisher of the Anderson Valley Advertiser.