Originally Published: March 14, 2002
From the Washington Post March13, 2002:
“The INS is the Mickey Mouse Club of Federal agencies, but this actually would indicate that’s an insult to Mickey Mouse.”
Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) commenting on the arrival of the
student visas for terrorists Mohamad Atta and Marwan Alshehhi.
The visas arrived - at the Florida flight school that trained the two
hijackers - six months after their suicides.
Reading the above article the other morning, I felt an insane, irrepressible laughter welling up in my throat. Or perhaps that was the urge to throw up.
Any castigation of the I.N.S. has my total support and I will gleefully cast the first, second and third stones, if handed a succession of pointy rocks. My history with that institution is not a happy one. I cannot imagine comparing it to any kind of lovable, woodland creature - spawn of Disney or no. That agency scares the hell out of me because Brutality and incompetence are a terrifying mix.
11 years ago, while living in Bogotá, my Colombian husband Adolfo and I were thrown into the pit of a man named Jim Conner, a foul-tempered Consul General who seemed to get a charge out of ruining our lives. He had implied that Adolfo might never receive a resident visa to the US. He had called Adolfo a liar and a fraud, had shaken his papers at him, had hissed that they were easily falsified. His face apoplectic, his voice quaking with rage, he’d spat at Adolfo that he was to be placed under investigation by the INS. That very day, his papers would be flown to Mexico, he promised.
In the end, only an expensive immigration lawyer (paid for by my parents – we were virtually broke) allowed us to discover that Conner was, apparently, yanking our chain for sheer sport.
Over the following months, the man haunted me, darkening my thoughts. I had to exorcise him, and did so by casting him as the main character in a short story. Here, a young couple (the sacrificial lambs), discovers just who the bureaucrat behind the desk really is:
“Smooth and yellowed like old ivory, horns rutted forth from his crimson forehead, the slack flesh at the base of each pink and raw. His aquiline nose arched slyly over the bearded, half-moon chin. His lips, fresh from his kiss, had thinned and darkened, and his tongue flicked across them. Briskly, the Consul General rubbed the new buds, as if they itched. Then, with a grin, he stretched out his arms to them, beckoning with stained nails.”
Excerpt from: The Consul General
(Note to self: Considering current disgrace of I.N.S., good idea to send story out again – might have better luck.)
Although it is sadly uncommon that fate allows us closure, in the case of Jim Conner, we were lucky. Surprisingly, we were allowed at least enough to wrestle closed that thick, bitter file. The following is a transcript of a letter written after an outdoor lunch at Oma café.
April 15, 1992
After a while, a couple sat down behind us, their little dog on a leash behind my chair. I didn’t even look at them, but was mildly annoyed when the woman smashed her chair into mine without a word of apology or even a backward glance. I looked down and the little black dog looked up at me with frightened liquid eyes that shifted uneasily back and forth guiltily as his head slumped slightly. The waiter came up to them, and I heard mumbled responses from the two, and then the rustle of a newspaper.
Adolfo coughed and I looked up. He was looking pointedly at me, and then mouthed the name. Jim Conner. My eyes must have widened considerably as the information sunk in. Jim Conner. The Jim Conner. The infamous Consul Conner. Jim “you’re under investigation” Conner. Jim you turd, you, Conner. The man himself, sitting behind us in the rather copious flesh.
I didn’t turn around right away, but when I did, pretending to search for a waiter, I saw that the woman was gone, a sandwich waiting at her place, and across from her, a balding stern-faced man almost hidden behind a newspaper. Was this indeed Conner? I looked at Adolfo, questioning with my eyebrows. You see, Conner’s face has dimmed in my 1-year old memory of the event, horns and a pointy tail overshadowing the features. My story, Interview With a Consul General seems more real to me than the day almost exactly a year ago.
Adolfo nodded. Suddenly Conner got up, took hold of the leash and led the mincing, apologetic little dog down the sidewalk and out of view.
The table was now empty. The sandwich still sat and waited for the biggish, blondish woman to return, and the half-empty glass of what looked like soda water bubbled away at Conner’s empty place.
My eyes rested on the glass a moment. Oh, for a generous supply of an effective, water-soluble, clear laxative! Or even, if my mouth hadn’t gone suddenly dry, a goodly quantity of spit.
But before I could come up with an alternative plan, Conner came striding back, the little be-leashed dog firmly in tow. I guessed the creature had obediently done its dirty little duty next to one of the sickly stunted trees that line the sidewalk in front of Oma. The limpid eyes looked up at the man, as if sorry that more couldn’t be offered forth.
They sat again, and soon the woman returned as well. For the rest of our lunch, we heard not a word from the two - just the occasional rustle of the paper, or the sad jingle of the leash as the little dog moved about under the table.
We finished our lunch and exited past Conner’s table. He was still studying his paper and did not look up. The woman had her nose in a novel and was half way through her sandwich. The little dog blinked up at us and rattled his leash softly.
So that was that. No revenge, no contact. It was as if the thick glass wall was still between us. And the appalling thing to realize is that even if the louse had made direct eye contact with us, he wouldn’t have the slightest idea he’d ever seen us before, much less that he ruined our lives for a time. His tiny eyes would probably just run us up and down, register us as “them” and promptly forget our very existence.
So I close this column in the spirit of forgiveness and forgetness, and in the happy knowledge that I have moved on. And to Jim Conner, wherever he is today, here’s looking at you, Mickey.
Hey kids! Here’s a fun mix ‘n match game you can play with your friends! It’s easy and educational, too! Simply take one word from each column and see what you can come up with to achieve the initials “I.N.S.”! Try your own dictionary, too!
Here are just a few to get you started!
I.diotic N.amby-pamby S.aps
I.diosyncratic N.ameless S.calawags
I.dle N.ondescript S.chnooks
I.nactive N.ecrotic S.arcoma
I.ndifferent N.ever-ending S.anctimoniousness
I.n a N.utshell S.atan
I.nsidious N.olo-contendere s.cam
I.mmovable N.eolithic S.phincter-people
I.mmigration N.evermore S.erviceable
I.gnorant N.eanderthal S.chysters
I.mprobable N.ewfangled S.amaritans
I.mmediate N.eedof S.anitarium
I.nattention N.ecessitating S.chemes
I.nnards N.eed S.nipping
Now you try!