Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Citrus Threat

I have been crossing the US / Canadian border daily to go to work for about a year and half. Going into Canada is relatively painless and since I cross so often, the border guards have mostly come to recognize me and at this point, barely bother to look up from their newspapers before waiving me through.

Going into the US is a whole different story and even though I am an American, I get grilled ad nauseam a couple times a week. I have had my car tossed, bags gone through, computer opened and turned on and once was even pulled from my vehicle so that a German Shepherd could stick his nose in my crotch, making me realize just how high of an octave my voice could hit while asking the question, “He doesn’t bite, right?”

However inconvenient the process is, I always tell myself that these men and women are doing these things to keep our country and our people safe. I always thought that these minor nuisances were just things that we had to deal with to protect our nation and our loved ones from the evil that existed beyond our borders, evils like terrorism, narcotics, white slavers and Hispanic celery pickers. While crossing the frontier this afternoon however, I discovered that the Department of Homeland Security is the first line of defense against another scourge that is just as perilous as al Qaeda, though much publicized. That threat is the non-Floridian navel orange.

By the time I reached the American customs booth this afternoon, I had already missed the meeting I was scheduled to attend due to the tunnel being shut down for traffic and choosing a line to drive into that passed one car to every six that the next slowest lane was passing. This is not an exaggeration. I was trapped in my car with nothing on the radio so I counted them to relieve the boredom. Then, after spending forty minutes in this one line, I was three cars from the station when some bimbo cut in front of me. Needless to say, by the time I actually got to the front of the line I was fuming and, seeing as how I was forced to converse with a man carrying a gun, doing my best to conceal it. As I handed the agent my passport and work visa, I forced a smile onto face and bid him a good afternoon.

“Citizenship?” he asked.


“What were you doing in Canada?”


“What do you do there?”

“I’m a quality rep at the _____ _______ Plant.”

“What do you do?”

“Take the heat every time my company forgets how to build car parts. I’m sort of a corporate whipping boy. Basically, I get screwed a lot.” After a brief pause I added, “But not in the sex trade kind of way.” Prostitution is legal in Canada. I did not want him getting the wrong idea.

The guard shot me a look of minor annoyance to show that he did not think I was that funny (which I don’t blame him for since my last comment was not that good of a joke) then asked me if I had anything to declare.

Now, right above the customs booth is a large sign that reads “Avoid fines and delays DECLARE any meats, fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, animals, and plant and animal products.” Below this writing is a cartoon picture of and orange, a steak, a couple of vegetables and fine print informing border crossers of the penalties for not doing so. Frustrated that I had endured as much delay as I could possibly handle, I said, “I have an orange in my lunchbox.”

I kid you not, the agent’s eyes widened, he took a step away from my car and turned his body to project a smaller profile to my vehicle as if it might explode at any moment. For a second it looked as if his hand was inching towards his gun. “You have WHAT?!?”

A bit rattled by his overreaction and thinking that he must have misunderstood me, I stammered, “I got a-a-an orange! I-i-i-t’s in my cooler!”

“Where’d you get it?!?”

I thought for second, suspecting that this could be a trick question. I felt myself starting to come apart psychologically and struggled to pull myself back together. After all, it was not like I had never been interrogated by an armed person in a uniform before, but admittedly this was the first time that I was being interrogated without me at least having some idea as to why. Against all of my better instincts and past experiences with law enforcement, I decided to tell him the truth. “In a grocery store?”


“KROGER! NO! WAL-MART! IN THE GREAT NATION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!” I was kind of sweating at this point and after I answered I remembered that since the union-backed Democrats were voted into power earlier in the month, the anti-Wal-Mart rhetoric in congress was growing increasingly belligerent. I found myself wondering if I had missed the news item about the US launching a trade embargo against the retail chain that I had missed. Granted there were a lot of people there when I was grocery shopping but the more I thought about it, most of them were Mexican and since our immigration, tax, and Social Security fraud laws do not seem to apply to them, I doubted that our embargo laws did either. I wondered if I might have been better off if I had told him that I got it from a bazaar kiosk in some obscure suburb of Tehran.

“Are you sure?” he asked suspiciously.

“Does it really matter?” I asked. At this point the guard was speaking with such gravity that I was staring to believe that he had to be joking with me.

“Yes it matters.” he snarled, indicating that he, indeed, was NOT joking. “Canada does not grow oranges. They import them from places like South Africa, South America, India and even Cuba.”

Feigning an exaggerated sense of outrage, I looked him right in the eye and said, “Those. Pagan. Bastards.” It was one of those statements that I knew I was going to regret even before I uttered it but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from saying it.

With a scowl, the agent leaned closer to me and growled, “Does it say on the orange where it is from?”

“Like is it etched with ‘Made in Taiwan’ or something? I don’t think so.” I was not trying to be witty there. I honestly did not know what there could possibly be on a piece of food that would tell me where it came from.

“Show. Me. The. Orange.”

As I rummaged passed my computer bag into my lunchbox, the agent gave me the run down on the hazards of foreign citrus fruit. Apparently, US fruit is grown with certain controls that prevent disease to both the citrus crops and people and these controls are absent in other places that oranges are grown. There are bugs, microbes, bacteria, viruses and, if I understood him correctly, even some sort of citric cancer that could be imported with unauthorized fruit.

After finding my orange, I noticed an ovular white sticker on it. I read it and then straightened up to look at him with a wide, smug smile on my face, interrupting his harangue by saying, “It’s from Florida.”

Clearly disappointed and correctly surmising that I was not taking him the least bit seriously, he stepped towards my window and said, “You understand now why we don’t allow oranges to be imported into the US.”

“Sure. They’re grown by terrorists and communists as instruments of biological warfare to be used against us. By the way, has anyone told Hans Blix about this?” Again, it was one of those statements that I knew I was going to regret even before I said it, but I just could not stop.

The agent’s face flushed red and I sensed that I was getting dangerously close to a full fisted cavity search. I tried to preempt his outburst with one of my own. “Look officer, I live in Michigan with a house full of kids. In my refrigerator is a stash of apples, oranges, peaches, pears and grapes that never seems to end. I work in Canada. I don’t live there so I have no need to buy oranges there, especially since that in the U.S. I have fruit coming out of my ass!” Having broken border decorum by using mild profanity during the course of discussion with a customs agent, I decided against closing my argument with, “And I’m here to tell you that starfruit can be PRI-teeeee rough on the ol’ sphincter there!”

“I’m just trying to tell you why we don’t allow oranges into the US from Canada.”

“This isn’t a Canadian orange.”

“I know but…”

“Look, if you want the orange, just take the orange. It cost me 40 cents. You can have it.”

“I don’t want the orange. It’s not contraband.”


“I’m just trying…”

“…To tell me why you don’t allow oranges into the US from Canada. OK. I get it. And I solemnly swear to you right now that I will do my duty as an American citizen to not prop up the regimes of Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez or any other unfriendly African or Asian dictator, allow dangerous germs to cross our borders to ravage our people or our agriculture, financially ruining our economy and wreaking biblical unemployment upon illegal immigrants all across the American Sun Belt by buying citrus fruit in Canada. Hell, I’ll even tell the people I know in Canada that they’re risking the fall of civilization as we know it by eating their heathen cuisine. I swear on the lives of my children that if our nation is destroyed by a renegade orange from Canada, it will not have been me that brought it here!”

“I just want you to know why we take smuggling this sort of contraband across the border seriously.”

“Smuggling?!? It’s a freakin’ orange!!! If I was going to take the risk of smuggling something across the border, don’t you think I would pick something that would be worth my while?” I held the orange up to the window again. “Do you have any idea what the street value of this thing is?”

“I just don’t get the feeling that you’re taking this seriously.”

“IT’S SERIOUS! By God our country MUST protect itself from the citrus scourge! Rest assured, I WILL be writing my congressman and demanding that he do something to save us!”

The agent opened his mouth as if he was going to retort, but stopped himself. I suspect he realized that our exchange had long ago taken on surreal qualities and pursuing it would be nothing but painful for the both of us. Stepping away from the car, he said, “Let’s start over. Do you have anything to declare?”

“An orange.”

“In what country did you buy it?”

“The United States.”

He handed me my passport, then his mouth said, “Have a nice day.” The expression on his face said, “Fuck off.”

The exchange I have documented is abbreviated. The actual event took over 10 minutes. I drove away fuming, wondering how this particular agent ever convinced anyone that he was psychologically equipped to be issued a firearm by the United States government. I also wondered if the government’s delusional paranoia over the threat posed by a single orange from Canada was an inarguable sign that the terrorists have really already won?

Some might say that such scrutiny is a sign of healthy security and I should sleep soundly knowing that our government is exercising so much vigilance on our northern border. Frankly, I don’t see it that way at all and I’ll be lying in my bed wide awake all night having come to the shocking realization of how screwed we all really are.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Electile Dysfunction

Yesterday in the US was Election Day, a day that seems to slap most Americans with a sense of utter bewilderment (as it also does many Japanese people since they have tendency to pronounce their “L”s like “R”s). Like many of my fellow countrymen, I have been subjected to a seemingly endless barrage of political advertising since the end of summer promising the dawning of a new era of peace and prosperity if we vote for one candidate and warning of chaos, debauchery, irresponsibility and an imminent apocalypse if we vote for the other. Generally, I prefer to cast my vote for the latter since in my travels I have discovered that there is nothing like civil war, insurrection and economic collapse to bring out the party animal in people. The problem is that with the US’s two party system, we only have two candidates and either one could be the candidate guaranteeing political doom, depending upon which special interest group funded the commercial you are forced to watch.

Historically, I have always voted Republican but this year I was fed up and refused to vote among party lines. So instead of coloring in the box next to the line that said “Vote Straight Republican Ticket”, I went through the ballot and vowed to pick who I believed to be the best candidate for each office, regardless of party affiliation and vowed that I would vote for at least one Democrat to consummate my new status as an Independent voter. After leaving the “Straight Party” portion of my ballot unchecked, I scrolled down to the top portion to choose who I wanted to be Michigan’s next governor. It was a decision I have been wrestling with for weeks and even as I sat down to cast my vote, I had yet to make up my mind.

The incumbent governor, Democrat Jennifer Granholm, has presided over what has probably been the biggest hemorrhaging of manufacturing jobs in this state since The Great Depression. Our economy is in the dump, as manufacturing is the lifeblood of the state that I reside in, and having gone through several layoffs in my company over the past four years as our jobs relocate to the Far East, I have seen how difficult it has been for my former colleagues to find comparable employment. Granted, I can not blame all of this on the current governor but we need a super-governor to turn this situation around and it is painfully obvious that she is just not that. Her opponent, Republican Dick DeVos, is not either and as the head of Amway (a company whose name makes my skin crawl) he has added to the problem by outsourcing jobs to China. Electing him in my opinion is putting the proverbial wolf in charge of guarding the henhouse. So in this, the greatest issue influencing my gubernatorial vote, I have two greatly different candidates from greatly different parties with different ideologies promising to tackle the issue with two different strategies. Tragically, my gut tells me that both will end up with the same result. After ten minutes, I eventually voted for the Republican because he “promised” to institute limits on receiving welfare benefits, which the current governor vetoed. I’m all for stopping checks to able-bodied people who choose not to work. We’re going to need the money for the unemployment benefits we’ll be dishing out to those who got laid off.

Next I chose my congressman. I voted Republican again. We’re at war and I have still heard nothing from the Democratic side on how they propose to win it. I will concede that the Republican strategy has been a miserable failure but at least they are trying. When the DNC decides to quit undermining the military and intelligence services and starts exploring alternative solutions that do not consist of surrender, I will take them seriously on the national stage. When they come around, I have a vote waiting for them.

After that came a bunch of people running for local offices that you have probably never heard of. I know I certainly had not and I actually follow politics. I ended up voting Republican again in all these, since there were a couple of proposals on the ballot that I was in favor of that I knew Democratic legislators would never get behind.

I finally voted for my first Democrat when it came to the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents. I can’t for the life of me remember who it was but I do know that her name sounded really hot. Heaven help her if she messes up my favorite football team.

Finally came the proposals. These were much easier since I had done a lot of research on them. I voted for keeping conservation and recreation money dedicated to conservation. Anything to keep the trees standing since I need them for cover when I’m shooting animals. I voted for repealing affirmative action programs in Michigan. People should be accepted for employment based solely upon their qualifications and character, not gender, race or religion. After thirty years of special considerations, government programs and reverse discrimination, if a candidate lacks qualifications and character, its their problem, not his potential employer’s. I also voted for hunting mourning doves. Mainly because they have a habit of shitting on my car.

When I woke up this morning, I found that nothing I voted for, with the exception of the affirmative action repeal, actually won. Strangely, I was not very upset about it. Republicans lost the house and my gut is telling me that they’ll probably lose the Senate. Frankly, they deserved to so it’s hard to be bothered by it. Unfortunately, the Democrats do not deserve to win it and I am bothered by that. I think I am going to change the direction of The JEP Report back to political commentary as a result and focus upon exposing the incompetent arrogance of incumbent politicians and supporting those politicians using common sense in legislation. Besides it would give me more things to write about.

Anyway, hope you all had a good election and got what you wanted. I pray that next year we’ll have candidates that we want to vote FOR instead of being stuck with two choices that leave a taste in our mouths reminiscent of a midnight snack liberated from the cat’s litter box.
I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about how the election went in your part of the country, or, if you are not from the US, what your thoughts are on how things went.
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