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.

“US.”

“What were you doing in Canada?”

“Working.”

“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?”

“WHICH ONE?! WHERE?!? WHAT COUNTRY?!?”

“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.”

“THEN WHY ARE WE HAVING THIS CONVERSATION?!?!?”

“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.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Lob said...

Goddamn brilliant.

I think this is probably the most comical situation involving the United States' exacerbated paranoia I have ever seen or read about. Sure, some measures are acceptable, even understandable and necessary, although others are quite ridiculous, such as some airlines forbidding passengers from bringing a nail clipper (a deadly weapon if you're a Shao-Lin monk) onboard with you while serving food along with actual silverware (completely harmless, especially those knives).

But oranges?? That's new.
Since I live away from the "safety" of the U.S. of A. in this little country called Portugal, most of our oranges don't come from here, but Spain, which means they're probably submitted to better quality check than if they came from Portugal, but even still, I can imagine the horrible germs they must bombard my body with, seeing as they're not checked in America, possibly brainwashing me to convert to Islam or even launch myself on a suicidal attack against the first American tourist I see. What about those bananas from Equador and Bolivia and Venezuela??

I suddenly feel an urge to shout "Viva Chavéz!" and shoot little children, cause everyone knows the terrorists and dictators hate little children.

What's happening to me??

Anyway, this little episode was brilliant. It made me laugh on an otherwise gloomy day and let me tell you JEP, I fear for as us all just as you. I think I'll never eat an orange again without sending it overseas for quality control.
As a final note, let me just say: "Viva Fide-..."

On second thought, never mind. Must be those damn oranges.

8:28 AM  
Blogger JEP said...

I'm tellin you Lob, those oranges are pure evil!

The more I think about it, the more food scares me. For instance, we can't grow bannanas in the US, so who's to say that narco-terrorists in Central and South America aren't lacing those with addictive bio-toxins? And what about starfruit, mangoes and the such.

In all I suspect the citrus fruit ban has less to do with agricultural security than it does with the possibility that the head of Homeland Security probably goes golfing with some lobbyist on the payrolls of Sunkist and Dole.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prostitution is not legal in Canada. Lost me there.

5:20 PM  
Blogger JEP said...

Hate to argue a point with a JEP Report reader, but yes it is as long as it is not done on the street. In fact, one of the items that was most highly publicized during Detroit's Superbowl was the Motor City's proximity to the Windsor sex trade. The girls of Studio 313 were even on several talk shows in the area discussing this fact.

Trust me, when it comes to vice, I know my stuff. If you don't trust me, feel free to Google it.

9:54 PM  

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