Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Baby Michael Jackson

My son is obsessed with Michael Jackson. He is studying him like you study a book, like you do close reading of passages. Like a movie critic seeing a foreign film. Everyday, he barely takes off his school clothes before he sits in front of his TV for yet another viewing of the DVD entitled “Michael Jackson: Number Ones.” Every day he has new and more interesting observations: “did you notice that at the end of Smooth Criminal, he winks?”

I recently enquired whether it was not time to return the DVD to Netflix (ostensibly to order say, Moonwalker, so he can better appreciate the Smooth Criminal video) and he just wept. He literally cried at the mere suggestion that he might come home one day and not have his object of research, delight and worship. Michael Jackson is his God. He proudly declares it:

“I watched the Dirty Diana video 14 times in a row!” or “I wish he was my dad!”. MJ is his only topic of discussion. In fact Michael Jackson is now popular in his first grade class, purely because of him:

“When Eliana tried to do the thriller dance, she totally messed it up.”
“You know Moses said Michael Jackson owns a monkey?”
“Today at lunch when we were playing Baby Michael Jackson, Joseph kept squeezing my cheek extra hard on purpose.”

Hold up, hold up, hold up. Say again?
“Today? At lunch? Well, we were playing Baby Michael Jackson and…

What the hell is that?
“It’s a game we play--that I made up.”

(No shit Sherlock. Who else could make up such a game?). Oh. And what is the game like?
“Well, I am Baby Michael Jackson”
“…and I throw a birthday party and all my friends come.”
Wow. Ok.

It started innocently enough. It started with one listen of Billie Jean on my friend’s Ipod. It was amazing to see someone who never heard that intro, you know that funk guitar popified to death intro which we all associate with a walk and a finger snap and a whole lot of what cool means, have their little minds rocked for the first time with that intro. From there he quickly became obsessed with learning the lyrics. He’d just play the song over and over again, extremely loudly and sing fake lyrics off key. All of this love was happening without a visual, but he already was entertaining what it would be like, as in the one time he was overheard ad libing to a listening of “Bad” by sounding like a baby Travis Bickle:
(mumbling): “You’re bad? I’m bad. Are you talking to me? What did you say?”

So I thought well he should see what the MJ thing was all about and suggested we get the videos. Famous last suggestion. He is currently very close to a full memorization of the main choreography in Bad and Thriller. He also likes to have the video playing in his room and imitating in (from memory, and verbally) in the kitchen:

“Right now, he crossed his legs, then he kicked. Then he did this thing. Then right now, he’s still doing this thing. Now he’s turning and boom, this thing. And then like that.”

An interesting contextual truth is that even despite his obsession, he couldn’t say if Michael Jackson or Justin Timberlake was better (before the MJ crack happened, there was the What Goes Around crack which involved him blasting that song while pretending to sing it and play it on his keyboards, all very loud). Of both he said they are both “the best.”

My son, let's be frank, couldn't dance for shit three weeks ago. I mean he didn't think so, he thought he was a great impersonator of Chris Brown, Usher and Justin Timberlake but he was not at all. He looked like Jackie Chang at the club--which if you know Jackie Chang you know he knows kung-fu, but not funk. Suddenly, as he worships in the church of Michael Jackson, his dancing has been completely “recreated” by his encounter with the funk-flamenco-musical theatre inflected MJ style, to a hilarious degree and he is now moving much better. I think MJ dances like everyone wishes they could dance--with drama. I think my son's current inclination for self-generating free movement and pseudo jazz dance is great but I am seriously concerned that next time he’s at a kids party, he will terrify his peers who will be *just* trying to stick to the Chicken Noodle Soup and the Walk It Out...

People who have children will know what I mean when I say this: an obsession with Michael Jackson may just be the most provocative, evocative, and mysteriously open-ended interest your child can display.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The March 20 Manifesto (delayed by a few days)

So after all is said and done, today I went down to The Service (aka Immigration) and had the famed interview. My last ever interview! My fluency in English was apparent, and he did ask me about my college years and my life but he still needed to test whether I was literate or not:
--Do you know how to read and write?
Uh...yeah. We did just mention my having a BA.

--I have to ask. (Really? I think what you mean is you have to "ascertain my literacy" but I don't think you have to ask a person who has a college degree if they can read and write. I'm not saying anything though because you are Immigration Man, and scary.)

--Please read the following paragraph, he said. I did. It was something like “Today we went to the grocery store to buy eggs for baking.” I read it super fast but not too fast because I didn't want him to think I was being a smart ass. Tough balance.

--Please write the following sentence: “They have horses at the farm.” I did. And resisted t he urge to ask "of all the mothefucking standard sentences in the world...?!"

Then I was asked those moral rectitude questions I always joke about: are you a communist or were you ever? A prostitute? A drug user? A drug trafficker? A gambler? The one that always scares you: “have you EVER lied to us in order to get benefits from us.” (I’m like dude, no).

Then he says to me, “What is my name?” and I noticed he's flirting, which puts me at ease. I said "Agent Vasquez". He said “No my first name” I said "Carlos." He said “Good, but that is not part of the questionnaire.” I said, “I noticed.” And I did notice as well that behind him was a big old calendar with an American Eagle on it and red letter saying Sexual Harassment is a Federal Offense (or something like that). Which I found hilariously a proposito... I had that thought and then regrets that he wasn't more hot so I could properly flirt back.

He then went to the civics test which I had prepared for using these nifty flash cards provided free of charge by the government. I had trouble with three questions in my stack of cards when practicing last night:
--I kept forgetting Georgia was one of the 13 colonies,
--I kept confusing the date of Declaration with that of Constitution (both 17something)
-- and I kept mislisting the “amendments that pertain to voting rights.”
He of course, asked me the amendment question with glee. I said “24, 26, 19 and… uh, 14th?”
And he said, No that’s due process. Then I said "13th?" He said, "That's slavery." So I said, “well it's relevant!” but he didn’t get the joke. It's 15, he said, that's okay.

He also asked me how many judges there are in the Supreme, if I would bear arms if the law required it (which I translated as a question of my willingness to dodge a possible draft) and if I believed in the constitution. Which is a strange question to ask because it makes me think of what people ask about the bible. I don’t think the constitution needs one to believe in it, in that way. It’s not an act of faith as much…The Supreme Law of The Land. I was also asked who is the president. And what is the major benefit of citizenship. (“Voting for Obama in 2008?”).

The amount of competence for citizenship I needed to exhibit was exhibited and just like that, MAGIC!, they gave me a handshake into America! “Congratulations you made it. Just wait for an appointment letter for your Oath ceremony. Do you have questions for me?”
I said yes, I did: “Do I EVER have to come here again?” No, you are done.

Next time I’m at Kennedy Airport, (my own private non-Mexican border crossing site, where I’ve had so many adventures, including being grilled in the “side office”) I’ll get to skip the humiliatingly long line in favor of that pleasant/fast moving citizens-only line. Of course I’ll most likely be coming from home (home?) and most of the folks on said shitty line will be my compatriotas, nervously getting their own border crossing stories right, scared of the border police and their loud rude ways… They’ll see me skip over to the Other Line and if they know me, they’ll congratulate me: I’m done.

This is very strange.

I feel relieved and… like a sellout whore that lost all integrity. We won independence from the Portuguese and our own citizenship in 1975, and I was born in 1976. My grandfather, whose father was Portuguese famously revoked that citizenship in favor of the CV one--which gets him into exactly zero countries without a long drawn out visa process where he has to assure them that he is not in fact planning to illegally immigrate. He did that on principle. I grew up learning that a CV should not take citizenship lightly and today I lose claim to that degree of principle. At the same time, over half a million of us live abroad—more than live at home last I checked--and unless I’m mistaken, those who are not citizens of wherever they live really wished they were.

I am thankful and relieved for finally being beyond the reach of the system: a recent raid in New Bedford resulted in over 300 arrests of Cape Verdean illegals who are now being held for imminent deportation, as far away as Texas. Some of these were parents, and their children were not accounted for in some cases. We’re told parents in this case may be “the lucky ones” in the end, who will try and resist deportation because they have so called “Anchor Babies.” That creepy phrase, anchor baby-- is a real phrase that is used.

I also felt a graspable level of an understanding of the greatness of the process-dare I say, of this country's stated values as represented by the process. My thing about America is that it allows a vast magnitude of humanity to try and survive. It is a lie to say that it aids that survival, in some fair and equal and generous way--we all know it doesn't, most of what's said about this country lies because it overplays what its central greatness is and that is space and...incoherence. And when I think America, most often I am referring to New York and one's ability to truly choose between individuating oneself and connecting, as it becomes needed. This is a city without a community overwhelming you, but it is also a city to find a community should you need one. One of your making. There is a lot of constraints to having anything of one's making in the world--a lot of space and incoherence is about wealth, endless and endlessly accrued and excess and to judge by the environmentalists, all this shit's coming to an end. Emile Durkheim who I just reread talks about some fundamental need of society (and some fundamental sociability of humans) for regulation, for restrains, for a sense of coherence. So I am sure in some cosmic way just growing bigger and bigger and bleeding out your edges as this country always has will result, is resulting in social forces calling for a pull back. Hence crazy immigration backlash. But still, this idea that I should be able to come here, spend 3-5 years in "resident status", pass that silly test and be a citizen is truly...something. But then again, nations need recruits: "are you willing to bear arms...". "Do you always pay your taxes?" "Do you support your son." --What do you mean, I asked. "Financially." Yes. "And your husband?". "Yeah him too." --Well, that's a bit more information that I needed, he said. Oh really? You asked if I am living off of your government OR your fellow citizen and I had to tell you that I make my own way. Between individuation and community, as I see fit: I'm left alone to cohere as possible, amidst the incoherence.

Still, for someone who technically, as Beyonce would say, got Upgraded, I mostly downgraded: less than those who would not need to subject themselves to this process. I plan to raise two cosmos to a not-so-distant future when we no longer need to work at being citizens of any place; where that word falls out of usage for failing to properly represent its meaning. Ai ai ai… As always when feeling truly conflicted, I write myself a little ditty:

The March 20 Permanent Immigrant Manifesto

I am

what no man is

An island

Of the difference;

Of the suspension

Of being

Equally unattached

Each border uncommitted

I am

The future’s

lonely homeless homeland

The I

in migrant