Saturday, December 20, 2014

Not Travels With My Aunt

Or, My Global Banning

Last night, in my dreams, I took an imaginary junket around the world with every expectation that I would return alive and in one piece. Or at least not wake up screaming and in a cold sweat. I have recorded this adventure for the amusement of readers.

Actually, I didn’t travel with my late (but not late enough) biological aunt, although she did appear very briefly at the beginning of the dream, her creepy face leering at me from across the great divide of reality and fantasy. I’ve always tried to forget her face. She strongly resembled Madame Blavatsky in “spirit,” as well. When I met her for the first time, her first question to me was if I believed in séances. After making a face of incredulity – and I’ve been told I have a very expressive and forbidding face – I said no. This, time, however, I must have made a “Yech!” sound in my sleep, so her face went poof in a puff of phlogiston, and she never returned.

Or was it phostrogen? I never could get those two straight.

My first stop was Washington, D.C., which I last visited by train in 1975, and took away as my sole souvenirs a set of stainless steel salt and pepper shakers. They were the only worthwhile things I could find in any of the shops. I still have them. 

This time, however, I was stopped just inside the Beltway by a Capitol Police SWAT team in a Metro parking lot. It turned out that the NSA had long ago planted a GPS tracker in my trunk, and so the heavily clad and armed local Federales had received an electronic heads-up of my impending arrival. After being shaken, stirred, groped, and bar-coded, they informed me that I was banned from the city, that I could no longer enter the Capitol because of my many dozens of columns that roasted President Obama on an iron turning spit, which had earned me a “Red Flag Level 4” category of a “person of interest.”

I was warned that if I ever attempted to enter the city again, I would be arrested and sentenced without a hearing to labor for five years with an ankle bracelet as a bouncer for the Chicken Ranch brothel in Pahrump, Nevada, to intercept wandering souls (or escapees) from the NSA data collection facility in Bluffdale, Utah. 

Next, rather abruptly I appeared in London. I don’t know how I got there, because I no longer fly. I vaguely recalled working my way to Britain as a relief chef on a tramp steamer. Here, I was immediately accosted by the police. I just materialized in Heathrow Airport, and was scanned with an electronic wand by a Customs person in a burqa firmly secured by a yellow straw boater with a purple band.

The wand made a horrible screeching sound, like old time air raid sirens during the London blitz. The burqa entity mumbled in a deep male voice something from behind its black sheath: “كل واضح!“  My Arabic is rusty, but I don’t think it meant, “All clear!”  It sounded more like, “أنت كافر القذرة! الجوارب الخاصة بك لا تبق!“  “You filthy kaffir! Your socks don’t match!” But don’t hold me to that.

The wand must have been computer-linked to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters (the equivalent of the NSA), because some seconds later I was surrounded by heavily clad and armed Transportation and Security Administration personnel and representatives from MI5, MI6, and what seemed to be a shimmering hologram of Theresa May, the Home Secretary (not the glamour model). I guessed she was too busy to show up herself. Her white hair looked as though she’d just stepped out of the shower – she was wrapped in a towel – and hadn’t time to blow-dry it, but  I can recognize moussed hair from a 100 yards. 

Leashed ferrets from the Metropolitan Police’s crack Drug and Explosives Detection Units sniffed around my ankles and other body parts for dangerous or illegal contraband, dogs having been cashiered from all British law enforcement duties on the complaints of Muslims who regard dogs as “filthy.” (They should talk!)     

One of the ferrets squeaked an alarm: He found a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes in a shirt pocket. Another squeaked; he found my Ronsonol lighter-fluid loaded Zippo in a pants pocket. The TSA fellows removed these items from my person, together with a prized Waterman pen.

And, wouldn’t you know it? Apparently my name is in the Brits’ “persons of especial interest” database, as well, because the faux Mrs. May produced an official-looking document from beneath her towel, snapped it open, and proceeded to read me the riot act.

“Because you have been demonstrably connected with other persons of an Islamophobic color and character, such as Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, Steve Emerson, Michael Savage, and numerous other persons of that discredited ilk, and, because you have penned an Islamophobic novel, The Black Stone, and published tens if not hundreds of scurrilous and defamatory political columns that have been deemed Islamophobic, bigoted, inflammatory, and racist, including a separately published screed, Islam’s Reign of Terror, you therefore and henceforth also have been permanently prohibited from lawful entry into Great Britain, lest your presence and likely public statements be found hateful and offensive to Asians and provoke domestic disturbances.”

Mrs. May refolded her document, squinted at me fiercely, and asked: “What have you to say to these facts, sir?”

I shrugged and answered, ”I think you need grooming.”

The Customs entity in the burqa made an odd muffled sound beneath the black cloth – it might have been raspberries – and threw a rock at me. The ferrets squeaked ferociously.

Mrs. May scowled and snorted as only a Home Secretary could, and flicked the document in the air. “Be gone, ye of little faith!”

Before I could retort, “Actually, none,” I was whisked away to Marseilles, France, and found myself standing near a dock and a yacht. Up a steep hill and some stone steps, a sign in bright blue letters splattered with sea gull droppings read, Quai de Cocaïne. Beneath that one was a smaller one. Interdiction de fumer!  How did I know this was the Port of Marseilles ?

Because in another blink, I was face to face with Gene Hackman as Detective Popeye Doyle from The French Connection II.  He was there in pursuit of the master criminal/dope dealer who got away in The French Connection I. “Hey, mister!” he asked, running towards me, waving an arm wildly at me, “You speak Frog?” He was in a disheveled state, with his goofy hat on backwards, his trousers beneath the knees in tatters, and his tennis shoes were untied and squished with every step.  

 Grenouille? Est-ce que la langue latine ou à une Germanique?» I asked instead. I added,  «Je ne connaissais pas les grenouilles avaient une langue. Quel dialecte?"

Hackman groaned, made a face, and belted me once. Then he suddenly drew a small revolver from his jacket, looked over my shoulder, rested the gun on it, and fired. In my dreams, I have rear-view vision, and so I saw that he’d put a hole in the head of a blue burqa-clad entity whose sparkling sheath was firmly secured on its head by a ring of plastic bags filled with some white stuff. It had clutched a dagger and had been ready to stab me in the back. I didn’t think the plastic bags contained flour or confectionary sugar or sea salt.

The blue burqa-clad entity dropped out of sight as through a trap door, moaning in ecstasy, and up popped a pinch-faced, sour-looking uniformed French Customs inspector in an imposing and overly decorated kepi. He shouted at Hackman, wagging a finger, “Vous ne pouvez pas tirer musulmans en France! Il est contre la loi!” (“Shooting Muslims is not allowed!”)

Hackman shot back in near perfect French, “Mettez une chaussette en elle, Froggy! Vous prenez jamais vos pieds à Poughkeepsie?” (“Put a sock in it, Froggy! You ever pick your feet in Poughkeepsie?”)

The Customs man snorted at this, got into a protracted shouting match with Hackman, each assaulting the other with rude gesticulations and obscene deprecations, but abandoned Hackman when the actor  paused to light up a Gitane.  

The Customs man turned and jerked me around by my shoulder and said in guttural English, visible clouds of garlic enveloping my face and causing tears to roll down my cheeks, “Monsieur! Your French is execrable! Porcine américaine!  You are banned from France, pour toujours et à jamais! You have written several  books that offend our loyal immigrant citizens!” He paused to jab a finger on my chest. “Our Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure has been auditing your books, Monsieur! They are not halal! Nous avons déclaré les insultant et donc ils sont interdits! They are slanderous! Calomnieuse!  Banned, you understand?? Comprende??»   

 Before I could reply, and in impeccable Frog yet, “Vous pouvez embrasser mes grains!“ (“You may kiss my grits!”), he very grandly raised a hand, snapped his fingers once….

…and presto! I was transported to Moscow!   

I stood shivering in the middle of a snow-covered Red Square. It’s winter, you know. Russian winters have bite. There in front of me was Vladimir Putin, bare-chested, sitting astride a Clydesdale, doing jumping jacks without jumping,  holding a Siberian tiger and a Russian bear in each hand by the scruffs of their necks. He espied me and dropped the suffering animals, which scampered away emitting pathetic whines and howls of relief. He gazed down at me with those frigid blue eyes. “Advance, my American poodle.”

The hackles on my neck stood at attention. I spat back, “Think again, McDougal! I’m not your poodle!” I didn’t intend the alliteration. It just came out that way.

Putin rested his hands on the horn of his silver saddle and leaned forward. He said with a mocking chuckle, “Think again, Mr. Obama.”

Mentally, I frowned and exclaimed, “What…??” Magically, a hand mirror appeared in my nearly frost-bitten fingers, which were now…brown!. I looked into it, and gasped. Good God! I looked like Obama, except for the glasses! Even my ears had grown! What tricks one’s mind can play on…one’s mind!

That  moment, I began entertaining the possibility that perhaps Immanuel Kant was right, that our senses distort what we see and hear and touch, which are already distortions of the true reality.

But I shook my head, and exclaimed, “Nah!”

I looked up. Putin had dismounted and stood in front of me. He was a full head shorter, the top of his neatly barbered head an inch and a half short of my chin. He looked up and drilled me with those cold eyes. “You are the secret author of a silly but libelous spy novel, A Crimson Overture, which casts poisonous and malicious aspersions on the Party of my past. Your nom de plume never fooled us! We know you are the author. My foreign intelligence apparatus has been observing you for years. We know that all your golfing and fundraising appearances were performed by a double, while you yourself wrote slanderous fiction In the Oval Office!

Putin sighed and shook his head. “What a disappointment, Mr. Obama! That you, with your irreproachable ideological pedigree, so skillfully hidden from public view, should betray…our cause!” The dictator straightened his shoulders. “I have decreed that no novel of yours may be bought in Russia. Possession of one will result in a stay in Lubyanka Prison.”

 Again, the hackles of my neck rose. “Look, you recidivist Communist,” I replied, “I’m not Obama!”

Putin clucked his tongue. “It is no use denying it, my feckless poodle! Your Bunbury days are over!” He paused and smiled wickedly. The frost in his smile I think dropped the temperature by ten degrees. “Have you ever heard of…SMERSH?”

Of course I’d heard of SMERSH. It was a Soviet organization (and probably now a Russian “Federal” apparatus) that assassinated defectors and other wayward Russians, such as journalists. But I decided to get under Putin’s skin. “SMERSH? Oh, yeah, that’s a kind of Russian burrito, isn’t it, with ground beef and onions and peppers and anchovies in a pita pocket?”  Putin looked confused. I added, “I’d heard that the Arabs call it ‘that awful falafel.’” Then I peered closely into Putin’s eyes. I asked, “Are those contacts? By the way,” I remarked, touching a patch of his skin just right of his right eye, “your makeup person missed a spot.”

Putin gritted his teeth, his eyes widened in the very apotheosis of madness, and a growl rumbled from within the bare chest that the public knew so well from his exhibitionist exploits. I had a fleeting thought: If only Viral Vladimir could be persuaded to wrestle a really agitated rhinoceros, Russia might be saved.

He raised both of his hands to clutch my neck. They were ice-cold. He began to force me down to my knees. He kept shouting into my face, mostly in Russian, not a word of which I understood, except for nyet! He kept repeating nyet repeatedly and rapidly so that he sounded like Curly of the Three Stooges.

Gasping for air, and as I prepared to deliver a sucker punch….

I woke up not with a scream, but with a start, and in a  cold sweat.

 I glanced at my hands. No longer brown! In the bathroom, I looked in the mirror. I was back to my old self! I was no longer Barack Obama! What a nightmare that was! 

I went to the kitchen and poured myself a tall glass of fortified eggnog. That ought to help put me back to sleep.

At my desk, waiting for the rum, brandy, and whiskey to work their magic, I listened to the latest chapters read by the narrator of Book Two of Sparrowhawk. By God! I thought. The  fellow’s going to finish the whole thing before Christmas!

What a wonderful gift!

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