Excerpt: ‘Love It or Leave It’

George W. Bush made me want to be an American. It was a need I had not known before. A desire that came over me in a rush one day in 2003, not unlike the pencil-necked honors student who is suddenly overwhelmed by the urge to make a daily gift of his lunch money to the schoolyard tough. I had lived in the United States for over twenty years, under numerous other administrations, including the Reagan 80s in New York City; a time when greed was magically transformed from vice to virtue. And after that came the even greedier 90s, where the money flowed like water and everybody's boat rose with the tide (except, of course, for those forgotten souls who had been provided not with boats but with stones, and no one told them. Oh well, tra la), and all through that time I was sufficiently satisfied with a civic life of paying taxes and the occasional protest.

But George changed all that for me. I needed the vote. After two-plus decades, it started to seem a little bit coy to still be playing the Canadian card. I felt like the butt of that old joke about the very proper lady who, when asked if she would have sex with a strange man for a million dollars, allows that yes she would do it, for a million dollars. But when asked if she would do the same thing for a can of Schlitz and a plastic sleeve of beer nuts, reels back with an affronted, "What do you think I am?" to which the only response is, "Madam, we have already established what you are. Now we're just quibbling about the price." Becoming a citizen merely named a state of affairs that had already been in place for a long time.

The naturalization application can be downloaded from the government's website. It is ten pages long but can be filled out over the course of an industrious day or two. It took me four months and one week. I got delayed twice, although not by the usual pitfalls. I had no problem, for example, with Part 7, Section C, in which I had to account for every trip I have taken out of the United States over twenty-four hours' duration for the last ten years. I have kept every datebook I have ever owned. I created a table with columns, listing exact dates of departure and return, plus my destination; a document of such surpassing beauty, it was virtually scented.

No, my first hold-up occurred at Part 10, Section G, question 33: Are you a male who lived in the United States at any time between your 18th and 26th birthdays in any status except as a lawful nonimmigrant? I'll read it to you again: Are you a male who lived in the United States at any time between your 18th and 26th birthdays in any status except as a lawful nonimmigrant? I make my living with words and yet I could not for the life of me begin to parse this question with its imbedded double negatives and hypotheticals. I spent an entire afternoon trying to map the grammar of this question and came away with nothing but a headache and no idea. This was in early March. I put the form away in my drawer and forgot about it, my dreams of inalienable rights felled by just twenty-seven words. I put all thoughts of citizenship out of my head, until one evening in July, four months later when, as I was dropping off to sleep, the clauses drop into place and the lock turns and I realized the answer is a simple no.

With inordinate self-satisfaction, I soldiered on. Had I ever been a habitual drunkard? I had not. A prostitute, a procurer, or a bigamist? Nuh-uh. Did I in any way aid, abet, support, work for, or claim membership in the Nazi government of Germany between March 23rd, 1933 and May 8th, 1945? Nein! Did I understand and support the Constitution? You betcha. If the law required it, would I be willing to bear arms on behalf of the United States?

Again I stopped. The same headache as before marched its little footsoldiers across my cranium. I put the application back into the drawer and got back into bed, not picking it up again until seven days later when I surprised myself by checking "Yes."

I figured it was grass soup. Grass soup is exactly what it sounds like. It's a recipe for food-of-last-resort that my father apparently has squirreled away somewhere. I have never actually seen this recipe, but it was referred to fairly often when I was a child. Should everything else go to hell, we could always derive sustenance from nutritious grass soup! At heart, it's an anxious, romantic fantasy that disaster and total financial ruin lurk just around the corner, but when they do come, they will have all the stark beauty and domestic fine feeling of a Dickens novel. Young Tiny Tim's palsied hand lifting a spoon to his rosebud mouth. "What delicious grass soup. I must be getting better after all," he will say, putting on a good show of it just as he expires, the tin utensil clattering to the rough wood table.

A grass soup situation, then, is a self-dramatizing one based on such a poorly-imagined and improbable premise as to render it beneath consideration. Just from what I've seen on the news, by the time you're reduced to using the lawn for food, any grass that isn't already gone--either parched to death or napalmed into oblivion--is probably best eaten on the run.

All by way of saying, that if there ever came a time when the government of my new homeland was actually calling up the 40-plus asking-and-telling homosexuals with hypoactive thyroids to take up arms, something very calamitous indeed will have to have happened.