Or Pull the Porsche Out the Damn Garage
by Nicholas Jackson
Over the river and through a vast parking lot and many of those memorial Fight Terrorism license plates with the combination Pentagon/9–11/WTC/American Flag logos, in an undisclosed suburb of Northern Virginia, the sun is obscured by clouds overhead. Inside a non-descript building, seemingly inspired by the procedural NCIS and not the other way, beyond an armed security guard, up an elevator and another ID checkpoint, a clipboard lady in a pantsuit points towards a door down a narrow hall.
I wait, in a suit, in a room underneath those crumbly-type fiberboard ceiling tiles, on a sofa. I don’t pick up a magazine, but notice a person with a very old — possibly pre-Brad-and-Angelina — copy of People. From a TV hung in the corner, a poorly recorded video plays about why I am here, what I should expect, and the succession of Presidents who signed the directives that set the precedence, etc.
I wait. Nobody talks or looks at me. I stare. I wonder how long they have been here. I cannot imagine them not here, or, like, I cannot imagine here without them. The existence of this place feels elastic (think of the modern synthetic elements with the stupid names [e.g., Einsteinium] that exist briefly during specific conditions,) like every lame detail preserves it, like a minor shift would fundamentally transform it, like if one painted the walls a nice matte chartreuse or recognized the receptionist, the building might morph into a meat locker or a mattress warehouse or something.
So someone leads me to a smaller door, down a narrower hall with signed papers in cheap frames that look like college diplomas but are not college diplomas on the wall. We enter a small square office and chat with obvious pretense. Facing a wall, I sit on a hard chair, on a motion-detecting device, with straps and cords and clips and sensors attached to my chest and arms and fingers, all connecting to a Dell tower on the man’s desk. There is a black-domed camera in the corner.
The man says what’s going to happen next. He asks simple yes-or-no questions to establish a baseline. Is my name what my name is? Is my age what my age is? Is my father’s name what my father’s name is? Then he asks them again. When I scratch my crotch he tells me not to move. The equipment recognizes each movement, each breath. Then he asks the same questions again, name, age, father, and instructs me to lie, notates the results on a legal-pad. He loosens the straps and leaves the room, seconds later comes back and reapplies the straps… Have I ever lied to an authority figure? Besides that have I ever lied to an authority figure? Besides that? Am I ok? He tells me not to move and not to adjust my breathing. He asks about my trip to Cape Verde to visit Jon. He uses the words “foreign national” and “fraternize.” Am I a threat to the United States of America? Is there any reason not to trust me? Am I sure? Am I sure I am sure? Other stuff. For over an hour. Then we reëstablish the baseline.
“What’s your name?”
Two years and one orchiectomy later, I’m driving up historic Highway 101 on a Wednesday afternoon with the windows down and my sunglasses on. New Kanye West is on the stereo. The air is cool and smells like the ocean. I pull off at a tiki-y style coffee shop.
The barista is tan and handsome in a tank top and, although I can’t be 100% sure, probably not wearing shoes.
I say my name.
He smiles effortlessly, labels my to-go cup even though one else is there. “Dude, have you seen the — ”.
My sandwhich order is something with avocado and alfalfa sprouts with a punny name I’m embarrassed to say now.
Waves and gulls are audible.
Totally bummed, the barista hands me my order.
When I try to put my sunglasses on outside I realize my sunglasses are already on and instantly I know I should probably go back and apologize, tell the guy the truth, that I didn’t mean to be so rude, that I had just landed last night, and that I missed breakfast and had a job interview, so I was starving, and that these are prescription sunglasses, that I forgot my regular ones in the car. I’m not an asshole. I need them to see.
I look at myself in the rearview mirror of the rental Economy Subcompact and wonder if that’s what all assholes think, and I do that thing where I kind of check in with myself and make sure I am still the true me, which leads to me questioning who is the true me? My name comes from my father, and I am 26 years old. When he was my age, I was like eight, and I visited him a few times then. He was renting a room in somebody’s attic. Now I’m on the other side of the country alone, with one testicle, sipping an iced soy latte, rapping along to Kanye West, but self-censoring every variation of n — –, and the road drops suddenly towards the ocean and I swerve back in to my lane. The drink spills in my lap.
The approaching beach is empty and I park and take off my shoes and sop up the iced soy latte with my socks. I grab the cup from under the seat. The name written on it, I see, isn’t even my name. The friendly barista wasn’t even paying attention to me even before he thought I was being an asshole, which sort of justifies my being an asshole, even though I wasn’t being an asshole. I take off my suit jacket and walk towards the water. My feet sink into the sand and I move towards the ocean like I’m the woman at the end of The Awakening, except not like her at all, which makes this way better, or way worse, I’m not sure.