Illustration by author
One day a man stepped down to earth to check it out, with the consideration of relocating there. He set gently down in Budapest, paused at the corner of a tree-lined street and gazed down it at the majestic, if deteriorating, buildings. He liked the stability and timeworn flavor of the place, but found the people, some of whom nearly knocked him over as they obliviously passed by, bulky and loutish. So, not at all convinced he’d like to settle there, he slipped away.
Istanbul was different. He treasured the brilliant colors of the buildings and found the people more expressive and lively than those in Budapest. Still, the strange clothing and repetitive religious chanting confused him: the people on his planet believed in fending for themselves and the idea of worshipping gods or entities of any kind was completely alien to them. But staring up at the minarets and wondering how it would feel to live in this beautiful but busy place after living so long in the green hills of home, he recalled with a start that those green hills were green no more, and that he was here to try to find an alternative home for him and his planet-mates on Grapeseed. So he frowned, adjusted the controls on his brain-implanted faster-than-light drive and swam along to India.
In Delhi, he glanced down the teeming streets and ducked into a darkened building to escape the heat and noise. Blinking in the gloom, assailed by the overwhelming reek of incense, he stumbled against a yogi sitting in the lotus position in the middle of the floor. Before leaving home, he had downloaded ‘tapes’ of all earth’s languages into his brain and the ‘computer chip’ implanted in his head now instructed him on the appropriate tape to use.
“I apologize, sir, for my immense clumsiness,” he told the yogi in flawless, if somewhat stilted, Hindi. “I did not know that you were at reverie and prayer. I will leave you alone.” He turned to go.
“No need,” the yogi said. He shook himself loose from his meditation and, from behind thick hornrims, smiled a tired smile. “I need a break from all this bone-breaking posturing anyway.” He stretched forward and massaged his shins. “Sometimes I wonder why I keep at this. It hasn’t brought me a drop of redemption and it’s damned uncomfortable to boot.” He’d slipped into English by then, having always found it a more comfortable and down-homey tongue.
“I will not keep you.” The traveler assumed English too. “But I have a question. We—I mean, I am considering immigrating to your fair city—“
“—‘Fair city’!” the yogi exclaimed. “It might be labeled ‘fair’ if you like hanging around on street corners with your feet baking, your shoulders dripping with sweat and your nose twitching because of the putrid smells. If you like those things, then, okay, it’s fair.”
“Well, I-I mean, we have experienced a . . . natural disaster at home and must find a place to migrate to.”
The yogi squinted at the man, who on Grapeseed was known by a name roughly equivalent to Bartholomew. He’d noticed with some interest the abrupt switch from Hindi to English and that the visitor spoke both languages with no accent but with an equal amount of stiltedness. The man’s clothing, baggy gray pants and a threadbare argyle sweater, further piqued his curiosity.
“I see from your attire that you are from the West,” he said, he hoped congenially. “Where exactly are you from and what was the disaster?”
Bartholomew shuffled from foot to foot and ran his fingers through his wavy black hair. “I acquired these clothes in the course of my travels in a town called Budapest,” he said. “But my home is far away, and I am sure you have never heard of it.”
The yogi stared at him, most un-yogi like. “I see.”
Bartholomew’s implanted computer advised him what to say: “Uh, a volcano erupted and destroyed my town. And now it is uninhabitable.”
Actually, a rogue asteroid had appeared with no warning and reduced the surface of the planet to blasted rubble, after which he and the other few thousand survivors had retreated underground. But there was no way they could remain down there indefinitely. So Bartholomew had visited many planets with little result and finally came to earth.
“Volcano, huh.” The yogi nodded with a sidewise glance. “I guess I missed that one. And that’s funny too because I try to catch the BBC or watch CNN International every day.” He stood up in one stretching motion. “Well, I don’t think you and your compatriots would like it here in Delhi.” He waved towards the door where sunlight and color were flashing by, along with a mad mix of bicycles and zigzagging cars with screeching horns. “I would leave this place myself if I had the money. As it is, I hide out in this ashram”—he glanced surreptitiously around and continued in a muted voice—“because it’s cheap and is the only place I know of that even comes close to being cool.”
“You are doubtless correct that I should try a place where I would feel more comfortable,” Bartholomew said. “I understand that you are seeking spirituality here and, though I am not spiritual myself, I do . . . appreciate its pursuit and hoped I would be able to acclimate here.”
The yogi smiled. “What I do is not as much about spirituality as about escaping the dirt and stink.” His eyes opened wider. “But, hey, I think I know just the place. The USA is a country made up almost entirely of immigrants. You should go there. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”
Images tumbled into Bartholomew’s mind’s eye: mountains, prairies, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street. He frowned: apparently, the US was big and green in a variety of perplexing ways. “Yes, I see what you are referring to and perhaps I will go there.” He reached forward to shake the yogi’s hand and seeing the man’s bright eyes added, “And perhaps you would like to accompany me?”
The yogi shook out his long gray hair. “I have very little money,” he said wistfully, “so I’m forced to stay here. But you should go. In fact, due to the urgency of your situation, as you describe it, you should probably move right along.”
Bartholomew’s beady eyes, the only noticeably alien things about him, switched back and forth. “Goodbye then, my meditative friend. And maybe . . . you will follow.”
The yogi laughed. “You know, you have a good idea there and someday I might do just that.”
Bartholomew faded out the door into the brilliant light of the old, decaying city, and was gone.
Considering his poor track record thus far with earth’s cities, Bartholomew decided he would try out the countryside in America. He’d been impressed with the mountains the computer had shown him so he was soon climbing up a rolling green hillside in Montana, an area which, with respect to its greenness, reminded him of home, or home as it had until so recently been.
Cresting the hill, he encountered a rancher driving fence posts. Inside the fence was a pasture containing a herd of white-faced beef cattle and outside of it was a gully where a small clutch of buffalo huddled together under scraggly trees. The rancher looked up from his work. “Howdy, stranger. Don’t believe I’ve seen you in these parts before. Where do you hail from?”
Bartholomew sidled up a little closer, but recalling the suspiciousness of the yogi regarding his attire, maintained a discreet distance. “You are correct, I am not from these . . . parts,” he said, bobbing his head up and down, he hoped reassuringly, but which actually gave him the appearance of a somewhat over-earnest bobble-head. “I have come to your fair—I mean your charming state in order to look into the possibility of migrating here.”
The rancher let his hammer fall away. “That so.” He gave Bartholomew a crooked look, his stringy black hair falling across his forehead. “You do look a touch foreign, what with those old-fashioned clothes and all. Where did you say you’re from?”
The earth programs in Bartholomew’s head ka-chunked furiously as they tried to ferret out the best strategy to employ with this earthling. “I am not from south of the border, if that is what you were thinking,” he said. “I hail from . . . Budapest and I would like to immigrate to the United States of America.”
Rather than answering, the rancher looked down the hill at the huddling buffalo, then up at the contented-looking, grass-chomping cattle and finally set his eyes on the fence. “See this fence?” he asked.
“These cattle inside it are mine. I own ‘em,” he said proudly. “And they serve a useful purpose too. I make my living raising them, slaughtering them and selling them for food.” He looked back down the hill. “See them buffalo down there? Well, they serve no good purpose except to eat the grass I need for my cattle.” He glanced back up at the fat livestock. “So I built this fence to keep them out.” He looked around as though to make sure no one was in earshot. “I shoot them bison too, don’t think I don’t, when they finagle their way around the fence and get into the pasture.”
His dark eyes glinted. “And I feel about the same way about immigrants. The people already in this country serve a purpose, or at least some of them do. But the ones who want to come in, legal or otherwise, are just here to mooch off the rest of us, so keep them the hell out, that’s what I say.”
Bartholomew was all too aware that it was counterproductive to get into an altercation with an earthling, particularly this one, but the ka-chunking got going so fast in his skull that it became a dull whine in his inner ears, and he blurted, “No offense, kind Montana sir, but I do not entirely understand. The buffalo were here before the cattle, were they not, just as the Indians owned this land before your ancestors came across the ‘great waters’.”
The rancher, whose names was Wilkins, and whose family had lived on the land since 1859 when they’d kicked the Indians off, or to be accurate massacred them, squinted at Bartholomew, spit tobacco across the fence in his direction and chanted in sing-song, “It may be so, I do not know. But it sounds like shit to me.” And laughed.
Bartholomew did a double-step to the side. “What, sir?
What?” Wilkins let out a spitting laugh. “Never mind,” he said more congenially. “The truth is, if you want to get the lowdown on immigration, you should go south, closer to the border, where there’s a hell of a lot more of it going on, so I suggest you hightail it down to LA.”
This time it took only a second for the tumblers to fall into place in Bartholomew’s brain.
“Oh, I get it. Yes, I understand. Los Angeles, California.” He nodded, touched his forehead in what may have been a mock salute, walked down and around the hill and, out of sight of rancher, cattle and buffalo, evaporated up into the azure sky.
On the streets of LA, Bartholomew encountered an enormous quantity of sunshine and heat, but it was dry heat, unlike the moist and fetid sort in Delhi. He also found a number of mystifying allegiances and alliances between gang members and drug dealers, as well as a remarkably large array of tattoos. But though he addressed every person he met in perfect English or Spanish, as was appropriate, when he brought up the topic of immigration, some people laughed, others clammed up and quite a number scurried quickly away. So he never gained an understanding of the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, and didn’t come close to learning how to legally migrate to the United States.
At last, suffering from both frustration and heat exposure, he approached a beat-cop on a dark LA street-corner. “Officer,” he inquired politely, “I am a visitor to the USA and would like to legally immigrate here. Can you please explain the immigration process to me?”
The officer, a young Hispanic woman, turned towards him, cocked her head to the side and twirled her baton. “And who are you?” she asked suspiciously, but with just a twist of humor, as good cops need to have, to maintain both order and their own sanity.
“Uh, my name is Bartholomew and I am not from these . . . parts. I hail from Budapest and would like to move to your spectacular country.”
The cop, whose name was Millicent, laughed. “To this ‘spectacular country’, huh?” She looked him up and down.
“And so, Bartholomew from Budapest, what makes you so sure that I would know how that process works?”
“You are a designated law enforcement official,” Bartholomew said, beady eyes a little wide. “Therefore, I assume you are cognizant of the law.”
She shook her head, mouth again twisting to the side, this time definitely in a smirk. “Enforcing the law and knowing how it works are not the same.” She looked pensive, still twirling her baton. “And, since you’re inquiring about immigrating, I think I ought to see some ID. You say you’re visiting, but are you here legally? If not, I’ll be forced to contact ICE.”
The programs in his head quickly explained what ICE was, but even so Bartholomew wasn’t sure how to respond. “I am not American and have no ID,” he finally said. “But I will be happy to leave Los Angeles and the United States of America immediately. However, I would be grateful if you could tell me how I can then return legally.”
Millicent’s glasses glinted under the glare of a nearby streetlight. “Say what?” she actually said.
“I said, I can and will leave immediately, right away, no waiting. But I would like to return legally.”
Millicent put her hands on her hips. “Let me get this straight. You’re already here and you could probably hide out indefinitely among the lowlifes here in LA. But you actually want to be an American so badly you’re willing to leave and go through the tedious immigration process and take your chances on getting back in?”
Bartholomew turned his head up to the blue-green night sky. “Yes, I would, Officer. But it would be quite convenient if the process would not take too long because I am in somewhat of a hurry and—and there are other people besides myself involved.”
Officer Millicent Chavez leaned forward and laughed. “Well, now I’ve heard it all. And since you’ve entertained me so thoroughly on this warm evening, I’ll forego calling ICE and will tell you what I think you should do. Possibly the most effective and swiftest way, if there is such a thing as a fast-track way to immigrate, is to go directly to Washington and find out how to apply for a green card and get it posthaste.”
Ka-chunk. Ka-chunk. “Washington the state, the city, the many small towns—?” “
Well, DC of course.” She shook her head so hard that her long dark hair tumbled out from underneath her cap. Then, without another word, she turned and slipped away into the dark and sultry LA night.
In a flash, Bartholomew was in Washington. But during that flash, he had time to seriously question whether this planet and especially this country were going to work out for him and his fellow Grapeseedians.
From talking to the yogi, the rancher and the cop, and by listening to his implanted computer chip, he had learned that people had lived on this land almost from time immemorial with no written laws of any kind, which of course meant there were no written immigration laws either. Then a few centuries ago, people began migrating here from Europe, drove the bulk of the Native American residents off their land and established a ‘new’ country. That new ‘country’ strongly encouraged people to continue to migrate from Europe, where Budapest was, Bartholomew realized with a confused shake of his head. But then in an almost complete turnaround, over the last several decades, the government apparently decided there was no more need for immigration and began subjecting immigrants, particularly those from ‘south of the border,’ to all kinds of rules, regulations, suspicions, derisions and even deportation.
So, by the time Bartholomew set down at the wrought-iron gate surrounding the White House, he was frowning and shuffling around even more than usual and about ready to give it all up and continue his quest on some other, any other, planet. But since he was already here, and this was supposedly the ‘seat’ of government in this strange land, he paused to look at the White House and its big sprawling grounds. Then, there being no further reason to delay, he gave all of earth and its many inadequacies up, stepped away from the gate and started tuning in Grapeseed’s coordinates.
He heard yelling and turned around. In front of the White House, on the ‘wrong’ side of the wrought-iron fence, he noticed a motley crew of people wobbling around in a rough circle. They were carrying signs and chanting, though definitely not in unison: “Save the whales.” “Stop abortion.” “Increase abortion rights.” “Preserve the rainforest.” “Abolish illegal immigration.” “Throw the goddamned bums back south of the border NOW.”
Bartholomew stared. His head thumped up and down. Looking at the rolling lawns around the White House and listening to this ratty bunch of people chanting, strangely he thought of the rancher and his fence which kept the ‘good’ cattle in and the ‘bad’ buffalo out. Suddenly, it hit him that these people marching here were like the buffalo, wanting to get into better pastures, and being blocked out.
On Grapeseed, no one was ever excluded. Each person’s thoughts permeated all of their minds, so there was a group-mind or continuous mind-meld going on. So the ideas of these people with their colorful signs would immediately have been absorbed into the greater mind and ‘considered,’ even though they were unusual, non-conformist or downright wacky. If those ideas were found usable in some way, they would have been instantaneously incorporated, and everybody’s worldview would have changed instantly. If they were found unusable, the concepts would immediately have been dropped by everyone, even by the people who originally proposed them.
So it was at home, Bartholomew nodded sadly. But here, these stragglers just wandered aimlessly around in circles and their ideas weren’t incorporated or rejected. They, like the people who crept secretly across the border, and the lowly buffalo who couldn’t reach the best grass, were excluded and pronounced lesser than others or even illegal. Seeing that, he realized he could never consider moving here and started mentally ‘fumbling’ with the beam-out controls.
“Hey, you, what are you doing over there?”
Bartholomew peered stiffly around.
“Yes, you!” A short young woman stepped out of the revolving mass and pushed an enormous placard at him. “Come join us,” she said. “You look lonely over there against that big gate. And since you don’t have a sign yourself, here, take mine.” She thrust it into his hands.
Bartholomew tottered forward under the weight of the huge sign. “Oh, I do not understand. I do not know. . . .”
“But you look so alone,” the small woman insisted. “No matter what your cause is, you’re one of us here since our one common cause is that we all have a cause.” She laughed, pulled the sign upright and pressed his hands firmly around it again.
Suddenly he laughed. His body shook in places and ways it never had before. He didn’t understand her words, but he felt something turn within him. So he nodded and wordlessly joined the rough circle shuffling around. “Save the whales,” he rasped as he heard the others rasping. “Preserve the rainforest.”
He had been in such a rush when leaving home that he had failed to download written as well as spoken language ‘tapes,’ so he couldn’t read the signs and didn’t know that the one he carried read, “Save the honeybees.” But he stamped confidently around, proudly waving that green honeybee sign, feeling good about doing it even though he couldn’t read its message and knew that, no matter what it said, it couldn’t be incorporated into his or anybody else’s mind anyway. At last, he began moving in an awkward dance, not unlike the one he’d often done back home. Then finally, chuckling and shaking his wobbly head, he dropped the sign and faded out of the crowd into an open area nearby.
“I think we can immigrate to the earth, specifically to the USA, after all,” he told the dispatcher who was languishing on a comfortable couch somewhere underneath the ravaged surface of Grapeseed. “We on Grapeseed are both conformist and non-conformist to the degree that, here, where there is so much of both and it is so prominently displayed, we will blend in most easily.”
“You will absorb my meaning soon enough,” he nodded vigorously into the DC air. “But meanwhile, you need to find out exactly what a green card is. My chip has a glitch, so I cannot obtain an exact description. It may be a green sign, which I and others here are waving, I do not know. But we need official green cards so we will not be perceived as illegal aliens and deported. These cards must list the city of emigration as Budapest, Hungary. Since Budapest is in Europe and not south of the border, that will make it far easier for us to migrate here.”
The dispatcher huffed. “I don’t understand,” he said. Then he chuckled. “But as you speak, I begin to incorporate your wacky and unusual view, and I and everyone else here are beginning to see too.” He laughed.
Bartholomew laughed too. “Please let me know when the green cards are ready and download the first one that you prepare directly to me.”
Within a few hours, throughout the US, men, women and children with dark wavy hair, wearing identical gray pants and argyle sweaters and carrying authentic green cards with country of origin listed as “Hungary” began to emerge from dark alleys, shady forests and dried up cornfields. Each person had a unique name with a different address in Budapest, so to the US Immigration Service their interchangeable attire didn’t matter in the least.
Bartholomew himself decided to remain in the environs of LA since he liked studying the people there and even more the exotic and alarming tattoos, secretly coveting acquiring one.
A few weeks after he moved into an apartment in Los Angeles, he returned briefly to Delhi. “I have an authentic American green card for you,” he told his first and thus far only earthly friend. “I did not catch your name before but it does not matter because henceforth your name officially is ‘John Smith’ and you hail from Budapest. So if you want to permanently abandon that uncomfortable lotus position you are still crouching in, you can immediately come back to LA with me. I will find you a job, or at least a pleasant ashram, and you can live in relative comfort for good. There is heat, but it is dry heat and AC is everywhere.”
The yogi gave him a sideways look, smiled, and pulled himself up out of the lotus position. Without a word, he grasped Bartholomew’s arm, sailed calmly away through the ether with him, and settled in LA.
I believe they both reside there still. But both the rules of immigration and the city of Los Angeles are perplexing and complicated, so it is difficult to say. And anyway, that would be another story.
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