Cleaning Up Old Messes.
Once upon a time, the nation of Canada made an official apology to my parents. Or so the story goes. Several things about the story don’t quite add up to me, and as I wrote in the marshmallow tale, slight lapses of memory may result in mistruths being carried forward. But like that story, I believe the core of this to be true. What doesn’t quite add up for me in this story is the time. My parents tell this story as if it takes place before they had children, which would require it to have been occurred prior to 1972. But they also say it takes place in Montréal, in the summer of 1976, during the Olympics, when my mother would have been at seven months pregnant with my little sister, and I’d have been about to turn two. Whenever it occurred, the story is this:
Once upon a time, a young man and his young bride went to Montréal during the Olympic Games on something of a late honeymoon. They rented a basement apartment in a suburb of the city for a week or so. They drove around in their tiny car they’d driven to Canada from New York. One day, they awoke to discover their car was missing. They called the police, and discovered that it had been towed. To this day, my father swears it was legally parked, and that it was towed because the Montréal police towed essentially every car in Quebec that summer, to collect impound fees.
So they gathered themselves up and went down to the police station to collect their car. The Québécois police refused to speak English. They were told, with much gesticulation, that they could pay a fine and collect their car if they signed a form. The form was entirely in French. What these police didn’t know, of course, is that my mother speaks (or did at that time) pretty decent French. But she didn’t want to let them know that. So while my father bickered with the policemen, my mother read the form. It stated that they had seen the car and agreed there was no damage. My mother reported this back to my father, who refused to sign. The police refused to allow them to see the car until the form had been signed.
There was an impasse. My mother excused herself. She found a payphone (remember those?) and called her sister. Who has a husband (Hi, Uncle Paul!), who has a relative of some kind, who was fairly highly placed in the US State Department. How all this happened so fast in the age before cell phones, I’ll never know. However, the story goes, that Mom called Aunt Jane who called Uncle Paul who called his (brother? cousin?) in the State Department who called his correspondent in the corresponding Canadian department who called the police station and spoke to the francophone Mountie who said, and I’m quoting my father here, “What?! Aww FUCK.”
They were chauffeured to the car, and politely encouraged to inspect the car inside and out. All impound fees were waived. My parents were thanked for their forbearance, and sent on their way. A few weeks later, back at home, they received a lovely letter, on the queen’s letterhead, signed by the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, apologising for the boorish attitude of an uniformed member of the Canadian police forces, and assuring them that that wasn’t representative behaviour of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Les Québécois, or the citizenry or official representation of Her Majesty’s Provinces and Territories of Canada (or however the hell they say that in fancy Canadianese).
I tell this story because I too may now have car trouble with the Canadians. In my search for a tenure-track position, I have applied to a school of public health in the Great White North, and so I am hoping, come January or so, to visit the school to give a job talk and a chalk talk, as one does. But I may not be allowed in Canada at all.
As I’ve admitted here before, when I was an active alcoholic, I drank and drove, many times. As I’m not sure I’ve written since inhabiting my old blog, I was once caught at it. I was driving from St. Louis to Edwardsville, Il, in the evening, to visit my fiancée. I drove over there drunk a bunch of times. This time, I hadn’t been planning on driving. I knew I shouldn’t have gone, even by my own standards, I was far too drunk to attempt such an ambitious journey. But I did. And just short of reaching her house, I was pulled over for weaving and generally being a vehicular menace.
The officer approached me, and asked me to stand on one foot. Just stand on one foot. I couldn’t do it. The officer said: “I’m going to arrest you today for driving under the influence.” I said: “That sounds about right.” He was really cool about it actually. He let me sit up front. He cuffed my hands in front, rather than in the back. And he drove through an ATM so that I’d have the cash I needed to bail myself out. He didn’t have to do any of those things. I think he did them because I was amiable and cooperative. It was that night that I realized just how terrified police officers are when they pull people over. They never know when someone is going to want to fight or flee. When someone is desperate enough to try to kill a police officer.
This happened in 2006. I was given court supervision, and sentenced to pay a fine of about $2,000 plus court costs, not drive in Illinois for 90 days, attend alcohol counseling (which cost another $1,000, about), and attend a victim’s impact panel. I did all of these things. Though it would be twenty more months before I quit drinking. I was told that if I did all of that, and had no more trouble with the law for three years, that the matter would be expunged from my record. I believe that it has been. But I don’t know. And I don’t know how to find out.
Canada does not allow visitors who have been convicted of drunk driving offences in the past ten years. I can think of no more sure way not to get a job than to tell the university that I can’t give a job talk just now because I was turned back at the border. They do have a “rehabilitation” process by which one can regain the right to visit Canada. But I don’t know if I need to go through it or not. I have not technically been convicted of driving intoxicated, though I was certainly guilty of it. I called the Canadian Immigration and Customs and asked them about my situation. They said that I needed to either go through the rehabilitation process or take my chances being turned back at the border. So I have retained an attorney who specializes in Canadian Immigration Law, whom I’m going to speak to tomorrow.
This is sobriety at work. I don’t know if I’m going to be offered an interview. But I know that it is very likely that if I am offered an interview, and I do need to go through the legal rehabilitation process, that I will likely not have time to do so in the short time between being offered the interview and needing to arrive in Canada. Being sober now allows me to handle this how normal people would likely handle something similar: I can plan ahead. If I were still drinking, and planning to visit Canada, I’d likely not even know this was an issue. I’d show up. If I were flying, I’d likely show up drunk. Then, maybe, I’d be sent back home.
We say in sobriety that we live one day at a time. But that means that today, I can do the things I need to do to plan for my future. Whether or not I get a job offer at this Canadian University, or even just the opportunity to talk for one, I would like to visit Canada again soon. It’s close. I have friends there. There’s an awesome string quartet competition in Banff. I would love to see that. Being sober allows me to do the things I need to do to participate in life the way I would like to. Freely. Right now, the Canadian border is a boundary of uncertain permeability. Sobriety allows me take the steps I need, one step after one step after one step, to transcend all of these limiting boundaries in life.
Freedom. In the great open spaces of the world.