April 14, 2007


Category: Family,Miscellaneous :: Permalink

As part of my imimigration process, I had to go to Portland to have my “biometrics” taken this week.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with immigration-speak, that’s fingerprints, signature, and a photo.  Yes, for all of that I had to drive four hours to Portland, stay overnight, and then drive four hours back.

The trip was uneventful.  Well, except for the event at the start.  I tried to play a CD and discovered that the player was jammed somehow.  It’s been doing that on occasion recently, but this time I couldn’t even make it eject my six-pack of CDs so that I could start over.  I’ll have to see if I can get the dealer to do it for free as they did the first time it happened.

So instead of listening to the CDs I’d picked, I had to listen instead to some old cassettes.  Several of these I hadn’t heard in years.  I started off with The Rainmakers’ The Good News and the Bad News, which I’d remembered (and still enjoyed) for Bob Walkenhorst‘s clever lyrics, moved on later to The Innocence Mission‘s self-titled album, which I appreciating more now than when I first bought it.

On the way home, I played Elvis Costello’s Spike and Peter Case’s great Peter Case Sings Like Hell.  When I was in my late teens, I wanted to be Peter Case.  I saw him in concert at the Edmonton Folk Festival, where other performers included Lucinda Williams, Sugar Blue, T-Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn, Bob Neuwirth, David Mansfield, and a whole bunch of other people who had played on albums together and who sat in on each other’s sessions during the festival.  Ever since then, I’ve been playing my own version of “Walkin’ Bum,” which I heard Peter Case perform, though my performances out on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton weren’t nearly as good as his version on this cassette.  No wonder I didn’t really make a lot of money by busking.

I arrived at the USCIS office in downtown Portland at about 7:30 and had to wait in the cold wind until they opened the doors at 8:00.  I had expected that, in spite of my 8:00 AM appointment, I’d be there until at least noon.  Imagine my surprise when I walked out the doors again at 8:19!

But as I stood in line inside the building, waiting for my appointment, I noticed something which struck me as funny at the time.  Inside, where the prospective immigrants sat waiting to be called and fingerprinted, there were some rows of chairs, all facing a television.  What would you expect to be on the TV?  Perhaps you’d expect something about what it means to be an American citizen.

Well, yes and no.  It turned out to be the movie Footloose.  The title song was playing as I stood in the line, and by the time I sat down we were hearing the sermon that opens the movie.  The movie, in case you haven’t seen it, is about a fundamentalist town and a boy who moves to town and introduces dancing to the teenagers and breaks apart the fundamentalist culture that had prevailed.  When you think about it, perhaps this movie really did reveal something of what American culture is all about.

Instead of heading straight home, I walked a few blocks and a few blocks over to Powell’s City of Books where I waited a few more minutes in the cold until they opened at 9:00.  I spent about five hours there, not only because there are so many books to look at but also because it was remarkably hard to find what I was looking for.  I’d made up a list of books I wanted to look for and had checked the online database to find where the books were located, but a database is one thing and a book shelf is another and the two didn’t always correspond.  In the end, though, I walked off with a glorious haul.

After a brief stop at the Whole Foods store, I poked around Everyday Music, where I picked up James Hunter‘s People Gonna Talk, All the Roadrunning by Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, and Joe Henry‘s wonderful Scar, which I’ve been listening to again and again today.  And then I headed for home.

Oh, along the way, I heard to a couple of Biblical Horizons conference lectures by Peter Leithart, one on Calvin’s view of the state and the other on how revivalism shifted the church’s story from the theocratic one about Jesus’ ruling as king over the world to the democratic story about the growth of individual freedoms.  I also played some old Mars Hill tapes, one of which opened with a helpful discussion of sentimentalism by Alan Jacobs.

I’ve often heard people criticize sentimentalism, but I haven’t always been sure they know what they’re talking about.  For instance, the charge of “sentimentalism” often gets levelled against Charles Dickens but I’m not persuaded the charge really fits.  Jacobs defines sentimentalism as a wallowing in emotion for the sake of emotion and doing so in a way that cannot stand up to evaluation.

He was reviewing The Bridges of Madison County, which is not only sentimental but downright maudlin, and pointed out that the reader isn’t supposed to think about the story; he (or more likely, she) is simply supposed to feel something.  The more you think about it, the less it “works.”  Is it really possible, for instance, that this four-day affair could help strengthen the woman’s marriage?  If you’re contemplating adultery, Jacobs said, you might want to think so and this book might encourage you in that direction, but it doesn’t stand up to evaluation.  If assessment kills an emotion, he said, then it deserves to die.

And then I arrived home to my wife and daughter, whom I’d missed.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:42 pm | Discuss (1)

One Response to “Portland”

  1. Paul Baxter Says:

    If you need me to, I’ll tell INS that, as far as I know, you aren’t a terrorist.

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