Well, well. The INS came to visit me today.
I was banging away at my keyboard in my Oceanside office when Gina buzzed me. "There's two guys from Immigration and Naturalization headed up to see you, and all they would tell me was it was 'about an employee.' They should be there any second, so put away your damn little glass pipe."
The pipe was already put away, and just as well. There was an authority-filled knock on the door. I told whoever was on the other side to enter, and they did. Jesus, fuckin' Feds. Off-the-rack suits, black wingtips, Timex watches, drab WASP faces.... Feds were as generic as Cheerios, only with less personality. And of course, they have their goddamn reflective aviator sunglasses on, indoors. I gestured to a couple rolling task chairs sitting against a wall and said, "Roll 'em up and park your carcasses. And you're indoors now, take off your sunglasses."
They pulled up chairs but left their shades in place. One of them said, "You're Leonard Schneider?"
I answered, "Yeah. Take off your sunglasses."
The Fed (I named him Laurel) continued, "Mr. Schneider, we'represent the Immigration and---"
"Take off your sunglasses."
"We represent the Imm---"
"Take off your sunglasses."
"Mr. Schneider, this is---"
"Take off your sunglasses."
Glowering, both Feds removed their shades. I smiled widely and said, "Hello, gentleman. My name is Lenny Schneider, welcome. How are you?"
The other one (Hardy) stated, "We are agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We wish to discuss one of your employees."
"Does the employee have a name, or can I pick one at random?" I asked.
Tight-lipped, Hardy continued, "He is a Mr.... uh.... Nog-wing Thokmay."
"Ngawang Thokmay," I corrected. "If you're looking for him, he's not here. He lives up in the Bay Area. So what's up?"
"Mr. Thokmay was, until two weeks ago, employed at a taxi company in Oakland. He reported to us that he had changed jobs, and was working for you and your.... video company. We were curious why he made the decision to leave one job and take another. He told us that you hired him and his wife to be a language tutor for a student at UC Berkeley, you were paying him $600 a week for approximately eight hours a week work. We felt it was in our best interests to check the veracity of his statement."
"He told you exactly what's going on. I'm paying him to teach my friend Jane how to speak Tibetan. His wife, Pema, actually has the better English skills, so the two of them sorta double-team Jane. Works for me. Jane gets tutored two hours a day, four days a week. To graduate, UCB has a foreign language requisite, and I figured, shit, why not learn a unique language? Yeah, Ngawang is an employee of mine, it's all kosher. If you want, you can go over to Inana's business office and look at his I-9 and IRS papers. Anything else?"
They paused, trying to give steely glares at me. They couldn't really pull it off without the aviators to hide behind. Laurel said, "So, an adult video company in San Diego County is hiring a Tibetan national in Alameda County to be a language tutor for a college student. Why?"
"Like I said, Jane has a language requisite, and she thought learning Tibetan would be pretty cool. Jane is a friend of mine, and I wanted to help out. I also wanted to help out Ngawang.... In fact, that was the biggie. The cab company he was driving for was fucking him over. Too many hours behind the wheel for too little pay. He told me what he was making, and I thought, 'Fuck that shit.' So, I had a brain wave and offered to hire him to tutor Jane. Now is it clear?"
"No, it's not," said Hardy. "According to Mr. Thokmay, you were a passenger in his cab. You and him talked a bit, and you offered him the job, out of the blue. $600 a week for eight hours work...."
"Actually, they usually are with Jane for three or four hours. Jane will take 'em out to dinner, and they'll practice phrases as they eat. It's like, first they have serious study, then they relax and work on what Jane has learned."
Laurel said, "So, you decided a foreign national should receive a decent wage for almost no work. Why? Did you like the idea of an immigrant having an easy life?"
I fixed him with my own steely gaze (which I've been told is fairly effective) and said, "No, I didn't, stupid. Like I said, Ngawang was getting fucked, no lube, by that goddamn cab company. With the hours they were working him, thre was no way he could find a better job or go to school, he just wouldn't have time, he has to sleep. Now Ngawang has his days free, so he can search for a decent job.... Or do what he's doing, which is attending a community college up in East Bay starting in the spring. He's gonna take a vocational course, he'll learn how to be a smog check tech. Read the want ads, garages are always looking for certified techs. I already told him, the tutoring job ends when the school year at Berkeley does. He's fine with that. they'll have a little money put away, to cover Ngawang getting a job and receiving his first paycheck. In the meantime, he can kick back a little. Personally, him and Pema deserve it."
"Is that so?" asked Laurel. "Two foreign nationals, green card holders, deserve what amounts to a two month plus paid vacation? Please, tell me why you believe that."
I grinned, then stuck a Marlboro in my mouth and lit it. "I'd prefer you didn't smoke," said one of them.
"Well, wishes in one hand, shit in the other. See which one piles up quicker." I puffed a moment, then asked, "So, do either of you two know anything about Ngawang and Pema?"
"They're refugees from Tibet," Laurel responded.
"Yeah. How many Tibetan refugees does the INS deal with a year?"
Laurel and Hardy glanced at each other and didn't answer.
"Uh huh. Damn few, right? The fuckin' Chinese have the country locked down. Let me tell you a little about Ngawang and Pema. You know how they immigrated? They fucking walked, overland, from Tibet and through Nepal, then into India. Their goal was New Delhi, and they made it. On foot. No money, no supplies, Pema was two months pregnant when they left.... But they pulled it off. They escaped the Chinese occupation of their own country.
"New Delhi didn't have any opportunities for employment, and they didn't speak Hindi anyway. After about four days on the street, Ngawang saw a Red Cross truck, so he collared the driver and told him their story. The Red Cross got the family in contact with the American consulate, who arranged for them to fly into San Francisco. I guess they lived in a 'new arrival' center for a while. Ngawang got a driver's license, and found the cab driving job in the paper. He didn't know they'd fuck him over with long hours and shit pay.
"So, Ngawang, a Tibetan truck driver from the city of Nagqu, walked with his wife who knows how many hundreds of miles through some of the harshest fucking terrain on the planet, to escape Chinese oppression.... But when he lands in California, he ends up getting repressed by capitalism instead of communism. I'm just glad I met the dude, and am in a position to help him out. And yeah, you're goddamn right the Thokmay family deserves a little time off. They've had a hard go of it for a while. Their son, Micheal is.... shit, I think twenty months old now. Let 'em have short hours and enjoy raising their son. And in late spring, Ngawang will start working as a smog tech. Decent job, decent money.... Him and Pema move to a better neighborhood, Michael goes to a California school, they basically live the fuckin dream every immigrant has had, for a long time."
Laurel and Hardy glanced at each other again. Hardy said, "So, do you often make impulsive decisions like this, hiring a total stranger to take a job that didn't exist earlier in the day?"
I hooted with laughter and yelled, "Yes! I do! And it keeps working out for all concerned! Can I be presumptuous and assume you're familiar with Inana Productions, and our movies?"
They muttered and nodded, looking at their knees.
"Okay, do you know who Missy Liscio is? One of our up-and-comers over the last six months?"
More muttering and nodding.
"I found her working in a motel in the Sierras. Gayla Goode was a bartender in a tourist trap in Old Town. Susan Black was a retail clerk. Donita Dare was stripping at a two-bit club in Kearney Mesa. I meet people, talk with them for a few minutes, and learn their lives are pretty crappy. My wife says I have a compulsion to inflict justice on the world, balance the scales every now and then. And I do.
"Some people might say, 'Oh, you're just taking girls who were in shitty jobs and turning them into porn stars.' Well duh! I make 'em the offer, they can go through the interviews to work as Inana Girls. It's not an easy gig to get. But these girls I've found have all worked out well. Now they're making damn good money and have various degrees of celebrity. Before, they worked boring jobs full time for crap pay. Now, they have sixteen to twenty hour work weeks, earning about $3500 on average before taxes. They have nice places to live and nice cars and leisure time and jobs they love and money in the bank. Show me where I'm doing wrong by them."\
"It must be nice to live by impulse and whim," said Laurel in a rather snotty voice.
"Only I don't, not really. I wouldn't offer performer positions if I didn't have room for them. I wouldn't have offered Ngawang his gig if I didn't have the money to pay for it. I can make decisions quickly, but I think them through.
"You know, when I first met Ngawang, I asked him why he didn't just quit. Not only did he have no savings, he said that if the INS found out he was unemployed, they'd take their green cards and send them back to Tibet.... Where him and Pema would be thrown in prison by the Chinese. That's fucked up." I considered the Feds across from me. "So, would the INS do that? Send a young family that's never hurt anyone back to a life of misery? Are you people really that big of assholes?"
There was a bit more knee-staring, they weren't used to having a blue-haired pornographer hold the moral high ground in a discussion. Then Hardy put on his Government Face and stated, "The INS has policies in place, which were explained to the Thokmays while they were in the induction facility. The United States cannot have immigrants arriving and immediately begin receiving assistance. That is why employment is mandatory for green card holders. You don't work, you don't stay. Now, isn't that simple?"
I smirked and replied, "Crystal clear. No matter how dire the situation, anyone with a green card better have active employment, doing anything. So what if they're living in borderline poverty? So what if this is the richest country in the world. They work, they pay their taxes, and that's all that's important."
Laurel was about to respond when there was a knock on the door. I yelled, "Come on in." Rita and Melissa strolled in. The only clothing between the two of them was the French-cut panties Rita was wearing. Both were incredibly stacked, their mammary glands occupied so much space in the room the air pressure in there changed. They bounced (and jiggled) up. "Hola, Lenny!" said Rita. "We're gonna order pizza, you want to kick in? What toppings you like?"
I pulled out my wallet and handed Rita a twenty. "Here you go. It's easier to list what I don't like. No pineapple, and no fucking anchovies. So, have the delivery guys from Round Table adjusted to coming here yet?"
Melissa snickered and said, "They're pretending they have. They act all uber-casual, like every third delivery involves naked people. They need to stare with a bit more subtlety, though. So who are your friends, here?"
"I actually don't know their names. They're federal employees, they may only have serial numbers. They're from the INS, and they wondered about why I hired a Tibetan national to tutor Jane in his native language. I'd hate being that suspicious all the time."
Rita piped up, "Oh, la migra?" She put on a warm smile. Then, in Spanish, she sweetly said they were probably both pig-raping asshole pieces of shit motherfuckers. Neither of them seemed to pick up on what she'd said. Hardy looked at Rita --- okay, he looked at her tits, then at her --- and asked, "Do you work here? What's your status?"
Me and the two girls started laughing. I pointed out that at a porn studio, if you run across someone who's naked, odds are they work there. Rita added, "My status? I've been a contractor with Inana almost six years. Is that what you mean?" And with a smile, she added, "Shit-bag," in Spanish.
Hardy said, "No, what is your immigration status? Do you have a green card on file?"
I stood up and said, "Oh, fuck you, buddy. You dumb motherfucker. Hey, a Latina chick in a border town who has an accent! Isn't that amazing! Rita is a fucking American citizen, you limp-dick. So is her mom, so is her brother. How long have you worked in San Diego County, ninety minutes? And those were spent finding this place?" Hardy stared at me angrily. I continued, "I'm serious. How long have you worked at the San Diego INS office?"
"Four years," Hardy replied. "Before that, I was in Washington State."
"And in these four years, you've never noticed that --- you know, this being a border town and shit -- that American citizens of Mexican descent sort of hold on to their accents and language habits? Rita is an American girl, and she's from the barrio, so that's how she's used to talking. Tell you what, Skeezix. You go ahead and demand to see Rita's ID. If she says she can't provide it, you can arrest me for hiring illegal immigrants for immoral purposes, or something. If she hands you her California drivers's license, I get to punch you in the face, in hopes your brain rolls back into place. Would you like to take that bet, or will you leave well enough alone and finish with any more questions you have about Ngawang Thokmay?"
Laurel seemed to realize that things may be taking a bad turn, and quickly said, "Mr. Schneider, you said we can examine Mr.Thokmay's I-9 and IRS papers, his W4? Your business office is at another address?"
I sad down and said clamly, "Yeah. Here." I pushed the phone towards him. "555-1081. You want to talk to Stefano Leone. He'll pull Ngawang's paperwork, it'll be waiting when you arrive. Would you like directions?"
"Yes, thank you," Laurel said. Hardy sat and seethed at a corner of the ceiling.
I gave Laurel directions to get to the mansion, explaining that there would again be a Hell's Angel out front, but now that they were expected, he probably wouldn't be as hostile as Goose had probably been. While Laurel was on the phone with Stefano, Hardy said to Melissa, "Do you always walk around like that?"
Feigning confusion, Melissa responded, "Like what?"
"Completely naked. In front of strangers."
Melissa gave a pitying smile. "I'm assuming you're aware this is an adult video studio, right? This may astound you, but adult performers tend to develop a rather cavalier attitude towards clothing when they're at work. It's up to visitors to adapt. We didn't know you were in here anyway, and Lenny is pretty inured to the sight of naked chicks." She grabber her boobs and wobbled them. "Thse get documented on videotape, and judging by the fan mail I've read, they are appreciated.... But not around here. Nobody cares. Boo hoo."
I instructed her, "So, go over to the mansion when you're done shooting this afternoon and give Stefano a thrill. You know he's highly appreciative of PT-109 and PT-110, there."
"You know what? I believe I will," she said brightly. "Okay, we're gonna go order pizza. I'll buzz you from the lounge when it get's here." Looking at the Feds, Melissa said, "Hasta la vista, federales pendejos." The two girls skipped out.
Hardy said, "So does everyone here speak Spanish?"
"To one degree or another," I answered.
I stared in amazement, shocked by this aggressive ignorance. /Finally I said, "You've gotta be kidding me. Say you're joking. You fucking doorknob, San Diego is a border town! And is on one of the busiest borders in the world! Unless you're some rich prick who locks himself away in a mansion in Rancho Del Mar, you're probably gonna pick up some Spanish just by osmosis, the same way you're safe speaking English in Tijuana.
"Dude, what the fuck? I get the impression that being multilingual is a sign of disloyalty to the United States with you. Is that where you're coming from?"
"English is the official language of the United States, anyone residing here should be speaking it," Hardy said in a stubborn voice.
""Wow. Holy jingoism, Batman. Um, you did notice that Rita speaks English just fine? Shit, she worked as a script girl here. Sorry there's no magic force field between Mexico and the U.S. that blocks off al cultural and lingual exchange between the two places. God, four years in a border town, and you still don't get it. Your commitment to willful ignorance is stunning."
Hardy seemed to be formulating a response. He was just starting to open his mouth when Laurel looked at him and said sharply, "You know, Richards, people talk about you around the office. Like this gentleman said, it's been four years and you still don't get it. Excuse the hell out of San Diego for not being Bellingham, Washington, and excuse most of our customers for being both non-white and poor. Agents wonder why everyone hates the INS. Richards, you're a big reason why. Let's go, we'll check the Thokmay paperwork, as long as it jibes, we'll close this one out. This is a weird situation, but there's no violations happening." Addressing me, Laurel said, "So, Mr. Thokmay will be employed by you through May?"
"He will," I answered. "There will probably be a gap between the end of his employment with Inana and the start of his new job, but it will be short. If Ngawang has any real issues, he knows he can call me. Hell, I'll move him and his family down here and train him as a gaffer. But I'm not letting them get sent back to Tibet. That would probably be a death sentence, the Chinese would be all kinds of butt-hurt with the Thokmays. How dare they escape their occupied country."
"Thank you for your time, sir." Laurel started heading for the door. At first Hardy didn't move, so Laurel grabbed his arm and pulled. After the door closed behind them, I got up and opened the door quietly, watching them stalk down the hall in silence. They got to the stairway and started down, then Laurel grabbed Hardy and topped him..... And started yelling. I couldn't make out everything that was being said, but I made out chunks of it: ".... think we're all racists, and you're not helping! You.... an easy call, a damn porn studio over one guy.... any justice, you'd lose your job and have to live in Logan Heights for a..... so you'd better start adjusting. I don't like people assuming I'm a damn racist, and you're not going to.... back to Washington. Or better yet, the Northgate crossing in North Dakota. God knows, they'll all be white around there!" Laurel began stomping down the stairs. Hardy followed a moment later, in silence.
That was on Thursday. On Saturday, Jane called me with news. "Ngawang and Pema say the INS visited them yesterday. They thought the job you gave Ngawang was bullshit, that they'd made it up. I'm glad the fucking feds showed up in the evening, Pema called me while the INS assholes were talking to Ngawang. She told the agents that if they wanted to talk to the girl they were tutoring, here she was on the phone. I gave them all my information, assured them the Thokmays were indeed teaching me how to speak conversational Tibetan, Ngawang was an employee of Inana Productions, not a contractor, and his job was guaranteed through May. Assholes. They aren't doing anything wrong, they're the sweetest people you could ever meet. I guess someone, somehow, dropped a dime to the INS and said hey, here's a weird situation with a Tibetan refugee, he's getting a decent paycheck but only works a few hors a week....." Jane trailed off.
"You there?" I asked.
"Yes. Yes, I am," Jane said tightly. "Please hold on one moment, Lenny. I need to speak with my roommate."
The phone was put donw, then I heard Jane saying in a loud and clear voice, "Tell me, cupcake, have you made any calls to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the recent past?"
"I' don't know what you're talking about," came Kaitlyn's snotty voice.
"You are aware, since the phone bill is in my name, that I can request a complete printout of every number dialed from that phone, correct? It would take about a week to arrive. Then, I just cross-check numbers."
Silence. Then Jane's voice said slowly and calmly, "Kaitlyn, it's a yes or no question. I promise you, no matter what your answer, I won't hurt you. But if you remain silent, I will put a beat-down on you that will send you to the hospital ind me to jail. And due to conditions of bail, I'll be locked up for a lot less time than you'll be in an ICU. Capiche?"
Another brief bit of silence, then Kaitlyn's voice saying, "I'm so sick of those weird foreign people coming over here every night! I walk in, and you three are all jibber-jabbering at each other. I think you all just pretend to understand each other!"
I heard Jane laugh. "So, the people of Tibet don't actually have a verbal language, they only pretend to have one? How do Tibetans communicate, through highly complex games of charades?" Then she gathered herself up and stated, "So. You called the INS on my language tutors. Presumably you've eavesdropped enough on our conversations in English to figure out Lenny hired them, Ngawang needing to remain employed so he wouldn't lose his green card. Please explain, what was your end goal? What did you hope to accomplish?"
After a pause Kaitlyn spat, "I wanted them gone! I'm so sick of those weird-faced little brown people in this room! It figures you'd want to learn their weird language, you like anything weird."
Jane stated in a voice of ice, "Let me explain a bit to you, cupcake. If Ngawang and Pema lose their green cards, they get deported back to Tibet." There was a pause, then I heard Kaitlyn say, "Oww...." Jane continued, "If they are returned to Tibet, their lives will be hell. They left Tibet to escape the occupying Chinese. You know the Chinese, right? The Chinese invaded Tibet a while ago, and haven't been very pleasant house guests. If Ngawang and Pema return, they'll be thrown in prison for leaving Tibet without permission. It's questionable...." I heard Kaitlyn mewl in pain again. "... if the Chinese will bother with passing a sentence. They could remain in prison until they die. And given how the Chinese treat prisoners, that wouldn't be as long as you think.
"So, because of your self-centered personality, your racism, and your entitlement, you tried to have a perfectly nice immigrant couple killed, in an indirect way. Aren't you glad Ngawang's employment is not a sham?" Kaitlyn squeaked once more. "Aren't you happy I didn't learn Ngawang and Pema --- and their son --- were at a deportation center? You can't even imagine how angry and upset I'd be. Especially when I learned it was your doing that got them in hot water with INS to begin with. Cupcake, be very relieved none of this transpired.
"Get the fuck out of this room. Go visit with your friends on the third floor. I'll be gone in a half hour, and when I return, I'll be in a better mood, you'll be safe. But the sight of you is making the adrenaline flood into my system right now, and that's very unhealthy. For you."
A couple seconds passed, then there was the sound of a slamming door. Jane finally picked up the phone again. "Did you catch any of that?" she asked.
"All of it," I replied. "Jesus Christ.... She doesn't like the presence of those icky foreign people in the unit, so she tried to have them deported? If she sees a cockroach in the kitchen, does she reach for a shotgun?"
Jane sighed. "To be honest, I'm not as angry as I would like to be. Kaitlyn really can never work out the consequences of her actions. She didn't think at all. Her logic was, 'Well, they're foreign, I know they're here on green cards. They are employed by Jane's friend Lenny, but Lenny makes porn, so obviously there's something crooked about the job. I know, calling the INS and having their employment questioned will get rid of them, somehow.' Total inability to connect the dots, or follow an idea to a final result. With Pema and Ngawang, the final result would be dying in a Chinese prison. Who knows what would happen to their baby."
"Um.... Were you hurting Kaitlyn?"
"I was.... getting a point across. I'd walked up behind her --- she was at her desk --- and grabbed one of her hands by the wrist. And I got a hold of her ring finger and was bending it backwards, with varying degrees of force. I wanted to make sure all her attention was on me."
"So besides being foreign and non-white, what problems does the rich bitch have with your tutors?" I asked.
Jane positively roared in frustration. "I don't know! She's never complained about them, or really said anything, besides a few basic questions, like who they are and why they're here Monday through Thursday. Usually when I have someone over and Kaitlyn doesn't like them, for whatever reason, I'll hear about it when they leave. She's never said a word, she'll work at her desk. The only thing remotely resembling conflict with her and them was one night, she asked if I'd mind doing my tutoring in the hall lounge, so she could watch TV. She was perfectly civil about it, so hey, no problem.
"When she comes back, I'm going to lay it on the line. Ngawang and/or Pema are going to be here four evenings a week until the school year ends. I don't mind occasionally going to the lounge or something, but I'm working ahead on my sophomore year, not socializing, so I'm going to have my tutors in the place I'm paying half for. She can leave.... Hell, I'll have Justin put a headphone jack into the TV. He's a genius with that sort of thing, he's one of those dorks who shops at Radio Shack for fun. But eight or so hours a week, the Thokmay family are a fact of life."
I told Jane, "Rest assured, the INS has had all its questions answered. I know they'll contact me if they're going to make a move on the Thokmays. If they do, I'll bet I can track down an immigration lawyer who eats INS agents like Doritos." Yanking the conversation sharply in a different direction, I asked, "So, how's the new squeeze?"
I could almost hear Jane chewing her lip. "Oh boy. Um, either I'm far more experienced and aggressive, or Kristen is more reserved than she pretended to be. It's been.... Okay. I mean, when the three of us were together, she was pretty into it, right? Either she needs some cock present to get really worked up, or she only gets horny if she's high."
"Well.... You can be pretty damn aggressive. Maybe you've just been rattling her. Don't give up hope."
"Oh, hey! In two weekends I'm coming down there!"
"Really?" I asked.
Jane explained, "It's a three day weekend. I'll fly down Friday afternoon and go home Monday afternoon."
I frowned, looking at the wall calendar. "What's the occasion for Monday off? It's not anything listed on my calendar."
"Oh, God," Jane giggled. "It's a city holiday in Berkeley. I don't remember whit's being marked either. It's Phil Ochs' birthday or something. I know Berkeley has Caesar Chavez's birthday off. Anyway, the school is taking the day off too. I'll call you after I have flight times." She stopped, then started again. "Oh, I keep forgetting to thank you for talking to my geology professor. He's leaving me alone.... Although he will sort of stare at me sometimes. He's probably trying to figure out why I have hired muscle handling my dirty work."
We said our goodbyes and hung up. I went back to the "Duane and Dolly" script I was working on.