Well I’ve finally washed up on the steamy concrete shores of Chisinau (the capital of the much-maligned Republic of Moldova), suffering like most everyone in the brutal August heat (yesterday’s high was 41C), and I realize with much regret that instead of writing about my new adventures and experiences I must now address a number of things from my recent past (in Romania).
Lies, Lies and More Lies
Because I’ve been on the road and never had a chance to activate roaming on my (now dysfunctional) Romanian phone, my enemies have been having a field day, saying whatever they like to the press, unchallenged in every way.
Now that I’ve settled for a bit, perhaps I’ll get a chance to speak to the press and defend myself, but for now I’ll just explain a few things here on the blog and let them stand.
I broke the law and that’s that!
Actually, that’s not how things work, even under the stupid and inane laws of Romania. Of course I vehemently deny the original allegation, that my residency permit lapsed some 7 or 8 years ago, but even taking Immigration’s position, there were still many legal options besides unceremoniously dumping me on the Hungarian border at midnight a few weeks ago.
For one thing, my lawyer had immediately petitioned the authorities to “tolerate” me. That’s the literal translation from Romanian (tolerare) but effectively what it means is that my lawyer (on my behalf) asked the government to review my situation and then decide whether or not I was a criminal or other kind of threat to the well-being of the state of Romania, etc, etc, and if I was not, I could be “tolerated” to keep living in the country.
Despite numerous accusations of slander and calumny against me in the press, the record on this matter is quite fucking clear – I never once broke any law and I never was charged with any offense or was even named in any kind of civil or criminal case, other than the matter of my immigration status, of course.
On the contrary, I spent over 10 years in Romania obeying every rule, crossing the streets on the marked crossing, always traveling on buses and trains with a valid ticket, etc. I also spent over 10 years paying the exorbitant VAT (Romanian: TVA) tax, which started out at 19% and was then increased to 23%, all without receiving a single government service in return. I never got a moment of state-sponsored education, never called police or emergency services for anything, never got a single pill or doctor’s exam from the state health services, never got government assistance for my heating bills, etc, etc.
Furthermore, I also invested my own money in Romanian firms, all of which were registered and legal and stamped and triple stamped, all papers in order and everything on the level.
In other words, I spent 10 years being a model citizen (at least as far as the laws are concerned, we’ll leave my moral turpitude aside for the moment) and paying a shit ton of taxes all without receiving anything in compensation. I never worked a black market (“under the table”) job and furthermore, unlike almost all foreigners in long-term residency in Romania, never hired a Romanian for anything that wasn’t done through the proper and legal channels, with all papers stamped and registered, taxes duly paid, etc.
Immigration could’ve easily (and legally!) accepted my petition for “tolerating” me and then dealt with my so-called overstay or expiration of my residency permit another way. Had they chosen to do so, Immigration could’ve effectively wiped the slate clean, acting as though I had just arrived in the country and given me the chance to apply for a new residency permit, etc. Or, as was more likely, they could’ve made me pay a large fine first and then “reset the clock” and “tolerated” me, etc.
Instead, exactly as I wrote about in my last post, they decided to act as though I were a dangerous terrorist and had to be jumped on in the middle of a downtown street by three police officers and then hauled down to the station to be yelled at and harangued and insulted before being given 10 minutes to pack up my entire life in a couple of suitcases.
You were a criminal in other things, not just the Immigration stuff!
Again, total horseshit. The grand total of my “law breaking” in over 10 years of living in Romania was to once drive a car too fast in the tiny town of Macin. I had a legal driver’s license, the car was legally registered with insurance, etc, and everything was in order except that I had (truly) exceeded the stupidly low speed limit of a minor town in Galati County (judet).
Guess what? I paid the fine on the spot and went on my merry way. That’s the end of that story. As for all the rest of the allegations, everything from me being a drug dealer to a pimp to hustling black market goods, is all a complete and total lie.
Practically every cop in downtown Cluj knew me quite well because of my extensive dealings with the homeless and any journalist or other person can easily ask them if I was ever involved (or even SUSPECTED of being involved!) with any of those things and, as poorly-trained and ignorant as they are, the cops will tell you no way.
Yes, it is true that many of the homeless were gypsies, and many had substance abuse problems, and some of them were involved in other criminal activities, ranging from petty theft to armed robbery. I never had anything to do with that and in fact went to visit one homeless man in jail after he had attempted to rob a money exchange (Romanian: schimb valutar) using his dog, which counts as attempted armed robbery. I never made any excuses for their activities and never condoned them in any way.
I helped every single one of those people on humanitarian grounds and was never involved whatsoever with the seedier aspects of their lifestyles. In June I went out to the city’s shamefully disgusting homeless shelter (buried on the outskirts of town so the residents won’t see what’s going on) and interviewed a woman whose 3-year-old daughter had been badly cut up in a drunken brawl in that self-same shelter. The poor child had required stitches all up her tiny arm because the city’s shelter employs drunken, lazy guards that allow the adult residents to consume rubbing (medicinal) alcohol (Romanian: spirt) and fight each other with knives right in the same room where innocent children are sleeping.
I never brought, transported, supported or otherwise facilitated any of this drug and alcohol abuse or other criminal activities. In fact, I knew these people well enough to know who truly needed help, and what kind of help (sometimes just a winter jacket for a child made all the difference in the world) they needed, and every homeless gypsy in downtown Cluj knows I gave out far more bananas (a source of vitamins and healthy calories) than I ever did cash money.
Ordinary Romanians, on the other hand, usually just doled out cash, never suspecting or caring that these monetary handouts went straight to financing alcohol and/or drugs. Of course not! People just wanted to feel good by “helping” people with a few lei and never bothered to give a shit long enough to find out that maybe that steady stream of cash was actually a huge part of the problem and wasn’t actually helping anyone.
Yes, these homeless people live in a chaotic and swirling world of abuse and illegal or immoral activities but I never once had any intention or desire of living like them, only helping them, as many reputable people (including social workers working for the local government in Cluj) can attest. I worked on helping the homeless be clean, responsible, job-holding people and I find it disgusting and slanderous for anyone to imply that I was ever on a path to emulating their lifestyles when, on the contrary, I was the one in the square making homeless bums wash their hands and try to maintain basic personal sanitary standards.
You were never arrested by Immigration, at least not until the last day!
This came from an interview with the head of Immigration himself. Alas, my internet connection is super slow so I cannot provide the link to the story online in Romanian, but again this is a complete lie.
The very first time Catalin came to arrest me, I deliberately asked him if I was compelled to go with him to the station or whether it was voluntary. He told me in very clear terms that I was being forced to go with him. That right there is an arrest, and every single time I ever dealt with Immigration it was when I was under arrest.
The problem is that (apparently) nobody in Romania understands the definition of arrest, related to the French word for “stop”. Catalin himself explained to me that unless a prosecutor had signed an arrest warrant for me (what in America we would be akin to a “bench warrant”) that it wasn’t an “arrest”. But when a government agent stops your freedom of movement and you are NOT free to leave, that IS what an arrest is.
Legally speaking, every time a cop pulls you over and forces you to wait by the road while they check your papers, that too is an “arrest”. Unlike people who watch TV and think that an “arrest” means handcuffs and being driven to jail, real police officers know exactly what an arrest is. Again, it’s quite simple – if a government agent stops your freedom to move (leave), that’s an “arrest”.
There are legal nuances between a “detention” (what most American cops would call pulling over a car for speeding) and an “arrest” (the handcuffs, etc) but they all amount to the same thing. If you’re not free to leave, you ARE under arrest, even if it lasts for just 60 seconds.
Call it whatever you wish, I never once dealt with Immigration (at least not in the year 2014) in any kind of voluntary capacity. I was thrown into a car with locked doors and my phone was confiscated. When I asked to call my lawyer, I was told I don’t “need one”, which is risible. I wasn’t down in the station joking and laughing (as the head of Immigration claimed), I was locked in an airless room and denied the use of the bathroom and I nearly pissed in my pants. That is a fucking arrest.
In America, they treat immigrants worse than in Romania!
Unbelievably, in the last 45 minutes of my life on Romanian soil, I had to explain to Catalin that this is patently untrue. It never fails to amaze me that a monolingual idiot who has never once been to the United States still feels utterly secure in his conviction that he knows “what it’s like” in the country of my birth.
I was in the back of a police car, lights blazing, siren wailing, and still had the constitutional fortitude to explain to Catalin that no, that is NOT how things are done in America when it comes to immigrants, legal or otherwise. I never mentioned any of this in my last article because I assumed it was just Catalin’s obstreperousness but I’ve received dozens of comments from Romanians all saying the same thing, so now I will elucidate.
To begin with, America is an enormous country, practically as large as all of Europe combined, and so of course there are big differences. Yes, of course, some immigrants in America have been badly mistreated. There are numerous court cases (easily discoverable online if you speak a modicum of English) in which various agencies, including Immigration (now called ICE in America) have been convicted and penalized for mistreating immigrants.
That being said, I know damn well that every legal immigrant to America is explained exactly what the terms and conditions of their visa are, in their own language, and there is none of the bullshit I had to endure.
I walked into Romania in 2004 without anyone saying a word to me, only stamping my passport at the airport. A month or so later my Romanian colleague did EVERYTHING relating to my residency permit, filling out all the paperwork and doing all the speaking, all of it in a language I did not understand whatsoever. The Immigration officer never asked me one question or even looked at me in the face, just glad that two Romanians could speak to each other without bothering with the hassle of speaking English.
I have no fucking clue what was on that paper I signed in 2004 and no copies of it exist anywhere, not the original and not even a faded Xerox of it. Meanwhile you can be damned sure that every immigrant visa in America is scanned, digitized and filed away in case it ever needs to be reviewed or used for something (such as a court case).
Catalin averred that Immigration officers in America only speak the “major” languages. Again, not true.
I was in an airport in the United States a few years ago, waiting to go through passport control, when they called for a Romanian speaker to report to one of the booths. An American woman behind me sniggered, saying out loud, “Who the hell speaks Romanian?” to which I cooly responded, “I do,” effectively shutting her up. A moment later a call came out for a Farsi (a language used in Iran and Afghanistan) speaker to report to another booth. Clearly, Immigration officers in America speak a wide variety of languages, not just the “major” ones.
It’s true that I’ve never sat with an immigrant through an entire court case in America, so I can’t say with certainty what the entire procedure is like. But I have known various immigrants over the years, all of whom had complicated and difficult problems relating to their status, and I am damn sure of one thing – they all had translators, including one who spoke Russian (not a common language used or spoken in America).
As I already wrote about, my translator during my court case was worse than useless, being the worst English speaker I have ever encountered in Romania, assuming we don’t count villagers whom I know who openly state that they don’t speak English, or my cats, who understood a few words but (obviously) can’t speak human languages.
My “translator” was utterly unable to tell me that petitie was “petition” in English, and the judge didn’t give a shit that my “translator” was sitting there silently after a 10-minute question involving a densely legal question about whether or not I sustained a certain petition to the court. Did I fucking sustain the petition or not? To this day, I do not know, and nobody in court with me that day (all of whom spoke better English than the “translator”) could tell me exactly what that petition was supposedly about. The judge just yelled at me to say yes or no and so I shrugged and said “yes” on a guess.
I’ve been in municipal court (the lowest court there is in America) with Mexicans who didn’t speak a word of English and even then they had translation help (from me!), and the only issue at stake was whether or not they had been driving a car too fast.
Meanwhile over in Romania, with my entire life at stake, I was forced to pay 100 lei on the spot to a stupid girl who must’ve learned English from watching cartoons in her spare time, all of this under the fiction that I was getting a “certified translator”. Any court in America, including ones handling thousands of immigration cases per year, would be sanctioned immediately for such unprofessional shit. Over in Romania, of course, it’s just fine and dandy.
Sam, you were immoral and so deserved to be thrown out of Romania!
Well, as I said in my original post, I certainly never claimed to have ever been a saint. But what I do on my own time is entirely my business and nothing I ever did in the public sphere was criminal or even an infraction of basic tort law.
Furthermore, whatever I did on my own time always involved consenting adults, and there isn’t a single person on the planet who will ever tell you otherwise. I’ve got enough charm and personality to satisfy my social needs and I’ve never forced or cajoled anyone into anything. In fact the opposite is true, and due to circumstances and conditions, I’ve usually been the one turning down offers of companionship rather than the other way around.
Secondly, I’m a big believer in letting people just be themselves, which is why I’ve never once gotten into so much as a bar fight, much less anything else dramatic such as breaking up marriages or whatever other nonsense that people like to accuse me of. I don’t even really like loud music, which is why my neighbors always liked me, and I spent most of my free time in my apartment, writing and reading, something that disturbs no one (except the guilty, of course).
I’ve gone to great lengths to protect people’s privacy, which is why it is enumerated in my policies on this blog (you can find it somewhere on the top of the page). If the mayor of Cluj is walking with his family in the park and speaks to me, I won’t even mention it because it was his personal life on his own time. I never use names without permission and never once called out anyone unless they were officials doing something in their official capacity in the public sphere and on the record.
Third, all the appearances I’ve ever done in the media over the past four years, have always been with the intent and purpose of celebrating, promoting and otherwise speaking well about Romania, Romanian culture and the people of Romania. Had I been some kind of jaded critic, always on TV with an easy barb, I could understand the animosity. But all of my media appearances were of no material benefit to me – I never once received a penny for any of it.
About the most commercial activity I ever did was promote my book (Balada Supravietuitorului), and that was mostly for the benefit of my publisher, a small local Cluj company headed by a wonderful man who loves literature and poetry but who is operating in a business that rarely makes a profit.
Our personal agreement (which again, due to my strict moral code, was enshrined in a legal contract registered with the authorities, all taxes paid, etc) was that he gave me about 50 copies of my book to sell (over the past 2 years) to people on an individual basis and that all the other books that were sold through normal channels (see my book page on how to order my books) were for his company’s profit solely.
I say “profit” but in reality, due to the complications and variances of Romanian law, he had to finance a print run out of his own pocket and only if his company sold all the books would he ever get his money back.
I was on TV promoting my book precisely because I wanted HIM to get his money back, not because there was any material gain for me. Through him, I had met many wonderful and skilled Romanian authors, and I remain convinced to this day that it is a criminal shame that these authors are not making any money at all despite their prodigious talents.
If my publisher made a tiny profit on MY book (written mostly out of thanks and gratitude to the wonderful people of Romania than any intention of cash profits for me) then maybe my publisher could afford to print the WONDERFUL books these other authors were writing and so reward them instead of having to tell them once again, “Sorry, your book is amazing but nobody wants to buy it so I can’t pay you a dime”, which is usually the case.
I was on TV and in the newspapers to promote a country and a culture I loved, all without any material benefit to me, and I did it out of the free expression of my heart and not some mercenary intent. That’s the grand total of my life in the public sphere, and the record stands for itself.
What I did in my private life was with the consent of the (adult) parties involved, and the worst thing you’ll ever hear from a person who (actually) knows me is that I was sometimes a drunken asshole, which I will not deny is occasionally true :)
If that makes me an immoral wretch who deserved to be thrown out of Romania, then so be it.
Strategic Lack of Professionalism
A few months ago (but just a couple of posts behind this one), I told the story of how some cops stopped a car and one occupant fled on foot, and how the cops failed to catch him.
As part of my legal defense, I later went to the (regular) police station and filed a statement (in Romanian, as I now speak it) about how I lost my original residency permit card, and while I was up there on the third floor talking to the cops, I told them the story about what I had witnessed and how laughable and stupid the whole thing was. I mean what kind of cops cannot catch a single guy on foot in the middle of their own city?
The room I was in had about six desks and so a bunch of cops were all sitting around doing (mostly) nothing and they heard this story and began asking me questions. One cop (literally!) told me, “Sam, we have strict laws on shooting our guns,” to which I was so taken aback that I almost could not formulate an answer. I had to patiently explain to them that I was not, in any way, suggesting that they gun down a man who might’ve been running simply because he might’ve had an unpaid fine or something.
I could see by the cops’ faces that they literally had no idea of how to stop a fleeing suspect other than firing off their guns, something that stunned me because I knew all of them were graduates of a police academy and/or some kind of university training, because such things are mandatory in Romania.
There are about 10 ways to apprehend a fleeing suspect, none of which require firing bullets, and so I explained some of these strategies to the wide-eyed cops, who had apparently received no training whatsoever on what (to me, at least) would seem to be a basic part of being a police officer. Down at the academy did they really tell these poor souls that every citizen would just humbly submit to a traffic stop or what?
Every taxi in Cluj, and certainly every taxi in every major city in Romania, has a radio in their car that connects to other taxi drivers as well as the central dispatcher (Romanian: dispecerat) at their headquarters. It is true that the city bus drivers don’t have their own individual radios but there is still a central dispatch office that communicates to their big stations and employees there communicate to the bus drivers as they come in.
The only organization lacking radios are the cops themselves, whether that’s the “regular” cops, the traffic cops, Immigration cops or any other kind of cop (in Romania there are about 20 different kinds of police officers). There is no central dispatcher and when a call comes into 112 (equivalent to 911 in America), the person taking the call has to go through a complicated procedure of using a telephone to call someone who then calls (again, with a telephone) the individual officer’s mobile phone, and that is how cops are “dispatched” to a scene.
I told the rapt audience of cops up at the “normal” police station (Sectia 1 on Strada Traian in Cluj, for those of you who know it) that by using radios they could alert other cops in the vicinity, describing the fleeing suspect by how tall he is, what clothes he is wearing, etc, and thus coordinate their cars to easily chase down and apprehend someone trying to run away from them, no guns necessary at all. Even without the use of a central trunk radio system, certainly they could all call each other’s mobile phones and proceed likewise, had anyone ever bothered to give them the training (and motivation) to do so.
The cops all then laughed knowingly and told me that my bizarrely elaborate plan was unfeasible simply because it would involve far too much paperwork involving the approval of gasoline (petrol). If you look in my archives, you’ll find a piece called The Curious Case of Traian Berbeceanu in which the same topic is mentioned, and I now know that, despite my initial incredulousness, it is true. Even the Immigration officers who arrested me had to have their gasoline usage forms approved by their superiors. I saw those (handwritten!) forms myself, so I can aver to its veracity, but still it shocks me.
No Romanian cop, even a “regular” one ostensibly on patrol in the line of service and on regular duties, can just drive around and use gasoline without it being approved in advance by their superiors. I have no idea why gasoline usage is so strictly monitored and rationed in Romania, a land which produces its own petroleum, but so it is. Thousands of billions of trees are cut down each year and processed into paper so that a gazillion handwritten forms approving gasoline usage can be filled out so that cops in the line of duty can drive their shitbox Dacias around while doing their jobs.
Coordinating multiple cars to catch a fleeing suspect would require approval for the use of all that “extra” gasoline and so it never happens. Even if some young and ambitious cops actually tried to perform such a basic strategic maneuver, they’d find their superiors quite angry and so would most likely have to finance the use of all that “extra” gasoline out of their own pockets.
Even if such rigid and stupidly inane rules must be respected, it clearly never occurred to a single police superior (all of whom hold lofty sounding ranks like “Commissar” and other Communist-era titles) that perhaps using bicycles in densely packed cities like Cluj might be a way to get around such limitations. Cops on bicycles in a peaceful city like Cluj, every sidewalk filled with thousands of pedestrians? Inconceivable! Cops walking around on foot with radios? Also inconceivable!
So only a few rattling old Dacia Logans are permitted to respond to pre-approved calls and gasoline usage is kept to an absolute minimum.
Obviously I can see the “risk” of a police department allotting their officers unlimited gasoline because then they would use their cars as a kind of personal taxi, running errands all over town, etc, but the obvious solution to that (especially in 2004) would be using in-car GPS devices, the same way that trucking fleets all over Europe currently do. But of course that’s far too sophisticated (and “expensive”) a strategy for the Communist dinosaurs in the higher echelons to conceive of, much less implement, despite what (I am assuming) would be enormous cost savings especially compared to the current strategy of using mountains of useless paperwork, etc, etc, et al.
The cops up at the station told me that their particular strategy, should they have been the ones in the unfortunate position of having an occupant of a vehicle get away, would be to yell at (and probably beat up, if necessary) the remaining occupants of the vehicle until they “confessed” where the runner had gone to and then go pick him up later at their leisure. Or, since all Romanians are still required by Communist-era law to have “official” residences, simply knowing the full name of a suspect is good enough because they can easily find him, or at least someone who can be (easily) intimidated into telling the cops where to find him.
Later, as I sat in the back of the police car while under escort to the Hungarian border, I explained this to the perennially lying and shifty Catalin, who dismissed my valid criticisms of the lack of basic police skills in Romania. He then scoffed and told me their own car had a radio. He instructed his flunky to open up the dashboard (proper Romanian: torpedo) and showed me an ancient Motorola radio buried under a mountain of papers and random trash.
The radio was unplugged and yet Catalin told me it could be switched on when it was “necessary”. I asked him what the point of a radio was if it was never turned on and so they had no idea of a fellow officer was in need of assistance, etc, and he then began to arrogantly tell me that of course that wasn’t their problem and that the radios were only to be used for some specific, unnamed purpose that apparently never occurred too often as the radio was dusty with wires trailing out of it and lay buried underneath a ton of gum wrappers and other debris.
In other words, fuck the using of radios, the only thing that mattered was that they technically had one.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is called “professionalism” by cops in Romania, especially cops receiving a higher rate of pay (and status) because they work for Immigration, not the lowly “regular” police department, and are theoretically bilingual in the only two “major” languages that count, French and English, as part of their “job”, which mostly seems to be involving harassing and cursing at Syrian and Iraqi war refugees or other poor souls from desperately impoverished countries like Tunisia or Morocco coming to Romania for a chance at a better life.
These ignorant fucks from Romanian Immigration, instead of coming to my house, or speaking to my lawyer, or communicating in writing, or doing anything else remotely resembling professionalism, were instead cackling at having assaulted me in broad daylight on a public street and then spending the next eight hours yelling at me in insulted tones as though I were a child molester instead of someone who (allegedly) violated some minor immigration paperwork regulations.
I’m giving this one its own heading simply because it illustrates so perfectly just how useless and stupid and unprofessional the Immigration cops were.
At some point during my last day, when I was (most definitely) under arrest and sweating my ass off in an explosively hot office in the basement of Iulius Mall, Catalin pulled out a pair of handcuffs right in front of my lawyer. My lawyer, god bless her, immediately began to protest and asked him what the hell the cuffs were for when I was surrounded by about 10 Immigration officers in a locked office and had never once been violent or (physically) resistive in any way.
Catalin just smirked and said he would have to handcuff me at some point in the future due to procedures. I was their prisoner and would have to be photographed and fingerprinted (why this was so, nobody could explain) and so it was mandatory that I be handcuffed while in transit so as not to escape, etc. I have to confess I believed Catalin’s lie myself, as American cops (and British, etc, members of truly professional organizations) actually do have procedures about transporting prisoners and yes, putting handcuffs on even peaceful prisoners is sometimes required.
But here’s the catch – Catalin never put the handcuffs on me. All he did was wave them around in front of my lawyer and talk a lot of bullshit about how it was all “necessary”. But if it was necessary due to procedure then why didn’t he ever put them on me? Why so much bravado and braggadocio when clearly none of it was necessary in the slightest?
I’ve thought long and hard about it over the past few weeks and it’s clear that there’s only one conclusion – he never handcuffed me because he didn’t know how to do it. I know that on TV it looks really simple to handcuff people. You just tell the suspect to put his hands behind his back and “slap on” the cuffs. Some people I know even use handcuffs as part of their recreational activities that they enjoy in bed (or other places) with other consenting adults.
But in real life handcuffing a prisoner is quite difficult. Real handcuffs are designed to move in one direction, i.e. becoming smaller (encircling your wrists), and this can become incredibly painful and injurious if you don’t know what you’re doing. Once handcuffs are around someone’s wrists, you have to use a key to “lock” them so that they don’t continue to become smaller and injure the prisoner.
Of course you also have to put handcuffs not on one wrist but two. If the prisoner is docile and meekly puts his hands behind his back, it’s not that difficult to put both cuffs on and lock them in position. But if a prisoner resists or is combative, maybe you will wrench their arm out of position and injure them in the process. Or maybe the cop will get one handcuff on and the other one not and suddenly the prisoner has a heavy steel weapon to whip around and injure the cop with.
It’s a tricky business handcuffing people and, of course, this is why real professional cops spend a lot of time training how to do it.
I suspect that Romanian cops receive little to no training on how to handcuff people, and that Immigration cops, used to desperately poor and thus meek people, never practice handcuffing people at all. Some skinny bastard from Somalia who is trying to get his paperwork in order to study at a Romanian university is not going to need handcuffing too often, is my guess.
But Catalin knew damn well that I was a horse of a different color. For one thing, I actually speak Romanian and so I could respond to his stupid insults with retorts of my own. Secondly, he was obviously afraid and intimidated by me, and probably guessed (rightly so) that I would laugh at him and mock him for not putting the cuffs on properly, literally one of the most basic policing skills in existence.
After filling out paperwork, I really cannot conceive of something more basic to being a police officer than arresting someone with handcuffs.
Third, Catalin was enough of a coward that he probably genuinely feared I would be combative and fight him. At one point during the drive to the Hungarian border, his older companion started jibing me about how I was “afraid” of them and I challenged them to pull the fucking car over and let us duke it out right there on the spot, me versus the three of them.
Of course they didn’t do that and of course I am not so stupid as to think that fighting a police officer would serve any purpose whatsoever. Nonetheless, the completely afraid and cowardly Catalin was practically shaking with fear the one time we stopped at a remote gas station in Bihor County when I bought a water and almost stepped out of his sight for one second, my passport in his possession, my worldly belongings locked in the trunk of their car, because there was an outside chance (in his feeble mind) that I might turn and run for it, disappearing over the horizon as they hurriedly scrambled to use their mobile phones to coordinate capturing a fleeing suspect, something they’d never done in their entire fucking careers.
Even unto the last mile
And so, even without a camera or journalist in sight, with no witnesses but myself, the Immigration “cops” and the Creator up above, I used my last few precious moments in Romania to educate and instruct these untrained officers on the basic points of etiquette, professionalism and common courtesy.
I had to remind them on numerous occasions that, even assuming all assertions in evidence were true, i.e. that I was a flagrant criminal and breaker of immigration laws minor and major, that even so, a proper professional working in a professional capacity as a representative of the law should not take all of this so goddamn personally, that there was no call for insults and jibes, that nobody’s children had been molested, that no one’s property had been stolen, that no one had been assaulted or injured and that the entire thing was a modern farce involving arbitrary territorial limits assigned (in the case of Transylvania, where this whole story took place) by white-wigged old farts in a palace in Vienna, Austria almost 100 years earlier, and that at most, should all points of law being taken to disfavor me, that essentially what we were dealing with was a paperwork issue.
I literally had to school these Immigration cops that they were hired to do a job, and that job was just a job, a series of specialized tasks that they were “trained” to do in compensation for a specified salary, and that one day their careers might go a different direction, and that whether or not a certain immigrant, be he a dusky foreigner struggling to speak even basic English or French or whether he be fluent in the sharp argot of Romanian gypsies, was just a human being, same as anyone else, and that the difference between a legal immigrant and an illegal one was just a matter of some fucking pieces of paper and nothing more.
I further elucidated on the vagaries of history and ethnicity, and how certain ethnic Romanians had been caught “behind the lines” in various places such as Cernauti (Ukraine) and even unto some small villages in (modern day) Hungary, and how based upon this claim of kinship and blood that they had received papers from the Romanian government while I, who came to love the culture and the language and the food and the land as an adult, was denied such papers simply because my mother wasn’t an “ethnic” Romanian and gave birth to me on a different patch of land, and that all of us were equal as human beings, and that only modern temporalities concerning sovereignty and international treaties makes such a big distinction between one person and the other.
And last, but of course not least, I refreshed the Immigration cops on all of the good things I had done for Romania, both minor and major, writing books, appearing on television, helping the less fortunate, inspiring others, cleaning trash from the streets and roadsides, coaching small businesses, investing my meager funds in Romanian start-ups, paying taxes and fees above and beyond what was necessary, and asked whether any of them (the Immigration cops) had done even half as much for their own country, and whether or not I was, after all, truly more Romanian than they, no matter what a piece of paper said.
If you’ve ever been to Romania or know how Romanians think, you can guess at their answer, which was to shrug their shoulders and resignedly agree with me that yes I had done much good for their own country (while they had done nothing) but nonetheless the dead hand of some stupid law was what mattered most, and that all four of us had to suffer through a long, hot drive after normal work hours in order to enforce some bureaucratic nonsense conceived and designed in far-off Bucharest by politicians that not one of us would even bother to piss on if their clothes caught on fire and they were in danger of burning to death.
And then, literally on the last inch of Romanian soil, as I prepared to shuffle my luggage over the line into Hungary, I took the initiative and forced them to be civilized and decent people, shaking the hands of two of them freely and normally, wishing them a safe drive back to Cluj, and grabbing the reticent hand of the third and looking him in the eye and telling him to be a man for once in his pitiful cocksucking life and not let circumstances of personal feelings get in the way of doing his job correctly and professionally, if not ever again then at least this one last final time, escorting the only Romanian speaking “illegal immigrant” out of the country that he will ever meet, and wishing him much luck and success in the rest of his career stamping papers while deciding the fates of lost and wayward souls from impoverished far away countries where he would not survive for even a second should circumstances ever reverse the situations and it be he who was lost and alone in their chaotic homelands, and god help him if he failed to adhere to even one tiny term of complicated legal documents written in a language he couldn’t even speak.
So yeah, that’s how my adventures in Romania ended, and that’s why my head is held high and I apologize for nothing, because even unto the last mile I continued my mission, which was to make a great country even greater.
And while there was no benefit to me personally, maybe the next poor immigrant that meets these clueless idiots will receive better treatment, or at least more professional courtesy and conduct, and for me that makes it all worth it.