the diary thing 
A CHILLY AUTUMN FRIDAY AFTERNOON and I'm in the cavernous atrium at Viljo Revell's Scandinavian modern New City Hall, waiting in line to apply for a marriage licence. It's an all-purpose line-up, where you can apply for birth certificates, change-of-name forms, real estate registrations and information on property tax rolls. At the front of the line, a clerk is trying to help a middle-aged African man with a birth registration form. I'm behind a sharply-dressed Chinese woman, all in black, waiting to pick up forms for her marriage licence and Declaration of Foreign Divorce, and a nervous couple who might be Filipino except that they're definitely not speaking Tagalog. 

At the big table to my right, where you can examine records from the library of municipal tax rolls, two middle-eastern/Arab-looking young men are quietly waiting. One of them is applying for some paperwork, the other has obviously accompanied him, probably to help with interpreting, much like the man sitting across from them, a garrulous and impatient man who's acting as translator/moral support for the Filipino(? Malay? Indonesian? Damn but they definitely look Filipino) couple; the informal network of immigrant support, recognizable in any modern city where a formidable bureaucracy has grown up around every hurdle in the paper trail of modern life.

I'm surreptitiously looking over the two young men when I realize what I'm doing, and I'm briefly ashamed. I'm wondering if I'm looking at a prospective Mohammed Atta and protege, doing their best to fade into the multi-hued wallpaper of western city life. "Are their papers forged?" whispers a half-formed thought. "Are they biding their time in some new identities they picked up on the international black market of names?" Just as quickly as I realize what I'm thinking, I feel awful.

"The mere apprehension of an approaching evil has put many into a situation of utmost danger."
- Lucan

Look, I'm not proud of what I'm admitting here. I hope it goes away, soon. This is the kind of corrosive side-effect of fear that means that they've won, that the best of the world we've spent our lives building can be turned to junk.

Until this month, I probably wouldn't have noticed them. Even a few weeks after Sept. 11th, I wouldn't have allowed such a suspicion any chance of fertile ground. But, news junkie that I am, I've been reading everything available, sitting through the almost endless PBS Frontline documentaries attempting to supply the curious with a context for an anxious new world, and the seeds of fear have, perhaps inevitably, found soil enough to germinate. 

According to some intelligence experts, Canada is an attractive destination for international terrorists because of our liberal immigration laws, and a low-key society that discourages suspicion of the newcomers that, as everyone here knows, make our somewhat chilly, insecure country livable. According to the right-wing press, it's these perniciously liberal laws -- and the governments that wrote them -- who made us as culpable as the Taliban from the moment the first airliner hit the first tower. There's real irony in the thought that a terrorist would be attracted to exactly the kind of society he wants to destroy. There's a darker irony that some people want to dismantle that society in the name of protecting it. This kind of irony I can live without.

I'm sure these young men have become used to the hairy eyeball, have developed a blandly silent manner in public, in the hopes of attracting no more attention than necessary, regardless of my incipient paranoia. Of course, it's all to likely that one of them is here for the same reason I am, weeks away from a wedding, faintly amazed that it costs $110 for this bit of paperwork (it was only $60 three years ago when Dennis and Andrea got married, $40 a decade ago when Dave married Sylvie), vaguely aware of a newfound tightening of the stomach when he realizes that this bit of paper means they're as good as hitched, except for the formal repetition of a few words. I probably have more in common with him than my newfound anxiety will allow, and this, in a nutshell, is how my world has changed since Sept. 11th. 

writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
...the past
back to diary index
send me mail
the future...