Most embassies in Buenos Aires are of the ornate style, in antique Spanish or French Colonial architecture, with grand verandas and beautifully manicured lawns. Although it stands among the beautiful parks and darkened forests of Palermo in the center of the park district, the beauty of the American Embassy in Buenos Aires is different than the rest.
More from a rational design, the grey concrete walls and rod iron gates actually make me forget beauty for a moment as fear from power exude the concrete pours of the fortress walls and the images of empire, destruction, car bombs, and mutilated bodies of Vietnamese teenagers flash through my head. It's a shame that the media has shaped my view of our country abroad in such a way, that when I see our embassy, I associate violence.
If American significance isn’t demonstrated clearly enough to me with the concrete fortress in the middle of the city, the plethora of Argentines waiting in line for the chance to enter the embassy to pay almost two hundred dollars for a short-term visa in order that they can bring their family to Disney World should do the trick.
But I forget about Mickey and as an American I pass the queue. I walk up to a black window. I’m not sure if there is a person there; it’s totally obscured. I hesitate until I see a sign that says ACS, AMERICAN CITIZEN SERVICES. Hoping for a response while fearing a negative one, I pass my passport under the black window. I fear the secret service will come out for me, and when they don’t and the faceless man lets me pass through the thick prison like doors, I fear they are waiting for me through each subsequent security door.
After security takes my brand new liter and a half of Villavicencio fizzy water, I walk through the yard where I am directed at each junction by a different privately contracted security guard. There are magnolia trees that are flowering. The flowers are big and white and the thick green grass reminds me of the thickness of the St. Augustine grass of Florida. I am given a number to wait and I enter the waiting room with the white walls and blue plastic chairs.
The efficiency feels good to me. No pushing. No utter confusion. No having to ask thirteen thousand different people the same question. No receiving different answers. Just good ole American efficiency.
But then the efficiency reminds me of jail and the thought of the secret service men enters my head again. When I finally give the passport to the cold-faced woman behind the glass I expect a cold response and the pressing of a secret button to tell those agents, the ones hidden somewhere in the finely tuned belly of the American Embassy, that I have arrived.
I get a cold response but no button. And she guides me to the next step of the Passport Renewal Process--a step that the American Government has perfected—payment. After I pay, I sit back down and I think, this is just a really nice big DMV. And then I look at the pictures on the walls: Mt Rushmore, The Grand Canyon, a guy with a surfboard, and little kids in really nice new soccer uniforms fighting for a ball.
America, my home, where are you? In the pictures on the sterile wall? Are these my memories displayed on the wall like a museum? Have I transported myself inside my own brain to look at my own memories? No, I never played soccer. Maybe these are another American’s memories. But they are so close to my own that I am convinced they are mine.
What are you to me, the United States of America? Grand Canyon road trips, beer, and titty dancers. My dead grandparents and the lives that they spent in your machine. Clashes with the law. My shitty dead-end jobs. My preoccupation. Things: My dad’s Carrera, my mother’s Zavorsky crystals, and my sister’s new red sports car.
Am I searching for you? Those beautifully comfortable car rides with the cold AC. Sleeping on the couch of my mother’s before the TV has been shut off. Lazy days of nothingness, of fucking TV nothingness. Fading memories of adolescent fornication save me now.
Do I hate you like an adolescent teenager hates his parents? Is that what this is all about? Coming of age until I get a little older and realize how immature I've been. Or am I a teenage runaway, lost and waiting for someone more knowledgeable to carry me back to my home?