“We’ll laugh at this all someday,” I told myself, turning around just after an epic game of “just the tip” with Canada this past Friday night, waiting in the long line of cars to get back into the United States after spending a little over an hour in our neighbor to the north, unable to gain access to one of the friendliest nations in the world.
Those of you who follow me on Twitter and befriend me on Facebook have asked me at least a dozen times to tell the story of why I wasn’t allowed in Canada, unable to attend my own autograph signing at the Vagabond Saints shoppe in Hamilton, Ontario this past Saturday like I’d been advertising for weeks. Well, now you’ll get the straight poop.
I rented a car for the drive from New Haven to Hamilton, which is a seven hour trip without traffic. There was traffic on my trip, making the drive up there more like nine hours. But that’s OK. I expected it. When I finally got to the border, where I would only have another forty-five minute drive to my hotel, I was stopped and asked some simple questions.
“Do you have any drugs or firearms?”
No. I did not.
“What do you plan on doing in Canada?”
I was visiting with some friends, so that’s what I told him.
“Is this your first time in Canada?”
It was, so I answered as such.
Since I was a Canadian virgin, I was told to drive into a parking lot, turn my engine off, and wait for a customs officer, being that this was my first visit. My car was going to be searched, and I was OK with it. It was a rental, and all I brought was clothes. Oh, and one other thing, but that will come into play soon enough.
The search was standard. The customs agent conducting the search asked the same questions, to which I gave the same answers. I had no guns or drugs, and I drove up to see some friends. I sat on a bench while two men went through my stuff. Then they found it, the contraband that would lead to my dismissal from their country.
“Who’s Budgie Bigelow?” Agent Ass-face asked.
“That’s me,” I replied. “I’m Budgie Bigelow.”
“You’re passport and ID have a different name on them,” Agent Ass-face continued.
“Budgie Bigelow is my pen name,” I said.
“What’s a pen name?” Agent ass-face asked.
I swear to God, both American and Canadian Gods, that he asked that. I don’t know if he really didn’t know what a pen name is or if he was trying to lead me to say something else. I’ll keep this short, but I explained what a pen name is and how I write and post my books online. He asked what kind of books they were, and I told him fiction and which genres with which I prefer to write. I still have no idea why any of this was pertinent to my visit in his country.
”What are the covers for?” Agent Ass-face asked.
“I’m going to sign them at my friend’s shoppe,” I replied. I was forthcoming with any information they wanted. I hadn’t lied, and I felt I had no need to. Unfortunately, this was somehow interpreted as hostile.
“Unlock your cellphone and hand it to me,” Agent Ass-face requested.
“Why do you need my phone?” I asked.
“I just need to check it for child porn and beastiality porn,” Agent Ass-face said. “It’s illegal in Canada.”
Don’t ask me the logic behind that. Maybe he somehow thinks those things are legal in America and I didn’t know Canadians don’t stand for that kind of sick shit.
But I did as requested. I have no child or beastiality porn on my phone, so what’s there to hide? But that’s not what he wanted. He immediately went through my text messages and my other messaging apps, reading my conversations, honing in on one in particular about my autograph signing at Vagabond Saints and some information about the crossing.
“You’re going to have to come inside and take a seat,” I was informed.
Most of the rest of this process was pretty boring. I sat in a large room, waiting for them to make their decision on whether or not I was fit to come into Canada. The longer I sat, the less optimistic I became. There was a woman who wasn’t as rude as Agent Ass-face who asked me the same questions over and over again, even asking what my books were about. I sure hope she decided to download one… Then I was asked to sit once more and wait. All the while, I could hear my phone dinging as she held it, my friends no doubt asking where the hell I was. I had background checks done on both myself and Budgie Bigelow. The hits on my site from Canada will backup how many times they clicked around my site.
Finally, after all this waiting, I was informed that I would not be allowed to enter Canada at this time. I made one last ditch effort, telling them how I already paid and booked my hotel, got my rent-a-car, and drove all the way up here, etcetera. A second woman, let’s call her Little Lady Hitler, came up behind the nicer woman and went on a rant.
“You lied about why you want to come in here!” Little Lady Hitler spat.
“I didn’t lie,” I said, calmly.
“You lied by omission when you refused to tell us of the autograph signing,” Little Lady Hitler replied. “I’m well within my rights to throw you in a cell to await a hearing, and your hearing won’t be until Monday. So unless you want to spend your weekend in a cell, you better get into your car, turn around, and go back. And if you try to cross again in the next month, I will have you detained.”
I wanted so bad to shit-talk her into oblivion. I almost did make a Hitler comment, but I decided it best not to spend the weekend in the cell that had been threatened. In hindsight, a “Budgie spent the weekend in Canadian jail” would have been a better headline than “Too Hot for Canada”. But I still don’t think it would have been worth it. Maybe next time…
So I signed the papers, declaring that I withdraw my application to enter Canada, put my preverbal tail between my legs, and left, getting one last razz by one of Agent Ass-face’s cohorts. “Looks like it’s not happening,” he said, making sure I got in my car, driving it toward America instead of their super-awesome country. It might be super-awesome anyway. It’s not like I ever found out.
So that’s it, my adventure to almost-Canada. Everyone I was due to meet were nice enough to make the crossing into America to see me instead when they realized I wasn’t joking about being turned back. It took them a while to get into America, I was exhausted when we we out, and my banishment was the topic of discussion, but I had a really good time. The trip wasn’t a total loss.
But I learned my lesson: Canada hates independent American writers just trying to make a name for themselves.