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Assimilation 101:
Blending in by Living Large

BY RICH HERSCHLAG
05.04.2006 | CULTURE

Even as the debate on immigration takes to the streets and drags on in both houses of Congress, it's business as usual in California vineyards and Wisconsin Wal-Marts. Arguing over how or when to close the barn door after the horse escapes is a fine art long ago perfected by grandstanding Republicans and pandering Democrats. Clearly, a nation that can barely connect a trailer with a Katrina victim will never have the resolve, wherewithal, or manpower to identify, process, and keep tabs on more than 10 million illegal immigrants -- much less stop the next 10 million -- no matter what Bill Frist and Harry Reid's aides slap together under duress.

As The New Republic rightly, or leftly, pointed out however, the real issue gnawing at most Americans is one of identity. After decades of butchering the King's English, people here fear this latest wave of immigrants won't contribute further to the carnage. Worse still, they may opt not to participate in a wide variety of reality shows. And that is why some version of the McCain-Kennedy bill -- specifically the provision about becoming an American citizen in 11 years -- is likely our best bet to perpetuate the melting pot. Think you can be one of us? It's going to take more than waving Old Glory at a boycott. Here's some advice.

Learn to speed up when someone signals to get into your lane. When they finally give up and slow down, slow down with them. Your country is calling. If the car ahead of you in the middle lane is doing the speed limit, overcome the temptation to pass him on the right or left and proceed to tailgate from a distance not to exceed eight feet. Should the driver decide eventually to change lanes, you must do the same and continue tailgating. If you are a trucker, tradition dictates you hunt for compact cars, hit your brights, and sit on their rear bumper for as many exits as possible. Should your potential road kill choose finally to get off at an exit while you are running late to a paintball tournament, be aware that in this great land of ours, it is considered a social obligation to extend your middle finger as a symbol of universal brotherhood.

Don't just consume. Consume conspicuously. Make sure you have at least four non-working VHS players and three barely used DVD players in your basement, or you may face immediate deportation. We don't care what you drive -- so long as it helps fuel turmoil in the Middle East, melts permafrost, and allows you to look down into four-door sedans. Spend what you earn plus five percent. Always be on the lookout for a new line of credit. Take out loans to pay off loans. Get a mortgage. Then a reverse mortgage. Now watch them slug it out. Buy bigger properties to warehouse things you can't afford. Your additions should have additions. But we warn you -- as you climb the economic ladder, things could get complicated. You will be required to hire people like yourselves and then complain about them.

Though we represent only about 4 percent of the Earth's population, we are a proud people who consume about 25 percent of the Earth's fossil fuels. Once you are here, you will have to pull your own weight. Drive your Navigator down the block to visit your neighbor's hot tub. Air-condition your three-car garage. Cut the 85 square feet of grass in front of your house with a ride mower. Every little bit helps. Homesick yet? You may visit your native country from time to time, but only as an American tourist staying at a Club Med.

Whore it up for a dozen years and become a mass consumer of condoms, diaphragms, IUDs, and morning-after pills. When the fun runs out, switch over to the evangelical side and admonish those who enjoy an occasional night on the town. Put yourself on Zoloft, Prozac, BuSpar, Valium, OxyContin, and Percocet. Put the kids on Ritalin. Put your husband on Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, and Enzyte. Then take him off.

Daughters should be bulimic, anorexic, self-mutilating, cell phone-carrying, iPod-wearing, BlackBerry-poking, Aeropostale-shopping headcases hooking up with 58-year-old meatpackers on the net. Sons should be web porn-addicted, steroid-shooting, crystal meth-smoking, GHB-dropping, school massacre-planning gangbangers whiling away their spare hours playing Grand Theft Auto and hacking into the Office of Homeland Security database.

Shoot BOTOX till you are mistaken for Felicity Huffman. Spend 30 hours a week watching poker on television and zero hours a week helping your kids with their homework. Watch five consecutive hours of cable news shows on disappearing teens in Aruba while having no idea where your own children are. Closely follow the careers of American Idol finalists. Talk on the cell while the lady at the supermarket rings up your order. Do not, we repeat, do not moderate your voice as you describe to your Pilates instructor the gory details of your LASIK surgery and liposuction procedure. Buy designer underwear for your dog.

Learn to read. It will help you figure out how to deduct the new Sunfish on your 1040. But please, no book reading. All you will ever need to know about history, science, literature, and the arts is contained in the Sunday Parade insert. You may already know all about the Spanish-American war, but that won't be on the test. However, please familiarize yourself with Tori Spelling's resume, particularly during and just prior to Beverly Hills 90210.

Politically, be uninformed and vaguely in the middle. Base your answers to presidential job-approval poll questions purely on the price of gas and how your 401(k) is doing. You don't have to know who the Vice President of the United States is. Eighty-three percent of us don't know either. You are, however, required to know who Paris Hilton is sleeping with and whether Tom Cruise's kid will be raised a Scientologist. And although you will have the right to vote, actually using it is considered un-American. In short, be a swing voter who doesn't vote.

It is no longer enough to be merely ugly. From here on in, you must be an ugly American. As a naturalized citizen, more is naturally expected of you. But fear not -- 11 years is a long time. Long enough to get bigger sleeves to wear your religion, morality, and equity. We know you can do it. We did. As your portfolio matures, so will your tastes and outlook. And one day, if you work really hard and all goes according to plan, you'll be so assimilated, you'll join the Minutemen.

About the Author
Rich Herschlag is the author of a new book, Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times Into Home Runs (HCI, 2007). His other books include Lay Low and Don't Make the Big Mistake (Simon & Schuster, 1997) and Women Are From Manhattan, Men Are From Brooklyn (Black Maverick, 2002).

Also an engineer, he runs a consulting business, Turnkey Structural, that specializes in the rehabilitation of residential and commercial buildings. Also a radio commentator, he can be visited at RichsRant.com.

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