A Chip Off The Back
By Mel Goldberg
“Take your shirt off, lie down on the towel, and stretch your arms out above your head. Put a piece of it in your mouth. This is going to hurt like hell.”
“Can’t you give me something? An aspirin, maybe?”
“Don’t be silly, man. I’m a cutter. You think I’m a doctor or something?”
I had traveled from Tucson to the Zar hotel on the outskirts of Culiacan in Mexican state of Sinaloa. Until I came here at the insistence of my Uncle Gregory, who had traveled here many times on business, I had never heard of the town of Culiacan. My uncle told me this town was well-known for the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the world’s most powerful drug trafficking, money laundering, and organized crime syndicates, with operations mostly in northern Mexican states. He was here under the protection of cartel lieutenant Joaquín Guzmán, whose uncle, Avilés Pérez, had pioneered the use of aircraft to smuggle drugs to the United States. Guzman, known as El Chapo, also had no love for the United States.
With my girlfriend, Nancy, we followed U. S. Interstate 10 from Tucson south to Nogales, the only highway in the United States marked in kilometers. We crossed the border, picked up Mexican Highway 15 for a day through Hermosillo and Ciudad Obregon, and stopped for the night in Navajoa. Another half a day brought us past Los Mochis to the outskirts of Culiacan and the hotel, just off the main highway.
I must have slept the last few hours on the road until Nancy stopped the car and said, “We’re here.”
The hotel had a large open foyer with a tile floor. The desk clerk nodded at us and Nancy said something to him in Spanish. He pointed to the stairs and we went up to a room on the second floor. Nancy speaks decent Spanish but I only know how to say buenos dias and gracias.
We entered the tile-floored room. Nancy understood what I was about to go through because she had done this herself about a year ago.
I held her hand. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“I couldn’t let you go through this by yourself.” She pointed to a man standing by the bed in the room. “This is Al.”
Al nodded and didn’t give his last name. Shorter then I am, he stood about five feet eight and wore surgical gloves and a face mask around his neck. He told me to go into the bathroom and lie down on the white towel he had set there on top of a plastic sheet. Al had a three-day growth of beard and seemed normal in every way except one. He had only one earlobe. It’s not that it was small and attached to his head like some people. The scar at the bottom of his right ear told me his lobe had been surgically removed.
I did what he said. He kneeled next to me and I saw him take a scalpel-like tool from his bag and something that looked like a pair of stainless steel pliers with a curved tip.
“What’s that for?” I pointed at the evil-looking tool.
He slipped the mask over his nose and mouth. “You don’t want me to stick my fingers in the cut, do you? Don’t worry. They’re sterilized. Just lay still. I’m doing this as a favor to your uncle. He thinks you’re worth my efforts. The man’s a hero in my book. He seems to think you’re cool. Just lay as still as you can.”
Nancy stood in the doorway. “Be brave. It’ll be over before you know it.”
I saw the tears in her eyes as she turned away.
I felt something cold being rubbed on the back of my shoulder just above my shoulder blade and then a little pressure. Then the pain. I bit the towel and tried to muffle my shriek. I’ve had pain before, like the time I got punched in the nose in a high school fight. Or the time I got a big wood splinter under my fingernail. I could see it and my finger throbbed. When my mother pulled it out, the pain subsided. That’s what most pain is like. It starts out strong and lasts for a few seconds and then gets less. This one was different. It didn’t subside. It was a continuous screaming pain. I could feel his fingers stretching the sides of the cut and then the cold pliers being inserted. It seemed like hours. I kept gasping for breath like I had jumped into ice cold water. I breathed hard and tears streamed from my eyes. I could feel a trickle of warm liquid running under my armpit. My blood. Wanting an end to the pain, I would have welcomed death.
“Got it,” Al announced. “You’re free.”
I could feel him pulling the sides of the cut together and he said he would hold them with butterfly bandages. The pain subsided finally. He used some soap and water to wash the blood and stuff from my back and sprayed something cold. It stung but not as bad as the cutting.
“You can sit up now. Look at this.”
I raised myself on one elbow and wiped my face with my hand and looked at the bloody towel beneath me. He showed me the tracking chip smaller than the size of a dime and I knew freedom for the first time in my twenty-five years. The government would never know where I went or what I did. “Damn. How’d they get all my information in that little thing?”
“Little? This is one of the big ones. The newer ones are smaller than the head of a pin. I have to use a magnifier to get them out.”
I had my uncle Gregory to thank for getting me to this hotel. He had become one of the growing number of the over-forties who’d had his chip removed.
He wrote editorials against those he called immoral criminals who implanted tracking chips in the new-born in an attempt to monitor behavior and activities as they grew up. He believed that if the government continued unchecked, one day people would have no freedom and the chips would be used control people, not just to monitor them. The Neo-Con government called it security and passed The Safety and Security Act in 2017, part of the revised Patriot Act, which required every newborn to have a tracking chip implanted along with a social security number tattooed on the bottom of one foot. It worked because they lied to people, and convinced enough of them with propaganda to give up a little freedom for safety and welfare. They quoted former President Obama who had said people could not have 100% freedom and 100% safety.
The move toward this Draconian security started just after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001. The security panic was increased with each terrorist attack until the 2013 bombings in Boston. When people discovered that all phone calls and internet sites had been monitored by the government for years, the majority of the people didn’t seem to care. They believed that having the government gather intelligence had not affected their lives significantly. When some protested, they were soon silenced by the majority. And most protests were short lived. People were more worried about having jobs, paying mortgages, and buying food.
After the elections of 2016, the Supreme Court, which had granted person status to corporations, ruled on the legality of requiring everyone to have a chip implanted as part of the Affordable Care Act to aid medical record keeping. Tourists were fitted with tamper-proof removable microchips which broadcast their whereabouts at all times and rendered them unconscious three days after their visas expired.
With my implanted chip, the government had tracked my every move for twenty-five years. The chip carried more than my medical history. It had my complete identification and a tracking device with enhanced GPS. People sitting at a bank of monitors could tell where I was, where everyone was at any moment and what they were doing. They knew where I went to college, what grades I had earned, where I traveled. They knew when I went to the store and probably what I bought. I think they even knew when I used the toilet. They knew I was here. Now they knew the location of this house, but since it was in Mexico, there was nothing they could do except kill us all, which would cause an international uproar.
The cutter picked up the towel and the plastic sheet. He put the towel and the plastic sheet in his bag with his tools. It was easy to wipe the small amount of blood from the tile floor, so there would be no trace of this activity. But because every tracking chip had to be accounted for, he would later re-implant it in a dog or cat. I heard a few had been re-implanted in rats.
When I sat up, Nancy came into the room, took my hand, and led me to the bed. A few years younger than me, she wore a tank top and had a tattoo on her back which made her scar almost invisible unless you looked closely. She kissed me tenderly on the lips. I started to get aroused in spite of the pain. She smiled, smoothed my hair, and put her cool hand on my cheek. She held my hands and whispered, “Happy Birthday.”
Then she pointed to the raw, butterfly-bandaged cut on my back. “This needs to be covered, don’t you think?”
“Don’t have any bandages. Anyway, I sprayed it with a clotter and stopped the bleeding. When he has his shirt on, who’ll see it?” He looked at me. “Don’t ever take off your shirt in public. That scar is a giveaway and you’ll be reimplanted with a chip that no one will be able to remove.”
I had heard about the re-implantations that were placed inside a major organ like your heart or kidneys. A few people who had been re-implanted had committed suicide. Most had resigned themselves to a life of scrutiny and depression, going through life like robots.
Uncle Gregory came the next day to help me get ready to travel. I had a little pain when I lifted my arm and Nancy planned to come with us on our trip back to the United States and up to the Oregon coast city of Eugene. An enclave of people called chippers lived there, people like my uncle, who had their chips surgically removed, and Al, who was missing one earlobe. When the tracking chips had first been implanted in adults, the government stupidly placed them in earlobes because of the ease and low cost of implantation. Then the government discovered how easily a chip could be removed. Some people had removed their chip themselves with a sharp knife by cutting off their earlobe. The lobers as they were called found sympathetic reception in Oregon and many had settled in Eugene. The ones who couldn’t move, who lived in places like Chicago and Minneapolis, wore Peruvian knitted hats with earflaps to hide their missing parts. A few plastic surgery doctors secretly specialized in rebuilding earlobes.
It would have been faster for us to fly, but the scanners would have detected our missing chips easily. Thousands of people were on the roads both in Mexico and the United States because of summer vacationers. Most were just traveling for pleasure but there were probably a few like us heading for Oregon. Uncle Gregory told me the numbers of lobers and chippers were growing every day. Last month a man who ran for the state senate in Oregon came out publicly as a chipper. Uncle Gregory figures it would only be a matter of time before there will be enough of us ready to mount a revolution and take back our country.
George Orwell predicted the future when he wrote Big Brother is watching you in his chilling novel, 1984. But what if watching is taken to a new level. What if the government, to achieve alleged safety and security, monitors every citizen by means of an implanted electronic chip? What if the Supreme Court says that is legal? Will people rebel against such an invasion of personal freedom?
Mel taught literature and writing in California, Illinois, Arizona and as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher at Stanground College in Cambridgeshire, England. He and his artist wife bought a small motor home and traveled throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico for seven years, working at RV parks. They chose live in Ajijic and join the ex-pat artist and writing community. Mel has published two novels, one book of short detective stories, and an anthology of short stories with three other local writers. His writing has been published on line and in print in The United Kingdom, The United States, Mexico, New Zealand, and Australia.
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