PARIS, France June 8th - He could be any passenger waiting for a flight, cleaning his socks in a drinking fountain of Charles de Gaulle Airport's Terminal One, luggage piled neatly by his side.
He sips a banana daiquiri and scans the crowd, occasionally cocking his head back to listen to airport announcements or the voices in his head. Although he is hastily flipping through a book,
L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology, Jacob Anderson is going nowhere. He has been waiting for a flight out of France, he says, for over 10 years.
Anderson escaped the United States in a hot-air balloon during the Clinton administration. Through a series of fateful missteps, he landed here without any documents. Since then, Europe's increasingly harsh stance toward American refugees and his delicate mental condition have kept him at the airport in legal limbo.
His is the story of a man who was searching for the family that abandoned him at a Chicago Denny's when he was 14, only to find an adopted one here, at Charles de Gaulle. "He's like a part of the airport. Everyone knows him," says Pierre Fromage, the manager of the Einstein Bagels, pointing to the spot where Anderson, 47, has squatted for over a decade. "That's his table, his chair, and he uses that flower pot over there as a urinal." Added Guy Le Douche, an IHOP cashier, "He's one of us. We even get pre-approved credit card applications for him."
After Anderson came to Europe, he was thrown from capital to capital, applying for refugee status and being denied, again and again, for nearly three years due to, for the most part, his refusal to take a shower. In 1997, his demand for political asylum from the U.S. was finally granted by the United Nations under the condition that he stop calling Switzerland and hanging up.
Although he had his heart set on living in Great Britain, Anderson only got as far as Paris, where his briefcase containing a ham sandwich, a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and his refugee documents was stolen in a train station.
Anderson boarded a plane for London anyway. However, when security at Heathrow Airport discovered he was a member of the American Republican Party, they quickly sent him back to Charles de Gaulle. At first, the French police detained him for illegal entry and indecent exposure, but since Anderson had no identification, there was no country of origin to which he could be deported.
Thus, he took up residence in Terminal One by the Jacque's Pizza Hut. From its circular confines, he and his attorney, the personal-injury lawyer Sam Bernstein, have battled to define his slip-and-fall accident in the nearby Burger King restroom as a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Anderson's confused account of his predicament demonstrates the heavy psychological price he has paid in his fight to become a man who belongs somewhere. "Nobody could endure all he did and stay normal," noted Christophe Tolande, a passerby who claimed to have attended four lectures of an introductory psychology class at Paris University.
Over the years, Anderson has become well-known for his reckless honesty and refusal of charity. On several occasions, he has stupidly turned in wallets, purses, and get-out-of-airport-free cards that had been mislaid by passengers. Airline and airport personnel still push expired meal vouchers on him so he can eat. "Stale pretzels are my favorite," he confides, "It's not a very healthy diet, but I still weigh more than Calista Flockhart."
On October 17, 2001, an international travel card and a French residency permit were finally put into Anderson's greasy hands. With them, he would be free to leave the airport to pursue a career in panhandling, or he could fly to another country that might allow him entry due solely to clerical error. However, he refuses to sign the paperwork because they misspelled his middle name and his pale skin can no longer tolerate direct sunlight. Today, he remains at Charles de Gaulle airport, determined to stubbornly stick to this point rather than face life outside where people are forced to get jobs and clean themselves.