Now I’m Really Stuffed

To coin an Aussie phrase, I’m rooted, parooed, cactus fucktus. Stuff can be widely and naively interpreted. I sort of get all Buddhist about my money situation sometimes and go, you know what, it’s all going to be ok, the universe will provide etc.

Then I get three emails in my inbox on the same day telling that my car insurance is about to run out, my phone bill is due, and my travel insurance that I’m still on is about to expire.

I could ask my folks, but they have already been so generous helping me out with things here in LA, and the last thing I haven’t quite let go comes back to make me stupid. And that’s pride. A tricky little bugger, which makes you do things like eat 2 minute noodles instead of asking for help that’s already been offered.

I’m such a guy sometimes, I appall myself.

Nigel sprints into the room, a wry, hate-to-say-I-told-you-so smirk on his face. My only consolation is that he looks sunburnt and a little parched.

Nigel: I know you thought I’d died in the Nevada desert, but I’m back to say, a little prudence in Vegas might have been a good idea.
Me: Yeah, but I had fun Nigel.
Nigel: Are you sure? I mean learning to play blackjack from Bikini clad poolside hustlers is a great story, but when you tell it, it’s like a vegetarian talking about a great Brazilian restaurant they went to.

Even covered in dust and nearly dead from dehydration, Nigel had a point.

Then another email pops up. It’s the Germans, the guys that I worked for last year in Berlin for the MINI pitch.

They’re asking me to come back again for another round with the little car. Ah, the irony, some lovely Euros just a plane ride away and me stuck here on death row without even the final meal.

But I tell them that I’ll ask my immigration lawyer one last time and see if any laws have changed in the last fortnight since I nagged him about getting back to Amsterdam to do some freelance. American immigration laws are like jazz; constantly shifting and forming, hard to pin down, and they definitely feel like they’re improvised.

Then Lady Luck, who deserted me in the desert, decides to smile. Just that week they have changed the laws; you can actually go in for an interview with a letter explaining your case.

The two reasons they will let you out:

1. Death in the family
Family pets to cousins don’t cut it here, you need Mom or Dad to kick the bucket kind of thing. And I like my folks, so that’s not an option.

2. Financial hardship
Not mine mind you, but a company for which you work. So the Berlin agency send me a letter that basically runs along the lines of, if I don’t come back for this pitch, they will lose it, every employee will be fired and die with all their children, Germany will plunge into an economic crisis, the Wall will go back up, France will invade and move Euro Disney there, the English will sing, “two world wars and one world cup and one preventable disaster that Karl could have fixed” at football games, shortly before there is a plague of locusts, fire raining from the heavens and the entire country slipping into the sea.

I arrive at my appointment, having rehearsed my speech in my rear view mirror all the way along the 10, and proudly present my letter in the beige blackhole that is Immigration Downtown LA.

A lady greets me, takes the letter, reads it, and walks off without a word. Um, ok. It then occurs to me that the McCartney-esque “Let It Be” beard that I have been growing lately probably should have been shaved off. I slyly look around for video cameras. I actually am really thirsty, but too scared to reach for my water bottle, considering the way they think of that stuff with planes these days.

Then I get pissed off with myself; why oh why, do I crumble in the face of polyester uniformed authority and portraits of George W and Governor Arnie staring down at me from the wall. I have a vague flashback to Thailand where the portraits of the King and Queen gaze at you from the wall of every home and shop. George and Arnie, who would be the King? Probably Arnie.

Ick, bad mental image.

Then the lady comes back and wordlessly, slides two forms across the desk.

Me: Do I fill these out?
Her: They’re forms, that’s their fate in life.

Oh ha, ha. How drole. Actually it is a pretty good line and I want to quip back with something equally pithy.

Me: What are they for?
She pulls her glasses down her nose and stares over them at me.
Her: You do want to go, don’t you?
Me: Am I approved?
Then she just gives me the thumbs up with this “Yay, you!” look on her face.

I look over her shoulder and wonder if Q from the Lost Islands is back there, mystically handing out fates.

And as I fill out my forms with my Welcome Back Kotter yellow pencil (yes, pencil!) I am amazed at this process. One day it’s “No you can’t leave, stay here until you commit a crime to make money and then we’ll throw you in our overcrowded prison system.” The next day it’s, “Congratulations multi entry visa holder, you can flit in and out of the country any time you feel like, knock yourself out and send us a postcard you crazy jetsetter.”

So, once again I find myself off to LAX and my beloved Berlin. More adventures wait for me there and as we take off I realize that apart from Vegas and a trip to San Fran for a dirty weekend, I haven’t left the city in 8 months.

But as I gaze over LA from the sky in all its Beirut-like beige, polluted, palm-treed glory, there’s something in me that’s really sad to leave. LA, I know I say some bad things about you sometimes, but I think I love you.

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