The Immigration Center, Downtown LA. A building so depressing, you’d think it was designed by George Orwell. And at opening times, there is a line snaking around the block. A line of people whose futures, just like mine, rest in the hands of the civil service of America.
Everyone’s in their best clothes, hair combed, shoes shined. And everyone’s sprayed on Desperation by Calvin Klein.
I’m wearing a suit, the kind of thing I only put on for weddings and funerals. The irony isn’t lost on me; the result of this interview is going to be either a death or a beginning.
Before you have the honor of standing outside this building like a beggar, you have to have made a submission. Mine took nearly a year to get together and it was turned down. Then I spent another 6 moths beefing it up to the size of a telephone book by and when it went in the second time it was accepted. Then, a whole year later, I get a call that I can go in and have my interview, my case was assigned to an immigration officer three months ago. Awesome!
So my lawyer and I make our way inside, to the Waiting Room. But not one of the people here is actually waiting. It should really be called The Crazy Thoughts Room. A place where all those voices in your head just can’t wait to let rip.
“I should have listened to my friend and shaved my beard off. I know I look like a terrorist with this stupid thing on. I did cut it back but that was a half measure. Why did I put on a suit? Maybe I should have played it cool, and worn jeans. But then he might think that I’m not that successful and my case is a crock. So the suit is good. Yeah, it’s good ….. But what if this guy has a chip on his shoulder and hates seeing a line of foreigners that come through his office, especially the ones he thinks make more than him. Hang on Karl, who are you kidding? You’re broke. You don’t have a work visa yet, the money’s dwindling, you ain’t no playa. Should have worn jeans. Sympathy vote. Oh well, too late now. If only you’d worn jeans this would be a done deal and…”
My head snaps up and I look to the door. There is a small man in his forties that hasn’t smiled in a decade looking over his half-moon spectacles at a sea of heads bobbing on an ocean of anxiety.
Small Man: Karl Doon?
Me: That’s me. Karl Dunn.
Nice one Karl. You aren’t even in the room yet and you’ve already corrected his pronunciation. Smooth. He can call you Boom-tittie-wah-wah if he feels like it, as long as he gives you The Stamp. Real smooth mister. Like wiping your butt with sandpaper.
I get a withering look over the half moons then he turns and walks, so my lawyer and I follow him. My lawyer is already shaking his head. This is a move that you never, ever want to see your lawyer making.
Small Man sits at his desk, opens my case file and starts flipping through it, never looking up and not uttering a word. My lawyer and I exchange a glance and sit. The way you do when you’re expecting to be told to stay standing.
But Small Man just flips. And flips. And flips. In the background I hear someone in another office laugh. I wish I was in that office.
Flip, flip, flip.
C’mon mate. Ask me anything, I am so primed for this. I’ve been rehearsing in my mirror for a week. Ask me anything, c’mon! Bring it bee-yatch!
Small Man: Why are you here?
I wasn’t expecting that one. And I fumble the ball.
Me: Um, because this is when my appointment is.
He looks up at me like he’s talking to a houseplant.
Small Man: No. Why are you here?
Me: Because I’d like a Green Card?
A low on the food chain houseplant. He takes his glasses off and takes a deep breath.
Small Man: You are applying for an O1 Green Card. Alien of Extraordinary Ability. So what is it that you do? Why are you here?
Oh, got it! That’s my cue.
Me: Well you see I blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.
I think that’s all he heard because he lost interest in my speech very quickly. Flip, flip, flip. Slam! Small Man shuts my case file closed with an almighty whack.
Small Man: Well, I haven’t read your case file yet so you won’t be getting your Green Card today. You’ll need to blah, blah, blah, blah …
And that’s about all I heard as the Crazy Thoughts returned. Jump over the desk and slap him hard. Pick up a pencil and stab him in the eye. Push the chair up against the door to slow down security. Pull out a cutthroat razor and Reservoir Dogs on his ear. Pick up an axe and hack through the desk as you scream “Here’s Johnny!”. Eat his liver with kidney beans and nice Chianti. F-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f!
Me: No worries at all mate, nice to meet you. Just let me know when the next interview is and I’ll be here. Thanks for taking the time.
He doesn’t shake my hand when I offer it. Oh-kay.
In the lift back down to the ground I look at my lawyer.
Me: What the fuck was that all about? I submitted that fucking thing a year ago.
I save my anger for the one guy on my side. Smooth Karl, real smooth. My lawyer tells me that of the 50 people on that floor that do cases, there are only 3 he doesn’t like. Small Man unfortunately was one of those short straws. But just because he’s an arse, doesn’t mean that he’s not fair. Apparently my lawyer’s never had a case denied by this guy.
That night, nursing my bruises, I ponder how two and a half years of work comes down to a man in a bad cardigan. I wish I knew where he lived. Next time I’ll send the hookers around the night before.
Then I think about how he’s stuck in that office all day everyday. A pile of cases on his desk that reaches the ceiling. Maybe there was a time when he really enjoyed this job, helping people start new lives in America. But now every case file is just a box of Corn Flakes that he has to scan and pack off. And haven’t I done the same? I remember when Advertising was my whole life and I loved it like a religion. And how ten years later I was sitting there in my office in Singapore writing McDonald’s tray mats with a sour taste in my mouth, wondering where my life was going.
I’ve been this guy. So I can’t be down on him. And I’ll be seeing him again soon enough.
So. Single, broke and status in America still undetermined I sit in my apartment wondering where my life was going. Again.
Then the phone rings. “Hi Karl, we need you on MINI again in Germany. How soon can you get here?”
I ran all the way to the airport.