Friday, September 30, 2005

Storybook epic continued

When we left off, our Gentleman friend was falling rather ill and being assisted by the Maiden. The scene is the Gentleman's bedroom. Weak winter afternoon sunlight is trying valiantly to work its way into the spartan room. Our Maiden is scurrying about, replacing the Gentleman's soiled linens and bedcloths with clean ones and gathering up the dirty ones with an uncomplaining efficiency born of experience...

"I'm going to fetch a doctor and then come straight back," she said to her unaware patient as she laid a cool compress on his forehead.

Out the door she flew and down the street to the Jewish quarter, where the best doctors dwelled. She never could have afforded a Jewish doctor herself, but she was confident the Gentleman would only want the best and had the cash to back it. She led the grey-haired physican back the Gentleman's flat, where he conducted a thorough examination.

"It's not too serious," he concluded. "In a child or older person this flu might be dangerous, but he's in sound health and there's no reason why he should make a full recovery in a few days. He should have care, though. He can't be left alone until he's able to get up and about. The most important thing is to keep him hydrated. He should sip lots of clear liquids -- water, broth -- whenever he is awake. Is there someone who can look after him for a couple days?"

"I will look after him," said the Maiden, relieved that his illness was not life threatening.

She went home that evening to ask the Grand Lady, her employer, if she could have a couple days off to nurse the Gentleman. The Grand Lady was pleased that her lowly governess had attracted the attention of such elegant company, and though she was saddened at the prospect of loosing her hard-working employee, whe was happy for the Maiden and hoped the relationship would turn out well for her. She granted her permission.

For two days the Maiden nursed the Gentleman. He continued to vomit and was delirious. The Maiden used the time while he slept to wash linens and press them damp to dry them faster. She barely slept.

At the end of the second day, as she was nodding off in a chair by the bed, the Gentleman awoke. His fever had broke, and he regained his senses. He was surprised to find himself in bed. The last thing he remembered was leaving the banker's office. He looked about himself and saw the Maiden slumped in the chair, dozing lightly.

"Good morning," he said.

She woke and looked at him.

"Or perhaps I should say 'good evening.' I have no idea what time it is."

"It's not quite 6 in the evening," she informed him, glancing at the clock on the wall opposite. "How do you feel?"

"Dazed, weak, thirsty. Yes, that about sums it up."

"That's to be expected. You've been through an ordeal." And she told him all about the past two days, how she found him stumbling home, incoherent, and the doctor and all (though she left out the bits about undressing him). He thanked her generously for all her care and attention, and assured the Maiden that though he was tired, he was quite sure he could do for himself from here on out. Furthermore, he insisted that she go home and get a proper night's sleep in her own bed. The Maiden hesitated to go so soon, but the Gentleman was adamant that he could manage, and she'd done so much already. Finally she was pursuaded, but insisited on being allowed to stop by in the morning to check up on him and fix him breakfast.

The next morning when the Maiden arrived, the Gentleman was much stronger. He was puttering about in his dressing gown, fixing a pot of tea. The Maiden was satisfied with his progress, and after a cup of tea and a quiet chat, she excused herself to return to her child-minding duties.

As the Grand Lady watched the Maiden return to work she smiled to herself. Though she was certain the Maiden had no such alterior motive, she was sure that after having been nursed back to health the Gentleman was sure to propose.

And then an odd thing happened. Just two days after the Maiden returned to work, she stopped in the grocer for a bite of cheese on her way to collect the children after school. She was hungry, and just needed a nibble. The grocer was friendly, and sold her a scrap for a couple pennies. It was good cheese, smooth and sharp at the same time. She brought the children home and began to help them with their homework, as was usual. She was reading a story in French with the little one when a wave a nausea came over her. It started in her stomach and built up behind her ears. She swallowed hard and wondered what caused it, as she felt fine in all other respects. She continued to read.

And then it happened again. Only this time, the nausea didn't stop behind her ears, it crashed through her head like a tsunami and as it left it took all the contents of her stomach with it. She lurched forward and felt as though her entire body had turned in-side out. The agile children successfully dodged the onsalught.

"Get your mother," the Maiden instructed, wiper her mouth with her sleeve.

The children lept from the room, hollering. A few moments later the Grand Lady appeared.

"You've obviously got what your Gentlman friend had," she delcared. "I need to remove the children from the house. I'll send for a nurse to look after you. You poor thing..." And she left the room and took the children with her.

The Maiden staggered to her feet and made her way downstairs to her quarters. Unfastening her apron, she flopped onto her bed and waited. And waited. No one came. She listened to the footsteps on the floors above her as the Grand Lady and her children quickly packed to leave. Soon a nurse will come, she thought, and help me into my nightgown. But no one came.

While she was waiting she continued to throw up in the antique chamber pot by her bed. She heard the front door close shut. She was alone.

Then she felt a movement in her abdomen that was somewhere below her stomach. It churned. It seemed to be demanding something. It took her brain a moment to catch up, but suddenly she realized what the sensation was. She bolted for the toilet. She made it. Sort of.

She sat on the toilet for almost an hour with the bathroom rubbish bin on her lap, ejecting fluids from every orifice in her body. It was miserable, and still no one came.

When the diarreha subsided, she returned to bed, feeling very weak but clearheaded. This didn't seem to be the fever the Gentleman had. In fact, she had no fever. Nor any congestion, nor achy muscles, nor any other symptom of the flu. Other than vomitting and shitting unconrtollably, she was fine. If she didn't know better, she'd almost think it was... But what could she have eaten? No mayonaise that day, no fish, no poulty, if her eggs at breakfast had been bad she'd have gotten sick long before now, as would the children. The cheese? Could she have gotten a rancid bit of cheese from the grocer? That must be it. Nothing else could account. She threw up again.

Her back and chest were beginning to ache from all the retching and heaving, and she had a splitting headach from all the pressure behind her eyes. She heard a knock at her door. She was unable to get to the door, but she heard the latch open. She called out weakly, "Who is it?"

"Just me," came the gentle reply. She knew that voice. She loved that voice. And right now, it was the most comforting sound in the world.

"Come in," she said. A golden-haloed face peered around the corner of her bedroom door. There was the Gentleman, holding a nosegay of wildflowers.

"What ever is the matter?" he asked. "Are you ill?"

"Rather. Isn't that why you're here?"

"No, I just came to thank you for... um, everything. But it seems the old adage is still true, about no good deed going unpunished."

"Actually, I'm fairly certain I don't have what you had. It feels a lot more like food poisoning. I think I bought some rancid cheese today."

"Still, I should be on my way. I really don't want to get sick again. I'm awfully sorry you're feeling so rotten. I'll come back in a couple days."

"Wait! Please don't go! The family has left me all alone. I've no one to help me, and I can barely walk. And I don't have what you had. Food poisoning isn't contaigous, so you're in no danger. And even IF i had your flu, which I don't, you've already got the antibodies for it, so you can't get it again. You're completely safe. Please..."

"I really don't think I should risk it. I hope you feel better soon." And he turned and left.

"Please don't leave me alone!" cried the Maiden. "There's no risk!" But the Man was gone.

The Maiden sobbed and sobbed. She's never felt so abandoned in her life. She couldn't understand how anyone could just leave her in that condition, let alone someone she thought was her friend, and particularly a friend whom she had only just days ago nursed through a miserable illness. How could he leave her like that? She would have done more for a complete stranger.

She continued to retch. There was nothing left in her stomach, but her gut was stuck in a cycle of violent spasms, and she was powerless to make them stop. All night long it continued, her body doubling over with no warning and all the muscles of her chest and lower back contracting painfully.

And then it stopped, just as abruptly as it started. After heaving steadily for over 10 hours, her stomach quieted down and lay dormant, like a volcano that has become weary of its thunderous, ground-shaking erruptions and sends our a couple final light whiffs of smoke. The Maiden was relieved, and knew the worst was over. She decided to rest, and in a few hours, she would try sipping some water.

But she was unable to rest. The spasms in her back left her in agonizing pain. She suspected that she had pulled several muscles. She tried to get comforatble, but no matter how she lay, her back ached excruciatingly, and so she cried softly to herself.

There was a knock at the door, and she heard the latch open.

"Hello?" said the Man's voice. "May I come in?"

Without waiting for a reply, he opened the bedroom door and padded into the room. "How do you feel this morning?"

"Is it morning?"

"See for yourself." He drew back the heavey curtains which covered the small window. Cold, hard light flew into the room and stung her eyes. "Ah, you're feeling better already, I can see it in your face. Did you sleep well?"

"I didn't sleep at all. My back hurst so much I can't even lie comfortably. If I try to move, it hurts. If I lie still, it hurts. God, how it hurts!" and she would have cried, but by this time the poor woman was so dehydrated her body couln't generate tears. "Would you do me a favor, please?"

"Of course."

Now you're perfectly obliging, you pansy-ass twit, she though. "I need to rest, but I can't sleep because my back is in so much pain, and I can't take any pain-killers because my stomach is still much to fragile. In my country you can buy a cream that you rub on your skin and it eases muslce pain. Would you please walk to the chemist and ask if a similar product is available here? Or if not, ask the chemist what he recommends for my situation."

"I could, but I can tell you now there is nothing like that available. I've never heard of such a thing. And I can tell you exaclty what the chemist would say. He'd say 'lots of fluids, lots of rest.'"

"You may be right, but could you please check? Maybe they sell it and you've just never noticied it before. And it would really help me to sleep, which you agree is what I need."

"I'm sorry, but I'm sure we don't have anything like that here. You can add it to the list with rootbeer and graham crackers as another one of our short-comings," he smiled, and left the room. A moment later he returned with a glass of water, which he set on her night table. "Here you are. When your stomach is feeling ready, you can sip on this," and he turned to leave.

She almost begged him to stay and keep her company, but she was too pissed off at him to ever want to see his fucking cherubic face again. She heard the door close. Again. Bastard.

Stay tuned for part 3: Enter the dashing Rogue.

I got me one!

Obviously, this is a doctored photo. The Bushes weren't REALLY fishing in New Orleans' 9th ward. (The water was far to toxic and full of ecoli.) I wanted to share this, though, because the sentiment behind it is true enough, even if the contents aren't factual. It's worth making a distinction between different kinds of truths. Physical, factual, literal truth is only one kind of truth, and while valuable, can only reaveal so much. There's another kind of truth, more emotional, more human; what Tim O'Brian in his Pulitzer-prize nominated novel, The Things They Carried, called story truth. In that sense, this photo is very true. Did W catch a, what kind of fish is that, anyway?, in downtown N.O. while people where scavenging for basic necessities? No, but he's consistently ignored the plight of millions of underpriveledged Americans for years, while at the same time taking more vacations than any other president in history. While hundreds of children across the country die every day from curable diseases because they have no access to health care, W plays golf. While hundreds of thousands of working Amercians loose their jobs to foreign outsourcing because W gives tax cuts to companies like Walmart that purchase all their goods from overseas, W is at his ranch, riding. Or at Camp David, fishing. Or somewhere, doing something, that in no way involves doing his job. The photo neatly and sucinctly expresses the truth that W is a spoiled rich boy who plays games while his fellow citizens struggle for their very lives.

Part Deux:

The day is Sunday, 25 September. I arrived home in the small hours of the previous day. I've had barely 24 hours to recover from my deportation/bomb scare adventure. The mission: drive 4 hours to Chicago, braving construction, the remnants of hurricane Rita, and insane Chicago drivers (who are every bit as impatient as New York drivers, only not as skilled), and get my fucking visa.

I had an appointment in the office of the British Consulate General at 9:45 am on Monday, so going in Sunday night was a necessity. I spent the night with some old nunny-bunny friends of my aunt, Sr. Pain-in-the-ass (of "could you please hand me the soap?" fame). The sisters were lovely. I'm a college student, so naturally they fed me pizza and ice cream. It was really cute. I almost felt like a furry exotic pet they had been assigned to babysit for an evening, and the guide book they read, titled "Care of College Students," stated that our preferred diet, should fresh bamboo be unavailable, was pizza and ice cream. After we passed a couple friendly hours chatting about my future plans and the artwork created by the mentally handicapped people they work with, they put me to bed and tucked me in, snug as a bug in a rug.

And then it was morning. My god nuns get up early! Holy hell! I don't get up that early to row, man! Bacon, eggs and bagels for brekkie, drive into the city (45 mins), park at the hospital, catch bus to Consulate's office (another 30 min), arrive early for appt., get turned away by rent-a-cop, go back 15 min later, get handed number, sit down in crowded room with TV on but no sound (which is just as well because the channel was set to the Martha Stewart Show, and her imbicile audience was applauding when, and I am not making this up, she... folded a sheet. Holy egyptian cotton, Batman! Alert the media! She folded a fucking sheet! Moreover, she got a standing fucking ovation! Now, there are some things in this world worthy of a standing ovation. Yo yo Ma comes to mind, as do several of Winston Churchill's speeches and the gold medal performance of Britain's men's coxless 4 at Athens and a production of Jesus Christ Superstar I saw once. But a sheet-folding demonstration? By a CRIMINAL? Really people, what does this say about us as a society? Are we so stupid, so completely inept, that we are that impressed by something which should be a basic day-to-day activity like sweeping the kitchen floor? Never underestimate the breadth of stupidity of the average American. End tanget.), number 19 is called, I approach counter and speak to young man behind plexi-glass. I hand him my documentation. He hands me a slip and says "come back at 2:30 to pick up your visa."

And that's it. It took all of 4 minutes of actual interaction with a live person. 4 minutes. And that's a generous estimate. Would you like to know what is truly ironic about this whole scenario? Would you? Are you sure? You're going to want to hit something, so I recommend you pick up a pillow or some soft object, such as an aging, corpulent Republican. (They're fun to hit. They make a nice "duff" sound, sort of like punching down rising bread dough, if you're into making your own bread.) Have you got your soft object ready? Ok, here goes...


Ha! And people think the Brits have no sense of humor! We should remember, these are the people who invented comedy. These are the people who brought us Monty Python, Benny Hill, and Prince Charles. Clearly, they are still in top form, even at the most beaurocratic levels of government. I applaud the British government for making me fly all the way across the minging Atlantic at my own expense to present a stack of papers that I had on my person IN ENGLAND. These people understand that laughter is truly the best medicine, and they are deeply concerened with their bean counters' health, so they provide them with endless entertainment and enjoyment as hapless American fly all over the fucking globe to accommodate their mindless and dimwitted beaurocratic procedures. (Sorry, I love England, I really do, but right now, can you blame me? Really?)

Spent the day calming my exasperation by hanging out at the Chicago Art Institute, a truly world-class museum, and passed 3 pleasant hours looking at some of the most beautiful objects d'art ever created. Picked up the visa, ate me a giant, Chicago-style hotdog*, drove home, bought me a plane ticket, and you're all caught up now.

*Chicago-style hotdog: Grilled kosher beef dog served with chopped onion, sweet relish, dill spears, tamales, mustard, sliced tomatoes, and doused with celery salt. Indigestion on a bun. Yum.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


You're probably expecting to be reading an enthusiastic and exciting blog about all the wonderful things I'm experiencing now that I'm in England. You're probably expecting to hear that my flatmates are great, my profs are even better, Bristol is beautiful, the boat club is shit hot, and the weather fine.

This is not that blog.

I'm back. I'm not in Manchester. I'm not even in England. I'm on the completely wrong fucking side of the fucking Atlantic Ocean. Let me walk you through the events of the past six days, so that you can better understand how completely fucked up the world is. At present, I feel that my life has become a microcosm of all that is wrong with society. Please, allow me to illustrate...

I left on Wednesday, feeling, well, it's hard to describe. If a mouse feels elated upon happening on a bit of cheese, I was that mouse. Except that I had been living on the brink of starvation for almost a year, and the cheese was a rich and tangy 7-year-old Vermont cheddar. And it was the size of the Empire State Building. Yeah, that sort of gets you in the ballpark of my emotional state. Hell, I don't need to tell you lot. If you've been reading my blog for the past year, you know how desperate I was to get out of the states and how much I was looking forward to seeing my old friends again. Moreover, this wan't some boon that just dropped out of the sky and landed in my life, like a lottery jackpot that I would feel compelled by conscience to share with the less fortunate. No, I earned this. I earned it all by myself. This was the fulfillment of a dream that cost me thousands of hours of hard work and emotional angst, and I did it. Well done, me. I bid farewell to my wonderful if slightly overbearing parents and shed only tears of joy as I boarded the plane bound for the green and pleasant land.

I arrived in Manchester at 6:05 on Thursday morning (local time). At 6:09, my life ended. For the four minutes it took me to walk from the plane to immigration control, my life was almost perfect. I didn't have everything I've ever wanted, but I had most of it, and the rest was not far off. I was really fucking tired, having slept only briefly the night before my departure (too much excitemtent) and even less on the plane. Nevertheless, I practically skipped to immigration. Here I was, and everthing was wonderful.

"Good morning, Miss. Passport please."

"Good morning. Here you are."

"Why are you entering the United Kingdom?"

"I am a postgraduate student at the University of Bristol. I'm starting my PhD this autumn."

(flips through pages of passport) "Where's your visa, then?"

"I don't need a visa. Here's my acceptance letter from the University demonstrating that I am enrolled in a full-time course, and here's my proof of financial means."

"That doesn't matter, Miss. You need a visa if you're entering the country for more than 6 months, student or no."

"Oh, well, here's my return plane ticket. I'm going home for the holidays in December, 3 months from now. I'll just be a tourist until then and get the visa at that time."

"That won't do, Miss. I have to put you on the next plane back to America. You can't enter the country."

"Sir, there must be some mistake," I pleaded, becoming panicky. "I lived in Manchester for over a year. I earned my MA from the University of Manchester. I never needed a visa."

"When was that, Miss?"

"I completed my course last autumn, in 2004."

"Ah, well, they've just changed the law. You need a visa now. I'm sending you back to America today. It was your responsibility to find that out. It's not our job to tell you."

"Where can I make a phone call?"

"You can't make a phone call. You have to leave the country."

"I got that bit, but before you send me off, I must make a phone call."

"Who do you need to call?"

"My friend who is meeting me at the airport, and my parents to tell them what's going on." (And the American Embassy, I thought to myself, but I didn't say that.)

"Well, you can't use a phone. You can't call the American Embassy or the Consulate General or anyone else. There's no right of appeal. (Was he telepathic? Or did he have a lot of experience throwing people out of England for no good reason?) You will leave the country today, and you can't use a phone. Go and sit in that room over there while I take care of the rest of the people in this queue."

"Have you got a rubbish bin back there," I asked, feeling the pressure building behind my ears. "I'm going to be sick."

"You can use that washroom over there."

I proceeded to throw up. Regretfully, I made it to the washroom on time. In retrospect, I shouldn't even have tried. This whole experience would have been marginally less traumatic if I'd at least had the satisfaction of barfing on the beaucratic bean-counting baboon with the broad Manc accent. After vomiting, I sat in the room and waited. And waited. I had no idea when the man would reappear, what would happen to me, or if I would ever be allowed in the country again. For the first time in my life I had thoughts of suicide. Everything I had worked for had been taken away from me in the space of a breath, my whole life, all my dreams and ambitions gone. The only thing the PhD didn't garuntee me was true love, and even that, I'm convinced, stands a far better chance of happening in England. I don't think I could ever love an American. It sounds wierd, but that's just the way it is. I sat and cried and cried and cried.

An American woman, who was in the queue behind me and who overheard the whole conversation, was very sympathetic. She came over to me and explained that she had been married to a British citizen for 24 years, and then one day they changed the immigration laws and wouldn't let her into the country. Her husband, who was with her at the time, of course got in, but she was deported to New York City. She gave me a hug, told me that all Englishmen with the notable exception of her husband are total bastards, assured me it would all come out all right in the end, and then gave me all the kleenex in her handbag and the name and phone number of a friend she has in the Consulate's General office in NY. All the other people in the queue, fellow passengers from my flight, wished me well and good luck as they cleared through, and gave lots of dirty looks to my detaining officer. The moral here is that most people are quite nice when it comes down to it, but give someone with a small ego and an even smaller penis a bit of authority, and watch him use it for the sole pleasure of tormenting idealistic academic virgins. Bastard.

3 hours of agony later, Bastard Beaurocrat returned. He was slightly less assholian this time round. He said that since I'd been through an ordeal he'd let me stay for one night and ship me out tomorrow (how generous of you, you fucking control freak!), if I promised to come back to the airport in the morning like a good girl. ("But just in case you're tempted to run, I'm confiscating your passport. You can have it back when you return tomorrow.") He also offered to ring my friend and my folks for me (he still wouldn't let me near a phone), an offer which I accepted, and he gave me this piece of advice: "I've got you on a flight tomorrow at noon. When you come back, the airline is going to ask you for your return ticket. Don't give it them. We at Immigration have told the airline they have to take you out of the country. They don't have a choice. They won't want to incur the cost themselves, so they'll ask for your return ticket, and they'll just change the date and send you back on your own money. You are under NO OBLIGATION to surrender that ticket. Whatever you do, don't give it them. They must put you on a plane, they've got no choice. When you get home, apply for the visa. It won't take long, and you've got all the proper documents here already. You'll be back in England shortly, and I'm sure you'll want to use that ticket to get home for Christmas. However much they bully you, hold firm and hold onto it. Good luck." He was wierdly paternal about the whole thing. Perhaps that, like Lazarus Long, he's a sucker for a crying female.

I got my bags and checked them at left luggage. There was no point in dragging them all over fucking manchester since I was only there for one night. I was supposed to be staying with my friend, Mel, while I was in town. The deal was I would phone her from the airport to let her know I landed, and then take the bus to Withington where she would meet me and take me back to her place. I phoned her, but she didn't answer. I got on the bus anyway. I got to Withington and phoned again. No answer. I left a second message.

By this time I was completely wrung out, physically and emotionally. It was almost 11 am, I had been awake for days, I had suffered the most crushing disappointment in my entire life, and I had nowhere to go. I began phoning everyone I knew in the city of Manchester. A: not in. J: in, but had his brother up from Cambridge and there was no room at the inn. S: answered phone, but was at Uni, not in room, and wouldn't be back to room until evening. I couldn't wait that long. Mel: still not answering. All my other friends have graduated. That was it. Maybe it was my imagination, but no one seemed especially sorry or sympathetic either. I thought I had friends. Maybe I didn't. Maybe it was like high school all over again, where people pretended to be my friends and then hung me out to dry. Why is this happening?

I got back on the bus and went downtown. I knew there was a youth hostel in the northern quarter of the city between Arndale and Picadilly Station, but I didn't have the exact address on me. The Manchester tourist office in St. Peter's Square, however, is full of really nice, really helpful people. They've never let me down. Just for good measure, because not enough had gone wrong that morning, my asshole bus driver went right past St. Peter's and on to Picadilly, even though I rang the bell. I asked him why he didn't stop, and he said he was in a hurry to get to Picadilly. Crying, shattered, exhausted, and carrying a giant backpack and my over-laden computer bag, I hoofed it 6 blocks back to St. Peter's. (In the grand scheme of things, being let off one stop past your destination and being forced to walk a few extra blocks is not normally a big deal, but on that morning, in my weary state of defeat and falling over, nautious body, it really fucking pissed me off. After being dicked about by Immigration and abandoned by all my so-called friends, I just didn't need to be dicked about by jerkoff bus drivers, too. I mean for fucks sake, could anything else go wrong? There's a question one should never ask. Talk about holding a target up for Fate.) Not only did the lovely gentleman in the tourist office give me the address of the hotel and a map to direct me (though I didn't need it), he phoned over for me and made sure they had a female bed available for the night, which they did.

The people at the hostel were great. They said they had been told to expect an exhaused woman travelling alone, who appeared to be at the end of a tether. They recognized me the instant I walked in. They gave me my key, showed me to my room, gave me a compimentary towel, told me there was tea, coffee, and toast availabe 24 hours a day in the kitchen at no charge, I could borrow a DVD from the front desk and crash out in the TV lounge if I liked, and if I wished to check my email, they'd be happy to gve me 30 minutes on the computer at no cost. They held on to my computer behind the front desk for safe keeping for me, and were perfectly obliging when I requested that someone wake me up the following morning at half six so I could be to the airport on time. I have rarely received better service from hotels that charge 5 times as much. If you EVER need a place to stay in Machester, do yourself a favor and check in to The Hatters. Tell them I sent you.

After a shower and a shave and feeling a tad more human, I went 'round to the newsagent and bought a couple phone cards. I then spent the entire afternoon alternating between calling home, crying, calling Bristol, wandering aimlessly around downtown trying to stay awake and kill time between phone calls, and eating the worst turkey sandwich I've ever eaten in my life. Back home, my parents were kicking ass and taking names, doing everything they could to fix my situation. By the end of the day I had 2 United States congressmen and a team of 6 lawyers in Chicago working on my case, all hammering the British Consul for answers and to try and arrange it so the visa could be issued without me having to return to America. I'm here, so it obviously didn't work. The University of Bristol even called the Immigration officer who chucked me out and begged him to let me stay, but to no avail. It's that small penis control freak thing; it just can't be fucking budged.

Crashed out, slept all night, woke up, got to the airport. Begin day 2 of life in mass trasit hell.

Waited in a rediculous queue at ticketing. Showed the chickiedoo the papers Bastard Beaurocrat had given me. She looked confused. She called a supervisor. A matronly, brown-clad supervisor appeared. She rang up Immigration and said they'd arrive shortly with my passport, and then they could check me in to my flight.

More waiting.

Customs guy shows up, give my passport to matron in brown, who says "Ah! Here we are. All I need now is your return ticket."

"Um, no."

"Excuse me?"


"No what?"

"No, you can't have my return ticket."

"Perhaps I didn't make myself clear," said the bitch in brown. "I need to change the date on your return ticket to today so we can fly you home."

"You made yourself perfectly clear. No allow me to make myself equally clear. You can't have my return ticket. I was very specifically instructed by Immigration NOT to relinquish my return ticket under any circumstances. As it was explained to me, you have been instructed to return me to the United States. You have no choice in the matter. I am being deported against my will, and I am under no obligation to pay for it."

"I don't know who told you that, but..."

"A Mr. Steve Whitfield, the Immigration officer who refused my entry yesterday. Is he here? I would like to speak with him."

The Immigration officer who delivered my passport was standing a few feet away, watching the proceedings and looking uncomfortable. He spoke:

"No, Mr. Whitfield doesn't work today. You need to give this lady your ticket."

Well that fucking blew it. I have no trouble standing up to an airline, but pissing off an Immigration officer didn't seem like a smart idea. In retrospect, I should have refused to fork over the ticket and told him he'd have to physically remove it from my posession if he wanted it, but I was exhausted and stressed and frankly terrified, and I caved. $700 down the crapper.

After checking me in to my flight and printing my boarding pass, the Lying Spineless Immigration Officer said he would escort me to security, where he would return my passport to me. We arrived at security and were informed that security was closed, and we should wait a moment. The LSIO wasn't keen on waiting around, and his manner suggested that he viewed me as a complete waste of his time, so he told me to wait where i was, and when I cleared security and got to the gate, to have the gate attendant ring immigration and he would bring my passport to me then.

So I waited.

More and more people were piling up behind me as they came from ticketing and found security closed. I decided to wax clever and get a cup of tea so i could sit down in the cafe' and watch the proceedings from a comfy chair. 20 minutes later the mob waiting to clear security was huge. I got up to throw my cup away, and saw a plastic shopping bag sitting on the table behind me. A woman had been sitting there when I sat down, but she was gone now. I figured she had just forgotten her bag, and I watched it for a few minutes. When she didn't return, I felt obligated to report it. I approaced a nearby security officer who was keeping an eye on the restless chickens and said, "I'm sure it's nothing, but a woman forgot her shopping bag. It's been sitting on that table for some time." 60 seconds later they hollered "EVACUATE!"

It wasn't the stampede I expected. In fact, people were very reluctant to leave. They directed us to the train/bus terminal near the airport, where we sat around with our thumbs up our butts wondering if we should try and steal a seat on that last train that's still sitting at the platform and get the hell out of dodge, or if we should sit and wait and hope we can still get on a plane sometime that day. Then the train left. We were trapped. We learned from a few people who had internet on their mobiles and series of Chinese whispers that an Arab man had lept a security barrier on the tarmak and thrown a suitcase under an airplane. All roadways into the airport were blocked. No busses or trains were allowed in, and no one would tell us officially what the fuck was going on. I joined the queue for a pay phone and let my folks know that it looked as though there was a fair chance I wouldn't be getting on a plane that day. They were thriled. Meanwhile, I'm wodering if I'll ever see my passport again, what with all the hullaballoo and whatnot.

Two hours later they announced that customs and airline personell were to return to work, so whatever it was was over. I cleared security (which wasn't easy, since I still didn't have my passport back), and got to the gate. I got a BMI person to ring immigration, and the LSIO showed up with my passport. I headed for a payphone.

Now, while all this has been taking place, my parents have been working with lawyers and congressional staffers and all sorts of people to get my visa application going. They had nearly completed the online portion, but they needed my passport number, and since it was a Friday, and because of the time change, I needed to get them that number asap, before close of business, because that was the only way i would be able to get an appoint with the Consulate General on Monday. Otherwise, I would have to wait until Monday to MAKE the appt, and I would lose a lot of time. Hence, the mad dash to the payphone before they began boarding.

The LSIO sees me take off in the wrong direction and comes charging after me. He grabs my arm and spins me around.

"Where are you going?! Your gate's that way!"

"Let go of me! I'm going to that pay phone right over there, because it's essential that I make a phone call before I board the plane, because you assholes wouldn't let me near a telephone yesterday! Now LET GO OF ME!"

(I no longer cared about pissing off Immigration.)

He followed me to the phone, having no good reason to deny me making a call at my own expense, then followed me back to the gate again. Good grief. Where the fuck would I have gone?

7 hours on a cramped plane with bad movies and worse food, and I was in Washington DC. They called out the connecting flights for the passengers on board and told them what terminal and gate they should seek out. They did not call out my connection. This is not a good sign.

I cleared customs and checked the departures screen for my flight to Detroit. Different terminal, naturally. I arrive at terminal G and go to the gate for my flight just to confirm that I am, in fact, on the passenger list. They tell me I'm not.

Bear in mind that I am holing in my hand a BOARDING CARD for the 9:30 flight to Detroit, but the idiot behind the desk insists that I was booked for the 5:45 flight, which has already departed, and since it was my fault I missed my connection (terrorist threats and evacuations clearly being my fault), they are under no obligation to book me on a later flight. I try and explain that I AM booked for the 9:30 and here's my boarding card, but this has little effect. He tells me to go to customer service. Let me rephrase that. He tells me to go to customer "service."

At this point I am exhaused to tears, but I explain the situation to the woman calmly and politely. She looks at her omnipotent computer screen, the screen of all knowledge that is in no way alterable, the screen which is harder than the hardest stone, because whatever is on the screen is Truth, and it is sacrilidge punishable by death to suggest it might be wrong. (You know the screen I'm talking about.) She looks at her omniscient screen and declares in a pure and ringing voice which reverberates from the heavens, "The best I can do is to put you on standby, but the flight is nearly full and there's a long line ahead of you, so I doubt you'll get on. And since it's not our fault you missed your connection, we don't have to provide you with a hotel for the night."

I sigh and sit down. I am done. I have no more fight in me. I'm at the end of my rope. I cry. Again. I sprain a tear duct. I remeber that I should call home and let my folks know what's going on. I have no more change. I try to call collect. The metal voice on the phone tells me that I cannot make a collect call to that number. That's it. No explanation, no alternatives. I go to the ATM to get cash, then beg a bartender to give me change. I reach my mom, tell her not to leave for the airport until I call again and confirm that they'll actually let me on the plane. Fuckers. I begin to remember stories my mom used to tell me about travel mishaps she's had. I think about the time when i was a kid and they tried to throw my whole family off a train into a slum in Indiana, and how mom told the conductor he'd have to carry her off because she wouldn't cooperate, and then she told us kids (I was maybe 6 or 7 at the time) how to go limp and be dead weight for the guards, like she used to do back in the 60s at Vietnam protest rallies when she was being arrested. I remembered the time my luggage got lost when I came home for Christmas from college, and how mom spent 2 entire days on the phone yelling at airline staff, writing down names, insisting on talking to mangers, threatening to call the president of the airline, demanding compensation, and finally getting them to track down and return my luggage. I wondered what she would do if she were stuck in this dumpy, old-school terminal with crappy, over-priced food and obstinate airline employees. She wouldn't be sitting, hugging her computer and crying, that's for sure.

I began to feel a glow of anger come to life in the center of my body. It warmed me and gave me energy. I ate a spotty banana to feed the anger and nourish it (I hate spotty bananas. I gathered myself together, heaved my pack on my back and summoned what strength I had left to make one last trudge to customer "service." I knew in my heart that this was it. I would either get on that plane or die on the desk, a grizzly monument to the American transportation industry. I fling velvet rope barriers aside as i slog my way to the counter.

No one is there. It is empty. THere is a tattered sign on the counter which reads "Customer service is closed. If you require assistance, please go to the cusotmer service desk opposite gate D7."

Now, let's see if you're paying attention. Do you remember where I am? Go back a few paragraphs, to where I arrive in Washington. That's right, I'm in terminal G. They want me to go to customer service in another TERMINAL! Fuckers. Now I'm pissed. I'm pissed like you have never seen me pissed before. If I had been holding an automatic weapon, I would have sprayed the concourse like sprinkling a lawn. I begin ranting aloud. The people around me look completely uninterested. I storm off to where the inter-terminal shuttles are, swinging my computer bag back and forth in front of me to clear a path. I get on the shuttle to terminal D and demand that the drive leave now, without waiting for anyone else to board. To my amazement, he does. It's the Axel Foley theory of getting shit done: say it with enough authority, and people will do what you tell them.

By the time the shuttle deposits me at terminal D, I'm having an out-of-body experience. I'm so bone-weary and so blindly angry that I'm no longer expering the things I'm doing. I'm just watching from somewhere behind. It's like I can't keep up with my own rage. I watch myself charge down the concourse of terminal D toward gate 7. I see that my lips are so tightly pursed they look like my ass. I see myslef completely disregard the other people in line at customer "service" and march right up to the counter, where I spit at the young man, "Look I know this isn't your fault personally, but i've been treated like shit by this airline and you're the one who's going to make it all OK. Got that? (looks frightened, nods) Good. Here's what's happned..." I tell him everything, right down to the sign on the desk in the other terminal. I conclude with "and what I need you to do is to get me back to Detroit tonight. I don't care if you have to drive me there yourself. I don't care if you have to invent and construct a transporter and beam me there, you will get me to Detroit. The easiest way for you to do that, though, is to simply get me a seat on the 9:30 plane, and I don't care if you have to bump the copilot to do it!" He says it's no problem, prints me off a new boarding card with a new seat asingnment (it's not in the cockpit, thankfully), and informs me that there's no reason why they couldn't have done that at the gate for me. I am defused, disarmed, deflated.

Clutching my boarding pass in my sweaty hand, I return to terminal G, where the monitor above my gate now reads "Flight Delayed. Estimated departure time 10:30." I swear to god i'm not making this up.

I landed in Detroit about midnight, where I met my parents and cried some more. They took me home and put me in bed, and here I am.

Stay tuned for part 2: The Frantic Trip to Chicago to Apply in Person for a Visa!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Two days to total liberation

My own space, my own schedule, my own success, failure, and financial debt. No help, no safety net. Freedom from comfort, liberation from security. This is it, folks. Deep end. Sink or swim. Bring it, bitch.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Three days to...

to... What the hell begins with "th?"

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Four days to frolicking!

Or fondling? Perhaps even fucking? Fraternising, fornicating, fingering, fisting. So many promising verbs begin with "f." The list just goes on and on. I can't wait to try them all.

Once Upon A Time...

there was a Lonely Maiden who lived in a land ruled by a stupid and greedy man. (Isn't that a wonderful beginning?) The Maiden was tired of life in that land. She was bored with her neighbors, who never looked beyond their own small lives, and she was frustrated by the ruler, who cared nothing for the wellfare of his people. She had no friends to speak of, and her only family was her brother, Barley. He was a good man, but had his own life and family, and so paid little heed to his sister. She decided to leave.

The Maiden was neither rich nor beautiful, but she was smart, hard-working, and adventurous, and so she arranged passage on a great sailing ship that would take her far, far away. She sailed many oceans and saw many wonderous things, until finally she arrived in the land of the Earl of Grey. She knew no one in this strange land, and had few personal posessions. She began to look for work.

The Maiden walked up and down the high street, knocking on doors and inquiring for work. She could do almost anything, she told the people. Most everyone was extremely polite, extremely friendly, and extremely unhelpful. At the end of the street she knocked on a grand door attached to the front of a very grand house. A very Grand Lady with a strange accent answered her knock. The Maiden explained her situation and asked if there was any work to be done in the house. The Grand Lady became excited and told the Maiden that she was badly in need of a governess for her two children. The Maiden peered past the lady into the house, which was painted a deep and warm plum color inside, set off with the softest shade of seafoam green. She knew the Grand Lady must be caring and wise and have outstanding interior decorating skills, so she accepted the post at once. She was given her own flat in the basement from which she could come and go as she pleased when she wasn't minding the children.

The Lonely Maiden settled into her new life quickly and cheerfully. She made friends, enjoyed working with her charges, who were both clever and well-behaved, and the climate agreed with her. She almost never got homesick, and then only briefly (usually after a trip to the market where she bemoaned the lack of rootbeer, Miracle Whip, and graham crackers, none of which were available for purchase in this oddest of places).

Having deposited her young charges at school one fine morning, she chaced to meet a Gentleman in the high street as she walked home. He was tall, very tall - 6 feet 2 if he was an inch - and well dressed. He tipped his tophat and wished the maiden a good morning, and she saw that his head was adorned with golden blonde Apollonine ringlets. He was beautiful. He seemed terribly familiar to the Maiden, and she couldn't help but feel that she knew him, though she was certain they had never before met.

He continued on his way, and she on hers. The image of the man haunted her waking dreams, and she found herself silently praying whenever she went out that she would see him in the street. Her prayers were answered. The Lonely Maiden and the Gentleman saw each other frequently, and slowly became more familiar. He was excruciatingly polite. She had never before encounted such manners. His highly polished shoes and airs practically made him an anacronism, and the Lonely Maiden was charmed.

The Maiden (not quite so lonely now) learned that the Gentleman, like herself, was far from home, but unlike herself, was a person of means. He was an aristocratic second son, out to seek his fortune and find life and all that jazz. Despite the superb breeding which resulted in the aristocratic, aquiline nose the Gentleman used for daily wear (his formal nose being even more aquiline and aristocratic), he was far from a snob. He was, in fact, rather egalitarian, and seemed content to share a pint at the pub where the Maiden and the rest of the unwashed masses congregated after tea. He made no pretense whatsoever of superiority, though it was not uncommon for the commoners to defer to his perceived rank. The Maiden was quite taken with him.

At first their enounters were purely by chance, but slowly they began to develop a sense of one another's routeins. Before long, the Gentleman was going out of his way to wish the Maiden a pleasant evening at the end of each day. One afternoon, the Gentleman called upon her at her flat. She invited him in for tea, and despite her thrill at his attention and the butterflies doing acrobactics in her g.i. tract, she felt relaxed and very much at ease in his company. He had a warm and calming manner that soothed and reassured her.

Months passed. The Gentleman's visits became regular, and he and the Maiden became close friends. She told him all about the land of her birth, a place the Gentleman despised for its reputation, but he did not seem to hold her origins against her. She told him all about her brother and her previous life as a master pruner of ornamental trees and shrubs. He listened with interest and asked prompting questions, but spoke little of his own life. The Maiden tried to draw him out, but he was... shy? Secrative? It was hard to tell. He didn't seem embarassed by his past, nor did he appear to be concealing something sinister, but after every conversation, the Maiden felt she had revealed a great deal more than she learned. She was not frightened by his overdeveloped sense of privacy, but rather intruigued, and her attraction to him grew stronger.

One evening as the Maiden was returning home from the market, she saw the Gentlman coming towards her in the High Street, just as he had the first day she saw him. The memory of that first encounter warmed her cheeks and her breast. She smiled broadly and waved, but the Gentlman ignored her. She looked more closely and saw that his eyes were unfocused and he staggerd slightly as he walked. His grey-gloved hand was clutching his stomach over his tailored waistcoat. He was very ill. She dropped her basked in the street and ran to him. His legs buckled just as she reached him, and she lunged and caught him by his armpits. She helped him to support his weight as he trudged feebly back to his bachelor flat on the ritzy side of town.

She took his key from his pocket and helped him in. She had never seen the inside of his flat before, and was startled by its spartan furnishings. Everthing present was very nice, but there was little furniture besides the barest of necessities. Furthermore, there was nothing personal or homey about the place. One can usually tell a great deal about a person by examining the space they create around themselves - art, books, upholstry, etc. - but the Gentleman's appartment reavealed as little about his personality as did his conversations.

Ignoring the queer setting, the Maiden helped the Gentleman to his bedroom and laid him on the bed. He seemed barely aware of her presence. She removed his jacket, waistcoat, necktie and shoes, and pulled the covers over him. His cheeks were flushed and he flopped his head from side to side on the pillow. She felt his forehead and realized he was burning with fever. Suddenly he rolled onto his side and retched. His clothing and bed linens were covered with vomit. "Thank god he's delerious," thought the Maiden, "or he would be mortified to know what I'm about to do," and she deftly and effeciently stripped the bed and the patient. She quickly located pyjamas, but it took her some time to find clean linens. When all was sorted, she put a cool compress on the Gentleman's forehead and gathered up the soiled clothes and linens for washing.

To be continued...

(Note from the Author: This is a terrible place to leave off, with no dramatic value whatsoever. I'm tired, however, and there won't be a good cliff-hanging bit for some time, and I don't want to stay up to write that much. I could save as a draft and finish it later, but it's been so long since I posted anything remotely readable, I feel compelled to publish what I've got so far. I hope you like it, because it's going to be quite the epic. Not on a "My Best Friend's Wedding: A Trilogy in Five Parts" scale, but epic for me. Just wait til you get to the bits about the Dashing Rogue and the dying brother...)

Friday, September 16, 2005

Five days to freedom

Went to Ann Arbor last night to scull. Wound up rowing. Even better! It was a sultry evening, and I was just setting my scull in the water when the men's captain approached me and informed me that they were short a man, and as they are training for the Head of the Charles, they'd really hate to miss an outing, and would I mind filling in?

Would I mind filling in? Does the Pope shit in the woods? What seat, stud?

5. I'll put your scull away for you.

A perfect record. Every 8 I've ever rowed, I've rowed 5 seat. ~~Born to be F~I~I~I~I~V~E!~~

After about 10 strokes, my back started to bother me. Same injury I had last summer that forced me to switch sides and row port in a novice 4. I became concerned and focused on my posture. After 50 strokes I felt like a babe in arms. Lovely Lou was sitting 6. He's a doll, and always very friendly. I was exceedingly pleased to have him for my view. When the cox yelled "focus on the back of the man in front of you!" I mentally replied "Done, sir!"

The water was flat (it always is on the Huron River), the evening was sultry, Lou was sweating through his T-shirt, the ratio was fabulous, and I was happier than a puppy with two peters.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Six days to Salvation

Bicycle bicycle bicycle
I want to ship my bicycle
I want to ship my bike
I want to ship my bicycle
I want to ship it where I like
You say "boat," I say "plane,"
You say "truck," I say "train."
You say "stay," I say "Hey, man,
Jackson was never my scene
And I don't like Detroit."
You say "box," I say "crate,"
You say "foam," I say "tape."
You say "brown," I say "shit,
I don't believe in Fed Express,
All I want to do is...
Bicycle, bicycle, bicycle!"

Spent the past 4 days trying to figure out if it's cheaper for me to buy a new bike in England, or to ship the one I've got (of which I'm rather fond). Looks like shipping may occur. Yay!

Leaving in exactly 146 hours.... *tremble/quiver*

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Crazy fucking busy. Working on new serial when moments present themselves. Working at inconvenince store for last minute cash. Sorting and organizing for move. Trying to dodge mother who is incensed that I didn't do her job for her while she was on vaca. Painting birdhouses for cash for woman with no imagination. Sculling as often as possible (about once a week lately. fucking criminal.) Proofreading ms for friend and taking apalling long time to do it. Trying to find moving service i can afford so as to get bike, speakers, and bed linens to UK. Got grant for $5K. Brief celebration. Mowing lawns. Cat sitting. cleaning/packing/shopping/laundry/doctors' appointments. Got teeth cleaned. whoops, mentioned that already. Leaving tomorrow for Dayton to visit Marley. Hoping Miss Happy won't be there. Going to Ren Fest to get drunk on mead and watch burly guys joust. Save a horse: ride a knight. Old friend from college moved from Mass to nearby city. Neet to hook up in order to hook up. Need to have lunch with old friend from high school. And other one. Need to have dinner with aunties before leave. Need to download dad's vaca photos and burn cd. Need to dig through basement and find Marley's old GI Joes so as to sell on Ebay. Need to dig through basement and sort out shit to be given to charity and thrown out. Need to blow nose. Need to GET THE HELL OUT OF COUNTRY!!!!! Need to get laid a.s.a.p.