It's not about the house.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

God Bless The USCIS

Sorry I scared everybody by not posting when we got home yesterday – here’s what happened:

My alarm is always set for 5:15 and my clock is set ½ hour ahead – because I can’t stand the thought of getting up at 4:45. (It makes sense to me, okay?) But when we went to bed on Thursday night, I decided that I wouldn’t be getting any work done in the morning anyway, so I might as well treat myself and sleep till 6:15 (i.e., 5:45). So I reset the alarm.

And then forgot to turn it on.

I woke up very rested, wondering why it was so sunny out so early. Sat bolt upright and saw my clock say 7:29 – thank god it’s ½ hour fast! I hollered to Johnny: “The alarm didn’t go off! We have to walk out the door in 45 minutes!” He actually got right up and at ‘em – it’s a USCIS miracle! (I’ll have the turkey in the window, the one as big as me!)

When I was in the shower, I realized that pressing his clothes might have been more important than washing my body, but since I was already wet I finished up. By the time I got out and threw my own (unpressed) clothes on, he was already dressed in jeans, t-shirt and woolen jumper – sorry, sweater (living with him, I sometimes forget which words are whose – so, to those media types who think it’s funny to mock Madonna’s accent, I say: leave her alone).

He had decided a cup of tea was more important than a shower, and that there wasn’t time enough to iron clothes. He wouldn’t be convinced otherwise, so there we were: me more dressed up and cleaner – although a bit more wrinkled – than he was for his own appointment. I checked and checked and re-checked to make sure we had all the paperwork we’d so diligently gathered. I took my hated cell phone (which I haven’t used yet, by the way) out of my bag because the paper said they weren’t allowed and I didn’t know if that meant just don’t use them or if it meant they would be confiscated. I threw in a sleeve of saltine crackers just in case we were stuck in there for months – and we were off.

On the T on our way there Johnny’s eyes began to itch, which he remembered always happens when he wears this particular jumper of Shetland wool. But the t-shirt he had on underneath the sweater was an old one from work, splattered all over with twenty-five colors of paint. So he had to leave the jumper on and suffer bloodshot, trying to remember not to scratch.

The office we were going to is down in the North Station/Boston Garden area of town (Boston Garden was actually torn down years ago, but I refuse to even acknowledge the existence of that new monstrosity). I have always oriented myself down there in relation to the elevated central artery: find the expressway, then either walk towards it or away. Except they took the highway down last year, when they finished the Big Dig. So I stepped out of North Station, looked around, and thought “Where are we? Are we in New York?”

A friendly neighborhood newspaper vendor silently pointed us in the right direction. The right thing to do would have been to buy the paper from him in gratitude, but I didn’t have the heart to read the front page news (which, I don’t know what else happened in the world this week, or what you read about or watched on the tv news where you live, but here in Boston, well, suffice to say we’ve been universally sickened by the thought that the Patriots just might be the Yankees now. God, I hope we win tomorrow. Anyway…)

The paper for the appointment specifically said “we don’t have a lot of seating room, so don’t bring anybody with you unless you need help filling out the forms.” Which Johnny does, because he’s pretty severely dyslexic – given few enough distractions he can read a book just fine, albeit slowly, but forms are his bête noire. We were worried they might make me leave anyway, and I tried to come up with a plan for what I would do if they did, but my brain was so fried I couldn’t think of anything. Thankfully, they let me stay.

I actually enjoyed being in there. It was fun to look around at all the different-colored people – some in traditional costumes, some dressed to impress, some even more under-dressed than Johnny – and try to guess where they were from, why they had come here. Every single person who worked there was cheerful and pleasant and friendly – and they, too, were a hodge-podge of skin tones and accents. In fact, now that I think about it, I do believe Johnny and I were the only white people in that room, the whole time we were there. How cool is that?

The place was run so efficiently, I’ll have to see some sort of legal edict to be convinced of its government affiliation. You walk in the door and line up on the left – the rest of the room is roped off, so it’s impossible to accidentally go anywhere but where you’re supposed to go. You show the Very Nice Lady at the desk the form they sent you and your green card (if you have it), she calls you Sweetie, stamps your form, hands you a color-coded laminated number, and tells you exactly where to sit.

There are four seating areas, for four different purposes (I’m not quite sure what the other three are for but ours, for example, was only for people who were renewing green cards) and each seating area has a different kind of number. The folks behind us had plain old numbers, we had one number that corresponded with the hour on the clock (8, 'cause we were early) and one letter (we were K). So when they called a number there was never any confusion as to whom they meant.

Once, they called a number and no one came up. After our experience with the Plymouth County Courthouse, I wouldn’t have been surprised if they called the number once and threw the file in the trash. But these people stopped everything, checked the form attached to the number they were calling, determined that the missing applicant was from Cambodia, called for any other seated people from Cambodia, and enlisted them all in a search. It turned out he was outside on his cell phone (because oh yeah, they didn't confiscate them, and only mildly scolded when they rang). How cool is all of that?

Anyway, so when Johnny’s turn came, he was interviewed by a jolly Turkish guy with tribal tattoos on his arm. Here is what Turkish Guy asked of Johnny:

“Since you got your green card, have you ever been out of the country for longer than a year?”

And that is it.

No: “Have you ever been arrested?”

No: “Is there any paperwork that you brought with you?”

No: “Did your wife spend all week running around to different courthouses for you, gathering official paperwork that we specifically told you that you had to have or else we’d send you home, and would she maybe, even if we don’t actually need to see it after all, feel gratified if we would at least acknowledge the fruits of her frustrating labors?”

No, for that matter: “Do you by any chance at this point have a wife?”

Just have-you-been-out-of-the-country and that’s it, here’s a sticker for your expired green card and go get your picture taken for the new one that we’ll send you in two months.

It was a Chinese guy took Johnny’s picture. He joked with him: “Gray hair, blue eyes, 5’3½” tall – yup, you’re definitely Irish. All you need now is a pint!” He told Johnny he couldn’t have the ½ inch, and offered Johnny the choice whether he wanted to be 5’3” or 5’4”. Johnny said “No point in lying about it, I’m 5’3” if that’s the case. All Irishmen are short.” Chinese guy laughed: he was the same height as Johnny.

So that was it, we were done. We had walked in the door at 8:45 for a 9:00 appointment, and we were walking out at half past nine. Spit-spot, easy-peasy, piece of cake.

On the sidewalk, on the way back to North Station, the pain started in the back of my head. That soft spot, right at the top of your spine. Like some horrible, invisible giant was pushing in on it with his thumb. I had told my Ladies I'd be at work if we finished soon enough, but uh-uh. By the time we got home it was as though the giant’s thumb-pressure had disconnected all my nerve endings, and all four of my limbs were nothing but water-filled dead weight. I crawled into bed, wanting nothing more than to lay a mattress down on top of me and die – except, for the next three hours, I had to keep dragging myself around, because the giant had somehow messed up my insides, too.

It was just the tension of the week, coming out in force, I’m sure. But it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t at all the celebration I’d hoped for or expected. Finally, at around 2:00, I fell into a deep, dog, dark, dead-ass sleep…

When I awoke at 5:00, the plumber was done, the inspector had come and gone, and we officially had heat. For real. I turned it on and felt the radiator in my bedroom actually get warm for the first time in three years.

And then I went back to bed.

I dreamed that I had taken Sister Cat to my mother's house and left her there without food or water. Mom was on vacation, and my car was broken down, so I was sitting here in impotent desperation knowing she was slowly wasting away. What do you suppose that dream was all about?


Leslie said...

I'm THRILLED that it went so well! YAY!!!

(then again, there was something appealing about the thought of you writing about fixing up some ancient little place in Ireland...)

jen said...

No clue. Im no good with dreams. I had a dream that all the animals escaped from the zoo and a bear ate our cow and its calf (neither of which we have) turned out the bear didnt actually eat them, because he had no eye teeth. And, he spoke. Was very nice...
ANYWAY...glad that it went well. Hope your headache and guts is all back to health!

MD said...

I think it means, Mommie Dearest forgot to tell you she was going away......

dynochick (Jan) said...

I had to take a nap after reading your post about how they ran you from building to building etc.

Thank gosh it went better the second time around.

I'd kill to have a team like the Pats.....unfornuately we are stuck with the Lions. But they are 2-0 right now. But I'm not getting my hopes up.

EGE said...

Leslie: There's still a chance that might happen someday, but we've go to finish this stinkhole first.

Jen: I was like "You have a cow and a calf! Oh..."

MD: Say Hi to the Crescent City for us. Tell it we love it.

And dynochick: The best thing about being a Pats fan right now, is remembering what it was like when they sucked and we loved them anyway...