Not an Ordinary Morning

We’re out walking the dog this morning, early. OK, Gerry’s walking the dog; I’m not awake yet so I’m stumbling along trying to stay upright. Cars pass, you can hear them coming from behind. But one comes up and stops, window open, and driver says, “Hey Jamie, Gerry!” and I jump and screech. (I have a strong startle reflex. Long story, another time.) Our friendly neighbor drives on. I never got a good look at her. Uh, good morning, friendly neighbor!

We walk on. This friendly cat waits and greets us on many of our walks.

But that’s not all. It was quite a morning! Unidentified neighbor trying to be friendly scares the life out of me, Gerry and Suzy make a new friend, and later a woman is driving around looking for her dog. She stops and asks Gerry if he’s seen a black labradoodle. Yes, he has—on our neighborhood Facebook page. He pulls it up on his phone, shows her—Yes! That’s the dog!—and she jots down the phone number. All this before 7:30 a.m.

Never did find out who the friendly neighbor was.

Advertisements

Oh, the Humanity

I love this: “to be peopled at all was a high-order gift, but to find people beyond your people was nothing short of miraculous” (emphasis mine). Yes, indeed.

And now he was here, in her house, in Oak Park. She should go check on him, sequestered in the living room with the men, but she knew if she rose she would subject herself to more ridicule. Her sisters—with her at the table, fighting about someone she’d never heard of—were delighting in the amount of teasing there was to be done about Grace’s first boyfriend-holiday, ignoring her protests that he wasn’t her boyfriend.

“He’s just my person,” she’d insisted to Wendy, earlier. “Or, not, like—just a person.”

“Careful,” Wendy said. “You’ll flatter him to death.”

But he was in her house, among her family—her other people—and this was emboldening, somehow. Her life had always been abundantly peopled—by her doting parents, by her indulgent sisters—but she now felt accompanied in a way she never had before, by a person who was choosing to feel beholden to her instead of simply scooting up the built-in rope of familial obligation. And it was striking, how much less alone that could make you feel, because of course to be peopled at all was a high-order gift, but to find people beyond your people was nothing short of miraculous, finding a person away from home who felt like home and shifted, subsequently, the very notion of home, widening its borders.

—from The Most Fun We Ever Had (Doubleday, 2019) by Claire Lombardo

The End of the Immigration Affair (Almost)

We’ve been waiting for Gerry to get his permanent green card since we applied for it in the summer of 2017, ninety days out from the date the conditional green card was due to expire (21 October 2017). Well, as you know, the current “president’s” administration is understaffed, inefficient, and way behind on everything (not to mention anti-immigration); they sent us a letter extending the temporary green card for another twelve months. No new card, just a piece of paper. When it got to be October of 2018, they sent us another “oops” letter extending the card another six months, to April 2019.

Meanwhile, after three years of legal residency (from his date of entry: 21 October 2015), Gerry was entitled to apply for citizenship … which is something else you do ninety days out. So in July 2018 we paid the money and filed those papers.

As of April 2019, we’d heard that the citizenship application had a case number; we had not gotten another extension letter for the temporary green card, and we were a little nervous. But our attorney said the expired letter date didn’t matter: “You are legal until they send you a letter telling you you are not legal.” Um, OK.

And then May happened: some action at last. Our attorney got an email saying Gerry’d been assigned a date to appear for the citizenship interview. (She was thrilled: “I think you are skipping ahead a whole year in the process!” she said excitedly.) Meanwhile Gerry got an email saying his permanent green card was being processed. The card never showed up, but we gathered up the materials we needed for the citizenship interview. Proof, proof, and more proof of our life: I’ve been setting photos aside since July 2017, and we pulled together IRS records and on and on, the sorts of documents we have already submitted twice.

The citizenship interview was today.

Gerry had decided last month to go ahead and pay our attorney to come with us, because the whole process has been so unpredictable, so arbitrary, so haphazard and random. We are so glad we made that decision.

Surprise! It’s a Green Card Interview!

She met us at the USCIS (US Custom and Immigration Service) office in Nashville where the interview would happen. As we waited, she told me a story about how there are three agents who handle the interviews; two of them are very nice. The third had threatened to throw her out of his office because she’d smiled at her client during an interview. (She smiles and laughs a lot.) “He’s an asshole,” she said.

Guess which one we got?

I also am a person who smiles and laughs a lot, and it’s a wonder I wasn’t thrown out right away. This guy—early-mid thirties, short, bearded, carries a backpack rather than a briefcase—spoke very, very fast and in a low mumble. I had trouble hearing him. And right away he asked us something about our relationship that was so silly, so ridiculous (I wish I could remember what it was) it made me giggle-snort.

He gave me the stink-eye; I made a mental note not to smile or laugh.

And so we proceeded. Although he had two large binders’ worth of photographs and documents such as birth certificates, passports, material establishing that we live in the same house—all the documentation we had to submit for the first two stages of the green card application—he made us relate our entire story, pitting us against each other, asking and re-asking the same questions as if he was trying to trip up one of us. It was a never-ending barrage of questions, with no direction. He’d ask a specific question, which we would answer, then he would just sit there staring at us for a few beats. Finally he’d say, “Go on,” as if we’d failed to read his mind.

That was the green card portion of the interview—the one we had not been notified to prepare for. (The citizenship application—the one we had been notified about—does not require my presence.) For example, we’ve been submitting copies of our joint tax returns to CIS for several years, but on this day this guy wanted proof that we’d paid the taxes (our CPA handles it, so no, we didn’t have a nice little thank-you letter from Uncle Sam), and he wanted recent proof that we have joint banking accounts. He questioned strenuously why Gerry’s name was on the title to our car along with mine, if Gerry didn’t drive. He questioned repeatedly why we bought a house together all the way back in 2007 since we didn’t marry until 2014. (“We were planning for our retirement,” I snapped, growing weary of him.) He wanted the deed to our house to confirm joint ownership, even though we’d brought the most recent city and county tax bills, which had both our names on them. (We’d even brought the bank statement showing we’d paid off the mortgage.) These (IRS proof of payment, deed to house) are all things we could have brought with us had any of us known we’d be having the green card interview.

It was a needlessly confrontational, exhaustingly adversarial conversation. He was like a dog with a bone, and we were the bone he was determined to chew up. Our attorney inserted herself a couple times; her comments reminded him that as he knew (he had all the official correspondence, after all) we had not been notified to prepare for a green card interview. He truly was an asshole, and the whole time we sat there I was reflecting on what it must be like to have brown skin, to not understand the language as well as we do, and then get this guy for the interview! Thank goodness our attorney was there. Thank goodness we could afford to hire her. And what a sad, miserable little life that guy must lead. I wonder if he’s ever traveled outside the country.

That said, if anyone ever utters the words extreme vetting in my presence, I will give that person a piece of my mind. (They know who they are.)

And Now For the Citizenship Interview

Mr. Miserable was done with me, and I had to move to the second row of chairs, away from his Big Desk in the Tiny Office. Woo. Now the interview was straightforward: a series of questions about character (already asked and answered on paper a year ago). Have you ever been arrested, for example. Again, asked in a very fast mumble; if English were your second language, the potential for misunderstanding and giving the wrong answer would be very high.

Then the actual citizenship questions. A year ago we’d been given a booklet with the one hundred possible questions about US history, US government, and so on. These are things I learned in high school, although I’m told they don’t teach civics in public schools anymore. Applicants are asked ten questions of the hundred; to pass you must get six right.

Gerry only needed to be asked six.

You also have to say at least one sentence in English, and you have to write a sentence in English. (In this case: “The American Indians were here first.”)

At the end of all this, Mr. Miserable said, “I am recommending you for US citizenship. You will be informed when to appear to take the oath. It will be sometime in the next three months.” And that was that. No “Welcome home, Mr. Hampson,” as the CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) agent in Dublin had said back in October 2015 when Gerry got his immigration visa under a different presidential administration.

Until the oath ceremony, Gerry’s still in limbo. His green card has an expiration date of 21 October 2017, so it’s no good for ID. If he needed to travel outside the country prior to his oath-taking and the arrival of a new passport (how long does THAT take these days?), his Irish passport would be flagged. There is a stamp that USCIS can place in the passport to “keep him legal,” should anything arise, but naturally Mr. Miserable declined to do that for us, although he could have right then. (He will if we need it, he said. But no favors, you see.)

Doing the happy dance right outside the door.

We Are Delighted, Of Course

We left the building with our heads down (Gerry muttering “Prick!”) but when we were outside, we laughed and took a photo. We stopped at Famous Dave’s on the way home and picked up some barbeque, the way two little old people might celebrate. 🙂 This long journey is almost over … and we are looking forward to Gerry’s opportunity to vote in the 2020 election.

But again, I want to stress this: we had an attorney to guide us through the process, a knowledgeable one who gave us great advice. We both speak the language, and we are white. Additionally, I have been around the block enough times to not be afraid of assholes. But just imagine someone who is truly foreign trying to navigate this process with Mr. Miserable.

• • •

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me … ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25: 35, 40 ESV)

Who Dat? Old Family Photos

One is reminded (when looking at old family photos) that back in the day, you took a photo and couldn’t be sure what you had snapped until days or weeks later when the film was developed. Was the lighting OK? Was it fuzzy? You just didn’t know. And film wasn’t cheap, so you didn’t take three (or ten!) photos of the same thing to make sure you got a good one. Most of my father’s photos are in focus but he didn’t throw out the bad ones, either.

I have no idea who the adults in this photo are. 🙂

My parents kept a little 3×5 metal file box of addresses (for the Christmas card list) because their air force friends became family to them—and they kept in touch, year after year after year. They kept in touch if they moved away but they hung out if they were stationed together.

This couple appears in several of the family slides; I can’t remember their names but I know we were close to them. He was a pilot. I seem to recall a story of airplane hijinks (flying under bridges? flying under something, something the US Air Force frowns on). He met her while he was stationed in Italy and married her. That’s me* in his lap, Jill in hers (probably early 1957). What intrigues me about this photo, though, is that marvelous carved wooden partition. That sure wasn’t our house!

*Notice I’m wearing a dress. Until I got older, I was always in a dress. Ninety percent of these slides, I’m in a dress, a dress sewn by my mother.

Tougher Than You Think

While I was out and about today two separate people remarked on how beautiful my key ring is. It does regularly get that kind of attention, because it’s a little unusual.

Back in 1990 I divorced, moved back to Middle Tennessee, and got a job in the corporate office of a company I’d done good work for over the previous three or four years. It was located in a small town near here, and there was (ahem) a little bit of sour grapes related to the fact that I got the job and not one of the four younger-than-me local women who were then working in the office.

But one soldiers on, yeah? One does because one needs the job and has a child to feed and some time to spend in one’s head, getting clear after a divorce.

A few months later, after I’d returned from lunch and laid my car keys on the corner of my desk—where I always put them; because you know I am a creature of habit, and even now have a place to put keys—those keys just up and disappeared. They disappeared right as I needed to begin my thirty-five–minute commute back to the town I lived in to pick up my six-year-old from school daycare. During the flurry of searching EVERYWHERE for the keys, plus calling a friend to pick up my son and calling the school to let them know that and later asking the friend to keep my son overnight because the keys simply. did. not. turn. up (not even months later after my desk was moved out of the cubicles into an office) and calling my ex-husband to Fedex the other set of keys (cheaper than a locksmith) and calling the storage company to let them know I would miss my appointment to pay my deposit (but I still want the 10×10 and I’ll come tomorrow, please, please, please hold it for me) … after/during all that, I also broke down and sobbed right in the middle of the office and could not stop for a long time. I’d been divorced about six months and was just, you know, fragile.

I think these days you call it an Ugly Cry.

I believe those missing keys were meant to be a little poke, a little mean joke haha by those four girls who reported to me but resented it. But once I’d cried, there was no way on God’s beautiful blue-green earth the keys were going to come back to me. They’re rusting at the bottom of some creek in DeKalb County, Tennessee. No, ladies: I know one of you said I probably just lost them myself and they’ll turn up. But they never did.

They never did.

The next month I was at a crafts fair in Centennial Park in Nashville and I bought this handmade key ring for twenty dollars, the one I still get compliments on twenty-eight years later. (Twenty-eight! So what’s that you say about my losing my keys?) And every time I do, I remind myself that I am a strong person, even if I have to cry sometimes.

The Beauty of History, Large and Small

In poking around in old family photos I found a document with information I had completely forgotten: my father didn’t graduate from high school—he got what these days we call a GED. Jim Clarke grew up in two places simultaneously: St. Louis, Missouri, where he lived with his mother, and Edgefield District, South Carolina. (That’s what it was called then. It’s a town now, the county seat of Edgefield County. Twenty miles from Augusta, Georgia. Clarks/Clarkes go back to the 1600s in this area. His father’s people lived there, and still do.)

Jim was back and forth between the two locations, not always on school vacations, so it’s no surprise he failed to graduate from a St. Louis high school. (Also, he was a bit of a troublemaker in his youth. This should surprise no one who knew him, or who knows me.) Anyway, he has a “State High School Certificate” from South Carolina, signed 10 June 1949 (he was 20), signed (real signature, not a stamp) by Strom Thurmond, who was governor at the time.

Moving Humanity Forward (At the Oscars)

I got really worked up—inspired!—watching the Oscars this year. And I want to preserve that feeling.

This was the first thing I took notes on last night, this clip introducing the movie Roma, a nominee for Best Picture. Actor Diego Luna speaks in Spanish (and I loved all the Spanish spoken last night! Loved it!) and then chef Jose Andres makes some comments about the “recipe” that creates humanity never turns out the same—we’re each unique—altho the ingredients in that recipe are universally the same. So. Very. Special. You can just hear him say “are universal” where this clip begins. You’ll then see exactly where I leapt to my feet and started shouting …

Yes, immigrants and women move humanity forward. There are plenty of conservative old white men (say, my brother) who were probably annoyed by this little bit of politics, but piss on them. They are the past. The future is on the way, and some of it speaks Spanish.

Speaking of the future, I saw a one-minute version of this ad last night too. “Dear Tech.” Brilliant. And thank you. Let’s do make a difference in government. Let’s keep our voting data secure, for one thing. Conservatives probably hated this too.

And you know I’m an old softy when I can get inspired by a television ad. Looooooove this. You go, ladies. Show them what crazy can do, indeed.

It made me really happy to see Spike Lee get an Oscar after all these years. Some years ago (and yes, I’ve probably told this story before) Spike Lee and I were waiting for an early morning flight to New York from Nashville. He was studiously ignoring people who tried or even looked like they might try to talk to him by keeping himself buried in a Kindle. I’d noticed him as soon as I got to the gate, and I’m well-schooled in “Nashville Rules”: don’t bother celebrities, we say, let them have their privacy. And I sat there and fought with myself about it, because I have strong feelings about Spike Lee. But right before boarding, I broke the rule. I spoke really fast: “Mr. Lee. I just want you to know that Do the Right Thing is one of the best and most important movies I’ve ever seen in my life, and 25th Hour was pretty stunning too. Keep up the good work.” He looked up at this chubby middle-aged woman, set his book down, stood up, and shook my hand and thanked me for saying so. It made my day.

So I’m glad for Spike Lee, and I’m glad Americans saw Spanish spoken at the Oscars, and I hope maybe the hearts of other folks were touched too. Immigrants, women … crazy, man.