Give Me My Money Back -Part 5

Melvin Stewart sat behind a screen at the end of the line marked “New Immigrants Only” as I made my way back into the USA through SFO. Mel, as I would come to call him after our friendship blossomed, was about 5’9″, African American, stout and knurly. He had a beard, mustache and wicked sense of humor. I obviously was tired after spending 11 hours at the ‘back of the bus’ coming in from London and by the time a family of 6 who were lined up in front of me finished at the counter with Melvin, I just wanted in and wanted to go home. I sauntered up, big brown envelope at the ready, smiling and full of the joys of springtime.

“Good afternoon Sir” Melvin began, “and you are coming into the United States because…?’ he stopped dead in his speech.

I looked at the illuminated red sign directly above his head which read, “NEW IMMIGRANTS ONLY” and then I looked back at Melvin. I did it again, just for effect. His poker face never wavered. I knew then that this wasn’t going to be easy and even though I wanted to say something like “what the fuck do you think I’m coming into the country for you asshole”, I said to him very politely, “I just got the paperwork for my green card in London and was directed to this line by that sign up there” smiling again as I pointed to the red neon above his head. His interrogation began in earnest. I’d heard it all before and was frustrated that yet again I was being subjected to further investigation.

“Where have you been, how long were you there, who did you see in London, what do you do, are you married, do you have kids etc, etc”

So tedious, so unnecessary, and so frustrating.

When Melvin was done with his standard questioning, we began chatting, as normal people would, about life, love and other great mysteries that couldn’t be solved in the 5 minutes we spent together. By the time he was ready to stamp my passport allowing me entry into the US with a Visa that would last 180 days, ample time to obtain my green card in the mail one would have thought, Mel and I were best buddies and arranging to go for dinner that very next week. We turned out to be the greatest friends, a friendship that lasted for too few years unfortunately, but friends we were and with my new freshly inked stamp inside my British passport, I exited into the customs hall to reclaim my bags.

One would think that would be the end of my immigration woes, just like it will be for the 5 million or so who will receive and amnesty from Obama in the coming months. No, unfortunately it wasn’t. It was just the beginning, and when I think back now to the aggravation I was about to receive, it pisses me of greatly that the 5 million who will receive this amnesty from our President will not have to go through the grief, financial hardship, verbal abuse, and most of all the sincere dislike of anything governmental or ‘red tape’ appropriate, that I had to endure. Maybe it doesn’t piss me off, perhaps it just infuriates me that I did the right thing, went the right way, spent more than the right kind of money, received less than the right degree of acceptance, and I did it the way it was supposed to be done. So why shouldn’t they? I know there are plenty of you out there saying, ‘well that’s exactly right, the system is broke to let’s let them all in and the system will be fixed’ NONSENSE! The system is broken because those who have abused it, broke it! Politicians tend to feed off the weak in this case and are desperate to become ‘do-gooders’ . Although not everyone in the House supports the idea of this amnesty, the issue goes much deeper that just telling someone, “come into the country now, you’re going to be made very welcome”  The situation is made worse by the fact there’s one rule for one and one for another. It took me 9 years and a ton of cash to get a green card, but if I’d been Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indian or come from another ‘persecuted’ nation or sect, I would have received my documentation in the drop of a hat. There would have been fewer interviews, no cash outlay, and certainly no 9 year wait. Unfortunately it’s one rule for some and one for the others. There’s even a third rule for those in the know, as my next blog will point out. No matter what, the system is entirely flawed. From start to finish, there is NO system, as proven by this ‘amnesty’, and that’s what I find so frustrating.

I was told my green card would arrive in 3 months max. 5 months later, still no green card and my concern then became one of visa renewal to ensure I could keep traveling in and out of the US. This my friends is where the story became rather silly.

I’d tried calling, writing, emailing, and going in person to the Immigration building at 444 Washington St, San Fransisco. It was becoming a real issue. My visa was running out, my green card hadn’t shown up and my life was about to get very difficult if it didn’t make the transition. I needed that card. I’d tried everything, I’d even spoke to Errol my attorney, but no one could help. I was in the hands of that great unknown called the US Immigration and Naturalization Service, aka, the government! I was about two weeks out from losing all foreign travel privileges when one afternoon my phone rang. It was Melvin.

“I’m out of SFO, and I was promoted to INS in Washington St”

“No way!!!” I shouted. “I need you! When do you start?”

“Next Monday” he said.

Well that turned out to be a complete lifesaver. Melvin started his new job on Monday and I went to meet him for lunch on Tuesday, the day after he’d begun. I explained my issue and hey presto! Within 20 minutes I had my new visa! He’d walked into a room and updated it to last another 6 months. If he hadn’t done that I would have had to go to my local INS office in San Jose, take a number and sit all day in the hope that someone would see me. I was home and dry, or so I thought. It never works out that way though, does it?

The day Melvin died, I was in my office thinking that I had to call him when my phone rang. His wife gave me the news and as suddenly as she was there, she was gone and the line went dead. No Melvin, no green card, no friendship anymore. He passed of cancer. No waiting around, dead within weeks of diagnosis. Poor Mel. not only had he met my family, my kids and my friends, he’d been a huge influence in obtaining assistance for me when all seemed lost. I still miss him.

5 more months passed, no green card. I needed to go to the INS office on Monterey Rd San Jose. I had no other options this time.

To describe this INS office as a ‘shithole’ would be an understatement. This is the system, or at least it was when I was going through all my trials and tribulations. You show up ay 5 am. They don’t open until 8. There have been people sleeping outside all night. You join the line. People, probably illegals, go up and down the line selling drinks and food. You cannot leave that line. The first time you arrive you don’t know that you need a seat to make the 3 hour wait until opening time bearable. It’s a zoo, the car park is huge but old and waterlogged, even though it never rains here. People come from all walks of life, but the majority of those waiting are Hispanic. By 7 AM the line is at least 300 yards long. By 8 Am there’s a man who comes from inside the building and begins walking down the line counting bodies and determining who won’t be seen that day. The numbers are obviously calculated from years of experience and the shut off number can mean the difference between being seen around 4 PM or not at all and therefore having to come back the next day. The first time I showed up it was 3 PM in the afternoon and after some discussion with the security guard, I was educated on what not to do and how not to do it, enabling me to show up at a set time and be seen. This office works on a numbers system. You come, you take a number and you wait and wait and wait some more. I ended up going there more than three times, each time I arrived at 5 AM and each time I never left until after 4 PM. My honest opinion about this place is reflected very kindly in that one word description above, but my true feelings towards this office and the people who ran it, are just too hard to explain. My blood still boils even today, some 14 years later, when I sit down to write this.

At 8 AM the doors opened and in we filed. I took a number and sat, and sat and sat. I read, I read some more and eventually, just after lunch I was called. I got to the window and explained to the officer my predicament. His words were astounding.

“You are at the wrong place, you need to go upstairs, which is appointment only, and they will sort this issue for you.”

“Upstairs?” I was flabbergasted. “What’s upstairs?” He passed me a form, told me to call, make the appointment and then come back. What a waste of a day.

I went outside, called the number from my cell phone and was immediately placed on hold. Surprise, surprise! They never did answer. I held for over an hour, put the phone down and headed home defeated. Where was Mel when I needed him. Heaven I suppose, probably sitting behind a desk turning back all those who’d arrived illegally and should be sent back to Hell!

After two days I finally spoke to a human being, although I use that term loosely.

Appointment made, I returned, this time at 7 AM for an appointment that was at 10 AM. Yes, you read that correctly. The system didn’t allow anyone inside that INS building after 8 AM. As I mentioned, they counted them off to avoid not only congestion, but also disappointment. Even with an appointment I had to be there early, just not that early!

I was sent upstairs where I waited, then I waited some more. I was seen at 10 AM prompt. To the best of my memory, here’s the conversation.

Me, “I need a Visa renewal on my green card”

Him “Where’s your green card?”

Me “Hasn’t shown up yet”

Him “Well I can’t extend that visa, just be patient it will show”

Me “No, it’s been a year, I’ve had this renewed once already and I travel a lot, I need to have it renewed again”

Him “You’re in the wrong department. You have to come back tomorrow, take a number downstairs and wait in line”

Me “I did that already, they sent me to you”

Him “No one sends you to me, you need to make an appointment”

I was beginning to see what the intelligence required was to stay in this job!

Me “Can I see your boss?”

Him “Why?”

Me “Because you have no idea what you are doing!”

Him “Please leave sir. NOW!”

Two days later I came back at 5 AM and took a number and at 4 PM when I got to the front of the line they told me I had to make an appointment to go upstairs. I was very unhappy, quite dejected and definitely annoyed to the point where I wanted to burn the place down. Surrounded by sweat, BO, ignorance and frustration, no one could get me to the right person, AND not only that, I spent three days of my life doing this to get absolutely nowhere. And then, just as I was about to give up, my savior arrived! In all its Green glory, when I returned home that night, there is was, shiny, perfect, beautiful although it was PINK not fucking green! My card!!!

I was half way to citizenship. Green card followed by US passport is the order of events, but you need to be a green card holder for between 3 to 5 years before you can even apply for a passport and I was some way off being able to do that. Obtaining a passport would be yet another ordeal, probably as great if not greater that the story I just told you, but that’s for another day.

My heart goes out to those who are here by default, but come on, let’s face it, to let them all in for free and without penalty of process is, in my opinion, so very wrong. They SHOULD have to go through what every other immigrant has to go through. Legal and biding are the results and even though it was painful and elongated, the process is rewarding. Obama you are the fraud, not those who you’ve reprieved. You never had to go through this to get your passport but perhaps you should have do so just to see how difficult it is and how frustrating the whole system is. I want you, Mr. President, to return my money, the money I spent becoming part of the process. If 5 million are to get an amnesty, what about the previous 100 million from the past 150 years? What about us, the one’s who did it the right way, the legal way, the only way we knew?

 

Give Me My Money Back -Part 4

Three of us shared a ride back to the embassy. We were admitted through a side gate and ushered into an anti-room where we sat until the rest of the group showed up. It took about half an hour and several more panic attacks before we were all reunited. Then the fun began.

My briefcase had become a burden. I’d not opened it all day and I’d schlepped it all over London pending inspection by the US authorities. It seemed that all my best efforts retrieving documents from marriage, previous divorce, current living situation, banks, lawyers etc, had been for nothing. No one wanted to see it. I’d heard nothing but horror stories all day about friends of some of the applicants in my group who’d married US citizens and been visited regularly by the INS,(Immigration and Naturalization Service), just to see if they were still living with one another. This hadn’t happened to me just yet and I was hopeful it wouldn’t. Of course mine wasn’t a ‘marriage of convenience’ as some of the other’s had been.

The roll call began. 3 at a time they began calling applicants towards the very same desks we’d stood some 6 hours earlier. One by one they received yellow papers, X-ray’s and a large brown envelope. Sweaty palms became sweaty bums as the countdown to my calling got closer. I could see that so far everyone was smiling. No one had been refused on medical grounds. Then it arrived, that call, MY call. I was stunned at first, woken from my thoughts, but within milliseconds I was at the desk and being told I’d passed. Relief, total relief was the only feeling that came to mind, but before I’d had a chance to celebrate I was forced to concentrate for several minutes more as the officer explained the next procedure. He ran through the do’s and don’ts and then handed me an envelope, the same brown envelope everyone else had received. As he handed it over he shook my hand and said “Welcome to the United States.” Happiness!

The do’s were simple. I had to return to the US within 6 months. I had to enter through a special channel, even though I lived there, had a house and business there, and even though I paid tax there, I still had to comply. I was told that my green card would become permanent within 6 months and that the stamp they’d placed in my British passport would suffice until the card arrived by mail. I was free to go in and out of the country as often as I liked and as long as I returned within 6 months of each departure, paid my taxes and remained a good boy, I would be able to keep my green card for ten years without renewal.

The don’ts,well, they were simple. Don’t commit any crime. Don’t screw the IRS. Don’t get divorced before two years of marriage were completed. Don’t piss off the US government and don’t, whatever you do, lose the damn card!

With all said and done, I left, sorry, we ALL left the embassy. Time to celebrate. It was 4PM and I was going home, not to the US quite yet, but home to my place in the London suburb of Epsom. I would call my wife, see my son and generally have a very happy evening. The trials and tribulations of not only that day but the days and years prior to that had really been exhausting. It was so hard to explain to anyone how difficult this process had been and now how worthwhile it had become. The elation and relief of that moment went hand in hand with the disappointment of the length of time required to do this properly and more importantly, legally! I could never go through that again, or so I believed, but I certainly didn’t have to. I could never have gone through the illegal channel for fear of being caught and then deported leaving me with no chance to recover and try again. I felt a belonging, an affinity to those millions who’d come through Ellis Island, to those who’d come the right way, not the wrong way, and most of all I felt I’d fulfilled a dream or at least part of.

My next task was to return home to America. I booked a flight that night and with my HIV free certificate in my hand, I went to sleep knowing part of my journey was now complete.

Give Me My Money Back -Part 3

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Glasgow, and you?”

“Bannff”

“I have an aunt who lives in Bannff, Lena McClaren.”

“She lives right next door to my mum and dad!”

“No f…g way!”

And with that we became inmates for the day. We were tied together by both nervousness and determination. If you thought my experiences with attorney’s were bad, you should have heard his. I’d been waiting almost 9 years, he’d been waiting longer. Both of us had married an American citizen, (not the same one!), both had invested into business’s and both of us had lost tens of thousands to get to where we now stood. With all that said, so had the other’s who joined us that day.

At around 10AM, we were rounded up and given a pink slip to go to a Harley St doctors office for our chest X-ray and HIV test. We were told that we had to make our own way there and then return at 3 PM to the embassy for the results. I was still clinging to my top-heavy briefcase wondering when they were going to go through its contents to prove that I was who I said I was. So far, nothing, and no one had asked to examine one iota of evidence, and that seemed to be the case for all of us except one woman, who was grilled for at least an hour before they let her join the rest of us on our trip to the doctor’s office.

The embassy didn’t provide any transportation to Harley St and with rain poring down, we all decided to get on the nearest tube train and go cattle class all the way to this dreaded date with reality. We arrived, and were once again herded into an office where music played quietly in the background and where you could cut the tension we were all feeling with a blunt knife. It was frustrating. Not one of us ever imagined having to take this test. After all, did it really matter? Yes, of course it did, and when I thought through the consequences of allowing anyone carrying the AIDS virus into the USA, I could see clearly the paranoia of screening every new immigrant to the nth degree. We all sat a joked, all be it half heartedly about what we would do if we were HIV positive. You have to realize that at that point in time, no one really knew the extent of this epidemic and it was affecting not only the Gay community but heterosexuals too. The authorities had also released figures and studies suggesting that the virus could incubate in anyone’s body for as long as ten yeas before being found. I’d gone over and over in my mind who I’d slept with, praying that each one was OK and that today was just a formality. “please, please, don’t let this be the day my dreams are shattered” I kept repeating.

“Zoltie!” came the shout that broke the tension. I was up first. Reverse alphabetical order! Yeah baby, get me in there and then let’s do lunch!

One prick, no not me, and it was over. Then came the chest X-ray. One hour and I was done, and so was my new best buddy Tom, from Scotland. We hit the pub, or rather the pub hit us. I actually had a beer, or three. We sat, chatted, sweaty, nervous, fearful like conversation. Nothing helped. I wanted to know, and I wanted to know right there and then, as did everyone. We tried to eat, we talked about what we were going to do when we got to America, all the time knowing that it might never happen. Everyone knew someone who lived in the States illegally. Everyone! The sad thing was, if you were illegal, and that could be for many reasons, you were stuck in a country of 300 million people and were unable to go anywhere outside that country and perhaps even the town you lived in. Being illegal wasn’t seen as being criminal, even though it was, it was really something that came to most by accident and not by choice. Some had come to make a better life in a country more prosperous than the one in which they lived. Some had come in on a visitors visa and decided never to go back. Some were just plain stupid and done both. No matter what, none of them had gone through the right channels, the right methodology and the correct legal process to assist them in their plight in becoming a citizen of the United States of America. Not a good idea unless you’re seriously happy about doing jail time or being deported. I had little sympathy for such people, mainly because of the trials and tribulations that I and millions of others had been through following the system to the letter of the law in order to achieve or goal and not cheating or short cutting what had been made clear for a hundred years or more. If you want to join us, follow the planed route!

We had another drink and then it was 2PM and time to leave. Taxi!!!!!

Give Me My Money Back – Part 2

I was asked to attend a formal interview beginning at 8 am on the morning of May 14 1998 at the US Embassy in London. Errol had warned me that I needed to take pictures of myself and my wife, our home, our bank account details, our utility bills, and anything else that proved we were a family. I came armed to the hilt with a large brief case filled to the top with evidence. I was nervous. Well, perhaps I was excited. It’s hard to remember the feelings I had when I walked into the embassy knowing that today I would finally get the green card I craved and the right to enter the USA as a legal immigrant. For years I’d felt like a stowaway each time I entered US immigration at whatever airport I’d landed. Although the officers always made me feel welcome, the grief that they gave me each and every time was unwelcome. I travelled a lot, I still do, and when I’d eventually get to the front of the visitor’s line, the questions came fast and furious.

“Where have you been and why?”

“How long were you there?”

“What is it that brings you back?”

“Do you have a business card I can see?”

“Did you take a shit on the plane before you landed?” I’m joking of course, but that’s the kind of questioning that came spouting out from nowhere in particular as I stood, exhausted, at the counter willing them just to put the bloody stamp into my passport that would let me back in to the country and allow me to go home. The US by that time was becoming my home. It was mind numbing and often very degrading, but I knew I had to persevere and hopefully I would prevail.

Back at Gloucester Sq in London, I sat alone, pensive, sweating, just waiting to be called to the front of yet another line. It seemed that I wasn’t the only one who’d come to get that precious green card. I estimated at least 12 others, although at that point I wasn’t sure who was there for what?

Suddenly I heard want I wanted to hear. “Zoltie? Mr. Zoltie” I looked up, saw a man in uniform calling my name, picked up my fully laden briefcase and marched forwards towards freedom whilst humming “oh say can you see…” quietly under my warm and quite erratic breath. ‘America here I come!’

“Mr. Zoltie?” said the man in uniform.

“Yes”

“Mr. Zoltie, please put your right hand in the air like so…” he demonstrated. I followed. “Do you swear by almighty God that the information in the forms you sent to us applying for a Green Card, these forms…” he offered up the paperwork Errol had submitted some 6 months prior to this day, ” … are correct and true and that all the statements made are statements of fact?”

“I do” I was shaking.

“Very well Mr. Zoltie. Please take this form, read it, and remember that until the day is over you are not guaranteed your green card until you have fulfilled the obligations set forth in this form”

I looked at the form, looked at the officer, looked at the form one more time and that’s when it happened. The word AIDS came flying off the paper and into my face like that miss-hit golf ball from the first tee on a golf course in Troon did some 20 years prior, clattering into my head at the speed of light and without so much as a Foooooorrrrrre!  AIDS TEST! There it was, in BOLD, right in front of my eyes. The officer was still talking. I wasn’t listening. This was the height of the Aids pandemic. My mind went into overdrive. I’d never had protected sex, ever, and now, when millions were dropping from this horrible disease, here I was, faced with a test to confirm if I was going to be AIDS free. “Fuck” was all I could say to myself as that same officer handed over the paperwork and asked me to take my seat next to all the other hopefuls who’s comprehension of the same up and coming task seemed to be weighing heavily on every one of their stressed out faces. Once I’d sat down in my chair I began to read the rest of the requirements for that day. Blood test apart, I was to have a chest X-ray, a lecture on the USA and my legal obligations as a green card holder and a picture session where they’d take several images and fingerprints for all the documentation they were about to prepare. I was in despair. What if I was HIV positive? What if I wasn’t? How could they do that test in an hour anyway? I’d read it took two weeks to do an HIV test and get the results. “God” I thought, “please make me negative, please!!”

Suddenly this man came out of nowhere and was standing right in front of me. “You Scottish?” he inquired?

Give Me My Money Back- Part 1

downloadObama owes me over a million dollars. I’m not suggesting that he should pay me tomorrow, but I want my money back and I want it sooner rather than later. His ‘dictator’ like behavior towards immigration has left me annoyed, frustrated and out-of-pocket with seemingly no recourse and very little hope of ever being able to recover a single cent of the money I invested to become a LEGAL US citizen.

In 1992 I came to America seeking my fortune. The UK had been good to me, but like millions of others, the USA had an allure that just wouldn’t go away. My cousin, who ended up being the biggest shit that I ever met, was going through a divorce in LA and he suggested we set up a joint venture together. He was a CPA at the time and I was looking for a way to become a US citizen, it seemed like forming a new venture in the USA would not only give him the fresh start he craved, but would also give me the springboard to citizenship of a country I always enjoyed visiting and craved to reside. Like the tens of millions who had walked this path before me, I was informed from day 1 of the process involved in firstly obtaining an H1 work visa, then a green card and then eventually a US passport. This process was laborious, expensive and so overly complicated that it made me sick to my stomach and bored to my brain every time I visited an attorney, paid off an attorney or had to wait to see an attorney. On the subject of attorney’s, I eventually found one that I could trust but in the process of getting to that stage, I went through at least two who ran off with my money and one who had no idea what he was doing. Costly, to say the least.

The first attorney told me to send him a check for $10,000. He was from Lebanon, and had taken up residency in the USA around 1980. He was confident that after receiving my H1 visa, a visa that he applied for on my behalf, then investing X number of dollars in the US corporation I would have no issues getting a green card and then eventually citizenship. Well, $10,000 later, H1 Visa stamped neatly in my passport, he vanished! Took my money and ran. His reasoning was simple. “I got your Visa” he said, “it will cost another $20,000 to get your green card and you must invest $1 million in a US business or I will walk” He walked.

Attorney number 2 took a similar stance, but not before charging me another $4,000 to become the beneficiary of his tame and often limited advice. He was from Russia, and he should have stayed there. I have to tell you all that these two men came highly recommended by both friends and family, most of whom had either utilized their services or had known someone who’d done the same. Who needs friends or family like that?

Some two years had now passed. I’d conned my way into receiving a Social Security number and therefore a Drivers License, but my H1 was running out, along with my bank balance and my patience. Errol H, as we will call him, a South African and attorney number 3 then came along and tried hard to save the day. Errol was blunt, honest and made it clear to me from day 1 that the easiest way to get a green card would be to marry a US citizen! He said this half-joking of course, but underneath his wicked sense of humor I could see that he more than half meant it. He pleaded with me to pay him the same day he did anything remotely connected to my immigration status and it got to the stage where he and my cousin would openly fight over the issue on telephone calls that became outrageously incoherent. You see the business I’d formed in the US with said cousin was paying the legal bills, and that very same business never had any money. (I wonder why?) Every time Errol wanted money, and wanted it that same day, my cousin would say, “where’s the fire drill?” And he was often right. Years later, once everything was resolved and that business no longer existed, I asked Errol why he’d always been such a stickler for quick payment. His response? “I never trusted your cousin, and he was signing the checks!” Well join the club Errol!

Moving on. The H1 ran out and Errol got an extension. I met a woman, a US citizen, she got pregnant, we got married Vegas style and Hallelujah, a green card soon followed. It was my right by law that with a wife and child on the way, I had to get a green card. Errol suggested that to speed up the process we should apply through the US embassy in London where the wait time for an interview was only 6 months. In the US, the wait time at any office was 2 years. I took his advice, paid him another $10,000 and waited. What happened next was fascinating.

 

Ferguson, What’s Wrong With America.

download“Let’s go burn a few buildings, police cars and stores to the ground” The battle cry that seemed to ring round the small town of Ferguson last night as the Grand Jury announced their verdict. I was watching it all unfold live on CNN, and frankly it made for compelling viewing from the moment Bob McCulloch took to the podium some 15 minutes late, until the first canister of tear gas rolled into the CNN crew who were in the streets covering that inevitable aftermath. I thought I was watching the beginning of a return to the 1960’s, a kind of Back To the Future, played out live in 2014. But then I thought about it, and realized, with a certain amount of foreboding, that the United States of America hasn’t ever actually left the torrid 1960’s and this ‘excuse’ for stupid and often ignorant people to make trouble at the drop of a hat or in this case, drop of a verdict, is nothing more than an easy way to obtain a materialistic advantage during chaos and unrest while most of us sit at home watching in disbelief. After all, free booze, free TV’s and the opportunity to burn buildings, police cars and attack innocent people, doesn’t come along every day! Or does it?

Was the carnage observed last night, today and in the past few months, a ploy, orchestrated by those in authority or was it simply a frustration built up over time by the perpetrators who walked freely, unchallenged and with so much confidence through Ferguson, ready and willing to destroy everything in front of them? Well, let’s think about that.

The verdict came down yesterday morning, or so we are told? If indeed that’s accurate, then why did the whole country have to wait until it was dark and well into the witching hour, 8PM to be precise, to hear what that verdict was? Wouldn’t it have been much easier to release the news during the day when most people, and I include those who created the troubles, are at work or have much better things to do than run through pitch black streets relentlessly carving up the society in which they belong? The nighttime, as we all know, seems to bring out the worst in people dead set in causing trouble, whether they be sober, drunk, horny, greedy or just plainly moronic. Therefore my question is, was this a deliberate ploy by the authorities to make themselves look whiter than white by announcing at 8PM what they knew would be a damaging and disrespectful verdict to at least half the populous, knowing full well that their subsequent actions would lead to rioting and enable them to stand up and say,”I told you so, these people are nothing but thugs and their actions are what triggered this situation for our Police department in the first place?”

Don’t discount the other facts. Although there were over 1000 police and national guard representatives on the streets last night, they were conspicuous in their absence. Where were they? I could see some at the police station, some at the courthouse, but where were they when the Dollar Tree was being looted, the Metro PCS store being burned down and the liquor store emptied? Nowhere to be seen.  When the CNN reported was hit on her head by a rock and then pelted by the crowd nearby as she filmed, where was the protection those officers had sworn to give? Nowhere to be seen! When Obama and the Brown family came on live TV to plead for calm, why was their plea ignored? The answer is simple. We have a government that is led by a lame duck President who has the lowest popularity rating of any President in living memory and even though he’s black, black and white alike, both despise his lack of leadership therefore his plea was completely ignored. You also have to take a look at the rioting demographic. A lot of those involved came from out of State. So what, I hear you say? The so-called experts on CNN made the comment, “what does it matter where they come from? An injustice can be felt anywhere in this country and people are free to come and protest wherever they want” WRONG!!!! Why would anyone drive 800 miles from Chicago to stand in Ferguson unless they have prior intent to make nothing but trouble? People in Chicago also protested and didn’t feel the need to make that long journey just to steel TV’s and booze in Ferguson!

There is so much more to all of this than meets they eye and so much racial tension in this country that everyone just wants to ignore until something like this shooting allows that tension to raise its ugly head yet again. Just when you think things are going smoothly and that everyone in this country can sit down and be brother and sister, as 9/11 proved we can, it all goes to Hell in 5 minutes, and just for the sake of making Hell watchable, live on national TV. And then there are the celebrities. Check out some of their Tweets, although why anyone Tweets at all is completely beyond my comprehension. From Katie Perry to LeBron, all chiming in with their ten cents worth. Stay out of it morons, this is not your fight. This is a situation that is highly charged, highly political and absolutely disgusting. I don’t care that you are directing your ‘prayers’ all the way from CA to Ferguson Katie P, go sing something nice and then go back to your mansion and live your life. When have you ever had to want for anything let alone be involved in a riot brought on by ingrained racial extremities and tension?

People who create chaos and trouble should be punished. Why are we innocent bystanders, the ones who suffer in the long run by feeling insanely helpless by not being able to instill our calm, non racial personalities upon those who seem only to have a chip on their shoulders, intent on bringing anarchy to our streets and and making us think that we should be with them and NOT against them? The Police officer shot a man who he believed was a criminal. Rightly or wrongly, if you took away his gun and the guns of those who want to commit crime, perhaps, just perhaps, Ferguson would not have burned down last night because no one would have died? But, as we all know, that’s a completely different discussion!

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Penny Bernstein- A Life And Death All Alone

I posted a poem last year called Weird Cousin. It was about my estranged cousin Penny who lived in New York. She’d left Scotland in the early 1960’s and never returned, making her home in the Big Apple and somehow, despite her inability to be congenial to the majority of the people she met, managed to carve out a living as a movie producer. She made a movie, “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang”, which won several Emmy’s and really set her up to live a modestly comfortable lifestyle in a rent controlled apartment just off 7th Ave in Greenwich Village. As I mentioned before, Penny was probably the most abrupt person anyone could ever wish to meet. She argued with everyone, whether it be me, my father, her niece’s and nephew’s and even her sister and brother, never shirking away from an opinion that ALWAYS made her right. She would fight with Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, and anyone she could find who held a position of authority. I know, because I witnessed it first hand for years when I visited her regularly in NY. If she didn’t like you or what you were telling her, she let you know it, and she did it with a certain gusto that could be both intimidating and rude to the point that you either wanter to hit her, or just walk away shaking your head and saying, “what a fucking stupid bitch.” I fell out with her, as most people did, in early 1999. It was a stupid argument, all one way, her way of course, which ended in my telling her she could find another executor for her will and her telling me never to contact her again. I conformed with that wish until 9/11, when I decided to pick up the phone and make sure she was OK. She was very grateful to hear from me, but not grateful enough to ever call me back.

Penny taught me a lot. She was a role model on how NOT to live your life and how NOT to treat people. She was also a loner. My father, who was her first cousin, thought that Penny was the most supercilious person he’d ever met, and he should know because he grew up with her. And so when that call came, early one morning about 6 months ago informing me that Penny had died, living alone in that rat infested apartment surrounded by mountains of junk that she’s hoarded over her years of self-inflicted solitude, my emotions were quite mixed. On the one hand, I was sorry we’d not spoken for so many years, but on the other hand, it had been all her doing so why should I show anything else other than casual remorse and a shake of the head while thinking “she could have had so much more than just loneliness?”

Anyway, it was after this call that the whole situation became quite bizarre, garishly exposing the sadness of a life lived alone. You see Penny was discovered beneath that pile of crap that she’d collected over 45 years by a NYPD detective, called to her apartment because no one had seen or heard from her for weeks. This in itself wasn’t unusual, but the odor that reeked from underneath her front door into that drab dreary stairwell she called home was so over baring that the only explanation, as the Detective painstakingly explained to me later, was that a death had occurred and not recently! They took her to the morgue where she lay awaiting identification. By now, her niece and nephew in Toronto, and her sister in the UK had been informed and between all 4 of us, we were involved in what would eventually become an overly elongated process to have her released for burial. You see, Penny’s remains were so putrified that only dental records would account for her ID and nothing else. She had not too much left of her fingers or face after the rats took their feast and without any other way of ID’ing her, dental seemed the best way forward. Well, it tuned out that Penny hadn’t been to the dentist in 40 years, nor had she ever had any Xray’s taken at any hospital in NY and to cap it all off, she’d never been to the Police, called the Police or been arrested by the Police in all the time she’d lived in the USA. The detective told me this was certainly a ‘one of a kind’ situation, backing up his comments with the caveat of “normally homeless people are the only people we have this criteria with, not respectable citizens who live in their own apartment and are self-sufficient for so many years.” That didn’t help. Penny was in the morgue without any hope of being released until a positive ID could be made. No one, well at least the relatives and I, believed this would take more that a few days, after all, with the advent of DNA and all the other great innovations we watch on TV shows every night, there must be some way to have this process expedited and concluded within a reasonable timeframe in order that Penny’s remains be buried with some dignity? Think again!

It took 5 months, three DNA tests and a lot of grief for Penny to be finally released and buried last Friday. A nightmare scenario if you take into consideration the number of calls my cousin Raymond placed to the coroner, the number of calls he placed to the detective, the number of calls to the burial society and finally, the number of calls he and I had with attorney’s and between each other over this same 5 month period. What would have been a routine situation had Penny been a routine human being, was anything but routine. It dug up old family wounds, it prompted various discussions between people who unfortunately didn’t give a hoot on what happened to Penny and eventually led to a complete breakdown in communication and a possible never-ending family feud between her niece and nephew. So unfortunate and so unbelievable.

Penny is now at peace, which is more that I can say for the family that remains, all of whom cannot find a way to come together and resolve their differences in an amicable format. I pity those who live alone, I pity those who end up alone, but most of all I pity those who have the opportunity not to be alone yet choose a path that leads to eternal loneliness a loneliness exaggerated by their inability to accept that it’s so much more desirable to be at peace and to have some friends than it is to be argumentative and have nothing.

 

 

Weird Cousin

 

I had a weird cousin once, second hand

She lived in 10024, Manhattan for short

Her persona was west of the nineteen sixties

Dressing up as a retired hippie

Nor knowing what shampoo was, nor toothpaste

Reminding everyone that nuclear bombs kill, surprise!

 

She lived in a room, yes just one

Cheap, made it hip, acceptable

Cleaning never took place, except facially

Lost, in books and second hand Lena Horn disks

Traveling in a lesser class than cattle class

Spending money, well she never spent she sponged

 

Argumentative being her middle name, confrontational, her first

Lost in people management skills, there were none

Rubbing more people wrongly than she was rubbed herself

Between bee pollen shakes, she would splutter through brown teeth

Never wrong, always articulate, loud mouthed but correct

Telling her otherwise was a waste of energy

 

She could be lovable through her eccentricities

Spending much time caring for those who bought dinner

Twenty years my senior, far junior in behavior

A coming together of disagreements ending the volatility

Seven years since my blood pressure returned to normal

No calls and no visits, she must be a lonely soul.

 

© Alan Zoltie April 04