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.
“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?