Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Slight Hitch

A day in my new life.

I got to the immigration office at 7:40, 50 minutes before it opened, and there were already nine people ahead of me. We waited outside until 8:30, and then went in and sat.

I still don't know how they figure who's first, who's second, and so on. Most of us got numbered tickets. And they have an electronic sign that shows the numbers, but it's not used. It is switched on but is stuck on "00". All the time.

A female security guard seems to know who goes where, and when.

So here's typical: You go in, get a number and sit down. This is harder than it seems. Once the door opens, the line turns into a crowd. Everyone puckers up to the security guard, and if you don't get your hand out to request a ticket right away, any advantage of standing in line for an hour entirely vanishes.

You can be third in line and end up 27th, or worse.

Somehow the guard sort of knows the deal, but you have to get your hand out there all the same.

OK then, you sit.

After a long while someone is at the counter. There should be two staffers there but yesterday there was only one, which is why, when I came in around number 40 it was hopeless.

So now we have someone up front. And today there are two.

About the first thing that happens is that someone else waltzes in the door and immediately goes to the counter. And they stay there 10 minutes, 15 minutes, a half hour. A long time. This may also happen after someone's number is called.

Numbers don't matter so much. The new person seems to have some priority.

There is much jabbering. Everyone seems to be negotiating a deal, especially the native Spanish speakers, who won't take "no" or "maybe" or "fuck off" for an answer.

Those whose numbers are called stand there at the counter for several eternities. Then they are done, and leave, either deeper into the building or back out the front door.

Someone else is called. More eternities pass.

Then the people who left come back again, and immediately go to the counter and begin negotiating all over. Once you've been at the counter you get to go back. A lot. Usually two to four times on a given day.

It's like reincarnation.

The rest of us wait.

Today there was a young guy ahead of me. He was playing with stuff on his phone. Then he began digging through his pockets. Then through his knapsack. Then back to his pockets. Over and over.

He had lost his ticket. Too bad for him.

No, wait.

He talked to the security guard. She didn't care. She knew which place he was in and didn't really need the ticket. He settled down.

The other (male) security guard then comes around to all the fat old white gringo guys and tells them to take off their hats.

For some reason gringo guys always wear their hats indoors. I always take mine off when entering a building. It shows respect. I was brought up in that era, and haven't gotten over it, so even back in the States I did it this way.

People understand when you're trying to show respect, even if they think you're a dick. You know?

The fat, white-haired gringo guys never catch on. And most of them wear sloppy clothes. I try to dress up at least a bit. Jeans but no T-shirts. No baggy shorts, no sandals, nothing dirty or stained. Nothing hanging loose. Nothing says "I'm a dick" like a shirt that says "I'm with stupid."

Time passes.

The universe ages.

The mountains grow wrinkles, age, and die.

It is now 10:10. I have been waiting two and a half hours. My number is called. I go to the counter. Andrea is there, which I'm grateful for. I've seen her twice before and she won't forget me.

She knows I'm a dick, but a kind of amusing one in a road-kill sort of way.

The first day I went in she asked to see my passport to determine how long I could remain in the country. I told her it was hidden in an awkward place and would not be easy to present, while pointing downward at my crotch.

OK, she's been through a lot, but maybe this was a first.

I carry my bank cards, passport, and all my spare cash in plastic bags inside a pouch I made, and I wear the pouch inside my pants. If I wear a loose shirt you can't really tell anything strange is going on unless you watch my crotch for a while.

So far I haven't run into anyone like that.

Sometimes if I sit down I get an unusually large bulge in my pants. That one is hart to miss, so I cover myself with a jacket or arrange my arms to disguise my Mr Enormous look.

So I get to Andrea, finally, and tell her the story. I fucked up.

I took the documents to the language school where they were copied and the copies were then translated from English to Spanish.

I wasn't explicit enough in making sure that we all understood that these documents could not be altered in any way, including removing that one critical staple.

Which they did.

I show her my documents.

She looks at the documents.

She says that by having the staple pulled from my apostilled documents, I have invalidated everything.

"Exactly," I say.

She is 100% right, and I agree.

I don't beg, cajole, whine, wheedle, argue, or sob.

I ask for her thoughts. Just that. She is the expert. I at least want to see if she has any Option B, whatever it might amount to.

"Let me go ask Legal," she says.

I wait.

Time passes.

More time passes.

Andrea returns.

In the interim I have grown a long beard and all my hair is white, just like the other gringo guys here today.

I wait for the trapdoor to open, dropping me from the platform to hang from my neck on my own carelessness until deported back to the U.S.

"Legal says they will make a special exception this one time," she says.

Unbelievable.

Maybe.

The language school I went to for translation is where Andrea learned English. She is extremely good at it too.

Her teacher, Marcela, personally translated my documents. I have receipts.

Marcela said she and Andrea not only work together but they are personal friends. I think that all helps.

I showed Andrea one of the receipts, but only after she got me a reprieve.

Better that way. Less like trying to force things, and more like "Oh, yes, that's right, and here's some actual proof."

Both receipts show Marcela's signature.

I think I'm clear.

This afternoon I went to get the color copy of my passport notarized. That is another story. You really have to try this some day.

You really do.

It's better than any circus.

I may share it later. Come back and see.

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