Friday, January 23, 2004

One day this week, it might have been Monday, I went to the local supermarket to buy some potatoes. As you can tell this is going to be a thrilling blog. And as I was searching for my potatoes, I realised that I didn't have a peeler. Eventually I found several tonnes of potatoes, nothing comes in small sizes around here, fetched myself a peeler and went to the checkout. Standing there holding my bag of potatoes in one hand and my peeler in the other, I thought aren't I just the picture of a young male living on his own. The only time I ever consider buying something functional, like the peeler, is when it gets to the point that I actually need it. At no point does it ever occur to me that something might come in useful. Another example is how I got up this weekend and fancied a waffle, so I had to go out and buy a toaster. That day I also bought some teabags, but seeing as I don't yet own a kettle it might be some time before I have any tea.

Thinking about it... it might just be that I am lazy sod. That's probably the reason why I have been living in my apartment for a couple of months now, but I still don't have a bed (or any other furniture for that matter). The idea of bed is a nice. As is the idea of a sofa. But... it is just so much effort to actually go out there and get one. I just procrastinate (I can't believe that word is spelled correctly) and make up excuses ... "I don't have a car"... "I'll order it on the web"... "The floor is very comfortable"....etc, etc.

I went to a party a couple of weeks ago. And, in case you are interested, merriment was had by all. On the way to the party I stopped in at my local, or one of my local, bottle shops... to purchase some alcoholic beverages (or in the words of The Streets " purchase a hazy escape at the alcohol place"). Now being as I live in crazy, alcohol hating, mad religious Pennsylvania the bottle shop is only allowed to sell beer and other "weak" alcoholic beverages, i.e. not wine or spirits. So I picked up a 12-pack of Yuengling (I think) and a 6-pack of Blue Moon. At the counter the bloke said that will be $11.50, which I knew from excessive personal experience to be the price of the 12-pack. So I said what about the 6-pack, and he explained that due to state law... I had to take the 12-pack outside the shop and then come back in a purchase the 6-pack separately. This is possibly the most stupid alcohol related law that I have ever heard of in my life. But there we are... or at least here I am living in a land of mad religious people who hate alcohol.

On the subject of alcohol. I was looking at the Pennsylvania drivers manual the other day. They have a section on drink driving (or DUI or American terms), which is fair enough. They also have a section on underage drinking, apparently if you have a party at your house and say some 20 year olds come and consume alcohol beverages in your house you can be fined. The fine is around $1000 for the first underage drinker and then $2500 for every other one... and not only do you get fined, but you can also lose your driving license. Which I don't really understand... it seems somewhat random. Not to mention that I believe the incidences of alcohol related deaths would plummet if America adopted European style drinking laws. People would be exposed to alcohol sooner and it wouldn't be the great taboo excitement that it is... anyway you get the picture.

The waiting that I am doing is waiting for those lovely INS people to acknowledge receipt of my application to have them consider me British once more. I was very brave as I did not send the $100 application fee along with the application... cause it is blatantly their fault. However, being a government agency it is debatable whether or not they will consider this to be the case. So I am half expecting to get a letter saying this application can not proceedprocede until they have the $100. Anyhow, I get to sit (or stand) and wait for their response.

On the subject of the INS, I want to write some people letters complaining at the treatment I have received... but I can't decide who I should send these letters to. I mean who, if anybody, are they responsible to? Obviously I realise that it won't make a blind bit of difference, but I want to moan at somebody.

My current fantasy is that I might try and write a screenplay. I spend so much time bouncing of the walls of my apartment in one reverie or another, that I feel I should be trying to do something more productive with my hyperactive imagination. The trouble with this fantasy is two-fold: as I have discovered writing my thesis and this journal... I can't write for toffee; I am a lazy bastard who is never going to get round to actually producing... well anything much;

And finally.... an amusing fact of the day/week/whatever. Back home in Blighty in Parliament they had a debate on how to tackle truancy. And of the 639 members of the Commons a stunning 20 turned up for the debate. Oh, the hard life of an MP.

There was something else..... but it probably wasn't very interesting.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Am I stupid?

That is a rhetorical question by the way.

Are the people working for the BCIS/USCIS/INS incompetent or malicious?

That one might be.

I have a number of documents (forms, receipts, etc.) from the INS/BCIS. And several of them direct me to this website , and if you go there you can see that this website just redirects you to another website. When I initially saw this I thought that it was a bit shabby and that it didn't portray an imagine of a professional, respectable government agency. However, after my extensive dealings with the many named beast which is the INS/BCIS/USCIS, I have come to the conclusion that this is in fact an elaborately constructed warning. Somebody is saying "Look we can't even be bothered to have our letters and forms direct you to the correct webpage. What do you think are the chances of us being able to deal with your question/problem?" I should have taken it as fair warning that whatever else happens from here on in, I had received fair warning that this organization was completely and totally incompetent.

As I have detailed in previous posts, I only ever have dealt with monkeys when I have had contact with the INS. There was monkey number one who messed up my name when I entered the country and then there was monkey number two who messed up my nationality when I tried to fix monkey number one's mistake.

So, I was quite surprised when I spoke to the "strangely sympathetic and almost helpful" man on their helpline on Friday. Of course I should have realised that he wasn't being helpful... no, if he ever helped anyone that would give the wrong impression... he was either being incompetent or malicious. Now I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and I'll put him down in the incompetent column. In fact he is henceforth known as monkey number three.

Yesterday, I got up nice and early and left sleepy State College heading for the INS office in Philadelphia. I was armed with my passport, visa, DS-2019, incorrect replacement I-94 card and my I-102 form. So the journey down was pleasant enough, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania are very pretty (although it was dark as I was travelling through most of them). Of course I messed up and took I-276 instead of I-76 and added an hour long detour to my journey. But eventually I got to Callowhill St, and after 20 minutes driving around I found a spot to park the rental car.

So I wandered up to the INS office, passing all the vendors of food photos and fingerprints. You have to love the entrepreneurial nature of some people... selling photos and fingerprints from the back of a lorry outside the INS office (and no I don't mean they were stolen). Then I go through the standard metal detector, while the security guards complain to each other about how the job sucks the pay rise hasn't come through and they haven't got their new jackets, etc.

Once inside it is the standard melee of assorted foreign folks with the occasional American thrown in for good measure. So I line up in the queue for my waiting number. I get to the front and show my pieces of paper and explain my situation to a man who again was straddling that incompetent/malicious line. Once more the benefit of doubt will be extended to him and he will become monkey number four. Whilst I am standing there holding my passport he asks me what my proof of nationality is.... and I am like "Well... the passport" and he replies "Is that enough". So I'm thinking.. what do you mean is my passport enough? This is the most well respected identity document that we have...this is the document that got in the country. Anyway, eventually he gives me my ticket, number E-911, and tells me to wait until my number is called.

So I go find a seat and for next three hours I am subjected to an elaborately constructed form of torture. There a five queues A to E and up to four people manning the counter. With no more than 141 people in the waiting area, or at least the sign on the wall says that due to fire marshal regulations or something or other. Just as I sit down the call out E-905 and E-906, so I think not bad maybe I won't have to wait here too long. Now the way this form of torture works is that it tries to disorient and confuse you, whilst all time dangling the hope of having your number called at any moment. As there are five queues, this means that there are five people who are sitting on the edge of their seats as the person next in line. However to add to the confusion the queues a selected in a seemingly random order. You might have 3 E's then 8 D's then maybe a couple of B's. So even when it got to the point that E-910 had been called... I had no idea how long it would be until E-911 would be called. Plus of course, there is the standard granny at the airport check-in syndrome... in that some people, for instance me who take the minimum required time at the check-in counter...Hello, I have a flight to London, No, No, Yes, Aisle, Thank you very much.. is the standard half of my conversation at the check-in desk... whereas some people take forever. At the INS office you have the same thing magnified.. some people just take forever.... and it gets to the point where I just want to scream... "For God sake, she's already told you that four times.. can you not just accept it and fuck off"

Eventually E-911 was called and I made my way up to the counter.

"How can I help you" she asks.

"Well... there was some problem with my name... and I filled out one of these I-102 forms and sent it off... but on the replacement card my nationality is wrong... and I want to get it fixed."

"Oh. Because this is Vermont's mistake they have to fix it"


"We can only fix mistakes made by the Philadelphia office. Vermont is going to have to fix it"

"....B-but.. when I called your helpline number the gentleman I spoke to told me to come here."

"Yeah. Sorry, we can't help you"

"That's just marvellous" (laced with irony and a smile on my face)


"Thanks anyway" (also laced with irony)

So I walked in to the toilets laughed and then swore for a while, had a piss and then left.

I have a number of unanswered questions:

Why can't the Philadelphia field office correct mistakes made at the Vermont service centre? Vermont have already proved themselves to be time wasting incompetents... why am I forced to deal with them again?

Why do they have a helpline? What is the point of a helpline if in fact it doesn't help? In Britain we have something called the trade description act.. which means you can't advertise a product as one thing and actually have it be something else. Under this act the helpline would have to be renamed the waste-both-your-time-and-money-whilst-providing-no-useful-information-line.... except of course we have government helplines in the UK which are still called helplines, despite the fact that almost nobody has ever been helped by them.

Why didn't the first bloke (monkey number four) that I spoke to in the Philadelphia office, tell me they couldn't help me, instead of making me wait three hours? I'm going with he's incompetent as opposed to he's an evil, little, sadistic, malicious bastard. But I think it could go either way.

Is there any chance that Vermont will consider my new application being that I did not include a cheque for $100? If the do consider it is there any chance that monkey number two or some other monkey who works there won't manage to fuck it up this time? Is the any chance that it will take less than the two months it took last time?

Would I have got better service if I started screaming blue murder at the counter, when the lady told me she couldn't help me? Who knows. At the time I just wanted to get out of there.

With the way the dollar is performing, is it worth we staying here and working when each day I earn less and less money?

How much do London street sweepers get paid?

Could there have been a more apt song to be playing as I drove home than "Let's get retarded" by the Black Eyed Peas? Should the next line of the song be "and go work for the INS"?

Can anyone truly believe that department of Homeland Security, of which the INS/BCIS is a part, is doing it's job properly? At every single available opportunity that they have had when dealing with me... they have managed to fuck something up. And these people have a large part to play in safeguarding this nation.... I trust them as far as I could throw Pennsylvania. Are people really detained on the basis of what this group of incompetent/malicious people say.... I really hope not. But.......

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Bollocks.... I'm sad to say that I have gone off both Miss Portman and Miss Johansson (or however you spell her last name). Now what did these (presumably) fine ladies do to upset me you ask? Well, the answer to that is nothing. And I don't mean that neither of them came round to my flat asking to borrow a cup of sugar... although of course they didn't. I mean, that through no fault of their own I am in a disgruntled state with them and the other 300 million odd Americans (I'm assuming that Miss Portman is American and not Israeli, as the country you are born in does not necessarily determine your nationality.... and my how I understand that). And what have all these people done to annoy me? Once more the answer is nothing.... unless that is that they happen to work for the bcis/uscis/ins/whatever the bollocks else they call themselves. 'Cause you see this fine organization is in the habit of employing (poorly) trained monkeys to deal with me at every available opportunity.

Just to recap (for those at the back), when I entered this fine country back in November my surname, Nichol, somehow made it into the INS system as 'Vichol'. A simple honest mistake? Possibly. Maybe on one of the 2500 occasions when I wrote my name the N looked like a V, I don't know. Despite the fact that my name was correctly printed on my passport, visa and DS-2019 form. But anyway, somehow a mistake was made and it cost me $100 application fee to try and rectify. So I filled out (yet) another form, and posted it along with the cheque and photocopies of my passport, visa and my original I-94 arrival/departure record (which incidentally had my correctly spelt, or spelled, name). Then I sat and waited and waited and waited and waited, and nearly two months later (remember we are talking about changing a V to a bloody N) I got my new I-94 with my updated information.

Whoa, I thought, now I can go and apply for a Social Security number... Which for reasons I don't understand is needed for practically every single thing I try to do. So I get back to my desk this afternoon and have a closer look at my shiny (well actually it's more matte) new I-94..... And then I can be heard to mutter expletives for an extended period of time. Why, the ignivomous ( word of the day) outburst? Because, despite having copies of my passport, visa, DS-2019, I-94 and every other form I have ever filled out for these people.... all of which saying that I am British Citizen, they put my country of citizenship down as Zimbabwe.

So after a conversation with a very bored, but strangely sympathetic and almost helpful, phone operator on the BCIS helpline... it turns out I have to fill out another form (identical to the last one I filled out), and make my way down to Philadelphia and try and get them to make me British, once more.

Now I shouldn't be surprised. This is what happens when your birth certificate is from a country, Rhodesia, which no longer exists. I have had two British passports, the first claimed I was born in Kwekwe the second in Que Que. I was messed around at one of the national labs in America, cause they couldn't get passed the concept of being born in one country and but being a citizen of another. How many first generation immigrants are there in America? Surely, everybody must know somebody who is a citizen of a different country to the one they were born in. But apparently, it is still such a shock that people freeze... and try to make me Zimbabwean. And then when they find out I'm British, I get asked questions like "So, were your parents on holiday?".... I'd bloody hope not. I wouldn't have thought traveling several thousands miles to Southern Africa would be recommended to heavily pregnant women. But I digress. I should start a book on what they can possibly fuck up next... my sex, my age, my visa status.... I just have no idea.

And, I'd just like to remind you all that these are the people who want to take the fingerprints and photographs of all visa holders on entry to (and possibly exit from) America. How on Earth am I meant to be expected to trust these people to look after my fingerprints and photos when they can't even look after my name and nationality. You could come into the country as Joe Bloggs, a businessman from London... and leave as Nasty Man a mass murderer from the Ukraine. I for one am terrified by the power that is put in the hands of these (poorly) trained monkeys.

On a different note my two favourite lyrics at the moment are:
"Don't wanna squeeze trigger... just wanna squeeze tits", Black Eyed Peas
"We first met through a shared view... she loved me, and I did too", The Streets

Bollocks, bollocks, bollocks, bollocks, bollocks.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

So, Christmas is over and the New Year has begun... I trust you all (i.e me and some lost looking for free porn).... had a good whatever. I spent two weeks in the basement of a friends house (or more correctly in the basement of his mother's house) drinking beer and playing video games. Only venturing out to eat upstairs and buy more beer at the grocery store... needless to say it was a very enjoyable couple of weeks.

One of the highlights of my time in Harrisonburg, was that we got a free 12-pack of beer at the Kroger's (or maybe Krogers') supermarket. I can honestly say I have never got free beer at the supermarket before.... and I can't really remember how it occurred. But regardless, I am forever indebted to that employee... and it meant that the rest of the beer (a couple of hundred dollars worth) we bought those two weeks came from Kroger's.

Getting a headlamp for Christmas was one of the more interesting points.... it is something of a family tradition. I was somewhat dubious at first... but already I've had course to use it a few times. I'm not quite a convert, but I'm certainly less dubious.

Bad Santa.... I'd seen a couple of reviews for this film and a few of the TV ads. And there wasn't anything else, so we went along to see it.... and it was very funny. It was very rude, very foul mouthed and very good. "You ain't gonna shit right for a week", became something of a catchphrase after seeing this movie. Although not, I hasten to add, in the same connotation with which it was used in the film.

I discovered that poodles are not (just) big poncy fluffy haired dogs. They have two and they are both pretty much gorgeous.... and the big one could well have been one of the hunting dogs, poodles were back in the good ol' days.

Yesterday while I was browsing the BBC news site (fantastic as it is), I discovered a link to Bush in 30 seconds, which if you don't know is a advertising contest sponsored by voter fund. They have the 15 finalists one of which will get (I think) shown on national television during the week of Bush's state of the union address. Being an uneducated (on the intricacies of the American political system) Brit, I have no idea when this is. Anyhow, I thought some of the adverts were quite good.... and others I thought played to strongly on the: "that nasty Mr Bush has sent our poor little soldiers over to die in Iraq" theme. Although I understand that here in the good ol' US of A, people have much stronger feelings regarding there military then we do at home. And no I'm not saying that we Brits (or me in particular) like to see dead British soldiers, or dead American soldiers.. we don't much like seeing dead Iraqi soldiers either. But still it was interesting

I just hope that something happens that causes the dollar to strengthen. Because at the moment I have taken nearly a 20% pay cut due to the dollar/pound exchange rate. And that ain't no fun at all.

Finally, I'd just like to mention how bloody attractive Natalie Portman is... I saw her on the Daily Show (or something or other on the Comedy Network). And frankly she is gorgeous. In my current fantasy world it is a toss up between her and the Scarlett Johansson (I had to look up how to spell both of her names). At the moment Natalie (in fantasy land we are on first name terms) is winning... but in the real world I like to keep my options open.... so if either of you are reading this...