Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Fatal Distraction

One of the best things about having a blog AND a newspaper column is that when you’re stuck in the house on a Sunday facing a 5pm deadline and the sports channels are showing some of the most dramatic action of the year, you can trawl through your archives, pull a ‘journalistic’ rabbit out of the proverbial hat, trim off the excess fur and pop it in the creative pot of boiling water. Leave to simmer for 30 minutes, add a couple of 100-word side dishes and hey presto, you’re back in front of the riveting Solheim Cup action before you can say “self-plagiarisation”.

So here’s this week’s effort which first appeared here back in March with all of its Thumper-like fur and cute little floppy ears. Let me assure the orphan Bambis among you that no real bunnies were harmed in this process but sometimes in the night I can still hear the hypothetical screaming as the flapping little legs descended slowly through the fictitious steam. Oh, and if you’ve time (rather than household pets) to kill, you can find the official version here at these red words that are underlined.

One of the best things about going back to work after a career break is finding out you’re still entitled to some days off before the year end. So next week I’m on holiday and am considering flying to Texas to visit the majestic golf course adjacent to my brother’s house. However, negotiating admittance into the United States is an experience that never fails to turn me into a quivering wreck, full of unexplainable guilt and involuntary bowel movements. My visit to Florida last year is the perfect example.

The trauma began on the plane when the ever-patient cabin crew distributed two Visa and Customs forms to complete in readiness for the immigration interview. The first was form DIAL911/RUSMUGGLIN, a fairly straightforward Customs query, which asked if I was bringing in any perishable goods/livestock/class-A drugs etc. With no pet or haggis to declare, I ticked “No” to all questions.

The second form was Visa Waiver Form I-94WHOTHEHELLRU and this is where the trouble started. Despite having helpful boxes for each character of my name, address, passport no. etc., I managed to write my date of birth in the wrong section. After pestering the cabin crew for a replacement form, I was concentrating so hard on using capital letters and not going over the lines with my pen (blue or black only), that I completely forgot how to spell my own name.

As I congratulated myself on successfully completing my details on a third form, I realised that my neighbour was now filling in the reverse side. Here, a series of probing questions are listed, designed to check your eligibility for entry but instead, end up making you feel like you really don’t get out enough.

“Have you ever sold drugs, been arrested, been a prostitute or procurer of prostitutes?”
Arrested? Nope!

“Have you ever participated in persecutions directed by the Nazi government of Germany; or have you ever participated in genocide?”
Nope! But would I really tick “Yes” if I had?

After landing, I inched my way forward in the queue towards the robust Immigration Official, trying desperately to think of the most appropriate demeanor to make the inquisition as smooth as possible.

“Right Neil, be cool. Informative but not too chatty. Smile but don’t try and tell any jokes. Avoid twitching, rapid gum chewing or suggestive winking. And whatever you do, don’t mention the fact that you’re in America to become an au pair to a friend who has two young sons and is going to slip you some cash-in-hand dollars every week.”

Eventually I was given permission to approach Roberta, my official interviewer. I swaggered forward in a manner that was meant to exude James Bond-like poise but instead, managed a passable impression of Mr. Bean on speed.

Roberta flicked through my passport and without looking up or changing expression asked, “So, Neil Sutherland? Any relation to Kiefer or Donald?”

I grinned inanely and shook my head not certain whether this was a genuine attempt at affability or a trick question. I knew her next query was going to be, “Are you here for business or pleasure?” and I had my one word answer all prepared when she threw me yet another verbal curve ball.

“So what’s the purpose of your visit to the United States?”

Instantly losing the ability to construct a coherent sentence, I transformed into Yoda and mumbled something like “stopover brief friend help out writing holiday I am thanks.” Roberta frowned quizzically, clearly mesmerised by my charming accent, and completed the remainder of her form-checking and passport-stamping without any additional flurry.

So next week I think I’ll go and visit the majestic golf course adjacent to my parents’ house. After all, they live in St. Andrews.


At 14/9/05 7:13 pm, Blogger DC said...


I'm sure "self plagiarisation" is illegal in some ( perhaps all) U.S. States , and indeed most of the civilised world. Be careful.



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