This morning began with the alarm clock – I promised my wife I’d be out of bed by 7:00. By 8:00 I’d put gas in the minivan, bought coffee and picked up a relatively new employee to join us on the way to New York. When I pumped the gas I noticed how cold it was out.

By the time we were passing Armonk, New York, I’d taken off my light jacket and noticed that the climate control fan was running a bit fast. So fast it was making a racket. Wonder of wonders, I had to turn on the air conditioning so the damn thing would slow down a bit. They say it’s more efficient than opening the windows and placing drag on the vehicle (but I’ll admit that I like air conditioned air).

We picked up our final passenger at his apartment building on the East Side by 11:30. Our destination was Panang, a wonderful Malaysian restaurant on 2nd just south of 83rd Street. Sure enough, a metered space was available. It ate six quarters (for a paltry hour’s time).

The particular blocks on 2nd Avenue right around the lower 80s are chock-full of restaurants; all of them open at 11:30, except Panang. There was a fellow inside mopping the floor and he motioned to us all ten fingers and then two; they opened at 12:00. Not very competitive if you ask me. You see, the problem was, I’d had two cups of coffee on the two hour drive from West Hartford, and man, to put it delicately, I was floating. Ready to burst. Had it not been that we were on an Avenue, I might’ve tried to ditch into an alleyway and relieve myself. All I wanted of this beautiful, sunny day was some time to walk around, free of the, er, discomfort I felt, so that I could enjoy the outdoors to its fullest.

Well, I walked into one restaurant, a Chinese one, and asked politely (in Mandarin) where the bathroom is. They replied in English “customer only!” I told them I wasn’t hungry, but I needed to use a bathroom and I’d be glad to buy a soda… “Customer only!” I guess buying a soda doesn’t make me a customer. On the way out I took a take-out menu and wrote “shit-list” on it.

The next place was a sharp-looking Italian spot. “Are you alone, sir?” The others were walking around outside, enjoying the weather. I responded in the affirmative and said that the others would be following me right away, and that I’d avail myself of the bathroom first. “Our restrooms are for customers only, sir.” What did I look like, anyway? I was wearing pressed slacks, a pressed shirt open at the collar, and a supple leather coat. Perhaps it was the ponytail that’d scared these two. Surely the place next door, a very glitzy Asian-Fusion spot would understand.

No luck. Not even with Mandarin. I was laughed out of the place, in fact, when I offered a $5 bill just to use the bathroom. Did they think I would use it to take a bath? Maybe they thought I’d use it to shoot up.

We passed a bar that was open. In I went, the barkeep asked me “what’ll ya have?” When I asked where the toilet was, he pointed in the direction of a corner of the room; workmen were tearing apart the men’s room and re: the ladies’ room,  he asserted that “the water’s shut off; you’ll have to wait.” I made a note to call the Health Department.

Finally, the witching hour arrived. Panang was indeed open. Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last! I made a bee-line for the loo, whilst the other three were sat at the same back table we’d visited maybe three or four times, recently.

A pounding came at the door.

“Yes, just a moment please!” I tried to sound as pleasant as possible, given the circumstances.

More pounding.

“I’ll be finished in one minute!” Now I was getting angry.

Finally, the pounding sounded more like explosions in the small room than a polite knock. Before I washed my hands, I unlocked the door. There stood a small fellow in a white shirt and tie. “Customers only use washroom!” His voice was screechy.

Out I walked and I tried to go around the corner to our table. My wife, our employee and our banker giggled but said nothing as the little fellow started to show me out of the restaurant!

I cried out to them “okay, c’mon, the joke’s over!” They giggled but said nothing. The man had put me out the front door and mumbled something in Maylay that I’m sure was off-color. I stood outside for a moment, enjoying the weather, and then realized that it was probably time to put more quarters in the meter. I’d show them, the dirty bastards. I walked past Panang again, looked inside, and nobody made an effort to get up. Soon I was once again met with the angry glare of the boss’s face.

That was it. Yet another bar had opened for business. I plodded in, sat down, and ordered a Campari and soda. I was sipping away when the barkeep said, “That’ll be $8.”

My wife had my coat; in my coat was my wallet. All I had on me was about $2.00 worth of change. I tried to explain to this guy what was going on, and he wouldn’t hear it. He took the drink away from me, and said “now ya just get outta here and don’tcha come back!”

The thought crossed my mind to find a cop and put an end to this nonsense, at least by retrieving my coat. I had the car keys, and could’ve driven away in the minivan and spent some quality time alone parked along the river, or in Central Park.

Upon my return to Panang, the gig was up. The boss was extremely apologetic and wondered why my wife and friends would play such a trick on me. I responded by asking him why he’d jump the gun so fast and assume I wasn’t a customer, and pound on the bathroom door. His face turned bright red and he told me “they gave me $10 to do it; I am so very sorry sir.” I responded, “not as sorry as I am.” I ordered a Tanqueray martini, up with onions, this time.

(Oh, by the way, the meal was fine, as usual. And I went back and paid the bartender the $8 and guaranteed him a bad writeup in The New York Times. I think he believed it because the other three joined me whilst I paid up.)

I sit here finally able to type a node as a free man, and let me tell you it feels great. But I should probably start at the beginning.

Sometime between 7 and 8 years ago I found a credit card. I don't remember the exact date, but it was sometime before I started my current job, and I have been here for seven years. I guess I could go and look up the exact date, but it doesn't really matter. Where was I? Yes, I had found a credit card. I quickly thought about it and how the owner wasn't really liable for it, only the evil credit card company, so I ran out and bought a laptop with the card. I bought the cheapest one they had.

Nothing came of it at first other than fear. The fear started almost right away, and just got worse and worse. Every time the phone rang I assumed it was going to be the police. Every time a police officer walked in the door at my work I assumed they were coming for me. I developed a terrible telephone phobia during this period of time that I still struggle with today.

Eventually they did manage to find me. I was actually relieved when it happened. It was over a year later when through a complete fluke they had linked me to the crime. When I did it I was careful to go to a store that I didn't normally shop at. In fact I had only ever been in the place once before, and that had been a few years prior. But the time I had been in the store before I went with a former co-worker. That same guy apparently went in the store again later, and someone somehow remembered that he had been there once with me. They got a first name and former employer from him, which quickly led them to me.

I of course confessed immediately, handed the goods over to the police and then heard nothing for a long time. It was maybe another year before anything else happened. I finally found out that there had been a warrant out for my arrest for a very long time, but that the police had never actually bothered to call me, or perhaps come to my work or home and arrest me. I guess they were just hoping to get me on a traffic stop or something? I am really not sure. That could have gone on a lot longer since my last traffic stop was well before any of this happened. So, I went and turned myself in right after getting off work for the weekend. I was in and out in the few hours it took my best friend to bail me out (with my money of course). Since it was a first offense and I had been completely cooperative they kindly set the bail at the maximum allowed.

I was quickly financially ruined by all this. Between the lawyer and the bondsman I was a couple thousand in debt right off the bat. I had to move back in with my parents for almost a year and work a second job for 6 months in order to get back on my feet again. As far as the court went I was given 5 years probation in lieu of conviction. That meant that I was on probation for 5 years, but wouldn't have a conviction on my record after it was over. Of course the original arrest would still show up if anyone went looking.

Five years is a long time. Being on probation meant that I couldn't practically look for a new job, as I had to get permission from a probation officer to quit my current one, and too many employers do background checks and being currently on probation is going to make you fail a background check. Heck, I imagine I will still fail most background checks, but at least now it will only be for an arrest that happened many years earlier. Because of these little restrictions I was kind of forced to keep that same dead end job I had taken temporarily for another five years.

There were other restrictions. Despite the fact that my crime had nothing to do with either travel, drugs, or other criminals I was not allowed to travel without extensive paperwork done a month in advance. I was subject to random drug tests of which they gave me none (oddly enough), and I wasn't allowed to associate with anyone who had ever been convicted of any crime. That last one is larger than you might realize. If you start asking around you might find out that every 3rd of 4th person you know has been convicted of something or other in their life. I had relatives I wasn't allowed to see because of bar fights that happened back in the 1970s.

Then there were other social issues relating to all of this. I had a girlfriend back when I turned myself in for the second time. She went with me when I turned myself in, and then sort of vanished from my life after that. I can't say I have really dated much since then. I never knew when exactly the right time to bring up the whole "I'm on probation and can't do anything" problem was. It certainly isn't first date material, but it isn't the sort of thing I could wait until an engagement for either. Because of that I only went on a few first dates, and then had one girl I dated very sporadically (maybe 6 dates in 2 years) the entire 5 years. The one girl I did date more than once knew, or at least I believed she knew. I never told her because it never came up, but she knew a dozen people that knew, so I figured she must have known. Or maybe she didn't, I'll probably never know.

I was pretty much stuck in the same lousy apartment for all that time as well. Restrictions against me moving were not all that bad, I would have to get permission, then after moving they would say they had to see the new place, except that they would never go see it. But the thing is that a lot of landlords do background checks, while the one I was renting from just pockets his application fees and rents to whomever he pleases.

But today, March 13th, 2007 it is all over. I am free to travel again. I can change careers if I want. The giant skeleton in my dating closet gets turned into a little bitty skeleton. I am free to do anything. Now, I just can't figure out what yet, but I have some ideas.

I can't believe it... she's convinced me.

My beloved is from the US, from Oregon, and I'm not. While this hasn't been a problem until now, the problem was bound to surface some day, and it finally has.

We met in old Mehico... She came down to study my language; I am here doing my Master's in applied mathematics. She had a hard time with the language, with the culture, with the people, with the bullshit, but she stayed another semester and moved in with me. We speak of the world, of languages, of the places we want to see and the things we want to do.

But reality has hit us now. She's tied down to her country for a while. Student loans, student debt, difficulties with language, plus less practical things like friends and family and familiarity. Fair enough. She's already spent a year in my land, with me, with my countrymen, with my not-so welcoming family, and now, it seems, it's my turn to spend time in her land, probably much longer time, probably continue the next step of my studies there. Also sounds fair...

Except it wasn't what I wanted to do. I didn't want to live in the US. I would feel like a Gaul visiting Rome, like an Indian visiting London, like a Korean in Beijing, an Incan in Castille... you know what I mean, right?

*sigh* Hear me out. Every day, every single day, I can turn to the news and hear about the latest atrocities the US is committing around the world. I also hear about its relationship to my own country, about what it plans to do to other Mexicans there, about the Great Wall of Mexico it's building, about how offensive it is to hear non-English languages spoken in the US...

And now, moving there... moving to the country that gets rich by being constantly at war with whomever it can find war, who spends more on "defense" alone than the combined GDP of several well-off countries. Being part of a "minority", part of an ethnic group that is causing lots of political unrest, being told "your English is very good" or "you have no accent" only to reflexively reply "Thanks, so is yours" or "everyone has an accent!"

Yes, it's nice, yes it's cleaner, yes it's wealthier, yes things there work better, people are friendlier, there's less bureaucracy, but I can't shake off the feeling that it's all blood money. I don't want any of that money, or feeling in any way indebted to a government whose every action I deplore. It doesn't feel moral; it doesn't feel right. Individually, many, by now most of the people there are very nice; you noders are living proof of it, but living there means I would have to deal with the bureaucracy, means I would have to hear every three minutes in airports what the terror alert level is, to have to beg to the government to finance my studies and then seemingly be so overcome with gratitude that I should forget how to speak my mother language and stop complaining that the food there doesn't quite taste the way I would like it. It's not that I can't adapt, it's just that I don't like the terms under which I may be required to adapt.

And it wasn't in my plans to go there anyways. The world is big, and I am small, and I thought that I need to go many other places in order to learn more about it. I want to live, not visit, live in India, Russia, Norway, somewhere in Africa, perhaps also in Australia, Japan, live in those countries, make my damndest best effort to learn the language, because if eliserh can speak scores of languages, so can I, because a language is a culture and people to learn, and because the US has nothing further to give me than the twelve years of education it has already given me in an American school in Mexico City

Needless to say, none of this rant went very well with my girlfriend...

We argued, we struggled, we didn't sleep, she cried; I felt like those first-class heels in the Looney Tunes cartoons, and by her own words, I couldn't get over my own damn racism to want to be with her.

The sun set on our argument... and it rose again... and she still wasn't talking to me.

Oh shit...

Okay, fine. I'm sorry. Berkeley. University of Chicago. NYU. Anything in Boston. I'll try it. I'll do it. Berkeley gave us BSD and LSD, so it must be good. The people are nice. I want to meet your friends and your family. I'll do it. I'll probably love it once I'm there.

So, dear friends... it looks like contrary to what I've thought for a good part of my life, I've finally found a reason compelling enough to live where I never thought I would live. I'm looking forward to be a little closer to many of you.

Love,
Swap

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