Once I settled into life in London, nothing could stop me. I rode busses and talked to anyone and everyone about anything and everything. I’ll never forget the fellow I sat next to one long trip to nowhere (I thought I was going to the London Zoo and ended up in Barking or Woofing or somewhere with an equally startling name.) It was my first experience of the World Suburb. Where everything looks like Downey. Or Garden Grove. Or Surrey, BC. Or (fill in name of faceless nameless blends into one another suburb here)
This fellow was a bummer. How could he hate living in London? London was great! The greatest city on earth! And the accents! Oh my, they were something. But he hated Mortlake, that’s where I was staying! Not Margate. Anywho…he hated it. He hated everything that I thought was cool. Mortlake looked like Coronation Street. All brick 2 stories with no front yards.
But he hated it. I asked him why he didn’t leave and he told me his troubles. You could tell he’d told people before. He told it as if he’d told it to himself day after day. He told it as if he were bored with telling it. In a great accent. Honestly, I was enthralled. I didn’t want to be rude but it was like from a movie. I’d already heard that story a million times. I was a bartender once in a while. Yeah, I knew it. Money, not having a job, living on the dole.
I told him I was from Canada. Lots of work there and he was a British subject. They’d give him a work visa. They always needed men in the north. Maybe he couldn’t be a lumberjack-he argued that he most certainly COULD be a lumberjack and showed me his skinny, wiry arm- but he could be an equipment operator. Or something. His eyes got rounder and rounder as I told him about the life in small town Canada.
Grizzly bears roaming the streets, elk in rut killing everything in sight, 11 ft tall moose rampaging over unwary joggers, 120 lb cougars that would run you down and eat you alive, screaming. I know my audience. He wasn’t that interested in the ‘lots of work’ part. But when I told him the bush would kill him? That got his attention. It was also the truth. It would and it does. But that’s yet another story for another time. All the men and women who have died there. Bummer…I probably won’t tell those ones.
I just wanted him to cheer up.
He loved it. I knew he would. He had the look of someone who needed to dream a little. To get up and be gone for awhile. To be a manly man.
Stop feeling sorry for himself, stop comparing himself to other people, stop remembering bad luck and ill usage. Come back home in 10 years with money and a Canadian girlfriend, dang boy, WHAT are you waiting for? Someone might be dating YOUR GIRLFRIEND right now. GO GO GO…
ahhhh, I settled back, job well done, and watched him race purposefully down the street. That guy, I hope to hell he believed me. I hope he flew to Calgary and got a job in the oil fields or the mines or the bush, logging. I hope he met some willowy, hard as nails Canadian beauty who swore like a sailor and could hold her liquor and had Grandma’s recipe for butter tarts. Better than riding a bus and complaining.
…I could sympathize. Sucks to be out of work. Was it a lie? Or was it facilitating a dream? I’d read those stories in the papers. Mind you the cougar story happened in California, and the moose rampage was in Alaska. Elk, every Canadian knows to stay away from elk in rut. No lies there. Bear stories are a dime a dozen.
Yes, I felt good.
I was bar hopping, shopping, exploring the city, getting lost, ending up in Covent Garden when I was heading towards Buckingham Palace, spending afternoons in pubs with dogs and beer, discovering Scotch Eggs-which is a hard-boiled egg covered in sausage and deep-fried. Why was I not informed that such delicacies existed? Why didn’t I think of it myself?
So. that was a pointless digression and since I am lying here getting chemotherapy as I write, I won’t apologize. It’s the drugs…
I didn’t have the slightest problem finding the Polish Embassy. I didn’t need the Canadian Embassy to okay a visa. If the Poles thought I was alright then I was alright.
But the embassy itself was PACKED. I just hadn’t foreseen that. I fought my way to the front of the counter, there didn’t seem to be a line anyway, and asked about a visa. The poor little polish man was quite overwhelmed. He answered me in Polish and I was forced to use one of my few polish phrases. Che nyah movee po Polska. It said so in the book. My polish phrase book.
He stared at me a second, you could see his tired brain trying to process what I’d said, in a no doubt execrable accent. I said I don’t speak polish. I need a visa. For Poland. He said ‘You want to go TO Poland? Haven’t you read the papers? etc…’ whatever.
I practiced lying.
My boyfriend was there. He was hurt. He fell on an iron, a steam iron, and burned his shoulder. It got infected and I was worried sick.
Now, how is THAT for a whopper? It just came to me. I didn’t even know I was going to say it. It seemed like a Polish kind of accident, maybe. I don’t know. It was so good I started crying.
The guy couldn’t seem to handle any more women. He looked blank. It seemed the whole place was full of women. I was the tallest though. And I looked hot.
He told me the Polish Visa place was somewhere else. Like Portland or something. I was NOT going back to Oregon, I told him, and I cried harder. I waved my Canadian passport and leaned on the counter so he could see my expensive push up brassiere was working. He wrote on a piece of paper and gave it to me. I didn’t know what he was saying. It was noisy.
He told me it was Portland PLACE. In London. And he drew me a map. awwww…he was sweet. So I fought my way out, I almost offered to trade my push up brassiere to another girl, it worked so well. But I might need it at the visa place.
I followed the directions and they were awesome. Really close together and I was there in no time. Boy was it crowded. They had a number machine. Damn it. So I took a number, found a seat and looked around for a while. Got called up front. Guess what? The visa place ISSUED visas. The Embassy granted them. Or something. I could see I was going to have to start listening to what people were saying.
I showed the lady (damn it-she didn’t give a flying fuck about my bra. Good for her) the paper and she gave me an ‘oh god a dumb ass Canadian’ and said ‘This is your appointment for tomorrow at 1:00 at the Embassy. They will ask you questions and you will answer them TRUTHFULLY (I personally think she was reading my mind or was suspicious of my bra because she really laid the emphasis on TRUTHFULLY.) and they will decide if you will be granted a visa. Then you will come here and we will stamp your passport. NEXT!’ wait wait wait…How the hell long is this going to take?! I need to BE there. My boyfriend, but I shut up. She wasn’t buying. She said up to two weeks. Two weeks?! Oh no she didn’t say that to Baby.
To shorten this whole thing, I went to the embassy I told my story, it was sort of the truth, it had moments of truthiness. The name and address I was visiting checked out correctly. Leszek had family there and I got my stamp in two days.
To celebrate I went to see Vanessa Redgrave play Isadora Duncan at the Globe Theatre. I think it was the Globe but that would be a guess. When I found out I could actually SEE her on the stage I sort of got all screamy and hysterical. I wanted to see her in ‘Long Days Journey Into Night’, can you imagine how fantastic that would be? I die. It wasn’t open.
She was wrapping up the Isadora Duncan play, called…oh I’d have to look it up. I think it was When She Danced. I swore I’d never forget. It was that good. She spoke only english and the other actor only spoke russian and it was so good. And I had a gin and tonic and I paid for it before hand and they made them BEFORE the interval and put them on a coaster with your number. No waiting in line! I only ordered one because if this was LA or Vancouver someone would have drunk your drink. But there it was all nice and warm. No ice. But that was okay. It was tasty and I had a nice hat. I was all alone. Lyra couldn’t come but talk about wicked thrilling people watching. wow. Heaven. I was ready for Europe. Question was Europe ready for me? HAH!
I felt like Napoleon. Like Charlemange…like another g and t. I missed the last bus to Mortlake and had to spend the earth on a taxi. But what a night!