Maybe it’s been done already, but someone ought to write something Kafka-esque in which a Josef Q finds himself compelled to join queue after queue in an impenetrable and byzantine bureaucracy, the end of each interminable one leading to the beginning of the next, only to find, at the moment of apparent conclusion, that the purpose of queueing turns out to be the allocation of a permit which enables him to join the first queue again. (Though, now I come to think of it, that might have actually happened to me in Foyles one time some years ago.)
Monday, I parked at USC and took the bus into downtown to avoid the usurous charges in the ‘public’ (was ever a word used more nominally?) parking there. A sweetly warm and hazy day, it made me wish I’d brought a camera, but that wouldn’t have been a good idea. Walking down 1st Street took me past the Disney Concert Hall. The sign above the street entrance for Founders parking has a vertical gap between bricks behind the final ‘s’, so that it appears to say ‘Founder$ parking’. A good joke, were it planned.
Then to the Federal Building on North Los Angeles. A queue to get in through the main entrance — regulated by time of appointment. Then a queue to go through the airport-ish security. So there’s me doing the farcical dance yet again of trying to take off my belt, whose leather is split causing its removal from trousers I’m wearing to be something of an It’s a Knockout marathon. Above a large atrium containing almost nowhere to sit there are the official photo portraits of Bush and Cheney, Useful Idiot and Eugene Helpmann.
Then a queue to get into the room where employment authorisation cards are processed, after being rebuffed by the security guard a couple of times for being, um, actually for being on time, because everything seemed to be running — already, by 10am — about an hour late. Then a queue to be issued with a number on a piece of paper. Then a queue, along with everyone else, to have the number entered into the system so that I could begin the real queueing — this procedure effected with the best available low-tech, the late middle-aged African-American woman behind the glass riffling the stack of appointment cards as if playing gin with shrewd old friends on a slow, hot afternoon.
Then waiting for my number so that I could sign the card and have my fingerprint (right index) taken. Then waiting for my number again to have my photo taken — receding hairline nicely burnt by the morning sun, thanks for asking. Then waiting for my card. It’s the way a kid writes stories: and then this happened and then that happened and then something else happened and then and then. Bureaucracy is all about conjunctions.
In the absence of adversity, hell might indeed be other people, but with a common enemy people keep each other sane. A devilishly handsome Spanish man took it upon himself to charm everyone around him; he knelt at the gin-playing grandma’s window to be at her height. The tiny, weathered Mexican man in front of me smiled, and that was quite enough to know exactly what he meant.
Three hours, but a formality this time, and still it was drainingly stressful. To have little or no English in such a context must be nightmarish. Some small token gesture is made towards Spanish, but not much. Oh, and, like Vegas casinos, there are no clocks once you’re inside the room. How can you complain about how long you’ve been there if you don’t know how long you’ve been there?
FBI fingerprinting on Saturday, and then a Green Card interview in November, and that should be that. Oh, and the final bit of Catch-22 is that the Green Card isn’t green, and for all I know isn’t a card.