Tuesday, April 25, 2017

on starting over

My spiritually minded friends would protest that I'm not starting over, rather, piling new life experience on top of a continuous process of growth that knows no continental limits. It's a lovely thought, but this free spirited kumbaya hand-holding attitude does little more than reveal that they've never moved countries while mercury is in retrograde.

I identify more with Bukowski at this particular moment:

"what makes a man a writer?"

"well, it's simple. You either get it down on paper, or jump off a bridge."

or Kafka:

"every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy."

The fact that I am a UK citizen with alleged rights has done little by way of sheltering me from being made to feel like everything I attempt to do is a criminal act. As a result, until my affairs are in order, I have accepted the generous invitation by my father to stay with him in the suburbs outside London until I am more than 50% sure Her Royal Highness isn't going to bulldoze my life with her Range Rover (love her!) and send me back to wherever I came from. 

There is not much to do in this small town beyond the nail salon, gym and funeral home. The house is under construction so I'm indefinitely on a very comfortable air mattress and presently listening to the builders listen to "No Scrubs" by TLC while I scheme how and where I might find a friend outside of a book. 

Last week while attempting to buy an avocado and a pack of "not too hot not too mild" green peppers, the cashier stopped me to make a comparative analysis of the signature on my credit card receipt with that of my driver's license. She analyzed my appearance with much suspicion, to which I responded by gently reminding her that:

1. The photo on my ID is obviously me and the name matches the name on the credit card 


2. I had signed the document digitally with my finger which is not the same as signing a paper document with a pen 


and finally, as a humiliating last ditch effort to be left alone with my not too hot not too mild green peppers:

3. I am a doctor and my signature has become more sloppy over the years

[fail fail fail.]

At this point the ninety-something cashier was so riddled with disbelief over my identity and quite possibly feeling bullied both by my vulgar American accent and pink hair, that she paged the store manager to provide reinforcement. Anyway, in the end I got my avocados, but not without a fight. 

I'm off to open a bank account. The bank of England requires proof of my address at:

Air Mattress
United Kingdom

But only a predetermined official document will suffice as proof:

-Utility bill with my name on it


-Bank account with my address attached

[fail. i mean, are you effing kidding me? the employees don't even seem to understand the irony behind requiring proof of a bank account in order to open a bank account]

-Voter Registration Card


The final bullet point seemed to be my only hope, so I log onto the voter website and begin the registration process. Initially it seems pretty straightforward, until the final portion of the application where I am asked to enter my national insurance number- the equivalent of the American social security number or codice fiscale in Italy.


So I google:

"h-o-w  t-o   g-e-t   N-a-t-i-o-n-a-l   I-n-s-u-r-a-n-c-e   N-u-m-b-e-r"

I book an appointment by phone for the following week and am required to bring proof of identity and "acceptable" proof of address:

-utility bill with my name and address on it (here we go again).


-bank statement with my name and address on it


-Voter Registration Card

[fail fail fail.] How is this even possible? I need a voter registration card for a bank account, but need NI number for voter registration card. But need bank account for NI number. 

I plead with the woman over the phone who agrees to allow me to bring in a letter from my father confirming that I have residency on his air mattress until further notice.

I attend the interview for the national insurance number accompanied by my father who is immediately asked to wait outside the building because inside there is a "no wait policy". Right. 

I present with a portfolio of all the documents that make me ME, all my passports even the expired ones, birth certificates from America, UK, Hungary. Letters. All the letters that exist for anything. My official documents. Dad's official documents. University Diplomas. Transcripts. Pap Smear Results. I am extremely and overly prepared. I am called for my interview and despite my right to work in the UK, I am nervous as if I were being prosecuted:

[Woman stares at me suspiciously.]

"So, why do you want a national insurance number?"

So I can work in this country.

"You have never worked in this country?"

I have never lived nor worked in this country.

"Are you married?"


[Looks at me verrrryy suspiciously]. "Have you ever been married?"

No. [Suspicion heightens]

"Are you single?" 

[She upward inflects 'single' forcing me to wonder whether these were official questions or just manifestations of her own curiosity.


[This sends her into a frantic assault of her computer keyboard for about 45 seconds, after which she looks back up at me.]

"So you're single and you've never been married?" 

That is correct

[Returns to frantically typing on computer keyboard.]

"Ok, please sign here."

[I sign. She looks at my passport and then at my signature.] 

"Your signatures don't match."

[AGAIN? Really?! I am too exasperated to try a different tactic so I recite the same script from the supermarket the week before]:

The photo on my ID is obviously me and the name matches the name on the passport. 


I had signed the document digitally with my finger which is not the same as signing a paper document with pen 


and finally, as a humiliating last ditch effort to be left alone with my not too hot not too mild green peppers national insurance number:

I am a doctor and my signature has become more sloppy over the years.


"Why of course it has! I will put a note in your file attesting that your signature has changed over the years and that you cannot replicate it. You will get a response from us within 3-4 weeks as to whether or not we have approved you for a national insurance number."

Wait so I am a British Citizen and a doctor with an offer to work at a major London Hospital, no felonies no arrests no work or marriage or adoption issues that could complicate my application, but you might deny me of the right to work

"Well not me, specifically, but, yes. If we are not in touch with you by May 22 please call this number. Here is your reference number. Bye." 

It was almost as warm a welcome to the country as the fifty-something drunk chap at the corner pub who watched me roll by with my suitcase on the way home from the train station:

"OY! OYYYY!! LUV! Whee ya frum?!!" [spills beer over railing]


"Oh I've bin theh! It's shhhhite!" [Laughs, spills pint over railing]

Anyway, as much as I hate to use it, sometimes the "I'm a doctor" thing works. People have this perception that if you're a doctor you're rich and trustworthy and really got your life together. The reality is that I'm in my 30's and technically jobless and homeless. My pants have been on backwards for 17 hours and I've got so much dry shampoo in my hair that fruit flies keep getting stuck in it. 

It was time to have a shower and head into London. I made plans with an Italian friend who arranged "tickets" for us for Friday night. She is a generally vague person but also highly cultured so I took it to mean she arranged after-dinner theater or art or music tickets. 


I arrive. We grab some Asian food in Bethnal Green which is famously Jack the Ripper territory, and where Martina casually mentions that the last time she was there, there was a murder in the park across the street. She walks me into a dark, empty alley while I launch into a monologue on twisted Italian literature and she listens intently while finishing her cigarette.  We walk up to an anonymous black door against a graffitied brick wall and she knocks. A skinny, shaved headed guy answers.

"are you on the list?"


"there is no list. Come in"

The doorman then draws a penis on each of our hands with thick permanent black marker and lets us in. 

There is loud cheering and a wrestling ring. It's Lucha Britannia. I'm pushed right up to the front just in time to watch the previous match end and the next act begin.

A voluptuous woman comes out in a bear suit and does a strip tease to the tune of Ludacris' "What's your Fantasy". Very different from the week I'd spent reading books and watching the builders stack cinder blocks (who by the way are now listening to Will Smith's "Gettin Jiggy Wit It"). 

I spent Saturday at the Wellcome Trust Museum and on Saturday night had dinner with my Italian friends at a pizza place in Southwark called "O'ver" which in dialect means "REALLY?!" or "WTF?!". It reminded me about my feelings on the fact that there are no bloody electrical sockets permitted in bathrooms in this country.

On Sunday I embarked upon a social experiment of sorts in search of a new friend. Somebody. Anybody. I walked down to Pop Brixton, ordered a big bloody mary and sat by myself with a book in hopes that a stranger might come and talk to me. It never happened. Well, twice I had a near success when someone tapped me on the shoulder asking if I could slide down on the bench to make space for them and their burger. 

I have been in England for a week. This may be the country of royalty, the beloved Prince Harry and cream tea, but in the more appropriately revised words of Ed Sheeran- the bar isn't a good place to find love, so the buffet is where I go. 

For now, I'll stick to my books, my bureaucracy, and my air mattress. 

1 comment:

Lauren Goodman said...

Love you Olivia! You'll get this sorted out.