And A Happy Citizenship to You!

 In a few weeks my son will become an American citizen. These days I remembered how two years ago when it was my turn I've been thru an emotional roller coaster, from anxiety attacks to mystic exaltation. Though he seems nonchalant, I post those notes here, both for the born citizens who might better appreciate their birth rights, and for those on route of becoming citizens. And for everybody else.

As To How I Changed As I Went Thru The Steps Required By The American Citizenship Process
January 14th, 2011

1. The first thing I did after I came back to my New York City home after two months of field work in Hungary was go to an office in Sheepshead Bay that helped immigrants with their paper work, in my case, a citizenship application. A clerk there, a Russian woman, helped me. She was rough and impatient, especially when it came to explicating my many names:

A. My first name, misspelled, since my father got drunk when I was born and thought I was a boy, so the next day he went back and the clerk put a feminine ending to the male name. I suffered throughout school for that mistake, kids laughed at me.
B. My married-the-first-time last name, a Romanian name, that replaced my maiden Hungarian family name.
C. My first-time-divorcee name, the Romanian last name of my ex, because I moved to the capital where there were mainly Romanians and my maiden Hungarian name, gave me evil looks, since Hungarians were not liked by Romanians in the capital.
D. My married-the-second-time name, a Romanian name, but a ridiculous name meaning hut/hovel.
E. My second-time-divorcee name, became back the first-time-divorcee name, though I wanted back my maiden Hungarian name since I lived in Hungary, and there Hungarians picked on Romanians.
F. My Hungarian-American pen name, my first name too difficult for American tongues to pronounce got shorter and I use my maiden last name. I wanted to make that name official in Romania, but they said I had to stay in the country for half a year, so they could make sure I was not a threat to security, a spy, that sort of people who have various names, and I couldn’t since I lived in Hungary.

As an American I want my pen name to be my passport name, my check name, my post office name, my only name forever.
The Russian lady said by Spring I would be a citizen, I was a simple case, a breeze. Why was I nervous? She was not an INS interviewer. There was no need to be nervous.
Oh, well, tell that to the raised-under-communism me.

2. When I had my picture taken for the naturalization application at a mom and pop store by the Post Office in our neighborhood, I freshly washed my hair, put on lipstick, put on a delicate womanly silk blouse and matching blue jacket, trying to fit in my artsy self with the INS requirements. Well, the photographer said I should uncover my ears. “What for?!” “It’s an INS requirement.” “But it ruins my hairstyle! My hairdo is all about my asymmetric side locks. I want to look my best on my eternal naturalization certificate!” “No matter, this is the specification, uncovered ears.” I muttered, “I wish they’d recognized the September 11 terrorists by their unique ear shape,” but then I got fearful it was un-American to make such comments, and I smiled, to the best of my abilities, reassuring the INS I was no terrorist.

3. The same day that I sent my naturalization application at the post office retail window—the clerk congratulating me when I patted the envelope covering it in blessings and informed him that it was my citizenship application—I also made a complaint at the information window because over the summer the mailman stopped delivering my mail, when I returned from Europe in October my mail box was empty, and when I called him, he said he returned it because he figured I moved out. “I did not move. I went abroad for 75 days and the post office policy is that you can hold my mail only for 30 days, therefore after 30 days you should have let my mail pile up in my mail box, not ‘figure’ I moved out. What is the national mail delivery policy? You have rules, you don’t go about ‘figuring’ them. Give me your manager.” The manager said the next time I travel I should talk to her, she’d keep my mail for whatever many months, not like the previous manager who didn’t want to work with me when I begged her to hold my mail knowing how long I’d be away. “Okay. And where are my magazines now?” “He sent them back to the publications. You have to call them to ask them to send you the magazines from now on.”
“Alright. The post office messes my subscriptions and I have to fix the mess.”
I called the two publications. Harper’s said they indeed received a notice that told them I didn’t live here anymore, but Glamour no, Glamour he kept, looked at the juicy pretty girls. Mother fucker postman!
So now, a week later, after I was sending out my citizenship application, I went to the information-only window and told the manager that her worker retained my Glamour. “This is serious business! I don’t want this guy anywhere near my mail while I wait crucial INS correspondence. Do you understand it’s not about the magazine subscription, but about my citizenship? What if he ‘figures’ out of the blue again that I moved and sends back the INS invitation for my interview with a ‘moved away’ stamp on it? After I paid $675 in citizenship fees!” She understood, she’d take care of the situation, she had already penalized the guy the first time I’d complained.

4. In a month or so, the INS letter about the fingerprint appointment came. Goodness, the letter came on a Monday saying the next Tuesday I was due at Varwick Street for fingerprints! That was close. What if I was away for a week?! If I don’t show up they’ll consider I gave up on the citizenship and my $675 goes into their pocket.
Oh, how I worried about my fingerprints. That week I didn’t do any work with my hands, fearing I might ruin them because the week before, I used Crazy Glue to fix a broken ceramics candle stick and for several days my fingertips felt weird, scratchy, as though I had no finger prints, covered as they were in glue. So I didn’t do anything risky around the house. But the night before my appointment, I was chopping some vegetables and I sliced a bit into my pointer finger. I worried the fingerprints wouldn’t be good, and feared they’d bar me from citizenship. “Why did I have to chop vegetables right the evening before finger prints?! Why couldn’t I wait like I waited to wash some dangerous glass for my picture frames until after fingerprinting? Why am I sabotaging myself?”
My friends laughed about my fears. No one would care about my pointer finger gash.
Indeed when I went the next day it was easy breezy. No endless lines, no rude officers, no wait at all. I barely entered the building and I was out of it. The guy at the fingerprinting machine was bored out of his mind, he put some jell on my fingertips, rolled them on a glass surface, stored the images, and done. On my way out I picked up a booklet with the American history and geography questions I’d have to answer in two months at my citizenship interview. I counted upon being there all morning, but in half an hour I was out.

5. Not knowing what to do with myself, and realizing I was nearby the office of an art organization I belonged to, I thought it was a good idea to stop by and say hello, and see what they were up to. So I knock on their door and when I open the door, there was Janice Crook, the director, as sour and ugh, hateful as a talentless and trite looking but self-important and ambitious actress can get after ten years of fruitless struggle in New York City. I say a smiling hello, here I am after fingerprinting for my citizenship, thought I’d stop by, haven’t been here in ages. Oh, Janice Crook throws me an ugly look and says she can’t bother about me because she has a grant deadline to meet and can’t even let me check my email in an office corner because the laptops are locked and the person in charge of the laptops is not in, and no. “You know, Janice, I remember now why I haven’t come in so long here, because you are so unfriendly and pretentious.”
And it all came back to me how two, three years ago I bartered labor with the organization for membership fees and workshop fees. One of my duties was to go around town twice a year and drop their newsletter at artsy places. And the last time I did that, winter, cold, I braved the elements for the newsletter distribution, and Janice—just because I had recently told her like it is ablout her underling, yet another dreary artistic failure and power monger arts administrator psycho Janice hired to look over our grant applications, who didn’t do her job by me—so after I complained that her assistant ruined an opportunity for me, Janice Crook, Madame the Director, finagled and finagled how to get back at me, and took it upon herself to stick her nose to find fault with my bartering rights and so mangled up the book keeping with the hours I worked distributing newsletters and my bartering fees that the person who was actually in charge of the book keeping gave up fighting Director Crook back and I eventually gave in to her horrendous headachey hair splitting though I lost about 10 hours worth in the process. After that, despondent, I went away, and let her steal my work.
But now, my finger prints taken for my American citizenship, I grew a spine! I looked at her and told her into her face, from the doorway, “You are a bitch, Janice Crook. You stole my work hours and I let you get away with it.” To this she just went on with her computer typing and said like a robot, “Thank you for your feedback.”
And my backbone/spine grew even more! “Feedback? Oh, you’re right, this is an organization that used to encourage artists to be outspoken, before you took over with your soulless gang. You used to serve our common good, before you clambered up the stairs of grant making. Feedback? I’ll give you feedback. I’ll give you real good feedback. To the board directors. Let your superiors remind you that artists like me are not fish too small to fry. I’ll give you feedback.”
That’s how the prospects of being an American citizen emboldened me.
Before I was always alarmed at Elliot, a friend who rants about government corruption, about Obama being corrupt, about the entire rotten country. I’d always say, “I can’t listen to you, Elliot! not now! Maybe after I get my citizenship.”

7. That day, after I told Janice Crook like it is, I went as usual at noon at a photo studio to stay in line for the large printer. They had a free-for-all workshop that December. While waiting I eagerly read my citizenship interview booklet, learning the history and the geography and government questions, prepping, prepping:

What is the supreme law of the land?
The Constitution. What does the Constitution do? Protects basic rights of Americans. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words? We the People. What is an amendment? A change to the Constitution. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? The Bill of Rights. What is one right or freedom from the First Amendment? Speech. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence? Liberty and pursuit of happiness. What is freedom of religion? You can practice any religion, or not practice a religion.
What is the "rule of law"?
No one is above the law.

Since I came here I actually didn’t live much in American circles. For the last two years I worked for a British woman and my co-worker was a Haitian woman and both of them vehemently didn’t want American citizenship, though they lived here for more than a decade. Their faces went disdainful, even hateful when I’d talk eagerly about my wish to become a citizen. I couldn’t understand them. You live here, make your money here, but don’t want to commit to being part of it for real?!
By the end of my time in that enterprise, that was not short enough, I was about to report them since they did illegal things. The enterprise would run on unpaid interns. They’d send their resumes by email. Well, the Haitian woman told me she wouldn’t interview a potential intern that I thought had a great resume, because she said the candidate was deeply religious, and sniggered that, “Imagine, she taught Sunday school!”
I could not bear that here was this girl, trying to become an intern, to break into film industry, and she put on her resume that she taught Sunday school and she lost her chance to be interviewed because this Haitian punk fetishist calls bigot any believer. It felt so unfair.
But she got away with it because the British boss didn’t care.
I came to America because I wanted the fairness, the chance, the non discrimination, that America stands for and now I work for an organization that doesn’t give a damn about that. Blatantly so.
After I filed my citizenship I immediately gave notice I quit to the British employer, and when it came out she thought could get away with not paying me for my last two weeks of work, I told her, “If you don’t write me the check for my hard work, then I’ll send a complaint to the Labor Department exposing how you exploit your workers. You don’t even pay minimum wages. And while I’m at it I’ll also write the INS that you have no qualms doing illegal things. I swear I’ll turn you in, asshole.” She menaced with her three relatives, all lawyers in London. I could see them flying on brooms over the ocean with their absurd wigs. “What? You really think you can scare me?! Don’t make me show my fangs, cow! Don’t you think that just because I’m a starving artist I can’t get legal representation pro bono or that you are above justice, above the law. Go to your British stuck up, snooty royal barracks, I’ll chase you out of this country, bitch. This is America, bitch!”
She gave me my check in a jiffy.

What is one responsibility that is only for United States citizens? Serve on a jury. What are two rights of everyone living in the United States? Freedom of expression, and freedom to petition the government. What are two
ways that Americans can participate in their democracy? Give an elected official your opinion on an issue and write to a newspaper. What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for? Started the first free libraries. What did Susan B. Anthony do? Fought for women's rights. During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the United States? Communism. Name one American Indian tribe in the United States. Blackfeet. What is the name of the national anthem? The Star-Spangled Banner. Name two national U.S. holidays. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Independence Day.
8. Lysanne, who came after me in line, is also a foreigner. Asian. I asked her about the citizenship interview, ‘Will it matter if I have little money? I am not on public assistance, but I still recover financially from domestic violence perpetrated by an American citizen. Will it matter?’ ‘No, with this economy, I think no.’ ‘How was with you?’ ‘Easy. I was a simple case, since I married an American citizen.’
I wonder if she loved her American husband or if she did it for the green card. I couldn’t do that. Now that I will be a citizen I sense I am slowly becoming a prey. I don’t know if my Eastern European guy really loves me or just wants my green card, since he insists he wants to marry me, he is a serious fellow, can’t say to his friends he has a girlfriend, no, he has to get married, and to no avail I tell him I won’t marry ever, neither him, nor anyone else. All the time he asks me when I’ll be done with becoming a citizen so we get married.

9. Only in America. Only in New York.
The photo studio opened its doors at noon and all 20, 30 of us waiting in line went in. As I said I don’t get to know America much, so I equated the microcosm of the studio with America at large, and I thought it functioned based on the information I read in the citizenship booklet.
The photographers kept on coming: the angry ones, the vain ones, the kind fuddy daddies, the full of themselves, galore of those. I fit in with which I wonder? All kinds of people in that space, some were wanna-be hipsters not hip at all, with all kinds of lame attires, torn fishnet stockings, platform shoes, spandex, lots of spandex, sunglasses, thinking they were cool, but they had no spunk, no originality, just empty eagerness to be famous. Gimmicks. Shocking at all costs. One day a group brought a sturdy farm horse in this SoHo loft studio space and the horse stood there for hours patient, though rock punk music was loud enough to crack your skull open, and the poor animal didn’t kick with his hooves, didn’t bite, just stood there so all kind of pimply wanna-be models could take pictures holding its reins.
Then there was the paid staff that manned the printers, or watched the photo studio area with fancy studio lighting and umbrellas and reflectors and large format cameras, or walked about the floor in their jean aprons. There was Kenneth with his graceless awkward heavy walk, his hair at times tied up in a bun, at times sprawling about in a wimpy bush. There was Jim, the nerd geek who knew a lot and shared his knowledge, but would go into unnecessary details in his droning voice, and congratulate me for my eagerness to learn, huh. “Hey Jim, how can I turn a color image into an old, sepia color?” “How do I feather an image contour? It’s too sharp by the edges when I print it on the T-shirt!” “Jim, how do I make actions to resize in a batch the images for web?” And he’d kneel besides me and figure it out for himself and then explain to me step by step, three times. Often he’d be ill-tempered when he had to do other things, but he’ll apologize when I approached him the next time. There was the blonde ditz, wife of the enterprise manager, extremely slow and vacuous, whom they employed at the T-shirt printing station, and she’d move so slow when she was there that standing in line would take five times and we’d grumble as she slowly dressed the T-shirt on the printing plate, then slowly took it off, put it in the hot press! God, shoot me.
The boss, her husband or whatever, always had a hangover, bloodshot eyes and gray stubbly face, and struggled to pass for a hipster with his gelled Mohawk, and enormous sunglasses and imitation of ghetto hand gestures he’d pose in the many self portraits on the loft walls. When he came once without his Mohawk sticking out hairdo, he revealed his true self: a complete lame dork.
Then there was Will, the rookie they all laughed about that he was a virgin, with a disproportionate, small head, like an ostrich head, on his skinny torso, and long legs and cowboy boots. He wore two cameras on his back, to show off. All he did was supervise the T-shirt line to see no one printed more than two.
Social misfits.
Still, there was Hunter, a sweetheart with flowing auburn hair, and healthy teeth. He collected the empty ink cartridges, the rest of the lot threw into the garbage, for me. I recycled them at Staples and got $2 store credit for each.
Oh, the excitement of seeing my pictures coming out of the large printer, a dream come true! Or to print them on cloth, so exciting! But the employees didn’t care about excitement, which at first was jarring. Later I put things together and realized all they cared about was the afterhours, when they did their own printing, stashes of them! One of the teamsters, with a long beard and lip ring, bragged about how he drank whiskey and printed such a large stash, he opened his arms, and another dork said the same thing, a stout guy, known as a future father of a girl. Will, the gangly cowboy, said once to me, “Oh, but you print more than I do.” “What do you mean?! I thought you get paid to help us do our printing. Are you a volunteer?” “No.” “Then what are you complaining about? Why are you comparing apples and pears? You are gainfully employed to man this studio for us, starving artists. Why are you grumpy and resentful that I print?! Does it come out of your pocket?”
Gradually I figured it out that the endless line of people outside the studio was but advertising for them. My walking on their floor was advertising for them. They don’t care about me, or my talent. Most likely I’ll never see them again in my life. Fairness and rules and laws are just on paper. Not in real life. It’s who you know and what you trade at personal level.
It was hard to figure out that this was what was going on, because I can’t stomach that. Year after year after year in Romania it was all about whom you knew, about connections, bribery, traffic of influence, and now here in America for years I was under the delusion that here is about talent, hard work and fairness. On and on people told me it’s all about who you know, and on and on I’d nod but didn’t believe it applied to me.
At the photo studio it became clear that things wnet like they did in Romania, with connections and favors. I came to America with joy, that “Hey, here we have rights, there is a law, and everybody is equal. Equality in front of the law.” What equality?! You should have seen how at the studio certain photographers jumped the line, how some came with gifts and tips for the workers so they could print when the store was closed. Exactly like in Romania. Why can’t I be like this? Why I am a snob and hardheaded I don’t know. During communism year after year I could not enter the Theater and Film Institute because I didn’t have connections, always under the red line that separated the four ones that were admitted into the institute, always under the red line, always someone’s daughter, always someone’s mistress had to get in first, always some communist party honcho’s wife was above the red line. Year after year.
This here now was a machine you have to push its buttons, stroke its side, if you want it to give you prints.
But before I arrived at this gloomy conclusion I thought we go by the citizenship book rules.
At the studio while we were standing in line we’d make friends with the other artists. There was Peggy who’d drive in all the way from Long Island, who’d tell me crying about these people somewhere far away who had been poisoned and their off springs were deformed and a photographer she respected documented the disaster in that village. Then there was gay Stanley who mainly took male nude pictures, a warm man who’d tell us about his family, three generations of artists, and how it took him 5 years of therapy to finally go out network and shake hands confidently. There was Rosalie and her Cape Cod home and her stories about her Catholic mother-in-law who’d try to chip at her confidence.
Together we concluded that the staff actually hated us, the aging photogrpahers. We were not hip enough for them. We told each other the free printing attracts all the city’s nutcases. It’s free, but it’s not free. The aggravation is the price we pay. When I pointed out, “There should be fairness, why aren’t we more outspoken, you are all children of the sixties, why do you let them get away with it? Why do you bring cookies, bring banana bread, why?” They smiled and said, “It’s not about fairness; the government is corrupt, the nation is bankrupt, and in the end it’s about whom you know. Bring cookies, zucchini bread, so you get your images printed.”

10. Well, now that I read my citizenship book, the Law of the Land, I felt so empowered and fortified, that it was my mission to rock the boat for my rights.
The first time I went to complain to the management was about a look-at-fabulous-me prick who cut the line. I was number 14, and he was number 16, and lo and behold, he printed after number 7. I asked him, “Why are you doing this?!” He said, “Sweetie, don’t try to control what’s going on here, relax. I’ve been printing here at this studio for quite a while.” And he wiggled his camp toosh, rolling his eyes, fraternizing with the other hipsters, who’d not confront him because it’s not cool to confront assholes. “So what if you came here before me?! Seniority doesn’t give you the right to jump the line and be rude to people. and you do not call me ‘sweetie.’” “Oh, honey,” he went on, “don’t talk to me.” “Of course you’d prefer me not to talk to you, so you can get away with jumping the line. And why is everybody putting up with this?! What kind of citizens are you?! You know what, I go and let the guys at the front desk know about how you behave to unknown people. Sweetie, he calls me sweetie! Like I’m his manicurist!”
But by the time I talked to the management, they just derisively rolled their eyes and snickered since the fabulous prick was entertaining with the vacuous blonde wife of the manager.
The second time I braced up was when a big African-American man with whom I quarreled constantly because he’d get away with churning T-shirts, printing naked women showing off their vaginas, which alright, it’s freedom of expression, but he’d print 20 of them, while the rest of us printed 2, and when I called him on that he hissed, “Mind your business.” “It is my business!” I dug my heels into the ground! “This studio is communal, if you abuse it, I suffer too because of what you do.” So now this same guy was in line at the large printer with a gaggle of 4 ditsies about to print 4 large prints, because they were with him and so he could, the rule being one large print per person a day. So I went and I told my piece to the manager and the staff who were smoking, having their morning coffee outside. Oh, how they laughed at me. They asked me, “Should we shut down the studio because people did unfair things?” Another one said, “Karma will take care of him.” “Well, what are you saying? If I bring my entire Transylvanian tribe, 12 cousins and grandparents and they all stand in line with me, you’ll oblige me and print me 20 prints too?” “Yes, we would. Some people are more resourceful.” “But this is like back in Romania, where people would break the rules. Well, even policemen would cut in line at the butcher’s, at the grocery store. People turned into spiteful beasts if there was no fairness.”
“Oh, no, it’s about being resourceful, about free enterprise.”
I was startled how uncool they made me feel. I felt I was dated, communistic. But it was them who had said, “This place is for all of us, to benefit us all.”
But then, were they to allow me to print 4 prints a day too, would I refuse to do it, just becuase the others could print only one? Was I incorruptible?
I want my integrity untarnished. But can one survive in this muck?
I thought and thought. One day a guy stayed in line at the T-shirt printer with a canvas. I helped him with the computer and then when he got his print he said he had enough of standing in line, and he gave me the rest of the canvas. I didn’t like its color, but I thanked him, “Hey, someone is investing in me, gave me a canvas.” A few days later a woman was standing in line and was asking people where they got their canvases from. I told her I had one and I sold it to her for ten bucks. At the store it was only six, but hey, it was raining outside and she wanted to buy it. It felt fantastic to make a profit.
Then, in the corner of the studio was a Kodak photo kiosk like they have in supermarkets, Duane Reade and such, where you could print 4”x6” or 5”x7”. The rule was 10 prints per person, but I noticed everybody was printing galore leisurely. So I went and printed too about 30, my proofs, to see how the pictures looked before I printed them larger, to avoid wasting ink and paper on ugly pictures. I felt some pangs of guilt, that I broke the rules, that I got corrupted. The next day the same, but this time as I was studying them while standing in line to print more, here comes awkward Kenneth and his sour face and asks me how many I have already printed. I tell him 30. He says I take advantage of them. Who’s them? They who print stacks for themselves during off hours? Do the studio sponsors know about what goes on behind closed doors? “Why are you embarrassing me? Why are you singling me out? Do I remind you of your mother? At this very moment they print 50, 60, hundreds of 5”x7” photos at the kiosk. Fairness? Who are you kidding? Free printing? It’s not free, I am part of the buzz, the image you want to project. Look at these walls, full of crappy pictures, a loss of paper and ink. Fairness?! Alright already, pick on someone else.”
He went away sighing.
The next day or so, Will, the ostrich boy, again asks me how many have I printed? “20, which is much less that anyone else,” I say. He says I should be a leading example and not print anymore. “Are you kidding me? I see you caving in each time a guy prints more than he should, especially if it’s an African American guy.” The entire staff, all of them white, show off how cool they are, being extra friendly, chatting and hugging black dudes. But Will went on nagging me, so I gave up, turned around and sat on a couch.
Well, fate had it that a super cool black dude came to me to compliment my photos, as I was relaxing, analyzing my pictures. He told me how one of his friends married twice Eastern European women because they made him feel like a man. “Well,” I said, “Eastern European women also expect their men to take care of them.” “True. They liked very expensive clothing and going out to fine restaurants. They took him to the cleaners.” I told him his friend should grow up, and then I asked him if he printed at the Kodak kiosk that day. He said no. “Then would you help me print 10 more pictures?” “Sure.” And so I got my own African-American super cool dude standing in line for me. And under Will’s puppy eyes and speechless mouth I had my way.
I was rather happy. I figured their weakness. I found an entry point. I placed my grain of sand in their intricate clockwork. I can carve my path now untouched by them.
But since this happiness was the result of a deed that broke the citizenship booklet fairness rules, it’s rather complicated.

And A Happy Citizenship to You!   March 1, 2011
6:30 in the morning, and I’m awake. The phone rings, and I answer, ‘Hello? Hello? Alo?’
‘What, Hello?! Say, Alo! Listen to that, Hello! We are not Americans. Well, may you have a successful interview!’
It’s my supporter, Florin Bursuc, the chief of the Technical Department from the National Office for Bridges and Roads in Cluj Napoca, the capital of Transylvania. One by one other voices wish me good luck: Anita, the secretary, Vasile, the draftsman, Petrică, the second-in-command engineer, every one of them says dutifully their names and wishes me success with my citizenship, for that’s what their boss, Mr. Bursuc told them to do. Shucks, is he coercing them?! Is this sincere or plain sinister?! And may I have a beautiful March 1st and a lucky Women’s Day.

My jaw dropped! I’m delighted they called me because I’m all stressed out with the American citizenship process. Last night I put together my bag for this morning’s interview: passports, expired and valid, green card, birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce certificates, death certificates, translated and notarized, everything orderly incased in an elegant navy blue folder.
I also enclosed a postcard I bought last summer from a museum in Hungary with the seven or so Magyar/Hun Clansmen, My Warrior Ancestors Forefathers. I also searched on the Internet for images of my Romanian Dacian and Roman Warrior Forefathers, and for Indira Gandhi, since he was our Indian Gypsy Forefather, so my heart is filled with strength from their hovering spirits accompanying me to the interview. If the bureaucrats dare refuse me my citizenship my Hun Clansmen and Decebal Traian, my Romanian Ancestors, will hit them on their heads, crack open their skulls. But the WiFi I piggyback on dropped, so I couldn’t google them. Instead, I took with me Florin Bursuc’s picture, a series comprised of sixteen poses with his green cap, for he is offspring of Dacians and Tracians and Romans, and instead of Gandhi I stuck in my bag the sweet faces of the little Gypsies living on the garbage dump nearby the Cluj Napoca metropolis. So armed with the Ancestral Spirits of my Transylvania Motherland I gain heart. Just let them dare say no to me. I’ll bite their noses off! What the heck!

Florin Bursuc says grandly on the phone, ‘If the Americans won’t give you your citizenship, tell them to go fuck themselves, and that’s that. Come home. You are not nobody’s. We’re all backing you up, we, your cheering supporters from the National Romanian Roads.’
The Choir of the Romanian Roads says, ‘Yes, indeed!’ noisily. The entire office echoes!

So, with a smile on my face I head to the subway. We all wait on the platform. Five minutes. I’ll be late if the train doesn’t come. That’s not at all what I need now. I have to be there at 8:00!
I’m sleepy. I slept only four hours. I lean my bag on the bench, then I hold it tight. What if I lose it? My entire life is in these papers. That’s not at all what I need now.

On the train people commute to work. A guy with a cowboy hat, an abundant young woman with tight jeans, salsa music streaming out of her ears, a gentleman with long wild white hair like Einstein ruminates chewing gum. He has a burgundy bowtie. A lady with a wide face, maybe from Kirghizstan, with a Soviet fur cap reads the Bible. An African lady with a fur coat and a scarf, her hair combed into a tidy grandma bun, sleeps serenely.

In the newspaper they say that the MTA collected $1.4 million in fines from commuters who didn’t pay their ticket fare on the super fast Second Avenue Bloomberg bus. The unions are protesting against Republicans. The Oscars hold no surprises: Colin Firth and Natalie Portman. There were many beige gowns at the ceremony. Charlie Sheen again declared to the world on a talk show that he adores his porn star lovers, and that he hates the creator of his Two And A Half Men sitcom, and since the producers got wind of it there will be no more episodes of 2½ and that now Charlie will get a $10 million contract to write a book about how shitty it was on the film set. My horoscope, Leo, says I should be open to suggestions.

I arrive at the Brooklyn Bridge stop and on the street I ask a policeman, ‘Where is 26 Federal Plaza, US Department of Homeland Security, New York, New York 10278?’ He tells me to take a left turn and then two blocks up to the right. Walt Whitman, with white long curly hair flowing out of his felt hat, marches ahead by my side. He is also going for his citizenship interview, but he doesn’t care about it. He came here 50 years ago, before I was born, he says. Oh, he didn’t bother about it. I am perplexed, but I know many guys who indeed don’t apply for their citizenship. Green card is good enough.

We arrive at the security checkpoint. Take off your belts, empty your pockets, remove your boots. Done. Elevator. Seventh floor. Room 700.

Welcome to the Regional New York Naturalization Office. US Citizenship and Immigration Services. US Department of Homeland Security.
The guard asks me to shut down my phone. No cell phones or other WiFi allowed. He motions me to window #50.
‘Good morning,’ says Ms. Orama. I hand in my INS interview invitation letter, ‘Take a seat and relax, and wait for your name to be called on the loudspeakers.’
‘Beatrice Renault, door #1,’ says a voice. Sputtering microphone.
A pregnant lady seated next to me complains that she was scheduled for 7:20, her husband brought her by car at 6:30. What is going on?! It’s now 8:30 and she needs to go to the bathroom.
‘Izo Lopez,’ says the loudspeaker.
A young woman strolls by with a lip ring and tight jeans and a bedazzling low cut blouse, vai ce frumuşaţă! People are studying the 100 citizenship question booklet, with the flag and the eagle and Mount Rushmore Forefathers sculpted in rock. I got mine at the finger print appointment three months ago. It’s all torn by now. I didn’t bring it along.
Comfortable chairs, rows upon rows. Spacious. Beige walls. Flags, many flags.
‘Mona Hereras, door #2 at the back of the room.’ ‘Chain Lalo, window #51.’
The pregnant lady gets up and goes to the back door.
‘Virginia Terreras, #2.’ ‘Ibo Yen, #1.’
I read old magazines, the Real Simple, I brought with me, about relationships, how to learn to listen to what our children, husbands tell us, not just nod without actually understanding what they are going thru, what they really want.
‘Georgina Bacal.’
A lady with a white coat and a glittering blouse waits grumpily.
‘Ramona Alraciedo.’ ‘Natalia Messa.’
A young lady with an austere ponytail reads a book, No Collar: The Humane Work Place And Its Hidden Costs. Teenagers saunter by me. My son has to replace his green card. It costs $450. He lost it twice. Twice! The second time he threw the manila envelope that contained all his documents, passport, green card, SS card by mistake to the garbage. He cleaned his drawers at the dorm before coming home for summer vacation.
‘Adison Castillio.’
‘Felix Gonzales,’ shaved skull.
‘Keisha Giovanna Chen.’
Two Russian women, gray pullovers and pearls, bottle blondes, sit near me.
‘Abraham Bach.’ ‘Lala Ching.’ ‘Piringiuk Cannon, #2.’
Often the loudspeaker voices, the INS officers, have a thick, thick accent.
‘Fidelis Bombella.’ ‘Awa Take.’
Whooping happy ladies, a whole gaggle of them... They got theirs. Who are these people? Where did they come from? They got their citizenship in a group!
‘Giovani Russo.’ ‘Linda Morris.’ ‘Winson Gore.’ ‘Steve Roy Morris.’
It’s already 9:15.
‘Jesus Kaja.’ ‘Rosa De Files Abruel.’ ‘Eileen Katrina Kaliolo.’ ‘Salama Efoda.’ A lady with shiny turban who arrived after me, I remember well that she arrived after me, and look! they call her in before me! It’s 9:30! I was scheduled for 8:00!
‘Chin Ling.’ ‘Gabriel Gomez, door #1.’

I’m reading about anger, about how to blossom during hard times, about how to bring color into our daily life. I tear those pages out of the magazines.

‘Garcia Miniken.’
‘Elsa Estra Beckhauster.’
‘Tatiana Barova.’ Fur coat, frumpy Russian or Bulgarian, moth eaten airs of superiority.
‘Lisa Christine.’ ‘Ferell Voight.’
 ‘Alexandra Mirabelle.’

Finally I hear my Romanian passport name. Bastardized.
‘Mariela Corana. Door #2.’ I leave the magazines behind, advance with élan, holding the torn pages, my coat. A gentleman also waiting wishes me good luck. I smile, excited and happy that I’m invited in the office.
My clerk, an auntie with blond highlights, dressed in tight blue knit cottons, stocky Ms. Perez. I tell her, ‘Oh, I’m so nervous. I was worried, when will my turn come?! People who arrived after me are getting up from their seats and go thru doors while me…’ ‘Oh,’ she smiles, ‘It’s my fault. My computer froze. And it took awhile to print out your application.’
Okay. She asks me my address, name, everything that she already knew from my written application she wants me to reiterate verbally, and I answer promptly.
‘What other names did you have?’ I list. ‘How many times have you been married?’ Ugh. ‘Children?’ One. ‘Sign, sign, date, date. Sign.’
Have you ever pretended to be an American citizen? No. Do you file your taxes? Yes. Have you been a member of the Communist Party? NO! Why are they still asking that?! What are they thinking?! 20 years after the fall of Communism! Have you persecuted anyone because of their race, religion, nationality, or political inclination? No. Have you ever been arrested? No. Have you ever been in jail? No. Have you ever been an alcoholic? No. A prostitute? No. Have you ever helped persons illegally enter the USA? No. Do you swear to protect the Constitution and the laws of the USA? Yes. Will you bear weapons if needed for the USA? Yes. Good.
Next follows the English Language Reading Test: ‘Read.’ She gives me a piece of paper with three sentences. I read aloud the first, ‘When is Columbus Day?’ ‘Good. Sign and put the date.’
English Language Writing Test: ‘Write the following,’ she dictates, ‘Columbus Day is in October.’ I write ‘Columbus Day is in October.’ ‘Sign and put the date.’
The History and Geography and Civic Test, ‘If the President and the Vice President die, who takes over the Government?’ ‘The Speaker of the House of Representatives.’ ‘For how many years is a senator elected?’ ‘6.’ ‘How many judges are in the Supreme Court?’ ‘9.’ ‘What did we win during the Independence War?’ ‘Independence from Great Britain!’ Duh!
The rule is you have to answer 6 questions correctly out of 10. Either in my excitement I forgot two of the questions Ms. Lopez asked me, and I indeed answered 6 correctly and so she didn’t go on asking me until she reached 10, or the rule changed and only 4 correct questions are necessary.
Anyway, I got an A.
It said so on the piece of paper Ms. Perez handed me at the end. She says they’ll let me know soon about the results. ‘Oh, you don’t tell me now?’ ‘No, my supervisor is the one who has to approve your application.’ ‘Oh, but I saw others whooping with joy.’ ‘Yes, but not my files.’ I should wait for the letter. Between two weeks and 90 days.

I feel ill. The waiting. At any step things can go wrong. When I came here 13 years ago for my Masters of Fine Arts, you couldn’t take the required GRE test back in Eastern Europe, so I came on a prospective student visa, and upon arrival here I took the test and the Louisiana State University said everything was fine. I started working as a graduate teaching assistant, but when it came to getting a Social Security number, they told me they couldn’t do that because my visa was not the right kind.
‘And what should I do?’ ‘Go to Canada or Mexico to the consulate there with the papers we give you. Get the correct visa and reenter the USA, and then everything will be fine.’ ‘Dear lady, I ran out of money. I don’t have a penny anymore. Were you to tell me a month ago maybe it would have worked out the way you suggest, but now I’m exhausted. Where should I go in this tropical heat, with my little son in tag, to Mexico?! I took the visa you advised me to.’ ‘We can’t do anything, because you don’t have a SS, and we can’t give you a SS because you don’t have the right visa.’ Goodness gracious…
Two months passed like this without any money, without a solution, until somehow someone from the Dean’s Office, Dr. Fischer, bless him, heard about my case and made a phone call. Thanks to him I went to an office in New Orleans and in five minutes they put a stamp on my passport and swiftly gave me the SS card and my salary. Without schlepping to Mexico.
So now my heart is tiny like a flea. I lost courage. The nightmare is about to start again. Ms. Perez’ supervisor might pick on my starving artist low income and deny my citizenship. No, they can’t deport me, my greencard is valid for 5 more years, but still I’ve paid $700 in application fees for nothing?! And the humiliation! What will Mr. Bursuc think of me?! So many of my fellow countrymen go back with their tail between their legs, defeated. And to apply again! More money and my income won’t grow. But Ms. Perez said, ‘Everything is alright with your file. Just wait for the letter. Between two weeks and 90 days.’
I wait for the letter…. I’m by the mail box every day, like retirees in my mom’s village waiting at the gate for the mailman to deliver their pension.
Mr. Bursuc called me at 11:27, but I was lost on the subway, didn’t hear it. And what could I tell him? I’m waiting for the letter…. Between two weeks and 90 days.
The paper Ms. Perez gave me says the citizenship swearing-in is a solemn occasion. Please be so kind and not show up in jeans, shorts or flip flops.
To be continued.
At Night, Awaiting My Morning Wedding with Amerique
   March 31st 2011
Shucks, instead of going for a manicure and pedicure, or shy and girlish staring at the walls like Jesus in the Desert, meditating, I did the laundry, I cooked leek stew, I watered the flowers and I listened to a book on tape about some wretched folks that fell on bad luck, year after year after year they couldn’t start sowing cotton, and in the end their house burned down with them in it.
Burns my candle on the table, red, the wax melted without dripping on its side yet, being as thick as my arm. This is the only trace of sanctity of today. And the old Orthodox calendar glued on the wall by the gas stove. I pretend I’m in my mother’s kitchen.
Wuthering, howling winds. Sleet. Fog. I’m in London Tower. Tomorrow I’m going to my beheading. The one who’s name no one can utter in this land, Mihaela’s head will be cut off. She’s guilty of the past. Her head will be cut off and impaled in a spear for crows to eat it, peck at her eyes turned towards the past, claw out her eyeballs, slurp her brain cluttered by the past, drink her blood flowing upstream against its nature. Off goes the head of the sinful and spoiled one, thoughtlessly she sinned, the finicky arrogant, and in her place enters untainted immaculate in the Holy Spirit, Ella. Signed, sealed with royal ring, with royal bees wax, trumpets tout, trumpets tout, and drums roll and let us behold Ella on high heels and beauty she enters softly like paws of kitten she moves forward to take her seat in her throne. And that’s that.
On the table brown sugar in a Frappuccino bottle. White sugar in a Frappucino bottle. Toothpicks. Pepper shaker, salt shaker, matches.
On the windowsill the wheat sowed on Sunday pushed with their minute heads together the earth and they grow I barely blink and they grow more. Since morning they grew an inch!
My sainted parable: the tiny blade of wheat next to tens of other tiny blades of wheat pushed thru the black and heavy soil. All sainted parable: where’s one there’s no power when in need or pain, where’s two your power grows and down the squashed enemy goes. My biblical parable sounds communistic.
It sounds like a Romanian fairytale dragon growing thousands of greedy heads. It sounds scaryingest.
I’m not scared. I’m not nervous. I don’t know how to celebrate when happiness comes. Complaining yes, but quiet happiness descends.
I alone, I alone, I alone, I alone I did this, I did this.
Tomorrow is the red entrance exam at the Theater and Cinema Art Institute Acting Department 20 years ago, tomorrow I’ll be above the red slaughter line, not right under it. Tomorrow, Yes. Tomorrow it’s not No, No, No, No, 8 years of No, No, No.
Tomorrow is Super Yes.
The drops of rain knock at the window pane.
Suddenly I become I, Ella. I’m not a Transylvanian. I’m not an American. I’m also a Transylvanian. I’m also an American. I’m I, Ella. I’m not my mother, I’m not my father, I’m also my mother. And also my father, and I’m only I, Ella.
I am Ella.
I took about 20 pairs of jeans too large after I lost weight from the hunger strike for my Transylvanian love abandoned me, lost, nobody’s, I took them to the little sister nuns. I rang at their gate but they didn’t open. Maybe they are praying in a choir. I tied the sac on the bars, so the rain wouldn’t drench the clothing.
I bought from the greengrocer on the street corner 3 mangoes for 1 dollar, 9 red bell peppers for 1 dollar, I haggled. I tell him, “I’ll buy all your peppers for 1 dollar.” He sells 5 for 1 dollar, and I tell him, “I’ll take them all for 1 dollar.” He looks at them in the crate, counts them, not very resolutely, and he gives them to me. I haggle over the leeks too. He wants to sell them to me 2 for 1 dollar, I tell him 4 for 1 dollar. He hands them to me, saying, “Were the owner to be here he won’t let me do that.” “Oh, yes he would,” I tell him determined, “for the master always cuts me a deal.
I wash the soil hidden within the leek leaves. I listen to the wretches in the audio book how they don’t have anything to eat, they boil tree leaves and bark, during the age of economic depression. The father only says he’d go ask for a loan, but instead he gets caught up in other things and immediately forgets, he only says he’d do this and that. Will I end up like that? No, no, no. I am a doer, I’m like the sprouting wheat, I’m with many, many tiny heads and ideas and together with an entire regiment of ideas and tiny heads I push, push the weight off Wonder Girl me. Me and my talismans me and the tiny diamond hearts on my neck. I push upwards, upwards.
Sunshine, sunshine, sunshine.
I slice the leek rounds, I chop the red bell peppers. I’d like to eat chicken liver, I’m Prometheus my liver pecked by hawks, I’d like to eat stuffed peppers today, my Last Supper, the last day I’m still a Transylvanian. Tomorrow I’m America too. Tomorrow I’m done with the ancestral cravings. Tomorrow I’m done. But I don’t buy little chicken livers. I don’t have cash. In order to do the laundry at the street corner Laundromat I stick the knife in the pottery piggy bank slot and I jingle and jingle until all the 5 and 10 cent coins fall out on the sink bottom. I plugged the sink so the little coins wouldn’t go down the drain, I plugged it of course. I count them. In the piggy bank were 9 dollars in dimes and 2 dollars in nickels and 1.25 mixed. The poverty savings of before becoming an American. I hand them to the Chinese man at the window together with the calculation written on a yellow leaflet and he doesn’t count the coins. He covers one little heap with a 10 dollar bill and 1 dollar on the nickels, then gives me another 1 dollar and 25 cents in quarters. I have enough to wash my clothing. I won’t enter the new life in dirty clothing. I wash the winter out of the clothing. I wash the past out. I wash the misery of wear and tear. The Sainted Virgin Ella is born again tomorrow.
Rather long until my miracle arrived. But it arrived.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.
I place the leek stew on the gas stove, turn the fire on low. I go to the laundry to transfer the clothing to the dryer. 40 minutes. I come back home. The smell of leeks irrupted on the landing. Behind this door lies Transylvania, food and fragrance of Transylvania. I eat Transylvania in the shape of leek stew and sunny-side-up eggs. I sit on my blue cow milking stool. I listen to the book, how the wretches got a car, their son got married to a widow preacher, but barely a day passed and the car was smashed to dust.
I practice my new signature. Tomorrow I sign a document that will last until my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren.
I take the clothing out of the dryer. The Chinese man pinches his Chinese wife’s bottom. She folds the laundry quietly. I bring my clothing home in two bags. I match my socks. I found his other shoe today when I took out of the storage boxes handbags and shoes, gave them to the monastery. The boots I wore this winter, the boots heeled at our shoemaker by my mom in Transylvania, he laughed about that, coming all the way from America to fix your boots, I placed nicely in front of the apartment building. The heels worn out. The leather ruined by the snow-thawing chemical. I saw them later thrown by the garbage bin in a discarded drawer. My Transylvanian man still has one shoe in the kitchen, by the fridge, the other one is still in the hallway on top of the small cupboard. I converse with them separately. I also took the many old cushions to the school across the street, maybe the chirpy kindergarten kids would sit on them. The door keeper said that last time when I donated pencils and markers the art teacher was very happy. Then maybe we could do something together for the kids in Transylvania? Who knows what is the future in which I become I.
I match my socks, I fold panties, towels, jeans, pajamas. I plan to take a festive bath. Tomorrow passport pictures. Tomorrow Eucharist. Tomorrow wedding at the town hall marriage office with my Amerique. Tomorrow.
I read on the court website: At 9 we should be there without delay, but only at 11 we’ll be sworn-in in a choir. Hundreds of new citizens, like tadpoles in water. Hundreds, at the trout farm pool, hundreds.
I’m too tired for a scented bath. My old blood runneth out like a fountain.
I count on waking up for my dawn cracking worries and then, shower, shower, shower, the American baptism.
I shall blow off the candle into sleep.
A red lake of melt wax surrounds the sturdy flame, look how it sharpens, narrows, then again thickens.
The Saint life. Today I became I.

Account of My Rebirth Certificate
April 6th, 2011
On a rainy Friday, April First, 2011, at 9:15 a.m. I entered the South District Court building eager to become a sworn-in American citizen.
This is what I observed:
A humungous bronze statue of Blindfolded Justice running while holding the pharmaceutical scales.
An announcement: No recording devices, no phones. I handed in my cell phone and I got a circle made of brass saying 215, the 2 tacked in front of a louder black 15.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden were smiling down at me from the walls.
I followed the signs and arrived in a large hall with black marble pillars and comfortable brown chairs, like first class airplane chairs. In a few rows ahead of me a man caught my eye. He was shaved on the side of his skull like Gabriel, who never applied to become an American citizen, just greencard for 40 years, Gabriel, a boyfriend in Philadelphia who died from lung cancer, metastasis attacking his brain, his skull was shaved for surgery, then after it a huge gash with stitches, all dry blood and stained with yellow disinfectant. But this man had no scar, just a punk or tribal hairdo.
An authoritative voice on the aisle. I turn my head to see a clerk with white hair, his name tag says Lionel US Marshals Service, court security officer. ‘If you’re to be sworn-in come and see me, please.’ I do so. He points to a seat. I obey.
I take in the scene. A slim man with curly hair walks by briskly, champagne corduroy, sneakers. A woman with Indian garb, scarf and all.
One marshal leans his hands on another marshal’s shoulders and tells him some private story, I catch here and there some words, ‘Slow down, don’t get involved!’
A baby crying. 9:45. Bald heads various skin colors. A portentous man in a yellow short-sleeve shirt and black suspenders. Umbrellas everywhere. A woman on the other side of the aisle has patent leather shoes with diamond flowers. Another one a huge ring shaped as a diamond butterfly.
In front of the room at a table by the judge’s podium an INS officer counts our green cards, as if he deals at a poker game.
Above the podium it’s written in bras letters, Honorable Constance Baker Motlen Assembly Room, and nearby, on the right side, a painted portrait of the Honorable Constance Baker Motlen, in black graduation gown.
Also on the right of the podium a cascading green plant. I wonder if it’s real or made of plastic, since there’s no window to let light in.
I hear my name! ‘Ella Veres!’ For the first time I hear my new true name coming out of an official mouth! Well, correctly is pronounced Veresh, but it’s alright. I rush to the INS table. The guy asks for my invitation letter. He asks me where I am from, I say Romania. He asks me to sign a photocopy of my naturalization certificate. It looks like my baccalaureate/high school diploma. ‘Should I sign with my new name?’ I ask. ‘Yes,’ he snaps. ‘Do you understand me?’ ‘Of course I understand you! Only I’m nervous!’ ‘Just sign here, please!’ he growls ill tempered. A young woman, maybe his secretary, seated next to him ţîţîie/makes a disapproving sound and rolls her eyes, supportive of me.
My pants that I thought might still fit me are sliding down. I’m a new person. I reinvented myself. I’m a true American.
I go back to my seat.
Lionel the Marshal talks to us. ‘All you can do with the naturalization certificate is frame it and show it off to your kids. My great-grand-parents came in 1800 and nobody in our family has it anymore!’
Ladies stand up in line to go to the INS officer. Some are dressed with power black pant suits and high heels, others in rubber boots, some guys in orange fleece vests.
They all get a large white envelope. I can see the coat of arms with the American hawk holding arrows in one claw, and in the other flowers, or acorns, a twig of acorns.
There are about 30 rows of comfortable soft chairs, multiplied by 7 people on a row, we are about 210 people on this rainy Friday becoming citizens in New York City.
Lionel the Marshal says, ‘If you want to stretch your legs, or want a cup of coffee go to the cafeteria on the 8th floor. Only be back by 10:45.’
Comes a Muslim woman in black veil, only her eyes visible and thru the crack of her floor-long gown her jeans and sneakers.
I have a book in my bag, Surviving Infidelity. I don’t have the strength to open it. I carry it around in a leather cover, as if it’s my porn. Is it even appropriate to read about infidelity on this great day?
Lionel talks about passport application. ‘You got money?’ he jokes. ‘That’s all it matters.’
A girl in Uggs, her linen white shirt crumpled in the back sticks out of the black jacket. Some have dominatrix boots, all zippers and spikes, and Coach bags with glitter and sequins.
I ask the marshal if we’ll see Obama welcoming us on video, since on the internet they said we would, the way Bush the President was greeting new Americans. But the marshal said no, bewildered. ‘Why, is he coming in person?’ I joke feebly. ‘No, just a letter in your welcome package,’ he says in earnest.
Red neckties, tigresses, low cut blouses, tiger, tiger, meow! meow!
The young man next to me reads the booklet of 100 citizenship interview questions. I feel I should tell him, “You don’t need to read that anymore. You don’t need it,” though myself I brought with me the entire collection of documents, still unsure they’ll call on me to say they want to verify me again. It came in handy when I filled in the passport application after I finished the oath ceremony. I went, rain or no rain, straight to an office on 60 Court Street. And though on the form was written Mother And Father, Place Of Birth, Date Of Birth, I said maybe I get away without bothering about it, I don’t know all this about my parents. I know mom was born on December 17th and father on December 4th, or the other way around, and my mom was 80, I think, last year, so when was she born? Ugh…
But in the end I didn’t get away without their data, the clerk said they must be in, so I called my parents and they told me their place and date of birth, though I was bitching, “What does it matter to America that my father was born in the forlorn village of Cergăul Mic and my mom in Roteni?” I know it’s for my own good, to prevent identity theft. I went to the post office after that, I didn’t go back to that court office. I had to pick up my mail from my PO box anyway.
At the window a dismissive postal worker said it was the wrong form, and stuck in my face another blue print that seemed identical with mine. Plus she demanded copies of my driver’s license, front and back. I argued with her, ‘I’ve just come from court, and you’re telling me the judge gave me the wrong form?’ ‘Yes, your form is from 2008. And this one is updated, from 2010.’ ‘Why do you need my driver’s license for? It’s on the old name?! Give me your supervisor.’ She was sniggering. ‘Alright, I’ll tell her. She wants to speak with the supervisor.’ She announced the other workers who were sniggering too. ‘Step aside.’ ‘Where?’ ‘In the hall.’ ‘How would your supervisor know where I am when she comes to talk to me?’ ‘Then step this side.’ She motioned me to the left of the window. I waited while I looked thru the pile of mail, health insurance renewal form, traveling guides to Europe I requested, Staples ink recycling rewards, all kinds of freebie deals for burgers, soap, whatever, not one meaningful piece of mail in the entire stack. The supervisor comes. She still says I should go across the street at Duane Reade and make copies and come back and hand them to the aggravating clerk, her passport specialist. ‘I don’t want to talk to her again, she’s obnoxious. She rains on my parade!’ The judge told us, ‘Don’t let anyone rain on your parade. When you walk out of this court, you are equal with anyone on the street, in New York City, in the entire state of America. You can either enjoy this magnificent diversity, or be afraid and isolate yourself. And register to vote. This way I get to see you again as jurors in court. Congratulations.’ And this beefy postal clerk rains on my parade. ‘You should have someone more sensitive!’ I tell her boss. ‘We went thru a long process to become citizens! It’s a great day for us, we were just sworn-in! Many other fellow new citizens will come to apply for an American passport, she should be more sensitive. If I give her my certificate of naturalization, well, what if she loses it? What if she doesn’t know what she’s talking about? What if she takes revenge on me, she’s mean, what if she loses my papers, or makes me wait for nothing and I can’t travel to Europe because I have no passport and I lose my expensive airplane ticket, my life is again put on hold because of some mean postal clerk?!’
But I go across the street, then I come back with the photocopies and fill in the new passport form, still grumpy, ‘Why do they want to know when was my ex-husband born, and how long did our marriage last, and why did they put on my citizenship certificate ‘Divorced’?! Why does it matter?! Am I tainted goods now? Divorced, cattle stamped, Divorced.’ Anyway, I was directed to another clerk, an Asian girl, who was soft and nice, she said, ‘You’ll get your new American passport in 4-6 weeks. There will be two envelopes in the mail for you: one with the passport, the other containing your citizenship certificate.’
So while waiting for my passport I have no documents on my new name. They forced me to put the proof in the mail. Back to square one.
I felt strongly I should curse out the nasty clerk with her oily ponytail and huge belly and no neck, slob, ‘May you go postal, cow!’ but I said to myself I should abide by the judge’s advice and enjoy our magnificent diversity. It’s good I said no such thing, what if she went postal?! Shoot me on the spot, a brand new American! Or make a bullet hole in my naturalization certificate!
‘May you go postal, bitch. I speak no good English me… How to say postal? Postal? I came on boat, speak no English, how to say you postal, bitch?’
I look around the assembly hall. Two seats to my right I spot the lady who was in front of me in line at the building entrance, late herself. Shaved eyebrows, drawn in pencil. Another row of people gets up and stands in the INS table line. A pregnant girl, a woman’s back, with millions of pigtails, with red, ciocaţi/pointed boots, a guy in a gray suit and a shawl wrapped around his neck, twisting his mouth in an apologetic grimace, downplaying the importance of the day, ‘I did this one too. No big deal. I had to.’
Again the clerk shuffles the deck of greencards. ‘La taleta verde,’ says a man behind me. It is the same word in Romanian, verde. Only cartea verde.
Many umbrellas stored under chairs.
Finally a mousy judge arrives, half an hour late.
She gives her speech. I also read Obama’s letter from the welcome package. He said we are part of American history now. We, Americans, are curious, he said, and determined. Here’s the entire letter:

The White House

Dear Fellow American:
I am honored to congratulate you on becoming a citizen of the United States of America. You represent the promise of the American dream, and because of your determination, this great nation is now your nation.
You have sworn a solemn oath to this country, and you share in its privileges and responsibilities. Our democratic principles and liberties are yours to uphold through active and engaged participation. I encourage you to be involved in your community and to promote the values that guide us as Americans: hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism.
Since our founding, generations of immigrants have come to this country full of hope for a brighter future, and they have made sacrifices in order to pass that legacy on to their children and grandchildren. This is the price and the promise of citizenship. You are now part of this precious history, and you serve as an inspiration to those who will come after you.
We embrace you as a new citizen of our land, and we welcome you to the American family.

Sincerely, Barack Obama

Then we made our Oath of Allegiance.
The INS clerk would read in an accented English three or four words, then we’d chant in choir after him:

I hereby declare, on oath,
That I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
That I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
That I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
That I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;
That I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;
That I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and
That I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

We didn’t sing at all the anthem! Though it was on the piece of paper next to the oath in the package.
A pity because I rehearsed it with a fellow actor, and we even sang it marching on the street, so let me sing it to you at least. Let’s see!

Oh, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thru the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Then the 220 names of new Americans started pouring in. We’d get up, shake hands with the judge, and then pick up our diploma, U turn and leave the court, pick up our electronic devices, and good bye.
‘Mary Pasis Derasoa, Jose Emilio Panci, Marsha Davis, Elie De Perez, Mulmul Mosher, Sou Lee Tom, Dali Louis, Jose Ta Boaz, Mohamed Zoulu, Brigitta Alverez, Sabira Actor, Daniel Familier, Stephen Georges Doughnut, Sasha Lee Bloomfield, Nina Moustakiev, Jean Pei Chen, Rafael Mallet, Herman Joshuman, Tatiana Agafunova, Jenny Chen, Seido Peter, Zai Den Lee, Maira Espini Don, Ernest Scion, Miu Peng Sheng, Eintmar Neuman, Dosha Goodman, Marita Coral Gonzales, Asra Noushawave, Kay Lee Sophia Chen, Diana Masala Asquez, Wendy Garcia Rheas, Bernardo Mendesa Torres, Alain Jeaubert, Janet Garcia Gabriela, Hamsa Adele Ramaya.’
The guy next to me was reading a magazine:
Sally’s Tips For Braids.
This brand color stays bold even after 45 washes.
‘Cica De La Cruz, Margaret Cemicero, Jital Gandhi, Tabira Entoe, Antonia Carmen Ricardo, Sofia Chen Wolf, Manuel De Jesus.’
I was surprised to see that others didn’t take the oath ceremony occasion so grandly. Some were bored, ‘It’s just a piece of paper.’ Only a few others had a glitter of pride when they came back with their certificate in hand. One older gentleman seated behind me I saw him smile enduringly. On my way out of the court, young clerks, interns or volunteers, were handing out forms to register to vote. I said, ‘I’ll take it with me and mail it in later.’ I was then in line to get back my phone and the old gentleman was murmuring Ohmmmmmm, Ohmmmm, patience, Lord be praised, Life be praised. I wanted to talk to him, but smiling seemed enough.
Spirit of endurance, quiet suffering, and joy.
Smiling seemed enough.
Back in my neighborhood, I’m exhausted, yet I tell whomever I interact with that I’m a new American.
One man gives me five. ‘It’s a great country, there are problems with the government, but you have to learn the culture. Americans are optimistic and aspiring. If you learn how to be like that too, and you put your heart in it, you gonna thrive.’
But another one is pissed off. He says, ‘So? What’s the difference? None. My wife wanted so much to be a citizen, but I tell her, ‘What for? To vote? For whom to vote? Obama, shit. Republicans? Same shit!’ I don’t vote for nobody. 10 years and I don’t vote. And if you go abroad they hate Americans! They hate them. America is not what it used to be, in the old times, no, now they want to control everybody. They say they take care of democracy! How do they do that?’
Oh, well. It’s getting cloudy. I enjoy looking at the red brick church on the corner, Parroquia Santa Cecilia, the trees are bursting out in colorful flowers, ‘Hello? Hello? Look at me! I’m blooming! I’m ready to rumble!’
The expectations, all the excitement, now that I’m a citizen, what was all about? A piece of paper! Toss it? Yeah, but it’s what it stands for.
I clean up my pile of papers. All the old INS letters I kept and kissed on their letter head when they arrived announcing the INS received my $675 citizenship application fee payment. Then the INS just lets me know all my papers are alright, this is not an interview note. I kept all those letters, even the post office receipt acknowledging that the INS shipment containing my papers went to Dallas, Texas. I shall throw away all that. Now my son’s INS mail will pour in soon.
They gave us the Declaration of Independence and little booklets with the Constitution and the Citizen’s Almanac and the Voter’s Guide, and Important Information For New Citizens, my rights and my responsibilities. ‘Respect the rights, beliefs, and opinions of others. Participate in our democracy. Update your Social Security Number. Sponsor family members to come to the United States.’
Oh, wait! Employers cannot discriminate against me because of my place of birth, native language, or appearance, or accent. Do you realize that?! Under accent goes also bad grammar. Here they write it off under accent. Often they say, ‘Because of your accent I can’t understand you clearly, because of your accent.’
It’s not my accent, it’s just my bloody bad grammar!
Anyway, the booklet warns me, ‘Don’t lose your certificate of naturalization! It’s a hassle to get a replacement.’
Everything is about rights and responsibilities. Yesterday all day long at the ceremony we heard rights and responsibilities, rights and responsibilities, rights and responsibilities.
Another friend asks me, ‘Do you realize now you have to go to war?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘Don’t worry, if everything else fails, then we gonna call on you to come defend us.’ ‘It’s gonna be interesting. What about guns?’ ‘You need a permit. You have to go to a shooting range.’ ‘Do you have a gun?’ ‘No,’ he says defensively. ‘I don’t want a gun.’ ‘Why not? How do you know how you gonna feel with a gun.’ ‘I don’t want to.’ ‘Why not? How do I know how I’d walk on a street with a gun in my pocket?’ It startles me I think like that, since I’m a pacifist. ‘I didn’t know I can have a gun, so I want to exercise my right, why not?! I want a gun. I don’t want to miss on any American opportunities. I can then shoot at people that bother me. It’s my American birthright! Why not have a gun in my house?’
And I laugh a throaty laughter, an American laughter. I always had that laughter when I was joyous. But my mother, and everybody else in Romania, didn’t find it becoming. ‘Oh, such a loud laughter. You have to be feminine. Giggle peals of laughter. Loud, hearty laughter is vulgar.’
Well, here it’s becoming.
The audio versions of the two middle essays are archived here:
The last essay will be available in its audio version starting with Thursday, March 18th, 3 p.m. New York City time, here:

If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, the pursuit of happiness being one of them, I’d be ever so grateful.

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