A Legal Alien by New York
Here is an account of an immigrant professional written for her to remember for life, when she moved into a residential neighbourhood just 10 minutes away from the World Trade Center Memorial in New York City, into a beautiful place in journal square, New Jersey.
A true story in her own words of what she felt was a rather spiced-up day, wearing her heavy Bloomingdale's winter Coat, in a brand new neighbourhood, a great European steward driving me in a Lincoln Sedan (a cab she arranged to take her from the Long Island airport to New Jersey through the Lincoln tunnel in a post-Christmas season, sprinkled with her humour in her naivety (as a new US resident) to add some salt and pepper to your reading.
I took the South-west Airlines from Cleveland anxious to move into my new apartment this cold winter evening of 2007. I was sharing a two-bedroom apartment with Pausha whom I got acquainted with at my work place. Being a Jersey-Born Kid, she was familiar with the locality like the palm of her hands. She found a nice homely place at a very good bargain.
Pausha was herself moving to this apartment that day from her residence in the city from the Rudgers University locality, New Brunswick. She too was excited that she was moving to an apartment so close to New York City. I loved the idea of us sharing the apartment because we had so many common interests and had so many events we could go for in New York, both of us being artists.
We went to the Broadway musical “The Rent” together, The MOMA’s PS-2 museum, the Tribeca Film Festival and several other places. Pausha was the best host I ever met during my late 2000s work tenure in the USA.
Buying her own car that very day, she apologized that she could not receive me when I landed in the Long Island Airport at least a 100 miles away from my residence-to-be, not that I ever prefer getting in the way of anyone's routine. A 100 miles is not a small distance to come all the way and receive someone from the airport anyway, especially when I could find my way just fine in the American roads by now. The American mid-west where I was on my projects was good enough a boot camp for an immigrant new resident in the USA.
Pausha phoned me a message so I could see myself into the new apartment. She had left the keys to the front doors "under a planters behind the Christmas tree on the porch", to put it in her words.
It was the 15th of January and yet, America did not want to remove their Christmas decorations. Even back in Cleveland where I flew from, the Reindeers and the Santa Claus still stay lit-up in almost every yard. Nobody seemed to want to remove it. So I did not feel festival aftermath melancholy as much.
I like the fact that Americans love to be in a celebration-mode whenever there is a good opportunity. Pausha once invited all her friends for an Oscar Night at her family home where we spend the evening watching the Oscars over some party snacks and drink.
My escort in a Town Car
Coming back to where I was on that day, at the airport I was received by a middle-aged Italian escort in a Ford Town Car. It is considered Limo-service because it is a Luxury Car ;o) eh?.As a typical foreign worker who has to take care of her finances to stay safe as after all it is a country miles away from her home, yet safety meant an expensive affair in the US. Hence my safe bet was booking into this cab for about $150 to take me from New York to New Jersey. Though it looks like a tiny speck on the map, I had zoomed into a 100 mile radius crossing the Great Lincoln Tunnel again. All said and done, a heck of a great drive indeed. As always, I never get tired of driving on the streets of USA with so much of enriching moments to feed in. By now, traveling to NJ from NY was not a new thing for me because I was well-traveled in this vast yet intriguing land.
A history lesson
Tony turned out to be a very nice hospitable person who happened to be an Italian-american. Along the way, Tony showed me "the Donald Trump's" vast clusters of building-complexes. Coming from Dubai, to me it looked exactly like the New Dubai Townships, constructed by Donald Trump - Nakheel Properties alliances. Dubai was my home for almost 7 years before I came to the US. It was all the more fanciful to me because I was so close to the business tycoon's empire. While I sat watching the scores and scores of tall buildings absolutely awe-stricken, little did I know that in few months from then, I would take a casual walk along Wall Street to meet a friend of mine living in a plush hotel accommodation in the globally iconic financial neighborhood to be blown away by the freshly polished giant words written on this building I realised I was passing, shouting out "The Trump Building".
Close encounters of the American kind
Then we passed the Italian neighborhood of Brooklyn where Tony nostalgically related growing up in. Tony had a very strong Italian-English accent. But his English language was perfect. My only acquaintance with the language was from the volumes of hit sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond, King of Queens and Hollywood movies like The God Father etc. Overwhelmed, for a person coming from the other side of the globe, that now I was upfront, speaking to someone first-hand like just out of a Hollywood movie. This was all too surrealistic yet exciting. Getting to interact with different people in the world at close quarters was so special to me just as I enjoy the multi-flavored experiences I have to this day in Dubai.
During this work-travel I made to the United States, I came to realize that the world was filled with so many good people perhaps out-numbering the so-called bad guys! I felt relaxed at this realization. And I never ever felt like taking down the phone numbers anymore of kind-hearted strangers because my world travels with nothing but friendly people in the past taught me to see that good people are no more rare but everyone could be pleased to see that they are being born in the millions to rid this world of bad things too. The more I traveled and matured as a traveler, I realized that I must change that perception for most of them out there are good people, who like you and me just want to survive in a happy problem-free world as good human beings. So something after that day gave me the surety that there were many more people, friendly, helpful, nice and who on my way to my other destinations I did not know will play good Samaritans. And they are right around the corner, always to assist a person in need so they are not "lost in translation." whether black or white or Hindu or Muslim, Jew or Christian, Eastern, Westerner or Southerner.
After a one-hour drive we reached my new neighborhood.
My fear in anticipation of the new place simply melted away. And all credit goes to none other than Tony, who was so very cordial and helping, which gave me a relief to see that I was in safe hands. He was such a great ambassador to his country. And certainly was well-groomed to treat guests to his country with the utmost care.
So with my Map Quest print-out in hand and Tony's intuitive navigational skills... Voila! we pulled into the street where I would live the longest days during my 2000s tenure in the US and that too in a lovely neighbourhood with church bells chiming at every corner. The perfect ambience for a child who grew up in a Catholic neighborhood. This brought back all those sweet memories back afresh. I would call this more of a fairy-tale situation for me because the scenario was like out of the picture books and stories we saw as kids on television. This was the real place in the west which they showcased in our convent school English language readers.
This lovely place in my real-life picture book was called "East Street". Sounded like the perfect address to be in the USA.... at the east coast in a street with the perfect name where I felt so safe already. The pink brick clad buildings and people walking with their cute little dogs in sweat-shirts was all very picture-perfect. Now I couldn't wait to see the winter bloom into green trees and flowers around the neighborhood. I just couldn't wait to see what my life there would be like. Oh how excited I felt. I wish I could freeze that moment in time.
I am so glad that the closest to doing that is this article, so I could come back here to take me to that moment anytime at will, by just logging in here. :o)
Comics or Clowns!?
Now, the drama begins!
Before stepping onto the street, our only goal was to look for a Christmas tree. It was number 3, East Street, Apt. 2. This was some funny coincidence that the Tony and myself looked towards this apartment building numbered “Two”....and we saw a Christmas tree on the Porch....Can you imagine? the scene when both of us would run to the Christmas Tree we saw just like little kids? Yes! that happened! Hopping out in my winter coat (which I felt awkward wearing already being a person from the tropics), I saw a woman standing by the porch and chatting with some other people in the next building, chit-chatting with neighbours I guess, but at the same time giving a curious peer at us for we were running towards the building she stood in. I was all excited, scampering into that porch looking behind the Christmas Tree and asking the woman, if that was the Apt. 2 ...on hind-sight I realize how naive and ignorant we may have looked. I sure felt like a tramp in 4 layers of clothes. Ugh. I don't blame anyone but me because I was never a winter person anyway.
I wore a long grey woolen burlington coat and a gray hood. It looked far from a designer-wear though it was (;o)) because I obviously would never had looked graceful in winter-wear, being a person who has always lived in tropical and desert regions. I could only imagine what a joker I would have looked like in clothes feeling like a misfit? buried almost invisible in layers of wool, looking pounds heavier all stuffed up, looking out-of-place because that was my first ever white winter experience in my whole life. How could I have carried myself in style in those strange clothes. So it was far from a fashionable wardrobe...alright! (I shake my head in disbelief now while I recollect that scenario.) However, I have no regrets for the things I learnt in kind has no measure.
Welcoming neighbor or not... I was too over-whelmed to brood
The woman to whom I just asked what I thought was an innocent, polite question just looked at me as if I just stepped out of a crazy space ship. This part is the one reason which gave me the title, tweaking the title of the eighties song by Sting/Police..."I'm a legal alien... in New York".
The look on my new neighbour’s face said it all. no kidding!
When I told her that I am moving into the Apt. 2, I did not see her remarks coming that really took me by surprise! Looking at the by-standers she snaps..".I know nobody is moving into my apartment here". I froze in disbelief but thankfully it did not show because guess my smile was frozen too ;o) for I got what she implied right away as by now I had seen pockets of some such reactions typical of when multi-national setups crop into world cities more quickly than ever. Whatever or whoever one maybe to the locals a foreigner moving into their own homely street is an outsider. Anyway I knew that nobody is going to ruin one of my best days in USA where it marks my history of a very important travel experience. A few things I was told as a lesson to take in (which is a sad thing some believe that is the only route) is that if we don't react back as rude in a large city in America, people eat us alive. I learnt long before all this that such a thing is anyway true of any cosmopolitan city where different races of people meet. I anyway don't believe we need to change our characters to talk to anybody and think that will bring us to par with anything by feeding back unkempt energy. That only makes us let the vicious circle go on. So if there is something one may want to take a responsibility to severe such a stigma. Guess in some situations it is better said than done. This woman I got acquainted with eventually as our neighbor was Melissa who lived with her husband Charles and their adorable Fox Terrier, ...... Tim... yes still adorable...I have never seen a tamer Fox terrier like him.
But unfortunately, looked like Melissa did not worry about sending out these signals as the first impression to her new neighbors right in the presence of many other people. Well if I am to seek some solace I must say Melissa may have had some bitter experiences in the past and this funny episode may have triggered them.
Tony - The Good Samaritan again
Tony's typical Italian-instincts (I would assume) were sitting at the edge of his skin. I could tell when he blurted out saying some very graphic words out loud that his natural temper too was kicking in. (this comes as a package with freedom – freedom of speech to air ones opinion even if it is some unpleasant ones). However, Tony turned to me, standing in awe at what just happened saying “Don't worry about her, don't let that spoil your day? come on let's look for the keys!” What was amusing to me was that he just turned red with rage though he kept it in check.
So I followed him to the porch just opposite the Melissa's apartment feeling like a midget dragging myself haphazardly in that really heavy coat of mine. (But I had to get into them to keep me from freezing!! This is me throwing a tantrum inside....I did not like it a bit). This was the worst thing in the East coast...bitter winters. Alas how beautiful the snow seemed on the picture postcard when they reached home every Christmas with wishes. This white winter in real life was nothing like that to me. I am sorry this is a person who has never grown up in a freezer-world like that. So my sentiments lay elsewhere folks.
Now we go to the Christmas tree (the right one I suppose) with Melissa staring at us and looked all over. Then ‘the great Tony’ found this planter under which was (Man o Man!!) the much sought-after “precious key” to my magic palace (my home sweet home). I probably felt like a chirpy sparrow in the snow, as I felt so beautiful finally! ;o)
There were four in the bunch of keys...I tried to open an outer-most glass door. I tried and tried thinking that it may lead directly to the apartment...I thought "Wow!! this is one hell of a large apartment".
When I was struggling, this man who was a by-stander talking to the woman who gave me a so-called "welcome address", opened the door while asking me "Do I have a key to this building?" (as if, we are breaking in!) to which I was saying in my mind. Ah another eye-opener? At least I had Tony snapping back at all these curious questions.
I can't imagine as a friendly gesture I added on to ask him because he seemed to be part of my future neighborhood... so in good-humor I rattled on (I guess it definitely would have come off as if I was getting back at him, but this happened totally out of ignorance). Anyway this man was from the unfriendly crowd (with that facial expression saying "you are not welcome in here" :o/.
Not that I was angry at that but I was surprised and in a way glad I was learning how it is to show up in front of local communities and completely look out of place. I looked different and I spoke in a different accent so all this could be only natural. It also gave me a reason to put myself in their shoes if they had moved into my neighborhood back in my home country, who knows what the neighborhood there would look like to them. Anyway, for a moment I really was confused why would a neighborhood behave so hostile! Is it because I am a foreigner? Is it because this street did not have many foreign nationals staying there who looked very different from them? So I rattled off something which I later came to understand would have been seen by the man, as a derogatory reference. (not any bad language but a reference which is frowned upon in America...but not necessarily outside of USA.). Anyway this man has always for some reason stayed a proud man with few or no kind words.... Quite an unlikely neighbor, I would think. He seemed like the handy-man in the building but the climate he created was so unapproachable if we did need any handy work. But I really couldn't see why he was so unpleasantly proud with always a scowl on his face. I was quite sure this temperament had nothing to do with what I unknowingly said to him the first day. Anyway that's about that lone individual.
In a Maze and Out
After the first door, there was another door to open and then to the left was the 3rd door which was the one to our apartment. It had two keys to open with. I wondered “Why would an occupant getting into ones own house have to go through so many doors”. Anyway what was important was that I was finally at my Jersey City home. Hats off to Pausha, the house was simply exquisite with the living room in the shape of a hexagon. How much more artistic could a living room for artists get! The kitchen area had different shades of color in RGB (Red Green Blue). What was this a made to order apartment? Just made for we artists?
We entered the apartment and Tony too was all praises for it. So he switched all the lights on for me.. Reiterated about the safety of the street being a dead-end street. He was resurrecting the moment after all the bad vibes outside. I tell you, what a true example of a US citizen.
Anyway going back to the 3 doors we had to open to get into the apartment, I have another hub coming soon, about a really bitter white winter experience in relation to these doors and a near frost-bite situation. Let me hold the suspense till then.
So now that I was all set in the apartment safely, I was very pleased by the services of Tony.
I am glad that though I had booked for the cab paying $175 more than the airfare which cost me only $155 from the mid-west to the east coast of USA, there was this whole customer courtesy I noticed with Tony as I have seen in every part of the American tradition.
So all too willing was I to extend another goodwill tradition in this country to appreciate usherers with an extra bonus for their kindness. The tip is usually 15%....This indeed should be a rich man's country. So putting all my gratitude of energy into my tip, I finally was too pleased to pay Tony a total of $200 and a phone call of appreciation to his employer for sending such courtesy packaged with their service.
It was expensive, but worth for the 1-1/2 hour ordeal I experienced which to me then was still a strange land just as diverse as my own country.
The Message I took away from this story
“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell
No real names were used for the actual individuals on this hub. These were events from experiences of my own traveling to different parts of the world and my personal perception which is not intended to offend anyone.
Thanks for taking part in this creative life experience in the States. More Adventures to come..........
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