Departure

Anticipation languishes as vagrants and the haphazard idle in Leshkos coffee shop at three o’clock in the morning.

Howard  Johnson's Asbury Park, NJ: photo copyright Deborah Johnstone

Howard Johnson’s Asbury Park, NJ: photo copyright Deborah Johnstone

My recent residency at Goddard College didn’t exactly go as planned. I was violently ill the second night due to – I suspect – bad tilapia. Three others were also sick so food poisoning is probably accurate. But the resulting physical and mental fatigue forced me to slow down; I couldn’t plow through workshops with my usual vigor. My ravaged state required me to assess what I absorbed on a different level; I needed to see less, but see it in a much clearer way. It allowed a beautiful poem wash over me. The poem is from a wonderful book entitled, Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants by Goddard faculty member Elena Georgiou. This is the reason we transport ourselves to be with other like-minded, in the same place, eating the same food, breathing the same air… We are moved in ways that cannot normally occur.

The first poem in Elena’s book captivated me and immediately prompted a short story…

DEPARTURE
[Inspired by Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants by Elena Georgiou]

I’ve made a list of what to keep and what to throw away. I’ve saved two thousand dollars and that will be plenty until I get a waitressing job. Every one tells me I’ll blend right in because I’m Canadian; no one will suspect that I’m an illegal alien. I believe they are right. I do after all, speak, read, and write English. The best part is that by the time they track down – or even bother to check – my fake social security number I’ll be long gone…off to the next restaurant. I’ll live on tips and save every cent until I can get a really good acting job. That should be relatively easy – mainly due to the reason stated above; I speak, read, and write English. Leslie came through with the apartment – well an apartment share to be exact. I’ll have just enough room to lie down and swat water bugs away from my head. She told me they are harmless and most nights, the cats will catch and eat them. Leslie also mentioned that there are no closets since apparently no one has any extra garments; we are transients – nomads trapped on a conveyer belt that never stops. Leslie is a poet.

July 15, 1981 10:17 AM: Toronto International Airport

People’s Express is booked solid. I make note of some suspicious looking people boarding the flight with me. They already look scared so I can’t imagine how they’ll navigate the frenzied angst of New York. I hope they’re not looking at me thinking the same thing. I inhale my last deep breath of Canadian air and make my way through the connection tunnel to the plane. I have executed my departure brilliantly. There is a way to depart so that no one suspects you are crossing the boarder with no intention of returning. I’ll share the particulars with you in case you find yourself in a position where you need to flee a country. First, buy a return ticket – that always fools them. Also, one must dress well – not overdress – but look as though one has some money in a bank, somewhere. Your shoes should be neat and clean. If customs thinks you are one more actor going to New York to wait on tables there is a possibility that they will confiscate your passport – though I’ve never actually heard of this happening. In any event, it is the type of incident customs would keep to themselves. If people ask where you are headed, mention Cuba. This prevents too many people from knowing your plans. Oh, and here is the pièce de résistance; cash in the return ticket once you land at JFK. Tell the ticket agent that an emergency – which you are not at liberty to discuss – will prevent you from leaving on the intended departure date. You’ll suddenly have extra cash on hand. Yes, the ticket agent will give you a hard time and try to book you on another flight. Resist her efforts.

July 15, 1983 10:17 AM: New York City

I didn’t expect to be homesick – not after two years. I miss the moderate Toronto summers and the Queen Mother Café where I could get a tuna melt with cheddar cheese at three o’clock in the morning. I miss politeness. I miss the subways that never smell like urine. I miss the Lake Shore and Cabbage Town and Kensington Market. I miss the two mice that shared my apartment and watched Hawaii 5-0 with me at midnight. I imagine they are dead now. I hate having two roommates – both insane. I hate never knowing what will happen. Do we ever know what will happen? Anticipation languishes as vagrants and the haphazard idle in Leshkos coffee shop at three o’clock in the morning. I believed there would always be something more but in reality, there is something less. A departure has entered my mind and I need to make a list of what to keep and what to throw away. This will be a one-way ticket.

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