38 years ago yesterday, I entered the United States in the middle of the night never expecting to become a US citizen. I wore wide trousers my best buddy Joe had made for me from curtains and a wide comfy wool/cotton top and on my feet cheap chinese tai-chi canvas shoes. I carried only one shoulder bag Joe had created from old carpets that had 3 compartments. The middle held another set of clothing, the back side pocket held a pack of miso and chopsticks and toiletries and the front held my red Chinese-style diary and special fat coloring pencils. My valuables I wore in a belt around my waste underneath it all. Pay from a 1 1/2 year stint in a psychiatric institution as a nurses aid, I imagined then would be enough for half a year of exploring the US.
I settled in the back on a bench at Kennedy airport and dozed off as I waited for public transportation to resume. A caring black worker noticed me and alerted me to the first overcrowded bus then guided me into Manhattan. The man insisted I show him an address and as I pulled out the only one I had on me for New York he got us on the A-train that bypassed 72nd Street. So he got us to turn around and he was not satisfied until he had brought me safely to the nearest subway station to my contact, despite my on-going protests. What an outstanding, kind and generous introduction to the people of New York!
With nothing better to do, I called my one contact, the actor, teacher and therapist Alec Rubin, the inspiration for my jump across the ocean, and as luck would have it he had just returned from Fire Island, invited me over and asked me to stay until I got my footing in what was once Billie Holliday's digs. I was so lucky, or blessed, or else had a watchful, protective eye over me. I was young, white (a revelation then) from a relatively protected upbringing in a Swiss working class environment. I was a Hippie, a drop-out, at a loss of how to fit in, but in search of my soul, my creativity, my bliss. Well, I had a taste of it all, and I wanted more, hence my adventure to the US.
32 years ago yesterday, almost broke, we arrived in The City Different in The Land Of Enchantment, in a funky pick-up truck. He found work the very next day, I was at a loss. I had overstayed my visa, I had never learned to drive (no subways and at that time no bus service to speak of either in the City Different.) I was unfamiliar with American mainstays such as Wal-Markt, K-Mart or Walgreens, in short, everyday American culture.
Only 2 1/2 years later I owned my first and my only home, my tiny studio on the wrong side of the tracks in the Railyard, I have been inhabiting for almost 30 years, the last 10 years with my furry buddies. In 1992 I became an American citizen and promptly experienced what seemed psychosomatic symptoms of a painful split right through the middle of my body (a psoas contraction that kept me upright for that one whole night.)
I am still feeling like a mermaid out of my element here in the high arid desert, in a foreign and very strange land that speaks in very strange tongues. I am a first and only generation immigrant. I own my own home free and clear, but I live an existence below the poverty level.
Am I living The American Dream? Better yet, am I living MY dream?