Like slipping a stiletto in between the ribs as it seeks the beating heart it yearns to puncture, I have been trying to insert myself into the system here at Miami. Almost but not quite, I'm nearly there.
Actually it isn't a system. There are a number of systems that overlap, coincide, and sometimes oppose each other. Let's start with the immigration system. As anyone who has travelled knows, immigration officials are a world unto themselves. Driven remorselessly by screens on a computer that tell them how to treat the alien before them. Deviate one bit and the system hiccups violently until you provide it with all the documents it needs to nourish itself. Don't forget documents for they are your only claim to existence. Your corporeal self is of no consequence at all. In fact if three-dimensional people could be rendered two dimensional, the world would run far more smoothly.
You are in but you now need to move around. America is big. It's cities and conurbations truly do consume a lot of space. The car is the only reasonable means of transport. Forget public transport--far too sporadic. Possessing a car entails being able to park it. This may be the trickiest system of all. It requires the patience and guile of a good poker player.
A resident's parking permit? Here's my lease. Not good? You want a utility bill? Utilities are included in my rent. So I have insufficient proof of residency. Are they being hostile to me or am I self-conscious? I am offered an alternative, to open a bank account and produce a letter from the bank to my home address. The nearest bank is 20 blocks north of the parking office.
I find a branch of HSBC, the bank I use in the UK. It announces itself (all through Heathrow ad nauseam) as the global bank that thinks locally. "The world's local bank." Opening an account should be simplicity. Not really. I am supposed to need two forms of picture ID. I have my passport and a driving licence without a picture. Patience, I say to myself. My passport, however, has two pictures in it: the main one and the one on the visa. My account arranger leaves the office with the documents.
She smiles on her return. I'm in. How much do I want to deposit? I suggest a couple of hundred dollars and go to the ATM. It begrudgingly gives me $60. Thereafter it will give me no more.
Twenty dollars goes into the account, but I can't have my letter till the following day. I shall have to feed the parking meter.
Feeling my luck is in, I decide to raise the stakes a little. I return to the parking office. This time--one hour later--I'm greeted like an old friend. It strikes me it is a test like the ones martial arts masters of old gave to neophytes. Sweep the floor! Empty my pot! I have passed the first test. I announce I have a bank account which brings on nods of approval. I will soon earn my yellow belt in parking systems soon. But I don't have the letter--frowns.
One of the wise elders in the office beckons me over to his window. I give him a dollar seventy and I receive a visitor's permit for the night. I am entering the citadel.
The next day the world's local bank gives me my letter and let's me phone the UK branch who have spotted unusual activity on my card, ie. trying to withdraw money from HSBC. They relent and will let me take money, my money.
The parking office also gives me my permit! The wise elder is there and again beckons me to his window. I try not to look at the full waiting room who now wait longer because of me. I want to tell them "patience". Look upon it as a form of meditation. I only wish now I didn't keep forgetting where I've parked the car.
Enough on the system. The university has many and I am still a neophyte following in my master's footsteps as step by step I am fully integrated into the system. By tomorrow I may have accomplished it, but only if my soul is pure and my heart is strong.