Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Chronicles of Nadine

Nadine and a surfer buddy came to America 20 plus years ago from South Africa. They came to Los Angeles to be in show business, and to make a better life. Nadine's mom and dad waved good-bye then cried in their hankies for a very long time. 

Nadine and her friend got off the plane with a tourist's visa in one hand and a small suitcase in the other hand. They passed through customs and headed straight to Hollywood where they walked around enthralled and giddy, hoping to see a movie star, but didn't. Somebody generously offered their garage as a crash pad that first night. The first few months lost themselves to rose-colored glasses and youthful imaginings. When their Visas expired a Greek mother of two knowingly offered them her guest house, which was where her husband normally stayed but he was out of town for an indeterminate time.

Blond, blue-eyed, sweet and fun, Nadine found a job right away with a caterer. She worked long hours, was paid in cash, and glad of it. Her friend played guitar, got into the Hollywood scene of his dreams, and married an American woman for $2,000.00, payable over a five year period. He moved into his wife's home.

"I'm going to a place called North Carolina," he told Nadine. "I'm going to work on a movie about a horse and a girl. I'll be a camera operator." He looked back over his shoulder at her as he closed the door behind him. "Take care of yourself," he called back.

Nadine sat under the date tree in the backyard with the Greek woman who was not so much a friend as a comrade. "You have to get married," the Greek woman said. "I'll find someone, someone nice and inexpensive."

"$5,000.00, half down and half within two years. I need the money," the struggling actor said. "I've done this before. I know what to do. Give me your information and let's get started."

"Oh, sure," Nadine chirped, happy as she'd ever been. "It'll be fine." 

They were, happily, married for almost two years. Nadine now had a green card, a catering job in show business, filed her income taxes on time, and lived in the pool room at a friend's house where she enjoyed their children and their dog and their company. Her friend from home had worked his way up to film director, had several boyfriends, stayed married until his wife fell in love with someone she wanted to marry. They divorced. He kept her spacious apartment in West Hollywood which he soon sold for a house in the same area. 

Nadine called her parents everyday.  She visited them at least twice a year, spending lavishly when she was there.

"I have such a wonderful life in America," she told her mother. "I couldn't ask for more, really I couldn't." She gave her mother cashmere socks she'd purchased at a thrift store in Glendale, but they were just like new. "I pay taxes, pay for health insurance, and and still have enough money to save in a 401K for my retirement."

"Daddy, you made all this possible. If you hadn't put me in school in England, I'd never have known this kind of opportunity existed." Nadine hugged him close. "America is everything I'd imagined, and more," she said, as genuinely as her gift to him of a linen handkerchief embroidered with delicate white baskets of flowers and ribbons on two corners.

She worked hard for two decades, changing day jobs only twice, but working weekends with the catering service until they went out of business. She worked every holiday, for golden time, and saved her money faithfully for the next trip to South Africa. She never complained. She never got sick, but she did get very tired. 

"I'm a citizen, an American citizen," she shouted and actually jumped up and down after the Mayor of Los Angeles made his pronouncement. "Want to hear me recite the names of all the American presidents and vice presidents?" she'd ask any co-worker or client within earshot. She ate ice cream every night before bed that year to celebrate. She gained 20 pounds, one for each year she'd been here. 

Two years ago her mother passed away. "I have to go back South Africa," she told her boss. "I'll be there probably a month. It's up to me to take care of her things. My dad can't do it, he's not well." Straight-forwardly forthright, she spelled it out. "I know I only have two weeks vacation. I know I'll have to take the rest of the time without pay. I'll be back as soon as I can."

This year, thanks to a small inheritance from her mother and the failing housing market, Nadine purchased a one bedroom condominium on the third floor in a Los Angeles community she loves.  She got down on her hands and knees and scrubbed the toilet so that her friends, some not yet citizens, who had come to help her clean it up, would be comfortable in the bathroom. 

She quietly recited the last part of her Baptismal prayer. Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? Yes, I will, with God's help.  

Monday, September 22, 2008

We've got a problem, Houston

This is an actual email that came in Friday from someone who evacuated, then came home. I wouldn't want to be there, but I wonder if eating smaller portions, even if it isn't fresh food, might do some people good...What do you think?

Hi Y'all
The power just came on.......whoopee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I finally got in touch with *****. There's 10 feet of water and mud in the two condos. ***** is very sick, so things are really bad for them. Please keep them in your prayers. I am fine now that we have electricity again. The police rolled down the street a while ago, and told us that the ice and water was available at the city hall. FEMA wouldn't distribute it, just brought it to the main distribution center at Reliant Center and dumped it. They left it up to the local authorities to arrange for the trucks and personnel to take it to the "PODS" to be set up in the neighborhoods. The "POD" out here was backed up for 10 miles with people trying to get into it and had the road blocked with one trooper to handle the traffic in and out. Never mind that the only road to it was a two lane affair. People were spending 10.00 in gasoline to get there for the free ice and bottled water. The MRE meals are a joke. 5 cans of spaghettios, beef stew, etc, crackers, powdered milk, and juice. No one could survive on those because those sizes are for kids, and really not healthy. I miss my salads so much. Anyway, maybe in a couple of days we can get into Wal-mart and get some fresh food. There was hardly any bread, batteries were sold out, but they did set up some desks with power strips on them so you could charge your phones up. At least someone was thinking about us. Thanks for all of your concern and good word we really appreciate it. I hope we don't have to do this again. It was like listening to a tornado for 12 hours and when I heard the fence crack (big wooden planks) I thought we were going to end like Dorothy in "Oz". I wouldn't wish this on anyone. One couple I heard about went to stay with their children and a big tree in their yard crashed in the house right on top of their bed. They were very lucky. Take care.