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2004-01-20 - 5:36 p.m.

first hours

This is an entry from Sunday, 18 January 2004, Forest Hills, NY, during the "DARK PERIOD" when I had no stove, no phone, no email...as you see I am now back on line...

***********************************

Greetings from Forest Hills, New York! I have arrived, basically after 24 hours of blissfully eventless travel. I left Jena at about 10:30am on Friday morning, with Anne’s help to get the cats drugged and into their cage (more the size of a cat mobile home, actually – I may invest in some kitty furniture for it..). Anne and I shed many tears as the taxi drove away from Dornburgerstrasse. I explained to the taxi driver that I was leaving Jena after many years, and was leaving many friends and a beloved home behind. As we drove down the stretch of road leading to Lobeda, with Paradies Park on the right and the Jena Tower disappearing behind me, with the hills of the Saale Valley cradling me for the last time, huge heavy wet snowflakes began to fall. The taxi driver, turned to me and said, “Look, even the heavens are crying for you.”

The taxi driver was a very kind man (by my definition for the moment, that means that he was gentle and spoke softly with the cats and told them that they were beautiful.) He talked much of the way about his own cat in Hermsdorf, a beautiful lilac British shorthair who loves riding in the car with him. And at the airport he was kind enough to help me find the correct ticket counter (I sometimes think navigating Lufthansa at Frankfurt would make a good board game…players try catch their flights while encountering hazards such as airport construction, moved ticket counters, flight delays, lines in duty-free, surprise laptop and shoe security checks, last-minute gate changes…be the first player to board your plane and win the game!). Anyway, back to the kind taxi man, who even held a very frightened Mira while the security man searched the cage for explosives.

Lizzy and Mira, in spite of the two doses of cat-valium each, expressed insistent discontent with the entire process. Mira was not in the least affected by the medication, but seemed desperately to want to see the road and every moving thing at the airport. The effect for Lizzy was intense paranoia, and she had occasional bouts of needing to claw her way through the cage, meowing in a very pathetic voice that started at an F and seemed to slide down two octaves before she finished. I am not sure, but I suspect that they meowed the entire trip. When they arrived at baggage claim at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, they were in full form, complaining in very loud normal undrugged mezzo-soprano tones.

Apart from my constant nervousness through the trip, it went very smoothly. The nice lady at Lufthansa didn’t even charge me for my second extra bag, or make any mention of the fact that my cat carrier was a few centimeters larger than regulation. U.S. Immigration was also surprisingly smooth – the fingerprinting and photographing devices already installed to track all foreigners who enter the country…Actually, the one guy ahead of me had to do this, and it was surprisingly fast. Then again, I was at the very front of the US Citizen line, and so I have no idea about the inconvenience for others. US Customs was also a breeze, mostly because the customs guys themselves don’t seem to know what to do when you enter the country with cats. My customs officer was a typical New Yorker:

“Hey Mahhrty, whatta we supposed ta do wit’ cats?”

Marty: “Do dey look healt’y ta ya?”

“Yieah.”

Marty: “Den let ‘em trough”

(I should have thanked Marty for making my life so easy.)

After customs I made my way through the barrage of eager taxi drivers and waited for my friend Yan to pick me up in her big white SUV. I arrived at my new home at about 9:30pm, a mere 17 hours after I had begun in Jena. New York City was somewhat cold (-7degC), and lay under a blanket of snow, but my new apartment was already toasty warm. Yan had bought me some necessities (kitty litter, cat food, and a can of soup for me) and helped me get up the stairs with my bags and further helped me to blow up my air mattress. Mrs. Lee (the landlord) heard me enter the apartment and came upstairs immediately to say hello and to see the cats. This was the first of the twelve trips that she eventually made that evening, bringing me blankets, tea, a bathrobe, toilet paper, apples and cheese, etc, etc, etc. She even offered to let me sleep in their guest room for the night. The next morning I woke to a bright sun blazing through the living room window. And within only a few minutes, Mrs. Lee’s husband Koon Hor (call me John) came upstairs to invite me to have breakfast with them. His first words were: “Would you like breakfast? I can make you coffee and eggs.” You might imagine the smile that spread across my face at the mention of the elixir: “Coffee.”

I then spent the rest of the morning waiting for my uncle Ed from Baltimore to arrive. I used the time to putter around – unpacking and trying to organize. The first step was to call the electric and gas companies. The electric company telephone number didn’t even work. After waiting on hold for ten minutes and then supplying all of my personal details, the gentleman on the other end of the line informed me that a man could come by a week from Friday. I tried to get someone to come sooner, “err, I’m new in the country…I have to feed two small babies…” Oh, well, in that case we can give you an appointment a week from Friday…. People today are not as moved by fictional babies as they used to be. Welcome to service country.

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