My son today reminded me of a story from my days in Guyana. It is short, don't worry. With no great moral or account of derring-do in the great Far Abroad, it relates a little tale about an odd character--and how sometimes a joke doesn't work.
As mentioned before, my first year in Guyana found me manning the visa counter in the barn-like consular annex we then had on Main Street, Georgetown. People desperately wanted to get out of the country, and head somewhere with more possibilities for them and their children. The top three destination choices for Guyanese, in no particular order, consisted of Canada, the UK, and the USA. People tried all sorts of strategies to get tourist, student, or business visas, and then stay, playing the odds that the immigration services of those countries rarely deported anybody. People had all manner of stories and crazy documentation, and made bribe offers of various types--I got offered on one occasion $5,000 for a transit visa (I did not accept it). As a rule, you tried not to listen too much to the story told. You tried not to get pulled into whatever fantasy world the applicant created. You remained aloof, listened politely, most of the time knowing that you would say, "No."
Some stories, however, linger in the memory.
One that stayed with me involved an American expatriate who had lived in Guyana for decades. First, a word on expats. In some countries, American expats prove very troublesome. They often have no good reason to live in certain places, and, in my experience, do so for reasons having to do with escaping alimony payments, dodging imprisonment, engaging in debauchery with minors, or a combination thereof. I did not always find this the case, mind you, but frequently enough. In Guyana, we had a few American expats, such as a well-known felon who had fled Ohio, established a "church" (I don't mean Jim Jones) and ran a goon squad that worked at the behest of Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. This expat thug would drive around Georgetown in an enormous convertible Cadillac. He also had a daily radio show, the thirty-minute long "Hour of Power"--yes, you read that correctly.
Back to the expat in today's tale. He had arrived in old British Guiana prior to World War II to prospect for gold. He had a succession of Guyanese "wives," and never felt the need to return to the USA. He appeared at the consular section every few years to get his passport renewed, and then disappeared into the hinterland. He looked remarkably like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame, so let's call him "Colonel."
One fine warm day, the elderly Colonel showed up with a couple of Guyanese, a woman and a man. He came to my little notch at the counter and presented a huge packet of documentation. With money made gold prospecting, he said, he had formed a "Time Machine Company," duly registered in Guyana. Impressed by the extensive and colorful documentation, I violated the rule against getting into stories, and asked about his company. He claimed to have invented and built a working time machine--he produced complicated "technical drawings"--and that the two Guyanese had become his business partners. He needed them to receive US visas and go to New York to find additional investors and buy a few spare parts. I asked why he didn't go; as an American citizen he could travel there freely. "I am too old to travel," he said. He wanted his younger Guyanese partners to go in his stead.
After reviewing their applications, I, of course, refused to issue the two of them visas. They had no discernible ties to Guyana, other than their link to the "Time Machine Company." No reasonable expectation existed that they would return to Guyana.
The two Guyanese took my refusal well, apparently expecting it. The Colonel, however, seemed distressed. He asked what we could do to change the decision, and began fumbling with his wallet. "Stop," I said, "Do not offer me money or I will have to report you. If you want visas for your associates, I suggest you come back yesterday when I am not on duty." He stared at me in befuddlement. I thought for sure that the inventor of the time machine would understand my useful suggestion.
At the request of the Diplowife, I did not give up my day job to do stand-up comedy.