1998 | Corringham, Essex, England | Age: 21
I’m Grant. Always have been. I was born and raised in Corringham, Essex. I came here with the objective of staying in 1998 when I was 21. But a lot of my summer vacations were spent in the upper midwest growing up because of family ties there.
It was a trip that I took at 14 that made me want to live here. We had this one crazy night; we actually did some criminal stuff. In South Dakota you could drive at 14, so my buddy and I took a truck, broke into a golf course and stole a case of wine. Then we went to a barn with some chicks, and they just loved the way I spoke; they wouldn’t stop cooing over me. And I was like, “There’s a country where girls want to hang on my every word.” It was a hot night, probably 90 degrees. I was riding in the back of the pickup truck with my hair still wet from breaking into a pool. I could smell some chick’s perfume on me because she had borrowed my t-shirt to swim in. And she was giggling at everything I said. And at that moment I knew I needed to come back here.
I had been a geek, a virgin in England. It’s amazing. You can be normal in one place, and then go somewhere else, and just by the virtue that you’re somewhere else, you seem special. I always liken it to Superman. On Krypton he’s just a normal guy. Everyone has the same powers he does. It’s only him being on Earth that imbues him with powers that seem special. What’s the saying - “You can’t be a prophet in your own land.” These are terrible examples, but Stalin was Georgian not Russian; Hitler was Austrian not German; Napoleon was Corsican not French. You have to come from somewhere else to give yourself this credibility. It’s an aggrandizing thing. I’m self deprecating, but I’m also liking myself so some of the world’s worst despots!
I came here at 21 with the intention of fucking a girl. I had met a girl in college, and we were just platonic friends. She was this vivacious, smart, funny, opinionated, courageous woman who was nice to me. There were so few people like that. She was studying abroad, and she was a real anglophile. She had this American optimism and confidence. It’s not always equal to ability level, but it’s enough to carry you through most situations. Her world seemed less hampered by barriers. Then she left without saying goodbye, and through a torturous process I got her email address and got in touch with her. I came to visit her in New Jersey with a buddy of mine. She wanted to go to cosmetology school and then move to England. So the plan was for me to stay with her for about a year in NJ and then go back to England together. But I just had the most amazing time that year, and I didn’t want to leave. I probably got in the way of what she wanted. She had a similar version of the same effect when she was in England - of being a novelty in a foreign place.
My uncle once helped this shady Michael Cohen -type lawyer out of some serious trouble. He suggested I talk to the guy to help me figure out how to stay in the US. When I went to see him, it was like the scene in Boogie Nights when Alfred Molina is all coked up in his robe, with a Chinese boy letting off firecrackers. This lawyer was sprawled out in his robe, with some fuckboy there. He told me, “No, you don’t have any skills, no job. You won’t be able to do this.” I had 90 days before I had to leave. So I went back to England and worked nights at a factory to save as much money as I could. Then I’d come back and spend 3 months in NJ, all the time thinking this will just be for a year until we both move to England.
Meanwhile my girlfriend took my band’s old demo tape and passed it on to a record company. I ended up with a record deal on paper and working there for visa reasons. She had offered to marry me, but when the record opportunity came up we both started to think that marriage wouldn’t be too smart, and I moved to the Lower East Side.
I would travel the world if there were someone willing to sleep with me.
In this Cloud Atlas type of way, I’m repeating the lifecycle of my ancestors. John Stoddard came from Northern England to New York when he was 21 in the early 1770’s. He was an apprentice goldsmith. New York had been occupied by the British, and one of the stipulations the British had for ceasing their operations was that they would have the opportunity to ferry loyalists out of the United States. They’d go to what would become Canada, or back to England, or to the West Indies. He took a gig as a bosun on a boat ferrying loyalists up to Nova Scotia. He met a woman from a Maryland loyalist family, and they settled in Nova Scotia. The family would be there for the next 200 years, until my grandfather would fight with the British in WWII. He met my grandmother and stayed in England. So like my ancestor, I also moved to NY at 21, met a girl, met another girl and moved to Canada. I think that’s what you do - you meet someone you want to fuck and go wherever they are!
One of my most commonly recurring nightmares involves losing my passport. I’ve done it. Twice. Both times were horrible. The first time was when I was here on a visa, which was in my passport. I had to reapply for it after getting a new British passport. While I was waiting for it to be reissued, my grandmother had a stroke and was dying, but I couldn’t go to England because I wouldn’t be able to come back to the US without the visa. So I couldn’t see her or go to the funeral when she passed away. That was heartbreaking. And guess what I had been doing when I lost my passport - I was chasing a girl around and left it in a cab. I didn’t have a photo ID, and if I wanted a beer I had to carry a passport, which is a nightmare.
The second time, I was traveling around the world posing as a travel journalist. I went to Helsinki and Tallinn. It must have fallen out of my pocket and landed in a snowdrift. It was a national holiday, so the police station lost and found was closed for 4 days. I spoke with the British embassy, which would give me an appointment in 8 days, and even then they’d issue an emergency one-time use passport to get back to England. But I don’t live in England! Luckily some wonderful Finnish person found it, and I got it back. It was the most relief I’ve ever felt in my entire life. My nightmares only intensified then because they’d come true twice.
I’ve been entitled to a British passport since birth. I thought I was entitled to a Canadian one as well because my father is Canadian, and I thought it was my birthright. Wrongly. So I got married for this passport.
I got my first US visa in 1999, and then 9/11 happened. That slowed everything down in terms of getting visas and greencards. The qualifiers for getting greencards were always fluctuating depending of the administration and their policies. So when I moved to Canada with my ex-wife, I didn’t really think about getting a greencard anymore. After about 3 years in Canada, I was bored. I wanted to get back to the action. I love Canada in principle. I think it’s a more humane place. But it’s boring. I was comparing it to New York, which is a bit unfair. So I picked up the greencard process again and got it in 2013.
I always took for granted being European. I felt so lucky to have a British passport, which entitled me to live and work in 28 different countries. Now after Brexit I won’t be able to do that. So my cousin, who was similarly revolted by the whole thing, looked into picking up a Polish citizenship, which requires £800 and documentation that a grandparent was Polish. We have my grandfather’s military records from when he fought in the War.
I had to earn the qualifications to be in the U.S. To get my visas and my greencard, I had to show where I’d been published, show a big stack of magazines I’ve been in, get really embarrassing recommendation letters that said “Grant is a cultural institution and he should get to stay in NY where he’s contributing to this dynamic culture.” That’s embarrassing, especially when you have to ask people you don’t know very well.
By the end of this year, I’m hoping to have my American and Polish passports as well. When I think about the things I’d be most devastated to lose, it’s these. And technically they aren’t mine. Each one is the property of the country that issued it. Every one of these is an insurance policy. It’s funny, all 4 of these countries are beset by similar problems - Canada less so than the other 3. But what are the chances of all 4 of them going to shit? Only one of them has to be a functioning democracy, and I’m golden. It’s stupid, but I also kind of feel like I’m James Bond with multiple passports. It’s an entitlement kind of thing. I’m English. At one point basically the whole world was ruled by us. Everyone speaks English. It’s the main global language. As an idiot kid, being English imbued me with the attitude that the world is my playground. I’ve never admitted this before, but I was shocked when I came to the US and then to Canada, and I found that I had to get in line behind everybody else who was trying to stay. I thought that I would be granted some special dispensation. I was an idiot. I didn’t know how it really worked. Maybe I thought I’d be extra charming and they’d give me a passport.
It’s this weird problem with authority I’ve got. I thought, “I’ll show you! I’m going to go through all the proper bureaucratic channels and have the right paperwork.” The hatred of being told what to do made me go through all these expensive and long processes, and then marry someone. I did want to marry her, but she didn’t want to get married. To anyone. I had to convince her that it was the only option I had. We did get married and were open from the beginning. I had girlfriends that she liked; I liked all her boyfriends apart from the last one who was dead set on having her to himself. We were together for 8 years. And it’s a shame, I’m friends with everyone I’d ever dated except for the woman I married.