Before I went to art school in New York I needed to get a visa.
At the same time, a guy I knew wanted to travel to Chicago to
visit the blues clubs.
So he came to the American embassy with me to get his visa.
We filled in the forms together, and then we were called in for an
Afterwards we met up.
I said I’d got my visa and asked how he got on.
He said, “I can’t believe it, they turned me down.”
I asked, how come?
He said, “You know the questions where it says, “Have you ever used
drugs? If so explain”
I said yes.
He said, “Well I answered that I had used marijuana, mainly for l
istening to music. I was honest, and they didn’t give me visa.”
I said, “No shit.”
So I went to America and he didn’t.
See, I don’t think my mate lost his visa for taking drugs.
I think he lost it for being stupid.
Did he really think that if he admitted taking drugs they’d admire his
honesty and give him a visa?
When I left art school in New York I decided I wanted to work on a
I couldn’t get on an American or British ship because the unions were
So I went to Brooklyn to try the Scandinavian shipping lines.
They had much looser regulations.
They only asked me three questions.
Had I ever worked on a ship before?
Did I have good eyesight?
Could I swim?
I told them I’d worked on coasters, mainly around Britain.
Of course I had perfect eyesight.
And I could swim a mile in light clothing.
Now that wasn’t strictly true.
I’d never been on a boat in my life.
Without my contact lenses I was blind as a bat.
And I couldn’t swim a stroke.
But I figured if I told them that they probably wouldn’t give me the job.
And I really wanted to work on a tramp steamer going to South America.
So, to help them give me the job, I told them what they needed to hear.
It wasn’t really a sensible thing to do.
One night in the Gulf of Mexico, I was on watch, on the bridge.
The ocean is pitch black at night.
The only people awake on the ship were me and the first mate.
He had binoculars and always saw things well before me.
So one particular night, when I thought I saw a light, I didn’t even bother
After about half hour the light started to get bigger and bigger.
I thought I’d better double-check.
When I went to ask him, he was fast asleep and drunk.
I woke him up and straight away he ran over to the wheel and started to
turn the ship.
The trouble was, the other light was another ship.
And they started to turn at the same time we did.
Everything happens in slow motion at sea.
The first mate started to turn our ship away from them.
Again, just at the same time as they turned in the same direction.
Our two ships were zig-zagging towards each other across the Gulf of Mexico.
Eventually the other ship just barely missed us.
It passed so closely, and was so brightly lit, that we could see absolutely
It was an American aircraft carrier.
Roughly ten times our size.
With hundreds of sailors lining the deck screaming at us.
Anyway, a few months later, when we got back to New York, I wanted to
get off the ship.
The captain was drunk and wouldn’t sign me off.
So I jumped ship.
Because I’d been at art school in New York for four years, I’d forgotten it
wasn’t my country.
Which meant I was now an illegal immigrant.
About a month later I was living in a flat in Manhattan when the door buzzer went.
I looked through the spyhole and it was a guy in a trench coat.
He kept buzzing the doorbell so I went out the fire escape.
One of the neighbours must have reported me, because when I got to the
roof he was already there, with his gun out.
He took me downtown to The Battery, and locked me up in a cage, with lots
of other illegal immigrants.
They were going to send me back to the ship in handcuffs.
Even though the ship was now up around Canada.
But I got lucky.
One guy checked my visa and decided I was still technically a student.
And, as a post grad, my visa allowed me to stay in America for a year.
But only if I was working.
So I had to go to Madison Avenue and get a job.
And actually I got lucky and it all worked out okay.
My point is, that was a pretty stupid risk I took, but I learned from it.
I learned never take a risk that can kill you.
But I also learned: no risk, no reward.
And, by and large, no risk that you take in advertising can kill you.