Albania: The Readjustment Period

Hello friends, here I sit in my room all these years later. It is now a long time since my trip to Albania in 2014. And yet, believe it or not I have found an old journal with some of my thoughts fresh after that trip that reveal what frame of mind I was in after I got back.

5 3 2014

Back in America. You know there’s no place like home; not America, just your life, your apartment, your bed, your TV, your coffee shops, your room, your car. The life of a guest is no match for your own home.

I was happy to be back and enjoyed many advantages, or creature comforts, as this entry shows.

If you will recall I ended series one by saying, my boring old life in America no longer felt bleak, for now I knew this: America was home. It had a happy ending for every good story must end happily. But that is not the full story. Now that we continue, I can reveal to you although readjusting to the States was easier than after my visit to Albania in 2012, it was still hard. Let me share with you another old journal entry.

5/7/14

What a horrible day. Motivation zero. Exhausted. Miss Albania. Depressed. Why did I come back here? I don’t know what to do with my life. The only happiness I had was going to Albania. Now I’ve lost that, I’ve got nothing to shoot for. I have no purpose, nor any goals, no luck. I am stuck!

As this entry shows readjusting back home was no easy feat. We could argue life is not easy anywhere, but this readjustment period was especially hard.

Moreover, I did suffer some lingering aftereffects of the trip. I was, how to put it, culturally confused. One symptom I felt was a rude coldness. This negative feeling, I know I picked up in Albania, for it was not the normal me. I do remember a few instances where it came to play. Once I went to the gym and I gave this unfriendly vibe to this one girl, with whom I had previously been on warms terms with. We worked out near each other. We knew each other. Well, when she saw me, that I no longer cared for our warm neighborly relations, I read on her face, she was put off by it. I admit I had a bad attitude and I did not even want to improve it. We cannot easily alter our behavior even when we see it go bad. This also happened once or twice in public places where I gave off the same cold vibe. And I must blame Albania! I’m sorry to say, but I felt that the culture there, particularly in the big city, was cold and unfriendly. So, Albania gave me affected me negatively, but I overcame this influence gradually.

Another strange idea I picked up there was walking. I always walked around Tirana, and rode the bus too. So I thought I’ll bring that culture here. One day I decided to walk to my local coffee shop. It took me 30 minutes! Gimme a break! Nobody walks in the suburbs. Distances are way too long. What was I thinking! I was the only one on the sidewalk. Another time I deliberately parked my car far away, not in the lot but in a neighborhood alley, and walked 15 minutes to Starbucks. Again, what was I thinking? Was I trying to reinvent the wheel? Then when my wits returned, I realized something that I probably had known all along, that walking in the US is futile, and gave it up altogether. It is true what they say, “When in Rome, do as the Romans.” Likewise, when in the US, never walk!

I did go back to my local coffee shop here where the elegant brunette worked. But no, I never asked her out. I was resigned to my fate as a luckless loner. She always avoided my glance, even though she knew I liked her. There was no breaking through to this girl. Unless she was working the cash register, she would never look at you. But she was cute.

It was not an easy time to be alive. But eventually I did readjust to America. Most of all I felt that whatever problems I had were not caused by living in America. They were just caused by my particular life, the unique challenges that I faced at that time.

Memories from LA

…Then one time our cousin came down from Monterrey to visit us. His name was Angelo, or Avdul, as he was called in Albania. He was 28 years old and he had immigrated six months prior to us here in the States. He had gone to Monterrey because his uncle, Uncle Mersin, as we called him, who was also a relative, had been living there. A quick background story on Uncle Mersin here; when he was a young man, Mersin decided to flee from Albania. This act was something that could not be done. It was illegal under the dictatorship and dangerous. But Mersin was a brave. He fled the border to Greece at night and the guards shot at him repeatedly. When he told this story to us, you could tell he was in moved at how he survived. From there he immigrated to America. That was forty years ago, but now he did have a glass eye as a result of a shard of debris damaging his left eye on that fateful night. So back to our story, when Angelo came to America, Uncle Mersin naturally he took him in, and he helped him get established.

As for Angelo himself, he proved to be one of the most generous relatives I have. When he visited us, it was like Santa Clause came to town. He had filled the back of his car with presents for us all. They were practical things like plates, and peanut butter, some clothes-things a family starting out anew might need. He even brought me my first bike. It was used and old, but hey it was free, and it did the job. I learned how to ride all in one day, on the grass in our backyard. Angelo kept cheering me on. My brother, Besian had more trouble, and it took him several more days. Well, Angelo stayed with us a couple of days. He and my parents exchanged some good stories about the old country, we ate a lot of good food cooked by my mom, and then he had to take off and we had to go on in our new country…

… But I was good at playing Super Nintendo. Have you ever played Street Fighter II? You know the one, the adaptation, of the great fighting arcade game. We went up to Monterrey to visit some relatives of ours, Uncle Mersin’s family, and that’s the first time I had seen the game. Well, before the night was over, I was beating everyone in the company, Mersin’s son included and he was older than me. He wasn’t mad though. It’s just a game. You don’t want to mess with me in Street Fighter II, buddy! Besjan was the king of John Madden football ‘93. That game is stupid. You can only play it on snowy conditions; otherwise the players don’t seem to move at all.

But my favorite video game of all time is Super Mario World. Both Besian and I spent the whole year in LA trying to beat it. It was such great fun. Super Mario World really was a microcosm for our life in LA. Like in the video game, we started all over in a strange new land. It had good things and fun things, but it had difficulties and hard times too. But with every scary castle that Besian and I beat in that game, it seemed our family had gotten a little stronger, wiser, and more established in our new country. Indeed just as the game was challenging, so was our new life, but we knew we had to go on, we had to keep fighting.

(excerpt from How did I get here? Out of the old Country and into the New World)

I tried out for AGT!

My favorite TV show of the summer is America’s Got Talent. Tonight it starts up again, and you bet I’m going to watch. I love AGT; in fact, I love it so much that once upon a time I tried out for it…

It was the 23rd of January 2015, and the day of my big trip had finally arrived. I had been looking forward to it all winter long, my chance at the big time. Yes, I knew I would be a star! Or at least, so Nick Cannon assured me, as he does all of America each summer, that we are all stars! All we have to do is try out for the show, and who knows, we just might end up on TV, being lavished with ego boosting praise from the beautiful Heidi Klum, the spicy Mel B, creepy Howard Stern, and last but not least the bald headed eagle, Howie Mandel. Wait, why was I so mean to Howie and Howard? There’s no time! There’s no time! I have to carry on with my narrative.

Usually, I don’t bite at Nick Cannon’s alluring bait, but this year I bit! I believed I had a shot. I marked my calendar, bought my plane ticket, and signed a form I never even read that assured the God of reality TV contests, Simon Cowell, I would never sue his ridiculous television production company, Syco Entertainment. Or maybe he’ll sue me after reading this? Bring it on Simon! I love a good fight and, I think I’ll hire the best talent judge in all of England and America combined, the honorable Piers Morgan. We’ll film the trial and cast it live on all three major TV networks, NBC, ABC, and Telemundo.

 Day of the Audition

          So where is Heidi Klum? Where is Mel B? Where are Howard and Howie? I’ll tell you where they are: down in the Caribbean, somewhere on a beautiful beach, enjoying life a thousand miles away from the McCormick Center, the site of today’s auditions. Secret time, folks: the judges don’t show up at the “open call” auditions. You could call this a pre-screening, where you are judged by producers, who are no more important and have a no more glamorous job than minimum wage McDonald’s employees. These producers work all day long from morning till night, viewing all kinds of acts, music, dance, acrobatics, magic, comedy, you name it. And their job is “not to pass judgment.” That’s right, they do nothing! The camera is rolling, you go up in the middle of a large room, stand and introduce yourself; then you go into your act. If you can’t tell, already, my act was comedy. I am a standup comic. And here’s everything I said, as far as my ailing memory will allow me to remember.

Hi, my name is George Shetuni. I am a standup comic from Columbus. I have done a few open mic nights around town, and I am here because I wanted to go for the big time. I am almost 32 years old. (Great I had their attention! Now I went into my routine.)

“Why do people go with the gut? The gut doesn’t think. Do you know what the gut does? It digests! There is no thought in the gut. So next time your buddy tells you to go with the gut, tell him, “Are you nuts? Do you want me to make a mistake?”

Why do people say “I’m as happy as a clam?” A clam is shelled in. You can’t see anything in there. It could be depressed! That’s why from now on, I am going to say I am as happy as a sea lions. Sea lions are happy. I saw a sea lion on TV today, it was full of emotion!

What’s the deal with number two pencils? Isn’t it about time we call them number one pencils! They’ve clearly out shined and beaten the “so called” number one pencil? Besides, who has ever seen a number one pencil? Whenever we used to take tests the teacher used to say “Get out your number two pencils class” Why do we still call them number 2? Can’t we just call them pencils?”

Nobody laughed! Maybe it was my delivery or maybe they perceived it was their job to be impartial but nobody laughed! Let me rewind a little bit. By the time I got my shot it was 9:00 PM. I arrived at the auditions at about 3:30. Of course I couldn’t give my best performance! I was so tired I had lost my sense of humor. Of course the producers wouldn’t laugh. They had been there for ten or more hours. They also had lost their sense of humor. All we wanted to do was go home. The waiting was the hardest part.

They had thrown us all in a holding pen and all we did was talk to one another to pass the time. A few kids, dance groups, would go in the middle of the room and show off their chops, to entertain the rest of us who were bored to death. And then you had these producers who were even lower on the food chain. They would sign you in when you came and tell you to move closer together towards the end of the night so they could tidy up the pen. These guys weren’t supposed to be nice to the talent. If they were nice, they were so out of the kindness of their heart. Most were indifferent, with one or two jerks. The bottom line: everybody was happy in the beginning, the holding room had a good almost magical atmosphere, but everyone was very tired and bent out of shape at the end.

“You’ll hear back in a month” was what the lady told us four comics in the room. But I had read in the rules, that it takes three months to get a response. How wrong I was! You get no response whatsoever. The big time is an impenetrable fortress. The acts that made it through to the first round were a mere “leak in the barrel.” But the barrel is big, really big! We are talking about 85,000 to 100,000 hopefuls. But of course, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Howard Stern, and Mel B neither have the time nor the patience for even a mere handful of that. About 500 acts make it onto the first round. Thus, although reality shows like American Idol, the Voice and America’s Got Talent give the perception that anyone can be a star, this is not true at all. It is just as difficult to be a star going through a televised talent search as it is to do it behind closed doors, breaking your neck, going to audition after audition for years on end.

Nevertheless, I was naïve. For three months I believed. From late January to late April, I kept hoping that they would pick me, and I would get to spend a beautiful summer in New York, performing on stage, and partying with Heidi Klum. Day after day I marked my calendar. I counted down the days. I wrote myself notes of encouragement. Boy it was a lesson in patience! Towards the end of April, it became apparent to me that I had not made it. My audition had most likely been thrown away, one minute after I left the McCormick Center, along with thousands and thousands of other nameless, faceless hopefuls. I was a number. We were numbers.

As I got ready to accept defeat, I wrote on the official Facebook page for America’s Got Talent: “I did not make it. But my advice to anyone who wants to try out for any talent show or anything in life is to always do it. Here’s why, When you try you win. When you don’t, you lose. Always try! Look forward to catching the show on TV this summer.” I went out nobly, and did not spew off any hate. But I will not lie to you. I was upset! I was angry! I wanted to have a great summer. I wanted to kiss Heidi Klum on the mouth! But I accepted my fate. In a sense, I did win. To try is to win. But going on to the real show would not be for me. I would have to settle for watching it on TV at home, just like you.