January 2017

Dr. Eileen deVilla — my sister, and Toronto’s new medical officer of health.
Photo released by the city of Toronto.

I’ll let Toronto news channel CP24 do the most of the talking, but I’ll say this myself: Congratulations, sis, and well done! I have every confidence that you’ll do a fantastic job.

Dr. Eileen de Villa appointed Toronto’s new medical officer of health

Dr. Eileen de Villa will take over as the city’s new medical officer of health in March after her appointment was approved by city councillors at Tuesday’s meeting.

In a news release issued by the city, Villa is described as a “distinguished scholar and physician” who studied medicine and public health at the University of Toronto.

She also holds a Master’s degree in Health Science, a Master’s in Business Administration and a certificate in health law from Osgoode Law School.

Dr. de Villa replaces Acting Medical Officer of Health David McKeown, who took over the position after Dr. Barbara Yaffe’s retirement.

Mayor John Tory and Coun. Joe Mihevc, chair of the Board of Health, both issued written statements on Tuesday afternoon expressing their confidence in the city’s new top doctor.

“Throughout the selection panel process, she demonstrated solid leadership and management skills, in-depth understanding of public health issues and a passion for public health promotion that will surely benefit the residents of Toronto,” Mihevc said.

Dr. de Villa will officially start her new position on March 27.

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Your authority is not recognized in Fort Fieri!

by Joey deVilla on January 31, 2017

In case you were wondering, this post’s title is an Archer reference.

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Our green card interview

by Joey deVilla on January 30, 2017

Joey deVilla eats a burger -- that most American of dishes -- after successfully acquiring a green card.

Celebrating my green card status the American way at Burger 21.

Last Thursday — January 26, 2017 — I acquired permanent resident status in the United States, colloquially known as “getting my green card”. The process took about nine months and a little over US$4,000 in processing and lawyer fees, but it’s done, and from a cursory reading of recent news headlines and from what I heard at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices, not a moment too soon.

In case you’ve forgotten or don’t know me that well, there’s a reason why I moved from Toronto to Tampa…

Anitra Pavka and Joey deVilla walk down the aisle at their wedding on St. Pete Beach, with palm trees in the background.

A great day: March 7, 2015, St. Pete Beach.

…and she’s why I started the green card process last April.

With the help of our lawyer, Gerry Seipp, we started the process with me filling out an I-485 form (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status) and Anitra filling out an I-130 (the interestingly named “Petition for Alien Relative” document). Using a lawyer wasn’t strictly necessary, but I found that it was well worth the $2,500 to have some professional assistance in navigating through the myriad forms, byzantine processes, and potential pitfalls.

Bob Eubanks, host of The Newlywed Game.

Nine months of paperwork, payments, processes (including a medical exam), and a lot of waiting in between culminated in last Thursday’s appointment at the Tampa U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The appointment is an in-person interview, and its purpose is to confirm that ours was a genuine marriage and not just one of convenience for the purpose of securing a green card.

Gerry told us that in some of these sessions, they separate the spouses and interview them separately, asking questions intended to reveal whether or not they are truly a couple. “Don’t worry about that part,” our lawyer said, “you’re a real couple, and it’ll be just like being on that old game show, The Newlywed Game.

The problem with that reassurance is that when I think of The Newlywed Game, I always think of the infamous moment on the show, often referred to (somewhat incorrectly) as the “That would be the butt, Bob” moment:

Great, I thought. Now that’s all I’ll be able to think of during the interview.

Vanessa Hudgens and Zac Efron, dressed in “Florida semi-formal”.

I was planning on wearing a blazer, dress shirt, and dress pants, but asked if I should wear a tie. Since this is Florida, and since not all of Gerry’s clients are professionals, he told us that he’s seen people show up for the interview in shorts and flip-flops.

“You know what?” I said. “I’m going to wear a tie.”

uscis sign

The sign outside the USCIS field office in Tampa.

Our appointment at the Tampa U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office was scheduled for 12:15 p.m.. We met up with Gerry a half hour prior in order to have some time to talk and go through the airport-style security line, complete with metal detector and baggage x-ray machine.

This was not my first visit to Citizenship and Immigration Services; I’d been there a couple of times before for other parts of the green card application process. Maybe it was our impending interview, but the mood there was noticeably different this time (and keep in mind that this was the day before what’s now known as the Muslim Ban). There was a general level of anxiety in the waiting applicants’ faces that I didn’t see during my previous visits. It probably didn’t help that the TV screens in the waiting room were tuned to various news stations, all of whom were showing the then-breaking story that Mexico’s President Nieto had canceled his meeting with President Trump over his official announcement that the U.S. would build a border wall that Mexico would pay for.

The local immigration lawyers seem to know each other. While we waited for our interview, a number of other lawyers came up to Gerry to say hi. He introduced us to all of them, and we had some brief — and very interesting — conversations with them:

  • One lawyer whose clients had just completed the interview said that the questioning had become more extensive. “My couple got nearly a hundred questions,” he said.
  • The next lawyer shared his observation that the interviewers were becoming increasingly hard on less articulate candidates. “That shouldn’t be a problem for me,” I said, to which he replied “Radio voice. That’ll help.”
  • Another lawyer, who was waiting with his clients for their interview, said “Things are different with you-know-who in charge,” saying “you-know-who” using the same tone of voice that Harry Potter characters use to say “Voldemort”.
  • The most interesting comment came from a lawyer who remarked “If your last name begins with ‘Al’ and ends with ‘i’, let’s just say that you’re not gonna have a good time in that room.”

Kateryna and Arshameh Taidi’s green card interview in Tampa, My 2010. Click the photo to read about their interview.

Our turn came, and interviewer was a friendly guy with an easygoing demeanor. In another life, he could’ve easily been in sales or marketing. After the usual introductions and handshakes, he walked us to his office, where Anitra and I took seats in front of his desk, and Gerry took a seat behind us. The seating arrangement wasn’t all that different from the one pictured above.

After a brief swearing-in where we affirmed that everything we would say in the interview was the truth, it began. First came a review of the forms we’d filled out months ago to ensure that all the information they contained was accurate. Then came our turn to provide supporting documentation:

The actual folders I used in the interview. I got to keep the folders, but their contents are now in a file somewhere in the USCIS office.

The guidance on how much supporting documentation to bring to a green card interview is pretty vague — the general rule seems to be “more is better”. I tried to strike a balance between having enough material to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that our relationship was genuine and not spending an inordinate amount of time and printer ink on preparing it. In the end, I believe I printed out about 60 pages’ worth of material, including:

  • Proof that Anitra and I were both professionals with good prospects and jobs that paid well,
  • statements that showed that we had joint bank accounts, insurance policies, and other jointly-owned assets,
  • photos, photos, photos: from our wedding, as well as from life before and after we got married, including our trips to places both near (Disney World, Charleston, Savannah, Bahamas, Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and most recently, New York) and (Manila and London, both of which we visited in 2016), and
  • flight itineraries showing that we saw each other monthly before I moved to Tampa in March 2014.

We also provided a sealed envelope containing the results of a medical exam performed specifically for my green card application. The exam took place in August, and a couple of weeks later, I was given in the results in a brown envelope marked “USCIS only — DO NOT OPEN”. Our interviewer opened it, saw that I’d been given a clean bill of health, and then noticed that whoever filled out the paperwork within forgot to specify the clinic where I’d been examined.

“The doctor signed it, which is the important part,” the interviewer said, “but I need to enter a name for the clinic into the system.”

“Mind if I check my phone?” I asked, and a moment later, I had the name and address of the clinic.

The current sample green card.

We must’ve presented well, because the interview wrapped up shortly after that. Aside from being asked if we lived in the same house and if I’ve ever been convicted of a crime or been denied entry into the United States, I don’t recall being asked any of the questions typically asked in a green card interview. We spent most of the interview reviewing the contents of the folders that I brought.

A half-hour after the interview began, it concluded with our interviewer saying “Congratulations. You are now a legal permanent resident of the United States.” He said I should expect the actual green card in the mail in a couple of weeks.

Since my status was gained through marriage and since Anitra and I have been married less than two years, my permanent residence status is conditional and temporary. Two years from now, we’ll have to file an I-751 (Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence) form to seal the deal.

In case you were wondering how I’ve been working in the U.S. since 2014 without a green card: From March 2014 until last summer, I’ve been here under TN-1 (NAFTA Professional) status, and in the process for applying for a green card, acquired I-512 “Advance Parole”.

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And now, an important message from Bright Bart…

by Joey deVilla on January 25, 2017

bright bart news

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fabio sementilli

Fabio travelled a lot, and had a tradition of posting photos to Facebook from his airplane seat.

My high school classmate Fabio Sementilli left a year early to chase his dream of becoming a hairstylist under his older sister’s mentorship and opening his own salon.

He ended up doing much more than that — over the next 30 years, his skills, work ethic, and love for people who take him from Toronto to Los Angeles where he became the internationally-famous go-to guy for hair, trained thousands of stylists, and become the Vice President of Education for Wella, which was absorbed by Coty (in other words, a brand evangelist for the beauty giant). He was killed outside his home in Los Angeles’ Woodland Hills neighborhood on Monday evening.

fabio sementilli 1980s

Young Fabio. Hey, it was the ’80’s, we all had silly hair. But he had great silly hair.

Fabio and I both went to the same high school: De La Salle College “Oaklands”. Though we moved in different circles — me with the nerds, student council, and the theatre crowd, him with the “Gino Patrol” (“Gino” is the Toronto area equivalent of “Guido”) — we were friendly with each other. He “friended” me on Facebook about six years ago, and we’ve messaged each other back and forth ever since. We’d trade “I’m flying for bidniss” photos, but if it were a contest of how often, he’d win; where I was on a flight once a month, it seemed as if he was on a flight once every week. He sent me some nice congratulatory messages when I got engaged to Anitra, and again when I married her.

He was supposed to come to our 30th high school reunion in October but was unavailable. He sent us a video where he sent his greetings, wished us the best, and reminded us that the Gino Patrol was still alive and kicking.

fabio sementilli 2

Modern Salon wrote a lovely tribute, which included their favorite Fabio quotes:

  • ON HAPPINESS: “To be truly happy, you must be ready to give 100% and expect nothing in return.”
  • ON LEADERSHIP: “Leadership is not about a title. It’s about attitude…the right attitude.”
  • ON ATTITUDE: “You must have a positive attitude. Surround yourself with people who add to your life who are positive and have a great attitude.”
  • ON INTEGRITY: “You need to make sure you have integrity. Make sure it’s with your clients, friends and co-workers.”
  • ON MENTORSHIP: “There are so many great hairdressers out there, and the best way to be successful is to give it away and pass on to the next generation.”
  • ON VISION: “It’s more than just having an idea. It’s not enough. It’s taking that vision and making it come to life…following through.”
  • PAYING IT FORWARD: “The next level of greatness is about being a human. We are all in the same business – we must pay it forward.”

Fabio had a wife and kids, and to them, I send my deepest condolences. Our high school class is already working out a way to send something nice to his family. Requiescat in pace, Fabio, and I hope that justice is served on your behalf.

I’ll close with this video by American Salon Stories, which should give you a sense of the kind of guy Fabio was:

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It’s Inauguration Day!

by Joey deVilla on January 20, 2017

dont forget to set your clocks back 300 years

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IMG_4560

“You can’t bring your accordion into the museum,” said the security guard at The Cloisters, the museum in way-Upper Manhattan that houses an impressive collection of medieval art.

“I’m not planning on playing it here,” I replied. “I’m catching up with friends later.”

“Well, you still can’t bring it in, and there’s no place to check it in, either.”

I decided to fall back on a line that every person in Florida has mastered, thanks to the number of retirees who live there and use it every day: “I’d like to speak to your manager.”

the cloisters from a distance

That failed. Somehow, sometime in the past, someone brought a musical instrument to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and wreaked so much havoc that it’s actually one of their written policies: no musical instruments.

Anitra was beginning to look concerned that my usually-beneficial affection of carrying the accordion around was going to upend our afternoon plans, and after we’d travelled a long way (in New York terms).

“I’ll take care of it,” I told her.

There’s a tiny alcove near the museum’s front door for group check-ins. It’s out of the line of sight of the main desk, and was unoccupied that afternoon. I could’ve easily slipped the accordion behind that desk and retrieved it later, but I had no idea whether someone would be at that desk later, or if there were any security cameras watching.

I decided to try the next-best option: outside.

IMG_4569

There’s an accordion in this picture. See if you can spot it.

The Cloisters is north of 190th Street, and it’s easy to forget in you’re in New York City. It’s surrounded by a large park with many wooded areas. It hadn’t rained or snowed in a couple of days, and there was no rain forecast for that day. I found a spot not too far from the entrance, tucked my accordion behind a tree and buried it with dry leaves. The photo above shows the accordion in its hiding place.

I went back to the museum, did a little twist to assure the guard that I no longer had my musical instrument with me (he replied with a confused nod), and we went on the tour.

A couple of hours later, we went to the spot where I’d hidden the accordion.

“Where’d you put it?” Anitra asked, looking around.

“Over here,” I said, and after a quick search dug it out.

“It’s not the first time I’ve had to stash an accordion in the woods,” I said, and we headed to our next destination.

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