Saturday, March 24, 2007

Because a simple life is boring...

Deja Vu.

Shannon Airport, Ireland. March 15th, 8:30 am.

The Customs official furrows her brow, and I know what's coming next.

“Sir, can you come with me for a moment?”

I'm lead back to the holding area, and reclaim my usual spot. I sit there, wondering what the chances are that I'll be denied again. My copy of Noam Chomsky's “Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance” sits uneasily in my backpack, unwilling to ease my waiting, so I remain with only my thoughts for an excruciating half hour.

The door pulls open. A short brunette woman stands there. “Mr O'Sullivan?” The only person in the holding area looks at her. “Right this way, Sir.”

The office I have been called into wasn't quite as nice as the one I had been in last time, and my 'handling officer' is quite different. “Sir, can you state your name for the record?”

I'm starting to miss my previous handling officer.

“Seán O'Sullivan”.
“And what business do you have in the United States, sir?”
“I'm a student.”
“Then why didn't you show up for school?”
“I did! It was a clerical error! I can name the woman that screwed up!”
Uh-oh. She didn't like my choice of inflection when saying 'woman'. Her eyes narrowed on mine. Sharp chills ran down my spine. Something bad was going to happen.
“Sir, I need you to blow into this tube to make sure you have no alcohol in your system.”
I smirk, and advance towards the device on the table, finding the absurdity of the situation quite comical.
“Put your mouth over the tube, but don't blow until I tell you to.”
I comply, feeling sufficiently humiliated at wrapping my lips around this mechanical phallus under the instruction of this uniformed terrier, and watch her press a button on her console.

A chalky texture assaults the roof of my mouth and I recoil in terror, but not before my gasp sucks in the toxic fumes that have been released. My eyes roll back in my head, and I keel over.

When I come to, I'm hanging from chains secured around my wrists in a tub of dirty water. I've been stripped down to my Superman underpants, and I'm not wearing my glasses. I feel naked without my glasses. I'm in a murky, decrepit basement of some description, lit only by a solitary light-bulb, my antagonist sitting comfortably before me on a solid wooden chair, looking quite smug.

“Welcome back” she beams.
“Why am I here?” I splutter out.
“You know exactly why, Mr. O'Sullivan”
“I really don't.”
“If you fail to co-operate, things will get ugly, O'Sullivan.”
“What? Why?”
Enraged by my cluelessness, she charges towards me and grabs a fistful of my chest-hair, twists it until I groan, and then ruthlessly plucks it out with a swift tug.
I look down and begin to laugh at my now bare left pectoral.
“I've been meaning to do that for a while” I chuckle at her “Do me a favour and get the other one, will you?”
“Tell me what you've been doing in America for the past seven months, and I can be nice to you, Mr. O'Sullivan”
“I was, and still am a student.”
“I hoped you'd say that.”

She leaves the room for a few moments, eventually returning with a cartoonishly muscly cohort, who drags a strange contraption on a trolley behind him. He parks it within a few feet of me, glances at me, cracks a smile, and makes his way towards the door again. As he exits the room, he calls out over his shoulder
“Have fun, you two!”

My eyes widen as I realise what I'm looking at. There are aggressive, dirty looking dusters connected to a large dial, which sits atop an impressively large battery.

“Are they electric-shock paddles?” my voice is a hoarse whisper.
“Oh good, Mr. O'Sullivan. You're familiar with torture techniques”

At least now the water I'm shin-deep in makes sense.

She fiddles with the dial, turning it all the way to the left, then all the way to the right, and back again, looking at me with that menacing stare as I wonder where it's going to rest.

She continues to play with the dial as she asks again

“Mr O'Sullivan. What were you doing in the United States for the past seven months?”

She plunges both paddles into my abdomen and I wince. I feel the sensation of a million pins and needles over my body, which then sink in as deep as I can feel, and explode into a million fragments.

My shudder wakes me up – I'm back on the plane, my chest-hair is intact, and the girl next to me is still snoring. The dream I've had doesn't seem too far fetched considering what I've just been told. Once I got called into the customs office, there were no shock paddles or chloroform clouds, but there was an interrogation by a woman who was too by the book to offer any compassion. This woman dropped the bombshell that I am still struggling to comprehend. The records show that I applied for a student Visa from the US government. The records show that I entered the United States in late August on this Visa. The records do not show that I showed up for school, but rather that I pissed around in the States for a few months, at an undisclosed location.

A clerical error. The director of the International office failed to register me with the Department of State. This much I was aware of. This simple (albeit stupid) clerical error has caused me a great deal of grievance, and will continue to do so. Why's that? Back to the bombshell;

“Sir, are you aware that you are on our Suspected Persons list?”

I was incensed. I demanded to know how; knowing exactly she'd tell me what I already know. I asked her if she could fix it, but was told that once it's on the system, it can't be erased. She was an absolute pain in the ass, and answered each question like it was even stupider than the last one. When I asked her what being on this list meant, she got impatient, and said “Sir, can you please stop asking me these questions? I have other people who are also trying to make their flights today”

I hated her. I'm not one to shoot the messenger, owing to the fact that generally that when people deliver bad news, they do it with some modicum of tact, but in my eyes, this woman deserved the worst fate my imagination could conjure up for her curt, anti-sympathetic, don't-give-a-toss attitude.

I hated her.

I made my flight. And I got to Robert Morris University. And I told people what happened. And they laughed. And well they should – my story is a ridiculous one. Taking my grievance to the International Office was a waste of time, so I went a few rungs up the ladder, and am trying to un-criminalise myself in the eyes of the US government, because I'll be damned if I spent my life getting harassed every time I try to fly out to visit my friends, see my girlfriend or take a simple holiday, because of one woman's incompetence. I've already been told it can't be done, but that'll just make it all the sweeter when I make it happen, eh?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed that!