TBE has once again alighted (alit) in our ancestral homeland, just in time for a slew of prophet’s birthdays and new yearseses and things. Which meant passing through JFK, which meant our first chance to see if entering the country on a fresh passport would allow us to bypass the security scrutiny that we so graciously countenanced last time we entered the homeland. (Is it just us or does that word sound better in German?)
We would like to be less put off by the whole idea of being profiled as a possible al-Qaida recruit, but our pride doesn’t allow us. The first thing we want to say when we get to the passport stamp counter and see the yellow highlighter come out to mark up our customs declaration card is, “Do we really look like the kind of idiotic white person who would consider joining al-Qaida?” For we have a possibly misbegotten idea that the only crackers who would join al-Qaida must be Cletus types . Whereas we try to give off more of a Baader-Meinhof vibe, and we wish the DHS would respect that, and when they don’t it throws us into paroxysms of self-doubt about the kind of signifiers we are signifying. (Mr. Richter would you please make our picture.) (TBE disclaimer: In case you don’t have a sense of humor, TBE abhors the killing of innocents by state and non-state actors alike and have never seriously contemplated joining a terrorist group.)
Last time TBE flew in we arrived at whichever terminal to which BA flies, and the room where “investigations” were conducted was relatively well-appointed, meaning that it contained a water fountain and was an actual room. This time TBE flew Egyptair, which we quickly realized upon arrival flies into Terminal 4, which we slightly more slowly realized is the official terminal for national airlines of countries the US deems likely to harbor terrorists and other possibly undesirable brown people. So there is no interrogation room at all, it’s just a bunch of roped off “Areas” (like Area 51), which are located in a corner of the vast baggage retrieval room. This deserves comment in and of itself, because one feels slightly stigmatized when one sees one’s fellow plane passengers seeing one in the special security zone. In short, you get the “omigod did I just fly right next to a terrorist look” as they breeze by on their way to customs. Due process might be law of the land, but public opinion is rather less sanguine about prejudging.
We were sent to “Area 3,” which had a strong AfPak flavour to it, based on our unscientific headware’n’passports survey. Our area was way more full than either Area 4 (The Indians) or Area 2 (The Latinos), though that may’ve been due to the vagaries of airline scheduling. With the help of powerful nicotine and Cheesecake Factory cravings we overcame our native reserve and held a stand-in at the counter until the gentleman seated behind it acknowledged our presence and agreed to take our testimony and ultimately allowed us to go retrieve our luggage and step into the freezing New York afternoon.
The only really sad part of the experience was that when we asked our inquisitor whether this meant that we would be stopped always and forever, he told us, “Hopefully not but pretty much yeah.”
Since TBE strives to turn lemons into lemonade at every turn, we thought of some ideas:
- Some pretentious director can make a movie about four semi-unrelated plots of people coming to America (maybe even a four-movie filmic cycle titled “Terminal 4,” with the individual films titled “Area 1,” “Area 2,” etc.) in which all the main characters are ultimately connected by the fact that they all passed through the questioning areas of Terminal 4. If it is a pretentious European director the point will be that America is vicious and racist and ultimately empty. If it’s an American it will still be pretentious but end with a feel-good message about America’s inherent goodness. And maybe win an Oscar.
- TBE is usually rather formal during plane travel, but we thought it might be a laugh if we adopted the attire our younger girl cousins don when they fly (pajama bottoms, college sweatshirts, other miscellaneous sleepover attire) on our next trip back from Egypt. Maybe even some of those slippers that feature oversized plush Disney characters on them. We think that might blow some DHS minds.
- Alternately someone could make a semi-sequel to that Adel Imam terrorist kebab movie in which an Egyptian arrives in above attire minus the slippers and holds all of Terminal 4 hostage when he is brought in for questioning. But then it turns out all he wants is some Goofy slippers, and he thought his detention meant he wasn’t going to be able to enter America to go to Disnep World and purchase them.
This song encapsulates TBE’s feelings about America (or is it the way America feels about us?) when we’re stuck outside Manhattan with the DHS blues again:
This is how we feel about Homeland Security in those moments: