Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Previously Published*: Passports, Pears and Gatekeepers Pt. I

You don’t have to fit a racial profile to run afoul of U.S. customs officials, Jonathan Mendelsohn discovered

To some this may be passé. But to white Canadian boys, it’s still new. So bear with me.

I was at Pearson International recently en route to New York city. I had my passport, aware that soon enough we would no longer be permitted to enter the country without one. I waited in the snaking line of U.S. customs control the requisite forty minutes.

The director of traffic, the man in a blue blazer at the front of the line, sent me to booth number five when it became free. It was manned by a woman no older than thirty. I thought this would be to my advantage. I figured it would be better than dealing with a man. Angry men are generally less susceptible to male charm, you see.

Unfortunately, my customs officer was a woman who’d been angry many years before she met me. There was no charming her. I was doomed before I started.

She didn’t yell but almost yelled. Where was I going? New York city. My purpose? Vacation. Where was I staying? The Bronx. I was staying with a friend I told her. What’s the address? I'm sorry? The ADDRESS? She was yelling now. I don't know it, I stammered. The friend I’m staying with is going to pick me up.

I’d been to America countless times before and had never once been asked for an address. You need an address, she said. I'm really sorry, I don't know it. What am I supposed to do? Her arms were crossed. You're gonna have to find it out. How, I asked? You'll have to call your friend. But he works in a hospital. He won't answer his phone. She hadn't uncrossed her arms. Listen, you want to come in to the United States, you need an address.

How is the government supposed to keep track of you without an address? I dared not ask why they needed to keep track of me. But I did say, pleading: if he doesn't answer his phone what can I do? (I'm now truly hating myself for not having made one up.)

YOU CANNOT ENTER WITHOUT AN ADDRESS, DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I said I did and she directed me to a pay phone.

Pt. II


*Published a few years back in "The Toronto Star."

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