The Price of Passports


The guy seated across from me is talking about Fire Island and Google Docs.  “I love your apartment,” he gushes, and then says something cryptic about “that activity that we do on Mondays.”  I distract myself from the old man flossing his teeth to his right by examining the inner contents of my bent passport: an ever-accumulating docket of faded stamps and a photo of me from 2005, looking like some Russian spy or the wife of a man named Boris.  I flick the image back and forth, illuminating a hologram that at first looks like a pirate ship adjacent to an anatomical diagram of a lung until I realize that it is most definitely neither.  The United States wouldn’t dare be so willingly comedic, not in these days of The War on Terror.

“Thanks for letting me stay at your apartment,” he continues.  “I didn’t damage it or anything.”

The old man has abandoned the floss and commenced his thoughtful pecking of a plastic container full of various pickled vegetables.  Yum.

As anticipated, my flight to London will not likely resemble the quaint fairytale shared with me while bent over on the other side of the security line, refastening my boots while a gray-haired TSA official in an orange jacket told me a story about how he was once on an airplane with one Sir Paul McCartney who treated the First Class cabin with a one-on-twenty tutorial on how to play “Blackbird” on the guitar.

“Let’s hope a similar miracle happens to me in coach,” I said, having just finished repacking two bags of under-three-ounce liquids and my iPad into my carry-on luggage, and then redressed myself in a hooded sweatshirt, a leather jacket, a wool coat and scarf.  Airport security lines in the last decade bear similar resemblance to the morning aftermath of a one-night stand: dress hurriedly and get the fuck out of there before anyone starts paying attention to you.

He was nice, the TSA official who felt not very official at all.  He was more like the JFK Welcome Wagon than anything else, chatting up passengers and making the occasional rounds in response to the typical chorus of “Bag check!  Bag check!” and the accompanying impatient faces of passengers waiting on the opposite end.

“Where you heading to?” he asked me before sharing his McCartney experience.  London, I say, omitting the part about the next leg of my journey being the Maldives for fear of sounding like a proper spoiled bitch.

“London,” he continued, fading off briefly.  “I haven’t been there in twenty years.”  Twenty years, I think.  I guess the fact that I was in Paris less than one week ago and seem to be crossing the Atlantic like it were the 405 as of late is not normal.  The perspective jostling was exactly what I needed to shore up my strength for the next seven hours of gut-squeezing, leg-numbing, chicken-and-rice eating journey. 


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