Things just seem to happen to me, like a hassle-magnet. I haven’t been ten minutes inside this airport and already they’re giving me grief. You see, I’m all prepared and, with rat-like cunning, I’ve slithered up to the US immigration desk long before everybody else, to get my visa stamped or endorsed or whatever it is they do. I’ll probably be eyed up and down by a spook in a cheap black suit talking into his armpit.
Hey, Buddy, how’s it goin’?
I’ll look right back at him, slowly nod a couple of times and mock-punch him on the shoulder.
Good. And y’all?
Yeah, I’m feeling pretty cocky, which is, of course, as everybody knows, a prelude to disaster. And so, opening my long-disused passport, I notice a little white form stapled into it. A form that says, hand me back before you leave the States, you bastard, or we’ll send the Navy Seals to tear out your liver. Shit! As far as their computer is concerned, I’m still in the States. An illegal alien. This is the fault of Delta Airlines, for quadruple booking every plane they own all the time and then forcing people on board with a bullwhip and threats of bad in-flight movies if we don’t co-operate. Barbra Streisand all the way across the Atlantic. No. I’m not man enough for that. I’ll crack, tell Ã¢â€Ëœem whatever they want to know.
The guy at the desk eyes me, as I knew he would, and I’m pretty sure he’s about to rip my passport to shreds, utter low grunting sounds and spit tobacco-juice on my dog, if I had a dog. Maybe he’ll bring out a dog that he keeps specially for such occasions. A tobacco-stained old cur with one tooth and toenails grown long from skulking around darkened back rooms all night. Jesus, I once had a girlfriend who matched that description. Surely fate couldn’t be so circular.
He looks at me coldly. He’s not a young guy, and he has a grey moustache. I had a moustache once, and I return his gaze, recognising a man with an affliction similar to my own. There’s some empathy between us. Maybe he can feel what I’m thinking.
I know, my friend, I know. I used to like my moustache too, but well, Freddie Mercury and all that, you know.
Or even worse, Denis Weaver! Yeah, the nice old guy knows we’ve both suffered enough. He stamps my passport.
However, this is an airport, which means there has to be a lot more hassle before I get out of it. It’s a law of nature. The duty free shop doesn’t accept debit cards. Excuse me? Yes, I know. The people who run the Irish airports see no need to facilitate the commonest method of purchasing retail goods in Ireland. What they’ll take: cash or credit cards. You find it hard to believe? Listen, I just bought an airport novel. Do you think Stephen King would get away with such bullshit? You bet he wouldn’t. Imagine if I went into that duty free shop and don’t offer them a debit card for my 200 cigarettes. I don’t even offer cash.
Instead, I lean right forward, and I say Friend, you see this pair of cattle I’m leading by a hempen rope? I’ll barter you one of them for ten million Rothmans and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
Guess what? The guy doesn’t blink. He says Sure. I’ll just check the rate. Will you take your change in sheep?
Nah. You’re right. It couldn’t happen because when he finds out they’re Irish cattle, his eyes grow hooded and he signals to his supervisor. (A secret sign that says, we got another nutcase) He says: I’m sorry Sir. We accept only Texas Longhorns, Aberdeen Angus, Limousins, Friesians and, at a pinch, Yak.
The Hindu family behind me in the queue grow disturbed and the check-out guy leans past me. No. I’m afraid Sacred Cows aren’t on my list either.
So you have to herd your money back down to Main Arrivals and change it for something more acceptable. An African crocodile maybe, or a swarm of South American killer bees, but definitely nothing Irish, which is kind of odd, wouldn’t you agree? Considering the amount of phoney Irish junk they sell to poor foreign suckers on their way out of this land of the welcomes.
New York, October 1998