As you read this I should just be landing in the States, but the whole trip is in the balance.
As you read this I should just be landing in the States, but the whole trip is in the balance. I have a long history of being refused entry to The States because I had the misfortune (in US eyes) of being born in The Lebanon. Because of this fact alone I am one of the millions of unfortunates who have been deemed to be a "clear and present danger" to the land of the free.
Actually, I already have a work permit, valid for five years, which the US finally gave me last year after a legal battle that lasted more than a year and which cost Comedy Central, for whom I then worked, a vast amount of money. Unfortunately, this permit is now invalid because now I work for the BBC and we have to go through the whole thing again at great cost. I have to have an interview where they will decide if I can get my flight. If they refuse it will cost us dear as we have had to organise an entire two weeks' filming schedule on the off-chance that the land of the hamburger-munching lard-arses agree to my entry.
If they do say no, there will be at least one small consolation. I will avoid the "thorough" body search that I have been given the last four times I've visited the United States of Ameriburger.
A "thorough" body search does exactly what it says on the tin. US immigration officials have visited parts of my body that my wife doesn't know about. The last guy to visit my colon was a Miami official called Emilio. Despite myself, I found that I simply had to have a cigarette and do a little small talk after the event. I would have felt so cheap doing anything else. I had tried to keep my bedside manners bent double over a plastic-covered table watching Emilio flex his latex-covered fingers in slow anticipation but in the end I cracked. I think I started singing "Moon River" as the inspection commenced and I dimly remember tears, lots of tears. I thought about my wife and daughter sitting innocently in the reception area. As Emilio had ushered me into the back room my little girl had waved to me, her face beaming with excitement at being in Miami and the prospect of swimming with dolphins. Little did she know that, after this experience, her Daddy was feeling like swimming with the fishes as well.
When it was over I stumbled out to greet them, a blank look on my face. My wife knew that something had happened. "We must never speak of what happened here" was all that I apparently whispered to her before shaking Emilio's (washed) hand and falling into a yellow cab and heading for the nearest bar. The galling thing is that if I really was a terrorist I would hardly be applying for a work permit in the first place. I would be swimming across some river on the Canadian border or trying to outrun Fat Texas Rangers in the Rio Grande.
I suppose at least I consciously choose to visit the States and am, therefore, to an extent bringing this stuff down on my own shoulders. I remember when some friends and I were shooting the shit about how we didn't really feel very grown-up and yet so much had changed in our respective lives. "Yes," I pitched in, "like that moment when the doctor stops taking your temperature by putting the thermometer in your bum and starts putting it under your tongue. Who decided what age that should change?" The sudden total silence made me realise quite quickly that I had been the only recipient of this particular medical practice. It was a weird way to find out that your family doctor had been systematically abusing you for eight years. I suppose you live and learn.
So think of me this morning as you munch your cereal. I am either in the competent hands of a gentleman called Pablo somewhere in the bowels of Miami International Airport or I'm sitting in an easy chair in my garden thinking about all the good times, avoiding calls from my doctor and trying to explain to my wife why I'm not that upset about not making it this time. You see, travel, unfortunately, doesn't just broaden the mind.