It was the 20th hour of my journey over from the US. My brain was very sore. Oh well, at least I knew my way around Heathrow somewhat. I remembered the long hallway with the moving sidewalk, I knew where to pick up one of the free trollies, and I knew that somewhere at the end of a long line in a crowded hall full of shiny-faced, anxious foreigners like myself there would be a young Brownshirt waiting to ask me all manner of personal and intimate questions about my reason for visiting.
Last time I had crossed
through this wide, low-ceilinged, depressing room with its multi-lingual
signs all giving contradictory orders, it was virtually empty save for
a rank of coal-eyed zealots guarding a long row of podiums where visiting
supplicants such as myself were allowed to approach and be tested, lest
ye not be worthy of entering the Magic Kingdom. In January, the questions
had been is this the address where you will be staying, who lives there,
what will you do while you are there (I
I had been very perplexed by these questions, and I had a sort of a bad reaction to them, probably conditioned by years of living under the Privacy Act. But I resisted the temptation to respond reflexively that these questions were none of your business, you little fascistic bitch younger than my kid sister. I smiled and fixed a warm, receptive expression on my face which said, "I find these questions *fascinating*, please ask more."
Knowing what was in store for me this time gave me a cockiness which the other foreigners - excuse me, "world citizens" - found attractive. Soon I was having conversations with Indians and other Americans in desultory tones about what line was moving fastest, why everyone in the line I had just jumped out of was suddenly an asshole who didn't know what he was doing.
Finally it was my turn in line, and instead of a female Brownshirt younger than my kid sister, I had her male counterpart. Here came the expected questions: is this the address where you are staying, who are you staying with, Graham Toal? hmmm... (checks black leather book of bad guys - disappointed look at not finding anything), how long before you leave, let me see your tickets please. I was all ready to walk away when he started in on a new round of questions. What is your relationship to Graham Toal, fiance, I see, what do you do for a living, assistant director hmmm, do you *like* your job, is it a good-paying job, how long have you held this job, is it a secure job, how long have you been engaged, what is the date for the wedding.
Although I was offended and irritated by the first set of questions, I had expected them and therefore was not too affected by them. The UK wants American tourists to come and spend, and then get the hell out, thank you. But this second set, even more probing and intimate than the first, took me by surprise. I did not want to tell this twerp if there was a wedding date, even if it had been posted on the bulletin board of the Edinburgh Registry Office for the past three weeks. Who knows, we might decide to back out at the last minute.
Then he asked me the question I was really hoping he wouldn't. "Is there any chance you and your fiance might become married on this trip?" I didn't want to lie to the man, because paranoids shouldn't lie. So I began to shuffle back and forth in front of the podium, making short jabbing hand movements and smiling an apologetic smile. "W-w-well, I s-s-suppose that it's always pos-s-sible, but I really couldn't say," I stammered, my mouth suddenly dry. "Wait just a minute, madam, I'll have to check with my supervisor."
He turned and fairly skipped to the glass booth in the center of the hall. I suddenly became aware that somewhere, there had been a video camera trained on me, and all my tell-tale body language had been videotaped, in PAL, no less. Likewise, I knew that there was a microphone hidden somewhere in the recesses of the podium and that my rising vocal tension had been recorded for subsequent forwarding to the NSA, for filing with my e-mail archive. They were probably already matching my passport to Words-L's subscription list.
I stood perfectly still and felt my heart race to 130 beats per minute. A cold sweat broke out all over my face, and I became convinced that I would be dragged off into an interrogation room where I would be tied upside down and flogged mercilessly by Tourist Bureau representatives until I coughed up the wedding date. While I was wondering where the electrical clamps typically attached to testicles would be clipped on me, the young fascist returned, moving slightly slower, with a less smug expression than before. Immediately I knew that he had been thwarted in his quest towards today's quota of detainees and that I would be let through with some sort of pseudo-legal lecture.
Emboldened by this knowledge, I said, "You're afraid I'm going to try and subvert your immigration laws by sneaking off and getting married aren't you."
"Well, yes, madam, that's why I have been so hesitant. You have to understand, this is what we're paid to do, to keep people from entering illegally."
Someone had just put the airbrakes on my heart rate. I suddenly felt very *awake*. Every texture, every sound in the hall stood out in crystal clarity. It was good to be me again. "I'm not here to get around your immigration laws," I said with every drop of Ugly American venom I could muster, which is a lot. "Don't worry, I'm not going to try and get a job here."
He was undeterred by my contempt and felt compelled to remind me that IF I DID suddenly and without notice marry while in the UK, and IF I WANTED to enter the country as a worker I would have to GO BACK through New York and re-enter there.
By now I had regained full control over my face and was smiling benignly, and I assured him once more that I had no intention of working there. With a frown he stamped my passport and I was out of there like a scalded dog.
Three days later I was married.