That's The Second Time I've Fallen For It This Week...
The obvious patterns or the clichéd narrative lines (if you prefer) of my life usually only reveal themselves to me in retrospect, on my analysis, such as it is. Hence this blog. I'm making my life worth living by this act of review. Ha ha.
What seems from the perspective of hindsight to have been inevitable and blatant was, at the moment of its happening, just another confusing detail in the sensory assault of the real-time world - the world of the present tense - where harsh and conflicting impressions bounce at you from every angle as asynchronous noise and as white-noise light, as temperature, as humidity, as foreign words and alien gestures and it is where my consciousness sometimes struggles to place its randomized reception of external things into the semblance of a solid, recognizable, predictable order.
Maybe it (my consciousness) is swamped by an emotional surge, a tidal flow of frustration that washes over the plains of the obvious and refracts away the detail from this low angle. From above, later, in the global satellite view of time, in my comfortable seat in Business Class twenty minutes later when I have exhaled deeply thrice and calmed myself down, I might wonder how I could have missed this.
In the movie with the knock at the door - "Don’t answer it girl, it's OBVIOUSLY the killer!" - I am the doomed wide-eyed teenager, unaware of my predicament. Life doesn't come with a soundtrack of ascending fifths like a Bernhard Hermann scored shower scene. Life has no dramatic irony while you live it; that is the privilege of the knowing observers, the audience, not the blissfully ignorant actors.
For you, for me, as actors, it merely has drama and irony, dank proscenium smells and a roaring in your ears...
This happens all the time to me in Chess, as I am only a dilettante. I miss the obvious signs, fail to see the pattern that a master (or even any of my opponents) could detect from the moon. I haven't studied the Opening Book, the Middle Strategy, The Endgame.
Here is a case in point. I was unable to analyze my game for the concealed check, not even one move ahead. ("I only plan ahead one move," said José Capablanca, " but it is the perfect move.") They checkmated me on move 3, the bastards.
"Where is the stamp?" asks the man behind the counter at the gate as he takes my boarding pass and passport.*
I shrug. I am tired, it is 23:20. We are 20 minutes late to board at the Tripoli Airport. Who gives a fuck about a stamp on a stupid Libyan visa, the plane is only 40 yards away, down the twists and turns of that ramp.
I hold my hand out and wait for him to hand my passport back.
He shakes his head leafing through my book this way, that way, unsatisfied.
I am the last in the queue, as business class boards second in Libya; the last person preparing to board the plane.
"You must see the man about the stamp when you board."**
I pass my briefcase through the security X-ray check. As usual, no-one is looking at the monitor. They are talking, hands flying everywhere. I pass through the metal detector, nothing beeps.
"Mr Phillip," nods the pat-down-man and indicates that I should pick up my bag. He has not seen my passport or my ticket - how does he know my name? Or did he merely mumble, thanks, shookrah(n?), and I misheard?
I collect my briefcase, drop it to the floor still holding the retractable handle and it clicks out a rat-a-tat-tat of extensions that ceases just as its small wheels touch the filthy floor. The pat-down man stops me. He points to the guys talking behind the scanner.
"Board pass." I pass my pass to a man with a four-day growth and he stamps it with a green stamp and initials it. Stamp pass, pass stamp, pass stamp, stamp pass. This is one majorly futile bureaucratic place. Who checks all these redundant stamps? If this security issue was taken seriously and done properly, if there was no sneaking in and out, they wouldn’t need all these stamps.
I trundle off towards the plane. There is a slight hold-up and I wait. Two airport officials are talking in front of me in the queue, one in casual clothes with a ID card around his neck, another in a brown jacket. While waiting I casually leaf through the passport myself, wondering; What missing stamp? [Ed -What an idiot - was I TRYING to get myself noticed?]
Brown-jacket official sees me with the passport, interrupts his conversation, and asks to see it.
"You are the person with the missing stamp, yes? Mr Phillip?"
Frustration bubbles up. Does everybody know my name? A nictitating membrane of anger crosses my thoughts. I have been set up.
"I have all the stamps." I PRESUME I have all the stamps - I gave my passport to all the stamp stampers for stamping, as asked.
"Where are the stamp?" He and his buddy both search backwards and forwards. I open it for them again at the Libyan Visa page, the one I had all the fuss getting. They are not impressed. "The stamp is not here."
"Well it's not my job to put the stamps in, your immigration people are supposed to do that! I've got dozens of stamps. Just let me get on the plane. I can’t be held responsible for their incompetence."
The people in front have now boarded and I am about 20 feet from release from all this. They have taken me to the edge and now they are snatching me back. Thoughts of getting a room in another hotel fleet through my mind. Panic, how to book from here? I had left my two local dealers at the entry to immigration 90mins ago, waving with relief. Did I have their phone numbers? Fuck, that doesn't matter - my Nokia doesn’t get either a WCDMA or a GSM signal. I am telephonically blind.
I point to several nearby fuzzy green triangles. "Here are stamps - that one, that one, one in, one out. OK, I'm going on now."
"No, no, those are not the stamp." After a pause***, they start to walk away from the plane's door with my passport. "You must come. Come back for stamp."
"I'm here, past all the checking points, just let me get on," I plead, and my shoulders begin to slump.
"You cannot. Must come back to get stamp." They walk back around the corners of the ramp, and I must follow them, left, right, away from the plane staff at the door who look out at me, unable to help. We go to the security checkpoint at the gate where they are turning off the X-ray scanner. They talk to another younger man, white shirt, ID badge. He is given the passport. Surprise, surprise - he cannot find any stamp either.
And I walk slowly. Fuck them. I have sore feet still. I have had an operation. The man gestures: Come, come, hurry, hurry. I raise my head: Fuck you. You can do this if you want, but you'll do it at my pace. He walks fast, ahead, along the corridor from the gate that leads to the general waiting lounge. I limp behind, a long way behind. He has disappeared down the stairs to the immigration counter just as I get to the lounge door where more airport officials stand about, silently looking at me. Would I even recognize him if he returns?
Will I get my passport back? Will I get out of this strange country? [The hotel does not accept credit cards. ANY credit cards. All transactions - cash.]
This is what should have happened:
I can see the plot that the author has written me into. I have rehearsed. I finally get it.
(Chess analogy: I counter the concealed check with a brilliant escaping move that pins my opponent's Queen.)
It is the scene from a thousand Orientalism-suffused movies.
Back at the gate, 5 minutes previously, the Fez-headed official in a tight green-wool suit pats away the sheen on his brow with a kerchief and says nervously, "Your passport, Monsieur, his missing his stamp." As if on command a patrol of Fez-headed soldiers in khaki strapped leggings and plaid epaulets snap to the awareness of 'a situation', pick up their 303 rifles (a legacy of those damned colonials during the damned war), bolt a bullet into the firing chamber and point the damn things at me,
A savvy traveler - an anti-hero from the pages of Graeme Greene, John Buchan, John Le Carre, a world-weary, sophisticated, cynical, bitter, debonair, burnt-out case - I am aware of what is the obvious thing to do. It is second nature to me now. It's like this whole tipping thing, a porter here, a door-man there, a maitre-'d everywhere, a speed-camera operator on the highway... I have long ago reached the tipping point of my baksheeshing point. This is the way it is done here, in Libya, Egypt, Sudan, India, Panama... I take out my wallet smoothly and, almost without thinking, unobtrusively slip a twenty into the pages of the passport.
"Steady on, chaps," I say to the soldiers, with a hopefully disarming grin.
To the sweaty official in the too-tight suit as I hand back my travel documents, I say, "Please look again."
But I am not that character, I am disgruntled Australian myself getting fucked around by a bunch of thieves whom I only recognize as bureaucratic arseholes..
This is what happened:
Something makes me utter the following words - "I'm not giving you any fucking money" - a vague awareness I have that doesn't fully recognize the classic scene, only that somewhere in this food chain, maybe someone is after money. I just didn’t get the script. It may be possibly a good line, but I have uttered it much too late, I have missed my cue.
I am a real person in this farce, not a pretend actor, not a burnt-out case [well… maybe, but we'll go into that some other time].
At this moment, all I realize is that I am disgruntled Australian getting fucked around by a bunch of bureaucratic arseholes.
"I'm not giving you any fucking money," I say to the guards and officials at the waiting lounge entrance who pretend they aren’t listening.
In another minute or two, or five, the airport official rushes up the stair brandishing my passport.
"Have stamp." He shows me the Libyan visa page; how the hell can I tell if the stamp was there before or not?
He steps off quickly to the corridor, towards the gate. I limp, I walk portentously slowly. "Come, come, hurry, hurry," he calls back at me. I point to my feet. "OP-HER-A-SHUN," I mouth. "Cannot walk fast."
(I could walk faster if I wanted to but damn them, damn them all to hell, and besides my feet WILL hurt like the bejesus even now after all this trudging around, when I eventually stop and sit down in my comfy seat. They will continue to ache for the whole flight…)
Besides, that's what they want, that would amuse them , to see me scurrying after them. Damn them. My pace, not theirs.
Airport guy realizes that I still have my briefcase clickety-clicking behind me. He sees that the security at my gate has closed. All of a sudden we must do this right, like we are correct officials here, not criminals and thieves. I must walk back again to the previous gate, where there is a queue for a flight to Casablanca, to get my bag screened again. Bloody hell! He gestures and gestures. I take my time. He comes and takes my briefcase and breaks into the front of the queue, fuck you please, puts my bag on the conveyor and it goes through the scanner.
No-one is watching the screen, they are all watching my angry red face, checking it for explosive fricatives. "Fuckers!" I explode, fricatively, but quietly.
He rushes back down the corridor, through the gate with the empty security guards, around the ramp, right, left… he is there already but I am still taking my precious fucking time, still coming through the gate, past the security guard who is now studying the TV screen though there is nothing going through his turned-off scanner.
To the ramp and the plane door I plod fiercely. Not to be toyed with, I ignore the cabin attendants who don't dare to ask for my boarding pass. As soon ask a raging bull in a china shop if there is anything in particular he is looking for... I know where my seat is, do you think this is my first time on a plane?
As I enter the cabin there is a frozen silence as if everybody has been talking (about me!) and then suddenly shut the fuck up - the teacher enters the class-room, 15 minutes late. I avoid eye-contact. Release the catch and rat-a-tat the handle into its nest, throw my bag up into the overhead locker. Mutter sub-audibly - "fucking savages" - and plonk my tired arse down. The head steward is at my side in a heartbeat, trying to mask his bemusement with a sympathetic query; "There was a problem? "
"They said I needed some other stamp in my passport. So they took off with it. What could I do?"
He pats my shoulder, holds his hand there for a reassuring moment and his faces shrugs itself into a smile of understanding.
He pretends he doesn't think I have been a stupid fuck who should have just given the man $20 dollars straight away and be done with it.
And twenty minute later, as the anger flares die away, the obscuring waters recede from Obvious Delta and I see what everyone else on the plane could see from the start, and that they thought exactly what the steward thought. It was baksheesh, pure and simple. Get with the program, tourist.
I begin to kick myself for not getting the script. It is so blatant to me now. I used to carry USD just for this purpose, but in ten years the situation never arose, so it slipped my mind and I don’t carry get out of jail money with me any more. Still, maybe twenty Singapore dollars or fifty Egyptian pounds would have shut them up.
The guy beside me, reading a book on the Investment Secrets of Warren Buffett (hardly a secret if there is a book about them), kicks off his shoes and, as he flexes his toes, finds a monster gold chain on the floor.
Someone got lucky.
* And already you, being outside the story, know its punch-line.
** Missed Code: "You must PAY the man $20 USD when you board."
*** During which time I fail to take out my wallet...
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
how horrible for you, sugar! anyone who says international travel is exciting has been watching too many movies. it's hard, dirty and incredibly frustrating. xox
(i used to always have loose bills in my jacket pocket when i traveled, learned that from the hubby. it's a habit i still have to this day even when i'm not traveling)
I did too, always a coupla $10US notes in the travel wallet. But for the last 6-8 years I haven't. You'd have to baseball-bat me into realizing when it was needed, a la circumstances above.
As you know, Aussies don't have the habit of tipping, and that mean we are generally not in a tipping or a baksheeshing state of mind.
Oops, Freudian slip- "that *means* we are generally not in a tipping or baksheeshing state of mind."