I'm not sure if this might interest a few people.
I recently had a baptism of fire in the United States.
This was an extraordinary episode. Everyone I've told has felt a bit confused by the possibility of it, and simultaneously fascinated by the portrait it seems to draw. Last week I was held for three hours, handcuffed, interrogated by the FBI in Penn Station, Baltimore. I was a terrorist suspect.
Jesus, what IS this. Should I be panicking? Who's overreacting? It's not a dream. The world is shifting and its people are in danger - they are frightened.
Happens very quickly. Tangle.
Traumatic spikes of detail plunge and
repeat. Marzipan. *Deep breath*
It's a routine daytrip to DC. One hazelnut coffee to wet the whistle, (awoke with air conditioning mouth). 35 degrees out. I'm in Baltimore, staying with my girlfriend who's doing a year in this odd Liverpool meets Khartoum of a city. By now everything feels more relaxed – I've developed a taste for it – having amputated the reflex of anxiety; bit of a sin to my personality to be hemmed in by fear, manacled by the crime and homicide statistics. "You can't argue with the facts" is a common line, but experience and pragmatism can get you a long way, and I'd set my parameters low. Hadn't been mugged outside the front door yet, and hadn't felt watched or targeted like a white man in Baghdad, so far so good. F'shizzle nizzle, what-ho Giotto, let's roll, so like I was saying, it's a routine daytrip to DC… Out of the refrigerated apartment, through the kitsch lobby, think Pharaoh Section of Harrods, and down a couple blocks to the station.
Spy a red shoe abandoned on street. Straight into the bag. (Bit of a hoarder I am; my art is omnivorous). Into the flaneur's mojobag another one goes, while I'm following the maps my girlfriend diligently drew me at breakfast. No-one much out this morning, even the station's empty when I get there. Train not til 9:40am. It's 9:00am on the clock. Surplus domino time – it's what I do – pictures of dominoes. My luz. There I am, make my first purchase, Reese's Peanut Buttercups. Armed with my bag of sweets, (big bazookas of the confectionary world), I start being guided around by the look of them - it really feels like that – the colours and textures and meanings suggest places where they'd like to rest up. Jim'll Fix It for objects. I don't actually have much say in the matter, I'm just the vehicle. It's semi-automatic. My chief role is to supervise the clothe-trying-on, pouting the odd 'yes' or 'no' or 'ooh definitely thwankypanky' (not literally) at what goes on, and then I record the process as desperately as a pap. So it's like this that I'm going at some strange icicles next to the chunky rusting iron on an old platform. These icicles are aMAzing, not what I was expecting from my daytrip I'll give you that; I've only seen concrete stalactites growing on websites for subterranean enthusiasts - you know in spidery disused bunkers from World War Two and stuff where grown men spend the weekend recording and disseminating information about these fascinating subterranea! Beautiful and breathtaking though my twinkling concreticles are, they don't look good on, on the peanut buttercups. Like I thought, we need iron. So I go with the iron overheads, knobbly and hulking and pretty much a big deal. Reaching up from the crumbly stairs the paparazzo spies his lunch. Happy triggerfinger.
Meanwhile there's a worker going up and down the other platform, on the other side, on one of those luggage loaders you see at train stations. He was fat and looked blissfully comfortable gliding up and down on his flashing wagon, which contained his bodymass nicely - and it granted him twice the agility of a human - boy he must love his relationship with that machine. But then the more I looked, and the more that he seemed to be aware of me and what I was doing, the more his smug grin and merry sense of duty seemed to be intruded on. It started as if someone had been farting near in his cubicle. The unwanted smell that might blow under your partition in a public facility. He was in risible discomfort with an introductory shot of curiosity. Where's it coming from? Who would make that? Am I imagining it? Can I tolerate it? Should I cough or choke or cry or something, or run maybe? Panic now? Ignore? Appeal to the higher powers? No-one potty trained me for THIS.
So I kind of witnessed this process play out visually on his dumpling puppy face, from the initial suggestion through to the question, and all the way through the identification, judgment, moderate revulsion, amplification, moral panic, severe revulsion, existential crisis, chronic revulsion, termination stages. It was a bit like seeing a snazzy timelapse video of his Upset Emotion propagating from the cauldron of hell. All this from across the platform (my vision's tight at the moment). And I'm hoping my distance is worth a few out-of-smellshot points. But the pre-pupillation early pubescence phase denoted by the frozen-I'm-thinking thing and the look-away-when-assailant-looks-and-look-back-when-he-doesn't thing did escalate quite rapidly into the full mid-life crisis phase; denoted by his distal frown and subsequent decision to fetch a third umpire. Not quite trusting his own nose, sub-100% convinced on whether or not he may have sniffed out a genuine violent breach of the Station code of conduct, he went to fetch a second dumpling puppy face, but one with a grade shorter haircut, and a little more pectoral kudos. I wouldn't say this one was militant or ferocious looking, because both of them were sweet really, in a hippo kind of respectful-distance way. Although what he added to the equation was two - and one with a bigger mouth - huffing pachyderms posturing their territorial dispute. They signaled their frown and the hoofing umpire then gave voice twice in my direction, totally unintelligible hollers, but it was hippo-to-nipponese-tourist in the African savannah, and the game here speak what's known as bawlmerese, famous for its unintelligibility. I think about the internationally recognised thumbs-up signal (sans-persia) and instead go for the hand-to-ear signal. Followed by the hands-out-with-shrug signal. This transmission is meant to do "Sorry can't hear what you're saying" and then a pause, and "Excuse me, idiot tourist."
Annoying intrusion for me also. A hiccup. (You should never interrupt an artist.) The buttercups demand satisfaction and I'm not yet done. Probably another three minutes to wax. Though, and it's a biggie, as I'm fully aware, I seem to be causing a proper stench over here. This skunk has burst open a whole sewage system on Disused Platform 16 as far as the frowns let on. There's an unwanted foreign body in the sanctity of Penn Station, a rogue intruder upsetting the staff, and probably the passengers, and disturbing the equilibrium. Plus this thing doesn't look American, it doesn't respond to English, and it seems to be fiddling and trying to fuck with station property overhead.
Am I out of my depth? I'm wondering, fold, call, or raise? I'm aware that these guys are starting to have a beef, but I'm starting to read it in my favour, maybe the best plan is to lay low a little, wait til they get bored, get the last shot, and kit out. I'm not insensitive like that, I just want to get the job done and get out of their hair. So I'm banking on the low card. I'm feigning a disinterested watching the clouds look; absent chilling on the steps. Sort of sitting squat, not moving. That should do the trick. I'm half pleased when I see my plan working and the guys recede in separate directions. It was like they'd announced their advice and that was enough for the time being, they'd half done their job, they'd dispatched a performative gesture, and maybe they'd let that cook for a bit to see if the smell cleared. A tell that they were prepared to fold if need be.
That's what I thought. Head back above the parapet of the stair-rail, I'm getting the last of the shots, we're going great, and, naive goof, we kick straight into the cop arrival. Shit I'm going to be forcibly thrown out of the casino. Here come the big guns. (I should add that on my flight out I'd seen Hot Fuzz, the spoof cop film with epic Hollywood drama spun onto the absurdities of village police-work. You've got the thunderous music, racing zoom lens, and in comes a blundering heavyweight to deal with the latest threat to hit nimby urban communities: the silent street-performer.) This was a spit, Simon Pegg would chuckle if he read it, there's a team of cops coming for a docile artist, and they're coming over the tracks. They're wading in slow motion, guns on hips, some residue of food around their mouths, hats barely on. Called into action, here comes the cavalry. Amtrak K-9 Unit. Hint of incompetence took some of the sting out of the shock. I was a bit confused. Was this thing Dad's Army funny, or was it all going to kick off? I wasn't sure whether to be laughing, calm, angry, tense, or very worried. Well it wasn't a "Freeze!" "Put your hands up Motherfucker!" "Right where I can see them" "I'll shoot Motherfucker!", "SLOWLY," it was a "Let's Go." "C'mon we're going, you're time's up, we're going." Boss was in front. Two lady cops running behind (they're a bit late, they'd stalled at the track not knowing whether it was cool to cross like that). And Bossman nearly trips on the first step.
First instinct, diffuse the situation. "Is there a problem?" "Am I allowed to take pictures here?" I offer up. "That's enough, you're coming with me" he goes ahead and pulls at my elbow tightly. Quite direct. "Ok, let's understand each other" I persist, and append an "Excuse me, can we settle this now?" getting keener to deal right here. "NO! I told you we're GOING!" And with that yanked me up two stairs. "Look I can't leave my sweets up there!" (boyhood pride and attempt to buy time). Ha, incredible, I pointed and it worked, he actually looked, double-took, exhaled a weird tut, and then swiped at the three gleaming confectionaries, took the little critters down off the ironwork. Those little terrorists. Erase the intrusion, erase the intrusion. So at this point I know I'm dealing with a hostile bossman, badly trained, and not inhuman, but hell-bent on taking me in. Guess at least I've got something to work with. "Okay, let's talk right here. I'm a tourist. I've done nothing wrong. I'm on a train to DC in ten minutes. Please, what is your problem?" Next thing I know he's yanked me up most of the staircase where the concourse begins. "Shut up, NO! I towold ya, geddit into yo hayed" (That's nearer to what it sounded like.) There's a double door at the top. He goes for the left half, which, regrettably, is bolted shut. Oops, how hot this fuzz. Another huff and puff - he's got the demeanour of the President in 24 mixed with the mood of Ordell in Jackie Brown. I'm now being manhandled through the right door. "Okay, okay, calm down, I'm coming, we'll chat, I'll answer your questions, what's the problem." "You're damn right you will." He snaps.
Frogmarch down the concourse. Reeling internally. Preparing for the mental exam to follow. Few strides. What do I do, do I have any rights as a citizen? No-one in the station knows what trouble I'm in. They can't help. For all they know the trustworthy uniformed man is assisting me, perhaps leading me to the station to file a report, or helping me to identify a suspect or something. Or else it looks like another successful crime foiled, the dedicated police going about their difficult work. And I can't phone my girl because I've got her cellphone. This is ri-dic-ulous. Please say it's not happening.
Before I'm ready we're arriving at the station. More cops grazing inside. They jump out of their widechairs and spring to attention with headrushes. Big-eyed and thinking they need to react. Is this the most serious piece of front-line action to hit the lazy Amtrak station this century. Maybe. Bossman is getting into role, he's chief of the station, and I can see a caricature of a man establishing the pitch of his until-now latent authority, finding the right gear (he's been reared on automatics). Bigger voice now, more volumed up in front of the audience, gruffer timbre, puffing abdomen, double macho and cheese. "HANDS UP!" (I put them out like at the airport when you're being searched for metal) "ON YOUR FUCKING HEAD NOT OUT" He boomed. Think he kind of liked the way he sounded, he could do this role more often. It sounded better than he'd expected. But he was still nervous because he didn't know what to do. He kind of picked up my hands and gingerly hit them onto my head - it was a weird motion because he kind of patted them down twice not knowing how much force to use. I mean a firm rough handle would have given me the message, but it was a kind of bungled semi-rough double gesture, and I felt his hands shaking, which sent out all the wrong signals. He was working himself up into a lather.
Even a couple of his words cracked a bit and spelt fright. SCARED THICK IDIOT, BECOMING DANGEROUS. He searched me, (less conviction than airport security, and more scant, and more shaking) and yelled "HE'S UNARMED" to the one Hispanic guy who'd tooled up with a notepad. "Come on guys, this is ridiculous, do I look like a bomber?" "HEY YOU SHUT UP, WE ASK THE QUESTIONS. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?" "I'm from London, England " "LONDON!!" (Face recoiling). "DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TERRORISTS THEY'VE BEEN HAVING IN LONDON??" Oh my god everything I say is going to be taken against me, should I just go mute. I can't do anything, this is one of those nightmare quicksands, whatever you do sinks you further and further into the myre. Already I was entrenched up to my neck. Bear Grylls in the Everglade swamps minus the camera crew to help. "EMPTY YOUR POCKETS." Did I consent to having my stuff searched? Did I hear my rights being read to me? "WHAT'S THIS?" "A Camera." "WHAT'S THIS?" "A Map" "WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU DOING DOWN THERE?" "Taking pictures for art."
"ART !" (Screwed up eyebrows). "I NEVER HEARD ANYTHING LIKE THAT" " SHOW ME YOUR ID" (Tut) "YOUR PASS- PORT , YOUR DRI -VING LICENCE" "They're in my apartment." He's pacing up and down around the table. His buddies are starting to pick apart the contents of my bag and pockets on the table. It's a free for all. Fat guy in corner's got his mits on my National Trust card (That famous Alqaida-linked British Organisation) (joke). The more relaxed guy's taken on the red shoe. "I don't wanna KNOW what this is for." The lady by the window's deciphering the crumpled map. She's found a motif of The Whitehouse. And near it some small marks with small circles and radial lines around, perhaps like a, oh my god no, heaven help me, perhaps a site for an expl... "Look at this Sarge." La-la next to me's figuring out the cameraphone. "Hell, these look like tunnels." "Tunnels?" Call and response. She delivers out another bombshell "Sheeyit, and this one, look he was actually out on the tracks." "On the tracks?" "Yeeiah, damn, on the tracks. Look here" "And what's this one Sarge, isn't that Union Station?" "Union Station?" "Could be yeah." "Union Station, daaamn" "Oh this is big"
"Woah, woah, woah there, it's not what you think. I'll explain the whole..." "NO..NO...NO..." Bossman has gone into overdrive. If before he was rare, he's now blue and palpitating on the plate. He's sweating and charging up and down and containing a whole world of dismay and puffing and exhaling giant roars like an angry elephant. "NO, THIS IS, THIS HAS GONE, NO WAY, THIS, THIS.."
"RIIIGHT," he's thought of orders to issue. "X SHUT HIM THE FUCK UP" "Y CUFF HIM" "MAKE SURE HE DOESN'T ESCAPE" "Z CALL THE EFF BEE YAI" "(He said those letters with real zazz, relished every syllable) ... " ART? HE'S A FUCKING LIAR. WE'RE CALLING THE FBI. WE ARE CALLING THE F. B. I." "DO IT." "KEEP QUESTIONING." "PUT HIM IN THE CHAIR" "I'M COPYING EVERY SINGLE BIT OF THIS SHIT" "WHEN I COME BACK DOWN HAVE STUFF FOR ME" "CUFF HIM FULL CLICK" "WE'RE GONNA TAKE HIM DOWN FOR PRINTS AND INTERROGATION AND ALL THAT SHIT" "THIS IS BIG SHIT"
I think maybe he'd seen the glimpse of promotion and/or his defining career moment flash before him. What an unexpected prize-girth spring super-salmon to land in his lap. I was defenceless against this kind of abstract dot-joining. Whatever I had in my bag was going to incriminate me. So, systematically, with a few key words plucked out of the air like "terrorist suspect" "tunnels" "map of whitehouse" "union station" "found on the tracks." I was going to have to ride this out fully, I was going to be interrogated by the FBI. And it looked like a full day of accusation, if not a week, if things got totally ludicrously bad. When you're caught in a rip you're meant to swim out with it. The Australians taught me that.
At that point I was banking on FBI Officers being more intelligent and/or reasonable and/or less prone to stunning knights-moves than the Amtrak K-9 Unit. This did something to ease the excruciating moral indignance, injecting a few teeny rays of hope, a credible vestige of salvation. Fate won't help now. Bring it, let's get the FBI in, I'll run them through absolutely everything. Calm, affable, chatty. And they can tell these guys to shut up.
Head-loon has just left the room, photocopying all my bank cards. And tennis club. And oyster. And little scrap of paper with a number on it. For the time being I'm very relieved he's removed his griefcloud out of the place. Too much towering thunderhead cumulonimbus in the room. So a mini respite, a kit-kat break of fresh air. Every tiny modulation of the myre was something to be savoured, an impression of progress and life-improvement, bit by bit. As if the loud engine noise had suddenly gone quiet, some of the pressure effortlessly lifted. One of the underlings relaxed his shoulders.
Definitely not the Hispanic dude, mind, he's the youngest one, and most to prove. No Pentium processor either, judging by the two minute gap between each question. Question, answer, looks away, two minutes, thinks of another; delivers, I answer, he looks away, two minutes, he dreams up a, etc. Each time looking more baffled. But enjoying it like kids like magic. "Did you have a ticket?" "Yes." Two Minutes. He's got another: "So how did you buy your ticket without ID" "Student card." Two Minutes. Another: "Why did you need a red shoe in DC?" You get the idea. If I was impressed by his simplicity I wasn't by his violence, he's the ferreted wannabe-hugged Evil No.2 who always followed orders with more verve than the job needed. He was the one to shove me down in the chair, cuff my wrists behind my back on a setting that cut into the bone and stopped the blood, and execute the mugshot, portrait and profile, aggressively shouting at me like vermin. He always carried his jaw at a weird angle that one. Meanwhile big dude has made the FBI call. Words "terror suspect" "tunnels" "Whitehouse" "map" "found on tracks" were strung together like you make sentences on a fridge.
And net-surfer over there, he's having a heated go with Miss Hissyfit, raising his voice gesticulating, oh they're going places. "He's a fucking liar. Yeah, because the guys told him to move and he didn't" "Yeah" "He was seen planting weird shit on the overheads" "Sure, yeah, you're right" "And he's arrogant, he's fucking arrogant. I saw him come in with his nostrils up" (demonstrates with fingers on nose). "Damn straight". "Fucking arrogant" "And that shit sure ain't art, he PUT those things there in front of the camera" "Well dog you never do know with that modern art shit. You know like that SoHo shit. You know, Modern, Art." "No that shit ain't art." "Well..." "And what's this" "That's a book right there." "On what?" "I don't know, let me have little look" .. "Hey you, tell us about this!" I offer "Um, it's a book called Misogynies, like feminism and that stuff." Net-surfer's reading the back, I'm glad he can read, not sure about the others. "Oh I think I'm getting it, oh you're smart and stuff, I think I'm getting the link there with the red shoe." "Yeah?" "It's like, hey I know what it's about, what's that word - there's a word - in greek art and stuff you know, yeah I got it ... EROTICISM. Yeah?" Oh god I wanted to cry. I think he was a misogynist. (Unwittingly). And, pass the bucket, there were more. Different threads. "WHERE YOU GO THIS VACATION YOU SAY?" "Up the Maine Coast " "HUH HUH AMERICA'S A BIG PLACE, GOT TWO COASTS STUPID. WHICH COAST?"
Another one I liked was this one, answering miss tinky winky who'd bent over the table taking notes on my story. So far she's had me spell out my girlfriend's foreign-sounding name, I can't include it, plus O-s-b-o-r-n-e - C-a-w-k-w-e-l-l P-r-i-v-a-t-e T-u-t-o-r-i-n-g A-g-e-n-c-y (she smelt a rat with the unstructured employment thing) and R-i-n-t-e-l-n (a military hospital, in Germany as it happens, my genuine birthplace - couldn't bluff on that one because it's on my passport if they checked later) - you can tell already her list is looking pretty darn hot on the money (I'm aware how badly this is going for me) - and among the "So if this girl is your girlfriend, why is her back turned here (in the photo)? Very convenient, I'll tell ya. And why can't you tell me her US Cellphone number? You ain't got a girlfriend have yer?" - she then goes "Rinteln, where's that?" So I go "Rinteln; it's London, England " (It is technically UK soil, a military base). And she goes, "Hey I'm sorry, should I know where that is, London, Eng-land?" Maybe she makes a lot of dumb comments, anyway she clocks this question might make her look dumb, so she sheepishly writes it down, kind of retracting it with a doesn't-matter-anyway head-shake.
These kind of implausible calamities went on. By now amusing viewing and I'm settling in. The initial panic stations have quelled down a level, bossman is out, FBI are on their way, and these guys are having more fun than usual, there's something goin oooooon. This pre-Fed midphase was distinctly, guiltily, pleasurable. No imminent threat now of inexplicable violence or hysteric seizure; no rapid escalation of the storm surge, just a prolonged wait and some agreeable if unusual in-flight entertainment. (Knowable turbulence. Rollercoaster's more fun the second time.)
There's even a coy smile from the second lady when I ask if I'm allowed some water. She fetched the little dunce's hat of cooled water and kept giggling and looking up at her colleagues as she fed me the water like a baby, my hands contorted behind my back, robbed of my adult powers. This was like Bean or something, making underwater noises to try and have the cup tipped higher, to drink quicker and then breathe. The unknown quiet toad-like grinning species in the corner then rocked back in his chair, and gave his two cents. "You haven't heard what they'll do to ya down at the central?" "Eh?" "Well you see that bottle over there, they got shampoo bottles shaped like that, and oh yeah, they'll take you down the showers." Tsk, right. "And we'll need to take your shoes off before you go down there, no laces so you can hang yourself, isn't that right Sarge. You better get ready for your jumpsuit." Has this guy got a weird sense of humour? Is Ashton whats his face coming in right now with the Punk'd camcrew? This guy's GOT to be taking the piss. Please don't get me FBI knobheads. Tiny bit of luck, please. Lord of the heavens, head-croupier, anyone, p-lease.
Two guys have stopped in to say hi to bossman, they pop their heads in and greet the team too. Look like local pizza deliverers or something, perhaps friends of the unit, you can imagine the amount of business. They go out or whatever and I'm still figuring the guy's cryptic bottle story and considering the likelihood of getting divot FBI agents. When the same guys come back in a couple of moments later, this time looking straight at me and walking towards me, I realise the FBI have arrived. "Ali??" Leading man extends a hand. Eyebrows up, head tilted "Ali??"
Oh sneaky I get you, game cranks up several leagues, so what if I reply in Arabic. Actually don't mess with this shit. "Er, no it's just Al" Pause. "Just Al." "Not Ali, no?" "No no it's just Al." "Okay Al, Hi we're just here to ask you some questions." He's realised I can't move my hands because they're tied up. I think it was this moment his colleague whispered something in his ear. "So - Are you okay with answering our questions?" All the goof-troop have gone silent now in such presence. Plainclothes major league officers. Their approach has exemplary courtesy, something of a shock to the goof troop maybe, and is superficially disarming, although it's a mask for the sinister game of chess going on beneath the spoken and unspoken psychological arena. I'm aware of the training these guys get in interviewing, how to manipulate a suspect, how to cross-check their story, how to expose any hidden layers. So this is it, I'm in the opening. I'll need to be on the ball, not steer down routes that will flair up trouble, and just give them the best, forthcoming answers to their stuff. Hardball starts if we get onto my protracted time in the Middle East.
The two of them have sat down now on my right. I'm sizing them up, they're both in kind of bright Florida coloured ill-fitting American tourist issue shirts, cut well above the elbow. And long shorts and dark socks. It was a good disguise. Guy on the left is doing the chat, round face, composed crafty manner, looks Lebanese; guy on the right is the scribe, thinner face, more the engineer, had him from Pakistan. They compose themselves. And we're off. He's looking into his lap, waggles the pack of bankcards of mine in his right hand two times to signal the bowler's runup: "SO -" (very pro I'm thinking) "Can you start by explaining to us what you were doing this morning?" (standard ball) "Sure, I'll tell you everything you need. I'm here visiting my girlfriend from England…[I'll spare you the preamble] …and there are no signs or anything on the platform saying no photography, no personnel, no golden wrappers, no chocolates, no there's nothing like that. …next minute I know these fellas – the unit – are running over the tracks (I swear I was never on the tracks) starting to throw a massive tantrum. Over nothing. I'm sorry. It wastes my time, it wastes your time, it wastes everyone's time. I'm surprised by all this as much as you are" (Straight bat, treated the bowler with respect).
"OK. Good." A lot of the time I spoke he was giving my right eye the full glare. Checking for weakness. Aversion or fidgeting or loss of thread, that kind of thing. The questions continued, they hit a patch during the establishing what I'd done in the US since arrival bit, when he foisted one of those Michael Howard monster-munch smiles, teethless, on me while pitching the "so the tourism, how was it, was it good? What did you see?" (Unnerving dolly drop). Made sure to connect it with mention of a great weekend staying with an old friend in Fisher's Island (Private Island for the rich and famous off the east coast). Slight flashback here from the Israeli interrogation I availed in 2003 and Mr. Hemming dished out such absurd clusterbomb namedropping the interrogator kept on coming back into my room and saying "Your friend knows some very important people" "How does he know these people?" and it kind of worked, in that they let us come into the country after that, cavity intact, apologetic.
The scribe made to say something, pointing at the cuffs. "Oh, we'll get these off for you." "Uuum" (to the goof-troop) "Can we get these off please" The troop blunder in eager to help. Bossman's got it. As if nothing more could disintegrate in his grip, bit unfortunate his sacred key only worked in one cuff. He kept wiggling and forcing it but no. "Damn, it seems to be broke Sir." Unbelievable. I felt like looking at the heavens and tutting. He was already apocalyptic though, no need.
By this stage I was confident of release. I know it was a bit soon, and clearly we had so many more questions to run through, when are you leaving, what's your job, when were you in the military (trick question), what do you think of what's happening in the world, (-"The War on Terror you mean?" -"Oof, actually I didn't say that, you know just what's going in the world" (he motions with hands), what do you think of America, what do you think about innocent people dying, where's your passport, when are you leaving again (cross-checking) … but with every answer I felt I was confirming my innocence, getting nearer to freedom again, instead of digging the Atlantic Ocean. These guys they were good, they were listening to me. They were affording me rights. They were on-side. And they were starting to speed up the whole process as if they wanted to get through it. Easing off on the eyeballing and psychological manipulation; and more of the just straight question and answer session. Rapid fire. By now I'm thinking maybe DC in the afternoon. "Right, just sit tight a minute, we're going out for a second." "We'll still want to search your apartment, ask the questions we need to ask you, you know, see this through." "Sit tight." "You are happy to have us search your apartment right?"
I feel in control. "Of course." The drawstrings on the episode are closing in. They re-enter after their two-minute pow-wow. "Okay Al." Nodding at me. Inhales, "That's it." He said it with a stop-shot, eyeing my response. Things have improved. "Good. Great. To the apartment next?" "Actually we'll probably leave it there. We're pretty satisfied…"
The scribe agent unhooks the landline off its wall-cradle. He gives a very impressive blow-by-blow declamation of totally everything I said. He only took down key words, but he gives an exact carbon-copy rendition of my account to the guy on the other end. Wow, here he is, bigman. Even qualifies some of the less transparent bits of the account, "visually interesting" "by which you might say the artistic quality of the scene." And he drops in a "No sir, I genuinely think he's fine, he's a nice guy" towards the end. "Yes. Ok sir. Yep. Definitely not a threat. Ok. Bye." Well that was my after-dinner mint. It never mustered anything beyond that in terms of apology or admission of gross misconduct or visible, shameful, u-turning. Where the hell is the humility in that, and why are you guys now being so sheepish and insistently looking at me for too long, as if there's something you can't say. Is it because it all went wrong and you guys know that Amtrak Police did almost everything not-by-the-book. I've noticed the goof troop skulking around pretending not to look at me now, picking up bits of paper and looking at screens to hide their faces. "That's it", the Lebanese agent tells me, "so you're free to go." Shakes my hand. "You okay?" I gather, dust off, say thank you (I'm english), and pick up my freedom disbelievingly, (I've forgotten what normality tastes like). Over the threshold, I'm walking zombily slowly, trying to experience the end in detail. Bossman adds "Don't go tryin any of that shit in DC." "They got snipers on the roof."
PS Whatever it was that just happened to me - I'm out on the right platform now checking my watch, 12:40 train's due - the bit that gets me stuck again and again is not the lack of apology, that's quick to subside, no it's something else, I think it's the part at the beginning and when I match that up with the braintremor ten minutes later. The post-mortem becomes more visceral then, in an international event kind of way, when you mix the hyperbolic anger with the arrest scene the wrong way round.
Suddenly a pressing spree of open-enders precipitates. How near Charles de Menezes was this, Oxford Grad Shot Dead In Police Mistake, Baltimore. What happens if I'm carrying my old passport, (literally a pisstake of every stamp in the middle east, a veritable stamp album of mistrust, a gilt pocket-guide to dubya's axis of evil), or what if I've got a Koranic verse around my neck like I used to. Or what happens if my English is shit..., or if I'm an Afghan, or if I'm an Afghan and I spit on the bossman in the heat of my disgust. I guess some people would call me very lucky. Whatever that means. And then I've got to mull the catalytic questions. What if I was carrying a dictaphone - what if my mini Abu Ghraib becomes a headline? What if people are worried America might get a bad reputation off things like this? One domino topples into the next domino. Is it right, this spate of illegal detentions under the Bush Administration? Exactly how scant is the basis for the Guantanamo holdings? Is it right to assume that the authorities wouldn't hold someone with wafer thin reasons? - Alan Partridge, "With the greatest respect, I don't think the police would arrest anyone if they weren't guilty." Am I overreacting? How do you separate paranoia? Is fear sustainable? Do I hate America as a result? Do I need therapy? Don't be ridiculous. I am tired though.
Boarding my train now, I'll see you later. Bye bye bossman.
Written: September Fifteen 2007.
Author: Al Braithwaite.
Disclaimer: Any offence caused by cases of bad language and irony shall be excused under the plea of idiocy and lunacy.
Authenticity: As far as the FBI can allow the account is entirely accurate to what happened 9:40am to 12:40am Eastern Standard Time, Penn Station, Baltimore, MD , September Seven 2007.
Final Thought: Be good. (ET said that)
Copyright: All rights apply.