Yesterday wasn’t easy. I knew going out that it wouldn’t be easy, and I was right. Between waking up in South East London, and laying my head down to sleep in Indianapolis, we were travelling for a constant 16 and a half hours; this monumental trip included surly boarding pass checkers in Heathrow, a baby who enjoyed nothing more than beating the shit out of Nick, a free Shuttle service we chose to forego and a delayed flight between Philadelphia and Indianapolis that saw us waiting, due to technical issues with the electrics, followed by a changing of crew members that led to a total of 2 hours with us grounded before we finally got air bound. All of this pales in comparison however to the wonderfully twisted run in I had with one specific passport controller, and ten year psychiatric veteran, in Philadelphia: Dr Estrada.
It all happened innocently enough. I walked up to the passport control in Philadelphia, ready to go through, collect baggage, drop it off and jump onto the connecting flight to Indianapolis. Easy, right? Well, it is, until you irk the wrath of your friendly neighbourhood passport controller cum psychiatrist.
Handing over my passport, I greet him with a cordial “Hey, man.” as I am want to do on occasions like this; temporary, fleeting moments that don’t matter usually, and so can be treated as the single serving exchanges that they are. Usually.
In this exchange however, I was left feeling not so loved by my fellow man. Introducing himself as I handed over my passport, he opened with “I’m Doctor Estr-“, before cutting himself short and staring a hole through me. My transgression? Laughing unexpectedly by being introduced to a Doctor of, I was soon to find out repeatedly, psychiatry, which has caused me to draw his ire. What should have been nothing more than a simple exchange of pleasantries instead devolved into a lengthy back and forth about psychology, the art of deceit, Gen Con and First Date.
By laughing, you see, I had triggered an alarm within Doc Estrada. I had apparently piqued his interest due to my behaviour, and the fact that it was by way of an unexpected introduction was simply not going to cut it for him.
His eyes continued to bulge as he eyed me closely, asking me a range of questions that I duly answered, despite how uncomfortable I was feeling due to the whole situation. I was just trying to be friendly, why was I being made to feel as though I had to justify my every action and belief to this guy? Granted, his job is to protect the United States of America and its people, and armed with his ten years of psychiatric experience he was going to do just that dammit, even if it was against the tyranny of a film maker who had some panels to attend!
“At this time, your heart rate is racing” he proclaimed, “and the fact you laughed is usually down to three things: 1) you’re lying to me, 2) you’re being deceitful or 3) you laughed due to nervousness. What would you have to be nervous about?” I paraphrase somewhat, but the core message of his thinly veiled words were clear. Why was my heart racing, as this official continuously stared me out, unblinking? I don’t know, guy. Why would that be? The invasive questions and accusatory tone of voice, coupled by your heart rate monitor and steady death stare created an obvious equation of nervousness, sir. Simple.
Yet I had to justify my heart rate, slowing it down with breathing and an open smile as I try to answer his questions and engage in conversation. Friendly, open and honest (me) vs surly, aggressive and insulting (him). Even when he casually insulted my day job, defining it ‘accidentally’ (and I’m dubious, given his insistence to his TEN YEAR psychiatric background, let’s not forget) as a “low” job, I did my best to take it on the chin, smile and let the fucking thing slide, placating his Napoleon complex in the hope that he would just let me through the gate to collect my baggage, drop it off, get onto another flight and finally, FINALLY, be on my way to Indy!
Eventually his wall of thick aggression and suspicion is lifted, and we then engage in a mind game of theory and discussion over my (b)romantic comedy: First Date.
“What’s it about?” He asks, innocently enough. I tell him, pitching it in a way, and he stares at me blankly before asking “Is it a comedy? Because I’m not laughing.” Zero sarcasm, so I no longer know my footing here. Is he fucking with me, or is he just being a fucking dick? He tells me he’s kidding. I don’t believe him. He allows me the opportunity to explain my theory as to why the additional element of a love interest can off set the balance of a solid bromance, he tells me I am categorically wrong and explains in his delicate and professional way as to why. Insightful and friendly.
Eventually he asks me if I like Spider-Man. As I was currently sporting a Spider-Man shirt, I confirmed that yes, I am a Spidey fan. Being a glutton for punishment, I ask him if he was too?
“No. I like Superman. Because I am Superman.”
I look at him, stunned. How the fuck do I react to this guy now without potentially getting myself into more trouble?
“Ok,” I reply, smiling, “I can believe that.” I end, slight sarcasm in my jovial tone.
No smile greets mine, and he finally hands me back my passport, takes my finger prints, photographs my face, scans my eye or whatever the hell they do and let’s me through.
Protecting his country and doing his job is one thing, but there is a more professional, if not friendly, manner that it could be done. I’m coming into the USA, brother, and you’re the first person I’m meeting? You’re representing your state. More than that, your country?! Well done, dude.
City of Brotherly Love? I don’t think so.