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February 27, 2003
I & S

It does not take long to get to down-town from here. The federal building is just a few blocks from the subway. I knew there would be people there, I just was not sure how many would make it on this cold weekday morning. There were hundreds of them, the line wrapped around the block. They were all non Americans, obviously and hoping to get in to have some issue solved, just like me. I stood for more than an hour between a French mother and her kid and a couple from Congo. (I like how they pronounce vowels.) It was just freezing. Very cold. Some of the people had some food, others were just completely wrapped in layers and layers of clothes. The line was not all straight, we had to "dodge" mountains of melted snow-ice. All was complete slow motion. We were just so quiet and ready for anything that pigeons perceived us as part of the street. One ate some crumbs maybe an inch away from my foot.
A cleaning man walked between the waiting and looked upset. He had to clean up after the animals, at least according to the expression on his face. We finally arrived at the tent. I think this extension of the building was added during the Clinton administration, when there was some sort of GreenCard amnesty. It looked like one of those party tents, inside were heating lamps. Oh it felt so good to just expose the face to them. It was like those precious warm moments before the alarm rings. This warmth of the blanket. It was exactly like that. An officer told our group how we should completely empty out pockets. He made some condom joke and laughed. He actually made the joke twice. He then instructed some people in front of me how not to use the revolving door. He was the cowboy, we were the cattle.
The security checkpoint was relatively painless. I asked the officer where I could find the information area and he directed me to the third floor. Things seemed quite easy for a brief moment, or at least until I arrived at the third floor and realized that all of the people I just saw in the line outside were now here with me again. We had to first get a number. There was a line for that. The line wrapped around the room first and then went into this complex maze of ropes that are sometimes used to contain crowds in the airport. It took a while to get to the ropes. We stood next to the windows and could see that the line outside had not really shrunk. It was impossible to see if it had grown, the end was far too far around the block. Eventually came my turn. I got the number 233. A nice looking number. There was an estimated waiting time on the ticket as well. It was precisely 2:58 Minutes. Amazing. I was asked to sit in one of the chairs with the hundreds of people waiting for their numbers to up on two small bords attached to the ceiling. One board said something like 53, the other one was oddly enough a 666. I sat down next to this French looking guy who had brought in his powerbook and was now turing pictures of models sticking fingers into each other's mouths into strange relief kitsch. I could not sit there. I had to leave this room. I went outside. There was a bathroom. I stood in line for the urinal. It was a relatively short wait. I wanted to take the elevator down or up or somewhere. I did not, but I found a piece of paper, right by the last elevator to the left. It was a ticket, just like mine. It also had the estimated waiting time of basically three hours, the only difference here seemed to be the large number it was 217! There was a higher force (God?) sending me a free 30 minutes or so worth of waiting. I was thrilled. I got myself a snapple from the vending machine and took the escalator down to the second floor. There was a bookstore on the second floor. A real government bookstore. It felt quite bizarre to see a bookstore tucked away in the belly of a building that can only be entered after a more then hour long wait. I had to see the great things that were there. It was a true treasure chest. I should have bought the posters with various soldiers and the sexy pictures of military planes in action. There were great maps and guides to national parks, style guides for government writing, shelves of publications on woman issues, lots of politics. It was a pretty curious environment I had entered here, New Yorks literary best kept secret? The salesperson was on the phone the entire time. He was taking some orders for some fascinating sounding publications. In one corner was a large photograph of an insanely grinning George W. Bush. He looked younger than me in that picture. His eyes were clearly focused on the space above the books.
I bought a guide to the not so well known National Parks. I also decided to pick up a tiny brochure on walking. Maybe because I liked the illustrations, but also because I wanted to share with others the funny claim that all of the classic English literature was written by people who liked to walk. Now that was good news. The store keeper was a bit surprised to see a real person in his place. I was able to pay by credit card.
I did not really know what my procedure would be here. I know what needs to be done, but how much would it, for example, cost? I found an ATM and picked up some money. That could not hurt. There was a little bad food store on the ground floor as well. I got myself some candy. (fun.)
I eventually went up to the big waiting room. I sat on various chairs, overheard various conversations. I read the New Yorker, then some of my new books. I drew some of the people around me.
Behind me was this apparently German guy at some point, clearly trying to get into a... hmm... deeper conversation with a girl from Japan. They were both in real estate, I guess they had some major things in common. Probably beyond what I was able to understand. They left the room together. Who knows what store they found.
Finally, it was around 3, 3:30, my number was called out. The display boards were long broken and so the 666 from the morning was still on at 3. The officer took my 217 and put it on a pile next to her keyboard. She then looked at my paperwork and explained to me that I should go to window 14, before 11am. That was the information I got out of the day. She told me that I should go to window 14 before 11am and the best way to achieve that would be to show up at 7:30 am. That was all she could tell me.
I tried to somehow get more information. How much would it cost, how long woud the procedure take that followed? What would happen?
She explained to me that window 14 assigns people to a different floor and that she did not really know what happened there. I have the feeling that there was a room just like the one I waited in, just on a different floor, and maybe it will take me a day to find out that there is some other window... (13?)...
I was a bit frustrated. It was a really long day. As I was leaving the room, an Afgani man (they have a very specific attire,) was telling to one of the officers that he had lost his ticket. It was 217. I had not only not achieved what I hoped to, in the process my found shimmer of luck, threw an old man out of the line. I felt really miserable. I could not do anything at this point. Had I not gone up to the window with my found number, I could have just given him the ticket. Giving him my 233 now, in front of the officer, that was just not even remotely an option. I left the building quickly, into the cold. The line seemed a tiny bit shorter than in the morning. I hoped to return on the next day, but I feel really sick now... and will probably just try to fix that first.


fix the sick first, that's a good idea.
do not feel bad about 217--it was not of malice

Posted by: em!ly on February 28, 2003 12:30 AM

my goodness... what an ordeal.
hope you feel better soon...

Posted by: shauna on February 28, 2003 01:17 AM

I find it amazing that you were able to be as articulate as you were about what sounds like a horribly numbing experience.

I'm sure you know that we all wish you the best of luck and the least of troubles next time.

Posted by: carolee on February 28, 2003 11:51 AM

Oh, I was actually expecting it to be much worse, so it must have looked funny when I just kept smiling through the experience.
I also somehow suddenly understood, clearly, that humans can be treated and organized and guided and sorted like cattle. It is just some hidden quality we have. It is possible. A mass of people can be directed in strange and spooky ways. There was a comfort in having a number. There was a joy in being allowed to stand under a heating lamp for a few monents at least. So strange. So strange.

Posted by: witold on February 28, 2003 12:05 PM

do not read the trial by franz kafka... sounds like the same... sad...

i am sure everything was okay with the afghani man... in the end..

Posted by: k on February 28, 2003 02:58 PM
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