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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kafka in Miami*

First you land in Miami, which is flat and lit up like a Christmas tree. No, wait, it is a Christmas tree, a premature illumination of the season.

Then you debouch from the covered gangway to Gate D20, which is about 1 mile as the crow flies from Passport Control. But you are not a crow and crows are not allowed inside the Miami Airport. This is a shame.
You walk 500 yards along beige carpeting between beige walls. Every 100 yards there is a sign indicating, by an arrow, that Passport Control is ahead. You expect to arrive there momentarily, and in order to be prepared, you remove your passport and customs declaration from your handbag. At the end of the passage you follow the arrows that indicate a right turn. Another right turns comes upon you rather quickly, and then you take a two-story escalator up. You step off the escalator with a spring in your step. Two hundred yards ahead is the longest moving sidewalk you have ever seen. You walk briskly along the moving sidewalk because you want to arrive at Passport Control in time to make your connection to New York. The moving sidewalk deposits you back on the beige carpeting. The signs continue to indicate the imminent location of Passport Control. You turn left and there is another escalator. This one goes down. It goes down a long way but you cannot say for sure exactly how long a way. After you are spewed by this elevator you follow the signs to the SkyTrain. In scrolling neon letters, you read: In 48, no 47 seconds, the SkyTrain will arrive.
You board the SkyTrain and hold onto a moist metal pole. The dark glass doors slide shut. You notice birds singing. You realize that birdsongs are being piped into the SkyTrain. After each 30-second trill or warble, the birds are identified in English and Spanish. The voice of the English identifier is a female with a vaguely Southern accent: “You have been listening to the mating song of the Pink-bellied Honduran Fruitbird. Mere seconds before inserting his avian penis into the female’s avian vagina, the male pink-bellied Honduran Fruitbird puffs out his eponymous belly and sings this melodious tune.” The same identification is then made in Spanish, but the speaker is a lisping male. The next birdsong belongs to the Hare-Lipped Bougainvillea Bird, and resembles a kazoo. The duration of your SkyTrain journey is thirteen birdsongs. Upon exiting the train via the doors opposite the doors by which you entered, you continue to follow the signs to Passport Control.
It is now tomorrow.
Up ahead you make a sharp left and encounter a moving sidewalk, which is twice as long as the moving sidewalk previously identified as the world’s longest. It is morning when you step on the moving sidewalk. Your connecting flight departed 12 hours ago. Mid-afternoon you are shot from the moving sidewalk like a pea from a pea-shooter. You switch your heavy bag full of chocolate-covered passion fruits from your numb right hand to your left hand. The hallway in front of you stretches ahead an indeterminable distance, at the end of which is a sign indicating Passport Control. That evening you turn right. There are 34 Passport Booths. Twenty-four of them are wrapped in bright yellow crime-scene tape. Eleven are staffed by uniformed Passport agents. Four lines are for Visitors. Four lines are for US Citizens. Three lines are for Resident Aliens. You get in a line for citizens. No one else in line is speaking English. Nor are they speaking Spanish. You will have ample time to wonder what language they are speaking, but you will arrive at no conclusions.
A week later, after three families in front of you in line have been fingerprinted, x-rayed and subject to cavity searches, you step up to Raoul at Passport Control and present your documents. He wants to know if you are married to CSB. This is the only question he asks.
In customs, you declare Nothing.




*Have you noticed that Kafka is always invoked whenever we want to allude to some bureaucratic nightmare or labyrinthine and hellish space? Of course you have.

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