The customs officers at JFK do not take kindly to flouncers, flaneurs or fops.
If you ask me, they’ve had it in for us since Wilde’s “nothing to declare” jibe, or “Geniusgate” as they call it now.
Back 2009, I was rather full of myself. I’d been recognised a couple of times as a comedian, I was flying around in Europe and North America simply for fun, and I was sleeping with people with full sets of teeth for the first time in my life. I thought I was it.
None of this held any weight at JFK Security.
“Hello!” I said.
I’d flown in from Montreal where I’d been romancing the lady who’d eventually become my wife and was now off to New York to romance someone else entirely. It was, as they say, the business.
“What is your business in New York City?” said the customs official.
“Well,” I said. “I suppose you could say I’m here for pleasure.”
“Pleasure?” she growled.
“Yes,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows left, right and impossibly centre.
“What is your profession please?” she said.
“A bit of this,” I said, “a bit of that.”
“Some kind of comedian, sir?”
“Yes!” I said, delighted, “though between you and me I’d be more happily placed in the feuilletons of a decent broadsheet than the stage.”
She eyeballed me over the top of her glasses in exactly the way as a careers adviser would.
“What is your address in New York City?”
“I don’t have an address in New York City,” I said, fingering the unicorn on the passport, “I live in Great Britain.”
“Yes,” she said, “I can see that. But what at what address will you be residing while in New York City.”
“Gosh,” I said, “I have no idea. I’m just meeting my friend at Grand Central in about forty minutes from now. At an Oyster Bar apparently. You don’t happen to know it do you?”
The officer stood up. She was short but impressively wide.
I noticed for the first time that we were both wearing blue gloves, mine alpaca and hers rubber, but almost certainly for different reasons. Well, not entirely different reasons and we’d both probably end up thinking of England. But it all comes down to motivation.
“Sir,” she said, “You must have an address if you’re to enter New York City.”
Today, of course, I’m a far wiser traveller. I always know the address of where I’m staying and, if for some reason I don’t, I could make one up. I could simply have said “I’m staying at the Waldorf Astoria” and slipped unhindered through the barriers like a swamp adder through the bedroom duct of an unwanted heir.
“Well,” I said, “I don’t have the exact address with me. I’m staying in the Bronx, I think. Is Chinatown in the Bronx?”
“That’s no good. What if we need to contact you?” she said.
“What if who needs to contact me?” I asked.
“The TSA,” she said.
“Who’s that?” I said.
“That’s us,” she said tapping the insignia on her breast pocket, “the Transportation and Security Administration.”
“Frankly,” I said in all innocence, “that eventuality had never occurred to me.”
Ah yes. I’d got her on the ropes alright. This is probably why she huffily prodded some computer keys and said, “I’m putting a note on your record. Make sure you have an address next time.”
I suspect this was bluff as no customs officer in the meantime has referred to this “note” on my “record”. But it’s quite exciting to think that the TSA care so much about staying in touch.
I unhooked Enrique, my umbrella, from her Plexiglas sneeze guard-thing and settled back into the mood for oysters.