An Hispanic looking uniformed lady checks my appointment notice and ID then instructs “stand behind the line” until the tall Aryan looking blond man calls me through the scanner. He is using a baseball-bat shaped black stick to ceremoniously wipe the whole body of an African looking lady. The left side of her face looks crushed, her left eye is low and mishapen, her cheekbone none-existent. Manual misshaping. She is standing with her arms out, crucifix style, turning on request, she smiles at me. I return her smile. We are packages in this process to the processors, as women we share an understanding of what it is to be a woman, a package. The Aryan male calls me though. I raise my arms crucifix style. He laughs and points me to the next line.
line #2: sorting line
There are 5 lines ahead. Each line has a low-hung, easily obscured by people standing, paper label describing its processing function. I find the words “finger printing” in one and line-up. All 5 lines go through a single processing point, a chubby man, possibly Pacific Islander. He doesn’t smile, the edges of his mouth turn down. He looks sad. He calls for people to approach him “line 2” or “line 4“. People are accidentally in the wrong lines. He sighs, he sends them to the back of the right line. When it’s my turn he checks my ID and my appointment notice, gives me a paper form to complete and a number “H14″.
Line #3: Counter 11
Instrumental music is piped into a large hall with central rows of seating surrounded by 11 counters. People don’t talk. Two overhead TV’s tuned to CNN. Sound turned down, no subtitles. Two large flat screen displays announce which counter is taking which number. I complete my poorly designed form. A canned voice announces “counter 11 is now serving H1” The flat-screen updates. The flat screen updates faster than the audio. As the Audio announces “Counter 11 is now serving H4” the flat screen is announcing that counter 11 is serving H11. At counter 11 sits a chubby lady with Pacific Islander characteristics whose mouth turns down so much at the edges that she looks sour before she’s even said anything. I hand her my ID, appointment form and recently completed form haveyoueverbeenmarried I paused to parse the very fast monotonically delivered sentence No
SourLady asks more questions, all these questions were on the form I had given her, verifying incase I didn’t complete the form properly, highly likely given its poor design. When finished she points to a line of people that she’s already processed & provides a large square of paper on which is written #12
Line #4: finger-print machines in sight
CNN TV’s are out of sight, canned music isn’t piped into the finger printing room. The chairs for the line-up are packed close together, closer together than the average width of a person. Bodies touch, most unusual in the USA. Sourlady process the people behind me with exactly the same questions, in the same fast monotone difficultforanEnglishspeakertoparse way.
The process has dehumanised her and is dehumanising the Aliens she processes. No room for smiles. A cell phone rings and all the staff simultaneously turn round, glare at the lady who’s phone rang while pointing at the wall sign that says ‘turn of your cell-phone”. The movement was so simultaneous it looked choreographed, like a Dennis Potter scene. The glare felt vicious. Silence maintained. The silence feels oppressive and reverential like that of a church in prayer. A child cries, I start pulling faces at the child, who pauses for a moment then carries on with renewed vigour.
I start to read “Making the Cat Laugh”, Lynne is in a British registry office registering the Death of her father. The atmosphere she describes is powerfully similar to my current environment, except its English. She draws analogies to Alan Bennett plays highlighting that the dramatic irony of real life so often reflects and extends that portrayed by artists.
Finger printing #12
A lady in 4″ healed mules, tight white mini-skirt that shows the outline of her panties, pink denim jacket with intentionally frayed cuffs, red tight fitting plunge-neckline t-shirt with red glass beads bouncing between her breasts, beckons me towards her. Her long hair in tight curl’s with a ‘wet’ look and bright red lipstick on pale white skin made me wonder why? what on earth made her choose all these strange ways to adorn herself? ”Were you born in England?” Yes “are you a citizen of England?” I’m a citizen of the United Kingdom of Great Brit ”Yeah, England” Now if I’d been Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland that would have really been inaccurate and insulting.
RedLady asks some more questions that verify answers I gave on the badly designed form while chewing her gum, taking my photograph then pressing my fingers onto the print-capture screen. You can go now. Relieved to be released.
Now immigration services can be confident that my fingers are still on the same body as the face verifying my identity in my passport photograph.