20 February 2007

eyes in america: in the JFK airport

[ from a domestic correspondent ]

in the JFK airport

I rode the train here and that was nice. but did a horrible pump-fake
to my brain because JFK is like the last stop right before the stop on
the same train that I take out to Far Rockaway to surf in the early
AM, like it was this morning. so a rude awakening for the bodybrain
when the 80's-stained post-industrial with passed-out homeless didn't
cross the blue water through mist at Broad Channel and become curling
waves at the end of the world with me in them, but instead let out
just one stop away, like some horrible mistake, into a subway JFK from
the future -- probably the only one in NYC where everything is
machined brushed steel and Kinkos lighting -- you could eat off the
concrete ground. it seemed like a metaphor for our time, especially
when not one, not two, but _four_ guys in desert (desert!!) camo
rolled onto the shuttle train with automatic rifles and body armor. I
tried to think of any, any scenario that has ever happened
historically in an airport that would require that kind of firepower
to stop, and drew a blank.

it's all happening very fast. all confidence and jocular banter and I
tried not to say something smart about 'why all the guns?' these guys
are younger than me for christsakes, when did that happen? we all
stopped to wait for the elevator to take us down to the terminal. the
door to the stairway to our left says "Emergency Exit Only. No
Reentry." I pondered an essay I've been thinking of writing about the
demise of stairs in contemporary society.... Stairs experienced a
brief resurgence in late 80s early 90s urban amerikan subculture with
the emergence of a mainstream (upper-class) fitness movement -- "get
some exercise, take the stairs!" -- a resurgence that however quickly
faded in the later 90s, apparently co-incident with the invention and
mass-proliferation of the Stair Master. It would never fly, I
decided....no way to get traction with that sort of thing. so we
waited by the elevator, seconds ticking by.

at some point the space marines from Dune noticed a black dude
standing there whose luggage included a backpack made of the same
desert material as them.

"you military?" one of them asked. the black dude didn't answer right
away, but finally.... "yeah".

a kind of locker-room tension entered the air, like freshman meeting
for the first time from different junior highs -- we all play the same
game, but who has the big nuts here. the guys with the machine guns
were all white. "you being deployed?"

he never looked at them. "I'm on leave....just got back from
deployment in [Iraqi city]"

slight discomfort now and shifting of feet. "uh.... what company"

he never looked at them. "XXX CFA -- field artilery"

he's been to the ragged edge. and here it's four of them to one senior
citizen in the shuttle train from the future, with the big guns and
body armor.

more shifting of feet and he never meets their eye -- any of their
eyes, even though they're all around him, talking at him; just stands
there like a statue staring into the distance. many people crowded in
the line are listening to the exchange in silence and pick up the
vibe. discomfort becoming extreme now. finally, brusquely, the leader
of the four:

"uh...this elevator's taking too long, come on"

they march through the door with the "Emergency Exit Only. No Reentry"
to take the stairs. Some people can still take the stairs apparently.

now I sit crouched between the Oasis Day Spa and Gourmet Sushi in the
terminal waiting for my flight after being x-rayed every which way and
checked repeatedly for fluids. at one point, immediately preceding the
pre-check line for the security checkpoint I passed a (apparently
pre-pre-check!) security guy sitting at a table off to the side of the
hall whose only job as far as I could tell was to repeat "no fluids.
no fluids? no fluids. no fluids?" over and over, in a voice dull and
empty to the endless press of people passing him by, apparently for
hours, maybe days....forever, neither expecting nor really receiving a
response and it freaked me out more than anything so far. more than
the automatic rifles by far, this man, reduced to a broken record, a
skipping CD that says two words:

"no fluids"

but fluids are a prerequisite for waves, as well as life. so I
supposed it fit the vibe all too well.


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