by A. D. Won
Be interesting, but not memorable.
“Where are you returning from?” The border agent asks, reading his clipboard.
“Toronto.” I answer, leaning on my Jersey accent. Two hours and twenty minutes ago, some other agent told me to sit here in this sterile white room with two chairs and a steel table. That steel table now has all of my luggage on it. This new agent apparently prefers to stand, but insisted that I remain seated. My ass hurts from sitting so long on this cheap seat, but I stay put.
“What was your business in Toronto?” He asks.
“There’s an animation convention there every year. I’m an artist.” I point to the big broad portfolio case that I checked into luggage specifically hoping I wouldn’t have to deal with this more extensive screening.
“Right, had a few come through today.”
“Yep, that’s us.” I fold my hands in my lap, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. My hands are still their color though. Can’t really hide that. Should I have worn gloves? Maybe a face mask? Even if I tried, that would just draw even more suspicion. I’m going to be selected for screening regardless. Best to just include it as part of travel planning. None of the other artists apparently went through this long screening.
“I have to look at your phone now.”
“It’s right there.” I point at the table, trying to joke.
“Inside your phone. I need your passcode and your app passwords.”
“Wait, what? Since when?”
“It’s right here on this directive. Read it yourself, I’ll wait.”
He pulls out a document from his clipboard without opening the clip, making a hard thwak that doesn’t echo through the sterile room. It’s a pale red sheet of paper sealed in plastic. The contrast between the black text and red background makes it hard to read. Someone thought it would make the document look important, but that poor design just made it obtuse. No wonder the agent has to spend a little extra time reading it closely.
“And I have no choice about this?”
“It’s this or you resist.”
“Just asking what the rules are here.”
“This sounds like resistance.” He reaches for his shoulder-mounted radio.
“Wait. Fine. Do you need me to actually show you the passwords or just open the phone and the apps?”
“I need your passwords, specifically.”
“Not like I remember them, though. All my apps automatically log in. I need to open the apps first and check what my password actually is right now.” The agent steps back, annoyed. He really would have me arrested because of this, wouldn’t he? “I’m trying to comply here as best I can.”
“Fine. Go ahead, but you need to open up your laptop, too.”
“Didn’t bring a laptop, so no problem there.” I slide my finger across my phone screen, showing the agent the complicated rune that summons my home menu. Good luck replicating that one.
A grid of bubbly app icons float onto on the home screen. He asks me to tap each one of them.
“These are all games.” He says.
“Show me your photos.”
“Come on, seriously?” But I comply, opening the photostream.
“The camera doesn’t actually work. It’s the cheapest model I could find. Have to save every penny if I’m going to make a living.”
“Where are your social media accounts? We need those.”
“I don’t have any.”
“You’re a working artist without a social media account? Come on.”
“Really. I use a third-party service who promotes my work for me and fields my calls. It’s to protect me from harassment. Security, you know what I mean.”
“What do you even have this phone for then?”
“It’s mainly for transactions at the show and something to do when it’s slow at the booth. I can show you the receipts if you want.”
“No. Fine.” The agent re-clips the red document to the bottom of the stack of papers on his clipboard. He looks through the rest of the stuff in my portfolio, mostly comics and posters. Finally he says, “Okay, you can go.”
I bundle all of my possessions onto my rolling suitcase and head down to the ground transports.
In the cab, I remove the data card and battery from the burner phone. I leave the card in the backseat trash. I keep the battery. I toss the phone in a dumpster. It’s the cost of doing business. Always bring a burner phone with you to inspect, satisfy curiosity, and be on your way.
Be interesting enough to inspect, but not memorable enough to arrest.
It’s like those old “Sam and Ralph” cartoons. Your job is to make everyone in the system feel like they did their job.