This morning I was privileged to read the poet Amjad Nasser’s essay, “When Your Name is on the Blacklist,” describing United States Homeland Security interrogating him for two hours at London Heathrow before banning him from flying to New York to help inaugurate the Gallatin Global Writers series at New York University.
Nasser was to appear at NYU on September 30th. Only one week earlier I was in New York and participated on a Nelson Mandela Panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival. I did contemplate, however, as I waited to board my flight from Portland to New York, whether or not I would be allowed to fly. And while in NYC, it was the urging of Seven Stories publisher, Dan Simon that convinced me to pen an account of my own minor dealings with Homeland Security.
While personally I can chuckle, the attacks of the United States government on personal liberty, both at home and abroad, are surely no laughing matter. Like Nasser, I made a rather reflective trip to the airport in Portland for a direct flight to Atlanta–the date was August 30th. While Nasser was pondering Lorca, I was anticipating the first meeting of my first grandchild.
A granddaughter named Lina. After boarding early the process appeared somewhat skewed as few passengers were actually coming on the plane. A woman who worked for the airline did come aboard and she asked to view my ticket. With a sigh of relief, she explained to me that my ticket did not have a code for a further security check.
Moments later, however, a woman wearing a TSA uniform approached my seat and again asked to see my ticket. This time she had me stand-up and she wiped down both the seat and the compartment above where I had placed my carry-on bag. Finding nothing, she asked me to follow her off the plane at which point, for the first of at least a half-dozen times, I asked her “why?” The answer was always the same: “I don’t know, sir.”