proctological customs at JFK
Sunday, October 19 2003
I took a few pictures of our new kitten Clarence throughout the day.
Clarence and Eleanor in the Map Room.
From left: Sally with Gretchen, Clarence, and Eleanor in the Map Room.
Clarence (on the back of the chair) with Mavis (on the seat of the chair), Eleanor (on the floor) and me in the Laboratory.
In the evening I drove down to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City to pick up a couple of visitors from England: Frank and Lisa, whom Gretchen and I hadn't seen in nearly two years. Last time we'd seen each other was back in January 2002, on my first visit to Europe. Frank was a project manager for the ill-fated LaunchUK project (which we worked on together back in late 2000 and early 2001). He met Lisa during that time. More recently they started living together in Manchester.
I hadn't driven down to the City in some time, particularly at a hectic peak end-of-weekend commute time like this (7-9 pm). The experience re-enforced my comfort with the decision to move Up the Country (a little Canned Heat reference there).
It's amazing how quickly technology and styles change these days. This trip reminded me of this because it was sort of like a brief tour of the near future. Up in the Catskills, our styles and fads are tracking a few months or perhaps a year behind the latest trend being set in the City. Going down the Thruway is like fast-forwarding into the future - the automotive future at least. As I got closer and closer to the City, I noticed that more and more of the cars were equipped with the sort of headlights that are tinted with some color. Usually it's blue, but it can also be yellow or even purple. These lights tend to be extremely bright and distracting, and at the quantity in which they were present, it wasn't long before they had managed to turn my roadtrip into somewhat hellish experience. I kept wondering why there weren't regulations on the brightness and spectral output of these headlights - they seemed to embody the same sort of "Hey look at me, I'm obnoxious, wealthy, insensitive, and unregulated!" mindset responsible for the longer-running SUV fad. If our Mad Max dystopian future is to be like Iraq's - a land where the free market means freedom to shoot, loot, and pollute - then the SUV and the tinted halogen headlight seem like a promising place to start.
The original plan at JFK was for me to show up after Frank and Lisa had passed through customs and then just pick them up outside. This was impossible, of course, because it would have been rude for me to show up as late as I would have had to show up to pull off such a stunt. So I parked the car and waited with all the other people waiting for the arrival of this particular Air France flight.
Looking around at the other people, I noticed that they were all dressed much more fashionably than me. Most of the people were wearing some sort of business attire, but those who were dressed casually were all tricked out in fashionable pattern-faded jeans, 2003's answer to the acid-washed jeans of 1989. Since 2001, I've noticed that modern jeans often come pre-soiled with some sort of yellow, brown, or greenish faux-dirt pigment. These days, some of this pre-dirtying appears to have gone self-consciously post-modern, with the use of shades of "dirt" that are not present in soil. One woman waiting for her Air France passenger was wearing a pair of light blue jeans whose yellow "dirt" component was the color of a banana. It's just a matter of time before the "dirt" is day-glo orange, and then the whole sorry trend collapses in on itself like all other trends taken to extremes. Meanwhile, there I stood in my faded black cargo pants, the only trousers in the place sullied by genuine soil.
In addition to evidence of fads trending toward a crisis, there was at least one example of poorly-considered accessory from a more stable strata of our culture's fashion sediment. A woman was wearing a translucent light-brownish necklace comprised of dozens of inch-tall isosceles triangles. From a distance she looked like she wasn't wearing a necklace at all - the thing around her neck looked exactly like a hanging scar, or what I think hanging scars look like from having seen Clint Eastwood movies.
I continued standing there while the passengers went from the wealthier first class passengers to the riff raff back in steerage. The waiting throng around me dwindled away gradually, and I started wondering (as everyone who waits at an airport wonders) whether or not my friends had actually caught their flight. Then someone came up to the velvet rope and asked if anyone was Gus Mueller. I said I was, and the guy tole me that the people I was waiting for didn't know my address and were being held up until it could be established where they would be staying. So I gave the guy my address, and then stood there wondering what kind of country I live in that visitors to it have to know where they're staying in ordered to be allowed to leave the airport. (When Gretchen and I visited France, for example, we had no idea where we'd be staying, and those face-fucking bastards, the same ones who later lost claim to our nation's deep fried potatoes, didn't seem to care - they were still living the spirit of that metal sculpture they'd donated to New York Harbor.)
Eventually Frank and Lisa appeared, looking a little different from the way they'd been two years ago. Frank had gained weight while Lisa had lost it. Frank's hair had grown out a few inches. Both of them looked somewhat disheveled, in perhaps the sort of way that customs has learned to be indicative of international homelessness.
Traffic was much lighter leaving the city than it had been in the other direction. I could relax a little and talk as I drove. The topics of discussion included Frank's most recent dotcom redundancy, the nearly-comic madness in Iraq, and the best media player for Windows. (Frank admitted to using the Media Player That Cannot be Named.)
Sally had come with us and she was now curled up in Frank's lap in the front seat for what would be the entire two hour ride. I told my passengers about all the animals back home, and began listing their names, "Sally, Eleanor, Edna, Mavis..." "Oh my God!" Lisa interrupted, "They're all auntie names!" At first it sounded to my ear like she'd used the phrase "anti-names," and I thought that was an interesting idea to explore, but then I figured out she was talking about the names of women belonging to the preceding generation.
Back at the house, Gretchen and I helped Frank and Lisa move all their stuff to the room where they'd be staying. Then Frank presented us with gifts. There were bottles of sherry and port from the duty-free shop. There were three data DVDs containing about a thousand MP3s and a couple movies as well (probably none of which I have - an acceptable international display of fair use). Finally, he also gave us two commercial DVDs containing recordings of the crazy BBC comedy show The League of Gentleman. Only then did he realize that I probably wouldn't be able to watch these due to Region Code restrictions.
In their desire to better control the distribution of movies in the DVD format, movie studios have coerced DVD makers to manufacture DVD players such that they only play movies released for a specific part of the world. In my case, I live in North America and DVD players here can only play DVDs released for Region 1. In theory, DVD players in the UK would only play DVDs released for Europe (Region 2), but in practice only North American DVD players abide by these restrictions - in other countries electronics manufacturers are not required by the DMCA to abide by Region Codes and build players that play DVDs regardless of region. So I couldn't watch these DVDs on the Samsung DVD player, which wasn't even hackable when opened up. Interestingly, though, none of the several DVD-playing applications on my computers had any problem with showing me stuff from Region 2.
Before we even gave Frank and Lisa a tour of the house, I fetched them beers (Molson Ice, of course). There's nothing one wants more than a beer after hours and hours and hours of flying followed by an hour and a half of customs followed by two hours of driving.
I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but Frank reminds me a lot of Matt Rogers, if only Matt Rogers could somehow transcend his pathological underachieving predilictions. Indeed, Frank might serve as a good model for Matt should he ever choose to claw his way up into the light of that thing our society refers to with the term "success."
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