It’s never a good idea to panic when you find yourself in an unfamiliar past and place, otherwise you may inadvertently ricochet yourself all over the space-time continuum like a crazed fly trying to escape a closed window and trust me, I’d already wound up in the midst of a mob hellbent on a lynching in 1909, followed a moment later ducking heavy fire on the deck of a Civil War ironclad warship in the Mississippi River before interrupting an exchange of sexual favors for drugs in an unsavory alley near the riverfront at some point post-WWII and have I mentioned what a sad and awful town Cairo is? Or was, rather, I suppose there’s hope for any place in this world (and all the other worlds) but some spots do seem to attract negative energy more than others. In any case, a panic attack is not going to help but try remembering that the next time you’re having one. I couldn’t feel my legs, I couldn’t catch my breath, and I really did believe this was going to be the end, right before I heard someone calling
… my name and I was back in the beige on beige Visitor’s Room at Kern County Correctional
… and presenting my passport at the Israeli check point into Gaza
… and standing at the counter of the Agence des services frontaliers du Canada-St.-Bernard-de-Lacolle, just inside the Canadian border with an officer asking me if I was okay, and the room spun back into place, and Dudley Do-Right Time-Travel Cop was suddenly nowhere in sight. “I’m okay,” I replied. He slid my passport back across the counter and told me to proceed to the cashier window, indicating with a tip of his head a portion of counter at the far end of the facility. “I have to pay for this?” I asked.
“For the receipt,” he replied cryptically.
The fellow at the cashier’s desk, a slightly more appealing and agreeable version of authority, was also a trifle more forthcoming. “For to open the gate,” he explained, handing me a slip of cash register receipt. Without looking at it, I expressed a measured amount of dismay at the wait I had endured. “It has been unusual today,” he agreed. “A disturbance in the force field,” he added.
“Enjoy the play,” he replied, and I could feel the panic rising in me.
“I beg your pardon?” Stay calm stay calm stay calm stay calm stay calm stay –
“Enjoy your stay,” he said, as if repeating himself, and smiled.
And so I returned, shaky but ambulatory, to my rental car, my rifled luggage, my diary and papers strewn on the front passenger’s seat, trying as best I could to maintain what might pass for dignity and calm. Another vehicle was being waved over. Busy day at the border.
I started the engine, reversed out of the angled parking space, proceeded to the gate and a keypad at window level. I looked at the receipt. “Pesez/Press,” it read, followed by # and four digits. Later, after the gate opened and I was pulling away I wondered if the numbers were different for every driver, if they were random or changed on a daily or weekly basis and what would the point of that be? What would it matter? Why the extra bit of bureaucracy and ritual?
But I didn’t think it was any coincidence, the code they’d provided. I didn’t dismiss it as an accident. The numbers were a code indeed, and they opened the gate. And they were a message. Or a warning.
“Pesez / Press,” the receipt read, “# 1 9 0 4.”