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Catherine Manoukian


Adventures At The Airport

Cape Cod, USA

Concert Dates: 12 and 13 April 2008
Repertoire: Dvorak Violin Concerto
With: Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra, Royston Nash

I've joined the ranks of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. No, I wasn't arrested for DUI, but I did get my mugshot and fingerprints taken on Thursday.

Whenever I work in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security has to approve and issue me what's called a Class P2 visa. (This is the case for all non-US citizens who work in fields like music.) My management applies for one each time I have an engagement in the States. The application goes through the American Federation of Musicians, gets processed in Vermont, and a piece of paper arrives in the mail for you to present to immigration officials before you enter the country.

Through negligence, I failed to realize until about five days before my flight to Boston that the P2 hadn't arrived. The visa had been approved, but the paperwork had gotten lost in Vermont. I had nothing to present at the border. I was told to explain the situation to the regular immigration official, who would then take me to a special room where this problem would be taken care of.

The conversation between myself and the regular immigration official might as well have been in two different languages.

“You can go through.”
“But I'm missing my P2.”
What do you need a P2 for?”
“I'm doing a concert.”
“Are you sure it's a P2 you need?”
“I'm…pretty sure.”

Doubt creeping in…

“I think that's what I always get, but I can call my manager and ask…”
“No cellphones allowed.”
“Can I use your phone then?”
“I was told I have to go to a special room.”
“Oh, it's right around the corner.”

I entered the special room and timidly approached the reception desk. The lady behind it looked at me sternly and snapped, “I'll be with you once I'm done with this file, ok? You'll have to wait your turn.” I looked around, but, try as I might, I didn't see anyone I could possibly stand behind. So I just stood there, waiting my turn behind an imaginary someone in an imaginary line.

After ten minutes of this I shifted forward, the lady sighed, looked extremely bothered, and asked me what I wanted. I handed her my passport and ticket and told her my story. She pointed a webcam-type object at me and took a photo that I assume makes my passport one look like a glamour shot. It turns out that mugshots and prints are a standard procedure in these cases. I haven't figured out why.

“I need to take your fingerprints.”

I was waiting for ink and paper but she gestured some device not unlike the thing that checks your heartrate at the emergency room. I placed my left index finger on the thingy like she told me to. Nothing happened.

“Wipe your finger, it's too sweaty.”
“But my finger is perfectly dry – my hands are almost never sweaty.”
“It's sweaty, it's not working.”
“I assure you, my finger is not sweaty.”
“It's dirty then, or oily – wipe it.”

I wiped and replaced it on the thingy. Nothing happened.

“Let's see the finger.”

The culprit turned out to be my crusty callous – my dry and clean crusty callous.

“Give me the right finger”, she said, disgusted, though I'm not sure whether her disgust had to do with the situation or the crusty callous. The right finger worked.
“Go sit down. You'll have to wait your turn.”

I joined the saddest-looking group of people I've seen since a subway problem in Toronto prevented a whole crowd from making it on time to (what was advertised as) Anne-Sophie Mutter's farewell concert. One lawyer had been waiting three hours. An Eastern European couple just gave up and left. I looked nervously at the clock – only two hours to boarding, and I was starving.

I was eventually called, short of the 90 minute mark.

“Why are you here?”
“My visa got lost in Vermont.”
“So you don't have a visa?”
“No, I do have a visa – it's just not here.”

I felt ridiculous, like I was telling this man my dog ate my homework.

“Do you have any documentation at all?”
“Well, I have this application number on the itinerary my management gave me.”
“Ma'am, this isn't an official document.” (Voice rising.)
“Well, yes, I know that, but you can use that number to get one.”

Utter annoyance and some investigation on the computer.

“Yeah, it seems like you were approved.”
“So I have a visa?”
“No, you don't have a visa, but there's no point in getting one now, because you'll be back before it comes through. It's ok: you were approved.”

I've been thoroughly confused since about whether the term “visa” refers to permission to enter the country for work or the piece of paper that verifies your having the said permission. I'll work it out someday.

My consolation prize to myself for this whole semantic misadventure was two slices of pizza and a vitamin water. All was promptly forgotten.

updated: 4 years ago