by Larry Feign
The Immigration officer at Los Angeles Airport interrogated the young couple at the head of the line, as if conducting a protracted divorce hearing. Meanwhile, three separate airline meals were at that very moment being transformed inside my intestines into pure methane.
I hadn't felt it while sitting on the plane. But the walk from the terminal to the passport queue stirred things up, like shaking an unopened can of soda. After sixteen hours of sleepless travel over the Pacific Ocean, a few extra moments of waiting in line wouldn't normally make a difference, but I had to get outside or several hundred noses would be very, very sorry.
Finally it was my family's turn.
"Why are you entering the United States?" the officer asked in a deadpan voice. I wanted to tell him: Well, my first order of business upon leaving the airport is to release some gas. After that, no immediate plans.
Come to think of it, my wife and I and our teenage daughter were all American citizens. Did we really need a reason to enter our own country? "Visiting family," I said.
"Where do they live?" he said. "Are you all travelling there together?"
I replied to each question, in between stabs of pain.
Was it the entree glop that had done it? Maybe the glop salad dressing. Or the gooey dessert.
"How long were you outside the country?"
His eyes seared my face like a tracking beam, scanning for the slightest twitch of lip or flick of an eyelid. I could read his thoughts: Let's're not a diplomat. You're too much of a slob to be a business executive. Aha! At which extremist Pakistani madras have you been receiving terrorist training? Wait. No. I get it. The way you're twisting and grinding your midsection around right must have some contraband hidden way up some orifice. Heroin? North Korean enriched uranium?
"Welcome back," he said, unconvincingly, handing over our passports.
Our luggage emerged mercifully soon. Excellent. Now all we had to do was walk through the green "Nothing to Declare" lane and...What was this?
Another queue stretched half the width of the luggage hall and turned right along the wall. In front, people suffered through yet another interrogation, this time by US Customs inspectors.
Five minutes passed. Another five. The line didn't budge. Meanwhile, the primordial atmosphere evolving inside my gut was threatening to come out the upper end. Didn't the airlines think about this when they planned their menus? Perhaps Al Qaeda had infiltrated the airline catering services, spiked the food with extra onions, fatty cheeses, lentils and cabbage. 350 people simultaneously letting rip at 35,000 was too devious. Foolproof. Should I alert the TSA?
A young airport employee with a Clark Gable moustache stood in front of our queue, waving and shouting: "Move to the line on the other side of the hall. Please move to the other side." Few people followed his order.
"Why don't we move like he said?" my wife said.
"Look at the other line," I said. "It's nearly twice as long as this one. Ridiculous!"
Or maybe he was right. Our side had made no forward progress and I wouldn't be able to hold it in much longer. "Wait here," I told my wife. "I'm going to ask the guy."
I strode over to Clark Gable Jr. "Why are you telling people to go to the other side?" I said. "That line is twice as long."
"Yes," he said. "But it's moving."
He was right. "Why is that?"
He lowered his voice. "Because the guy in charge of your line is more paranoid."
Then I saw. While our US Customs officer held each of his victims for lengthy questioning, the woman inspector at the other line was waving most people through.
Minutes later, we emerged from the arrivals hall, relieved to be out of the chilly, Orwellian climate of fear, suspicion and mindless waiting which served as our welcome home to America. Cars, taxis and buses rushed past. Horns honked. So did I.
"Phew! Something stinks," my wife said.
I smiled. "Must be the smog."

This article appeared in CULTURE Magazine, January 2011 | ©2011 Larry Feign