"I thought they might be stains from the barbecue you're coming from."
"Because you were licking your fingers."
That was when I became angry.
I had been stopped for "additional screening" by the TSA agents at the gate. It had been 14 years since 9/11, and I had been on numerous international and domestic flights all over the world since then. Despite my middle name being "Ali", I had never once been hassled by airport security until now.
I had a flight for an interview which I had intentionally slated for later in the day so that I could run the Santa speedo run before immediately heading to the airport. I had spent the morning making my costume for the race. I stuffed my wallet, phone and keys into the pockets of my white coat. After finishing the run, I ran a victory lap. Just as I was about to head home, I felt my pockets for my belongings. My keys were exactly where I'd left them. My wallet was not. Upon this realization, my mood switched like a light in the dark. My heart sank as my my mind scrambled with both the sense of emotional loss and rationality of next steps. The feelings were compounded by the sense of urgency created by the fact that I had a critical flight to catch. Despite how unlikely it was that I would ever see my wallet again, it was even less likely that I would be able to retrieve it before I needed to be at the airport. I've never been much for gambling. I put out some quick feelers by asking the organizers of the run and the management of the bar if they had heard anything. As I was the first person around the course, if I had dropped it while racing, some other runners might have picked it up. I figured this was my best chance. Those leads offered nothing. Instead, I systematically ran through current losses and potential problems.
The inventory of my wallet that I could recall was:
2 credit cards
2 debit cards
$350 Money order
A few random business cards
Medical school faculty ID
ACLS certification card
Public transit card
Of these things, the only time-sensitive and important things were my credit/debit cards and my driver's license. In fact, losing my wallet allowed me to quantify exactly how much excess I was lugging around everyday (this was obviously a liberating point I would only appreciate after the dust had settled days later). I was planning on renting a car to get around to various sites for my interview, but thus would now be impossible since I had no license to drive. If I had no electronic funds accessible because I had no credit cards, I wouldn't be able to get around very easily at all since Uber or Lyft wouldn't function without them. I was in dire straits. It was about 1:30pm, and my flight was at 5pm... The clock was ticking.
I used my lifeline and phoned a friend. Tick. Thankfully, she was available, so I asked her to meet me at my place. Tock. Then I ran the 2 miles home while attempting to call the Bank of America helplines to cancel my credit cards. Tick. All the while through my distress, people kept stopping me for photos, and I couldn't decline. Tock. The run home took about 15 minutes, and I was still painted blue upon my arrival. Tick. I needed to shower, but my roommate was in the bathroom. Tock. So, I confirmed that I had my passport readily available to board my flight. Tick. My roommate finished in the bathroom, and I rushed in. Tock. I rubbed the blue paint off of my body as quickly as I could and put on clean clothes. Tick. I still hadn't been able to get through to Bank of America. Tock. It was a Saturday, so their branches would have reduced hours and most of them would be closed by now anyways. Tick. It was 2:15pm. Tock. I had no credit cards/debit cards, no money and hardly any time. Tick. I had some cash sitting around waiting to be deposited from my last charity busk, and despite my significant reservations, I could see no alternative in the moment, so I grabbed the ziplock and grabbed some cash. Tock. I counted it immediately, so that I could refill it when I had sorted everything out. Tick. My friend arrived just in time to nearly collide with me as I bolted out the door. Tock. My breathing was heavy, and I was aggressively biting my nails from anxiety. Tick. I looked up a Bank of America physical location that was open. Tock. There was only one nearby that was open until 3 pm. Tick. It was already 2:30 pm as we weaved through Saturday traffic. Tock. I finally reached the credit card helpline to have them freeze my credit cards and inquired about emergency replacements. Tick. They said I could only get emergency debit cards, and it would have to be from a physical location. Tock. "Ok, that's fine, I'm right outside one and about to walk in. Thanks." Click. I walked in and asked for an emergency debit card. It was 2:40 pm. The attendant said I needed my ID. I had forgotten my passport in the car, so I had to run out and grab it. Tock...
Finally, some progress was made toward calming my nerves as the Bank of America people were able to replace my debit cards very efficiently. I could survive now. I went to the ATM to activate my cards. I deposited the money that I had comandeered from my busking funds into my DBD account, and withdrew cash from my personal account instead. My friend dropped me off at the airport, but my troubles weren't finished yet.
I still had to figure out what I would do without my driver's license. To get around during my trip, I could spend some money on Uber or Lyft, but when I returned, I would still have no license and hence no way to get to work (I had to commute to Providence daily for my current rotation). I had already had to request several days off to attend the interview, so to request another day just to visit the RMV after I returned felt like it would be too much even though this felt like an emergency. As I continued to drown in my conundrum, I checked in at the airport kiosk and stood in line at the TSA checkpoint. My thoughts were entirely focused on my driver's license and the events of the morning as I exhibited the empty tic of nail biting.
I went through the scanning machine thoughtlessly. I was patted down by the guy on the other side which happened all the time because I always wore either suspenders or cargo pants which triggered 'hotspots'. Then, I was notified that I had been selected for additional screening. I couldn't have cared less. I was early to the airport, and my mind was spazzing out on a distant worry. What difference did it make whether my physical being was being frisked and my things unraveled or my body was sitting in an uncomfortable airport bench beside my bag? Either way, I would be doing the same thing: running various scenarios through my head and how to troubleshoot the driver's license dilemma.
So it began. First, I was quite thoroughly instructed on how the frisking was to proceed, then a quite thorough frisking proceeded. The single detail on the frisking that I will mention to summarize the experience was that I was impressed how his hand managed to palpate the narrow spaces between my scrotum and each inner thigh. "Uh huh, whatever", I thought. Then, two other TSA agents began rummaging through my neatly packaged things. All the while, they asked me questions.
"So, how are you doing today?"
"Terrible? Why's that?"
"Well, I lost my wallet literally a couple hours ago, and now I have no driver's license, and I spent the last hour or so trying to replace my debit cards so that I have access to my money while traveling. Now I can't rent a car when I get there and I'm on my way to an interview and I don't know how I'm going to get around."
"Oh no. How'd you lose your wallet?"
"I was running the Santa speedo run which I 'win' every year, and I must have dropped it."
"Oh man, did you win at least?"
"Yeah. I mean, it's not really a race; that's why I go every year to 'win' because I think it's hilarious. I can show you a photo on my phone, if you want."
"No, that's ok. You're on your way to an interview? What for?"
"I'm an anesthesiologist."
"Oh man, what's starting on that if you don't mind my asking?"
"What do you mean, like, starting pay?"
"Iunno, probably a quarter million or something."
"Wow, that's a lot of money!"
"I guess, I mean, not really. How much do those tech guys make in California? Plus, I'm in tons of debt."
"I guess, it's just a matter of perspective."
One of the charms of my life has been how new people react to my multifaceted nature. I like to believe there is a moment when they realize they are encountering someone completely unique. Whether it's because of my ultramarathon running, proclivity for costumes, street performance, physician-hood, some combination of the above or the personality of nonchalance that accompanies each aspect of my life, something about Adnan will stand out with novelty which hopefully inspires growth. Not everything is as it seems on the surface.
In this case, we had already established that "it was just a matter of perspective". Unfortunately, the TSA agents were unable to make the last step on taking that idea and applying it to life more broadly. So, one continued.
"What's that on your shirt?"
"Hm? These are blotches from a party I was at." (I was wearing a white undershirt with multiple pink colored sprays on it from a graffiti party I had gone to months ago."
"I thought they might be stains from the barbecue you're coming from."
"Huh?" I was legitimately confused.
"Because you were licking your fingers."
Despite the protracted conversation of meaningless drivel from my life, I was still quite numb to external stimuli due to my internal strife. Even still, these guys had managed to hit a sore spot. I was flabbergasted. I had been curious why I was selected for screening this time. Suddenly, it was clear: it was because I was biting my nails nervously which had seemed suspicious to them.
"I have a nail biting problem which is worsened because I just lost my wallet," I began to explain defensively before quickly realizing this line of conversation would be beyond their comprehension. I quit and receded into my numb rage. Nail biting was a bad habit of mine which I had failed to give up due to its chronic reemergence in times of stress. I was already embarassed about it. Suddenly, it was being used as justification to subject me to additional obstacles in a time already mired in insult. It was humiliating and enraging. Eventually, I boarded my plane still sour from the encounter.
In a commencement address entitled "This is Water," David Foster Wallace delved into various perceptions that each of us could utilize to introduce wonder into any mundane part of life. Through awareness, he proposed, we could remove ourselves from the egocentric bubbles in which many of us so often exist. The proverbial "I" am the victim of the circumstances around me and the center of my own world. We can exist as the victims of our perceived environment, or we could control our perceptions realize that there might be more to the world around us.
That skinny brown kid is biting his nails suspiciously. Maybe he is nervous because he's trying to smuggle something onto a plane. Or maybe he is nervous because he just lost his wallet hours before traveling for an interview while running a race painted blue and now doesn't know how he'll get around while traveling because he doesn't have his driver's license anymore.
"Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you wanna consider... The only thing that's capital-T true is that you get to decide how you see it... That is true freedom."
-David Foster Wallace