This is what happens when a poet tries crossing the border
I learned young that being in the arts can lead to awkward situations while crossing the border. It all began in the 1970s, when I was 12 years old. I was starting my first year at an arts boarding school in northern Michigan. Travelling there from Ottawa, I had a layover in Chicago. I had never taken a plane alone before. Of course, I was carrying my saxophone. Under the X-ray machine at security, the neck looked suspiciously like an old-fashioned flintlock gun.
“What you got there, son?” the security guard asked, brushing back his Elvis pompadour and opening the case.
“Looks like a gun.”
“No,” I choked. “It’s my saxophone.”
“Yeah?” he said. “Prove it. Play something.” I looked around for help. There were hundreds of people in line behind me.
“What should I play?”
“If this really is a saxophone, something cool and jazzy.”
I was a pre-teen kid from the suburbs. My favourite song was “Baby Elephant Walk.” Panicking, I quickly reviewed my middle-school band repertoire: “Silver Bells,” “Slavonic Dances,” “My Grandfather’s Clock.”
“Cool and jazzy,” the guard repeated, looking at me.
There was no way out. I began playing “The Pink Panther.” I tried to make it as slinky-cool as possible. I even added a growl effect I’d been practising. When I finished, much to my horror, the people waiting in line applauded.
“Nice work, son,” the guard said. “Next, play some for the pilot.” I didn’t realize until much later that he’d been teasing me.
These days when I’m travelling south, I don’t take any chances: I simply avoid telling agents I’m in the arts altogether.
But just in case you’re a guard reading this: I’ve never seen those oranges before. I don’t own bongos. And okay, I admit it. I am going shopping for discount shoes.
Can you guess which passport is the most powerful in the world? (No, it’s not Canadian!)