“Police. Please follow me,” says the plainly clothed, ostensible undercover airport agent in Istanbul as he flashes his badge so briefly, a fellow officer would struggle to recognize it. While he leads me away from the queue and far from any potential witnesses, I wonder where this will lead. Will some form of bribery ensue? Is this man I'm now following even a real police officer, or a hustler trying to intimidate me into his next payday? If he's hoping for a large payout, he's certainly apprehended the wrong ransom token. He'd spend ten hours demanding all the money I have, which would net him something in the neighborhood of $116 dollars. At $11.60/hour, I can better recommend him an assistant manager position at The Foot Locker offering the same hourly wage with benefits, plus a free whistle.
Heart racing, I'm aware that my only chance at escape lies here in these last remaining strides between public and private. For a moment, I'm nearly overcome by a guttural instinct to shriek uncontrollably like a captured wild hog who was simply going about his business in the passport control line, as wild hogs do, when seized by a net of corruption. Well at least I’ve died doing what I love, I conclude, as I'm led to a questioning room so cliché, it's almost comical.
Just a few known commonalities can be observed across disparate cultures: the smile, reliably indicating positive feeling, music in even the most removed of civilizations, and now I can safely add to that list, the interrogation room. Spartan, drab, and filthy, the room itself is a villain. It's purgatory for me, but hell for an interior designer. Finger pokes and swipes have left Jackson Pollack stains on the walls and I wonder, how could people’s hands possibly be this greasy? How many suspicious auto-mechanics have come straight from their shift to the airport and detained in the past month? These are the Lascoux caves of modernity, only instead of mankind exploring newfound artistic capacities by firelight, mankind (me) is expressing nothing unless asked under the pallor of flickering fluorescent bulbs. In short notice, my phone is confiscated by the agent as he leans against the wall, rifling through its every digital nook and cranny. I conclude he’d seen my nudes early on and spent the majority of this time searching desperately for more. The man may be terrible at spotting a terrorist, but he certainly knows a sweet ass when he sees one.*
Enter interrogator number two shortly thereafter. Short and stout (we'll call him Teapot), he appears to be the man in charge, the decider of fates. His stride is as slow as his gaze, which he allows to linger on me through yellowing sclera. His obvious boredom is alarming; I can feel his need for action while he looks at me in hopes that I might be today's main event. The cliché continues as he sits down, lights a cigarette and allows his belly to come to rest halfway across the desk. He savors an extended pull, closing his eyes and relaxing into character. I see they’ve read the Treatise on the Art of Interrogation, because this is straight out of page 38. They speak laconically in Turkish between one another, gesturing toward me only occasionally, expertly building the tension as I’m left clueless and alone on the surprisingly comfortable leather love seat. I decide to cross my legs and channel Don Draper. He’d know how to handle this situation with absolute poise. In fact, he’d probably leave with a contract for next year’s Travel Turkey campaign. Don is dashed, however, when the agent signals to put my leg down - it’s extremely bad manners to show the bottom of your foot in Arab countries. Well sir, I think to myself, I certainly hope I haven’t offended you in any way after such a generous show of hospitality. Turkey’s tourism slogan is “Be Our Guest,” and I realize at this point this is less an invitation than a demand.
Please keep in mind that during all of this, I’m wearing a hat with a pineapple on it, and swim trunks. This really has no bearing on the story aside from setting the scene and warning that wearing a hat with an embroidered fruit (particularly of the exotic variety) and being beach-ready at all times may lead to suspicion of malicious intent and detainment. Spoiler Alert: three short weeks later, that same hat would be shit on by a seagull at Saint Mark’s Square in Venice and disposed of. I haven’t been detained since.
After what felt like an hour but was likely four minutes, an English speaking airport agent joins the festivities and acting as interpreter, engages me in a few of the most basic questions: Where are you headed? How long are you here for? What's the purpose of your stay? He appears almost embarrassed to have to ask, as it doesn't take an expert in body language or appearance to ascertain that the only thing I've ever terrorized is my toilet after the unlimited buffet at Natraj's Tandoori.
At last, I'm allowed to leave. I collect my violated phone, whispering in its microphone that everything will be OK, and walk out more excited to stand in an airport line than I’ve ever been. On my way, I pass a fellow detainee gesticulating in exaggerated anger and I wonder, what kind of fruit was on his hat?
*Nudes available upon request and subject to availability. Just kidding, I always have tons.