Is Where Your Passport Is
by Mad Dog
Trust me, this airport isnt a place you
want to move into. The foods lousy, theres no privacy, and the sleeping
accommodations are confined to sitting upright in a chair while people bump into you.
||For the past two years I havent
stayed in any one place longer than two months. Its kind of an A.D.H.D.
thingAttention Deficit and Housing Disorder. It started when I left the east coast
to move to San Francisco. Somewhere along the 4-week trip across the country something
snapped. I mean, changed. I think it was either at Graceland or the UFO Museum in Roswell,
NM, but I cant be certain. Anyway, suddenly the idea of settling down sounded about
as appetizing as tuna Jell-O. Even when it has canned fruit cocktail suspended in it. So
since I got here Ive been house-sitting and subletting and generally a rather
transient fellow. Hey, it may not be a great life, but its my life.
What brought this to mind (besides suddenly realizing I have no place to stay two weeks
from today) is an article I saw about Merhan Karimi Nasseri, a man whos lived in
Paris Charles de Gaulle airport for the past 11 years. Now Ive been in this
airport several times, the last for three hours while I waited for the next plane to San
Francisco since I missed mine thanks to a French railway strike, something which happens
with more frequency than Monday. Or Lundi as they call it.
Trust me, this airport isnt a place you want to
move into. The foods lousy, theres no privacy, and the sleeping accommodations
are confined to sitting upright in a chair while people bump into you and screaming
children surround you. Its a lot like being on an airplane except you dont pay
$500 a night to sleep in the airport.
House-sitting and subletting definitely has its strong points. True, I dont get to
have people from all over the world sit on my bed and look at me like Im crazy
well, not usually, anyway but I do get to experience a lot of different places.
|| Nasseri sure
didnt. In fact, he stayed there for free. An Iranian native, he found himself in
Terminal One eleven years ago without any passport or other documents. After three years
of standing in line at customs searching his pockets and baggageand upsetting those
poor people who had to wait behind himhe settled into his little red bench and
waited to be either granted political asylum or named Times Patient Man of the Year.
Or one of People magazines 100 Sexiest Men Stranded in an Airport. One things
for sure, when you live in an airport for eleven years you end up not being as picky as
you used to be.
Finally Nasseri, who the airport
employees nicknamed Alfred for reasons which probably refer to some joke from an obscure
Jerry Lewis movie, was granted refugee status by the U.N. High Commission for Permanent
Airport Inhabitants, which means hes free to leave the airport. Boy, will his resume
have a big hole in it.
How can someone like NasseriI mean,
Alfredlive in an airport for 11 years while I get antsy being in one place for 11
days? I suspect it has a lot to do with the phase of life, the alignment of the planets,
and the seratonin levels (natural and artificial) than anything else. Well, that and the
fact that I know where my passport is.
But house-sitting and subletting definitely has its
strong points. True, I dont get to have people from all over the world sit on my bed
and look at me like Im crazywell, not usually, anywaybut I do get to
experience a lot of different places. Ive lived in a bunch of different
neighborhoods in San Francisco as well as Los Angeles, Oregon, Hawaii, and France. If I
dont like my neighborhood (or the neighbors) I dont have to
worryIll be gone soon. And it gives me the chance to discover things about
human beings. Sometimes even things which dont revolt, disgust, or amaze me.
At about $2,000, Aibos are a lot cheaper than a real dog. After all, you dont have
to feed it, clean up after it when you walk it, or take it to the vet when it swallows
your limited edition Charles and Diana commemorative toothbrush.
its interesting to see what books, CDs, and cooking utensils people have. Its
fascinating to discover what they keep under the mattress, on the top shelf of the closet,
and hidden in the back of the nightstand drawer. (NOTE TO PEOPLE IVE HOUSE-SAT FOR
AND SUBLET FROM AS WELL AS THOSE I HOPE TO IN THE FUTURE: Im just kidding. I
wouldnt think of looking under the mattress. Thats downright nosey.) And, of
course there are the pets.
Often the reason Im there is to take care
of a pet. Walking the dog or cleaning the cat box is a small price to pay for a place to
stay. Sometimes people dont have a pet, they have surrogates. There was one house I
stayed in where I had to move the plants out on the front porch during the day and bring
them in at night. Id never heard of having to walk the plants before, but at least I
didnt have to keep them on a leash. And they were house trained.
I dont think many people are as attached to their
plants as they are to their pets. According to Time there are over 112 million pet cats
and dogs in the United States. Ninety-two percent of pet owners keep the animals
picture displayed at home or at work. Fifty-three percent think their pet would risk its
life to save them (which proves television, especially Lassie, has a lasting impact). And
two percent of dog owners actually take Rover along on their honeymoon, which is
outrageous! Do you realize how many fewer places that leaves me to housesit?
If Sony has its way, there will be even fewer places for
me to stay. They recently released Aibo, a robotic dog. They sold 3,000 of them in 20
minutes. To put this in perspective, that means they sold faster than a chipped Hummel
yodeling boy on eBay.
At about $2,000, Aibos are a lot cheaper than a real dog.
After all, you dont have to feed it, clean up after it when you walk it, or take it
to the vet when it swallows your limited edition Charles and Diana commemorative
toothbrush. On the other hand, Aibos arent quite as much fun, either. Sure, the
11-inch tall robo-dog can walk, wag its tail, and even do a few tricks, but can it show
its passport to customs officials? If youre ever taking it through Charles de Gaulle
airport I sure hope so.
©1999 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read
them in bed at the airport.