Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fingerprinting In Wonderland


I went to the police station to get fingerprinted yesterday. Fingerprints are required to get my FBI background check, which I need in order to start applying for ESL teaching jobs in South Korea. After a small fiasco at the station with obtaining the fingerprinting card, I was finally pointed in the direction of the fingerprinting specialist.

White poster boards with "Fingerprinting" scrawled across them and adhered haphazardly to the walls with too much tape were dotted along the way. The narrow path led me between tightly packed cubicles and around blind, curving hallways that reminded me a bit of Alice's journey down the rabbit hole, except with a lot more guns along the way (which I imagine would have made that book a lot shorter and bloodier). The signs ended at a small, white room with two elderly men who asked me to sit down and wait to be fingerprinted.

I'd sort of hoped a younger officer resembling Ryan Gosling would be waiting for me. I'd imagined him standing behind me and taking my hands in his (soft but rugged) hands and sensually brushing them against his pad of ink (as sensually as one can brush hands against ink pads) and somehow we'd end up making out etc. etc. etc. and at the end there'd be an inky handprint sliding down the wall like in the steamy car scene in Titanic.

Reality was a bit different. If I had to compare the two men in the room to any other persons(?), it would be Tweedledee and Tweedledum (as they appear in the original Alice illustrations). I don't say this in a derogatory, weight-related way. It's a common body shape for a lot of older men around here. As they age, their bodies get rounder and rounder and their limbs shrink and begin to recess into their bodies which sometimes causes their newly little legs to dangle from chairs in a cute sort of way--in the sense that Humpty Dumpty perched upon a wall might be cute. Their voices, however, were more like that of Wilford Brimley in all those diabetes commercials. If I hadn't grown up here (and didn't have an accent, myself), I probably wouldn't have understood what they were saying to me. 

Tweedledee attempted to make conversation as he took my hand and began to (non-sensually) smash my fingers against the ink pad.

"What're ya gettin' these for?" he asked. I'd left the employer information blank on my fingerprinting card.

"I'm applying to teach in Korea," I replied. The eyes of the Tweedles became almost as large as their midsections.

"North or South?" Tweedledum asked, his voice going up a little too much at the end of the question.

"South." I laughed. "I don't think I'm allowed in North."

"Why would you wanna do that? Why not go to, ya know, Switzerland?" Before I had a chance to question Switzerland, Tweedledum piped up again.

"You know, that guy over there," he said, lowering his voice, "I think there's something really wrong with him in the head. He's a lunatic." I understood he was speaking of Kim Jong-un.

"Yeah--" I began, but Tweedledee cut in again.

"Asia is certainly not a place I would choose to go."

Perhaps if it had been a Ryan Gosling look-alike trying to convince me to stay instead of Tweedledee, I might have considered it (but I still would've gone anyway because Joseph Birdsong does not bow to the desires of men, no matter how attractive they are [As if I could get a man to beg me to stay anywhere. They're usually shooing me away]). However, at this point my fingerprints were done and I was directed to the bathroom to wash my hands while the prints "cooked," as Tweedledum referred to the drying process.

When I went back to retrieve my prints, a younger officer walked in and I heard Tweedledum whisper to her as I was leaving, "That boy's thinking about going to Korea!" The woman laughed.

I laughed, too, as I walked to my car. I think it says a bit about how the older generation here thinks about some things. I guess I could've explained to the Tweedles how South Korea is a First World country (although the "Worlds" idea is a little outdated) and more progressive than us in more than a few ways. I could've mentioned that lumping all Asian countries into the same category is sort of like saying all Pop-Tart flavors taste the same just because they're all Pop-Tarts (which is clearly not the case because frosted strawberry is the best). I could've described how South Korea has a lower crime rate than most western countries and much more restrictive gun control laws. And I probably could've suggested that we may have as many (if not more) missiles pointed at us as South Korea has pointed at it. (That's assuming those missiles even exist. I hear North Korea also claims to have unicorns. But also, granted, there probably aren't any missiles at all pointed at Arkansas.) However, I didn't have time and it wasn't the right place and it didn't really matter and I didn't really feel like arguing with someone who has such easy access to a gun. (Plus, I have a feeling causing a riot in a police station would show up on an FBI background check.)

Of course, not everyone from this older generation has this same mindset. I just found the whole thing a curious reminder of a different time of different wars and different sorts of propaganda. Of less access to global communication and of differently filtered information. Of sock hops and rock 'n' roll and soda fountains with five-cent pop. And it made me wonder what sorts of ideas are being drilled into in my mind right now and how someone born in twenty or thirty years might grow up and compare me to some abnormally round character from a book and describe my convictions as outdated and how that might make me feel. And I worry that perhaps that's just how things go and then I vow to keep an open mind to this rapidly evolving world.

I thought back on the experience as I mailed my prints this morning. I wondered if someone in South Korea was getting fingerprinted to live here (or elsewhere) and realizing (again) something similar--something about how different people and thoughts and things can exist right outside your door and how maybe Wonderland is always a lot closer than we think.