Wednesday, March 31, 2010
THE KING AND I
The security line at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport was ridiculously long, and the TSA officials seemed to be ultra-paranoid, checking and re-checking toddler’s bottles, tearing apart everyone’s well-packed quart baggies, patting down old ladies, and treating everyone in the queue with suspicion.
I was sweating bullets, for no other reason than because I was already insanely late for my plane to Los Angeles.
During the weekend belly dance show I’d performed on in Grapevine, Texas, I’d been hanging out my new friend Tamra Henna, a fantastic local belly dancer whom I’d recently dubbed “Tex”.
Tex and I had gotten along like gangbusters, so well that she’d offered to drive me to the airport. Over lunch at a taco stand, we discussed everything from vintage Egyptian cinema and our favorite Arabic songs to stage make-up and the craziest, weirdest gigs we’d both been hired for. Since it seemed like I had plenty of time until my flight, and we were both hopelessly addicted to glitter in general and belly dance costumes in particular, we mutually made the executive decision to stop at Little Egypt Imports.
“You will NOT believe this place!” Tex promised, as she barreled down the highway,” You’re totally gonna lose it when you see all the stuff they have!”
She suddenly swerved her car into a driveway and parked in front of a huge building with rusted corrugated metal siding.
“Here we are!” she exclaimed triumphantly, while I wondered how this giant airplane hangar could possibly have to do with belly dancing.
As we stepped through the door, I realized that the entire place was Little Egypt Imports. It was as though the entire Valley of the Kings had been teleported into this colossal Quonset hut and then dropped directly onto the Texas heartland. One room was full of gleaming, enormous pieces of heavy, carved wooden furniture decorated with hieroglyphics and cartouches, gaily painted in a rainbow of colors, strewn with hand-woven, tasseled brocade pillows. There were seven foot tall statues depicting Isis and Osirus, Horus, Hathor, Queen Hatshepsut and Bast; gold-leaf busts of Nefertiti, blue ceramic scarab and hippotamus paper weights, and an over-sized reproduction of King Tut’s sarcophagus, which, when opened, revealed an interior decorated as sumptuously as it’s outside shell. I was flabbergasted…I never even knew stuff like this existed outside of an actual museum!
Breathless with excitement, I tore over to the rooms that featured the belly dance costumes, and promptly immersed myself in the endless racks of Swarovsky Crystal-embellished goodies. Tex and I each tried on countless costumes, sighing over the Egyptian finery, longingly fingering the hand-beaded details. In our frenzied process, we promptly lost our street clothes amidst knee-high piles of glittering chiffon hip-scarves, their coins jingling merrily as we literally trudged through them, looking for one of my shoes.
Though now a staple on the belly dance scene, Isis Wings were hard to come by in those days, practically no dancers had then unless they’d been custom made- Little Egypt had scads of them, in every hue. Seizing the opportunity, standing at the counter still minus my missing shoe, I negotiated a great price and selected a beautiful gold lame’ set of wings for myself. They were packed up for me in a darling little custom carrying case, which resembled a long, blue vinyl tube with handles. Suddenly snapping back into reality and realizing what time it was, Tex and I made a mad dash for the car and then she drove like Nascar champion to DFW airport.
Since I had only brought a small suitcase to the belly dance event, I decided to check my bag and carry my coveted, fragile wings into the plane’s cabin with me, rather than cramming them in along with my costumes. Tex reassured me that I was making the right decision- the wings were simply too rare and delicate to relegate to a checked bag! We quickly said our good byes at the loading zone curb and I sprinted for my gate after checking my bag.
So there I was in the TSA security line, tenderly stroking my newly purchased wings, stressing about whether I’d actually be let onto the plane, which was scheduled to depart in about twenty minutes. The line was moving at a snail’s pace, and I was still not through security.
Finally, it was my turn, and I lovingly slid my wings safely into a plastic bin and sent them on their way down the conveyor belt into the X-Ray machine. A seasoned traveler, I had removed any accessories that might have set off the metal detector and passed through easily.
But the moment I thought I was free and clear, an obese female TSA agent began carelessly waving around my Isis-wing carrying case, screaming in a nasal Plains twang that could only be described as The Trailer Trash Accent, yelling:
“WHO DIS BELONG TO?”
As I stepped up to claim my precious package, she demanded an explanation as to what it was. I realized immediately that I’d be much better off not mentioning anything about belly dancing, assuming she’d somehow equate an Egyptian dance accessory with Arab Terrorists. As she gave me the stink eye, looking at me with a mixture of contempt and distrust, I noticed the perspiration rings under her tightly fitting uniform…apparently she took her job very seriously. I also saw that she had an inordinate amount of dandruff, not to mention an IQ that was probably just barely in the double digits.
She repeated her question, blowing breath that reeked of Corn Nuts directly into my face,
“WHAT IS THIS?”
Keeping an even, cheerful tone, I said as nonchalantly as possible,
“Oh, I’m an actress from Los Angeles, and those are just a set of big butterfly wings, I use them in a play, they’re part of a stage costume.”
“WELL IT HAS RODS IN IT!” she huffed,
“WHY THEM RODS IN THAAAYR?”
Beginning to seriously panic, with the seconds ticking away til my flight departed, I thought fast.
What I needed was damage control- otherwise I was going to be spending the night on the floor in the airport.
“Why those aren’t rods,” I said as sweetly as I could muster,
“Those are just like…little, tiny, skinny balsa-wood sticks… you know, like for a paper airplane? Just little… Popsicle sticks! Those aren’t rods…. They’re just pieces of craft-wood, light as a feather!”
My voice trailed away as she regarded me sternly, as though I was a seasoned Plutonium smuggler, or some crazy criminal who just happened to be plotting a Skyjacking with a set of newly purchased Isis Wings.
“WHY DIDN’Y YOU CHECK THIS?” she snarled, as though I was trying to bring an automatic weapon on board with me.
Breathe, I kept repeating to myself… just breathe…. you can DO this.
“Well, ma’am, it’s just a very delicate stage costume,” I said quite earnestly, “I was afraid to check them, because I thought they’d get ruined.”
“AHMONNA HAFTA CALL A SUPERVISOR!” she bellowed, and immediately made an announcement on the loudspeaker.
More time went by as we both waited for the supervisor to show up. Finally, I saw him coming. A dyed-in-the-wool Good Ole Boy, he ambled up to the security line, his TSA uniform augmented with cowboy boots, a straw cowboy hat, and a fancy silver rodeo belt buckle. He was rolling a wooden toothpick around in his mouth.
“JES’ WHASS GOIN’ ON AROUN’ HYAAAR?” he asked, hooking his thumbs into the rodeo belt, cocking his head to the side as he sized me up.
Immediately, I knew I had to play The Belly Dance Card. To someone like him, a true redneck, the mere words “ belly dance” would get him all warm and fuzzy…or hot ‘n’ bothered as the case may be…bringing to mind fond memories of wet T-shirt contests and bachelor-party pole dances. Though usually annoying, the general public’s misconception of Oriental Dance sometimes does, indeed, come in handy!
Standing straight up and thrusting my chest out so he had a direct sight-line to my cleavage, I said in what I hoped was a tone of voice that sounded like I was a bonafide Reality Show Bimbo,
“Hi Sir! I’m a belly dancer!”
He looked me up and down, through narrow eyes, chewing contemplatively on his toothpick.
“A BELLY DANCUH, HUH?” he grunted.
“Oh yes!” I answered, batting my eyelashes and twirling my hair flirtatiously.
“WELP, SHE SAID YOU HAD SOME RODS IN THAAYR, MIND IF I TAKE A LOOK?”
“Oh no sir,” I simpered, “Please go right ahead.”
He un-zipped my case, and began palpating it, before pulling out yards…and yards…and even more yards of pleated, metallic fabric.
Finally, he narrowed his eyes and addressed me, scratching under the brim of his cowboy hat.
“WHUD YEW SAYS THIS WAS AGIN?”
“It’s a stage costume, sir!”
I wiggled a little to drive my point home before throwing a beaming grin in his direction.
As he fingered the material thoughtfully, suddenly it looked like a light bulb went off in his head.
“HEY! I KNOW WHAT THISSY-HYAAR IS!” he smiled,
“THIS IS JES’ LIKE ELVIS, INNIT IT?”
I didn’t have the foggiest notion of what he meant by that comment, but eager to please him, and more than eager to maybe actually make my plane, I nodded enthusiastically. If The King was something that would get me on my flight, I’d be more than happy to accept the comparison!
“Yes! Why, yes it is, its EXACTLY like Elvis!” I agreed.
“OH,” he grumbled to the female TSA agent,
“SHE AIN’T GONNA DO NUTHIN’ WITH THIS! LET HER BE!”
With that, I grabbed my wings and ran like hell to my gate. I was of course, the last passenger to board the flight.
Puzzled by the entire thing and mulling the incident over in my head, it wasn’t til our aircraft was over Phoenix, Arizona that I realized what that man had thought my wings were: those Super-Hero circle-shaped capelets that Elvis had worn over his jumpsuits, towards the end of his career, when he was in his fat phase.
Now, years later, every time I don a pair of Isis Wings before a performance, I breathe a silent prayer of thanks to The King!
PHOTO: PRINCESS FARHANA AT LEELA'S "ARABIAN SUMMER", August 2009