You would not believe the sheer amount of shit that comes out of my suitcase. The TSA guy at the airport didn’t believe it either. (TSA = Transportation Security Administration)
I’m not talking about obvious travelware such as clothes, a meditation bench, a yoga mat, and a library. I’m talking about the bottom layer of small items in my suitcase that live there year round. I don’t always need all of it, but I always need some of it, and when I need it, I got to have it.
Kay and I were on our way home from a vacation in the far east (South Carolina) when my small rollerboard suitcase containing an astonishing volume and variety of materials – but without any unsightly bulges – went through the scanner. The scanner person called over a couple more scanner persons for a community screen gawk. I’d seen those looks of perplexity before. “He’s one of those,” they were thinking. Either that or they were just admiring my packing job.
The TSA man walked toward me carrying my suitcase. “Is this your bag?”
“Gather your other belongings and meet me at that table over there. I’m going to need to have a look in this bag.”
Over at the table, I sat in the chair next to the table and I was told quite plainly by the TSA man to keep my hands to myself. Behind him was a TSA gal, a little off to the side, watching everything intently. I thought she might be teaching or learning.
He unzipped the lid of my suitcase and opened it up. There on top sat a piece of lumber with two other pieces of lumber hinged to it. He moved my meditation bench onto the table. Then he dug his hand to the bottom of the suitcase and went fishing around under my clothes in my precious layer of assorted crap. He came out holding a shiny metal cylinder about the size of a finger. It was my guitar slide. It’s the kind of thing you either know what it is immediately, or you have no clue and never will. He had no clue. He looked at me with one of his eyebrows. I knew if I were to demonstrate my slide in action, using an air-guitar, it would look like I was giving him the finger, except with my pinky finger. I decided to keep my hands and my music to myself.
He went in again. This time he came out with a small metal flashlight. He sat it off to the side with the slide. In again, out again, this time with a smaller flashlight on a metal latch that works great for belt-loop transport.
In, out. A pack of guitar strings.
Then a teacup.
And a deck of cards.
And a dealer button of course.
Next up, a guitar capo. This is a small metal contraption that comes in several different designs, all of which bear no resemblance to each other, and none of which bear any resemblance to anything else on earth. The TSA man held the capo, looked at it, and shook his head. Kay and I secretly chortled at each other.
Next up, a candlestick.
By now the TSA man had moved through the unsurprisable phase, to amused. But of course he was obligated to at least act like he was trying not to show it.
The bench along with all the other extracted items were sitting on the table, next to my suitcase. The man zipped my suitcase shut and lifted it up, taking care to keep it flat which I appreciated given the traumatized condition of the contents. He said he was going to run my suitcase through the scanner again. Which he did.
When he returned to the table with my bag, he looked liked someone carrying bad news that he wished he didn’t. Kay and I noted later that despite our moment of happiness with the TSA man, he was not enjoying this. It must be a very hard job, to poke around in other people’s stuff, while they look on, anxious about being late for a flight, or about having their privacy impaled, in addition to whatever other stressors flyers pack in their mental luggage. In my chair next to the table I was definitely sitting in a place of frequent high anxiety. And this guy has to tell people to sit here.
He sat my suitcase on the table where it had been before. The watcher woman took her position. The TSA man unzipped the top. He opened it up. His hands approached the contents.
I said, “Is there something I could help you find?”
He said, “Yes. Do you have some kind of large cylinder in here?”
This question excited me, since I knew the answer.
“Yes! It’s under the yoga mat, over in the corner, behind the iPod speakers.”
The TSA man reached into my suitcase as instructed and triumphantly brought forth a white plastic Safeway bag that had a 6” x 4” cylindrical 8.8 oz. Illy coffee can in it.
Aha! The microfilm must surely be inside!
He shook the can and he heard something that wasn’t coffee. “That’s a scooper,” I said. “And the coffee can is in the plastic bag because the threads on the lid are somewhat stripped so please be careful. And it’s not really Illy coffee inside there. It’s Peets, Italian roast.”
Kay gave me the “Stop talking now” look. Then she gave the TSA guy the old “Let’s get this show on the road” look, which he didn’t see, but he obeyed. Miraculously, he was able to get all my stuff back in my suitcase while only adding two inches to the thickness. And off we went, from sea to shining sea, welcomed home by these: