We’ve all heard the saying, “life becomes art.” Recently I had one of those life becomes art moments. On a trip back from Austin, an officer at the security check pulls me out, asking me to identify my backpack. I do, and he proceeds to take me to a search area and pull everything out of the bag. I’m not sure what we’re looking for and he’s not saying. With everything out of the bag, he takes it back through x-ray, searches it again, and then repeats the process a couple more times. I’m still not sure what we’re looking for, but I start to help him locate any hidden pockets just so I don’t miss my plane.
I ask, “What are we looking for?”
He continues searching silently and then, with a tinge of frustration in his voice, “A knife.”
“A knife? I don’t have a knife.”
“Yeah, this one.” And with those words he pulls out a sharp utility knife from a hidden fold in the bag. The picnic with my wife on a cliff park overlooking Puget Sound the week before rushes back to me.
“What do you want to do with it?”
I’m not sure what he hoped for with that question, given that I couldn’t take it with me and I certainly wasn’t going to miss my plane for a five dollar paring knife. So I left him the knife and went on my merry way.
I called my wife later to tell her the story. She said, “Sounds just like Roger.” And oddly, the experience is a little similar to a character in one of the novels I’m working to get published, a sci-fi thriller called Shaper Emergence, I cut an early scene for pacing. In the scene the protagonist, Roger, unknown to himself, is creating bits of reality. Racing to make a flight, he daydreams about shooting his jerk of a client. However, when he goes through security, the fun begins:
The long, winding line of travelers at the airport security check meant I’d be standing with boarding pass, driver’s license and bag for some time. I did my usual check to identify the seasoned travelers who knew how to swiftly move through security, versus the nightmare scenario of the family with three kids who last flew an airliner when they went to Disney World three years ago. Finally making my way to the front of the line, I went through the now familiar routine of emptying pockets, taking off shoes, dumping all of my stuff in one big plastic bin and my laptop in another to convey them through the X-ray machine. Boarding pass in hand, I walked through the metal detector. Clean as usual. Then I noticed that the security guard on the monitor at the X-ray machine looked a little concerned, flashing a glance over to me. He motioned to a guy who appeared to be in charge and in hushed words, talked with him anxiously about whatever was on the screen.
At this point I’m racking my brain about what I must have left in my bag. Did I not take that bottle of water out? Great. I’m in a hurry and they’re going to detain me because they think I’m going to blow up a plane with a bottle of water.
The “in-charge” guy comes up to me and points to my briefcase. “Is this your bag sir?”
“Please step to the side sir.”
“OK. I guess I left a bottle of water in my bag. Sorry. Do we really need to do this? You can just have the bottle…”
“Sir, please step to the side.”
I could see other security personnel moving in around me and decided I better shut up and just do what they wanted, otherwise they’d be doing pat down searches for hours and I’d miss my plane.
“Sir, I’m going to search your bag. Please stand behind the white line.”
He started digging through my bag. I tried to do my best interpretation of an innocent guy, which should have been easy, since I was an innocent guy.
“I just forgot to take the bottle out of the bag. My bad.”
“This is not about the bottle of water. Did you really think you could get a gun past security?”
“Gun? What gun? I don’t have a gun.”
“Yes, you do. Clear as day on the monitor. Looks like a .45 automatic.”
This was crazy. I didn’t have a gun. Never had a gun. Like I said, I didn’t like guns. “There’s got to be a mistake!” I was feeling, I don’t know, like I was losing my mind. How could I possibly have a gun?
Two officers drew their weapons and pointed them directly at me. I had to make these people understand that this was all a mistake. There can’t be a gun!
“I don’t have a gun!” I banged my fists on the table for emphasis. “I’m telling you, that’s impossible!” My head felt full to the point of exploding. I started to sense myself moving outside of my body. “I don’t have a gun!”
Even as the two officers moved in close to restrain me, the “in-charge” guy started to look a little pale. He doubled back to check parts of my briefcase he’d already searched. I tried to pull away from the officers; their restraining hold on me just enraged me more.
“I’m telling you I don’t have a gun!”
Then in-charge guy said, “I…I have to agree with you. Excuse me.”
In-charge guy went back to monitor guy and they had a pretty tense whispering exchange. He shrugged his shoulders, they both laughed and he walked back to me.
“I’m telling you I don’t have …”
“Sorry officers. He’s clean. Here’s your bag sir. Thanks for your cooperation.”
And with that, the officers released me and then the in-charge guy handed me my bag, as if nothing had happened. If you’ve been through airport security, then you know you don’t want to get into a misunderstanding with those guys. So when he smiled to hand me my bag, I decided the best strategy was to take my stuff and get the hell away from there.
I don’t think I conjured the knife out of thin air, but what if what I write becomes real? Hummm. Sounds like a good idea for a story.