Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Things They Carried...

Television commercials can be ridiculous sometimes. There’s one set of commercials related to some credit card company that shows marauding barbarians who attack unsuspecting imbeciles whose only fault is carrying the wrong credit card. As they approach the unwitting victim invariably from behind, one of the wild men looks at the camera and asks, “What’s in your wallet?” Everyone who has ever had the misfortune of having to pick up my pocketbook and give it to me asks a question very similar to that one. It usually goes something like this: “Sure, Gail, I’ll hand you your… what on earth do you have in this thing, bricks? How can you carry this thing all day? No wonder you have such shapely shoulders and such sinewy arms.” Well, that last part is something of an exaggeration, but there can be no exaggerating the bulk of the weighty satchel that I carry on a daily basis. I had to give an answer for the contents of my bag just this past September. On my annual getaway, I left my handsome husband and two charming children for 11 days of gallivanting in Spain. A dear friend was getting married in Madrid, and another dear friend had offered me a place to stay and his good company for a few days up in La Coruna. Ever the efficient packer, I managed to cram ten days’ worth of clothes and a wedding outfit into a single rolling bag and a bag I had slung over my shoulder. I was quite proud of myself. No waiting at a luggage carousel for me. I’d hoist my hefty bag down from the overhead bin (praying all the while that no one would duck under it and try to get past me on the aisle), and be on my way. The flight from Charlotte to Miami was uneventful. Well, I had to spread my arms, legs, and remove my shoes upon passing through the security check here in the Queen City. I wear about 15 silver bracelets, a white gold watch. a silver cross chain, five earrings (don’t ask), and I even manage to attach a few jewels to my dreadlocs. I haven’t passed through many checkpoints in recent years without “being wanded” by the female inspector on duty. I’m used to it now; I include inspection time in my airport arrival and departure schedule. At Miami Airport, I had to leave one terminal and make my way to another that felt like it was about half a mile away. Again, I took off my shoes, spread my wings and waited patiently to be patted after being advised of my right to keep quiet and just do as I was told. Eight hours later, I went through the same routine in Madrid before boarding my flight for La Coruna. As I stood and went through the procedure for the third time in about 12 hours, I smiled to myself as I thought about the stuff I was really carrying. And I gave thanks that my bracelets served as a good decoy to keep them from asking me to empty my bags on the shiny steel tables I always sit in front of as they check the soles of my feet for metal studs. I shudder to think of how embarrassed I’d be to show how anal I am about packing. With everything in Ziploc bags, clothes rolled up tight and in carefully designated places in the suitcase, and enough snacks to last me several days, I am quite the traveling pack rat. Let’s see: I had purchased some beautiful stationery for the bride and her mother as well as music and a couple of books for my friend in La Coruna. Then there was the red Australian licorice, chocolate covered almonds, Luna Chocolate Mint Crunch protein bars, honey roasted almonds, sesame sticks, a banana, two apples, and a water bottle, (one never knows what will appear in the airline feeding troughs, I mean trays, these days). Hand gel and hand wipes, (who knows what diseases my fellow passengers are carrying on their persons?) Two journals, pens, markers, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, glue sticks, stickers, and paper clips (for collages, creative journaling, and distressed children travelers in need of diversion). A camera, film, incense and incense holder, a door stopper for the inside of my door (keeps unexpected visitors outside), jewelry, Euros, dollars, family photos, gifts for my friends, photocopies of my passport and credit cards (just in case a mugger or pickpocket get the best of me), and postcards. Why postcards? Well, when I was in Spain two years ago, I bought a bunch of postcards but never had time to mail them. So I brought them back to the States. I rediscovered them as I packed for this trip. While laughing at my miserly nature, I had a brilliant idea: I decided to take them back to Spain - where I filled them in, bought stamps, and finally sent them. Who would ever know the difference? On top of all that stuff, my clothes, and a pair of dangerously high heeled sandals for the wedding, I’d packed enormously high expectations for fun, adventure, great conversations, time alone to reflect on my life, my friends, my marriage, and my future. I took along colossally grandiose dreams of solving several of the world’s problems, or at least a few of my own, while strolling down the grand boulevards and back streets of Madrid. I had a wish list of stuff I’d hoped to bring home: a few cans of confidence, several packages of patience, and a dozen momentous memories. As I strolled through the airports in Charlotte, Miami, and Madrid, I wondered what my fellow travelers had in their wallets and in their bags. I saw wine carriers, liquor carriers, and dog carriers. I saw bags that were wrapped in plastic and tape. I saw bags that had seen better days, and I saw bags that cost more than my entire trip. But what were those people really carrying? Were they off on their honeymoons with bags full of hopes for a loving future? Or were they carrying remembrances of good times gone by on their way to funerals where they would bid farewell to loved ones? Were they on business trips that would involve firing fellow workers? Or perhaps they were heading off on secret trips where they rendezvous with long lost lovers. In one waiting area at Miami International, a gentleman with an Eastern European accent asked me to take a photo of him standing beside the statue of a giraffe. I wondered who he’d show that photo to. Was he heading back home to Europe bearing gifts for his wife and children or was he simply taking the photo because, like me, he loves giraffes? After spending five days in La Coruna, my friend drove me to the airport for the return flight to Madrid. The airport in La Coruna is quite small. The only plane on the tarmac was the one I was getting onto. I waited at the back of the line so I’d have as much time as possible before boarding. I was ready for the bracelet treatment, and my friend was looking forward to watching the search for hidden explosives. Well, the bracelets didn’t even buzz, but my bag did. What was in my wallet? Scissors! How was it possible that three strip searches turned up nothing but hair jewelry and one beleagured guard at a tiny airport in Northern Spain discovered my scissors? I didn’t even realize I had them. A pair of my childrens’ scissors that I’m sure I used for a collage some day weeks earlier had never been removed and here they were. After I expressed my disbelief that they hadn’t been found earlier, for some strange reason he let me keep them. Later that night when I checked in with my friend who had turned into a scoffer and guffawed at my airport ambush, he accused me of being a terrorist. The things we carry. Weapons of paper destruction. Journals, pens, stickers, and protein bars. I’m sure that somewhere I have hoarded a few lies, secrets, and silences that could make for mass destruction. And there must always be food of some sort for the body and mind: almonds, apples, a good book, a few well chosen quotes, and stamped self-addressed postcards for random mailings. The things we carry stashed in our carry-ons or checked in with the bigger stuff – it will all get dumped out and exposed someday. So what’s in your wallet?

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