In mid-June of 2019, literary lion Halycon Sage wrote the following story about one of his characters, an imaginary author. While this is a work of fiction, in Sage’s Alternate Universe it happened exactly as described. If you do not know about the Alternate Universe, that is because you have not yet read The Book of Squidly Light. And since there’s a good chance that you yourself live in the Alternate Universe, you might want to attend to that little detail.
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Imaginary author Karima Vargas Bushnell has certain things in common with her creator, Halycon Sage, and one is a tendency to drag way too much stuff with her everywhere. Thus she approached the TSA security line in the Alternate Universe with:
- a Rolling Widemouth Leather Underseat Carry On, this being a warm-buttery-brown miniature suitcase
- a newly purchased brushed-copper laptop computer
- a shiny, bright red violin case
- a little army-green purse crammed with everything else.
The laptop was supposed to fit into a Special Slot on the side of the suitcase– the reason, other than its luxurious beauty, that the little suitcase had been bought in the first place. The purse was supposed to occupy the interior of the case, along with a lot of other stuff. This worked as long as there was an elephant around to sit on it.
After minor misadventures and the usual juggling-act scramble with tickets and ID, our protagonist removed the laptop from the miniature suitcase (as per posted instructions), heaved the items into the white plastic baskets on the conveyor belt, and prepared to add the fiddle case.
Agent: You can’t go through here.
Karima: What do you mean, I can’t go through here?
Agent: Not with that. It’s too long to fit in a basket.
Karima, momentarily bereft of speech, is unable to explain that she has put the fiddle case on the conveyor belt without a basket many times previously.
Agent: You have to go down there (indicating a lane by the far wall).
Karima: But my stuff is already on here.
Agent: It doesn’t matter.
The imaginary author retires in defeat, leaving shoes, sweater, suitcase, laptop, lipstick, wallet, cards and ID in the hands of bored strangers, and dashes down to what turns out to be Lane Six, where the fiddle is put through without incident. Running back to her original Lane Whatever, she successfully recovers the items and hikes cheerily down a number of conveyor belts, this time for humans, in search of Gate G 6. (Approximately 15 minutes.)
Arriving there with a pleasing sense of triumph and ample time to catch her flight, she feels an icy chill down her back as she realizes that the coppery laptop is not in its special side slot. It is gone.
Back she goes to Security, re-traversing the cavernous rooms containing the human conveyor belts. Hesitating to re-enter Security from the wrong side — forbidding signs say, “STOP!” “GO BACK!” and “DO NOT ENTER!”– she looks at the abandoned items above the various lanes. Nothing. Bravely she approaches an Official, explaining her separation from her Items and the whole sideshow.
Official (male, emotionally neutral): Which lane did you come through?
Karima: I have no idea. One of these around here. Then they sent me to Lane Six.
Official: Go and look at the lanes.
Karima: I already did, but I’ll look again. (She does. Nothing. She returns to the Official.)
Official (After some checking around): Well, it’s not here. Did you come through South or North Security?
Karima (hearing this distinction for the first time): I have no idea. I think I was going south, so I must have come from the north. (How she knew this she does not, as of this writing, remember.)
Official: Well, that’s the other one. You should go back there.
Karima: Thank you.
(Approximately ten minutes.)
With a new official (female, friendlier), she goes through the whole dog and pony show again, explaining about the fiddle case, the baskets, her separation from her belongings, and the missing laptop. Except:
New Official: You can’t have come through here, because we don’t have that rule about the baskets.
Karima: Excuse me?
New Official: If you’d come through here, you could have just put your violin on the conveyor belt.
Karima is once again speechless, and probably appears about to cry.
New Official (kindly): Go back to South again, you must have come through that one.
Karima: Thank you.
She goes. (Approximately 10 minutes.)
Back at South Security, she again approaches the Podium on High of the supervising Official. It’s a new person. Nice looking but not excessively handsome tall young man with short hair and glasses. She explains the whole thing again, adding the latest adventures and the info about how she must have come through South. She shows him the Special Slot on side of the Very Special Suitcase.
Official (gently): Have you looked inside?
Karima (stunned, as if confronted with a problem in physics): What?
Official: (gently): Have you looked inside?
She does. There it is.
Karima: Oh . . .
Official: They’re usually inside.
Karima: You are a genius!
Official (kindly): I’m not a genius, I’ve just been here a while. Ninety-nine percent of the time, people put them inside. That’s where they are.
Karima stands stunned. The author of Autobiography of a Yogi used a special phrase for the condition in which she now finds herself: “Like a cow staring at a train.”
Official (very gently): Would you like a hug?
The world stops and she considers, feeling no pressure, either inner or outer. The young man waits quietly. It is one of those timeless moments that seems to occupy either a long time or no time at all. She considers, calmly and objectively, whether or not she would like a hug.
“Yes, I would,” says Karima.
There is a hug.
Imaginary author Karima Vargas Bushnell would like to thank the underpaid, overworked, and underappreciated TSA officials for their kindness and compassion, especially the one at the end of this story. Or she would have liked to thank them, had she and they been real.