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Thursday, November 29, 2001

Parasitic Drag

Last night I compressed the last of the air out of my king sized feather comforter and stomp-stuffed it into the only remaining nook of my 62 linear inch box (now approaching sphere). Aggressive taping ensued--not a mere sealing device, but an integral structural component of the plasti-fiber composite material, an amalgam of decaying cardboard and clear plastic bound by an industrial strength adhesive. Final weight: sixty seven and a half out of an allowed seventy pounds.

Almost everything on the floor (and in the chair) here, plus a big pile of shirts, went in that box and the duffel beside it.

Garrett* called as I was putting the last bandages on the box, and I asked "what will they think when I walk in with a decaying cardboard box weighing sixty eight pounds and held together by, quote-unquote, excessive tape?" I then pointed out that smack in the middle of this box, surrounded by towels and bedding, is a stainless steel steamer pot. And in the bottom of that pot, sandwiched underneath the steamer basket, are two wireless networking cards. I asked him what he thought the odds were they'd be rummaging through the self-inflating contents of my box in the morning--Garrett*'s own boxes consisted of bound pairs of milk crates covered with cardboard and tape, and they merely X-rayed his. He said Neah. I set aside scissors and a roll of packing tape to bring with me to the airport.

Four hours later, Michelle and I were heaving the box and the accompanying sixty-pound duffel into my truck, and driving off into the pre-dawn morning, just skimming the leading edge of the mounting traffic slog. Arriving at the airport shortly after dawn, we found my flight delayed until 1:15pm.

Despite, or perhaps due to, my usual polite demeanor, the check-in line interviewer went subtly cold before moving onto the next person, and I noted in particular the comparatively chatty rapport she engaged them with. My ticket was issued at the counter by a man who seemed marginally flustered that he, alas, had to send my box and bag over for an item-by-item content inspection. I suspect that decision was not his.

At the inspection table, I stood and watched as someone else's undergarments were neatly lifted one by one from a pile, unfolded, refolded, and stacked in another pile by the green-gloved hands of a pair of rental security guards who looked only a few days training away from a Taco Bell assembly line. Eventually the entire stack had been transferred, and was returned to the German fellow's suitcase from which it came. Then it was time for my box, and I watched in amusement as the comforter bloomed out of the top of the freshly slit box top, watched the green-gloved hands playing tug-of-war with my firmly embedded wet-suit, watched this bringer of security fumble with the steamer pot, unable to remove the lid because I had put it on upside down, with the handle taunting him from behind its glass shield. "Tip it to the side," I said.

Once every ingenious micro-arrangement of packing had been thoroughly scrambled, the act of aided entropy was complete and it was time to re-solve the puzzle which had compressed the contents into this space last night. The green gloves fumbled with the wavelan cards, interweaving them with the DVD cases that originally bridged them so the lot would just fit in the gap under the steamer basket. They then tried to force the basket onto the stack; I stopped them with a word. My own naked hands approached with a "nothing up my sleeves" gesture and aided the re-assembly process until it was complete, and then the gloves came off for a show of manliness as he wrestled the box to the ground and subdued it with American Airlines bondage tape.

I asked in an affirmative tone "is this one done?", gesturing to my sixty pound, bursting at the seams duffel, and he looked around quickly to see that no one was looking, said "this one's done" and shoved it with his foot toward the now sanctioned box. He offered to cut me into the front of the security-screening line. I had planned, given the flight delay, to go to breakfast with Michelle and Agatha and return later, but since the near-stationary security line at this point was three or four people thick and ended out of sight somewhere on the other side of the skywalk to parking, it seemed prudent to accept this consolation prize.

I said goodbye to Michelle, wandered into the terminal, called Agatha to get Garrett*'s cell number so I could call him whenever I finally arrived, and found a rocking chair near the window to wait out the day. My neighbors were three small children and their father, who I struck up a conversation with as the kids jumped around us. One of the kids asked where mom was, and he told them she was gone to get food and would be a while because she is "very very sick". I took the first excuse to migrate elsewhere.

Eventually the loudspeakers mentioned breakfast vouchers in a tone that implied surely we were all given them when our boarding passes were issued up front. The voucher was for $6, and the only marginally palatable offering I could find, this side of security, was a $7 sandwich which I now regret sacrificing a dollar (and my stomach) to.

I had a nice conversation with a woman about home remodeling, sudbury schools, and doctoring (she's a pediatrician, married w/kids). She seemed genuinely engaged, or was it just good bed-side manner? I think I ignored a couple of hints she'd injected as subtle requests to be released from the obligation of conversation so she could get back to reading her journals and pondering the fate of her out-grown home. I also could have done her more good by probing for the essence of her particular dilemma than I did by reflecting on her every issue with my own thoughts; I find the latter breeds disinterest if the thoughts don't strike a chord, and resentment if they do. But insightful questions are almost universally appreciated.

She asked me at one point about my own plans in Maui, so I told her about my dream to build a house there. She asked if I had family or if it was just for me. I told her that recently a friend asked me "what could be more lonely than building your dream house for one?" and I replied "remodelling a mediocre house for one." It's just for me; I gave my best slanted smile. She laughed at the joke, but in retrospect she may also have winced from the pain since her own dilemma in part is that she and her husband can afford to remodel but not build new, and she sounds frustrated by the limitations and inefficiencies that come with that.

There was also a cute girl with bright pink hair who I played a couple of games of smile ping-pong with. But somehow ping-pong always ends in someone dropping the ball.

When they called the rows, I wondered when and where they would accost me. The big red "S" scrawled across my ticket is the secret designator for Search, or Security, or Scoundrel, or such. I learned this the night before in my mission briefing, which had the outward appearance of an Indian dinner with friends. I noticed the other guys with S's on their tickets passing their knives and guns and such to their comrades without S's, but alas I am a solo operative on this mission as always so I had to rely on my uncanny ability to pass scrutiny despite their best efforts to find me a criminal.

They pulled me aside at the second checkpoint, shuttled me into a side room where who should I find but Mr. green-gloves himself. He seemed happy to see me, and went through the motions of waving a wand around me and peeking for two seconds into my bag before giving his sideways glances and sending me on my way. Lollypop politics. The androgynous guard who'd directed me his way seemed very concerned when I emerged from the room so quickly. She glance back through the door as if to make sure green-gloves was still breathing.

Such an odd roller coaster of smiles and scowls, this new airport experience. It's good-cop/bad-cop, assembly line style.

On the plane, I asked the steward what drinks he had without sugar. He said "water". I asked him about the orange juice. "Orange juice has lots of sugar -- fructose." I asked about added sugars -- sucrose. He read the carton "100% orange juice". "Ok," I said, "I'll take that." But he kept reading the carton and informed me that it has so-many grams of sugars per serving, and he seemed quite sincere about this to the point that he was furrowing his brow and muttering to himself about how that's a lot of sugar, even as he was wandering off after pouring my glass. I refrained from engaging him in a conversation about the relative glycemic index of fructose vs. sucrose. But he's right; it is a lot of sugar.

The food that followed was actually decent, though scant. A fragment of chicken breast on rice, a marginally stale salad, a roll, and a cup of Kozy Shack chocolate pudding. Relatively organic by airline standards. The roll was mystifying, however, as it smelled strongly of cherry-flavored cough syrup despite otherwise being a plain white dinner roll. I don't hear anybody coughing right now -- perhaps it's psycho-asymptomatic.

The consolation prize for stage-II screening was a voucher for a free movie headset rental. I wonder if I could make a living at this sort of thing? Naturally, they handed out headsets for free to everyone, probably in compensation for the flight delay. ("Isn't it Ironic?") The movie is supposed to be Curse of the Jade Scorpion (Woody Allen), but it's currently 2:20 and we are scheduled to land at 5pm. The flight is more than half empty, so I've plopped myself in the optimal movie-viewing seat. Perhaps I cursed the Jade Scorpion by doing so.

Or perhaps not! It seems to be starting.

Aloha from somewhere over the Pacific,


So, they finally pissed me off. I'd managed to remain fairly stoic through all of these searches, but when they insisted on pulling me out of line to search my carry-on bag (again!) in Honolulu, I questioned them rather loudly about the logic of this--apparently once you are flagged, they hand-search your carryon bags (the same ones, over and over) at every connection. This last flight was open seating, so in addition to having them rummaging through my belongings, I got last pick of seating.

Funny they don't realize how this all has just the opposite of the desired effect. I feel I am being pushed toward the dark side of the force...

Their tape, by the way, was useless. Next time I re-tape it myself:

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com