Friday, January 7, 2011

The Knife (of steel and stories)

We fly … a lot. We know the frequent flyer drill – laptop out and in its bin, shoes off, liquids in their plastic bag, pockets empty of metal things. I’ve set off metal detectors with things like hair clips and underwire bras. Check, check, and check. So I was devastated when the security screener at the airport ran my purse through the X-ray machine, frowned and ran it again, then started to search it by hand. I’d already done the frequent-flyer drill … and now the screener was looking at me oddly as he pulls a pocket knife out of my purse. NO!!

In some cultures, a knife is just a tool; in others, a gift of a knife implies a promise and an invitation to a more durable relationship – with this symbol of protection, it says, “I’ve got your back and I expect you to have mine.” I have a magnificent pocket knife; Dan got it from a pawnshop and gave me when we were dating. It’s good-sized (i.e., big for a “girl”) and has an wing-spread eagle etched into its high-quality stainless steel lockback blade. And in the years I’ve owned it, it has accumulated stories that make Dan smile – the time I was holding a meeting and, disrespectfully, one guy started sharpening his knife while some others of us were talking. I pulled out The Knife and sweetly said, “Hey, Mickey, as long as you’re doing, here’s mine.” Knowing that my knife was razor sharp (Dan always kept it that way) and there was nothing for him to do to improve it; he realized it too, as well as my point that I noticed his inattention as he sheepishly handed The Knife back. Or the time I was working late and alone, and the one computer tech who everyone thought was a little creepy offered to “help” me open a carton of paper, and I thanked him but told him I could handle it, snapped open The Knife one-handed and his eyes got a bit bigger and he said, “I guess you can,” and left me alone after that. The Knife. It’s sliced mushrooms on camping trips and sliced open the packing tape on some wonderful gifts we’ve received. I’ve carried it for 28 years, except for times when I’d have to go through security. The closest call I’d had with security, until now, was for a meeting in the White House conference center, where I realized just in time I had the knife in my purse, jogged six blocks back to my car to lock it safely in the trunk, then back again to arrive at my meeting a few minutes late, out of breath, in dress clothes that were now slightly rumpled in Washington’s sticky summer heat. The right-hand back pocket of every pair of jeans I own has wear marks that correspond to the corners of The Knife’s handle. And now an airport security guard was holding it and looking at me (and so, of course, were the folks behind me in line, waiting to see the mini-drama unfold).

Dan and our backpacks had already gone through and our bags had been checked. I gave the screener my best confused grandmother imitation and asked if I could put The Knife in my checked luggage. He explained that I had to go back out through security – he escorted me out of the line. He walked with me and kept holding The Knife, and didn’t give it back to me till I was outside. I went back to the ticket counter to ask if I could retrieve one of my bags, but they had already been processed and were gone into the behind-the-scenes section of the airport. The agent said I had to go downstairs to baggage claim and reclaim my bag, put the knife in, bring the bag back to the ticket counter and resubmit it so it could be re-screened, then go back through security and the metal detector again. Good thing the lines were short and we had gotten to the airport early!

So I’m at baggage claim explaining the story, and the worker there asks me what my luggage looks like – um, sorry, mostly it looks like everyone else’s, two of the ubiquitous black wheeled carryons, and an Army duffel. He asked if it mattered which piece he brought and I said not at all, whatever’s easiest for you to locate; you’re the one doing me the favor. Turned out that the easiest one for him to find was the most distinctive -- the duffel. Ugh. It was also the heaviest of our pieces and the only one without wheels. But I smiled and thanked him – and he thanked me(!), for Dan’s military service – and I slipped The Knife into the duffel’s outer pocket. The rules couldn’t let me just give the bag back without re-screening, so I shouldered it and staggered under the weight back through half the length of the airport before circling back and dropping it off again at the starting point for checked baggage. Then just me and my oddly lightened purse and pockets, back through the metal detector again, and finally limping through to the gate; humping that weight had taken a toll.

Even after the knife adventure, we had some time to wait before our flight. We passed the time chatting with a woman waiting for her flight to Chicago, learning, among other things, that she’d retired from the auto industry, had grandchildren in Washington, had had a serious heart attack that was originally misdiagnosed, had seen the same t-shirts that were being sold at 3 for $20 for half that price in the kiosks on the Mall, and shared a January 9 birthday with Dan.

The flight was uneventful, although the layover in Miami was long. But at about 11PM we were at baggage claim in Aruba. The first bag we noticed was the duffel. As soon as it was off the carousel I ripped open the outer pocket and reclaimed The Knife and put it back into my pocket where it belonged. [photo]

No comments:

Post a Comment