This is the sixteenth installment in Peter’s “Bum Logic” series, about his investigation into our inadvertent complicity in climate change, continued from his last post, No Hot Dogs on a Dead Planet!
I was feeling self-conscious and I had good reason. I was readying myself for the penetrating gaze of airport security. I was wondering: Were I to suddenly be struck by an out-of-body experience and forced through some tragic misfiring of synapses to observe my corporal continence, what I would do? Would I report myself for suspicious behavior to the powers that be?
Yes. I was odd and presumably dangerous.
I was bearded. Strike one. I was a single, adult male between the ages of twenty and forty. Strike two. I was lumpy and sweaty. Strike three. There was not a doubt in my mind that I was facing down the less-than-appealing prospect of a full-cavity search, no Vaseline, from a Nurse Ratched reincarnate.
Still trying to fathom “lumpy”? Well, lumpy I was.
I was wearing more layers than that kid from A Christmas Story who couldn’t put his arms down. Hence the sweat. You see I come from a long and illustrious lineage of moneygrubbers. Naturally I refuse to pay luggage fees. So what didn’t fit in my complimentary carry-on, had to be carried-on on my person. That was the logic governing my attire, not contemporary fashion, nor the usual pragmatics of matching the climate, but a means to maximize my ability to transport possessions without tariff.
I wouldn’t call my motivation for travel vacation. It was more akin to a call of duty. I feel it to be my duty to defend potable water. A corporate person, TransCanada, was threatening that glorious elixir of life with a pipe. A group of brave individuals, the self-proclaimed Tar Sands Blockade, were standing in their way: I was on a mission to join their ranks.
Upon arrival at the tip of the conveyor belt leading to the X-ray machine, I started feverishly peeling off garments, careful not to let any bulging pockets burst. Soon the plastic bin was looking like a laundry hamper and I was looking like less of a hulk. Then I removed my shoes, huffing the air in attempts to detect any antisocial foot odor for which I might need to loudly apologize, and dropped my bag on the conveyor. I did one final prayer. Optimistic that I’d no contraband, nor illicit objects, I approached fate: the TSA portal.
Fudge. “Sir is this your bag?”
“Yes.” “I’m going to need to visually examine its contents.”
“Ok.” “Please follow me”
“Ok.” I followed. The security agent looked excruciatingly bored as she pulled on two baby-blue rubber gloves and opened my pack.
“Liquids?” she mechanically asked. “Nope,” I answered, watching her remove Rudolph Wurlitzer’s The Drop Edge of Yonder, Diane Di Prima’s Memoirs of a Beatnik, and Nelson Algren’s Non-conformity: Writing on Writing. Literacy, another red flag.
“Explosives or flammables?” she looked at me while holding my climbing harness, shoes, and chalk bag. “Nope.” I remained pokerfaced, imploring the fates to prevent the woman from opening the chalk bag and discovering a white powder. Fearing the prospect of being forced to explain why I was trafficking in calcium carbonate.
“Sharp objects?” She removed my toothbrush and sleeping bag. “No ma’am.”
“Controlled substances?” “No ma’am.”
She locked eyes with me and palpated what I knew to be nothing more than a tangle of clothing.“Where are you going?”
“Texas.” “What do you plan on doing there?”
“Committing acts of corporate sabotage,” I thought. “Camping,” I said.
That story checked out. The red flags fell. “Thank you. sir. You may proceed to your terminal.”
I re-assembled myself and waddled to gate A23.
Flight #F507 to Houston. Boards 7:45 am.
Departs 8:20 am
My cellphone read 6:59 am. With no more hurrying to do, I settled in to wait. I took the books out of my bag. I flipped over the Di Prima. “A witty, sexy novel.” Not interested in erecting a pretentious erection, I put that down and picked up the Wurlitzer. A blurb on its backside read, “The Drop Edge of Yonder is Schoenberg playing on a whorehouse piano, Sam Beckett with a six-gun and a sack of rattle snakes. Rudolph wrings your heart like a chicken’s neck while he shows you the cannibal in the bathroom mirror: our true American myth of origin.” The cover seemed to open of its own accord and I lost all awareness of my individual agency in the magic of the epically proportioned first sentence:
“The winter that Zebulon set his traps along the Gila River had been colder and longer than any he had experienced, leaving him with two frostbitten toes, an arrow wound in his shoulder from a Crow war party, and, to top it all off, the unexpected arrival of two frozen figures stumbling more dead than alive into his cabin in the middle of a spring blizzard.”
The next gasp of consciousness I took, we were in the city that gave us DJ Screw and then took him away—“Baghdad on the Bayou”—where I promptly boarded a northbound MegaBus with a stop in Livingston, my destination and the town most approximate to the construction of the southern segment of the Keystone Pipeline. As I settled into that seat, I recalled a Jon Krakauer line I’d once highlighted: “books possess an ounce-of-weight to minute-of-entertainment ratio that compares quite favorably to intoxicants.”
“Yup,” I agreed. Then greedily helped myself to another textual snarf.
To be continued…
Peter Nichols is a poet, rock climber, and vagabond originally from Toledo, Ohio.