They have already passed out the first round of snacks when I ask for a second bag of pretzels. The flight attendant responds with a kind “of course,” but it is veiled by an insincere look in her eyes. I smile into the darkness of her pupils. I can’t help that these pretzels are the next best thing, after me, sitting at 34,000 feet. Nor can I help that traveling at several hundred miles per hour makes me very hungry. It’s a sympathetic famine. I’m going very fast, at a very great height. It’s an incredible amount of work that warrants extra calories. So give me those ‘zels! I’m a psychopath.
The flight attendant rummages through a box, tossing peanut bags around like they’re fertilizer. I smile in her quest to fulfill my appetite. I feel chipper. I reach for my backpack, which barely fits between my legs, even with my toothpick femurs. I am afraid of disturbing the man next to me. He has dangerously long fingernails and his arms are crossed with those daggers aimed my way. I work the zipper like a booby trap. His knife-nails tap away in his sleep.
I’ve done the careful work and now I reach inside for my laptop. I’m in a great mood. For several weeks, I have put off some writing that I need to do, and I decide that I will do it now. I’ll look very important tapping away on a nighttime flight to LA. Oh, they’ll think. A big, important LA writer. A real one. Look at those fingers type! And those nails! Perfectly cut.
But my perfectly manicured fingers meet a pocket of air where my laptop should be. They rustle around for a moment; search the space for plastic and metal and the outline of a very expensive apple. Soon my eyes catch up to my fingers and they dart. They roll back into my brain as they realize the dire emptiness of that space. I drop the backpack.
I try to process the last few moments. I grab for the armrests. Long-nails has the market cornered on the left side, so I grab to my right and squeeze like the thing has murdered my family. I can’t understand what’s happened. My laptop belongs in that backpack. It lives there. It should be there. Has it run away? That’s ridiculous. I can’t breathe. My arm hurts. I’m having a heart attack. This is it. Headline: “Man Can’t Live Without Dumb Laptop, Dies on Plane.” No, the news won’t run a mid-air death unless it’s deaths. I look over at Long-nails and decide he’s coming with me. No, that’s not enough. Everyone’s going down. I try to stand and address the plane of their future, but I’m stuck. I look down. My fingers are red. I release the armrest and my hands move to the back of my neck. I take three deep breaths like I’m in a movie because that seems to work for people in movies. I stare at the back of the seat in front of me. It vibrates.
I run across the events of the night. I decide that I will admit to some carelessness, but I will not admit to full blame. There are several culprits that factor in here. There are accomplices in the crime. The conclusion that my laptop is gone and that I am surely going to die without it is not just on me. How can it be? I’m responsible. I was a boy scout. And boy scouts are major geeks. And major geeks do not lose their laptops! My brain is frazzled. I can’t think straight. And the extra pretzels aren’t here. They aren’t here at all. I can’t handle the present. I have to take this mystery back a few hours. To before the shaking hands in my backpack. Before the fear of long-nails. Before the vibrating of the seat.
I have been back in Georgia for a week or so. Just long enough for my body to reacquaint with the grasses and the pollens and the dusts of my old home. Just long enough for my face to blow up red and puffy and my nose to run like Usain Bolt chased by crabs. Which is the fastest he runs. Because Usain Bolt is terrified of crabs.
I wake up on the morning of my flight with the worst of it. My eyes are sealed shut and my mouth is more sandpaper than mouth. I take an allergy pill, pack my bags, and get in the backseat of a car stocked with tissues. I also have some wine. For the nerves. And to open my sinuses. And because it would be a shame to waste. It’s Chilean!
We get stuck in horrible traffic. I know that I’m going to be late to the airport, a place to which you cannot be late. I’m frustrated. I press my head against the car window and try to make sense of how I can possibly be late after having had the whole day to do this thing right. But not much is making sense because between the wine and the pill meant to dry me up, my body lacks the appropriate fluids to do much more than stare outside as ants pass us.
When we finally make it to the airport, I have forty-five minutes to get through security and board my plane. I am also a little drunk. Maybe more than a little. Did I mention that the attendant at the check-in desk is soooo nice!
I stand in the security line like a toddler. I’m restless. I can’t decide whether to whine or cry. Time passes fast and the line still moves only inch by inch. I look ahead to see what the hold up is. Gathered in front of the monitor for the machine that sees you naked is a small army of TSA agents, laughing and having a good time at 8 o’ clock on a Tuesday. I tap my foot like they’re my children and we’re late for a holiday party.
Just as I begin to consider whether spanking them will land me in the fast lane, the line moves. I put my bag of liquids in a bin with my shoes and my belt. I grab another bin. I pull out my laptop (listen closely here), and put it in this other bin. Then I put everything on the conveyor and watch as it moves into the naked-seeing machine.
I stand in line. An agent motions for me to move forward into the full body scanner. I lift my arms and straighten my posture, pop a hip for the guy reading the monitor. He waves for me to exit. I stand in front of the conveyer and wait for my things to come through. They do that.
There’s a holdup. The man in front of me has an issue or something in his bag he shouldn’t so they put his things through again. They also want to put my suitcase through again. I want to say they don’t need to, it only contains several jackets I couldn’t fit in my checked bag, jackets I don’t even need but desperately want, but that all seems like too much for this crew of giddy late-shifters. So I wait. And wait. I look at my phone. It tells me I have 15 minutes until boarding. I start to tap my toddler-foot.
While I wait, I put my belt on and my liquids away in my backpack. I move the bins, which are still stacked, to the edge of the conveyer where an agent carries them off. My suitcase comes out, devoid of danger. Still in a pollinated and semi-drunken state, I walk a crooked walk ahead. Into the nightmare sunset of 5 mile high terror I’m soon to experience once my hands enter that laptop-less backpack.
Astute readers will notice my mistake long before I did. In the Dora the Explorer version of this story I would point to several places at the security checkpoint and ask you to identify where my laptop went. Some will say it got stuck in the X-ray machine. Some will say it vanished like their first wife. Others, the smart ones, will knock me over the head with the bin in which it is sitting. The bin that I stacked my first bin on top of and self-righteously moved to the edge of the conveyer because I think I’m the Mother Teresa of proper airport manners.
So you see where I am, now, in my aisle seat on a plane somewhere over Texas, unable to tap tap tap brilliant and hilarious observations in front of snoring Long-nails and the other passengers on this plane that is a thousand miles from my beloved laptop. I dig my fingers into the back of my neck and take three more breaths. Like the movies.
The flight attendant takes notice of my masochism and asks if she can get me anything. I smile like I’m about to be committed and tell her that yes, she can get me something: Answers. And my second bag of pretzels. She frowns and hands me a bag of pretzels. I explain my situation and she snaps from the frown and squats to my eye level. She casts her eyes to the floor and then to me. They are suddenly incredibly empathetic and sad. She explains that she can’t do anything, personally, but she wants me to know that she’s with me. I twitch.
When we land at LAX, I exit the plane and ask every person who looks like they carry even a whiff of authority about what I can do. I eventually make it to a very nice man who stands in front of the escalators. He tells me to call the airport lost and found in the morning. Then, and only then, will I know the fate of my laptop. His advice makes me feel like both a hobbit and a child. It’s somewhat comforting.
In the morning I make the call. I talk to the kindest person I have ever spoken to before. She tells me that she has my laptop. I want to kiss her through the phone and marry her and then live off her government benefits. She gives me instructions on how to have my laptop shipped. I do exactly what she says and when I go to sleep I have several wonderful dreams about our future. Most involve adopting an ugly dog. Or child. We’re humanitarians.
In a few days I have my laptop. It comes in the type of box that makes me assume it’s reached me in a few million pieces. I cut open the flimsy cardboard and my beautiful, expensive, and dumb laptop is there. It’s whole and it’s looking back at me and it doesn’t care about anything at all because it has no brain, but I care a whole lot. We embrace.
Later I surf the web and tap tap tap on the keys and think all this must be some sort of sign for the time to come. Everybody gets a little lost along the way, and not only because they’re carried by a tipsy idiot. Lost happens. I’ve made it to Los Angeles, but I am certainly lost. I have a way to go. I need a job. I need a place to live. I need a shower. But I’m here. And I’m typing on this dumb machine. And I’m trying to enjoy it all. Because you have to enjoy it. But I’m not drinking less wine. We can’t compromise everything. We just can’t.