My Last Dance
I might have made a life-changing decision. The street rancor justified my priggishness. I disappeared into to crowd as just another stuffed shirt who, by Bill Clinton’s word, would learn that it’s okay not to inhale. Frankfurters seemed to clear a path for me though, anyways, like I was Moses with my cane as a staff. I was also Jesus, carrying my backpack, staggering under the assumed suspicion, or possession, of the drugs I had rejected.
Safe in my terminal world I knew the end was coming soon. My fix was coming and I had that feeling of euphoric anticipation I imagine those kids in Zurich got daily. I was going home and my nightmare trip to Europe would be over. I thought about what my friends would want to hear. They’d think I was lame for not going with those granola heads with the hacky-sac, for passing up the opportunity for soft (or hard) drugs, booze, women, nudity, sex. If my trip were good, if I’d seen Rome’s best ruins, if I ate a fluffy croissant in France, been the toast of the Hoffbrau Haus in Munich, I probably would have gone with those young travelers. I would have gone with them and possibly had a bad trip on LSD or some kind of mushroom that was procured somewhere in college,, in Duluth. I could have easily been talked into ruining a perfectly good trip I’d remember for years with one I’d forget in hours. I limped to my cell at the airport, my perch where I nested and watched for y plane to land. I fell asleep wrestling with my situational paradox.
“Has flight 743 left yet?” I asked breathlessly, having run to the counter.
The gruff SS woman’s shift was in its final lap. She did not answer. She just sternly pointed to the board above. They amazed me. Unlike the monitors in America that convey departures and arrivals, train stations and airports in the European countries I’d been to had huge 40 foot boards hanging from the ceiling. The board was sequinned and flipped panels upon arrival and departure time. I sat hours listening to intermittent shuffles. I looked up on time and it reminded me of a warmer place. It looked like how lily pads all flip up when a sudden wind gusts or a storm stirs a Minnesota lake.
“Dammit!” I said, holding back tears.
It is 5 p.m. The familiar smell of poorly tendered airport food threatens to invade the smoky air. The woman at the counter wraps my misfortune in the tight bun she wears as a hat. It is sucked in through her vacuous eyes and she never blinks. It is old hat. There is nothing to do but wait for the next one. At 22 hours away I fear I will miss it if I leave the airport. I could be picked up by the Gestapo for suspicion, I could get lost and patronized, I could be asked the 100 Mark question I fear “bist du betrunken?,” so I man up, accept my predicament, and go back to my nest.
It’s déjà vu the next night. Dogs sniff the tarry floor again. Their noses are in sync with those of semi-automatic weapons. The dogs, however, have likely been fed, maybe even massaged. I feel safe and scared at once. Tonight I am there again seen by the same Flughafen Polezi with green hats the have lack and white checkered bands. I fear they will question me now, tonight, November 18, 1991. I will have a record in Germany. I likely have one in Scotland (“Cheeky Lad” in my book Finding me — and Them: Stories of Assimilation). Scenarios of the worst humility pass by me and I try to keep a stiff upper trip. I settle my bill, extemporaneously figuring in my head using my 10th grade math skills. I try to convince myself that my 1,200$ to go round in vain was an ample investment. I was young, working, fresh out of college and had an ample sum of money in the bank. I could afford a sustainable level of wreckless abandon, of dropping swaths of dough with little happiness — much less paradise — found.
The Final Night
A red ball shadows the tarmac. A few distant planes are run-way models. Like a blood orange squeezed, the interior of the terminal is painted. From my nest, in T-minus 8 hours, I am expecting to fly. Nothing can impede me now. I vow to stay strong, to resist drug trippers, hostile youths, arrested adolescents or Hare Krishnas. A license to embellish y European experience is waiting at the counter 30 yards from me. For a number of reasons I never bother to walk over and get it. My pack has been waiting in some storage area, undoubtedly searched multiple times by now. I have my ticket and I will use the bathroom on the plane. Wild dogs can’t drag me from my spot near the gate.
“Northwest/KLM flight 743 to Amsterdam now pre-borading at gate D-23.”
This announcement follows in at least three languages. I peel myself off the seat, the blood rushes upward and my balance is momentarily compromised. No one that I see notices.
“My bags are checked through to Minneapolis, right?”
“Is that what you did? Is that your final destination?”
“Oh yeah,” I enunciate.
The agent makes a few calls and assures me the bags are checked to Minneapolis. I take her word and board the plane.