Due to a security breach, all passengers must return to the main terminal for rescreening."
THE announcement was met with jeers and random threats of class action lawsuits.
"Unbelievable," I muttered, disgusted that I had chosen to fly out of Boston instead of Providence.
The perforated aluminum faceplates for the PA speakers suddenly became firing range targets for a rapid assault of half-eaten bananas, crunched-up beer cups and stale corned beef sandwiches.
Once again, we were being instructed leave the gating area and return to terminal C so we could take our shoes off for bomb inspections and then pass through the metal detectors for a third time. The civil-servant diligence of security gate personnel had taken an uncoordinated swan dive toward depths far beneath mediocrity. It was as if they were searching for a new low.
The reason for the first rescreening was vague, but it had something to do with one of the metal detectors being plugged into a faulty outlet. But the reason for this second rescreening lunged past the intolerable. This time it was due to one of the carry-on X-ray screeners dozing off while on duty.
A mob mentality was beginning to proliferate throughout concourse. Everyone from a congregation of traveling pacifists to the inundated cashiers at the Taste of Boston Deli began to fume and growl unsettling sacrilegious obscenities.
But then paranoid speculation quickly began to circulate. There were rumors of al Qada operatives being spotted around the airport. They were supposedly lurking somewhere in the shadows, dropping Thorazine into the security personnel’s coffee and jamming brass tuning forks into the metal detectors’ circuit breakers.
The mood was so rickety I just wanted to abandon all hope of covering the Winter Music Conference, cancel my flight to Miami, go back to my digs on Martha’s Vineyard, crank up some Paul Van Dyke on my Bang & Olufsen system and get jacked-up on salvia divinorum and red wine.
* * *
A senior stewardess from Delta Airlines began to try to calm people and ease them out toward the main terminal when she was rushed by a monstrous Hasidic man. He looked like a grizzly with pigtails and was holding a tattered scroll of paper over his head as he ran at her, yelling, "Moshiac is coming! Moshiac is coming!"
On impact, she was upended and thrown across the counter at the Dunkin’ Donuts Express. The Hasidic man charged toward others as if he were a bull in the streets of Pamplona and continued yelling, "Moshiac is coming!" But two National Guardsmen were quick to apprehend him. They muffled his shouts with the barrels of their pistols then dragged him through a series of security doors. It was a headstrong display of severe security countermeasures, and once they got him deep enough into the bowels of the airport he was sure to be beaten severely, for the benefit of all.
In this brave new color-coded world, no one would dare condemn such punishment for the man’s actions. It was like someone donning a Yankee cap and jersey and trying to jump over the dugout and charge the mound at Fenway in hopes of crippling Pedro Martinez. Before they’d make it halfway to the first base line they’d get gang-tackled by Boston PD, dragged out behind the Green Monster and pulverized with billy clubs until they collapsed limply into a puddle of their own piss and blood…then they’d be spit on and cursed at by the horde of frustrated non-ticket holders who were waiting for a Manny Ramirez homer to float over the wall and into their hands.
Some stunts are just stupid to the core.
* * *
THERE was no hope of squirming into a bar while they made another attempt to file everyone through the security gates. In fact, every place that was serving alcohol was bulging with angry businessmen who were demanding hard drink and waving angry fistfuls of money at waitresses.
So as we were being scuttled into the main terminal, I quickly sidestepped into the Duty Free and bribed the cashier to sell me a bottle of Potcheen Irish liquor. She was a tall, leggy redhead, with short electrified hair and a gritty German accent.
"Danke sehr," she said with raised eyebrows and a knowing smile as I slipped a few extra twenties into the palm of her right hand. "I’m Rozmonda." Her skin was leathery and raw, but sexy nonetheless.
"Danke you, Rozmonda," I replied with idiotic redundancy, overwhelmed by her uncanny resemblance to supermodel Milla Jovovich.
I hypnotically pulled the back of her hand up to my lips, kissed it, and was about to request her phone number when I noticed a rock the size of Gibraltar on the ring finger of her other hand. So instead of asking, I tucked the twenties deep into her palm, guided her resilient fingers into a tight fist, then let go of her hand and repeated, "Danke you, Rozmonda. Danke you."
* * *
Four hours past our initial departure time, half of the people were still waiting to get back through the gates, which really didn’t matter at this point because patches of soupy fog were sporadically rolling off of Boston Bay and onto the runways, causing all sorts of delays.
All of Logan International was now completely clogged up. It was like a large intestine jammed with weeks’ worth of bulk. Bulk that was being forced back into the small intestine instead of down to the rectum, for fear of holy abandonment.
I was well into the bottle of Potcheen, sitting in one of the hardback chairs in the food court and staring vacantly at the mayhem transpiring in both Baldini’s Restaurant and the Samuel Adams Boston Brewhouse. As I propped my feet up on my only piece of luggage--a battered leather tote--a squirrelly looking engineer of some sort nearly tripped over my legs.
"Sorry there, guy," he said with a awkwardness that perfectly matched his attire.
He had it all. Greasy uncombed hair, speckled with dandruff. Oversized, clear-plastic-framed glasses. Vinyl breast pocket protector, stuffed with the obligatory ballpoints and felt tips. An armful of technical journals. Hush Puppyesque shoes. High-water slacks made from a material that would never lose its creases--even after being stonewashed thousands of times.
And for some reason, his two front teeth were missing. I suppose it was possible that he was actually some really young whiz kid of sorts, but I dared not ask because I was in no mood for hygienic chitchat with some brainy little smart aleck.
I turned my vacant look toward him, which must have appeared as if I neither accepted nor rejected his apology.
"Hey, guy, real sorry about that," he repeated. "It’s okay if I sit here, right?"
"Yeah, well, it’s not taken, if that’s what you mean."
"Miami-bound?" he asked.
I looked out at the staggering line of people waiting to get through the metal detectors and sighed, "That was the original idea."
"Me too. We’ll get there eventually. Don’t you worry." He noticed the bottle in my hands and laughed, "Oh, I guess you’re not."
He plopped himself down and immediately began opening as many of the journals as he could, spreading them out on his lap and studying them obsessively.
I looked at some of the titles, furled my brow and took a swig of Potcheen from its ceramic bottle.
"Stormwater Collection Systems Design Handbook," by Larry W. Mays
"Implementing a Stormwater Management Program," by David S. Pyzoho
"Design and Use of Pressure Sewer Systems by David Thrasher
Sewer Processes: Microbial & Chemical Process Engineering of Sewer Networks," by Thorkild Hvitved-Jacobsen
"Hydroinformatics Tools for Planning, Design, Operation and Rehabilitation of Sewer Systems (NATO Science Series, Partnership Sub-Series 2)" by Jiri Marsalek
"You’re certainly engrossed in a… stirring field," I said, too withdrawn to even muster a chuckle.
"Huh?" he mumbled.
"I take it you’re in the…water relocation business."
"You bet," he said, chirping up a bit. But he didn’t let his eyes wander away from the text. "Water, waste, sewage--it all has to go somewhere. And it’s all heating up. The whole world’s heating up. The greenhouse effect, ya know?"
"Is that a fact?" I groaned uncomfortably, definitely aware that the temperature around us was rising. The food court was beginning to get overcrowded as more and more people arrived at terminal C, only to discover most flights were extremely backed up.
I wiped a thin film of sweat from my brow.
"Sure thing, guy," he said, still too engrossed in his reading to bother looking up. "Sure, sure, sure. Due to global warming, a sheet of ice twice the size of Rhode Island just broke away from the Antarctic shelf…now it’s one of the biggest icebergs ever…and the waters off of the southwest end of Florida are being consumed by a steamy algae bloom…it’s already turned 700 square miles of ocean into snotty black sludge."
"That’s just dandy. But right now I’m more concerned about--"
"It’s not anything to be concerned about," he interrupted. "We just have to build better and stronger sewers, more aqueducts, funnel some H2-O out of the ocean and onto the deserts. This whole global warming thing’s going to be a big money maker for everyone who’s prepared for it…"
He eventually let me get back to my immediate concern: getting to the bathroom and back without losing my seat.
"No problem, guy. No problem at all. I’ll save it for you. Sure thing."
So, I trusted the engineer with the task of saving my place while I went to rinse some of the atmosphere’s condensation off of my face.
* * *
WHEN I returned, a tall, extremely clean-cut man was sitting on the other side of my seat. As I sat down he boisterously said, "He saved it for you."
"Excuse me?" I asked.
"Our little friend here." Gracefully, he motioned his hand over toward the engineer, as if he were tossing him a delicate Frisbee. "He saved your seat for you. I was going to sit there but he said you’d be right back." He had bland pink skin, like a dusty sweet potato. His thick Italian hair had the luster of used crankcase oil and was so meticulously styled it must have been trimmed on an hourly basis.
"I guess he did." I looked over at the sewer geek and was going to offer him a hoity-toity thanks, but decided not to since his head was still so far sunk into his books that the smarmy savoir-faire of the gesture would have gone unnoticed.
"Where’re you headed?" he asked me, as he began to roll up the sleeves of his black turtleneck.
"Me too." He slapped me on the arm lightly, reassuringly, as if it were destiny, then added while rolling his sleeves up further, "I don’t know how I’m going to survive wearing this."
I looked down at my outfit, at the three-quarter length linen pants I had purchased in Thailand, at my silk Guayabera shirt, at my Maltese leather sandals, and thought about how stuffy I was feeling, and we hadn’t even left Boston yet.
"Yep." I affirmed. "You’re gonna combust as soon as you step off of the plane."
"Oh, but I had no time to pack…or even change my clothes, so I’ll just have to make do." He reached into the side pocket of an over-the-shoulder messenger bag that was tucked beneath his seat and pulled out a small mahogany box. "I did have time to make sure I brought my little troopers along, though."
I was beginning to feel somewhat uncomfortable with the way this guy was staring at me, no matter what he seemed to be doing or saying. It was a wearisome feeling. I felt pinned, as if I was a breaking point between him and the engineer, who would do nothing but focus on his books when he talked or motioned.
"Check out these little devils," he said as he pulled four miniature statuettes from the black satin lining inside the box. He handed them to me one by one and I could hardly believe my eyes. They were tiny replicas of renowned serial killers.
"They’re hand-painted, made from cold-cast resin--and posable," he said proudly. "Aren’t they divine?"
"That’s not exactly the first word that comes to my mind. Where’d you get them?"
"Don’t you just absolutely want a set of you own?"
"No. But I do have this lady friend who collects strange kinds of dolls…and we sort of exchange things from time to time…but that’s too sordid a tale to get into right now."
"What woman? Not that pseudo-Scandinavian tart you were coming on to in Duty Free?"
"How do you know I was talking to her?"
"Surfer boy, you actually don’t expect me to believe you didn’t know ‘she’ was actually a ‘he?’"
"How the fuck do you know all this?"
"We’ve been watching you."
"We? We who?" I looked around the food court nervously, knowing that I’d left all my "pharmaceuticals" at home due to the "extra security," but now second-guessing my thoroughness.
He slapped my arm lightly, but more intimately than before, "Deep breaths, surfer boy, deep breaths…"
As I swiveled my head around to look at him, everything went into slow motion. He was staring off into the crowd with a fiendish grin on his face and had absentmindedly pulled a short length of a rosary out from underneath his turtleneck collar. He fondled the beads erotically, and began to stroke my arm with his other hand.
I cringed, slipped my arm away from him and asked uneasily, "What the hell are you?"
"That’s very interesting way of phrasing the question. It’s almost the same way Cardinal Law put it."
"Cardinal Law? Cardinal Bernard Law of the Boston archdiocese?"
"I can’t believe I’m letting this kitty out of the bag to a total stranger…but, oh, what the hell, why not. Ever since Operation Candyman went into full swing I’ve felt like I’ve been walking on razor-sharp Easter egg shells. And after I saw you playing with that tranny’s hand in Duty Free I figured you might be up for some fun."
I knew what he was talking about, of course. In reference to Operation Candyman, that is. It was last week’s massive FBI Internet kiddie-porn sting that produced 89 arrests in 26 states, including two Roman Catholic priests, a number of other clergymen, members of law enforcement, the military, teachers' aides etc…and I remembered reading that there were still another 50 suspects expected to be pinched at any moment.
I straightened up, rigid, and while trying to stretch out the sudden onslaught of kinks in my neck asked, "So you’re actually a prie--"
Abruptly, he brought his forefinger to his lips and let out a subtle, "shhhh." Then he nodded and whispered, "The Cardinal insisted I get out of town and lay low for a while…and I figured, what better place than South Beach?"
I began to go numb with utter disgust, but then he grabbed my arm, squeezed tightly and said, "He’s quite cute, isn’t he?"
He nodded over at the engineer, admiring his innocent boyish appearance.
I jumped up and chucked the cold-cast figurines at my empty seat.
"I’m just joking," he said with an apprehensive, bug-eyed laugh.
The engineer’s head finally tilted up. He smiled at us coyly and said, "Joke? What joke? I love jokes!"
Desperate to escape from the ungodly trinity that I had unwittingly been sucked into, I grabbed my bag and frantically ran away from them, stumbling over baby strollers and suitcases, trying to make sure I didn’t flatten any stewardesses along the way.
* * *
BEFORE I could reach the exit of the food court, I was seized by a police officer.
"What’s the rush?" he asked, grabbing me by the back of the neck with one hand and reaching for his holstered pistol with the other.
I was so disorientated I could barely speak, but managed to find a way to do so right as he was about to radio for backup.
"Over there," I gasped. "Over there, is a guy with a kid…I mean it’s a man who’s got this guy…but he’s not a guy, he just always says ‘guy,’ and I think he’s a kid, and I think the man is a priest."
The officer gave me a deadpan look, and I couldn’t tell if he understood me or if he thought that I should be escorted down into the bowels of the airport to beaten along with the crazed Hasidic.
"It’s not a good idea to be running around like a madman in airports these days," he said as he let go of my neck and grabbed the leather tote out of my hand.
"No, of course not."
I turned, pointed to where I had been sitting and was going to attempt to clarify what I’d been trying to say, but the man in the turtleneck and the sewer geek were gone.
Nowhere at all to be seen.
Bewildered, I was about to grab my head with both hands, but realized I was still holding the bottle of Potcheen.
Unbelievable, I thought, and decided just keep my mouth shut about everything.
"This your only bag?" he asked as he rummaged through it. "You have any checked-in?"
"No, that’s it."
He shoved the tote back into my hands with half of the clothes hanging out of it and said, "All right then, no more of this running around crap or you’ll be head’n straight for the paddy wagon." Then he winked at a Red Sox jersey that was dangling out of my tote and added, "One other thing, take it easy on that Potcheen."
"Right," I said in a brain dead tone and began walking toward my old seat like a zombie.
When I got there, I found all four of the divine little serial killers scattered around it. I picked them up, shoved them into my tote and realized it was not a good day to be ascending from the earth. So, I braced myself for the two-hour drive down to Woods Hole and the cold, foggy ride back to the Vineyard on the ferry.
Martha's Vineyard / March 2002