The summer vacation began right after Gallia had undergone a disk fusion operation. Yeela graduated from high school, completing a three-year program and flew with British Airways to Israel a day later, her suitcase was damaged, she didn’t get a new suitcase from the airline, Ima (mother) is very mad at her and at the airline. Ima is spending hours on end on the phone trying to make the best of a situation that isn’t all that bad to begin with. AT&T has dedicated a direct line to the offices of British Airways to accommodate for all she has to say to that airline. The Airline has assigned a special spokes-person to deal one-on-one with the crisis, and there is no end in sight. Seeing how the suitcase thing is developing it will be well into the year 2010 before the crisis is behind us, so the time is right to talk about all the other small things that would otherwise dissipate in a fog of forgetfulness and that would be kind of sad.

The boys in the family went from one more year of vacation at their public elementary schools to vacation at home. Amita’s friend Yonatan is filling the third-boy-fifth-child position these days and is complemented by ‘Ella’ who is playing a similar ‘third-girt-sixth-child’ role. They are all dealing with the crisis by means of distraction in the forms of movies and theme parks including ‘Great America’, ‘Raging Waters’ and there is some ‘want-to-sound-like-French-cheese’ named park with gardens and a goat to pet that also qualified. The good news is that Ima is in charge of all these activities and until AT&T supplies her with a direct satellite link to British Airways, she too is forced to stop the suitcase crusades for the duration of the kid’s activities.

The suitcase crusade is a blessing in disguise. The resulting over-the-phone-hostilities are good for Ima and are speeding her recovery from the herniated-disk-removal operation. If you stop to think about it, it’s an operation during which the head is temporarily severed from the body while some piece of the spine called a disk (which is apparently damaged) is replaced with an artificial disk made of synthetic bone, and that is one hell of a trauma to recover from. It turned out for the best that she spends so much time on the phone. The length of the earpiece and the way one holds it between the head and the shoulder when attempting to find a pen and paper is a wonderful neck exercise. The best results are achieved when a second phone rings and she has to hold two earpieces with her head. The exercise requires massive neck muscle contraction, which better tighten the head and the spinal stem that was left attached to it back to the base of the neck and the rest of the spinal cord. Who cares how many hours are spent on the phone? I much rather see phones off the hook than Ima’s head hanging limply off her shoulders and all the talking helps her recover her voice (something about the after affects of the neck being cut in half on the vocal cords and the wind pipe).

To be on the safe side the doctor prescribed a soft neck brace that she needs to wear for the duration of the summer. Ima is learning to make the best of the brace and has already attributed some remarkable achievements to it. There’s a lot of minor stuff like stepping up to the front of the line (‘I’m sorry, my head is tilted so high I can’t see the line’) and driving cars off the road (‘I really am sorry, I can not turn my head’-‘Don’t I know you from the line in the bank?’). But all that has been dwarfed by her performance at the San Francisco< opera when she took Tal to see ‘La-Traviata’. There they were with their discount tickets (for which they paid $7 each) sitting in row 672 some 300 yards above the opera floor, staring into the abyss and trying to imagine where the stage might be. ‘I think it’s those tiny lights in the distance,” said Tal. ‘Let’s go there then’ said Ima. ‘But Ima, that’s where the people with $140 tickets sit’. To no avail, Ima was already on her way and Tal followed. When they got near the stage one of the attendants immediately recognized Ima in her ‘Queen Victoria’ collar as the understudy who must sit up close in case the performing singer loses her voice. ‘Follow me ma’am’ he said and led them right into the middle of the orchestra, Row 10. ‘Thank you’ shouted / rasped Ima in whatever was left of her voice. The attendant thanked her for whispering and left them to enjoy the show. So there they were, 662 rows closer and 295 yards lower with a terrific view of the show. In the process they had saved $266 all for a $5 dollar makeup collar. I don’t think Ima will ever walk out the door without that collar again.

Tal completed her freshman year in high school, and started running a summer day camp for two-dozen kids. Tal ran the camp – as asocial service with the noble intent of transferring funds from the parents of the children who attend to Tal’s possession and safekeeping. As such it is sufficient to bring the kids in for a few hours each day and send them back home as soon as possible. So the camp was advertised as running from 09:00 in the morning to 03:30 in the afternoon, at which time the parents would be expected to remove their children form our house and take them to their house. It’s quite a simple and fair concept. However in the context of summer day camp it tends to aggravates a fundamental conflict between the parents’ intent to have some freedom from their kids and the camp’s directors intent to have a life of their own alongside the responsibility of running the camp.

The first day turned out to be longer and harder than expected. Personally I marvel the fact that two-dozen kids between the ages of four and eight can be kept busy for fifteen minutes let alone seven and a half hours. It has to be one of the most difficult acts of diplomacy, ingenuity, cajoling, deception (I said diplomacy) and self-control that a person can perform. As a father of four with two adjuncts I know that I couldn’t have done it.As it turned out, after the children had been removed by their parents, Tal and her co-COO (co-chief-operations-officer) had to spend another hour returning the house to something the dog was willing to enter, and thirty minutes after that to make it acceptable for human occupation again. The only spot they did not have to worry about was Ima’s nerve center for the suitcase operation, because Ima was there all day flexing her neck muscles and voice and no kid dared venture near her.

My own involvement with the camp was pick-up-the-garbage detail– for I had been assigned to pick up whatever garbage Tal and her co-COO (co-chief-operations-officer) wouldn’t bother with. After a few rounds to the garbage bins I mutinied and got a lot of support from Osmo, who felt that being paid $0.80 a day was not a whole lot for helping run things, cleaning up after the kids had gone and picking up the dog’s poop. Tintin, who was promised a quarter a day (as in five nickels) wasn’t sure just how screwed he was, but, never one to turn down a chance to mention his overall beleaguered life, he huffed and he puffed and until he too made a clear if not verbal case for his being part of the exploited workers.

Our moaning male triage convinced Tal that something must be done. Her good heart and her Don’t-Push-Bushy inner voice made her pick up a broom. Peer pressure convinced her co-COO (co-chief-operations-officer) to pitch in as well. But I knew that making Tal and the co-COO cleanup would leave them with the bitter taste of what it really takes to make an honest living and I didn’t want to hurt them that bad at their age. And so, to sugarcoat their embarrassment,. I proposed that in the coming days, the need for ‘basic sanitary and cleanliness’ be cited as a reason for parents to pick up their whiny, noisy, spoiled, filthy, snotty children half an hour early. That way, Tal and her co-COO could clean up the place and get it ready for the next day, leave Osmo and Tintin and myself out of it and not feel that they themselves were working much too hard for the money they were making.

On the second day of the camp Tal suggested that the kids be picked up an hour earlier. The majority of the parents agreed immediately. This could have been expected given that knowing their children; most people could easily imagine what it takes to keep their brat content in the lenient atmosphere of a day camp, and how much filth their offspring could leave in a place when allowed so many hours of activity. All, except for a pair of mothers that somehow always happen to be there and always have to fight for eternal justice when it is not being violated to begin with. Well these two decided that they should get their money’s worth — namely that Tal and her helper are obligated for a full day and the hour of cleaning was not their problem. As an expression of their discontent with the scheduling chaos they had witnessed, they began taking their own children home two hours earlier. If you are as confused as I am don’t be alarmed, some minds are sharper than others, and these two mothers have us all outsmarted. Let me share with you the way I see this: that’s two kids that leave one hour before all the others who leave an hour earlier I guess some people just need to be heard and ignored. All one has to do is give up the satisfaction of letting them know that the end result of their rebellious actions was directly aligned with the cause they were fighting against. Put another way ‘when surrounded by idiots agree with them all and do what you had in mind’.

When camp finally ended, Tal’s room had a new wall-to-wall carpet – green and aromatic (it smelled very much like my wallet on the first Monday of each month, only stronger – much stronger) and flecked liberally with the faces of American presidents. I noticed few Washingtons and fewer Lincolns; Jackson reigned supreme.”Makes sense,” I thought. “He was the best-looking man of them all, also one of the brightest intellectuals to form this model democracy.”

Osmo and Tintin were gloating over their share of the spoils which were comprised solely of one dollar bills:

– “Tintin, how many you got? I got ten!!!”

– “Osmo, that’s nothing, I also have three!

– “Let’s count again”

– “Good idea! How many you got, Osmo?”

– “Ten!”

– “Me too, three!!”

– “We love you Tal!”

– “Thank you Ima!”

– “Love you dad!”

– “Can we go camping now?”

– “Yes.”

Tal flew to Israel the next day with British Airways to brag about her success.

While Tal had put the camp behind her, I was left with the responsibility of making sure that the underlying social fabric of our modest town had not been too severely rattled by the scheduling events that took place during the first two days of her camp. After all as adults we have social responsibilities that last. Well, it turns out the discontented pair of mothers had their reasons. Not only do they coach kids to do the opposite of what is required at day camp they also coach adults on camping. They have a program where they lead six, seven or eight families into the wilderness and stay with them there for two or three days. Supreme bon vivants that they were, the pair had redefined ‘wilderness’ as ‘like-home-but-away-from-home’ (LHBAFH). ‘Funny’, I thought to myself, ‘I thought ‘Some of our kids friends have an improved version of this concept’, ‘They live at our home away from home and seem to able to go on indefinitely’. But this was not the time for criticism, if I wanted to mend the social fabric I would have to show good will and join one of these expeditions, one of which happened to take place on the eve of Tal’s flight to Israel. I decided that participating with the boys in this revolutionary camping experience would clear the atmosphere and weave the fabric of unity ever stronger.

And so it was that the boys and I were to be initiated into the LHBAFH Experience. Come Friday noon / afternoon – this would give them the 3-4 hours of daylight they require for putting up camp) we loaded the car with everything we could possibly think of as needed for 2 days of camping: a tent, sleeping bags, extra blankets, those funny role up mattresses, a flashlight, extra food, water, CD players for the kids, a book, bathing suites, the garden deck chair that served us so well indoors. What else could one possibly take? We set out for the rendezvous. Little did I know how much we had left behind…

The pair always start their camping trips at the ‘Star bucks’ cafe at the corner of Homestead and Hollenbeck (two streets in our modest town). ‘This is your last chance to feel civilization so use it’ they said. ‘Little do they know what we have in our car’ I winked at the boys. Two hours later I would hope that nobody had seen or heard that gesture. After every one had their triple-double-not-venti-not-grande-caramell-mocca-dry-capuccino-with half the mix-and the other half low fat milk-cream-double shot’ (coffee) we set out to CASA DE FRUITA, a really fancy way-station an hours drive from San-Jose on the way to Los Angeles. South on 101, past Gilroy and then East past the Garlic fields on that narrow road that widens at an intersection coming out of the hills and there is a small mall with a gas station on the right? Well that is ‘Casa de Fruita’ and it also has a pool and camping grounds with running water and electricity next to each parking site. It’s very much like an RV park, but wilderness-minded, we decided to put up the tent near our car and the pool. Very much like the condo we used to live in only now we had a tent, which was somewhat smaller than the apartment, I’m talking about.

The rest of the tents were not

I thought we brought everything. Well I’ll tell you, we brought nothing, we were practically shipwrecked compared to the other families. We had our tent up in five minutes and then sat and waited for three hours while the rest of the settlement in the wilderness materialized out of trunks and crates and massive bundles that came off roof racks.

The first thing that I noticed was that the people were scoping out the terrain, measuring distances and planning what seemed to be the layout of plots. ‘What kind of stupid ritual is that?’ ‘It’s a flat grass field and you put your tents on the grass and spread them out so that there is room for everyone, right?’ Seeing that this could turn out to be a major embarrassment for the boys and myself, the more tolerant of the families motioned me to be patient and keep quite.

First came out those huge blue plastic woven canvases and they were spread on the ground so that they covered the area under the trees with minimal overlap between the canvases. ‘Oh so now they are being territorial’ I said to myself. That’s nice, probably getting back to the roots of primordial bonding’, ‘you cannot urinate to mark your territory these days, so you put down a canvas, how fascinating’.What troubled me a bit was the fact that each family has spread a canvas half the size of a basketball court. ‘We’re the family of eight, and I would never dream of requiring so much empty space when I’m in the wilderness’ I thought to myself.

The canvases were the bases for the tents that followed. Now I am using the word tent the same way I described our tent but in reality these were TENTS and we had a tent. As the behemoths began to rise they had multiple rooms, a porch, storage areas, you name it. Then it was time to furnish theTENTS. Before my incredulous eyes, tables and chairs and armchairs went rapidly down the gaping vinyl maws, along with floodlights ‘It gets dark at night,’ some one explained but it didn’t really register. I was fascinated by what I was seeing: coffee machines, iceboxes, gas cookers, charcoal barbecues (needed only for the effect), electric pumps and inflatable double mattresses and even a satellite dish for a TV that someone had remembered to bring along.

If I could work through the initial embarrassment I knew we would be just fine. ‘We were busy helping Tal pack (your money away) so we came only with what I had in the car’ I said sheepishly to anyone who seemed to notice that we were even there. ‘Its OK Yiftah’ said the two mothers; ‘we’ll help you just like we helped Tal’. ‘We kind of suspected that you wouldn’t be organized for camp’ So they had their say, and I had my humiliation and was accepted into the warm and cuddly family of wilderness goers. The boys were obviously accepted by the families (maternal thing) and did not really seem to notice that they had been reduced to living in the slums of Casa de Fruita. ‘If only Gallia were here with her Victorian Collar I’m sure some of those families would have taken her and the boys inand provided them with front row camping experiences’

By nightfall the camp was up, fully lit and the barbecues were busy. The feeding frenzy lasted four hours, tapering off every now and then as people would wonder into the night to try to shake the impossible amounts of food into more accommodating sections of their bellies. At one o’clock the next morning the parents, groggy from a day of hard labor decided that it was time to call it a day and started milling into their luxurious dwellings. The boys were up and romping around with the rest of the kids. The phenomena that followed convinced me that its not for nothing that we are a family of eight and likely to keep growing.

As the grownups were milling into their tents the children were flocking closer and closer to Osmo and Tintin. I could hear it from every tent ‘If you want to stay up that’s fine, but do it in someone else’s tent’. And the kids would go out of their tent and walk further into the darkness towards the next tent. Finally there were no more tents. Except ours ‘Why don’t you guys come into our tent? We don’t have electricity so we can use our flashlights and there’s just enough room for everyone’ Osmo offered. The unanimous ‘Cool!’ was heart warming, and they plunged happily into the tent, which was just the right size, and just the right atmosphere and kept everyone happy. The very meager belongings, which we had brought along, turned out to be just what the kids wanted.

After two days I was getting Ima-sick so we put the tent in the trunk and drove home happily. On the way I was thinking to myself: ‘First we have them by the dozens at home, and every one is happy’, ‘then we have them by the dozen in the wilderness and everyone is happy’, I decided to make sure that I don’t mention this to anyone else the fabric might be disturbed again.

By the time we got home Tal had arrived in Israel. Her suitcase was damaged; she didn’t get a new suitcase from the airline Ima was working on her rehabilitation program with AT&T and British Airways again. She also allowed herself to start going after the flies, which come to visit every summer.’BANG’, ‘I hate them!!!!’ ‘Who the guests?’, ‘no the flies’. ‘BANG’, the dog was chewing at her hindquarters vigorously and Tintin and Osmo would not go into a civilized bathroom because it had a bug in it. ‘This is what they learn from the wilderness?’ but then I guess we did have less bugs there So Ima finally called in another Ray, this time to fumigate the house and I took the dog to the vet who finally found flees on her.

Believe me I was actually happy that he found flees. These we know how to handle. So the house was fumigated and the dog got a flee bath in the yard and a flee treatment the next day, and I ASKED Tintin to stop walking through the net as though it were a curtain so that we could keep the hole just big enough for the dog to walk through. Now all we have is flies, and since Ima is feeling so much better she can actually chase then herself. ‘SMACK’, that was close. ‘Did I get it?’ ‘I think you missed, why don’t you try with your collar?’.

Love you, miss you, enjoy your stays and come home soon, we have plenty of room.


Airport Security

Why is it that we have it engrained in our minds that if they tell us to come to a flight two hours ahead of time then that’s what we’re expected to do? I guess its part of our zealous revere for security measures that drives us into the ‘come early’ trap, which everyone else seems to avoid. We will always be there 2 hours and fifteen minutes ahead of time (just to be on the safe side) expecting everyone to do the same.

Well, hardly anyone does the same immediately nullifying one’s own need to show up early. Most people around here view security as a necessary evil to be complied with rather than a patriotic duty which one should support whole-heartedly and set an example for others to follow. Well, the only thing following me was my shadow. The rest of the population was somewhere else taking its own sweet time.

People learn fast when it comes to alleviating the pains of annoying restrictions imposed by an evil god the necessity to defend against other evil people. A few months ago the airports were packed with people whose flights where schedules as far as three days out. People were appearing on TV, sitting on sleeping bags, eating dog food (it never spoils) stating boldly that the ‘events’ would not limit their freedoms and they would continue to fly no matter what’ The surge of patriotic sacrifice didn’t last too long. Nowadays people know that you don’t really have to show up early. All that is required is to check oneself in to a flight. Once one is checked in it becomes the airline’s problem to wait for you, rather than you having to chase after the plane. To be on the safe side, check in a bag. The bag could be an old shoebox that won’t be missed at the end of the journey. Once the bag is there the individual controls the takeoff schedule. They’ll look for you for hours before they decide that you’re not showing up, because once they do that, they have to ‘de-plane’ your bag and that is a fairly daunting task. What all this means from a practical perspective is that nothing has changed in terms of the amount of time before the flight that people show up.

Knowing all this I still showed up early and here’s what evolved.

As part of making sure that I make the most of my early arrival I immediately turned down an offer for a sidewalk check in. ‘Thanks’ I commented to the enthusiastic baggage clerk who saw in me the first action item in god knows how many minutes. ‘If I have 2 hours and fifteen minutes I’m going to make use of them, not just rush my check in and feel like a fool’. ‘Don’t these people know that sidewalk check-ins are insecure? Boy, It’s good that I came early so I don’t have to rely on their services’.

Having used up the first 30 seconds of my 135 minutes to takeoff (Apollo Astronauts used to take 90 minutes to get ready’) I felt that I could afford to walk slowly to the ticketing counter that was more than 30 feet away. I was dismayed to see that of the four clerks that were there only three were busy. ‘This is not so good’, I said to myself. ‘I could be done with the check-in and on to security 30 minutes ahead of time’.

I had to slow down the check-in process. First thing to do slowing down the check-in process is to go to a fast food stand and wait in line for the duration of time that you need to burn. Normally there are lines suited for any delay in these places. If you need a 10 minutes delay you can go to the bookstore and look for gum. If you need a 20-minute delay you can try the Burger-King on the McDonalds places. If you need 45 minutes to an hour you can go to Starbucks. On this peaceful Sunday afternoon there we no lines anywhere!!! With no lines at all its difficult to build a delay of any kind.

I contemplated the probability of a ‘short-line’ delay forming but the prospects were not too good. Unlike real lines which by definition cause delays (it wouldn’t be called a line if it didn’t), A ‘short line’ is one which does not delay you for the duration that you need, and requires some active interference on one’s part in order to create more meaningful delays. There are multiple ways to work with the short-line problem. The naive approaches repeat getting to the front of the line without getting what you want. For example you can ask for a ‘broccoli smoothie’ at the McDonald’s stand or ask for ‘real coffee’ at Starbucks. Another tactic is to buy only part of what you need, pretend you forgot when its too late to add it to your order and go back to the end of the line to get the next item. The first approach makes you look really bad and might attract suspicion. Suspicion is the last thing you want to arouse these days. The second approach arouses less suspicion but could cost you more money since you are most likely avoiding the prospects of the ‘all-in-one’ options that these ‘line’ places have to offer. Spending money frivolously by getting the French fries separately from the burger is the second to last thing you want to do these days. The bottom line is to look for better ‘line forming’ methods.

What the inferior naive approaches have in common is the fact that at some point you get to the front of the line. The better approaches are those that avoid the front of the line altogether, while staying in the line never the less. The first way to do this is to offer the person behind you to take your place. This will work only if the person behind you is not trying to do the same thing as you are, which is to burn time in the line. The safer approach is simply to wave to an imaginary person somewhere in the direction of the end of the line, creating the impression that you have just spotted someone you know that is about to join the line and you would like to stand next to that person. To enforce the impression, make a few aggressive ‘let me come to you’ gestures with your hand (the forefinger pointing from you to them and back) and making forward motion with your head. Once you complete the ritual tell the person behind you that they can have your spot and move to the end of the line. When you get to the back of the line, stand with your back to the line because some of the people are sure to try and figure out who it is that you were communicating with. With your back to them it could be anyone in the terminal. Their natural behavior would be to expect someone to join you within a few seconds. However most people will not care to find out, they will only stand with their heads turned for so long, and you will be able to turn around and face the line within 10 to 15 seconds. This could be cut short if someone does join the line sooner. To everyone in the line that is the person you have been gesturing to, and as far as you are concerned it really does not matter. You could offer the new comer your place in the line in order to reinforce your position.

To make the best of these options one has to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses, some of which have already been mentioned. There a few more subtle points which are worth mentioning. The ‘short-line’ approaches, which attempt to avoid the front of the line, should not be used if there is only one person in front of you and no one behind you’ these are the cases where the naive approach is more suitable in spite of the limitations mentioned above. There is one more option, which is somewhat risky but can be quite effective if one is lucky. This is the ‘form-your-own-line-at-the-closed-with-no-sign-counter’ approach. The implementation of this strategy calls for standing in front of one of the counters that is not being serviced, and waiting for a line to form behind you. This has the benefit of guaranteeing lack of service so you can stand there as long as you need. Once you have enough people behind you, you can move to the back of your own line. If some of the people in the line leave it because they have exhausted their time wasting periods, the worst that can happen to you is that you’ll be first in your own un-serviced lined and can wait for the line to form again.

None of the above were applicable on this sleepy Sunday noon. There were no lines to be found or formed so I had to make my way to start my check-in. ‘If I walk slowly I’m sure to have some people get in front of me’, I calmed myself, Sure enough an energetic traveler with a backpack and a water bottle strapped to it beat me to the ticketing counter. I was expecting the usual ‘where are you traveling to today?’ protocol, but my energetic vagabond surprised us all with ‘Can you tell me where my gate is?’ he asked. ‘Down the hall’ was the answer ‘Next passenger please”. ‘Cant’ you at least let the man walk away first?’ ‘Next passenger’ repeated the attendant only to be followed by the one next to her which has just wrapped up her batch of passengers. I looked behind me, thinking of applying one of the ‘short-line’ approaches, but there was no one there. I was at the front of the line and was being serviced. The only generic option in a case like this would have been a ‘front-of-the-line-partial-check-in’ but I had no idea how I would go about such a thing.

Dismayed I came to terms with my situation and stepped to the counter. ‘I’m flying to Phoenix’ I said and laid the appropriate documents on the counter top. Never in my life was a ticket available so fast. My last hope was the mileage transfer process. With a triumphant stroke I pulled out the British Airways frequent flyer card and asked for the mileage to be credited to the ‘first number’ in the list. That was a mistake. My only means of delay would have been to simply lay the card in front of the lady and wait for her to give up on figuring out which of the names on the card (‘Yistah’, ‘Gallia’, ‘Yeela’, ‘Tal’, ‘Daniel’ and ‘Amitai’) match the name of the person she had just issues a boarding pass too. The ‘first number’ clue was just too much to overlook and the only delay I got was ‘to which name sir?’, ‘the first’ was my feeble reply. And then it was over. I looked at my watch; less than 5 minutes after being dropped off I was free to head to the glacial pace security check. At least I would have my delay there’ I thought to myself.

As I was making my way at a reasonable snail pace that still keeps you from appearing like you need a wheel chair to speed you up I came along a bathroom. I really didn’t need to go to the bathroom and that’s probably why the bathroom showed up in the first place. These places are always ten minutes in the wrong direction when you are in a hurry and really have to go. But a delay is a delay even if it’s a small one. Obviously there was no line there, so I wasted a few seconds by trying to pick the nicest urinal. This was quite an opportunity lost. Picking a urinal in a men’s restroom is not a matter to be taken lightly. Women don’t really know that men have urinal preferences, but we do. In fact most men will use the same urinal pecking order. The overall logic is quite complex, but things get way simpler when there is no-one else in the men’s room. Men will tend to piss at least one urinal over from the next man standing pissing there. The reason is that they seek some illusion of privacy, and there is a universal understanding that what you have in your hands cannot be seen from the next urinal over unless the person there is completely hell-bent on learning whether or not you have been brought into the ‘Brith-of-Abraham’. Things get a little more complicated when there is no vacant ‘next urinal over’, and even more so when the arrival rate of people into the rest room is higher than the average time it takes a person to relieve himself. These situation require some non-trivial probability and queuing theory calculations in order to figure out minimal ‘genital-in-hand’ time next to a guy you don’t want to share the experience with.

There was no point standing there and dreaming about the good old days in the restrooms of Shoreline Park during an intermission in a ‘Spice Girls’ concert, when even the women were making it into the men’s stalls. Now those were what one can call delays’ But I had to face reality, there was no-one there and it didn’t look like it was going to fill up anytime soon. At least I could pick the best urinal (these are the ones at the end of a line, in the corner of the room, because they have only one side which is next to another urinal). I did my best, found out that I should drink more water, and left.

50 yards and two minutes later I reached the security check. Obviously there was no one in front of me, but I was coming to terms with the fact that this will not be as slow as it needs to be. The first security obstacle is an attendant who can read. This educated individual is charged with the delicate task of matching the name on ones boarding card with the name on a recognized form of identity that the same person should carry when trying to fly. Being in the down mood that I was, with everything coming my way, it did not occur to me to try presenting the boarding card along with one of the new business cards I had. Without thinking I showed my driver’s license and the first security check was behind me as soon as the professor finished reading. For a moment it seemed that he was matching the license number with the flight number, but I really didn’t care to ask.

Security did it’s best to delay me. I was really grateful to see them trying so hard, and I did my best to meet all their demands, at least on their second attempt. First thing to do these days is to separate the laptop computers from the carrying cases before putting them through the X-ray machine. The reason for this measure is beyond my understanding, but it does cause some delay so its welcome. Initially I had failed to do so and my bag with the computers immediately bounced. As the bouncing took place my sandal buckles triggered the magnetic gate alarm. Now I was the cause of a major attempt of a security breach. ‘No way this can go quickly” ‘Sir, please give me your shoes’ came the first command. ‘Please take you computer out of the bag and go through the X-Ray again’ was the next command. I gave the guy my sandals to do as he pleased with them, and walked barefoot back through the magnetic gate with the computer carrying case and the two laptops inside.

So far so good. Time was being wasted. The only mistake I had made was to send my wallet, watch and keys ahead of me in my first attempt through security. Since it was doomed to fail thanks to the lethal sandal buckles, I might as well have kept my valuables with me until the second attempt to make it through the security gauntlet. At that point I should have let the computers through but kept my valuables so that I would have been sent through for a third time’

Anyway, I was back in the gathering security line, barefoot with a tray with two computers in it. The fact that I looked like an idiot didn’t bother me a whole lot, as one can expect to see some weird things in these places these days. I could have been dressed in a suite and barefoot’ The only thing that bothered me a bit was the fact that my valuables were at the other side of the X-ray belt waiting for me or for anyone else who might decide to pick them up. ‘Not much you can do about it’ I thought and hastened to get back through the magnetic detector gate. This time I passed, picked up my belongings, put on my radiated sandals. As I was doing so I recalled the days when they used to frisk my ankles and wondered why that ritual was no longer followed. As I proceeded to pick up the computers that had by now been methodically screened exactly like before, one of the security guards turned to me once again; ‘May I have your shoes, sir’ came the polite yet firm demand. I turned and looked over the X-ray machine, one of the two people standing there repeated the request. ‘You just X-rayed them now’ I responded informatively, expecting somehow to correct the mistake. ‘May I have your shoes, sir’ was the reply. ‘The guy is only five feet tall, so he couldn’t possibly want may sandals for himself’, I thought. I knew better than to argue with these guys. While I didn’t understand what made the sandals so interesting, any lack of cooperation could have caused a delay beyond the one I was trying to create. I quickly slipped out of the sandals and handed them over to the man. ‘May I have your computer, sir” I was getting worried. ‘What if the guy thinks that he can only do one pair of footwear and one computer at a time?’. If I was stuck with and idiot who somehow thought that two sandals and two laptops cannot clear security as a batch belonging to one passenger I’d be in an endless loop, going through the X-ray with one, getting my sandals back, going back for the second, stepping through the magnetic gate with the sandals, triggering the gate again, giving back the sandals, taking the two computers through X-ray once more, only to end up barefoot, with two laptops and my sandals which is where the loop begins! Somehow all this did not seem to flow logically, but then logic was not the point here, it was security.

I was relieved to see that he had taken my possessions farther down the security line. ‘Oh, so there’s one more test I need to pass’ I asked? ‘Explosives’ was the answer. ‘You’ve just seen me drop my sandals twice, step on them and nothing happened, but I guess you do not take any chances”. The first thing Kerberose did was pick up a small piece of unidentified cloth and wiped the sandals. He then put the cloth in a device that probably identified the sandals and sandals’ With his mind at ease the man proceeded to wipe the laptops with the same cloth. The fact that the laptops checked out to be laptops concluded the security checks. However I was perplexed by the order in which Kerberose had applied the cloth. ‘Wouldn’t you do the laptops first and then the shoes? I mean what else did you wipe with that thing before applying it to my laptops?’. I could only dwell on the issues without showing any emotion. After all I didn’t want to be perceived as acting suspicious. Besides, what’s the big deal? The worst that could happen is that it would smell like I typed on the keyboards with my toes’

I got to the gate, sat down next to a place where I could connect the laptop’s power supply to the wall and began to type this letter earnestly. After two hours and five pages boarding started and Tweety passed in front of me. At least it smelled like it was Tweety. The lady next to me gave me a look, I looked back with the most sincere ‘please-believe-me-that-it-wasn’t-me’ look that I could muster and she said ‘do you smell it?’. ‘Well if she was talking to me about it chances are that she doesn’t suspect me’ I thought relieved. Then I remembered Safta Mini god-rest-her-soul and I knew that I shouldn’t take my assumptions for granted. I had to break into a conversation so that she was assured that it was not I who was breaking the wind with the smell of shit. ‘How could I not smell it?’ I responded. ‘It’s that man who just passed us’ she said, indicating towards an ass the size of two watermelons, with feet coming out of the bottom side, and the torso of a fat man coming out of the top side.. ‘I hope he feels better on the plane’ I responded. ‘I hope I’m not seated next to him’ she said. ‘Judging by the fact that he is boarding ahead of us puts him at the end of the plane, so worst case he’s seated behind you’ I responded. ‘Yeah, but the air-conditioning will spread the smell”. She was starting to seem a little over concerned about what was no more than a big fat guy farting in our faces hoping to remain anonymous.

The way I looked at it, it was all part of the things that you do around lines of people. Just like you don’t do the ‘shot line’ moves with two people in the line, you do not fart and stay close to the fumes if you are the last person in the line moving towards the plane past the people still seated waiting for their boarding calls. I would have farted in an undeterred manner as he did. The only thing he should have done differently was to make sure that there was someone walking behind me when I farted in the faces of the people I was passing.

The good news from all of this is that I did make some good use of all the time I had failed to waste. I started telling this story and managed to get this letter to a point of critical mass so that I could muster the energies to finish it during the flight in and the flight back.