Before I left the hotel room, it seemed like a good idea to bring along enough crack to get high in an airport bathroom just before getting on the plane. As the terminal comes into view, I realize, too late, how insane this idea is. We pull up, and I notice that one of the cars is directly behind us. As I make my way into the building, my only thought is when. When will they tap my shoulder and ask me to empty my pockets and open my bags? At the check-in counter? In the security line? The gate? It doesn’t seem possible that I’ll ever make it to the gate.
Pilots in their uniforms walk in their particular way toward their flights. I imagine their sunny families, their sons who collect little model airplanes and show off by knowing all the names—Cessna, Piper Cub, Mooney, 747. I can see my father’s TWA captain’s uniform and hat hung up on the old-fashioned coatrack in his den and remember how handsome I thought he was when I was young, how he looked like a movie star in those dark pressed pants and crisp white shirts. My father. How did this happen? I imagine him asking when he hears about what is about to go down. How did it come to this, Willie?
I need to ditch the drugs and the pipe. I see a bathroom and make a beeline there. It’s empty. Two stalls and three urinals. I go to a stall with the intention of flushing the bag and the pipe, but when I get in, I see the toilet has only a trickle of water and seems to be running without stop. It won’t flush. The next one is the same. I think maybe they’ve disabled them so I can’t flush my stuff. I feel like a trapped animal. I hear someone enter, and quickly pull down my jeans and sit on the toilet. Minutes pass and I barely move. I try not to make a sound at first but then realize that of course he can see my feet and that I should pretend to behave normally. As if I am going to the bathroom. Whoever entered doesn’t leave, and I begin to imagine there is actually a whole SWAT team of DEA agents and police silently filling the room.
At some point, it occurs to me that the only thing I can do is wipe down the pipe and bag for fingerprints, wrap them in toilet paper, and place them under the plastic casing of the dispenser. It crosses my mind to throw the crack in the toilet, let it dissolve in the water and hope the residue disappears eventually; but there is something in me that holds back, that can’t bear to watch the drugs erode to nothing. I start imagining the difference in jail sentences—ten years with a bag of crack? Probation with just a pipe? Still, I wipe down the pipe and bag, wrap them carefully in toilet paper, and stash it all in the dispenser. I do this as quietly as I can and then open the door to the stall as if it is the last free second of my life.
Standing against the wall is an airport security guard. He looks right at me as I walk to the sink to wash my hands.
I try to keep calm after leaving the bathroom. There is no doubt in my mind that the security guard has headed straight for the toilet dispenser. I don’t look back, but I can feel the eyes of a hundred cops and agents on me. I watch the long line of tourists and businessmen and students waiting to take their belts and shoes off before passing through the metal detectors. I see a man wearing gray slacks, a nylon pullover, and plain shoes. He’s one of the JCPenney guys from the hotel, and now he’s here, several feet away, looking right at me. Just past him is an older woman, walking slowly, pulling a suitcase on wheels and talking into a cell phone. I notice the blandness of the suitcase, her shoes, her jacket. It’s kindred somehow with his. And then, in the minutes that follow, like seeing one water tower in a city skyline and then suddenly seeing them all, I see dozens of these people. Blandly dressed, middle-aged, suitcase-pulling, cell-phone-clutching zombies whose slow, deliberate movements all appear choreographed in response to mine.
I wander the airport for what seems like hours before getting in the line for security. I occasionally get brazen with some of the people I think are following me, look them squarely in the eye and smile, even joke several times that this must be a tedious assignment. They usually respond with a smirk or a rolled eye.