Stuff I Write, Stuff I Like

Stuff I Like: Zen and the Art of The Carry-On

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Back when I was flying, a grown man took a swing at me in the Tampa airport.


It was 5 a.m. I know it was 5 a.m. because I remember sneaking coffee, which I’d hidden behind the ticketing podium against regulations. Besides, it’s hard to forget a grown man taking a swing, especially when it comes before noon.

I was taking tickets and saying the usual, “Hi, Welcome Aboards,” when this man came up with his suitcase. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who’d take a swing. He was dressed in a tan business suit. He used a lot of hair gel. And this was Tampa, not West Palm, and there’s a difference.

But beside him was this suitcase.


This suitcase was huge and very heavy. It had some glittery ribbons tied to the handle to make it easy for him to find in crowds.

The suitcase could have been filled with pork bellies. It could have held a prize-winning pig. This was around Christmas, too, and you’d be surprised at how many people pack hams in their carry-ons.

ham 1

“Sir,” I said, “I’ll just need to check and make sure your bag will fit onboard.”

And that’s when he swung.

He didn’t say anything. He just tried to roundhouse me. I ducked, which was its own kind of miracle. My morning reflexes are pretty much sloth-in-a-tar-pit.

But maybe something in my skin felt it coming. After you work with people long enough, you learn to expect just about anything.

The man was ranting when airport security took him away, calling me the kinds of names that are hard to hear, especially at 5 a.m., especially from a stranger, especially when they echo off down a tropical concourse and everyone turns to stare.

Maybe some terrible things happened to this man earlier to make him go off like this. He probably stood in a long line at ticketing. He probably got frisked by the TSA. He probably paid $3 for an airport cookie. Maybe he was headed somewhere awful. Maybe someone he loved had died. You never can tell.

But one thing was clear: this man did not want to separated from his bag. Whatever was in there was so important to him that he’d risk anything.

Attachment to material possessions, Zen says, is an obstacle to enlightenment and one’s spiritual journey.

Other kinds of journeys, too.

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