I was thirteen years old when I told airport security my dad had a gun. Had it been post 9/11, we might have missed our international flight while a powdery latex glove attached to a GED recipient searched my father’s cavities.
He’d accepted a year-long teaching position in Florence, Italy. We invited my best friend “S.P.” to come with us; an offer he accepted with a vigor that stunned his parents into providing their blessing. I understand it seems odd for a thirteen year-old to up and leave for Europe with his friend’s parents. You should know that S.P’s name was Sigmund Polk Jones, and at eleven years old, he had thick black leg hair, wore colorful neckties to school, and had “dear friends” that were girls. He was an anomaly; not meant to be caged in Ohio, or any terrestrial colony, really.
He was getting more eccentric by the hour, but we’d been tight for a long time, and he’d always been odd. At nine, he insisted on riding his father’s ten-speed bicycle to school despite being unable to reach the pedals. He didn’t so much ride it as he ran along its side jumping on and off when convenient or necessary. It was awkward, but the bike was French, and that was very important to him in ways none of us were willing to consider.
For a kid like me, whose smart-ass personality chose to blossom before his pubic hair, life in small town Ohio was simple, safe, and predictable. I was leery of leaving my zone, and the fact that gung-ho Sigmund was already wearing a beret in anticipation of extreme Euro-ness was making the whole thing unbearable.
It didn’t help that my dad was tense. He had a temper in those days, but was usually able to focus it on Ronald Reagan and the frequent dearth of extra crispy chicken at our local KFC. But with his virgin trip abroad including so much human luggage, he was struggling to keep his top on.
My mom, S.P., and I all went through security without issue. There were seldom any problems back then, but with tensions in the middle east rising, airports were a touch more buttoned-up than usual. My dad marched through the scanner with supreme confidence, hoping his demeanor might assuage any suspicions missed by the x-ray machine. Upon realizing he’d made it through without a beep, he exhaled like he’d been acquitted. I think it was something about his Catholic upbringing that caused him to fear false accusation. I’ll call it “Original Guilt.”
The three of us stood waiting with our carry ons as my dad’s bag scooted through the x-ray. The conveyor belt paused, the agent inspecting his screen carefully. He motioned for his colleague to come over for a consult. They spoke and pointed and nodded. The belt started again and my dad’s bag appeared, but was immediately stopped, “Is this yours, sir?” asked the more official looking one. “Yes, yes it is. Why do you ask?” “Do I have your permission to inspect this bag, sir?” “Do I have a choice?” My father, to this day, attempts to defend civil liberties at the most inopportune times. He once threatened to sue Burger King for falsely advertising themselves as fast food.
I stepped forward confidently, and in my most sarcastic voice said, “Oh, yea right, my dad TOTALLY has a gun.”
The airport fell nearly silent; the only noise came from ligaments snapping in my father’s neck as he whipped his head around to disown me with his eyes. Two more men came from a back room, one of whom requested ID and asked, “So, why would your son say you have a gun?” I can’t remember what my father said exactly, but what I heard was, “Because he’s a fucking moron.” They searched his bag and body, while I watched in guilty terror. He didn’t have a gun, but they thought he did, not because of original guilt, but instead because his zitty adolescent kid thought the whole world loved a smart-ass.
They let him go, and we walked to our gate in silence. S.P. broke it when he muttered, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Both my parents laughed, and S.P. joined them upon realizing he’d added levity, and impressed his surrogate parents with his maturity.
S.P was glad we were leaving “Kansas,” and I was dreading it more with each passing second.
It ended up being the second best year of my life, only made more surreal and tale-worthy because Sigmund insisted on wearing a tie to school every day. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have been a little more like Sigmund P. Jones … save the neckwear (and beret).