As soon as my belongings were packed away in a cramped storage unit on West 84th Street, I caught the redeye to Portland. Against her wishes, I didn’t let my mother know I was coming. It seemed easier that way. Though, it also seemed wrong. In spite of getting older, that wretched feeling of disappointing your parents never fully goes away, no matter how insignificant the cause.
While I sat in the back row of coach, I chewed and spit my fingernails, my gut bubbling an agonizing mixture of panic and guilt. Strangely, I didn’t reflect once upon my father. All I could think about was my mother’s reaction when I pulled up to the house. She hated when I took Lyfts. “Waste of money,” she always said. Lyfts, though, took you from Point A to Point B and you paid them a reasonable sum, so I always considered Lyft rides to be worth their market value. Anyway, the plane landed and I walked to baggage claim in a fog. I felt like everyone was walking three times as fast as me, and everybody seemed to be on a cellphone. Who on earth could these people be talking to?
My bag was the last one out. I saw a black Samsonite followed by several lengths of nothingness. At one point the carousel stopped and the red light went off. Everyone else had taken their luggage and I was left standing alone. I was relieved my mother wasn’t coming to pick me up, otherwise she’d complain I had taken too long with my bags. Finally, the carousel started up again and my lone blue duffel slipped through the opening. When I picked up the bag I noticed a small rip along the zipper exposing my many pairs of underwear. Why the hell had I packed so much underwear? I shoved the underwear back in the bag and walked to Customer Service.
There wasn’t a soul in line when I got there. Two women sat behind the counter; they were laughing and they were hooting and they were hollering, but neither were helping. One of the women left and the one who remained picked up the phone and called someone. The woman laughed, and hooted, and hollered to whomever was on the phone and then she hung up. Finally she looked at me and said, “You have to take a number, sir.”
I gestured, indicating there wasn’t a line. Seeing that she wasn’t satisfied, I took a number. She said, almost at once, “Number 32.” I looked at the number I had taken. Number 32. I stepped to the glass divider and set my bag on the counter. “Please don’t set your bag on the counter, sir.”
“Oh, sorry.” I set the bag on the floor.
“What seems to be the problem?”
“Well, you see, I just got my bag from the carousel and noticed there was a tear near one of the zippers.” I picked up the bag and tilted it so she could see.
“Sir, please don’t set you bag on the counter.”
“Oh, sorry.” I set the bag back on the floor.
“Can you describe the tear, sir?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what does the tear look like?”
I picked up the bag and showed her the tear. “Well, you see—”
“Sir, I don’t want to have to tell you again, don’t set your bag on the counter.”
“I know, but I’m trying to show you the tear in my bag and-”
“You don’t have to get angry with me, sir.”
“Oh, I don’t mean to get angry, I just—”
“So you admit you’re getting angry?”
“No. I’m not angry, I’m—”
“Oh, so now you’re calling me a liar?”
“I’m not calling anyone a liar. All I’m saying is—”
The woman picked up the phone and dialed a series of numbers. She turned away from me but not before she held up a hand for me to shut my mouth. The only thing worse than a person telling you to shut the fuck up, is having a hand tell you to shut the fuck up.
“Regina, can you come to the front please,” the woman said into the phone. She hung up and turned back to me, a smug, sarcastic grin on her rotten face.
It took a while, but Regina finally came to the front. Regina turned out to be the other woman who had been laughing, hooting, and hollering. I was immediately skeptical of Regina.
“What seems to be the problem, sir?” Regina asked.
“He was getting angry,” said the first woman.
“Were you getting angry, sir?”
“No, not at all, I—”
“And he called me a liar.”
“Did you call her a liar, sir?” They both scowled at me.
“No. All I was saying was that I picked up my bag from the carousel and I noticed a tear near one of the zippers.”
“Can you describe the tear, sir?” Regina asked.
“Well, you see...” I set the bag on the counter and pointed at it.
“Sir, please don’t set your bag on the counter.”