“That’s the Siberian Chain Escape. I’m a magician.”
No problem. On he rummaged through auxiliary laptop speakers, placards and clothing. Now the shaving, kit that was another matter. Pill bottles. Unmarked. A border check discovering my supply of “C” supplement could result in suspicion of drug-running. “How many Coricidin tablets are you carrying. We can only allow eight.”
It was a carryon luggage check at the Salt Lake City Greyhound Depot. The guard’s parting jest about whether I was going to blow up the world with my laptop was only humor: it had become obvious that he was checking for alcohol and hallucinogens this weary passenger might try to ingest onboard. A measure of safety I suppose. There is no routine check for explosives or other implements of terror in baggage to be carried under the bus.
Explosives couldn’t be the issue. At our first rest stop the driver pulled right into a service station where six fire department vehicles were flashing red lights. We were parked only yards from where a customer had pumped a gallon of gas and doused himself to do the human torch trick. Only, sadly, he wasn’t a magician. Probably he was only very insecure.
After a dozen book presentations on a title about running away, scattered over a couple of thousand miles at least, repeated pro forma, mechanical baggage checks have led me to a contemplation of just what security might be.
Since 9-11 has the notion of physical security become in part a political plaything that perhaps too many of us relegate to happenstance anyway? Is there a rebirth of the old fatalistic “If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen”? Besides, there are layers or varieties of security. I’m more concerned about feeling secure about what I’m going to say to an audience tonight about my personal lifestory, than about the transportation to the venue. And I’m even more worried about what I might have of value to say to a group of high school freshmen I’m addressing tomorrow morning.
Those concerns prompt the best questions on personal security: What do I know about myself? What do I know I don’t know about myself? And what in my answers to those questions disturbs or frightens me? Out of that of course I have found, designed and entered into the projects that have made up my life, including the memoir The Circus that Ran Away with a Jesuit Priest. And by now, of course, I know full well that the book is an excuse to meet new friends and audiences and tell them about the secure and not-so-secure moments of my life.
The great gift I have engineered for myself, the give-and-take of questions from the audience, have both challenged and bolstered my sense of personal security. Perhaps the most revelatory and jarring nudge came from a professor or Turkish descent in Colorado Springs (this is a traveling show—still). “For what are you prepared to sell your soul in order to achieve your utmost desire for the world’s good?” Heavy stuff.
I blew the answer because too much stirred in me at the hearing. I couldn’t be clear beyond an embrace of my “If I had it all to do over” positions. But more reflection has disclosed that my soul is not for sale, chiefly because I am not secure at all about the notion our cultures share on the nature of “soul.” Jokes about Faust are not enough. My most personal luggage needs avid examination to expose just what it is that I am willing to appropriate as “my soul.”