by Paul Beckman
Mendel looked for his wife and spotted her across the room, way across, and she wasn’t looking for him – she was chatting it up in a very long line while pulling her small roll-on. Like all the others in her line she was carrying a flat powder blue circle about the size of a Lenox China desert plate with a thumb size hole in it.
Mendel, on the other hand, had a large roll-on, a backpack and a yellow circle, which he carried with his thumb stuck through the hole. No one spoke in his line but it moved quickly. In the green circle line he watched people laughing and in the blue they all had on flowery Hawaiian shirts. Mendel didn’t remember the plane landing but he must have been still groggy when he got separated from Dedee and now they were in a cavernous customs hall, bigger than the one at JFK, and he was proud of himself for picking the right color that allowed such fast movement although he didn’t remember choosing his color. He wasn’t happy that he’d have to wait for Dedee.
People in some lines were having their bags checked and were carrying their shoes or flip-flops. They mostly all had small roll-ons and Mendel looked around the room and didn’t recognize the St. Thomas immigration building he was used to. This room seemed larger than any room he’d ever been in. For the first time he looked to his left and people were passing his row pulling large roll-ons with each hand and wearing a backpack. They had two-tone, blue-green circles on bead chains around their necks and Mendel looked up and saw there was a blue-green line on the ceiling and for the first time he noticed his yellow line above and then the other color lines.
How strange, Mendel thought, I’m moving at a pretty good clip and these blue-greens are passing me like I’m standing still. They reminded him of Bernie, his restaurant friend. They loved going out to dinner with Bernie because he’d cut the line and shake hands with the maître d and the next thing Mendel knew their whole party was being escorted to a nice round table away from the kitchen and music. Bernie was a restaurant guy but couldn’t catch a cold much less a cab or find a parking space in the same zip code.
Dedee had been sitting in a window seat on the plane and Mendel, lucky as usual, had his seat changed to a bulkhead aisle with plenty of leg room. Parking was parking he remembered whispering to Dedee as he left her row and moved from steerage to humane which normally would have been a significant upgrade. A humane bulkhead was business class light.
The yellows veered off to the left and Mendel saw the powder blues now only a couple of rows over. He finally spotted Dedee who was talking to someone in the deep purple row next to her. It was his former wife, Ellen, and they were chatting away, smiling like two sorority sisters, and Mendel could only guess what or who they were yakking about. They were going through open glass doors into a room with tall glass walls.
Now, Mendel thought, we’ll play catch-up. I didn’t know that Ellen was going to St. Thomas. What a coincidence. His line moved on passing by the glass room and stopped. He turned around planning to make conversation with the person behind him but saw it was an elegantly dressed man, with a pocket handkerchief, gorgeous suit and tears streaming down his face. He turned and watched as Ellen ran to a woman and gave her a hug and kiss and took her by the hand and introduced her to Dedee. Mendel watched as his mother put an arm around each and led them off with his sisters, long gone; following until they were all out of sight.
How strange, Mendel thought. My mother’s been gone for close to thirty years. His line moved on and into a concrete walled room where they were standing around with the greens and uniformed men called out names and true-to-form Mendel was one of the first called and he wheeled his large bag over and put it on the roller with his back pack and the two other large bags that suddenly appeared with his name on them. He was waved through the scanning area and told to wait on the yellow spot for his bags, but he stopped and watched the overhead screen where his bags were being scanned and didn’t see clothes or vacation stuff like books and his mask and snorkel but saw mounds of arguments with his mother, enough to almost spill out of the huge zippered bag and the same in the front pockets. His next bag was opened and he saw the uniformed man move his hands around and saw him Purell off his hands from the bag filled with pettiness. The new bags were added, large and filled with grudges, putdowns, and intimidations.
Mendel was handed a bead chain and put it through his yellow circle and around his neck. He was directed to go through the next door and down a curved hallway lined gauntlet-like by people he had gossiped about, made fun of or outright ignored in his life.