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  • A Crack in Everything
  • Jan Shoemaker (bio)

I lost a corkscrew recently on my way to New York, where I'd gone to share digs for a few days with my daughter Maddie, who was attending a conference there. I had set my sights on a Leonard Cohen exhibit at the Jewish Museum called A Crack in Everything, and Maddie and I booked a night on Broadway too. The corkscrew was confiscated by a TSA screener who disarmed me at departures in Detroit. "It's a good corkscrew; you should keep it," I told the large, amiable woman who, with a zip and a pluck, made it property of the state. I have no beef with the TSA keeping our skies blade-free and only think it would be friendly of those vintners, whose bottom-shelf wines I can afford, to go with more screw tops.

I am often pulled out of line in arrivals, as well, to be patted down and have my bags searched. And it's been years since I've opened a checked suitcase without finding the familiar calling card: "Inspected by TSA" on top of my ransacked clothes and unwrapped souvenirs. They actually locked me out of my own luggage recently when, after rifling through my soiled T-shirts and unsexy underwear, they snapped the little TSA-approved padlock, to which I'd lost the key and left dangling on a zipper, shut. My husband had to drag the bag into the garage and break into it with a hacksaw.

I am, I believe, what the TSA uses to prove they are not profiling: a sixty something white woman in Birkenstocks; I look like I tap my own maple trees. Once, arriving from Budapest at Newark (an especially belligerent airport that requires you to order your drinks through only occasionally working touch screens at bars where human bartenders, in very tempting slapping distance, deflect your pleas by pointing you back to your frozen screen), I was [End Page 77] extracted from the line of tousled and bleary-eyed travelers at customs and channeled alone through an Orwellian series of echoing rooms with wide-belted overseers and special scanners. It was the deep TSA. After quite a while and no explanation, I and my ravaged bag were returned to the regular airport of melting-down toddlers and heartless bartenders. I was happy to see them.

My encounters with the TSA peaked over a ten-year period as I treated my two twenty-something daughters to a series of trips abroad. About the time they became thirty-somethings, I realized that if I were ever going to break out of teaching high school to enjoy more languid days of making soup and reading after lunch, I would have to stop flinging money into the void. It had been a fine—and yes, perversely crowded—void, full of ancient ruins and olive groves and spice markets and libraries and cathedrals, but for all its furnishings, my bank account declared it a clear financial vacuum. Its only dividend was high, intangible satisfaction, which won't cough up a copay for those inevitable hip replacements that are not so far off as they once were. Still, I expect to have as few regrets about all of that delicious travel as the belly-man of the Szechenyi Baths in Budapest appeared to have about his Speedo.

As people have been doing for centuries, my daughter Anna and I went to Budapest for the baths. First built by the Romans, who took enthusiastically to the thermal springs they discovered along the Danube, and further developed by the Turks, who'd learned to bathe beneath the graceful domes and arches of Ottoman bathhouses, the grand old city's spas are its global come-hither—and come we did.

I sometimes dream about gardens comprised entirely of pools and fountains, one spilling giddily into the next. Gliding through their spouts and basins, I am an otter, a sprite, a slight and somersaulting child. Unless you become as a little child you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, Jesus says in the Bible, while in the Qur'an God promises, The righteous will be amid...


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pp. 77-85
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