1 - The Terrorist

Pedro dropped me off at Terminal Two. My best friend since high school, his last words were, "Cuídate, cabrón!" That's Spanish for, "Take care of yourself, big goat!" Pedro dropped me off and so it all began, a mind-expanding odyssey impossible to plan. I was so happy that I never could have imagined my imminent arrest.

This was the first time airport security ever searched my luggage and it caught me unprepared. I expected them to pass my backpack through an x-ray machine, never to comb systematically through all my stuff, but I was "on the list."

A security officer escorted me to a special search zone, a temporary construction sandwiched between two check-in counters. Tall and muscular, the officer reminded me of Frankenstein's monster (without the electrodes) and he was rude, but I was not worried. Instead I was puzzled why the only passenger they called out to search was me. I got worried when Frank smelled my shampoo bottle.

He asked, "What's this?"

I mumbled, "Huh? Um. It's... It's shampoo, sir." Then I began to sweat. I had a joint, one joint stashed near the bottom of my pack, one joint to smoke in Central Park in New York City. There was no escape; Frank would find the joint. When he uttered the word "marijuana," everyone in our vicinity turned to stare, then the big man clamped on handcuffs, then he led me away, into an elevator and down.

Frank handed me over to a California cop who shoved me into a cell and told me to wait, as if I had a choice. My cage consisted of concrete and metal and bullet-proof glass, not an inspiring sight, so I closed my eyes to visualize a grand adventure to elsewhere and beyond, but those handcuffs were too tight and this overwhelmed my fantasy.

Hours later, a different cop interrupted my boredom. His wrinkled face showed signs of wisdom, but his voice was angry as he demanded, "What the hell is this?"

The cop was carrying the book and the note. I laughed out loud.

Pedro gave me the book to deliver to his friend Dan in India, because I was on my way to India. Written in three languages, the text referred to esoteric concepts of Tibetan Buddhism, but the illustrations depicted demons, some bathed in fire. Pedro wrote the note to his friend on a CD label, unremarkable except that the CD's artwork depicted an airplane engulfed in flames, about to crash. The note said, "D, Decipher and report back. Love P." Pedro also gave me the joint, he said, "to smoke as soon as you're away and free, to imagine exotic women and endless possibilities." I packed these gifts, and I did not think much about them again until Frank smelled my shampoo bottle.

The California cop glared as if I was a terrorist. He reminded me that my name was on the list, that I had a book about fire demons written in unintelligible languages, plus a cryptic note written opposite a picture of an airplane engulfed in flames, about to crash, and furthermore, I had marijuana.

The cop's eyes focused on the airborne inferno so I explained, then much to my relief he unlocked my handcuffs. He quizzed me about my plans. He said, "If I bust you, the system will probably set you loose by tomorrow afternoon. Or not, because I'm gonna set you free now. There's just one detail: do you mind if I confiscate the marijuana?" He smiled. "I'm actually jealous. It sounds like you're in for quite an adventure! You should go to Brazil." The cop filled my head with visions of sun, samba, and "pretty girls in string bikinis," then he escorted me to freedom.

I queued to see a ticket agent, hopeful to get on my way without delay. The woman typed into her computer, then she said, "I see you had a little excitement today..."

"Yeah," I answered. "Is it possible to get to New York tonight, please?"

The woman typed some more. "Yes," she said. "I'll book you, but first we need to search your luggage. Please go with the officer."

Frank searched my backpack again without saying a word, and as he flipped through my spy novel, page by page, I laughed the whimsical laughter of a free man. I saw the incident as a warning, a bump in the road, the unfortunate confiscation of Pedro's joint, but never as something that would radically alter my destiny, perhaps even more than a one-way ticket to India, perhaps even more than falling in love.