Jerry Remy, announcer for NESN and the Boston Red Sox, has a local chain of Tcotchkes-style restaurants. This bit of trivia – the existence of the chain and the importance of its owner – lives in a weird limbo between “apropos” and “boring,” depending on the audience. People who live in Boston need hear nothing further than the restaurant’s name before instantly knowing every item on the menu and the decor. People who don’t live in the New England area will nod politely – oh, a sportscaster owns a restaurant; how unlikely – and forget the man’s name once the story ends.
Anyhow, there’s one in Logan Airport right next to the Airtran terminal. It used to be a Legal Seafood and it’s about six months from becoming a Johnny Rocket’s. Every space in an airport that’s zoned commercial oscillates between just having been or just about to be a Johnny Rocket’s, depending on the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the airport’s proximity to Chicago. I ordered a hot dog with a Caesar salad (because that makes it okay); I got a 3/4-pound beef log drizzled with cheese, relish, and onions. And the side salad. “That’s a big dick,” said the 50-something man behind me, “I mean, a big dog.” If his stories were to be believed, he was on his way to his third wedding, this time to a 70-year-old woman for money; if not, he was really bad at delivering a joke.
The Departures screen had said my flight was pushed back 30 minutes when I entered Jerry Remy’s Sports Bar and Grille; when I exited, it had changed its mind. I have never seen this happen. I have never seen a plane arrive earlier than announced, especially when it had already been posted late. The takeoff window shrank from 60 minutes to 25 minutes, and I had yet to pass through security, and my pre-printed boarding pass reminded me, in its smug little Helvetica, that the plane shut its doors 10 minutes before departure. Trying not to fume, I slipped into the security line, emptying my pockets of metal and slipping off my shoes.
“Put your shoes flat on the belt!”, a guard would announce from time to time. “Only things that go in the bins are laptops and loose items. Jackets, bags, shoes – flat on the belt.”
Ten minutes before departure, I stepped up to the X-ray machine. I walked through. It beeped. “Do you have anyth–”, the guard asked. “My belt,” I said, backing up and whipping it off like Jet Li vs. Billy Chow (watch all the way to the end).
Passing security, I scooped up my wallet, cell phone, ring, loose change, belt, boarding pass, messenger bag, jacket and backpack and began padding down the halls of the Airtran terminal at a decent clip. I made it about one hundred feet before I realized how comfortable the ground felt. Turning, I made it as far as a 65-year-old TSA screener, his Orville Redenbacher hair fringing his face like a halo. Had I been charging the security gate at a full sprint, screaming “Surely the Party of God will be triumphant!“, he might have tripped me. Maybe. “Are you trying to get out?”, he asked.
“I left my shoes there.”
“Just go get the man in the blue shirt,” he said, blue being the TSA uniform. “He’s the supervisor.”
I flagged the man in the blue shirt down. “I left my shoes on the belt! Brown? Size 13?”
Fortunately, I was the only person to have made that mistake (that hour), so security quickly reunited me with my shoes. I made it to my gate, discovering that my flight had been pushed 30 minutes back.
The next morning, waking up in the family homestead in Maryland, my father suggested we take the dog for a walk. As I put my shoes on – Merona, Target’s in-house brand; brown, leather, worn but sturdy – I noticed an unfamiliar notch in one of the soles. Curious, I turned the shoe over. A ragged slit had been torn in the entire sole from left to right, cutting all the way through the rubber to the very base of the shoe. This wasn’t just a hole in the bottom. This was a rough horizontal line that had cut clean through the sole of the shoe and stopped at the leather. The right shoe had been thinking about snitching; the left shoe had made an example of it.
Am I saying that the TSA, in the twenty seconds that I left my shoes unattended, shredded one of them with a government-issue razor blade? No, but I’ll imply it with all my might.
I don’t spend a lot of time staring at the bottom of my feet, but I would have noticed a tear that size when I put them on in the morning. The only time they were out of my control the entire day was when I put them on a conveyor belt (“flat on the belt! the only things that go in bins are laptops …”) and forgot them. And if I hadn’t thrown these shoes in a closet in Maryland, I’d post a picture to show you. This isn’t a puncture; this isn’t a hole that worried itself wide. This is an even cut that runs between the tarsus and the metatarsals, deep and ragged. My shoes bear the scars of malice aforethought.
By an odd coincidence, these are the second pair of Target shoes to disintegrate catastrophically in 15 months. Am I wrong in suspecting a conspiracy? No. I’m never wrong. Especially not about conspiracies.