Saturday, September 23, 2006
The Peter Pan Terrorists
I've been told that one sign of paranoia is going to a football game and thinking the guys in the huddle are talking about you.
And here's another: getting on a bus and convincing yourself there's an al-Qaeda suicide squad sitting behind you.
This actually happened to someone I know and I'm sorry to say that someone was me.
I was in Northampton, Mass. last week, at the end of my vacation, waiting with my dear auntie to take the bus back to New York. I hate buses and I hate waiting for the bastards even more.
I'm always convinced I'm going to miss them, that I'll arrive in the depot all breathless and cross-eyed just in time to see my bus disappear in a cloud of mocking exhaust.
The Wild Bunch
I have taken many buses in my time and this has yet to happen, but this hasn't prevented me from thinking this way. On the contrary, I worry even more about missing a bus, even when I'm not taking one.
I love trains and would have gladly taken one to Northampton or Pittsfield, Mass., but Amtrak doesn't have a stop in Northampton and the route to Pittsfield is so long, and circuitous, with detours to Boston, Norwalk, and Gdansk, that you feel like a paperback private eye trying to shake a tail.
And the trip only takes a mere 7 hours by train. Christ, I could be in Brazil by then.
So I'm stuck with the bus and the bus is stuck with me. We arrived at the bus depot on this fine late summer day in plenty of time, but I still had to go inside the depot and ask the ticket lady what time the bus was due. She told me 1:25 pm.
"Is it on time?" I asked, thinking she was somehow wired into the bus's movements like a cyborg. But she only shrugged.
"I'll know at 1:26 pm," she said.
All right, so my auntie and I take our seats outside and wait. The weather is stunning and I'm miserable. I'm going back home with all its misery, my job, and a ton of things to clean up in this rambling soap opera known as my life.
And that's when I see the trunks. Nearly a dozen of them, of all shapes and sizes, stacked on the curb waiting to be loaded on to the next bus. I see a family, two college-aged boys, and the parents. And then I hear them talking amongst themselves.
They're speaking Arabic.
Well, so what? I grew up around Syrian people, I live in New York, where Arabic is one of the thousands of languages you hear everyday on your way to pick up a newspaper.
So, they're speaking Arabic, or more precisely, what I believe to be Arabic. Does that automatically make them terrorists?
Well, on this particular late summer day, in my frenzied state of mind...it sort of...did.
Little Did They Know...
I don't know what came over me, but I slowly became certain that these two young men were suicide bombers and those various trunks piled up before me contained enough plastic explosives to turn the Holland Tunnel in a cheese grater.
It was crazy, nuts, and yes, just a little paranoid. I was shooting a B-movie in my brain, with the killers leaping up from their seats just as the bus was midway through the tunnel and shouting "God is great," or "Go Greyhound and leave the driving to us," detonating their luggage and sending thousands of rush hours commuters--and me--to a watery grave.
I couldn't shake this crazy idea from my head. My aunt had packed a lunch for me so I could eat on the way down and I was thinking this could be my last meal. (It was pretty good--chicken sandwich, homemade brownie and a nice orange already sliced for my dining convenience.)
What should I do? Skip this bus and take the next one, four hours from now? Yeah, it would be a tremendous pain, but it would beat the hell out of making the evening news.
I thought of telling my auntie, in this rather odd belief I have where I'm convinced I'll spare myself some terrible fate if I talk about openly, like the cosmic forces lining up against me will suddenly break ranks and run because I've spoken about their plans out loud.
But I couldn't say something so ridiculous. And I knew it was ridiculous even as I was thinking about it. I was upset, I didn't want to go home and see my elderly father, and so my imagination jumped down the rabbit hole and cooked up this bizarro terrorist plot.
Yeah, it was nuts. But there's that nagging post-9/11 fear that says terrorist attacks can happen anytime, anywhere to anybody--including me. The World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and those airplanes were filled with ordinary people going through what looked was going to be an ordinary day. Until it wasn't.
That's The Ticket
Like the saying goes, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
But this was over the top. The terrorists would pick a spot like Northampton to launch their attack, and they'd be reduced to taking the bus? And my bus, to boot?
I'm so ashamed. I like to imagine myself as a sophisticated, New York liberal (bite me, neo-cons) and yet here I was thinking like some yahoo from South Succatash who's running late for his klan meeting.
I was running up a full head of twisted steam until I finally told myself, if you are heading to that big bus depot in the sky, you might as well relax. I looked up at the beautiful blue sky and thought at least you have good weather for your last day of existence.
The bus rolled in about 12 minutes later and I hugged my aunt, a little closer perhaps than usual. I got on seat onboard and looked out the window to see the Arabic family exchanging goodbyes.
I saw that the two sons and their father were getting on board. I had initially imagined that it was just the two boys giving their lives for Allah, but when I saw Pop get on, too, I became doubtful that this was a family terrorist act, like a kind of Exploding Wallendas.
The bus started up and we rolled out of town. I didn't think I'd have much of an appetite, what with certain death looming over me, but by the time we made our first stop I was halfway through the sandwich and when the bus pulled into Springfield for a transfer, there was nothing left of my aunt's Care package but the orange. And I soon polished that off, too.
I saw the father and sons move their luggage to my New York-bound bus, but I didn't care anymore. I knew I had let my fears get the better of me, something that can happen with nations as well as individuals.
I had unfairly judged these poor people and I can only thank God I kept my mouth shut and didn't scream for Homeland Security.
Yes, if you see something, by all means, say something. But if you imagine something, if you let bigotry and fear overrule your rational mind, it's best to sit back and eat your orange.