Every flight to Tel Aviv I've ever been on makes a stop-over somewhere in europe to refuel. Some of them exchange passengers bound for Europe for those bound for Israel. Mine was such a plane. Stopped at Paris' Orly airport, it was a forty-five minute lay-over.
Inside the terminal, there were the usual seats and ashtrays. There were travelers with their carry-on luggage. Flight attendants distributed boarding passes, speaking quick, easy French. The PA system boomed French as well, adding to the sense of disorientation I was already dealing with after a transatlantic flight.
Not far from the gate was a sandwich vendor. I was hungry from the airline food, and there were egg-salad, chicken-salad and tuna-salad sandwiches wrapped in crisp blue cellophane in the vendor's cart. They were not on croissant.
Of course, there was a problem. A placard taped to the inside of the vendor's glass display case read in quite a few languages that the vendor was unwilling to accept any but French currency.
Well, I was only going to be in Paris for forty-five minutes. I wasn't holding any Francs. My stomach gurgled. I looked around frantically and saw a moneychanger's booth just beyond the x-ray security checkpoint. I exchanged as little money as I could and headed back.
At this point I should share with you some information about the contents of my carry-on luggage. Having traveled by air before, I was conscious that there would be opposition to my possession of a knife or other weapon. That's why I left my camping knife deep in my luggage, which was in the plane's belly. I was sure this wouldn't be a problem.
Now part of my fun in Israel promised to be the lack of DSS. DSS, for the uninitiated, is a digital telephone switching system. When DSS took over analog stations in my city, I was pretty bummed. At the time, there were many benefits to having detailed technical knowledge of phone systems, and I was inclined to make use of my knowledge. When DSS came to town, all of that ended.
The day before I was on my way out the door when I realized that DSS wouldn't exist in Israel. With a grin and a twinge of excitement, I grabbed the old and partly dismantled phone to which I had made more than a few choice modifications. I stuffed it into my grey attache and headed out. This was the same attache that was now hanging from my shoulder in Paris' Orly Airport.
Now, some of the folks in Indianapolis and some of the folks at Newark had already made mention of the curious device in my carry-on. They noted in particular that one of the components was of such enormous size and was painted the red-cinnamon color traditionally reserved for TNT sticks. Their suspicions had subsided when I patiently explained that it was a device for stealing telephone service... in Newark, though, I had been detained for a good half an hour. I counted myself lucky to have had a long lay-over there. They eventually let me go to the gate, though, as I've said. As it happens, it was gate "C-4".
Anyway, there I was, looking down at my carry-on bag and then at the x-ray checkpoint. Fuck. I told myself there wasn't any choice and I stepped up to the conveyor belt and fed my bag to it.
The officer watching the screen twitched and his mustache curled up at the sides. He looked at me, and then back at the monitor-- and then back at me.
"Parlez-vous francais?" he asked. His name-tag said "Renee".
"Non," I answered.
"Then wha deu yeu ansser me in Frensh?" he countered. Bad start.
"I have exhausted my French vocabulary," I said. He looked puzzled. I tried to play it straight.
"Sir, deu yeu have any weapons in yeur beg?" He leaned into me conspiratorially. I tried to come clean, thinking honesty would be the best policy.
"Not here. I have a camping knife in my luggage on the plane, though,"
He looked enraged. My face started to get hot. Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Maybe---
"Non. No no no. In here. In zis beg. Do yeu have any weapons in zis beg," he urged.
"No, sir. Only my telephone," He bristled and frowned at me. He peered into my eyes. He thought I was lying.
"A telephoneiznotaweapon! Sir!"
"Sir. One last tahm. Do yeu have a naff in yeur beg?" he was turning red.
"A knife? No. Not here. Not in this bag. It's in the cargo hold."
"So, yeu do not have a naff in zis beg?"
I shook my head, frightened.
"Zen what iz this?" he cried triumphantly. He reached into the bag and pulled out a pair of barber's shears, which were nestled in with the pens and my compass and my protractor in the pockets.
"It's a pair of scissors!" I said, trying not to seem surprised or annoyed that he didn't know what they were.
"Yes, but luke! If you spleet zem apahrt, you hev two tiny knives!"
My eyebrows flew up. Ingenious! One for the pilot and one for the copilot.
"I hev to tek these from yeu. Zey will be returned to you in Tel Aviv,"
He took them carefully over to a desk and put them in a kraft envelope and wrote something on the envelope. He stamped it and had me fill out an accompanying form. He never mentioned the mass of wires and assorted electronics in the bag. He didn't mention the keypad or the digital readout or even the TNT-looking resistor.
He let me go back inside the security zone, where I almost forgot to buy my tuna-fish sandwich and Orangina.
When I finally got to Tel Aviv, I spent an hour looking for an aged Israeli man named "Yoram" who never turned up. I never saw the shears again.
And in my imagination, my scissors still sit in that envelope along with thousands of others until the day that Renee and Yoram sell off their ill-gotten cutting devices and move to Tahiti, retiring in the grace of their mutual international cooperation.