The following is a true story.
In 2005, in preparation for the opening of her cooking school, Josée spent a week at the venerable Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Her stay there was productive and, save for a small cut to her left index, happily uneventful. She brushed-up on her already considerable skills in the kitchen and managed to learn quite a number of useful tricks from the school’s impressive teaching staff.
Immediately following her stay at the school, I met up with Josée in NYC where we spent a delightful weekend exploring our favorite city’s offerings. By now, I’m sure you’re wondering about the title of this story and so I had better get to the point before I lose your attention.
It is a standard requirement of the Culinary Institute that attendees have their own knife-sets, and so it was that Josée traveled to the school with a collection of 9 sharp instruments sufficient to de-bone a cow. At the time, she did not have a proper knife-set holder and so made do with an old ballistic-nylon briefcase that she placed inside one of her checked bags.
Here, we get into the meat of the story, no pun intended. It was on the very first day of classes that Josée noticed that she was missing 1 knife. Remember she had 9 to start with and now the count had been reduced to 8. Search high and low as she might, the 9th knife was never found and she made do with what she had for the rest of the week.
Near the end of her stay, Josée purchased a professional knife-set holder from the school which freed the ballistic-nylon bag to carry back the numerous textbooks and documents from her courses. So it was that at the end of our weekend in NYC, we found ourselves in the security line-up at JFK Airport, Josée with the nylon (now) document bag in hand.
In this post-9/11 era, you know as well as I do how courteous and friendly airport security personnel can be…or not. America, obsessed with terrorism, has become a police state and the minions in uniform have lost all traces of civility. And they have guns. I find JFK particularly bad in this respect and I must admit that at times, I have experienced feelings of intimidation bordering on fear passing though security.
I was in front of Josée and had just passed through the metal detector beltless, shoeless and sheepish when I first noticed that something was amiss. Josée had placed her bag on the belt when moments later, the operator’s expression went from ho hum boredom to worried concentration. Something had caught his eye. I started to move forward but the wand guy barked at me not to move. I could tell the x-ray guy was worried when he asked some of his colleagues to join him and started whispering and pointing at the screen. A furtive glance in my direction and I knew I might be in trouble. The guy then called for a supervisor. A quick look at the screen by the supervisor, a few words spoken into the walkie-talkie and before we knew it, the place was crawling with armed police. “Ladies and gentlemen, this line is now closed so please proceed to the next security station.” yelled a big cop. “Sir, mam, please don’t move.” he said pointing to my wife and I. Oh shit.
After what seemed an interminable length of time, the supervisor took a couple of steps toward me and stopping a safe distance away, he asked, “Sir, is the black briefcase yours?” “Uh…why yes…it is.” “Sir, do you have a very long letter opener in the briefcase?” “ No, of course not.” I replied. He strolled back to the x-ray viewer and again conferred with his colleagues all the while pointing at the screen and casting the occasional glance in my direction. Looking around, I could see that the cops had undone the little safety straps holding down their guns. Beam me up NOW, Scotty! I couldn’t help wondering how I would look in an orange jumpsuit on my first and possibly last visit to Cuba. After another minute, the supervisor approached me again. “Sir, do you have a...eh... butcher knife in your bag?” “Of course not….” I started to mumble. Then it hit me. “IT’S HER!!!” I yelled pointing to Josée. “SHE’S JUST SPENT A WEEK AT THE CIA AND SHE LOST A KNIFE!!” I blurted out. Oops I thought as I immediately felt the terror-alert-status go up to red. Shouldn’t have said that. “The CIA?” said the supervisor. “Eh…I mean the Culinary Institute of America.” “And why are you concealing a butcher knife in your bag sir?” “It’s a long story, sir but my wife lost a knife at the cooking school and I guess it was left in the bag.” Terror alert-status down a notch.
He then reached into the briefcase and extracted the 10-inch Sabatier from under the false bottom. Holding it up with 2 fingers, he asked us if the knife was ours. “Yes sir, it is.” We said. “I’m afraid we’ll have to confiscate this weapon...alright with you?” “Eh…of course sir.”
And there it ended. No detention, no extraordinary rendition. “Josée, for Christ’s sake, you trying to get us arrested?!” I said on the way to our gate. She looked at me with a sheepish smile, “Well at least I know where that knife went…”