Toward the end of the summer I took an aluminum baseball bat on a Trailways bus and no one, including the driver, gave either of us a second glance. I took that as an indication of how far this country has come and then gone back again in terms of heightened security for travelers. I can remember a time late last fall when my fellow passengers and I had our baggage searched and were questioned fiercely by security before we were permitted to board a Peter Pan bus out of Albany. They demanded to know whether I had any guns or knives. “No? Razors? No? Well, what about fingernail clippers?” This last one surprised me. I didn’t in fact have any, but even if I had, what sort of damage could I possibly have done with them? How do you threaten someone with fingernail clippers? “Pull this bus over. Don’t mess with me, I’ll clip you.” Certainly you could injure someone with them, but only…very…slowly. The in-bus movie that trip was My Father the Hero, a romantic comedy starring Gerard Depardieu as a father who must play the part of his underage daughter’s lover so she can impress a boy (although the boy who would be impressed by anyone’s dating Gerard Depardieu I certainly wouldn’t go near). It was halfway through this lighthearted, overtly incest-tinged romp-which was inescapably played on the bus’s speaker system, so that even those passengers who hadn’t brought headphones or rented them from the driver could enjoy the show-that I realized why security was so strict about passengers not having access to any sorts of harmful or sharp objects. They were only trying to protect us from ourselves. Had I had access to fingernail clippers, I could have inflicted much more bodily harm on myself in my efforts to distract myself from the movie. My only other explanation for the fact that no one batted an eye at me as I clutched my menacing travel accessory is to take it as further
proof that, as far as appearance goes, I am about as non-threatening as it gets. On the threatening scale, I am ranked just below yogurt. And not the kind with active cultures, either. The kind with listless, inactive ones. The state of being congenitally nonthreatening (cases are also referred to as having a high “wuss-factor”) does have its plus sides. My ability to do well in card games where looking innocent helps you do well is slightly increased, although when that slight increase is coupled with my incompetence at card games, I just about break even. Perhaps this is why running has become my sport of choice; it works with my wussy appearance, rather than against it. As a person who naturally looks intimidated, I appear much more in my element when running away than I do standing firm, clutching a bat and staring straight ahead, my knees defiantly touching.