Rob and I were in Nashville last July for the Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference, when my own personal terror threat level detector went from green to red. We had spotted what appeared to be secret service agents in and around the hotel where the conference was being held. We soon learned the National Governors Association was also having its conference that week and Vice President Joe Biden was in town to speak.
Maybe I’ve watched a little too much “24” and “Homeland” or even just the news, but I was already a little on edge, thinking “the terrorists” could be plotting to take out all of the governors and Biden at the same time, right there in Nashville. Was some Jack Bauer or Carrie Mathison-like character already working to thwart the attack? Jack could have been in the basement downstairs dismantling a bomb with only seconds to spare, as we were munching on rubbery conference chicken. And if he didn’t cut the right wire in time, we were all going to die — in Tennessee — before the plain cheesecake was served. Just collateral damage.
Cable news would obviously focus on the vice-president and all of the dead governors first, telling their stories over and over. Live shots from all the funerals and such. Once they had finally squeezed every bit of juice out of that story line, they would get around to profiling all of the nobodies like me that died. They would show pictures of me and Frank and the kids that some producer had taken off of my Facebook page. And they would interview one of my friends who would speak of how great I was.
Matt Lauer and/or Savannah Guthrie would nod sympathetically. But it would be someone I hardly knew and hadn’t spoken to in 20 years, just trying to get some attention from my tragic freaking death, crocodile tears and mascara streaming down her face.
The thought of it all was unbearable. And a little insane, I know. OK, maybe a lot insane.
I went on with my day as planned, attending a class in the morning before meeting Rob and the rest of the convention folks at a luncheon at noon. It was held in a large open space overlooking the lobby. The outside wall was comprised of large windows and there was a lovely view of the state capitol building right across the street. The subject matter was to be on First Amendment issues and since we were in Music City, the organizers had arranged a couple of local musicians to come in a sing a few tunes that had been subject to some form of censorship, including a version of Randy Newman’s “Short People.”
The song includes a line saying “short people got no reason to live” and goes on to denigrate the diminutive by saying “They got little baby legs, and they stand so low, you got to pick ‘em up just to say hello, they got little cars that go beep, beep, beep they got little voices goin’ peep, peep, peep, they got grubby little fingers and dirty little minds, they’re gonna get you every time, well, I don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people, don’t want no short people’ round here.”
It is a silly song and one many have said Newman used to mock racism, showing how equally absurd it would be to judge people by their height as it is judge them by their skin color.
It was about midway through their presentation, when a very non-short man dressed in a black suit strode in, walked up to our table and asked if he could sit with us. We said of course. But before he did, he put a fairly large black leather bag up against the wall. After the duo finished singing their collection of censored songs, he introduced himself as Dieter. Then almost immediately excused himself, without explanation, leaving the bag behind.
I immediately got nervous. Who was this guy? He didn’t look like all the other hippies and hipsters that attend this conference. Not at all. And why did he leave the bag behind?
As time ticked away, it seemed like he was gone way too long for a bathroom break. I pointed the bag out to Rob and mentioned his prolonged absence. Rob told me I was crazy.
My mind raced. This German National (I wasn’t even sure what that was but aren’t “the terrorists” always “nationals” of some sort) was going to bomb our hotel to create a diversion to get all of the secret service agents and police over here. And then Dieter’s partner would set the real bomb off over at the Omni Hotel where Biden was speaking to the governors.
I became consumed with the details of the evil Dieter’s plot and could think of nothing else. I mean this had to be it. Why would anyone leave a bag like that unattended? As the association’s lawyer droned on about legislation affecting newspapers, I moved my chair over so I could turn my back on the bag. I grabbed my arms and braced myself for the impact.
Rob leaned over and asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m hoping if it’s a dirty bomb, the shrapnel will just get my back and not take off any limbs,” I said.
“You have lost your mind,” Rob said.
“What other explanation could there be? He’s been gone for too long.”
I began to literally break out in a sweat and a profound sense of sadness washed over me as knew I would never get to see my sweet kids or husband again.
Noticing how crazily distraught I was (heavy on the crazy), Rob kept reminding me of my lunacy.
Finally, when he couldn’t take it anymore, he got up and headed for the bag. Oh no, I knew as soon as he unzipped it, it would certainly explode. This was it!
He began to unzip it and it was like it was in slow motion. I clenched my teeth and waited for it.
When the bang never came, I looked over and Rob was looking down into the bag. He looked back over at me and shook his head and gave me that “you are completely nuts” look again.
He sat back down and said, “It’s dirty socks and tennis shoes.”
“Oh thank god,” I said.
Surprisingly no one else even seemed to notice Rob going through Dieter’s bag.
Just before the lawyer finished up, Dieter came strolling back in. I don’t know where he could have been for so long. Perhaps the rubber chicken really hadn’t agreed with him.
Whatever the case, he was blissfully unaware I had accused him of being a terrorist mass murderer. And that someone had just gone through his stuff.
Last week, I went into the downtown post office, and there were a bunch of unattended bags sitting inside the door. It had a sign on top that read “Property of…”
I couldn’t make out the name but I just initially thought it must be a homeless person’s. Does the post office let them do that as some sort of courtesy? Well, gosh, that would be a good way for “the terrorists” to blow up a bunch of federal buildings. And oh my god, the FBI building is just across the street!
I started to get that nervous feeling again. As I tried to quickly get out of there and away from the homeless bomber’s bags, someone in the back must have dropped something because there was a loud noise. I must have jumped a mile high.
After assessing that I was still alive and the building wasn’t burning to the ground, I just shook my head.
My God, I am insane.