Shame, Disgrace, and Sorrow: I’ve Got It All

April 18, 2012 § 4 Comments

Rejection is part of the writer’s life, albeit a part I have little interest in getting to know very well. Well enough to nod hello when I see it on the subway, but not well enough to take it home for some drinks and cuddle up with it in front of the fire. As will come as little surprise, I did not win the Toronto Star Short Story Contest. So ist das Leben, c’est la vie.

The good thing for me is that I got to practice writing a short story, which is not something that I normally do. The other good thing is that rejection, even though I joke about it, really is a part of the writer’s life. I know of at least one book that only did well after getting rejected many times. The problem, however, is that you get no feedback with which to improve yourself and avoid said rejection in the future. In fact, the lack of feedback is so complete that the only way I knew I lost was that I did not learn that I won. The only way it could have been worse would be for the Toronto Star to order a hit on me once my submission was in, thereby guaranteeing my “non-person” status.

In any case, life continues and so does work. I’m going to try and post more regularly, which is something I’ve said before, but words are wind. Speaking of wind, I’m not impressed with season 2 of Game of Thrones so far. If words are wind, perhaps Martin is running out of…steam?

Also new for this blog: puns. Have a short story, and we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming…soon.

Collision Course

“Sir? Sir? Yes, you there, in the big sweater and the hat. Could you step out of line please?”


“Yes, sir. Could you come with me, please?”

“For the love of…Is this where you tell me I’ve been randomly selected from a list of potential applicants, and I’m the lucky winner of a brand new car? Or terrorism charges? One of the two?”

“Sir, if you’d just come with me please?”

“Oh fine. You’re no fun.”

“Fun isn’t in the job description, sir. This way, please. Set your bags down here.”

“What if I wouldn’t?”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“What if I don’t set them down? What will you do if I so blatantly reject your assumed power over me? What if I don’t meekly go along with what you say? Huh? What then?”

“In that case, I’d call the airport police, who would detain you, handcuff you, and lead you away. At that point, I’d open your luggage and proceed with the search.”
“Win-win for you guys then?”

“Please sir. Just set your bags down here.”

Thump. Click.

“Do you have to do that? I mean, does showing the entire terminal my underwear actually keep the free world safe?”

“Sir, if I said yes, would you stop bothering me?”

A pause. “Unlikely, but I’d still like to hear it.”

Another pause. “Did you pack your bags yourself?”


“Do you know the contents of your bags?”

“Within a reasonable degree of error, yes.”

“Yes, yes yes yes!. God you’re sour. Did someone try to smuggle cocaine in their ass and you were “randomly selected” to be the guy to get it out?”

“Sir, do you know the contents of your bags, yes or no?”

“Oh no, he’s reaching for the walkie-talkie! Well, I wouldn’t want to inconvenience the airport police. Yes, I do know the contents of my bags. I packed them myself. They do not contain any forbidden fireworks, fuel, firearms, sharp objects, animals, food products, ammunition, prescription drugs, or farm implements. Did I leave anything out?”

“Radioactive materials.”

“You left out “radioactive materials” from the list of prohibited items.”

“Was that really necessary to prohibit? I mean, radioactive materials? Who would be smart enough to get a hold of a bunch of fissionable materials and then dumb enough to just stick ’em in a suitcase and hope for the best? How often are you guys intercepting uranium that you needed to make that a rule?”

“You’d be surprised, sir.”

“Oh my goodness! A response! You are human under that badge!”

“Very funny, sir. I’m just following procedure. There’s no need to mock.”

“And there’s no need to be a jerk to the guy who’s underwear you’re flinging across the terminal.”

Another pause. “Fair enough.”

The airport bustled by. Thousands of people going from and to moved through the airport while two men stood still.

“Sir, what’s in this bag?”

“A bottle of whisky, James.”

“Excuse me? What was that?”

“That’s your name. James. I was just being polite.”

“How do you know my name?”

“It’s written on your name tag. Right there. James!”

“Oh. Yes. I forget I wear one sometimes.”

“That’s OK, James. You know my name, now I know yours.”

“I don’t know your name, sir.”

“What? Yes you do! It’s right on my passport. Right there!”

“I didn’t check your passport, sir. I’m just performing a luggage inspection.”

“Really? I thought the government kept tabs on everyone just because they could.”

“I wouldn’t know about that, sir. I’m not the government.”

“Touché. In that case, I’m Andre.”

“You have quite a varied collection of underwear, Andre.”

“Thanks, I guess?”

“Plenty of colour.”

“Well, one the off-chance someone actually is seeing you in your underwear, you might as well make it worth their while.”

A pause. “What kind of whisky did you buy?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I just picked the nicest-looking bottle with a name I couldn’t pronounce. Kilglenabally-something. I don’t drink the stuff. I got it for my dad.”

“Neither do I, but my son likes it.”

“Son, eh? You’re a married man, then?”

“I was.”

“Ouch. Sorry about that.”

“That’s alright. It was a long time ago.”

Click. Thump.

“Awkward, huh?”

“Excuse me, sir?”

“It’s awkward now, isn’t it, James? We know each other’s names now and a bit about each other, so now we have to talk, don’t we? We’re too far off the script not to. I can’t think of you as a faceless guy with a badge, and I’m not just a suspected terrorist anymore.”

“In fairness, sir, you could still be a terrorist.”

“Very funny James! You made a joke! That’s the first step to becoming a real person! Soon we can get you out of that turtleneck and bullet-proof vest and you’ll be a real boy!”

“Did you have a point, somewhere back there?”

“Somewhere, yes. I was saying that we’re not faceless anymore, and now we’ve got to treat each other with some respect. It’s like when you start talking to someone on the subway but you run out of things half-way to your stop so you stand around smiling and trying not to make eye contact, but you still say “good-bye” when they get off the train because that’s just decent.”

“I’ve been treating you with respect this whole time, sir.”

“Really? The whole time?”

“I don’t recall any time where I wasn’t.”

Really? Because maybe it was the time that you looked at me and thought to yourself, “If I was someone with something to hide, I’d look like that guy”. Do I just look naturally shifty, or did something set you off? I’d like to know, y’know, just because I wonder how much you actually respect me.”

“Sir, the selection is random. I didn’t follow any additional protocol by choosing you.”

“James, please don’t try and feed me bull. I work in advertising for a living, I don’t make nearly enough money for the lies that I tell and I don’t even get to wear a badge. I don’t believe you and not for a second. It’s just human nature, right? You’re looking for a criminal, a terrorist, and you saw me. You put two-and-two together and bam. Random target found.”

“Sir, that’s not the case.”
“I have a name. You know it. Why aren’t you using it now?”

“Sir, I’ll ask you not to get agitated.”

“Or else what, James? You’ll pull me out of line and flash even more of my unmentionables across the damn terminal? You’ll find another way to embarrass the brown guy who had the bad luck to need to fly today? Yeah, take a look everyone! This brown guy might be a terrorist, so we’d better single him out and make you all think he is! For God’s sake, I’m not even Arab, I’m Spanish!”

“Your skin colour didn’t have anything to do with it, sir, we have a strict policy against racial profiling. Again, it was just a random selection. There were no other outstanding criteria.”

“Dammit James, I liked you better when you didn’t say anything. At least then you weren’t lying to me then.”

Travellers moved around the motionless men, treating them like the pillars in the room; just a part of the building.

“It was the way you walked.”

“Pardon, James?”

“You walked too fast for someone who wasn’t in a rush, but your body language didn’t say you were late. It said you were nervous. You kept shooting looks across the room as though you were looking out for something or someone, a basic response from someone with something to hide. My first thought wasn’t terrorist, but it was smuggler.”

“Well of course I’m damn nervous! I’m a man with dark skin flying! You’re not the first person to pull me for these wonderful “random” inspections. They’re more than a little humiliating, and not something I look forward to going through every time I fly.”

“I can imagine that.”

Another pause.

“But smuggler, huh? That’s a little cooler than terrorist, I guess. I mean, if I had to pick from a list of people that are arrested at the airport, I’d prefer smuggler. There’s a bit of glamour with that. I don’t have any cool scars, though, so that wouldn’t really work. Need to be scary in the pictures, or else you just look like a guy that occasionally flies with a condom full of coke in his stomach.”

“Most smugglers are successful, sir, precisely because they don’t have any outstanding characteristics and are therefore able to pass as normal travellers. Being easy to identify isn’t a useful thing for criminals.”

“Whatever James, this is my story where, hypothetically speaking of course, I’m a smuggler. If I want cool facial scars, then I’m going to have them.”

“Hypothetical? Because, sir, you’re not smuggling anything, correct?”

“Scout’s honour. I filled out that stupid declaration card and everything, and considering how thoroughly you’re going through my bags, I don’t know where I’d be smuggling anything anyways.”

“I could get the gloves, sir.”

A pause. “No, that won’t be necessary. We’re getting along so well, but I don’t think we’re ready to take it to the next level.”

“I can keep it purely professional, if you’d prefer.”

“If I didn’t know better, James, I’d say you just made another joke today.”

“I don’t know about that, Andre. Like I said, sir, humour isn’t part of the job description.”

“Neither is talking to people like this, is it?”

“Sir, we’re so far away from normal protocol that my supervisor would spontaneously combust if she heard us right now.”

“Gah! Supervisors! What do they know! Here you are, bravely fighting crime and protecting our borders while they’re hiding in the back, pushing papers and making it hard on the working man!”

“Actually, she’s right over there, helping that gentleman in the wheelchair.”

A pause. “Well, it could be just a front. I’d keep my eye on her, just in case.”

“And are you suggesting that I’m fighting crime right now by investigating you?”

“More that you’re deterring others, who in fact are criminals, from committing crimes. I’m just playing my role in all this. For the good of the nation, and all that.”

“I’m happy to hear that, sir. If that means you don’t mind what we’re doing here.”

“Oh no. No no no. You don’t get to do that to me, James. You can’t turn this around on me. I’m the aggrieved party here. I’m being unfairly racially profiled here, remember?”

“I’d briefly forgotten how malicious and deep-seated my racism was, sir. I’ll try to remember for the future.”

Another pause. The building inhaled arrivals and exhaled departures.

Click. Thump.

“Thank you sir. You can keep going on now.”

“Wait, it’s over?”

“Yes, I’m done here. I have determined that you are neither smuggler nor terrorist. You can keep going along now.”

“Oh, well, I guess that’s that then. So I’m clean, then?”

“You are not currently carrying any contraband or prohibited material across the Canadian border, so as far as I’m concerned, you’re free to go. Any prior arrest warrants you have will, of course, be executed once outside the airport, but for the length of this hallway at least, you’re a free man.”

Another pause.

“This is awkward again.”

“What do you mean, sir?”

“Well, should I say good-bye or something? We’ve talked more than we should, and now we don’t have a clean place to cut it off. It’s going to be messy, no matter how we do it.”

“Sir, this isn’t exactly difficult. I had a job to do and now it’s done. Your cooperation is appreciated, but our exchange is over now. You can just walk away.”

“Maybe we shouldn’t have talked so much. If we hadn’t, then this wouldn’t be so awkward. I could just nod, you could stare blankly at me like every other border agent in existence, and then we could be done with it. I could go complain about this to my girlfriend and you could home to your wif…I mean, well, you could do whatever it is you do.”

“Usually check people’s bags for explosives and contraband. Occasionally, I also play the guitar.”

“Guitar? Wouldn’t have thought so. You don’t exactly seem the musical type.”

“I can be very expressive when I want to be, sir.”


There was another pause.

“Well, I guess there’s no need to hang around. You take care of yourself, James.”

“You too, sir. Rather, you too, Andre. And if you ever plan on smuggling anything through this airport, don’t do it. We’re quite good at our jobs.”

“If I ever get some horrible facial scars and am contemplating a life of crime, I’ll keep that in mind.”

James turned and hailed another unwary traveller over, who proceeded to complain about how unfair it was that “he always seemed to be pulled out for these so-called “random” checks”.

Andre exited the airport and climbed into a taxi. He told the driver where to go and then ignored him for the forty-seven minutes it took to drive to Andre’s home. Once there, Andre hugged his girlfriend and told her all about his trip, but remarked that, for once, border agents didn’t give him any trouble. He made no mention of James.

James, after the next time they had visited his wife’s grave, told his son about a new whisky he might like. He made no mention of Andre.

Every day, planes depart and arrive at airports while stressed air traffic controllers do their best to avoid collisions. It was a truism among them, however, that it just was a numbers game. At some point, regardless of the controls in place, accidents would happen. At that point, they could only cross their fingers and hope for the best.


§ 4 Responses to Shame, Disgrace, and Sorrow: I’ve Got It All

  • duxcorvus says:

    Also remember Twilight got rejected by four different publishers because of its title which at the time was “Forks”; the title was changed though nothing else was and well we are where are today.

  • beatbox32 says:

    It sucks to get rejected without any feedback, but like you said, rejection is more common than not and I’m glad to see you’re taking it so well! Here’s a blog with a bunch of rejection stories that are encouraging to read:

    • Calamanas says:

      Yeah, and, if I may say so myself, it was pretty easy to take. The contest was so long ago that now, months after I entered it, my mind wrote it off as not existing anymore, which made it far easier to shrug when I lost. If it had been a turn around of a week, I think I would have died of anxiety.

  • m.gates says:

    I have to wonder about the Toronto Star Short Story Contest. If you back and read the winning stories, it’s a hot mess. We should create a place, where all the writers have a chance to display their stories and let the readers decide.

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