That’s when I saw it: the samurai sword that I had always wanted. Actually, there were thousands of them. This merchant had two different sizes — long and short. The longer ones (which I now know were katana) were black and the shorter ones (wakizashi) were red. The blades were made of polished, sharpened metal, but the sheathes were made of wood. Colored straw had been wrapped around the handle and glued to various parts of the sheath to add a little ornamentation.
Not exactly quality construction.
Still, it didn’t matter. I had to have one. So I began my haggling routine, purchased a black-sheathed katana with the last of my money, and returned to find my mother.
And she was livid.
How were we going to get a full-sized samurai sword (she used this term, too) through the airport and back home? They were going to stop us, she said, and maybe even put us in jail. Airport security wasn’t exactly what it is today, but hijackings and bombings were prominent in the public eye.
Taking a martial weapon on a plane was frowned upon.
Still, I somehow convinced her that everything would be fine, but as a compromise I had to agree to surrender the sword if we were hassled. She was skeptical, but we were running behind, and she didn’t want to argue. She shoved the tape recorder she’d bought as a gift for my brother into my open suitcase as I repacked.
To make matters worse, the sword in its sheath was too long to fit. I had to pull it out of its sheath to get it packed, but I did get it in. Pushing the underwear and sweatpants down as I closed the zipper, I heard a tremendous rip.
The tip had punched through the side of the suitcase.
Now my mother was even more pissed, and we were late for our flight. Nothing will push my mother over the edge faster than being late for an airplane. In a fit of what I can only call simple brilliant ingenuity, my mother came up with an engineering feat that rivals the likes of MacGyver or even the A-Team. Diving into a restaurant across the street, she came out with a wine bottle cork. Jamming it on the tip of my sword, she shoved the blade deep within the same suitcase and smashed it closed. No rip, no pop, no protruding weapon tip, and we were off.
So, of course, we got stopped at the airport. The gate agent X-rayed our bags and stopped us before we finished checking in. Back then they had to ask your permission to open your bags (ah, the good old days), and we told them they could.
They went right for the bag with the sword in it. A pair of armed guards appeared from out of nowhere, standing behind the gate agent who was searching the bag. They carried machine guns on straps over their shoulders. One actually held the handle of his gun — ready to lift and shoot at hijackers or thirteen-year-old samurai wannabes — with one hand as he casually ate an apple with the other.
My mother glared down at me, and I withered. Her words of warning rang through head. “. . . maybe even go to jail.” Then a more sickening thought pushed that one aside.
These guys might take my sword.
Not that. Anything but that.
The gate agent began piling my stuff on the stand next to him. Out came my swimming suit, my running shoes, the miniature pirate ship, a pair of stop watches, and the samurai sword with its exposed blade and wine cork on the tip.
Time seemed to slow down for me then. The gate agent lifted the sword into the air — a warrior about to strike me down. He was going to take it. I knew it. We were going to go to jail. And when we got out, I was going to be grounded for a least a month.
The gate agent plunged his hand deeper into the suitcase and pulled out the tape recorder. Plopping the naked blade down on top of my clothing he held out his other hand.
“A-a gift,” my mother stammered. “A tape recorder.”
“Make it play.”
She took it and pressed the button, but nothing happened. It had worked when she bought it. I’d heard it myself. But now either the batteries were dead or the cheap-o cassette player was simply broken. Whatever the case, they confiscated the tape recorder, thinking it could be a bomb.
Then they let us go — after they neatly packed my sword back inside the suitcase.
I got on the plane with a smug look on my face. My mother was quite embarrassed that it had been her purchase and not mine that had gotten us stopped, and she was probably at least a little unnerved that the gate agent seemed to sense no danger from a 3-foot-long samurai sword.
I guess the cork put him at ease.