"Is this your bag sir?"
I smile. "Yep!" One of my secrets to travel zen is to be unrelentingly cheerful, regardless of how dour my internal mood or how depressing my plight. The TSA dude seemed on edge.
"Can we take a look inside?" he asks, as if "no" would be an acceptable answer and they'd just send me on my way.
"No problem, I'm sure you just picked up my phone or something."
He opens the bag. He looks at me. He looks in the bag again. He looks at me. One at a time, he removes objects for investigation.
He lays out the contents on the table, as if reconstructing Sumerian wedding invitations. Laptop. Spare battery. DS. PSP. iPhone. Kindle. Camera. Noise canceling headset. Mouse. Power bricks. A bottle of central nervous system depressants. Two sharpies. Eye mask. Earplugs. Plastic bag with $300.
"Is this all yours?" he asks. His face is tense. I'm not sure how the answer could be anything but "yes" but I say "yes" just the same.
He begins unfolding everything. He opens the laptop. He opens the DS. He takes the PSP out of its clear plastic case. He removes the kindle from its leather book cover. He opens the medicine bottle and looks inside, giving it a shake. He removes the $300 from the bag and puts it back in. He reaches for a plastic wand with a strip of cloth held in the end, and proceeds to wipe down the surfaces of everything. He removes the cloth, places it in a chemical sniffer.
We both sit there patiently. I smile. He doesn't. The machine makes a shallow beep.
"You're all set sir," he informs me. He starts trying to reassemble my pieces, but I step in to do it for him. He hesitates before moving back down the line.
"Can I ask what all this is for?" He's dropped the officious tone from his voice. He's just genuinely curious. Perhaps he thinks I'm some sort of gamer-McGuyver terrorist, and that I will be constructing an artificially intelligent exploding toilet seat from Lithium batteries, flash memory, epilepsy medication and and pictures of Andrew Jackson.
"Nothing really," I reply, shrugging. "Just a geek I guess." I give him my most manic grin.
How did it come to this?
Bare feet cold on the rubber floor mats, I contemplate my luggage. Six independent devices, each with battery, a screen, an input system, a wireless transceiver, memory, speakers and a processor. Two of the devices feature cameras. Four of them contain Microphones. Two contain optical drives. 4 of them can play video well enough to watch a movie. 3 of them can play games (five if you count minesweeper on the kindle or web games on the iPhone).
I fall asleep on the flight home. None of them leave the bag.
That night, sitting on the couch with my wife, eating sushi, I realize that the situation is even worse in my living room. One TV, one computer and three consoles. Each console has at least two wireless controllers. The Wii and the 360 have additional hardware stashed behind the TV: drums, racing wheels, guitars, Nunchucks, classic controllers. All but the Wii will play DVDs. Each can access our music library and the internet. And of course, my wife and I both have iPhones in our pockets and our laptops on the side tables. The cordless house phone sits on the couch between us.
How did it come to this?
The next morning, we sit at the kitchen table. The kids are at school. Coffee steams from flared tan mugs stenciled with old-school Winnie the Pooh. It's silent but for the crinkle of yellow newspaper and the hum of the refrigerator.
"Let's go skiing. I need to be outside." She brightens at the idea. It's a beautiful day, unseasonably warm. We grab our stuff and head outside. I load up my board and her skis.
She turns back towards the house as I shut the trunk of the minivan.
"Just let me grab my phone."