“But I’m in Buenos Aires.” I had visions of my lonely luggage making its futile circuit on the baggage carousel in some deserted airport, emerging and disappearing again and again through those lugubrious rubber flaps. “What are the bags doing in Paraguay?” “Ay, si, señor, we will in a moment retrieve them.”
It took more than a moment to retrieve them back to me. A few days after returning to Salt Lake City, I found deposited on my porch sometime in the middle of the night (had there been an air drop?) my carry-on, which I had stupidly checked at the last minute, and the large duffel containing only another rolled up duffel to bring back belongings my stepdaughter had accumulated during her year in Argentina.
When I unzipped the carry-on, the first thing I noticed were the barbecue stains on my yellow Tommy Bahama shirt. Then I saw what looked like wine stains on my khaki shorts. My socks, though balled up as before, gave off a faint odor of Swiss cheese. They were clean when I packed them, but I was open to the possibility that a week inside the jam-packed carry-on, had subjected the socks to mysterious chemical processes resulting in a less-than-fresh smell.
Something was definitely wrong here. The clothes appeared to be packed where I had packed them, but who really can remember exactly where things have been packed? Were the Levis on the bottom of the suitcase, or was it the sweater? Were the shoes on the left side, or the right?
In any event, I had an uneasy feeling, much more pronounced than the feeling you get when you discover that card inside your suitcase informing you that the Transportation Security Administration has been pawing through your stuff. The new topsiders I had bought on sale just before the trip were in less-than-pristine condition. I examined them as if I were a suspicious store clerk assessing the condition of returned shoes. They looked to me like some lucky traveler had spent a week hoofing them through the grimy streets of Santiago or Caracas.
I came to the conclusion that my clothes had seen more of South America than I had. In fact, I am now convinced that enterprising baggage handlers do a lucrative business renting out the contents of suitcases plucked from the baggage carts. I haven’t worked out how the suitcases are selected; perhaps it’s the brand of luggage or the color of the bags; perhaps the process is totally random. In any event, renting out the packed belongings of air travelers is the most logical explanation for the worldwide phenomenon of lost luggage.
So it’s not merely a flight of fancy to speculate on how the barbecue stains came to decorate my Tommy Bahama shirt, nor how my shorts were pigmented with an earthy rioja, nor how my shoes were scuffed and smirched by city dirt. In my mind’s eye I can clearly see Humberto Manzana dodging the dog-walkers on Plaza Rodriguez Pena, almost spraining an ankle as he pivots to get out of the path of a blind pug, and in the process abrading the soft leather of my formerly new right shoe, halfway between the instep and the heel.
Look! There’s Fernando Camisa, the hard-working taxi driver, unshaven and bleary-eyed at the end of his shift, deciding to finish off the chicken-fried steak sandwich his wife packed for him the night before, and, as he rounds the corner on to Avenida Santa Fe, spilling homemade barbecue sauce down the front of my yellow shirt.
And isn’t that Marcelo de Gustaperro, dog walker extraordinaire, relaxing on the balcony of his sixth floor apartment on Calle Cansado with a bottle of rioja and stale almonds? Watch as he spits out a spoiled nut and knocks over his glass of wine, a substantial splash of which travels at least six inches to visit my khaki shorts.