Monday, August 10, 2009

Friendly Gatekeepers

I arrived at my local airport at 5:30 am on Sunday, checked my bag, and got in the line for the security check. Before I handed ner my drivers license and boarding pass, the female TSA agent who was doing the documents scan greeted me by name, like an old friend, "Well, hello, Robert!" Her Southern accent was familar and so was her warm smiling face. I recognized a woman who had been a member of one of my monthly evening circles more than a decade before. She had entertained us with wonderful stories of growing up in the rural South and of dream travels to ghost villages and other locations that are not on airline itineraries. "How come you're working here?" I asked her. "I was dreaming about airports so much I decided I might as well work at one."

It felt like a very good start to the day, to meet a gatekeeper who is also a dreamer. The Gatekeeper is a very important figure in my imaginal life. In dreams, the Gatekeeper may appear as a generic figure familiar on the roads of regular life - the customs officer, the ticket collector, the security guard. Over at my online forum at, one of our dreamers reports an encounter with a ticket collector who demanded an unusual price of admission to somewhere he wanted to go - that he should write and publish a poem (which he proceeded to do). Sometimes the Gatekeeper appears in more enigmatic or mythic guise. I have met the Gatekeeper, in my dreams, as a slick fellow beckoning me towards an open archway, leading to delightful vistas of life possibilities, while holding a door I was trying to force open shut. I have met the Gatekeeper in dreams - and on the dashboard of an Indian taxi driver, after riding on Air India - as elephant-headed Ganesh, and as a black dog who sometimes walks on two legs, as Anubis does.

But here I want to go on talking about the play of the Gatekeeper (who can be a trickster, especially if we are too set in our ways) in the ordinary reality of airports, on the way to diferent planes. At the Seattle airport, a cute dark-skinned TSA agent laughed in my face when she inspected my drivers license. "Why are you laughing?" I asked her. "It's because of your name. In my language, 'Moss' means 'Banana'." "What language would that be?" "Somali". The humorous side of the Gatekeeper was definitely in play that day. Just think about it. Being teased at an American airport because your name means something funny in Somali.

At Boise airport, an older, balding TSA guy asked me if my rather abundant white hair was my own. "Absolutely." "Sonufabitch. I really want that hair." "Sorry, it's not available."

Many years ago, after I sent my carry-ons through the X-ray machine at my home aiport, I was stopped by the security guards. "You got a lampshade in here?" The guard indicated my drum-bag. "Actually, it's a drum." I willingly extracted the simple frame drum that has powered many, many group journeys in my workshops so they could see. "Will you play it for us?" the guard requested. "Excuse me?" "Go on, we'd like you to play." So there, just inside the security barrier, I was tapping out the heartbeat of the drum, surrounded by smiling faces. That felt like another good start to the day.

I've saved the best story of brushes with the airport Gatekeeper for last. I had been leading a shamanic gathering up on a very special mountain and had rushed to the airport without considering what tools and toys I had stuffed in my drum-bag. On the other side of the X-ray machine, a security guard asked me, "Is this yours?" To my horror, I saw he was holding up a ceremonial Lakota knife with an elk-bone handle that he had just removed from my drum-bag. He extracted the nine-inch blade from the sheath and held it up. "Wait here. I have to get my supervisor."

Wild thoughts are thrashing in my brain. They'll arrest me. They'll grill me. At least they'll give me a tongue-lashing for being such a fool as to leave that knife in my carry-ons.

The supervisor appears. His first words are, "What time is your flight?"


"Good. We've got time to get this in your checked luggage so it can meet you at th other end. I'll walk you back to the ticket desk." With this, he hands me the knife, still out of its sheath.

I wonder if I am dreaming as I accompany him, knife in hand, back through security.

"Go on, do it," he says.

"Do what?"

"You're Australian, aren't you? Do the Crocodile Dundee thing."

So I put on my best strine accent and snarl, brandishing the knife, "Call that a knife? This is a bloody knife, mate!"

Gales of laughter. The ticket agent was delighted to put his long line of passengers on hold while he dashed to get my knife into my checked suitcase, saying "I know you Aussies can't go anywhere without a bloody knife." I guess the Gatekeeper was truly in laughing mood that day. And that he sometimes makes special rules for people from Down Under.


fran said...

Robert, thanks for that! I was a few hours into a grumpy day, brooding about the things that weren't going my way, and you gave me a good belly laugh! It made me remember some crossings where one's attitude determined the outcome, and that reminds me to look on the bright side and to remember that I can change my attitude, and that often is enough.

Great stories!


Barbara Butler McCoy said...

Love your stories - and you really do have a nice head of hair;) ... I'd been 'working' at the bookstore cafe until a power outage kicked us all out into this Heat so your stories are the perfect smile inducers.

Unknown said...

Oh, Robert, only you could have a day like that.

The somali girl, laughing at your name.....think about it. "Robert Banana" no wonder.

Crocodile Dundee no less. Toooo funny about the guy wanting your hair.

Thanks for the laughs, Robert.

Robert Moss said...

Thanks Fran, Barbara and Naomi. It is a pleasure to amuse, and just grand when life produces the material ready to serve.

Unknown said...


After reading the comments about your stories giving the readers a laugh, I noticed the word verification on my page and it is "laughen". How appropriate!

Stephanie Deignan said...

Love the Playmobile security check point!

Anonymous said...

Those were great encounters! LOL And if I ever hear drumming in an airport, I'm going to check it out! Crikey!

Jane Carleton said...

Oh that's so funny! I can see it all now. Thanks Robert for the chuckles.

Robert Moss said...

Hi JaneE, Margie and all - Thanks for the chuckles.

I'm having more Gatekeeper experiences on the East Side of Seattle this week. I stay here in the summers because I can usually arrange to have the pool opened at 6:00 AM to allow me to swim for an hour or two before heading out to lead my workshops. This week I have had to renew my request for early pool access evry morning at the front desk. One morning the duty guy said, "But it's raining. I was told to keep the pool locked because it's gonna rain all day." I riposted, "Hey, I'm Australian. I have gills and -" I bared my teeth "- if I don't get to swim, I get dangerous." He got the pool open in a hurry.

Lou Hagood said...

Hi Robert, I had a different encounter with the airport-security gatekeeper. Returning from Oaxaca, Mexico after a Day of the Dead dream retreat after 9/11, the tiny, cigar-trimming knife on my deceased father's watch chain was taken from me by security. At the retreat I had placed the watch chain, with the knife, on the alter for the visiting dead. When I returned home I dreamed that an indigenous Mexican had cut down my father, in the back of his neck, with the tiny knife, and was coming after me.

Savannah said...

Very entertaining Robert! The most excitement I've ever had at a security checkpoint involved a lamb sandwich and a detour through the agricultural department. Where I discovered after scanning all of my luggage it was in fact a chicken sandwich and they let me take it after all. Of course I could have just bared my teeth and growled "if I don't get to eat, I get dangerous". Well I learn something every day, thank you :-)!

Robert Moss said...

Hi Savannah - Your unlikely experience with the sandwich mixup may confirm my occasional description of chicken as the Walking Vegetable :-).

Hi Lou - Thanks for your deliciously creepy report on what followed that ritual on the Days of the Dead. I think I would want to check in on Dad - through an intentional visit to him, or simply by picturing him present and available for conversation - and see how he's doing.

green o'dream said...

Hi Robert, I remember spontaneously turning on the radio, the first piece was on... bananas and the 2nd was You. It was the answer to my question, Should I go to Rbts workshop, answer: Yes!! Life Rhymes, Laurie M

Robert Moss said...

Hey Laurie - I loved that coupling of "Bananas & Dreams" on Connecticut Public Radio. Fun! It was Faith Middleton's show, and there may still be a link to it somewhere at my website. "A Beautiful Bunch of Ripe Dreams" is how we titled the link when it became available.