from the gift shop in the san fransisco domestic departure terminal

Once, on the last leg of a three week trip through Australia and the Philippines, I sat in the departure lounge of the San Fransisco Airport and watched them dismantle a gift shop. It was actually a dual event: as shoppers lined up to take advantage of the markdown on knicknacks and coffee table books (even in the midst of leaving for different cities, people were leaping for bargains), men in dark blue shirts stacked stock on trolley carts. Shoppers queuing from the right, movers milling on the left, both groups sucking out the merchandise in good orderly time.



After three days of long flights and layovers I was too exhausted to weave my way around the people and investigate the nearly empty shelves for snowglobes and t-shirts, but as I watched I let my mind spin out a fantasy. I imagined that People were dismantling things behind me as I travelled, that, as in a discarded subplot of Ubik, everything was being put away until my next visit: the shanties of Manila tipped over into the river and its half-constructed shopping complexes all taken down again, then the whole country squeezed together and pushed under the waves. And then Australia rolled up like a giant carpet and tucked under the Antarctic ice sheet. Finally all this tidiness in the guise of dissolution had caught up to us at the San Fransisco Airport. I didn't know it, but the Golden Gate Bridge had been collapsed hours before and all its stays used to tie up the entire Bay Area in a neat package. Any moment now, the men in the dark blue shirts would finish up with the gift shop and start on the magazine store (a store that hid the Rolling Stone issues with Michael Moore on the cover up on a high shelf and turned upside down, which made me realize that a) America was a weird place and b) I could recognize Michael Moore by his feet and legs, which meant my brain was a place as weird as America), then move on to the cafeteria, the payphones and crappy internet terminals, the wall-mounted defibrillators and fire extinguishers, the rows of chairs in their inoffensive colours. I even imagined a small squad of those shirted men on the plane, strategically dismantling the craft piece by piece as we flew.



It occurred to me later that my fantasy was a bit like Stephen King's story The Langoliers, in which a group of passengers on an airplane get stranded in the immediate past and must escape it before they're consumed by the voracious recycler-predators of the story's title. I prefer my fantasy to King's story - in my imaginings there's no urgency or need to escape anything, since I'm synchronized so precisely with the men in the dark blue shirts that they will never quite catch up with me. They appear to be minutely faster, but it's an asymptoptic approach. Perhaps I hand them the complimentary flight magazine as I deplane. For reasons I can't quite explain, the whole notion of the world being taken down behind me as I go gives me a quiet sense of ease and safety. And in case I haven't mentioned it before, the San Fransisco departure area has the crappiest duty-free in the world. And no gift shop anymore either.