PARIS — Phyllis was just ahead of me in airport security at Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. The scene was typically chaotic — travelers stripping off belts and shoes, plastic trays clunking, blue-shirted security people hollering back and forth.
I have no idea what time of day or night it was. Time seemed suspended in this two-day air pilgrimage from Duluth to Minneapolis to Paris to Edinburgh, Scotland. We were on our way to greet a week-old grandchild — our first. But at the moment we were just cattle being herded from one chute to another here in Paris.
“Arms up. Hold it. Good,” shouted the X-ray technician scanning bodies for weapons, contraband, M&M Peanuts — whatever. The X-ray machine made its 360 around my body. If it registered the screws holding my left collarbone together, it raised no objection.
“OK,” the security person announced. “Come on through.”
We had just passed through X-ray and were collecting our gear at the conveyor. I had lost track of Phyllis, but I knew she was ahead of me in this maelstrom somewhere. So I’ll let her take the story from here. When I caught up with her, she was grinning an unusual grin.
“I was gathering my stuff when a man tapped me on the shoulder,” she told me.
This was not a security person, she said. Just a fellow traveler, an older gentleman. Which is not to say he was older than we are.
The man, a fellow American, had wanted to tell Phyllis something, she told me.
“He said, ‘Just to let you know, you have some toilet paper stuck to your butt.’”
Phyllis reached around to her back side and, sure enough, she could feel a generous glob of tissue stuck there. She pulled it off and looked sheepishly at the man who had alerted her to the tissue issue.
“Thank you,” she told him.
“Hey — things happen to all of us,” he said.
As it turned out, her albino attachment was only part of the problem. The root cause was the piece of chewing gum centrally located on her backside that had invited the tissue to stick around.
And we had wondered how we were going to kill three hours at Charles de Gaulle. Now Phyllis had a little project to tackle.
The blue-suited security personnel kept barking.
“Keep moving! Make sure you collect all your belongings! Don’t forget your laptop. Move on down! Move on down!”
We gathered our gear and hastily reassembled ourselves. We walked out of security and into the relative calm of the main concourse.
Ah, Paris. The Eiffel Tower. The Louvre. The Seine.
And the kindness of a fellow traveler.