The Tale of the Carry-On Culprits by Jackie Fender

I shuffled through the usual envelopes containing statements of financial obligation, fliers emblazoned with stellar deals at this or that establishment, more bills and then….what was this? A thick, white envelope with a blue border and my name and address scrawled in black ink on the front. There was no impending special occasion, no cause for a friend to send snail mail so the non-bill correspondence was unexpected. No name could be found with the return address and as I flipped the envelope over to open it, upon further examination I spied a thumb print, in what could have been blood?!

My heartbeat quickened as I tore the paper open, not mindful of what could lie within in my excitement. There could have been a toxic powder or bloody nub of a digit removed from a loved one, instead: a ransom letter, classic in style, typography cut from magazines and pasted together, mismatched but legible, then Xeroxed. The message was clear, they had something of mine and wanted to make a trade. Accompanying the scandalous note were Xeroxed photos of a bag. A tote bag clearly meant to be my precious, if only I could avoid infuriating these nefarious carry-on culprits. That is the name that I had given them, The Carry-On Culprits.

I obsessed over this bag, wondering who would create such a piece of work to only blackmail me with it. My response was a “choose your own adventure” sort with two paths that could be traveled. One, I boasted of a particular set of skills that I had acquired over a long career, skills that made me a nightmare for these type of people…..then I remembered that was Liam Neeson, not I and instead provided option two, I would do what they requested for exchange of the safe return of my beloved tote forgetting again that this bag has never actually been in my possession. But I vowed to get her home and make her mine.

I waited patiently for word back, anxious that this bag was a hoax, some cruel joke to punish me for my wrong doings. I waited, and waited and then while conducting business along “The Ave” I spotted one of the villainous fiends. I knew it to be him because of the symbol gracing his tee. It was the very same that could be found on one side of my missing tote. A majestic mountain in the background, a graceful sketch like image of a languid octopus below a bridge tactfully creating the word, “TACOMA.” He was inconspicuous in appearance, friendly even but I eyed him suspiciously. His manner was enough to inform me that we were to appear casual by any pedestrians nearby, just a couple of chums chatting it up post lunch.

The exchange would be made soon, on that very Avenue during a popular Tacoma festival. As I counted the days I thought often of that bag. Was it in a safe, warm environment treated humanely and gazed at with admiring eyes? I slept feverishly and woke often riddled with anxiety.

Until the day came…..

It was a typical Pacific Northwest summer day, warm but not unseasonably so like the weeks before. The Ave was closed off to through traffic and lined on each side with vendors slinging their wares, large stages highlighting live music of all genres and art being created right there at the scene. The air was electric with the buzz of bodies, each having journeyed to the outdoor shenanigans in search of something different. Good grub. Merchandise. Music. I on the other hand, was on a mission of a different sort, to meet the dubious duo and bring home my bag.

I finally found them, a dapper duo adorned in rad threads, damn they were good looking! The woman’s long lockes undercover a large brimmed summer hat, presumably to shade herself from the summer sun but I felt suspicious that it was more likely to hide her identity. No longer though were they the “Carry-On Culprits” as I had assumed but instead the Shroom Brothers, though clearly of no relation and not both men, their moniker welcomed eager shoppers looking to spiff themselves up to the swag level of the two manning the booth.  To appear like the average festival attendee I smiled and browsed, choosing a wicked awesome tank and made my way to pay for it. With a natural charisma one expects from an arch-nemesis or bad guy of this nature they chatted up folks around us and flawlessly packed my newly purchased tee in a tote. THE tote and sent me on my way.

She is now mine.

Safe and out of the grips of those beautiful beasts who created them.

The exchange made? A tote for the tale of the Carry-On Culprits.

*This is a work of nonfiction, though the story may fall prey to sensationalism and no names were given and some details changed to protect the privacy of the innocent….who am I kidding, no one is innocent in this tale! A heartfelt appreciation to Carrie and Bob (better known by some as the Shroom Brothers) for sharing their craft with the good people of Tacoma and enriching the creative culture with their dedication and general radness. You can check them out on Facebook and stalk them around town during festivals and other special events or visit the Nearsighted Narwhal to get your mitts on some swag.*