The biggest mistake people made when talking to Luanne Landry at parties was assuming her job was in any way interesting.
Everyone had seen MalCorp’s advertisements online and watched as smiling, happy people with disposable incomes waited patiently in line to cross the border from our world to another in the multiverse. It all seemed so glamorous (though sadly, not the least bit cost-feasible). So whenever someone discovered Luanne was a border guard who processed outgoing travelers, they assumed she had some really good stories.
She did not.
Luanne’s most promising stories involved finding the occasional contraband – mostly exotic fruits or pets people tried to smuggle across to the other side for various reasons. (One enterprising gentleman once tried to sneak a spork over to an alternate dimension where they had never been invented; his plan was to patent them and make millions.) All her contraband stories ended the same way – the person was detained and Luanne filled out the appropriate incident report forms in triplicate. She did almost mace an unruly traveler once, but she didn’t even get the cap off the spray bottle before a burly agent named Phil subdued the guy.
Sadly, most of Luanne’s days were spent scanning the barcode on holographic IDs to ensure the traveler had the credits required to make the trip, then double checking the destination was entered properly and reviewing the rules and safety precautions before sending the traveler on his or her way. Since MalCorp didn’t believe in employee discounts (or dental insurance, for that matter), Luanne had never been able to afford a trip to an alternate universe, making her incapable of answering most of the questions people asked about her job.
Though, of course, like everyone else she did wonder what it was like to go across the border.
Sometimes she made up stories in her head about the travelers, imagining where they were headed or what they would find when they got to another world. Coworkers who processed returning travelers said people mostly went looking for alternate versions of themselves. Luanne imagined it was like a funhouse mirror – you saw what your life would be like if you had made different choices or had different opportunities.
Old movies often toyed with the idea of an evil twin from an alternate dimension (typically sporting an eye patch and goatee) who was the opposite of you in every way. But, from what Luanne could gather, it wasn’t like that. More often, there was a you in an alternate dimension who had taken that job in Tulsa or who had forgotten to put away the milk that day you were in a hurry. One small decision that altered the course of your life in some significant way.
On her break, Luanne often daydreamed about alternate versions of herself. She liked to picture a Luanne Landry who had followed through with those yoga classes instead of quitting after getting that embarrassing split in the back of her pants during the second class or one who had the courage to tell Jake Simpson she had a crush on him in that brief moment near the cups they shared together during the eighth grade dance.
Some days, she simply envisioned a Luanne Landry who had the confidence to confront the chef in the employee cafeteria who, day after day, continued to put mushrooms on her salad, despite her requests to the contrary. As she sat in the break room picking mushrooms off her salad and placing them on a napkin, she pictured a Luanne who had traveled more or one who read all those books written down on that faded piece of paper in her desk drawer at home.
Today, as she threw another paper towel full of mushrooms into the trash, Luanne found herself daydreaming about a Luanne who had the courage to get blonde highlights in her hair, even though her mom always said it would make her look whorish.
She walked back to her station and called for the next person in line. It was a squirrely young kid perspiring heavily as he approached her. After 11 years on the job, it wasn’t tough to discern this guy was hiding something. Luanne frisked him, finding a Malphas candy bar tucked inside his sock.
The kid begged for mercy, repeating over and over again that his parents were going to kill him. Luanne pulled his hands behind his back, but he fought free. He continued to wrestle with her, pleading for leniency. She reached for the pepper spray, but Phil was already on top of the kid, forcing his wrists together and dragging him off to holding.
As Luanne regained her composure, a shimmering plastic card on the floor caught her eye. It was the kid’s holographic ID. Luanne grabbed it but, for reasons she couldn’t quite explain, instead of taking it over to holding, she slipped it into her pocket.
That night, as she ate her rehydrated dinner in front of the television, a MalCorp advertisement came on the screen. Luanne remembered the ID in her pocket. She began concocting a plan to use it the next day. If she arrived to her station 15 minutes early, she could sneak across the border while the technicians were too busy with their coffee and donuts to notice her. Once on the other side, she could finally find the Luanne she always dreamed about.
The next day, Luanne arrived 15 minutes early. She walked onto the floor and eyed the technicians, who barely registered her presence. She took a deep breath, preparing to head to the gate.
Luanne stood motionless for several seconds. She tried to picture the Luanne Landry she’d find on the other side – one with poise and confidence and grace. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that once across the border all she’d see was a sad, defeated Luanne on the other side, guarding the border and daydreaming about a better life.
She let out a sigh and walked to the detainment office and turned in the ID.
Luanne walked back to her station and waited for the crowd to gather.
The morning was uneventful. Before she knew it, it was time for her break. She sat at her usual table and eyed the salad in front of her. Then suddenly and quite unexpectedly, Luanne picked up her salad, took it to the chef and demanded he make her a new one … one without mushrooms.
Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. Follow Joel on Twitter @FreeMisterClark or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.