Packing for a trip is like gearing up for an excursion to outer space: Forget one important item, and you spend your time stranded without the comfort of your favorite stuff. It’s the adult equivalent of missing your beloved childhood blankie, minus the crying and sucking of thumbs. Usually.

In less than a month, I’ll be headed for the sun-baked climes of North Carolina, a trip whose timing ”“ smack in the middle of summer ”“ portends my immediate incineration upon stepping outside of the airport. With this in mind, my focus in recent days has been to stock up on water and sunblock, survival items that aren’t likely to go unpacked amidst my fervent stuff-gathering. My fear, as I compile a list of essentials, is that I’ll overlook an item that, while not in the strictest sense necessary, would still take the edge off what’s basically a voyage to an alien planet.

It’s amazing how attached we get to inanimate objects. In high school, I knew a kid who was hopelessly tethered to his special hacky sack. A hacky sack, for anyone who’s never worn a hemp necklace, is a tiny bag, usually made of knitted fabric, filled with beads. You and a group of baggy-pantsed friends stand around in a circle and kick, knee, or elbow the sack from one person to another, with the goal of not letting it hit the ground ”“ no hands allowed. In the days before smartphones turned America’s youth into zombie-eyed video game addicts, this is what high schoolers did to kill small stretches of time. That is, when they weren’t giving the chess club captain a wedgie that could only be extricated with the help of an excavation crew.

This kid’s hacky sack was as irremovable as a poorly-located goiter. During tests in various classes, he would keep the sack on his desk and knead it absently, as if it were a soothsayer’s crystal ball, feeding him answers through his fingertips. Having formed attachments to such silly and inconsequential items myself, I know exactly what would have happened if, during one of these exams, his beloved hacky sack had been taken away: He would have panicked, become distracted, forgotten how to calculate the force of the earth’s gravity on an eight-pound baby, and failed physics. Lacking the necessary credits, he’d have flunked out of school, become overwrought with despair, and joined a biker gang infamous for its manufacture and distribution of crystal meth. This would have landed him in prison with a seven-foot-tall cellmate named Butch, and all because some jerk (me) thought it’d be funny to toss his hacky sack into the girls’ bathroom.

Dubious? Look up the “butterfly effect.” It’s science.

Anyway, these attachments we have to things, harmless as they are in everyday life, become more pronounced when we gather our resources for a prolonged trip. They also force us, often for the first time, to take a good hard look at our more ridiculous affinities. Let’s say you’ve got an obsessive compulsive attachment to that special-edition Mr. T carving knife you once used to etch monkey butts onto tree stumps at summer camp. The butts were particularly detailed and lifelike, and you decided the knife was a sort of good-luck charm. Well, good luck getting that knife on the plane. TSA’ll take one look at it and have you locked in a room with the crazy-eyed mumbler from Tibet and the dude with the cheap bomb Super-Glue’d to his belly button. Best to leave the knife at home and interpret every spilled wine cooler as a sign of your resultant bad luck, hoping all the while that Mr. T can spare a thought to pitying a fool.

A lot of these kinds of items, though ”“ the ones we just can’t do without ”“ are perfectly acceptable to bring onto a plane. Yet we forget them anyway. And why? Because packing is a daunting task. It forces us to miniaturize our lives, make them travel-ready, pocket-sized. That’s a tall order. Before leaving, I somehow have to figure out which components of my life will fit into a small suitcase and a carry-on travel bag, which makes me think of all the circus clowns they somehow manage to stuff into those tiny cars. Is there a well-known trick to that, or is it one of those age-old, sacred clown secrets kept under wraps by the mysterious Order of Bozo? ”˜Cause it’s a skill I could sure use right about now. There are only so many ways you can try to squeeze in your shaving gear before you think it might be time to grow a beard.

It’s embarrassing to admit that the “must-have” item throwing off my travel mojo is, of all things, my laptop. It’s not what most people would consider essential to a vacation ”“ not as much as, say, pants. But if I get tired of reading on the plane, I’m going to need something to do, and there’s only so much entertainment you can squeeze out of a pair of cargo shorts. (Oh, get your mind out of the gutter.)

At least a laptop isn’t the sort of thing you tend to forget. I just hope that whatever I sacrifice to bring it along won’t prove too important or necessary. Maybe I’ll leave my hacky sack at home.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune, and his life has more moving parts than a Swiss clock. He can be contacted at 282-1535, Ext. 319 or [email protected]

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