As an actor, Mark Ruffalo traveled the world, which was not as glamorous as it sounded, consisting mostly of fancy but anonymous hotel rooms and walking through the bright and antiseptic corridors of international airport terminals. He had developed a certain fondness for the quiet that filled these blank spaces in his life. There was a narcotizing peace that came over him, like spending too long in a warm bath, perhaps a bit wasteful but ultimately pleasant. It was with this floaty, somewhat numb feeling that Ruffalo exited the town car in some city–it was ever harder to keep track–and eased his way through the shushing automatic doors into the sunny atrium of another airport. He made a mental note to ask his assistant where he was going and why, as those facts might come in handy later, but for now he just appreciated the way the squeak his shoes made against the shine-buffed tiles echoed up off the arching ceiling, as if the room had just been built to make way for his footsteps. An airline employee was waiting to usher him to the front of the security line, where he removed his shoes, took his iPad out of its neoprene sleeve and placed it in a tub of its own, along with his keys, corduroy blazer, his scarf, and a tasteful worn-leather shoulder bag with a Patricia Highsmith novel, a bag of trail mix, clean socks inside. (When it came to reading, Mark Ruffalo preferred the smell and feel of actual books. The iPad was just a minor indulgence for goofing around.) He held onto his driver’s license and his boarding pass and waited for the TSA agent to wave him through. The metal detector was silent–Mark Ruffalo had spent enough time in airports to be methodical with this stuff.
He expected to put his shoes back on and be on his way, but the TSA agent held up a blue-gloved hand, looking past Mark Ruffalo’s shoulder at something or someone. “One moment, sir. It appears we have some kind of a problem.” Mark Ruffalo cocked his head to the side and gave a small smile where his nose got pinched up kind of. “Problem?” he asked. The agent didn’t respond for a moment, continuing to stare past him. Mark Ruffalo turned around but couldn’t figure out what the man was looking at. “If you’ll just come with me, sir. It appears you’re on the ‘No Fly’ list.”
“That’s impossible,” Mark Ruffalo said. “There must be some kind of mistake. I’m a Hollywood actor.”
The TSA agent didn’t say anything. He simply motioned for Mark Ruffalo to follow him, punched a keypad on a door marked “Authorized Personnel Only,” down a dingy cinder block corridor to a poorly lit, windowless room filled with rusty filing cabinets, weather-beaten cardboard boxes, and a metal table surrounded by a few metal chairs. “Have a seat, sir.” Mark Ruffalo sat. The agent left the room, closing the door behind him. Mark Ruffalo heard a deadbolt thud into place.
“The fuck?” Mark Ruffalo said to himself.
A half hour passed. Mark Ruffalo doubted he was going to make it wherever he was going on time to do whatever he was supposed to do. Publicity? He wasn’t sure.
The door opened and a man in a mediocre suit walked in carrying a stack of papers. He sat across from Mark Ruffalo and popped off a tight, brief smile. “Mr. Ruffalo,” he sighed. “I suppose you know why you’re here.”
“Actually, no, I don’t,” Mark Ruffalo said. “No idea.”
“As you know, ever since SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2001, we Americans take airport security pretty serious–”
“I’m an American, man.”
“That may be. That may well be. As I was saying, we take airport security pretty seriously. So when someone is on the ‘No Fly’ list, such as yourself, it’s our job as the TSA to detain you.” The man tapped his pen against his teeth. He smelled like old coffee.
“Why am I on the ‘No Fly’ list?”
The man smiled his mean, tight little smile again and spread open his hands over the papers on the table. “Well,” he said, a thick slick of contempt dripping off his voice, “let’s just see, shall we?” He bent over the papers and studied them for a moment nodding at certain points as if it was all as he expected. Finally, he lifted his head and grinned. “Yes,” he said, “it says here that you’re the best.”
“Yes. You are just a really awesome actor. Some of the movies that you have been in haven’t necessarily been the best movies, but you yourself were very good IN them, if I can make that distinction. You’re basically launching an international CHARM attack. Haha. You’re so charming! It’s crazy! So, as you can see, you’ve been added to the ‘No Fly’ list, for the safety of our fragile, interdependent global society.”
“Wait, that doesn’t even make any sense. I’m not allowed to travel on airplanes because I’m a good actor?”
“Oh, I would say that you’re a VERY good actor, Mark Ruffalo. An excellent actor, really. It is just a joy to watch you in movies.”
Mark Ruffalo stared down at his hands. Was he in some kind of Franz Kafka bureaucratic nightmare?! Mark Ruffalo would make references to stuff like that, like think about Kafka and stuff, because he is cool and smart. Such a good dude. His situation also totally reminded him of, like, some really long Russian novels too.
“Anyway, I have to lock you in this room forever so that you don’t hurt everyone with your subtle interpretation of deeply human characters. Goodbye, Mark Ruffalo. It is a shame, but 9/11. The loss of your talent will be almost as painful as the loss of those 3,000 American souls on that fateful day.”
“Wait,” Mark Ruffalo stood now. “That’s not even how the ‘No Fly’ list works. You don’t just lock someone in a room and leave them there forever.”
“Oh Mark Ruffalo, I’m brought to tears.” The TSA agent was crying. “You truly are captivating, with full control of every aspect of your physical being. My only regret is that you were placed on the ‘No Fly’ list before the Academy was able to truly recognize your gifts. As you may know, it often takes them decades to reward actual talent in an industry so overrun with craven boors and over-surgeried bubble-heads.”
With that, the TSA agent fled the room lest Mark Ruffalo charm him into letting him go free. If anyone could be so persuasive, surely it was the star of You Can Count on Me, Zodiac, and We Don’t Live Here Anymore. He locked the door behind him, and leaned back against the cool metal. There was silence inside. Of course. Of course Mark Ruffalo was so restrained and thoughtful that he did not even scream to be let out or bang against the walls of his caged tomb. A truly classy human being, and, dare the TSA Agent say it, a genius. Finally, the TSA Agent wiped his tears on his sleeve and walked back out to his screening post, content, at least, that America was a little bit safer.