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A Tale of Two Briefcases: A True Story

Reuben Margolin was about to graduate from Harvard, and needed to decide what he was going to do with his life.

Then one day he found a big block of wood on the sidewalk with an uncanny resemblance to a briefcase. So Reuben took the wood home with him and stuck a handle on it. He began to carry the wooden briefcase around with him wherever he went.

People asked him, “Why are you carrying it?” But he didn’t have any good or witty answer.  He could tell that this wood suitcase meant something, so he kept lugging it around, thinking of different reasons why.

“If I keep carrying it long enough, I’ll figure it out,” he thought. But he never did.

A few months later, Reuben made another briefcase. It was a small rectangle of pure steel, and weighed 70 pounds. He even fashioned a custom handle and ornamental metal latches.

Reuben was going to California, so he decided to take the absurdly heavy briefcase with him an the airplane. But the airline wouldn’t let him, unless he showed them its contents.

Open it they said. I can’t Reuben told them. We’re going to have to look inside they said. But it won’t open, it’s solid steel.

After a number of officials had stared at the briefcase, the airline put a tag marked HEAVY on the solid steel bag, and checked the thing. When it arrived at the baggage claim in California, Reuben discovered that a TSA agent had chiseled off the ornamental latches, trying to discover what was inside. It was funny to imagine him, red faced, muttering to himself, unable to wrap his mind around the fact that there wasn’t any secret.

Reuben Margolin is a kinetic sculptor, and one of today’s speakers at TED Full Spectrum.

JACK SPADE is a proud supporter of the 2012 TED Conference. Since not everyone can go to Long Beach, we’ll be highlighting some of this year’s speakers all week long.

Images © Reuben Margolin

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