the tsa ’n me (or you)

It starts with the hand-swipe. You know when that young man with the glasses asks you to reach out, palms up, so he can check for chemicals and you smile and say yes, okay, sure thing, ha ha ha, thanks for keeping us safe? And hold up your palms as directed? There. It starts there.

A few beats later, a small clutch of TSA agents swoops politely but firmly over and explains that they found some shit on your hands. They don’t actually call it “shit,” but that’s what they mean, and that’s what you hear, and immediately you question that innocent floral hand-soap you used that morning, or the face-cream, or that fudge you nibbled in the kitchen in the wee small hours before you left for the airport.

Quickly the swooping agents communicate with other swooping agents, and soon they’re picking through your luggage one sloppily packed undergarment at a time, looking for yet more shit, swiping everything with a plug: your iPhone, your brand-new Acer laptop, your GPS.

Meanwhile, two of your offspring have been herded over from the non-terrorist-threat portion of the airport to sit and observe your hilarious good fun with the TSA. You take three steps forward to converse with the fruit of your loins when a fresh new swooper swoops over, telling you, the shit-swiped mother from Albany, to back off in a manner that suggests the fate of the free world depends upon it.

“You can’t make contact with them,” she says.

But they’re my children, you say.

“You can’t make contact with them, or they’ll have to go through the same process you are.”

But the other agent brought them over here, you say.

“You can talk to them, but you can’t make contact.”

She gestures you back a step. Belatedly, you realize that by “making contact” with your children she means “mussing their hair” or “plucking fuzz off their sweaters” or “poking them in the eyes,” and so you confine yourself to blabbing.

Over by the luggage-picking station, the swoopers have reassembled your wrinkly undergarments. One of the original swoopers, a sturdily formed woman with a kind face, here informs you that they “need to do an RPD” and corrals you into a special room for problem travelers. She shuts the door.

An RPD. Of course. An RPD is essential. Unnnhhh, what’s an RPD?

“A Resolution Pat Down,” she explains, and for a moment you think she might be offering you a therapeutic massage.

But no. It turns out that the swoopers’ swiping found the exact same shit on your GPS and Acer laptop that they found on your hands. Which definitely boots you from the non-terrorist-threat portion of the airport. This realization prompts the same, reflexive, irrational guilt surge (HOLY SHIT! I’M A CRIMINAL!) that kicks in whenever you pass a cop on the highway, even if you’re peddling along under the speed limit.

Trying to make conversation, the swooper asks you about your trip. “You going somewhere fun?”

No, you say. No. I’m going to my best friend’s funeral.

“Oh,” she says. “Sorry.”

A second female swoops in and sweeps your most personal self, running blue-latex hands palms-down over the boring body parts and palms-up over the hot zones. “I’m just going to move my hands sideways over here,” she says, and by “here” she means THERE.

Well, you say. I’ve given birth three times. I have no modesty.

The swoopers laugh. HA HA HA. You laugh. HA HA HA HA. And then it’s over. You’re approached by a fresh new swooper, an explosives expert, who shakes your hand and explains that some newer laptops have a sort of chemically obnoxious plastic residue that’s been causing false alarms. Dells are a problem; it seems that Acers are, too.

You thank this one last swooper, and go your merry way.

Later, on board the plane, looking for a little added excitement, you head to the restroom and walk in on someone crapping.

7 thoughts on “the tsa ’n me (or you)

  1. Amazing story telling. Fantastic details. The cold way they treat you and threaten to make your life increasingly awful when they are already violating what were previously our free rights is f**king awful. I know it doesn’t make me feel safer, it makes me feel more vulnerable. Since the TSA is extremely consistent about how it does everything we are only safe from idiots. It certainly has turned our lives upside and made is so that short flights no longer exist and taking the train between close proximity cities is faster than taking a flight. El Al (Israeli airline) has the best record for stopping terrorism in the country that is world’s the greatest terrorist target. El Al feels that all the scanning and stopping people from bringing their sodas and shampoo with them is a pointless waste of time. They believe the only way to figure out whether or not you are a terrorist is talk to you so they speak with every passenger and it takes less time. The problem is that it takes a greater intellect and involves serious training. Once they are working their security agents are tested regularly and fired when they don’t perform.

  2. Probably this is more than is needed, but in rereading Amy’s TSA adventure I think back to one I had probably ten years of so ago. It was right after they started the “checking” and TSA may not even had been in existence.

    As Amy knows, I am a fat/large man– over 6′ and well over 200#. I have a metal implants currently in three places (2 knees and my lower back). In those days I only had one in the back and it was small titanium brace to help with “slipped disks”. I was traveling a lot in those days and rarely did the alarm go off when I was wanded or went through a detector– as the implant was so small. The few times it did I would explain what the problem was and was patted down to see if I was concealing anything and then sent on my way.

    However, (I think it was Seattle) on one trip I managed to find an agent who was very suspicious and asked all kinds of questions. I kept giving the same answers which he did not like (his questions were attempts to trip me up in my story). He finally told me he was going to do a strip search and called his supervisor over. The supervisor came and heard the story and asked me for my opinion –I said I thought it was ridiculous but he needed to know that if they did a strip search it would be one “ugly sight”.

    Unlike today where the agents have strict protocols they have to follow the supervisor had the final say. Fortunately for me, the man had a sense of humor and burst out laughing and sent me on my way.

  3. I’m just glad the TSA agents did not discover what was really going on, Amy: it wasn’t the damn laptop residue, it was the shit magnet that has at least temporarily become firmly embedded inside of you. Pam’s service was a very emotional and tearful experience for me, but I am incredibly grateful I was there and that you and your incredibly cool kids made it through the TSA gauntlet before me. You spoke beautifully about a wonderful person and friend, Amy, and I cannot possibly imagine a better family to be there to be there with Pam and hers. It was inspirational to hear and see the music, words, connections, and, most importantly, love. As you shared so beautifully, especially as incredibly fallible humans, this thing called life can be much more than daunting. Love sometimes seems to be the only combination map/job description that makes any sense. Thank you sharing yours so liberally, even when you are spread so thin.

    • Randy, I too am incredibly grateful that you were there. Bless you bless you. And you remind me that I haven’t yet written up a post to to the term “shit magnet,” your own brilliant coinage. Rest assured I’ll track its origins to you.

      And you’re right, love is the only map and job description. What we do, where we go. It’s so essential, and we all know it, deep down — but too often in the busy-ness of everyday life, we forget it. Thanks for remembering and being there with me.

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