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.