Dispatch from Iraq: Stateside security leaves lots to be desired
I was going to write about my time home for leave and trip to Disneyland with my girls, but honestly, who wants to read about someone else’s visit to Disneyland?
So instead, I’d like to tell you about getting to Disney-land and exactly how safe we really all should feel about the wonderful people who work for the Transportation Security Administration at the airport, especially in light of recent events.
I’m being just a tad sarcastic here.
We were scheduled on an early morning flight out of San Francisco. To expedite our getting through security, we had only carry-on baggage. We grabbed our boarding passes at the Virgin American Airlines ticket counter and made our way excitedly to the TSA security checkpoint.
After nearly stripping to my skivvies and making sure the girls removed their Hannah Montana jewelry, we placed our bags – my camouflaged Army assault pack and the girls’ brightly colored school backpacks – on the X-ray conveyor belt.
We all passed effortlessly through the metal detector and awaited our bags to come out the other side. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. My bag was nowhere to be seen.
The TSA X-ray tech looked suspiciously at her monitor, then at me, then back at her monitor again. She called a supervisor over who also looked intently at the monitor, then gave me what I can only describe as “the look.”
The supervisor spoke in hushed tones into his radio and a third TSA officer walked over. This one was wearing a turban and looked like one of the Indian extras from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
He retrieved my bag and in a thick accent said, “Please, sir, to be coming with me.”
I was now just a bit irritated. I followed him to a security table where my bag and I were separated by a chest high partition.
“You are having a suspicious item in your bag,” he barked.
“Look,” I said, “I’ll tell you right now what it is and save us both the trouble. I have a small bottle of lotion in that front flap.”
The way he looked at me it may as well have been a kilo brick of Afghani black tar heroin. As I reached over the partition to point at the flap, Ben Kingsley shot back at me, commanding me to stay away from my bag, as he began opening zippers and pulling my clothes apart. Thankfully, my taste in underwear is modest (read boring), because now my clothes were spread out for all to see. He began wiping my clothes with what looked like a pancake-sized cloth patch, which he then inserted into his double-super secret TSA ACME explose-oh-meter.
Apparently satisfied that I wasn’t smuggling a 20-pound fertilizer bomb in my underwear, he directed his attention to my outer flap.
I mean, I may have been accused once or twice of smuggling things in my underwear, but never explosives. Just sayin’. But I digress.
He opened the flap and inspected my razor. He then pulled out my deodorant stick, removed the cap and took a sniff. I looked for hidden cameras and cheesy reality TV hosts hidden in the shadows, by now sure that this must be a joke. The look he gave me assured me it was not. He then gingerly removed my six-ounce bottle of lotion with two fingers. He had just sniffed my deodorant and now he was concerned about handling a bottle of lotion? I was beside myself.
“This is a problem,” he said.
No, I thought, the problem here is that you’re sniffing my deodorant. There’s just something fundamentally wrong with that.
He began to explain to me, apparently verbatim from the TSA manual of arms regarding skin care, that I was not allowed to transport over three ounces of lotion on an aircraft.
I pointed out that the bottle was half empty, indeed making it only three ounces, and that at this point, he could spare me the word for word explanation.
My pleas fell on deaf ears. I finally told him to just take the bottle, put my underwear away and stop his love affair with my deodorant. It was only after putting my bag back together and handing it to me that he saw the Velcro tabs on my bag stamped “UNDERHILL US ARMY.”
“Have a safe flight and TSA thanks you for your service,” he said.
I bit my lip, thankful that the little chip in my head that prevents me from blaring out the first thing that comes to mind was operating on full power that morning.
With my girls in tow, we made our way to the gate. It was then that Alyssa, my 8-year-old, opened her bag to retrieve something.
There in her bag was an unopened 8-ounce box of apple juice and a fork from home! I had just been treated like a 9/11 conspirator – sure that if I had reached over into my bag mid-inspection that I would have found myself a guest at a luxury suite at Guantanamo Bay with my head in a burlap hood and submerged in a bucket of water. Yet my daughter had just passed unmolested through X-ray with a box of juice and a metal fork!
I think I once saw an episode of “MacGyver” where he thwarted the bad guys by using a box of apple juice, a paper clip, a day old copy of the New York Times and a serving fork to make a powerful explosive. Yet my third-grade daughter smuggled half of his explosive recipe through the San Francisco International Airport security checkpoint without so much as a sideways glance.
Alyssa could have single-handedly stabbed a flight attendant in the neck with her fork and clubbed the flight crew with her box of apple juice then taken over the plane and flown us all to my secret vacation home in the Greek Isles. What was I going to do with a half empty bottle of lotion? Make their skin softer?
My faith in TSA has been shattered. I am very afraid – at least if I ever have to fly through San Francisco again.