Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Threat of Salad Dressing

So, the TSA agents didn't give me grief this trip. In the past, I have been chided for wearing a skirt, for carrying three ounces of salad dressing in a Tupperware container, and for bringing Matchbox cars to entertain my toddler.

I was sick of it and wore the very same skirt that caused problems more than once in the past. I had a plan to rip it off showing shorts beneath if a TSA agent were to harass me again. I'm not sure I'd have the courage, but I had imagined it, dropping that skirt and exposing my lumpy butt in a pair of black bicycle shorts. I had wanted to embarrass that TSA agent into leaving middle-aged women in skirts alone. But it wouldn't have worked.

See, they have the right and duty to harass me, but rights and duties, blended together, are an interesting thing, aren't they?

Psychological studies have shown that people given power will begin to abuse it.

I never have figured out why my salad dressing in a Tupperware container would be a problem. They wanted it to be in a manufacturers container. It was not. I wondered if this harassment became an abuse of power, a way to put pressure on an already beleaguered woman with a young son who was struggling to catch a plane.

A recent article exposed the fact that the TSA cannot prevent 95% of all illegal materials that were carried in a test past their inspection. Think about this article. This includes extra X-rays that we're exposed to and the fact that most of us have to walk barefoot and holding up our pants through their checkpoints.

Did the Germans require people to remove their shoes and belts at checkpoints in Berlin? Did they irradiate children and old men? Did they strip them of their wallets and all possessions while they were searched? Did they argue with middle-aged women about their clothing, their food, their children's toys?


Last week, I got onto a plane and realized something awful as I pushed my backpack into the overhead bin. I had forgotten to explore the small pockets on the hipbelt. I suddenly imagined myself lying face-down in the aisle with twist-ties holding my wrists behind my back. I was already on the plane. What should I do?

"Mike, I forgot something horrible in my backpack," I whispered. I could feel my eyes dilate. I remembered those TSA agents and they way they reacted to my salad dressing and my skirt.

"What is it?" he whispered back.

"I have my spray, you know, the one you gave me when I started hiking with Teddy." His eyes dilated too.

"Turn it in. You don't want that thing discharging at altitude." We were talking in code about a small canister of pepper spray I carried when I hiked. Our community has a virulent heroin problem and Mike didn't want me to come across any of them unprotected while I was out with Teddy on my own.

I tapped the shoulder of a flight attendant who had been helping another passenger.

"Excuse me. I need to give you something. Oh, I am so sorry. I forgot. I really did." Did I sound like a woman on the edge? Was I about to be put down for the safety of everyone on board? Would I be ejected from the plane?

I reached up to the small pocket in my backpack. I felt like I was drawing a gun out of a pocket in front of a police officer.

"What is it?" the flight attendant asked. Her voice was too loud for comfort.

"I need to give you this," I repeated, hoping that she saw I meant no harm. Other passengers looked up at the tone of my voice. I hoped they didn't have any ideas of the heroism they might be capable of in the face of a woman on the edge with a pepper spray in her hand.

I reached into the pocket with two fingers, the same two fingers I'd use to prove I didn't have a finger on the trigger of a gun.

I pulled it out, dangling it from my two fingers and put it into her hands.

"It's pepper spray," I whispered.

"What?" she asked, still too loudly.

"I forgot to look through these little pockets and I go walking alone with my dog in the woods. I forgot. I'm sorry. I didn't want this to discharge when the pressure changed. I didn't ..." I was babbling, sounding to myself more like that crazy woman than one who was calm and self-assured.

She took it and patted me on the shoulder.

"No problem, ma'am. I can take care of this."

She did not strong-arm me to the floor. She did not kick me off the plane. She did not call for a TSA agent to remand me to prison.

It was strangely uneventful.

So, why did I have to worry about wearing a skirt? Why did I have an issue because I carried Matchbox cars to entertain my young son? Why did I have to argue that the salad dressing in a small Tupperware container was my allocated three ounces?

I inadvertently carried a weapon onto a plane, yet salad dressing was somehow a threat.

I think that the TSA checkpoints at airports should be removed completely. They aren't protecting us. There is no way to protect us completely from salad dressing, Matchbox cars, and long skirts.

Thank you for listening, jules

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