When I was seven, I took my first flight to Panama alone.
My mother, god bless her, sent me to my grandparents with two suitcases of clothes, every piece of identification I had in the world and a jar of hair grease.
Do you want to know why I remember the hair grease? When I arrived at my second eldest aunt’s doorstep (my grandparents lived on the 8th floor, my eldest aunt lived on the ninth floor and my second eldest aunt lived on the 11th floor) the jar of grease slipped out of my hand and shattered at the door.
I cried. And cried.
You see, my mom had extracted all kinds of “you’re a big girl, right?” promises from me before she left me at the airport.
Yah. TOTALLY! I’m a HUGE girl! Wait…that doesn’t sound right.
Fortunately, my aunt was able to scrape up the grease and boil out the broken glass and repack the hair grease in a new container. Unfortunately, the dropped grease was only the beginning. I lost one of my strawberry shortcake roller skates, I accidentally peed my scooby doo pajamas and tossed them over the balcony lest my shame be found out, I tore countless of my t-shirts roughhousing with my cousins and then, right when the trip was all done, I left my passport and every single one of my identifying documents in the bathroom at JFK airport.
I mean, I assume I left them in the bathroom, who knows. All I know is that there I was at customs, holding my grandmother’s fruitcake in my hand, with my scooby doo knapsack on my back (shut up, I liked Scooby Doo. Wanna fight about it?) and NOTHING else. No passport, no birth certificate, not even my library card, which I had insisted on taking in case “I wanted to borrow a book.” (Again, shut up, I WAS SEVEN!)
I was pulled out of line and sheparded into a windowless room with three uniformed officers. I was not allowed to see my mommy, even though she was waiting for me right outside customs, a mere ten feet away.
I firmly refused to relinquish the cake. Again, like my mother, my grandmother had extracted numerous promises from me about my ability to take care of that cake. Having failed my mother, I was determined not to also fail my grandmother.
But, here was a child, an identification-less child, deplaning from Central America, what were the TSA (or whatever they were called in the 80s) officers supposed to do but detain and interrogate me?
They asked me the easy questions.
“Stephane. No i.”
“Brooklyn, New York.”
“My mommy’s name is Angela.”
“I was visiting my grandma and my aunts and my cousin Alex. And my mean uncle Colo.” I did NOT like that guy.
They asked me harder questions.
“Mayor Koch is the mayor. Even I know that…what’s wrong with you, lady?”
“Um…the actor guy is President. And he talks like this (insert my seven-year-old Reagan impression, which was AWESOME) and my mommy says he’s a jackass.”
Which, she totally did.
“I don’t know where my passport is. I had it and now I don’t.” And then I cried.
Again, never loosening my grip on the cake.
I probably answered more questions and some of these same ones again, but eventually, they escorted me through customs, released me to my mother and told her that I took very good care of the cake. Yeah, she still beat my ass for losing my passport. But that’s another story.
No one was there with a camera phone to film me bawling in the custody of three officers, but it happened; and you know what, it should have happened.
Child or no, I was undocumented and those people had a job to do. A job which requires that they do their damndest to make sure that they only grant entry to people with permission to be in the United States.
Well, in the past week, the following video of a TSA patdown of a three-year-old, has gone viral and been used as the rallying cry of the “don’t grab my junk” faction of the US. Turns out the kid’s daddy was a reporter, so he got the story on all the wires and now, for the last six days, all we get is TSA/pervert/grope/blah blah all day long.
What they don’t mention, is that the kid set off the security alarm TWICE. What the hell were the TSA agents supposed to do? Just let it go cause she’s a cute little white girl? Have we gotten assurances from our enemies that they promise NOT to use children to smuggle deadly weapons onto planes?
Sure, she’s screaming and that’s real sad, but I’m pretty sure she probably screamed during her mumps vaccine too and nobody’s claiming we should spare the youth the indignity of vaccination. Well, except for that crazy blond lady Jim Carrey used to date.
I’m sorry, but I can still smell the burning rubble and charred bodies which resulted from the last time we had a catastrophic security failure in aviation. Our enemies are as creative as they are cruel. Say what you will about the effectiveness of these body scans or the pervvy patdowns, I know they are more effective than shuttling people on their way without inspection because they’re crying or throwing a tantrum.
I’m further aggravated by all the spilled ink and celluloid on this subject because a little more than six months ago, a seven year old child was brutally gunned down in Detroit when police officers raided her grandmother’s house looking for a suspect.
I would have thought government action would not ever be more intolerably intrusive than when a seven year old is shot in the head with tax payer bullets. I expected a national outcry. Dateline reports. Meredith Viera curling her lip on the Today Show. Sarah Palin and the mama grizzlies growling for Ayana Jones legislation forbidding the use of lethal force by law enforcement in homes where children under ten reside.
But I was wrong.
We draw the line when a widdle girl’s teddy bear is taken away by the mean lady trying to find out why the metal detector keeps going off when she goes through.
Give me an effing break.
You want to rally about keeping the government’s grabby paws out of our lives, how about you show up for rallies allowing same sex marriages? Or fight against warrantless wiretaps of our phones or the release of our freaking library rental histories?
Make a stand for liberty in the thousand and one areas where there is not a single implication for our security.
But when it comes to metal containers hurtling through the air at upwards of 600 miles per hour, filled with gasoline, well, maybe, you allow a slap or two on your ass and a quick look-see through an x-ray machine.
Or, and I know, crazy, how about you drive to grandma’s for Thanksgiving?