Person up, America

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?

This entry was posted in Memoir, Personal, Wacky People. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Person up, America

  1. F-Train says:

    As someone who travels a ton, I don’t get it either — tho I admit I haven’t spent as much time thinking about it as you. Nor have I seen the video in question.

    I can appreciate that the security apparatus may seem intimidating, perhaps even intrusive, to people who fly once a year or less often than that but it’s *not* that difficult to navigate. Frankly, it probably doesn’t make us any more secure, which may be where most of these people are sounding the alarm (so to speak), but that is a horse of an entirely different color.

    Learn to navigate the apparatus. Fail to do so and deal with the increased scrutiny that results. Seems simple enough to me.

  2. Poker Grump says:

    You get an easy answer (the groping and imaging are more effective than doing nothing) because you ask the wrong question. The right question is this: Given that we are collectively willing to spend X dollars on airline security (I have no idea what the current number is, nor does it matter for my argument), is what we’re doing the most effective at reducing security threats? Or you could ask another equally valid question: If we’re content with the level of security we have in terms of probability of a plane-destroying attack succeeding, are we spending the least amount of money it takes to maintain that level?

    I doubt that you would seriously argue that the answer to either question is yes. (If it is, it’s the first federal program in history to achieve such efficiency and efficacy.) So we’re either wasting a lot of money, or we’re not getting the amount of security that we could for the amount we’re spending.

    It cannot be the case that running F-Train through the screening process a hundred times a year does us any good, because he won’t be taking a bomb onto the plane, even if there were no screening at all. Even if you handed him a gun with his pillow and blanket on board, he’s not going to use it to try to hijack the plane. Every dollar we spend on screening of all the people who are as low-risk as he is is a dollar wasted. We could either not spend it on airline security, or spend it in some way that actually makes a positive contribution to increasing security.

    The fundamental problem with backscatter machines and groping TSA agents is that the process starts with the assumption that every passenger is of equal risk to bring down the plane–an assumption which is palpably, demonstrably, RIDICULOUSLY wrongheaded. It is an insane system that treats as deserving equivalent degrees of suspicion the WWII veteran in his wheelchair and 19-year-old Abdul who arrived yesterday from Yemen and just purchased a one-way ticket with cash.

    As long as our system operates with a baseline assumption that stupid, it is deserving of ridicule. The more inconvenience, delay, and intrusion you pile on top of that idiocy, the more resentment you’ll get from people who recognize that it’s all just pointless waste.

    You say, “Make a stand for liberty in the thousand and one areas where there is not a single implication for our security.” I am. There is not a single implication for our security by running you or me or F-Train through whatever scanners and screeners and hurdles you care to name, because our threat level is zero, with or without them.

    And, by the way, we principled libertarians do, in fact, take seriously the other kinds of issues you mentioned, including liberty of marriage, freedom from warrantless searches, and government goons careless about the use of lethal force.

  3. Astin says:

    So it’s only the one example?

    The woman who was searched/groped in front of her baby?

    The man who after warning TSA agents about his medical condition, was ignored and his urostomy bag was broken, soaking him in urine until he was in the air?

    There’s the much more humorous Penn Gillette story

    The pregnant woman coerced into the scanner despite begging for a “pat-down” instead

    How about the scanners being of limited effectiveness and largely politically motivated by corporate lobbying?

    Or the lies from the TSA that the scanners can’t store or transmit images, even when stored and transmitted images keep showing up? The exaggerations about the radiation? (TSA: 1/1000th of an X-Ray. Scientists: 1/50 – 1/100).

    Or maybe that TSA agents aren’t generally top-tier candidates. They’re practically rent-a-cops. If your local mall cop wanted to squeeze your breasts in the name of mall security, would you let them?

    Hell, the keep calling it an “enhanced pat-down”, but any cop out there knows the definition of a pat-down, which is generally non-invasive (back of the hand, lightly, in order to determine if something COULD be hidden). This is a SEARCH, which often requires a warrant or lawyer, especially when there isn’t any real probably cause. We’re talking lightly squeezing scrotums and checking under penises. Running hands along labia and under breasts. This isn’t “just making sure nothing’s in your pocket.”

    There’s plenty of other examples of TSA agents overstepping their boundaries. They don’t follow their own rules, don’t inform passengers what’s going to happen, and while I imagine most of them are just people doing a job, the ones that power-trip give the whole procedure a bad name.

    I don’t fear the radiation of the scanner. I don’t even care about someone seeing a grey blurry picture of my naked ass. I DO care that it’s only the word of some PR hack that it won’t be saved and transmitted and exist in perpetuity. I DO care that the attitude of “treat everyone as a potential threat” exists. It bothers me that stats are given with raw numbers instead of context. It’s sad that fear is being used to line the pockets of companies that provide spurious benefits.

    And it’s shameful that Americans are so willing to give up their liberties for security, except it isn’t security, it’s security theater. Chasing the tactics that have already been used is a losing game. Far more unchecked cargo gets shipped than passengers every day. Ports are less secure than airports, so sending something by boat is much easier. But the ultimate fear of a plane of Americans getting blown up means billions beings spent in the wrong area.

    So what’s next? When a terrorist smuggles a bomb up his rectum, will you willingly bend over for the cavity search so you can fly to Vegas? Or expose yourself to radiation that can actually detect internal items? Maybe we just all strip down, and put on hospital gowns (provided by the TSA). At which point do you decide YOUR line has been crossed for “security”?

    Oh, and did you know that the same politicians who pushed for these changes and defend them don’t actually have to go through them? Because obviously politicians can’t be a threat, right?

    Yet up until the verge of a union revolt, pilots, who are already FLYING THE PLANE had to submit… odd.

    People being outraged over this isn’t wrong. It doesn’t lessen the tragedy of police doing wrong and killing children, but it sure affects a lot more people.

  4. Stephane says:

    OH my gosh! Poker Grump commented!!

  5. Stephane says:

    As for the substance of your comment, I completely disagree with your premise. How on earth do we need who is a “zero threat”? F-train can be quite nutty when he wants to be AND he’s way tiny enough that if given enough financial incentive he could way find a way to take down a plane while parachuting to safety. Why do you think Al Quaeda is trying to recruit doofuses with blond hair and blue eyes? TSA isnt just fighting international terrorism. They’re also the frontline against child kidnappings, gun runners, drug smugglers, yes, the throwing out of my freaking toothpaste everytime i forget the stupid 4 oz rule is artarded, but some devious jagoff figured out how to mix bomb chemicals in the air and now here we are.

    I don’t like “wasting” money, but I don’t think these measures are a waste. I’m sure they can be improved. And hey, I’m all for people making suggestions on how to improve the system — which doesn’t mean that my Pakistani best friend is “randomly” selected every single time she flies. Or suggestions that mean children under 12 and politicians and pilots are exempted — hell is THAT?? Everyone has a price. Everyone.

  6. sirfwalgman says:

    Ftrain could not hide a bomb he is too skinny so his opinion does not count.

    I personally have no issue with going through a scanner or having some dude poke my junk. As long as he does not linger and fondle. Some of those guys are pretty creepy looking..

    I can see where people do have a problem with being naked for no good reason in some cancer causing screening device. The only reason we have them anyways is special interest group.. big payoff of officials… corruption. The scanners do not even detect plastic explosives or do anything useful except allow underpaid and probably borderline retarded people masturbate to you naked. Lying about being able to distribute the images. Perverts groping people.

    The people who would like this job are people too fucked up to pass police screenings but hey the TSA will take ya. Then they can wave their cocks and pretend to be powerful while sleeping in their moms basement.

    I can see where people would be pissed that ineffective methods that will not stop a plane from going down infringe on their rights. Every time we give up some personal space to the government it’s another step down the path to giving up all our freedom… assuming we have not done this already. Wiretaps. Holding people without trial. All in the USA. Wahoo.

    I think your absolutely right that the girl getting shot was a huge tragedy and got no coverage and that is a BIG and more important issue. However that has nothing to do with this discussion.

  7. Stephane says:


  8. Alceste says:

    Do you read The Agitator? He’s probably been the best source out there re police invasions and no-knock raids. I agree with you that the moral wrongness of cops killing kids makes the excessive patdown look like a non-issue, but I don’t think that means we just ignore them either. The government does not have a policy of killing kids (in most states at least), and no one argues they should. We do have a fairly wide set of laws giving them immunity. Making cops civilly and criminally responsible for their actions would go a long way to deter them from taking actions that put innocent kids (and others) at risk. But aside from court action (and supporting your local ACLU Foundation), how is this a change that the public can effect (I’m not even sure if Congress could even vote to waive state employees’ immunity)?

    On the pat-downs, the government’s policy is changeable by legislative action. As run, the TSA is wasteful and ineffective (seriously, why blur the crotch if that’s precisely where a bomb is going to be hidden). Making people feel safe does not make them any safer and is just a way to try to deflect blame when the next attack hits. (And, objectively, we’re already pretty safe in the first place.)

  9. Jordan says:

    Preach on, Stephane! I do have a problem with the way TSA screenings are performed, but it is not about “privacy” or “dignity” but about effectiveness. I don’t mind if someone wants to complain about the pagentry of the whole situation; its mostly just for show. BUT the people who complain about a right to privacy and intrusion on their dignity are largely just embarrassed about being seen naked. Its guys with small dicks and girls with body issues. Its also opportunists who want to get hits on their YouTube page or a byline in an article.

    WAH! I have to go through security. WAH!

  10. sirfwalgman says:

    Jordon dude I will put my full body scan against yours any day.

  11. Pokerwolf says:

    Stephane, you can complain all you want about the increase in police militarization and I’ll be right there with you. But, as soon as you take the “Oh, you’ll complain about this, but not that” angle, you completely lose me. Just because something that should be screamed about more often isn’t given as much press as something else that deserves a similar amount of attention does not mean that people should “shut up” about the other issue. Also, no one is saying we don’t need any security. That’s a naive, strawman argument. Read this article:—israelification-high-security-little-bother

    We’re a laughingstock for the security in our airports. It doesn’t secure a damn thing. The reason we have the invasive, highly visible crap that we have is because a) our government doesn’t want to institute real security because it costs more and b) real security isn’t as obvious so it can’t be bragged about by politicians to get them re-elected.

    As for Jordan’s comment about it not being about “privacy” or “dignity”, take a read about the reaction the TSA’s demonstration of the pat down received on Capitol Hill:

    Lastly, if the scanners are so damn effective, why was Adam Savage able to pull this off?

    I’d be more than happy if the problems you’ve mentioned received more attention, Stephane. But, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to allow anyone to tell me to “shut up and deal” when I think another problem needs to be fixed.

  12. Stephane says:

    Now, now boys. NO measuring. Astin will start pitching that metric system stuff again.

  13. F-Train says:

    Grump and Astin delve deeper into a point I was hinting at in my original comment, namely that the current provisions probably don’t do a whole lot to make us more secure. Admittedly they are better than doing nothing, but as Grump asks are they most effective given what we’re spending?

    The Trusted Traveler program is one way the government is trying to correct this imbalance, effectively by pre-determining who the low-risk passengers are. Unfortunately it is taking forever to roll the program out on a wide scale, probably because it doesn’t generate the headlines and doesn’t have the money and influence behind it that “security theater” does.

    One other thing — I find the “giving up their liberties” argument to be a bit far-fetched. I do not think the “invasion of privacy” (as some have described it) represented by the new security apparatus goes beyond what is necessary for security. Balancing privacy and security is never easy. Again, it may not be the most effective for the money but it’s what we currently have and it’s better than nothing.

  14. Astin says:

    One more… don’t wear pantyliners if you’re going to be scanned.

    Oh, and a prosthetic breast after your cancer might be good to just pack.

  15. Consi says:

    Poker Grump, write on!

  16. Chilly says:

    You know that the backscatter devices will give people cancer. You know how you run. I’ll let you do the math.

  17. Chilly says:

    Further, someone linked me to this over the holiday.

    I really don’t mind randomized pat downs. I do have a problem with equipment as powerful as the backscatter devises being unleashed on the populace especially when being operated by people with minimal training.

    The backscatter machines are not safe, are not appropriated regulated, are improperly staffed and were deployed with minimal forethought. These devices will cause cancer. It is likely that the cancer caused by the devices has a higher statistical probability of occurrence than terrorist attacks.

    You say “person up”. I say quit blindly taking whatever solution your government offers.

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