When I flew out of Columbus a few weeks ago, I was stunned to see the new machines arrayed at the checkpoint. Ours is a relatively podunk airport, and I’d hoped the body scanners would come either late or never. I eyed the machines queasily, calculated how much time I had to squander on security, and decided that I wouldn’t miss my flight if I stood on principle.
When I got to the front of the line, I bravely announced to the TSA personnel that I chose to opt out of the body scanners. I walked through the metal detector. “Now where do I go?”
“I don’t want to go through the scanners. I’m opting out. That sign over there says I’m allowed to. So where should I go?”
“You just went through the metal detector, right?”
“Yes, but … don’t you want to pat me down?”
“No, you’re done.”
I grabbed my computer, wiggled into my shoes, and hightailed it for the gate before anyone changed their mind.
But that’s not how every airport is handling the opter-outers. Indeed, Columbus may have to change its policies. Here’s what happened when, faced with the new body-scanners at Baltimore-Washington International, Jeffrey Goldberg opted for a pat-down instead.
When I made this request, a number of TSA officers, to my surprise, began laughing. I asked why. One of them — the one who would eventually conduct my pat-down — said that the rules were changing shortly, and that I would soon understand why the back-scatter was preferable to the manual search. I asked him if the new guidelines included a cavity search. “No way. You think Congress would allow that?”
I answered, “If you’re a terrorist, you’re going to hide your weapons in your anus or your vagina.” He blushed when I said “vagina.”
“Yes, but starting tomorrow, we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”
“What am I not going to like?” I asked.
“We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” he explained.
“Resistance?” I asked.
“Your testicles,” he explained.
‘That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.”
He answered, “Like ‘The Situation,’ that guy from ‘Jersey Shore?'”
Yes, exactly, I said. (I used to call my testicles “The Insurgency,” but those assholes in Iraq ruined the term.)
(Read the whole thing. It’s trenchant, highly entertaining, and right – as in “correct,” not “neocon right,” although that’s Goldberg’s usual beat.)
Whoa. I have never linked to Jeffrey Goldberg, and I may never do it again. But sometimes, even proponents of bombing Iran write something that’s so eminently sensible – and so funny – that it deserves a nonpartisan audience.
All of this leaves me wondering what my husband and I should do the next time we fly with our kids. Up ’til now, I thought the answer was obvious: opt out with the kids and spare them indoctrination into the creeping-fascist security state (not to mention exposure to superfluous radiation). Now, I’m not so sure. I picture them in a future therapists’ office: “Mama? Oh, she wasn’t all bad. Sure, she had her impatient moments, but we always knew she loved us. If she just hadn’t let the TSA molest us …”
(This is one of those occasions where I resort to sarcasm because the alternative is molten rage. Most of parenting consists of moments lost in the surging river of time. One moment that is still present and razor-sharp for me? When a Belgian airport security official subjected my Bear – then aged 9 – to a search that involved reaching inside the elastic of his sweat pants.)
I’m starting to wonder if we should all opt out of “the Dick-Measuring Device,” as Goldberg terms it. What would happen if we filmed the ensuing searches and put them on YouTube? Could we completely overwhelm the system if even a third of us opted out? (Yes, we’d all miss our planes, which is why this would probably never work.) What if apparently harmless moms like me started to yell, “Get your paws of my ladyparts!” when TSA agents failed to meet, um, Resistance?
Or we could take a page from Goldberg and just repeat “vagina” until TSA officials give up out of sheer embarrassment. I have no problem talking about the “crotchal area” (best whacko neologism since “refudiate”!) until the proto-fascist security state waves us through. For good measure, I think a carry-on full of sex toys might amplify the guards horror. But don’t worry – I won’t try that if the kids are flying with me.