“I’d like the bacon-and-tomato panini—”
“And would you like that with the tomato?”
But that was on the way out. On the way in, I didn’t buy a thing; sat stewed in indignation at the gate, over all the little indignities I’d had to suffer: belt stripped, and shoes, wallet and phone and boarding pass in my hands up over my hand, don’t shoot, I’m coming out, as my junk was strobed with millimeter waves. The nigh-constant announcements over the loudspeakers that my safety was their top priority weren’t helping: I didn’t feel safe. I felt rather distinctly threatened. By them. —Foolish, perhaps; even rather indulgent. But. —In the paranoiac frenzy of packing (leave the toothpaste, of course, can’t take that in a carry-on, tube’s too big, and the razor, God no, and the deodorant? Is it a solid, or a gel? The hell is the difference? One’s apparently more likely to be explosive, or at least more likely to be considered as an explosive. There’s no definition anywhere I can find, but I can call the airport I’ll be traveling from if I have any and you know what? Just leave it. Leave it, leave it, leave it—) I’d suddenly been struck—what about the badges? The buttons I’d made the week before, a nice big set for each faction and fifth, that I wanted to hand out to any and sundry as ice-breakers and attention-snaggers. Made of metal, with pins, sharp pins—little, yes. But sharp. Would they be allowed through? Would they cause a problem? —Sure, laugh away, it seems utterly illogical to worry about it now, but logic plays no part in this at all. It wouldn’t even matter if some DHS working group had sat down and soberly assessed any possible threats posed by pin-secured flair of all sorts: its potential as a threatening weapon; its utility in jimmying a locked cockpit door; et cetera, et cetera—and then rubber-stamping appropriate forms in triplicate to propagate the appropriate data updates and normalizations throughout the various linked databases humming to themselves on servers across the country, allowed, or disallowed, or the one-inch buttons are fine but the line’s being drawn at two-inches, and God knows the little pinch-back pins? That they use for lapel flags and such? Those are right out, God damn, you could stab yourself with one if you aren’t careful, okay? Put it down. Put it down, sir. —It wouldn’t even matter if I’d called ahead to the airport I’d be travelling from, got their blessing and imprimatur, because what it all comes down to in the end is essentially that one singular transaction between you on the one side and the person with the badge on the other and if they take it in their head to take exception to some little thing or other you’re basically fucked, you know? Game over. Best case scenario, all those little pins come out of the bag and go into the trash. Worst case? I’m not going to lose my temper, no, but I don’t have money, I don’t have time, not to get another ticket, not to deal with any sort of delay, my only chance, my only choice—
(A couple-some years before, in Newark, I’m on the security line, I’m wearing a loose light green vest over a T-shirt, it’s more like a sleeveless shirt, really, I’ve taken off my shoes, I’m not wearing a belt, I’ve dumped the contents of my pockets in the bins, I’m ready to step through the metal detector, but the guard on the other side of the table says sharply “Hey. You want to take off your vest?” and it takes me a minute, like I say, it’s more of a shirt almost, so “I’m sorry?” I say, quizzically, which is enough for me to realize what it was he’d said, figure out what he wanted, my hands coming up even then, automatically, Pavlovianly, reaching to open it up, but he’s leaning, lunging even, over the conveyor belt, “Hey,” he’s bellowing, “you looking to start something?” —This man, with a badge, and hard eyes, and a finger, stabbing at my nose.)
—so I’d brought only a handful, of each type of button. In plastic bags, in my carryon. They went through the scanner without a hitch. I never got a second look from anyone.
“Your safety is our top priority,” says the announcement over the loudspeaker, as I sit at the gate, glowering at no one in particular at all.
I used to like flying. I even once liked airports. You know?