Confession #3: The Things They Ran Through the X-ray

The Transportation Security Administration often likes to give you a weekly photo-laden rundown of things that passengers have accidentally left in their carry-ons, mostly intended to give the impression that they are successfully combating some sort of existential threat to our way of life, as their 8 billion dollar budget purports to be doing.

Much more interesting, however, are the dirty little day-to-day occurrences that don’t fit into boring, anodyne governmental accounts of life. These are some of the things they ran through the x-ray.

In talking to officers around the country, it became clear to me in my time at TSA that at most large airports there is an inevitable account of a TSA officer who has run him or herself through the x-ray and subsequently been fired for it. It seems this is usually done out of sheer boredom. Some of these stories are substantiated by termination documents (a FOIA request could probably bring them to light for anyone so inclined).

I have been told by several people that a TSA screener looks much like you would expect it to on a TSA x-ray screen: an enormous orange blob with a black blotch where his or her badge is. So always remember that at some point, at least a few of those solemn-faced TSA officers confiscating your peanut butter have appeared as large orange blobs running through the x-ray.

Cats look like orange turkeys on the x-ray screen. How many cats and dogs I’ve seen run through the x-ray I cannot tell you. Cats far outnumber dogs. For some reason people just think it’s alright to run a cat on through the x-ray. Possibly because cats are less vocal about things than dogs.

Babies also occasionally end up on the x-ray belt. I’ve heard occasional rumblings of babies going all the way through the x-ray machine, ending up as a little orange blob on some x-ray operator’s screen, and I’ll tell you, I would not bet against it having happened. But personally, I’ve only seen and heard, first hand, about close calls. These occasional close-call placements of babies on the x-ray belt usually result from highly confused international travelers so thoroughly perplexed and flustered by the neurotic, collectively 9/11-traumatized, pathological nature of American airport security— all the fussing about shoes and commands to get inside full body scanners and esoteric liquid rules that make very little sense throws them off— and so they are understandably unsure of what it is they are supposed to do with their baby. Do they take the baby out of the stroller? Submit it to make sure it’s carrying less than 3.4 ounces of liquids? Submit the baby for a radiation check? Hand the immigration and customs paper work over for the baby? Taste the baby to prove that it’s not poisonous?— American airport security can be pretty baffling for anyone, so imagine what it looks like to someone from rural India. So it’s actually understandable that the occasional baby has been placed on the x-ray belt.

Pilots and flight attendants are exempt from the liquids rule, and let me tell you, dear passengers: the amount of alcohol that airline crews drink is staggering. Bottle after bottle of hard liquor and wine and champagne is revealed on our x-ray screens when flight crew comes through. Most of us have, at one point or another, asked the flight crew, “having some fun tonight, huh?” laughing nervously, and then adding, with a hopeful tone, “after you land the plane and are in the hotel room, right?”

Finally, I was intrigued by the irrepressible sexual hunger that compels the passengers of this great nation to bring vibrators, dildos and other assorted sex toys aboard the plane with their carry-on luggage. I know that the people of this great nation are strong and have within themselves the capacity to overcome irrationality. I know that they are capable of not being menaced by “an endless series of political hobgoblins,” as Mencken once said—the hobgoblins that the TSA assures them are the cause of their peanut butter confiscation and privacy compromises—due to the fortitude displayed in their bravely pressing on; exposing themselves to the risk of having me rummage through their bag and pull out a large sex toy.

I recall one time I did a bag check on a man from Detroit, once the auto-making capital of the world. Having been informed by the x-ray operator that there was a bottle of water in the bag, I pulled it out and quickly sensed that something was slightly off. Then, I realized what it was: there was an enormous dildo rubber-banded to it. I then had an epiphany, spreading over me like a sunrise, beautiful and exhilarating: he wanted me to have to deal with the dildo. He did it on purpose. In rubber-banding that dildo to the water bottle he knew we would target, he seemed to say:

“Yes, I have a dildo, federal officer. Even after the horrors of 9/11, I am still alive; full of vitality, love, sex and, later tonight, that large dildo rubber-banded to the water you are about to confiscate from me. That bottle of water, bought with hard-earned American dollars to replenish my bodily fluids, so as to make me strong and keep the wheels of commerce of this great nation turning. In taking my water, I want you, federal officer, to know that the terrorists have won, and that you are complicit. I want you to see my dildo. To hold it in your hand; to know that I, as well as my fellow passengers and countrymen, are strong and resilient.

That we, the people of this great nation, can, and will, snap back, like that rubber band.”

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