I’m Paying $550 for Post-9/11 Homeland Security-Related Humor

For most of the several years that I worked airport security for the Transportation Security Administration, it felt as though my primary, day-to-day function boiled down to plain old harassment of the flying public, in the service of maintaining the illusion of security from terrorism. From the absurdity of forcing a grandmother to remove her sandals before passing through security while allowing her 6-foot-tall, “12-year-old” grandson to keep his boots on, to confiscating a jar of peanut butter from one passenger while allowing another passenger’s knitting needles to glide right through the checkpoint, to ordering toddlers to get inside of nude radiation scanners and assume the position, today, as a former TSA employee, I feel guilty that I was a part of all that for so long.

I was paying my way through college for most of my time at the TSA, and in the depths of a recession, to boot. I clung to the job for dear life, despite my misgivings about the organization’s mission. It’s true that, even though I was silently opposed to many of the orders that my superiors at TSA were sending down, I still took a paycheck in return, which means that I was being– yes–a hypocrite. 

I’m sorry, dear passengers.

Over the past 10 months I have been trying to give back to the public through this site, and now I would like to take that a tiny step further. From the very beginning I have been planning to hold a contest: “Terror Plots the TSA Imagines It Has Protected Us From Since Its Inception.” This blog’s “About” tab started out with an assurance that I would one day hold such a contest, but I removed it a few months back due to my fear that I was promising something I wouldn’t be able to deliver. Well, today, I deliver.  It’s time to put my money where my mouth is.

Not too long ago, the retirement money that I accrued while working for the TSA (my Thrift Savings Plan money) was finally sent to me. Though it was no large sum, it was at least a little something, and I am giving away that little something over the next year, as a tiny bit of compensation to the flying public for the harassment and aggravation they have suffered at the TSA’s hands since 9/11. Here’s your chance to get some of your wasted tax dollars back, dear passengers. Or, at the very least, your chance to read some amusing writing.

The first contest:

Plots the TSA Imagines it Has Protected Us from Since its Inception

Confiscated cupcake-in-a-jar

A call for humorous pieces (350-word minimum, 2000-word maximum) outlining the details of a ridiculous terrorist plot that someone at the TSA likely imagines has been foiled due to the TSA’s procedures, rules, or general style of doing things at airports, train stations or public events since 9/11. Humor is the name of the game. Sarcastic. Satirical. Snarky. Some examples of what we’re going for can be found, on this site, here and here (in my response to the reader’s question on that second one). Further inspiration as to style and tone can be found on Bruce Schneier’s blog, via the winner of his second annual Movie Plot Threat Contest, which was a gorgeous fictional terrorist plot providing the backstory to a hypothetical TSA decision to ban all water from commercial flights. Your plot need not be that involved, but shooting for that degree of detail definitely won’t hurt your chances of winning.

Remember, this is the organization that had a spokesperson officially defend a cupcake confiscation last year, with a completely straight face.

Deadline is Wednesday, November 13th, at 11: 59 P.M. Eastern Standard Time. $300 for first place, $150 for second, $100 for third, payable through PayPal. Entries should be sent to takingsenseaway@gmail.com, copy/pasted into the body of the email. Author’s bios are not necessary, but are not forbidden, by any means.

I will publish as many of the entries as possible, including the non-winners. If you have a website or blog that you would like to plug at the bottom of your entry, just let me know. All submitters will remain strictly anonymous unless otherwise requested.

Here is an FAQ for some inquiries that I foresee may pop up.

Are you serious about this?

Oh hell yes.

Who’s eligible?

Anyone with a PayPal account and the ability to write a 350-word piece of humor in English. Except for…

Who’s not eligible?

TSA/DHS employees.

How will payments be made, again?

PayPal only. If you don’t have a PayPal account, sign up for one. It’s free and easy.

How Do You Know That a TSA Employee Isn’t Going to Enter the Contest and Win, Thereby Defeating the Whole Purpose of the Contest?

Quite frankly, there are no guarantees in life. But I have faith in you, public. I have faith that you will ultimately win out in any potential battle to be more creative, clever and hilarious than your government counterparts. If I am able to determine that you’re a DHS/TSA employee trying to sneak into the contest, you will be disqualified, and I will think about shaming you. But I’m confident that the public will generally own this.

I am a very legally minded person: what rights are involved here?

Authors retain all rights to both their submissions and the winning entries. All I ask for is permission to display your work on this site. Additionally, I will formally ask all contestants for permission to display their work before doing so.

Who are you to judge a writing contest?

In addition to the dozens of articles on this blog, writing is actually my day job, and was my night job the entire time I was at TSA. I’ve appeared in a few respectable publications under my real name.

When’s the deadline again?

Deadline is Wednesday, November 13th, at 11: 59 PM E.S.T. All entries should be sent to takingsenseaway@gmail.com, with submissions copy/pasted into the body of the email. You will receive notice of receipt of your entry. Winners will be notified no later than November 20th, and announced no later than December 1st.

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