The Incognizant Smuggler
I would never ask that they cut back on airport security. I wouldn’t, and you know I wouldn’t. I am just asking that they try to be smarter about it. While I still hope that terrorist organizations are not the smartest ones out there, it’s too much to hope that they are in fact dumber than Paris Hilton on prozac.
After a long stretch of observing screensavers in the office, I was sent out on fieldwork. I was given the plane ticket, directions, and shoved out to the airport in a state of half dazed confusion. It had been a while, but I remembered the process. Show the e-ticket printout, verify my ID, wait in queue, wait in queue, wait in queue, state my preference for a window seat, get an aisle seat, and proceed to the hand baggage screening area.
For some strange reason, they always want to scan my mobile phone as well. So I shoved it into my bag and put it in the scanning queue. I watched my bag go steadily into the machine as I walked up to the metal detector. For the first time in my life, it didn’t go ‘beep’ when I walked through. Maybe it was because I wasn’t carrying loose change. Maybe it was because I wasn’t getting enough iron in my diet, but whatever it was, it worked for me. I was feeling quite smug as I walked over to the baggage scanning area. I spotted my bag, was about to carry it off, when suddenly, I was stopped.
“Wait a minute, sir. Is that your bag?”
Dammit. There’s something wrong? I should check once again before I say yes. I looked the bag over. Seemed quite familiar.
“Yes, officer. Is there something wrong?”
“What do you have in your bag?”
Now that’s a stupid question. He just scanned my bag. X-rayed it. If he has a problem with something, why can’t he just say that?
“Errr… clothes, mostly. And some CDs. And… maybe some books. I’m not too sure about that.”
“Is that ALL?”
I was getting fidgety over this by now. In my hurry to reach the airport, I had taken my roommate’s bag. I thought I had cleared all his stuff before I took it, but now, with this officer giving me the third degree, I wasn’t quite sure.
“I…errr… I’ll check if I have taken something else accidentally.”
“You do that.”
So here I go. My mobile. Clothes. A notebook. A DVD. A pen. Some pencils. A greeting card. Now how did that get in here? A novel. A brush. My Country Club membership card. Some bills. A mobile phone charger. A warr.. Hey, the mobile phone charger. I was looking for that! A comb. A warranty card for my roomie’s laptop. Some loose change. A plectrum. Some lint. Hmm… I sure was carrying some junk here. But it’s hardly the kind of junk you use to create an explosive. Does the aviation authority really prohibit lint?
“Err… sir.. What am I looking for?”
“<loong sigh> Do you have toothpaste in it?”
“Toothpaste. We have specifically told all passengers that they are not to take toothpaste on board.”
“No, I don’t have toothpaste.”
With that, he bit his lip and snatched the bag from my hand, clearly disappointed with the lying scum he gets as passengers. He rummaged through my bag very quickly. Then he did it once again, very slowly, and if he had produced a toothpaste somehow, he would probably have flashed a smug smile and delivered a short sermon on the sins of lying. Instead, he frowned and started scratching his head. I took back the bag, and started looking myself. There were a lot of hidden compartments in the bag. I started going through each, and found a tube of hair gel. It was in the tube form, and possibly when they saw it in the X-ray, they thought they saw toothpaste.
“Err… Is this what you were looking for?”
“Aha!!” cried he, in a state of blissful satisfaction. You could tell he was not a regular ‘aha’ crier, and this was supposed to be a special moment for him. But I didn’t have time to celebrate his victory.
“Sir, that’s not toothpaste. That’s hair gel”
“Eh??” he said, looking at my head and raising his right eyebrow, clearly meaning to say “Hair gel, baldy? That’s a good one.”
Normally, I’d have taken umbrage at this insinuation. Yeah, I’d have raised umbrage and whacked him with it. But then again, he had a gun. Also, he had already raised his right eyebrow, and I didn’t want to risk him raising the other one as well. One was bad enough.
“Sir. Just… just read the label. It says gel right there.”
He took a few minutes reading the tube. He then put it into my bag and waved me away. He was sorry he wasted a perfectly good ‘Aha’, not to mention that raised eyebrow on someone like me. He was back to his duty, on the sharp lookout of other miscreants trying to sneak in toothpaste. Oh no they don’t. Not on HIS watch.
And I walked off, feeling puzzled, unsafe, insecure, and bewildered. Cos there’s one content in my bag that I haven’t told you about. (I left it out intentionally for dramatic effect. I tend to be artistic that way.) Don’t ask me how it got in, or WHY I was carrying it, but I had a metallic dining fork in my bag.
Now, I don’t intend to say that a dining fork is a dangerous weapon, and that airports should put an all out fork alert – “You’re surrounded. Put down your fork and step away from the burger.” I am just questioning the logic of toothpaste being marked more dangerous than metallic devices with sharp edges.
Toothpaste has been marked dangerous in a large number of airports for quite a while now. Apparently, military intelligence has picked up Al Quaeda’s new plan of spreading terror by toothpaste – “By the milk of llamas, we shall brush the teeth of those infidels.” It’s probably the graduating class of the Beginners School of Airline terrorism; those who have to first kill germs, and slowly graduate to animals, birds, and then people. I, personally, wouldn’t mind boarding one of those planes. Hell, let them brush if they want to. “Hey, you missed a spot there. I’m sorry, but do you also floss, by any chance?”
The best that I understood about the toothpaste hunt at airports was that quite possibly, some intelligence agency figured out that toothpaste tubes can be emptied and filled up with some dangerous material, like explosive liquids or tabasco red pepper sauce. I don’t know what, but something dangerous. So far, that made sense. But isn’t that threat applicable to a lot of products, like shampoo, deoderants, hair gel, and so on?
The point is, once the ‘Aha’ officer found out that the tube I was carrying had ‘hair gel’ written on it, he didn’t even waste time on further inspection. I could have been smuggling toothpaste in a hair gel tube, for all he knew. In the end, I carried with me a container that could have contained as much harmful substances as the dreaded toothpaste tube. Nobody cared. But if I had actually carried a tube of Pepsodent, they might have fired a couple of warning shots.
Back when the scare was on its high, they used to confiscate all sorts of stuff… shampoo, deoderants, pickles, and anything liquid to semi-liquid to the point that people were wondering when they’d start siphoning off blood. But I guess bit by bit, the scare is wearing thin. But the aura of terror still lingers around the mystic toothpase. Somehow, the airline ‘aha’ authorities feel terrorists just can’t resist the tube. Hell, squeezing out the contents is easy AND fun. How can they resist it?
The whole situation is so pointless… so illogical that it just gets to me. I feel angry. I feel angry that security is being treated in such a stupid fashion. I feel angry that nobody is taking care to explain WHY regulations are in place. I feel angry that common sense is being assassinated. I feel angry. I feel destructive. I feel violent. In fact, I’m gonna grab a brush, sneak in some of the dreaded white goo, and brush somebody’s teeth.