November 25, 2010
If you were sensitive about your looks in the past as you returned to your folks' home for Thanksgiving and presented yourself before the groaning board, your imagination will run positively amok this year as you present yourself to the full- body scanner at the airport. My God, what do I look like to these Transportation Safety Administration officers checking the X-rays in their secluded room? Are they having a good laugh, refining their jokes about Mr. Flab or Big Sister, Piano Legs or Plucked Turkey? Will they mistake love-handles for plastic explosives? Will they send me over to the Pat-down Department? If so, couldn't the Patter be cute?
The screen-machines may inflict mild trauma on some, and they'll bring their stress home for the holidays: Are my sags and bulges providing a pinch of levity to the living-room conversation while I'm in the kitchen helping mom with the cooking? Is old Uncle Lear out there secretly longing to do a pat-down?
Oh, and think about the return trip, after you've stuffed yourself with stuffing and had a weekend's worth of leftovers, those delectable baby onions in heavy cream, those big turkey sandwiches with gobs of mayonnaise, that butter-laden pecan pie. Won't the scanning crew have a ball with your body then?
The anxiety doesn't stop with scanners. On National Public Radio's Morning Edition on Tuesday, a TSA official took questions on carry-on items. Are pumpkin pies allowed? Yes. What about my traditional cranberry sauce? No. Explosives must perform better in gelatin than in custard.
Terrorism really works. We're all half-crazy now.
Those $100,000 scanners and the prodding prison pat-downs are just the latest reaction-response to the endlessly innovative mind of the terrorist. First the pocket knives, then the liquids, then the shoes: You try it, we'll head it off. The latest obsession is what could be under the underwear, and as we saw last month, it never really ends; now it's wired-up toner cartridges. Maybe for the holidays they'll bury a bomb in a fruitcake — not even an X-ray could pierce those dense bricks.
All this is enough to make you say to hell with it: Air travel is so revoltingly demeaning now that I won't put myself through it anymore. If I can't get there by car or train, I won't go anywhere; I'll spend the holidays with my neighbors and have a nice Skype visit with the family far away.
That may not be such a bad thing. Our culture, infuriated by flying, may return to the life of the pre-airline era, when holidays brought together people down the street or in the next apartment for feast and fun, a time for relaxation, not agitation. No terror, or terror of terror, just peace and friendship, so different from the anonymity and intrusiveness of the airport.
For the holidays, there may be no place like your own home.