High on life and the promise of 2003 in America At War, I settled into a coach seat in a jet at Atlanta’s airport. While waiting for the commencement of Delta Flight 1605 to Denver, I reached into the magazine pocket on the back of the seat in front of me, eagerly grabbing the January 2003 issue of “SKY – A Traveling Magazine”. The airline’s own publication, offered to me bright and early on New Year’s Day itself, featuring an article describing how actress Nicole Kidman “debeautifies herself to take on the role of Virginia Woolf.”
However, a couple of other pieces caught my eye before I could read the feature. The first, a “Delta Perspective” piece entitled “Safe, Secure, AND Convenient” boasted a byline by no less estimable a personage than Leo Mullin, Delta’s own Chairman and CEO. Mullin’s piece addressed various aspects of “improving the travel experience through strong partnerships and customer-focused technology.” CEO Leo also gave mad props to TSA head James Loy, crediting his organization with providing “air travelers with a safe, secure aviation system that is also highly focused on customer convenience.”
Two pages later, a letter from James Loy himself was featured under the title of “Aviation Security Update”. The purposefully folksy tone of this missive was a true joy to behold. “Dear Traveler”, the note began, “I’m Jim Loy, head of the Transportation Security Administration, better known as the TSA. I’m sure you’ve noticed some of my — some of YOUR — new employees as you made your way through the airport today.” And I indeed had noticed some of my/your new employees. At 5:30 AM in Daytona, Florida’s airport, I remarked to my fianc?e that they looked like they had come into their current positions fresh off stints in the field of shopping mall security.
The letter goes on to make the expected claims under the expected pretexts. Loy’s “motivated crew” is dedicated to “providing world-class security and world-class customer service.” It goes without saying that Loy’s “federal screeners in the new blue, white, and maroon uniforms at the security checkpoints” are still “painfully aware of 9/11”. As is Loy himself, undoubtedly, as well as every other unelectable civil servant like him and John Poindexter and scores of others who don’t let their contempt for Americans get in the way of them serving our purportedly democratic government. Once it was said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel; no better illustration of that adage exists than in the politicians and pundits across the so-called spectrum who use “that shocking and surreal day in 2001” as a justification for any number of Stalinist enterprises dressed up as national security initiatives.
But God forbid I get in the way of people’s hard-ons for badges, guns, uniforms, and the ubiquitous corporate logo that the US flag has become. My eyes might get poked out, for one. So I simply closed the magazine, placed it back in the seat pocket in front of me, and focused on pleasant thoughts. A Boxing Day spent doped up on cold medicine, camped out on my mom’s couch watching the burlesque theatre of public access cable programs. Stuff along those lines, intended to lull me into a semi-permanent sleep.
But sleep wasn’t to come on this flight. A faith-based group took over the plane, even without hijacking it. No less than 36 Religious Extremists, walking the aisles for the entire flight, with their strange interpretations of holy books plastered on their clothing. Loud conversations spanning the width and breadth of the plane. Projectiles thrown across the cabin. Flash photographs every few minutes.
A frightening situation, to be sure, exacerbated by the apparent inability of the flight attendants to rein in this group. Requests for noise-control from the crack in-flight staff came to naught, as they only were capable of providing water [and that after fifteen minutes spent with the “service” light activated”]. Portable DVD players with their sound playing so that everyone within five rows could hear, likewise unchecked by the Delta staff. This group had run amok, and had essentially performed a silent, bloodless coup on the operations of the flight itself. And no one was willing to fight it!
Luckily, these weren’t some hate filled Muslims, ready to destroy freedom with a Zippo and an M-80 lodged in the sole of a decrepit shoe. The group I speak of was simply a collection of “youth ministers” representing the Second Avenue Baptist Church of Rome, Georgia. Since they weren’t reading the Koran or speaking in some indecipherable tongue, it apparently was just dandy that they flouted so-called airline security and treated this flight like it was a ride on a school bus. Allah help a group of Muslims that acted in a similar way. That goes without saying. But as I voiced these sentiments to the Delta representatives at the gate, couching them in the national-security booster language found within the pages of the in-flight magazine, my complaints were derided and dismissed. After all, the SABC gang “paid for their tickets too”, claimed the Delta representative. As did the doddering old lady I saw leaning on one of the TSA workers as another one wanded her. And as did the man I saw the previous week, driven to anger by the security regimen, wondering if the TSA was accountable in any way if terrorism should befall the plane. Air travel frustrates otherwise passive people to no end, precisely because so much of it seems deliberately rigged to elicit one’s reaction to being coerced. The disingenuousness of the Delta rep’s stance toward my position is only underscored by his reliance on such a discredited trope as the rights of a consumer, in the Orwellian climes of a United States airport.
It is ultimately appropriate that the airlines are capitulating to federal mandates in the area of airline security, and that they seem to find purpose in providing working labs for behavioral science experiments. After jawing with the aforementioned Delta rep for a few minutes, I was instructed to cross Stapleton Airport and plead my case further at the Delta ticket counter. Hoping to get at least a food voucher for our trouble, my fianc?e and I proceeded to that location. The ticket counter rep played good cop, and extended lachrymose sympathies with no material backing behind them. We left the counter embittered, and that feeling only intensified when we realized that we had to go through yet another security checkpoint to get back to our departure gate.
We walked through a maze intestinal in both design and length, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was king of the marks for walking through a structure designed to frustrate and dehumanize. My fianc?e and I walked through a sensor and beeped; it happened that we had loose change in our pockets. We, along with a sixteen year old girl in a halter top with PRINCESS on the front in sparkly cursive lettering, were whisked into a hockey-styled penalty box and left there for a minute or so, with no notification as to why we were there. As we took a “timeout” in government-imposed confinement, we watched pudgy TSA reps belly up to each other and jabber about nothing at all.
After finally being permitted to walk out of the timeout box, we were asked to step aside for further inspection. An unspoken part of the bargain air travelers have with the TSA is to pretend that the process is justifiable and is not intended to strip one’s dignity in any way. I failed to fulfill my part of that bargain; I walked out of the box with my hands high in the air, as if at gunpoint on popular Fox sitcom COPS. I was informed that such behavior was construed as “mockery” and that I must stop making light of Jim Loy’s attempts to “safeguard our nation’s aviation transportation system.”
I knew that anyone with a minimal interest in self-preservation would drop his arms and say “sorry, sir, I was just funnin’.” I went to public schools and was harassed by all manner of police as a youngster, same as everyone else, and know very well when to shuck and jive like a minstrel. But for some reason, this time it wasn’t possible to suck it up and make nice. I looked into the eyes of the TSA reps and saw avarice and cowardice and the serenity of those who make salaries for busywork tasks that don’t heal the sick or feed the starving, but instead remind people that they are slaves to the whims of unselected leaders.
I have often wondered who really benefits from such self-consciously meticulous searches, and found myself especially wondering that when a middle aged man ran a wand up and down the shaft of my cock, three or four times, with a slight smirk animating his porcine countenance. For all of the sanctimonious bilge penned and spoken about 9/11, the true legacy of the day revealed itself to me when I looked down into the face of that blown-up rent-a-cop and saw the flicking eyes and the quivering lips of a molester.
But what a depressing image that would be to close on. If I found any hope in my New Year’s Day travel experience, it rests in the idea that a system so sensitive to external criticism from the powerless cannot be long for this world. The TSA would’ve been at home in South Africa thirty years ago, the USSR fifty years ago, or Germany seventy years ago. It is a mechanism for patronage, graft, and extortion; a self-conscious cry for authority from a police state whose architects are conscious of both its moral and financial bankruptcy. When I was being lectured by a group of TSA staffers after the wand session, my unwillingness to say something along the lines of “The TSA is A-OK!” led one of them — they all look alike, regardless of gender, as the uniform is desexing in the manner of sackcloth — to ask my fianc?e if I was a “foreigner.”
And in a sense that was a perceptive question to ask. This America that eats its young and whores out its natural resources while focusing on such comic-book hooey as the “preemption of evil” is not any America to which I feel kinship. The young girls get knocked-up by boys who get trained to kill, one way or another. All of them seemingly locked into unattainable fantasies, into ideas that silicone tits or fiberglass cars can offer any salvation from the drudgery of their daily tasks. They live in some permutation of tense between a bleak present and a future of limitless possibilities, all of which must be underwritten by one corporation or another. Because that’s all there is. But they don’t think too much about it. Thinking ends up shutting you out of the good things in life — the emergence of Michael Vick as the next great NFL QB, a sizzling steak at the Outback, a thongy lap-dance on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Better to just chill out and enjoy it, because things are pretty much OK. Those people that make you piss in a jar just to make money to spend on rent and watered-down beer, they’d never screw you over, would they?
ANTHONY GANCARSKI’s only published book, UNFORTUNATE INCIDENTS, is chock full of verse and prose. A frequent contributor to CounterPunch, he lost track this holiday season of how many people told him they lacked the “Christmas Spirit”. Emails are welcome at Anthony.Gancarski@attbi.com.